It Couldn’t Be Helped Part 2

Daddy should have been a polygamist the way he laid out work for Mother.  His list might start, “Take the power saw by the shop in Springhill (22 miles away) on your way to the tractor place in Magnolia (24 miles beyond Springhill) pick up a magneto.  It ought to look like this.  (He’d dangle two broken pieces)  Mother wouldn’t have known a magneto from a mosquito.  On your way home, stop at Rusty’s and get some  catfish to fry tonight.  Eric is coming over after work to help me and I told him you’d fry him up some catfish.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to stop at the feed store in Cotton Valley and get a hundred pounds of grain.  That red cow is looking poor and I want to fatten her up.”

The entire round of errands was more than one hundred miles. Mother would do what she had to at the house, grab her two preschoolers and start her day.  Of course, she still had to “fry fish for Eric” at the end of this little jaunt.  Mother was a “good wife” and would never told Daddy to take care of his own business.  He was completely demanding and thought she was lucky to be married to him.  Add Mother’s regular routine to this and it was a mess.

Well, on the proud occasion of my brother Bill’s high school graduation, he was miraculously gifted with a suit. The whole family was thrilled.  My parents had been worried for months how they would come up with the necessary graduation suit.  A regular suit would have really stretched their budget, but Bill was tall, more than six feet-four inches.  West Brothers wasn’t going to be much help.  About two weeks before graduation, a box came in the mail, a beautiful blue suit.  It came with long, long unhemmed pants.  All the pants needed was hemming to make them perfect-the answer to a prayer.  Immediately, Daddy pronounced, “Kathleen, you’ve got to get busy right now and get those pants hemmed.”

“I’ll get it done, but not right now. I’m cooking supper.”  Daddy liked his food.  He couldn’t argue with that.

The next night at exactly the same time, “Kathleen, did you get those pants hemmed today?”

“No. Connie was sick and I had to take her to the doctor.  She threw up the rest of the day.  I didn’t get anything done.”

Now he was clearly not pleased. “Well, you better get it done tomorrow.  Graduation is only a week and a half off.”

Mother was mad now. “I know that as well as you do.  And I know he has to have a suit.  I would have done it today if Connie hadn’t gotten sick!”

Disaster fell that night. Granny Long died.  Mother had to help at the house and cook food for the funeral.  Mother and Daddy had to “sit” a shift with the body at the home that night, when they were asked if Billy could be a pall bearer.  “Of course,” said Daddy.  “It would be an honor.”

”Oh no! He’ll have to have a suit and I didn’t get it hemmed!”  thought Mother. It was after 2:00 A.M. when they got home.  The funeral was at 10:00 A.M. It never even occurred to Daddy the suit was not hemmed and pressed just like he’d delegated days ago.

“Come Hell or High Water” breakfast was the first order of the day.  Mother wasn’t about to mention the suit before she had to.   By the time Daddy was out of the way, Bill learned he’d been pressed into service as a pall-bearer. With a yet-to-be hemmed suit, tensions were high.  Every minute counted.  Mother told him to try the pants on so she could measure them for a hem.  Furious as only a hormone-ridden seventeen-year-old pantsless pall-bearer can be, he held them in front of himself and snarled, “Just cut them here.”

Sick of the attitude, Mother didn’t notice he was bending as he pointed. She cut.  He ran for the shower while she hemmed and pressed faster than I’d ever seen her move, glad to have dodged a bullet.

Minutes later, he strode down to hall where we all were waiting, Daddy included. Complete with jacket, tie, cufflinks, and beautifully shined dress shoes he made an entrance.  His new suit pants ended four inches below his knees, revealing six inches of hairy, white leg above his black socks.  He looked like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence.  His expression was unreadable.  There would be no saving his beautiful suit.  I was sure somebody would have to die!  Mother looked from him to Daddy and pronounced, “Well, it couldn’t be helped!”  We all exploded and laughed so long and hard a tragedy was averted.  Billy went back and put on his old black dress pants to do his pall bearer duty.  I don’t remember what happened to the graduation suit.  I guess it didn’t matter that much after all.

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Ten Commandments Especially for Us

The Gospel According to Daddy

tenDaddy was “the Boss.” God put him in charge, so we didn’t have to worry about what God wanted.  If we had any questions, we could go straight to Daddy.  He always had a Bible verse at the ready to back him up, if needed.  Most of them sounded suspiciously fresh-coined and self-serving, lacking book, chapter, and verse. Not having memorized the entire Bible, it was hard to prove they didn’t exist, like the one that forbade men to milk cows, “You cannot take what you cannot give.” Please. You didn’t have to be a heathen to see through that one.  Actually, Daddy anticipated our needs, requiring no effort on our part.  Permission to visit a friend, attend a school activity, or socialize had to come from Daddy.

 

Well, this is not strictly true.  Mother was free to say, “No” any time she chose.  The answer for visiting or socializing was easy.  “No. You don’t need to go.  Tell so and so they can come here.”   “No you can’t go to that party.  You don’t know who will be there.”  Or even more emphatically, “NO!  ………..will be there!”

 

School activities were usually okay in theory…… 1. If we weren’t grounded.  2. If one of the other kids in the family wasn’t grounded.   3. If nobody in the family had C or lower on their report card.  How often would a family with five kids not have at least one doofus with a C or lower on their report card?  This ruled out most opportunities to attend school activities, and “It’s your own fault.  You shouldn’t have even have had to ask.”  Of course, the answer was “No.”

 

School dances were off limits.  We were Baptists, and at that time, in addition to preaching the Ten Commandments, Baptists preached against dancing, drinking, and wearing shorts.  Even asking to go to a dance was a sin.  The sermons didn’t hold the other Baptists back, Daddy always made sure we didn’t do those things expressly preached against.  I didn’t have too much trouble with the Ten Commandments, never having coveted my neighbor’s wife, committed adultery, and so far hadn’t killed anyone, but I wanted to go to dances.   There was no commandment forbidding dancing, but dancing would have incited lust.  If Daddy had bothered to check out the kids we went to school with, he wouldn’t have worried too much about lust. Most kids were hayseeds, skinny, pimply, and inbred.  In the early sixties, we had no access to mind-altering substances to make us look better to each other.

 

In the unlikely event everyone had perfect grades, the activity didn’t break a commandment, and our plans could still wash out at the last minute if Daddy was in a bad mood, or one of the neighbor’s kids had behaved outrageously, causing Daddy to require us to be a perfect example.  In addition to the opportunity to provide a perfect example, we got to stay home and luxuriate in the added bonus of their lecture by proxy.

 

As all parents do, Daddy invoked his miserable upbringing, replete with selective memories, to reinforce whatever point he was making at the time.  If he needed to point out we were being selfish, “Once we went three days with nothing to eat!”  If Mother didn’t want to make ice cream, “One thing we could always count on.  Mama always made ice cream on the Fourth of July.”  He looked injured and almost tearful.  He wanted dessert after every meal.  “My mother made a cake every day.”  He may have thought I wasn’t listening, but I pondered every word in my heart.  The next time he rolled out, “Once we went three days without eating.” I shot back, “Why didn’t you eat one of those cakes your mama made every day.”  I got a quick lesson in the difference in smart and smart-aleck and secondly “silence would have been golden.”  My life would have been so much easier if I had just followed these commandments.

 

Commandments

I. Thou shalt not do anything without my approval.  This includes failing to anticipate what I might want you to do or having to be told twice.  God help you if you anticipated wrong.  There is no recovering from that.  About fifty-percent of the time, I’d say, “I thought you would want………”  with the resulting reply, “That’s what you get for thinking.” Growl, growl , growl, growl, growl.

Approximately forty-nine percent of the time, I’d defend myself by saying, “I didn’t think…….” To which the response w.as

“If you aren’t going to think, you might as well be alike on both ends.  Growl, growl, growl, growl, growl.”

If there appeared to be no retribution headed my way, my eyes glazed over with the first growl.

About one percent of the time I didn’t mess up.

II. Thou shalt not sass.  Sassing includes anything from actual speech to questioning authority. 

Sassing meant failing to say, “Yes sir” or “No sir,” eye-rolling, or being sullen.  One should snap into a jolly mood as soon as punishment was complete show appreciation for discipline.  Sometimes, I had a little trouble with this one.

Obstinance could be anything from pouting (sticking one’s lip out and refusing to speak), eye-rolling(God help you), to disputing his word.  (But I didn’t leave the gate open, whether you had or hadn’t.)

III. Thou shalt not think bad thoughts.  Bad thoughts included harboring anger toward parents, thinking of doing something wrong, or keeping secrets.  If I knew one of my siblings had done something wrong, I was as guilty as they were if I didn’t tell.  If he knew I knew Billy stole a gumball, I got my rear whipped, too, when the truth came out.

IV. Thou shalt not ask to do things.  School dances, wearing shorts, causing boys to lust (this was never a big problem for me) or asking to stay over with friends could get you quite a lecture.  If other kids got in trouble and he learned of it, they got lectured by proxy.  I guess we were free to pass it on if we wanted.  He assumed every kid who got in trouble was our dearest friend.

V. Thou shalt not be lazy.  There were cows to be milked and hogs, chicken, and other livestock  to be fed daily.  Then there was the seasonal work; haymaking, clearing land, piling and burning brush.  Daddy was generous toward his women-folk.  There was no work they couldn’t do.  Daddy and my brother couldn’t do “women’s work.”  It was demeaning, fit only for women.  Doing men’s work improved women and kept them humble.

VI. Men shall not milk cows.  Thou canst not take what thee cannot give.  The Chapter, Book, and Verse of this injunction was never sited.  Daddy just knew it was in the Bible somewhere.  He couldn’t risk messing up on this one.

VII. Thou shalt not be trashy.  This one was directed to women and girls who without his guidance, have flaunted themselves.  They must wear knee-length dresses and not flirt or do anything to make the neighbors think ill of Daddy.  The worst insult he could hurl at a girl was “fix your clothes.”  God forbid, at best, a girl’s dress was over her head, or at worst a girl might have humiliated him by intentionally soiling her skirt, a premeditated insult to his dignity.

VII. Thou shalt never utter sexual innuendoes or dress in a way that would lead any man or boy in considering you in a sexual context.  This would be the ultimate insult to his dignity and authority.

VIII. Thou shalt not be trashy.  This embarrassment is the worst a man can suffer, trashy women in his family.

IX. Thou shalt be grateful thee has a father to raise thee right.  Thee would be in the street if he weren’t here to guidetelling ten commandments thee.

X.  Thee should always come to me with thy problems.  (Fat chance)

 

“It couldn’t be helped!”

short pants suitDaddy should have been a polygamist the way he laid out work for the whole family.  His list for Mother might start, “Take the power saw by the shop in Springhill (22 miles away) on your way to the tractor place in Magnolia (24 miles beyond Springhill) pick up a magneto.  It ought to look like this.  (He’d dangle two broken pieces)  On your way home, Continue reading

Maniac in the Wilderness

Bill 2Bill ever survived my mother’s abuse.  When he was only a tiny lad of eighteen, he was six feet four inches tall. I think the fact that she wasn’t even acquainted with five feet gave him a feeling of superiority.  While I won’t say he had a smart mouth, I will allow it was extremely well-educated.  I am sure they only reason my mother hadn’t already killed him was because she hated to go to prison and leave her younger daughters motherless.  It certainly wasn’t because the thought hadn’t crossed her mind at least a thousand times a day since puberty attacked him and her by proxy.

Anyway, on occasion, they had to travel places alone together.  It was a misery to them both.  It didn’t help that the car was a tiny Volkswagon Beetle.  It’s always worth a person’s time to stop and watch a huge guy unfold himself and crawl out of a Beetle, a pleasure Bill dreaded providing mirthful onlookers.  It didn’t improve his mood on arrival, a mood already blackened with inevitable conflict he’d shared with Mother.

At any rate, on this particular day, they started home with Bill driving.  According to Mother, he was driving like a maniac: driving too fast, following too closely, cutting people off.  I have no doubt this was true.  It was his typical manner.  She insisted he slow down.  He crept along at ten miles an hour, hoping that was slow enough to please her.  She’d finally had enough, telling him to pull over.  She’d drive.  He critiqued her driving as soon as she started.  “Speed up!  Don’t ride the clutch! Change Gears!”

Finally, she’d had enough.  She pulled over.  “Get out!”  Delighted, he hopped out, thinking she’d come to her senses and wanted him to drive.  She drove off and left him standing on a country road, thirty miles from home.  She enjoyed the rest of the peaceful drive.  At  home, Daddy wanted to know where Bill was.  “I left him somewhere close to Bossier City.”

Daddy was shocked she’d left the little fellow all alone in the wilderness.  “Well, You’d better go get him!  It’ll be dark soon!”

“You go get him if you want to!  I don’t care if he never gets home!”

Daddy was a lot better at giving orders than taking them, but he jumped in his truck to rescue his precious son and heir.  Billy met him at the end of the driveway, brought home by a Good Samaritan.  He’d somehow survived his abandonment but I think he still drives like a maniac.  I don’t think he and Mother voluntarily ride together till today

See attached picture if you care to put out APB on either