A Hog a Day Part 3

Miss Becky cleared away breakfast and remarked, “Well, setting here drinking coffee ain’t gittin my permanent put in.  If you’re still a’mind to do it, we better git started.”  Pouring a kettle of hot water over the dishes, she set another big pot on the stove to heat.  They got their water from a well, not a faucet, so I followed her out to refill the water bucket.  The well fascinated me, enclosed in a covered timber structure.  A bucket hung on a rope suspended from a pulley.  Miss Bessie turned the cover back and allowed the bucket to drop.  After a few minutes, a heard a splash.

“Can I look?” I asked.

“No, it’s too dangerous.  There’s a boogerman in the well!”  She warned.

At five, of course I knew there wasn’t a boogerman in the well, but also had learned long ago not to sass. Mother had foolishly assured me earlier there was no boogerman, a serious error on her part.  I’d have  probably been a lot better kid had she invoked  him periodically.  Maybe Daddy would hold me up and let me look down the well when he got back.  That wasn’t the kind of thing I’d even bother to ask Mother.  She was always trying to prevent any kind of fun.  I gave some thought to trying to look on my own, but feared falling in and somehow being rescued.  Daddy would warm my britches, good.  What I really wanted to do was get in the bucket and let myself down by working the rope hand over hand.  I’d seen a well dug and that’s how the men had gotten up and down, of course, that was before the water seeped in.  I’d have to think some about how this could be managed without discovery.

I thought about this as I followed Miss Bessie back to the kitchen with her bucket of water sloshing out on either side as she walked.  Mother had the home permanent ready to go by the time we got back in.  Home permanents were the hairstyle of choice for budget-conscious women of the fifties who were brave and not too fussy.    Women frequently cut and permed each other’s hair.   Mother was not a talented amateur.  She hated fooling with hair, but Daddy had volunteered her for the job.  He was good at that.  Her time and energy belonged to him and made him look good.  Miss Bessie wrapped a towel around her shoulders and settled in a straight back chair on the porch.

Mother got straight to work, cutting and perming as she went.  Dividing Miss Bessie’s hair into sections, she measured it, wet it with a comb dipped in water, wrapped it in a little folded-up square of white paper,  measured it against a mark, and snipped off every thing sticking out past the end of the curling paper.  Afterward, she twisted the paper-wrapped hair around a hard plastic spiky permanent curler, and twisted it tightly to the scalp.  I’d been subjected to this misery a few times, so was glad to escape outdoors.  I wanted no part of the home permanent process.  It was painful, smelled horrible, and made me look like a Brillo Pad.

Billy and I played in the cool, white sand under the high porch.  The dogs had thoughtfully dug  large holes to make the landscape more interesting where we marked out roads with chips of wood.  We stood up small branches to serve as trees.  Rocks made fine pretend houses.  From time to time a lazy hound pushed its way into one of the holes as we played around him.  Billy stretched out and took a nap across one of the hounds.  Bored with Billy sleeping, the conversation from the porch above caught my attention.

“Miss Bessie, how many kids do you have?”  Mother asked.  I couldn’t make sense of that.  In my mind, once people got grown, they had no parents.  Miss Bessie was as old as my Grandma.  Mother claimed Grandma was her mother, but it didn’t make sense to me. If Grandma was her mother, how come I’d never seen her spank Mother? Besides, if Grandma was her mama, why didn’t she live with her?  Why didn’t she sit on her lap?  I just let it go.

“I had them five big ol’ boys right off.”  Miss Bessie said.  “Seems like every time Grady hung his britches on the bedpost another one come along. It plumb wore me out.  If his mama had’na been staying with us I don’t know how I’d made it.  I had to help Grady in the field.  She couldn’t see well enough to do much, but she could rock young’uns and string beans.  All three of my oldest squalled till the next’un was born.  I thought I was done, then ten years later two little gals come along ten months apart.  Ruth Ann done fine, but I lost Susie early on.   She nursed good but never keep nothing down.  Grady got a goat but she never did put on no weight.  It ‘bout killed Grady to lose her.  I thought I might lose him.

I pricked up my ears at this.  Miss Bessie lost her little girl!  She must have been mighty careless. I wondered if I might be able to find her.  Maybe she hadn’t gotten too far.  Old people ought not to be having babies.  Miss Bessie looked like she moved way too slow to keep up with a little kid.  I thought I’d just look around a little.  I crawled out from under the porch and dusted off my knees.

”Don’t you run off and get lost,”. Mother bossed. “I’m fixing to put the stuff on Miss Bessie’s hair and I don’t want to have to go looking for you and burn her hair up.  Where’s Billy”

”He’s sleeping on the dog.” I informed her.

At that, she had to go check.  “Well, you stay right here where I can see you.  Don’t go messing around that well.”

”Yes, Ma’am.  I’m just going to look for Miss Bessie’s baby.”

”What?” Mother said.  She seemed to have totally forgotten about that lost baby.  Miss Bessie didn’t look too worried either.

 

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Our Awful Friends Part 4

The barnyard turned out to be just a bedraggled fence enclosing a chicken house with a row of nesting boxes.  The chicken house had seen better days and leaned crazily to the left.  Someone had thoughtfully propped it up enough so the eggs didn’t roll out of the boxes.  Jamey picked up a pencil-marked egg and slung it against the barn.  It exploded with a nauseating sulfurous smell and resounding pop, whereupon Jamey explained it had been left for the hen to “set on” and had rotted.  I was familiar with the concept of “setting hens” and knew not to touch precious eggs.  Mother had made it clear eggs were precious, not playthings.  Nonetheless, Jamey took an egg from another nest and hurled it.  It also exploded and turned the air to sulphur to the delight of the party-goers.  Kids started flinging eggs madly.  Knowing they were older and wiser, I joined in.  Before long we’d exhausted the supply and moved across the road to the pig pen.

My parents had frequently complained about the malodorous pig pen, but in a rural community, only consideration governs location of noxious livestock.   Conveniently for the Awfuls, a vacant house with an enclosed back lot stood between our place and theirs.  They had wisely appropriated the back lot for their pig pen.  It was much closer to our house than theirs, a wise decision on their part.  The small pen was home to a couple of sows, their extended families, and millions of flies. Due to their wise location of the pig lot, we undoubtedly got a lot more effect than they did.  My mother, in particular, was offended. Jamey, our fearless leader climbed on the rails.  The smaller of the sows and her babies fled, squealing.  The larger sow the size of a sofa, didn’t seem too disturbed from where she lounged in a muddy wallow across the pen.  The baby pigs were so appealing, we decided to catch one and pet it.  Jamey was a wonderful host.  He dropped into the pen in pursuit of a little pig, followed by me and a couple more kids.  My immediate attention was captured by the ripping of my dress where it caught on a fencepost, hanging me up from the top rail.  Sofa-pig didn’t take all this well.  She lunged at the kids with a guttural growl, running them back over the fence.  Fortunately, I was suspended above the action and climbed to safety, though my fancy dress was done for.  I wasn’t the only one who suffered damage to my wardrobe.  As Jamey sailed over the fence, the mama pig got one of his new birthday tennis shoes.  Mrs. Awful was not happy about that.

When we got back to the house and Mrs. Awful finished cursing about the lost birthday shoe, it was time to open the presents.  As I said, this was my first birthday party.  I was proud of the flashlight Mother had wrapped for me to bring to the party and couldn’t wait to get it back.  Mother showed up for coffee just as I learned I was expected to leave it for Jamey.  I wasn’t falling for that one.  I was wrestling with Jamey for possession of the flashlight just as she walked in the gate.  My behavior, coupled with the destroyed dress, put an end to the coffee-klatch.  Mother dragged me home bawling without the flashlight, my tattered dress tail dragging in the dirt, my first big social fail.

 

 

Our Awful Friends Part 3

Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

I entered the Land of Enchantment when I passed through that gate.  Shrubs had entangled and obliterated the tangled yard fence.  An amazement of possibilities greeted me.  Hounds and a few chickens lounged on the drooping porch.  A long-abandoned truck rested on blocks.  Old tires, stacks of lumber, pots and pans, and broken toys littered the dirt yard.  The hounds had dug dozens of holes, which the kids had expanded.  A few wild children were whooping with joy, slinging missiles of Chinaberries at each other.  I never wanted to leave.  Mrs. Awful disappeared into the house while we set about entertaining ourselves, a perfect system. 

At four, I was not concerned about social order, so I made my way to the doorless truck, shoving a hound off the battered seat so I could drive, my first opportunity to get behind a wheel.  I stood behind that wheel, turning it madly, till I was shoved over by a late-comer.  I wasn’t particularly disturbed, I knew bigger kids got the first crack at stuff, so I didn’t waste time whining, just kept shoving till they moved on.  I did hurl a broken toy car as they ambled off, but they didn’t bother to come back after me.

All around me, unsupervised kids were running wild, screaming, shoving, running over smaller kids, and just having a wonderful time in general.  Fortunately, there was a wide age-range of kids, so I was able to get in on the fun.  Eventually, Mrs. Awful made it out with birthday cake, serving it up to us on napkins.  She didn’t linger long, quickly returning to her soap opera.  We heard the organ music pouring out the window.  For some reason, she left her toddler, Becky, among us as she returned to her soaps. 

Unlike a couple of the little girls, I had no interest in playing Mama, particularly since Becky’s diaper appeared fully loaded.  I had a baby brother and grasped the significance of that drooping diaper.  Within minutes, Becky’s secret was out.  Kids ran screaming as she approached, like she was “It” in a mad game of chase.  Several tumbles in the dirt did little to clean her up.  Even though she was a baby, Becky understood and protested the shunning.  She stood bravely squalling in the midst of the melee.  Even that didn’t bring her mother to the rescue.  Jamey took mercy and turned the water hose on her, hoping to sanitize her and make her more socially acceptable as he stripped her of her diaper.  To the universal delight of the party-goers, his enterprising brother grabbed the hose sprayed the general crowd, including dogs and chickens.  Should you ever want to plan a good party, be sure to put a water hose first on your list?  We joyously ripped through the spray, fighting for control of the hose.  Our game was cut short by Mrs. Awful hurling curses at us.  If only we had not sprayed water on the television through the open window, our fun could have lasted longer.  She scooped naked Becky up and exiled us to the barnyard.  Fortunately, the barnyard was promising.

 

Our Awful Friends Part 2

I had only been out of the bathtub about 10 minutes when this picture was made.  After that birthday party, this dress was never the same.  I never saw that little purse again.I first became aware of the Awfuls on the occasion of Jamey Awful’s fifth birthday.  I was probably about four and totally ignorant of what birthday parties entailed.  I only knew that Mother ruined a perfectly good day by calling me away from my sand pile to take a bath in the middle of the day, an unheard of event.  I was disturbed especially since she insisted on washing the sand out of my hair.  I’d just spent a good portion of the morning pouring sand on the top of my head, enjoying its powdery coolness showering down on my shoulders and the back of my sundress and saw no reason for her outraged reaction.  “I told you not to get dirty.  We have to go somewhere today.”

As far as I was concerned, sand was clean.  Mud was dirty.  Axle grease was dirty.  Chicken poop on my shoe was dirty.  Sand was white and dusted right off.  It was not dirty.  At any rate, Mother filled the tub with water and sprinkled in a bit of Tide Washing Powder and plunged me in.  That was what passed for bubble bath at our house.  I would have been content to spend the afternoon there, but she washed my hair and hurried me out, ruining another good time.  Then she brushed my stick straight hair and stuffed me in a fluffy petticoat, a white fluffy dress with red and blue polka-dots, white socks, and sandals.  Worse yet, I had to submit to a photo session.  Mother was a novice with a camera making me pose forever, staring into the sun.  She’d gone to a great deal of fuss making matching dresses for me and Phyllis for Easter and was extremely proud of the effect.  Too bad the confection was wasted on me.  When she’d said Easter outfit, I’d envisioned a cowboy getup.

Then she walked us over to the Awful’s house.  I doubt Mother knew Mrs. Awful, since we’d never been to her house for coffee, even though they only lived a couple of houses over.  I guess the poor woman was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find enough kids for a party, since I was a year younger and Phyllis was a couple of years older and neither had ever laid eyes on Jamey. 

Mrs. Awful met us at the back gate.  There were a dozen or so kids running round in the yard, so once Mother made Mrs. Awful’s acquaintance, she headed home, promising to be back for us in a couple of hours.  Mrs. Awful ushered us in the back gate and the fun began.  I was in Heaven!

Our Awful Friends

Freedom at the Awful’s  Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

Mother was a cruel beast of a woman who rarely allowed us out of our own yard.  I felt so deprived when free-range children passed our house in pursuit of adventure.  Sometimes we were able to tempt them in with our tire swing, zip line, or huge barn, but invariably greener pastures called and we were left morosely watching them amble off to Donnie’s or Joey’s house.  Sadly, we’d pine as the motley crew and their retinue of dogs disappeared down the dusty road.  It wasn’t that we didn’t have wondrous opportunities on our own place;t we just hated being left behind.

Once we accepted our sad abandonment, we didn’t waste time whining to Mother that “We don’t have anything to do.”  I only made that mistake once and Mother set me to hanging out diapers, dusting, and washing woodwork.  In fact, she was mean enough to assign jobs to break up fights.  It’s terrible growing up with a mother who turns human nature against innocent children.

At any rate, a family neighboring us raised their fortunate children with a complete lack of supervision.  Those kids roamed long after dark, before daylight, dropped in for meals all over the neighborhood, drank out of from the neighbor’s faucets, rode the neighbor’s cows, and generally led a charmed life.  Though their name was Offut, I misunderstood it as Awful.  In her frequent dealings with these children Mother reached the conclusion Awful was an excellent name.  She was particularly offended when we came home from town and found them in the house making Kool-aid.  The Awful’s had little understanding of private property and had often had Kool-aid with us, so of course they felt free to help themselves, even if Mother had been careless enough not to leave it in the refrigerator.  Her attitude baffled our uninvited guests.  I think the syrupy floor and Jerry’s standing on the counter helping himself to a pack of Daddy’s cigarettes off the top shelf also ruffled her feathers, but she was the crabby type, after all.  The loss of cigarettes were of particular concern.  A carton cost two dollars and eighty cents, a significant portion of her fifteen dollar grocery budget.  At any rate, she took an unreasonable stance and forbade them to enter the house again when we were gone.  I don’t think they found it particularly disturbing since a couple more packs of cigarettes went missing before Daddy found a better hiding place for his stash.  

Praise the Lord and Save Your Kitties From the Heathen

Our little church held periodic revivals. For the benefit of those not blessed with a Southern Baptist upbringing, a revival is a series of nightly evangelical preaching services culminating with a baptismal service on Sunday for converts. There was a good bit of Hell-fire promised, so a quite a few errant souls joined up. Our small church had no baptistry, so baptism was conducted in a creek, exciting business for kids.
Dressed in old clothes, a stark contrast to usual his usual church garb, a stalwart deacon led the candidates to the preacher waiting in waist-deep water. After a few words and a prayer, the preacher dipped the candidates for baptism backwards in the murky water, then raised them up a moment later, gasping, sputtering, and cleansed of sin. It must have been quite a workout for the preacher and an unnerving experience for the baptized. Seeing the redeemed folk led from the water with their clingy garments served as a pretty good anatomy lesson for us kids, as well. Afterwards, the crowd quickly dispersed, out of concern for the soaked.
I chafed, all through the prayers and scripture, awaiting the creek side baptism, anticipating an outing with a picnic and swimming. Verily, there was no swimming for us, only baptism for the redeemed. Though Mother had warned me not to expect such a party, I’d thought perhaps I could engineer the opportunity to fall in the creek, resulting in a swim, after all. Lo, it didn’t happen with the death grip Mother had on me and Billy. My major impression of the day was disappointment.
My brother Billy and Cousin Evil Larry took the opportunity to put all they’d learned in practice the next morning. Our cat had hidden away a litter of kittens, but apparently not well enough. Billy and Evil Larry rounded up those sinful kitties and went to work on redeeming their mewing, little souls. After dunking them in the repeatedly in the water trough, a couple of them straight to Heaven, assuming the baptism worked. Mother caught the boys and saved the rest. I guess she just wasn’t into religion.