Queen Envy

My mother, Kathleen, has suffered from Royalty Envy her entire life. First of all, Princess Elizabeth was born two years ahead of Kathleen, giving her an unfair advantage. Seeing Princess Elizabeth featured in magazines and newsreels in gorgeous dresses surrounded by her retinue fascinated and frustrated her. Clearly the young royal had done no more than she to deserve this sumptuous life. To add insult to injury, Princess Elizabeth had beautifully curled hair. Kathleen suspected it was a much coveted permanent wave.

One or two fortunate girls of Kathleen’s acquaintance prissed about haughtily showing off their permanent waves. Kathleen knew every penny in her household had a purpose, so it never occurred to her to mention her yearning for a permanent wave. Periodically, her older sister curled her hair with rag curlers, but those curls paled beside the beauty of a permanent wave. Even worse, Princess Elizabeth’s hair might have been naturally curly. What cruel accident of birth would bestow curly hair upon a royal child and condemn Kathleen, a tow-headed, child of American The Great Depression, to struggle through at least ninety-four years of lanky, string-straight locks.

Kathleen avidly poured over any mention of Princess Elizabeth in newsreels, news papers, and magazines, alternately admiring and envying the girl unaware of her existence. Every time she visited to outhouse, she read and reread a magazine article about the princesses, fully aware Princess Elizabeth wasn’t reading about her in her dainty water closet.

Kathleen excelled at the tiny school in Cuthand,Texas, sometimes helping her janitor father clean after school, aware that Princess Elizabeth was educated by governesses, later attending the finest private schools. While the princess attended soirees, Kathleen picked beans, fed chickens, and gathered eggs. There was definitely nothing privileged about her rural life.

As time passed, Kathleen had less time to devote to her rival who was now queen, though she noted with satisfaction her own children were more handsome and probably smarter. She was a bit critical of the queen’s style; too many pastels and over-large hats., though it seems she would have been pleased that something that obscured the queen’s curly hair.

Some things never change. I mentioned the other day the queen might be schmoozing with the heavenly hosts right now since she’d beaten Mother to Heaven. Mother remarked snidely, “You don’t know that for sure, do you?”

I knew she’d say that!

Charley’s Tale Part 3

 

They named the baby Charlotte for her father.  Though Ellen did her best, she didn’t bond with the little girl as she had her two boys, rarely changing or bathing her.  In addition to her concerns about her daughter, she suffered from baby-blues, as post-partum depression was known then.  Her own mother, Geneva, came to stay for a few days and recognized Charlotte’s ambiguous genitalia immediately, having given birth to four girls.  Ellen was appalled when Geneva expressed her concerns.

“Charles said he had to a little growth off her bottom, but she’s fine now.  He said if she has any trouble when she gets older, we will take her to a specialist then.  Charles doesn’t ever want her to know.  I can’t talk any more about it, it gets me so upset.”  Ellen broke off crying.

“Ellen, this might be more than that.  My cousin, Jean……….” Ellen cut her mother off sharply.

“Now, Mother.  Charles is a doctor.  He says there’s no need borrowing trouble.  He’s not going to like it if we discuss this any more.  Please don’t mention Jean ever again, especially to Charles.” Ellen was clearly agitated at the mention of Jean.

“Ellen, I am not about to go around telling your business, but I am going to talk to Charles about this.  There might be a specialist she can see now.  If money is a problem…………….”

            “Mother,  please stay out of this.  Money is definitely NOT a problem.  Don’t you think Charles would move Heaven and Earth if he thought she needed to see another doctor?  How could you bring Jean up to me?   My head is just throbbing.  You and Cora will just have to manage while I rest. Please tell Charles I am going to take something for my headache and will see him when I get up.”

               “Cora, I need you to bring up my tonic and pull the curtains for me.  I feel like I am dying of headache. Dust a little talcum on my sheets and bring me that silk throw before you go.  You have to take the baby downstairs and keep the boys quiet.  Maybe you can take the baby out in the carriage and walk the boys over to play with Mrs. Barnes boys, but don’t let anybody else change her.  Do you understand?”

                “Yes, Miz Evans.  I knows how to take care of things.  You git some rest.”  Cora hurried to get out of the room.  She’d seen lots of headaches and tonic since little Charlotte was born.

The Joy of People-Watching

img_1660The best part of traveling is people-watching.  A young family was sitting a sat or two behind me.  The mother had to take the little girl to the bathroom and interrogated the little boy vigorously as to whether he had to go.  Emphatically, he did not.  Mom annoyed him by asking again.  He stalwartly denied a need to go, despite her insistent interrogation.  Giving up, she took the little girl.  Not long after they were reseated and buckled in, imminent landed was announced.  He’d missed his chance.  Immediately, he set up a howl.  “Mom, get me out of here.  I gotta go! I gotta Go!  The pee is coming down!”

“What!  You said you didn’t have to go!”

 

Next I watched a young mother bouncing her wailing newborn.  Clearly, she was exhausted.  A young man walked up and she handed off baby, bottle, and pacifier. He skillfully bounced and fed the baby with pacifier in his mouth.  What a man!

 

Another couple was corralling two little guys.  The older knocked the smaller off a climbing toy.  Dad exploded.  “That’s it!” and stormed off.  Mom simultaneously calmed the little one and put the other in time out.  He howled.

“You hush and think about what you did.  I don’t like the way you treated your brother.”  He snuffled a while before quieting.  Before too long, he was playing with his brother.   Eventually, Dad was back.

Hard Time Marrying Part 5

baby-bottle

Though he considered himself unfit for human company, Jack and the barn cats didn’t concur and worked their way in next to Joe, slipping into the snug cocoon of the hay-covered saddle blanket and his heavy barn jacket.  The breathing and occasional stamping of the milk cow and the horses in their stalls eased him. This bit of his life was unmarred.  Comforted by the company of the beasts, he slipped into exhausted sleep.  Upon awakening to Ol’ Sal and her kittens purring, his spirits rose and he felt better about himself.  He lay in his nest enjoying their company till he turned to settle back in for a few more minutes.  Reaching up to feel slime in his hair, he found Ol’ Sal had rewarded him with the gift of a dead rat.  He sprang up, flinging the nasty rat, startling Jack and set the kittens to every way, his reverie ended. 

He dawdled as long as possible over the milking, spraying milk into the mouths of the dancing cats.  Rosie’s waiting calf lunged at her when he released them in to the feedlot. When the little heifer had gorged on her mother’s milk, Joe separated them, letting the cow out to graze.  Rosie ambled off without a care, leaving Baby Blossom bawling behind her. She’d be back lowing to be milked before sundown.  Joe chuckled thinking he must have looked a fool getting rid of that rat.  Tossing a clean towel over the milk, he passed out some hay and grain to the horses and opened the barn door to the corral, making sure the water troughs were full.  After tossing a few ears of corn and watering the hogs, he could no longer delay going back into the cabin.  If the kids had lived through the night, they’d need feeding, too.  If the sick woman couldn’t nurse the baby, he’d have to feed her using the bottle and some of that canned milk the town had provided before booting them all out of town.  The light was just breaking in the East on a cold, clear, windy West Texas day when he headed toward the house.

The fire was no more than embers. The small cabin reeked of urine, excrement, and fever.   He dreaded looking, but saw the boy lying to one side of the woman who’d turned to face the wall.  The child’s rapid breathing was shallow, snot crusted around his nostrils, his cheeks flaming pink.  There was no doubt about the scarlet fever.  He’d come uncovered and must have been near frozen in his sodden clothes.  Joe hastily covered him and turned to make up the fire before investigating further.  He’d have to get some food into the child and get him into a clean, warm bed to have any hope of saving the him.  He took care not to disturb the others as he heated water and looked for something to serve as clean bedding and clothes should the woman and girl be alive. Living alone, he’d never bothered with the niceties of bed-linens, settling for a simple straw-filled tick and a couple of quilts.  From the fetid smell, it was clear this one would have to be boiled and re-stuffed.  While the water heated, he brought a load of hay from the barn, along with his old barn coat and a couple of the cleaner burlap bags.  He pulled a couple of ancient quilts from a shelf, not even wondering what hand might have made them.  He’d often thought of tossing the ragged bedding, but was glad now his housekeeping had been lax.

In readiness for the tasks ahead of him, he opened the parcels, finding a baby bottle, four flannel gowns, a few cans of peaches, some crackers, two bars of soap, in addition to several cans of peaches, canned milk, a bottle of Dr. Marvel’s Wonder Tonic, two rough towels, and the bolt of flannel.  In a moment of tenderness, someone had added a couple of peppermint sticks.  He warmed a pain of milk, poured some water into a wash pan, and laid out the towels and soap.  He tore off a few strips of flannel to use for diapers.  For now, that would have to do.

milk-label

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 3

farm-wagonBy the time Joe pulled his mules to the door to unload his wagon, it was sleeting.  His life had never looked more hopeless as he brushed the icy hay from the tattered quilt covering the children’s burning faces.  Though it was unchristian, he’d half-hoped to find them already dead from the fever, solving the problem of their care.

He struggled to get them into the cold cabin where he heard the scurrying of a rat.  “Damn it all.  I got to bring the barn cat in.”

Laying them gently on his bed and covering them, he was able to rouse each enough to get a bit of water down.  Setting the cup to the side, he moved on to the fireplace to uncover the banked ashes, put a stick or two next to the backlog, rekindling the fire.  At least they wouldn’t die of thirst of cold.  It angered him to feel pity for them. That’s all he could do for them for the moment.

He hurried in with the provisions, the pathetic mercy the town had shown, leaving to get his horses tended, milk the cow and tend the stock.  Finishing his tasks, he miserably returned to the burden of the sick children fate had forced upon him.  Upon entering the cabin, the sight meeting his eyes nearly undid him.  A filthy, battered woman dressed in rags studied the little girl.  God in Heaven!  Would this nightmare never end? Had he buried the woman alive and now she’d scratched out of her grave?

Mutely, the woman clutched the child to her bosom protectively as though she thought he might put the two of them back in the grave.

“Oh my God.  I thought you were dead!”  This did nothing to set her at her ease.  Shamed, he turned his back mumbling.  “Poor wretch.  What she must be thinking?” Shame at having buried her, then trying to get rid of her sick children shamed him, bringing him lower than he’d ever been before.  I don’t know why I didn’t leave it alone when it was good enough.  He fled from the cabin and made his way to the barn, tossed some hay on a saddle blanket settled in to try to get some sleep.  Jack, his dog, and the barn cats settled in next to him, glad of the unexpected company.  He lay awake a long time, thinking of the girl who’d made him want a wife in the first place.

Aunt Ader’s Place Part 6

img_1578Aunt Ader’s Place held more thrills than Disneyland.  Much of my large extended family gathered on a beautiful Halloween.  The women packed the hysterical children into a caravan of cars and made the rounds of a dozen houses scattered about the country neighborhood.  The twenty-odd children piling fighting their way out of cars must have looked like Attila and his ferocious Huns as we descended on the locals.  The drivers quickly gave up the battle and headed back as sugar-fired kids battled for Tootsie Rolls in the back seats.

Ensuring the madness continued, just as evening fell, we returned to a roaring bonfire in Aunt Ader’s front yard.  That was all it took to turn us into wild people, rabid in hot pursuit of each other.  Eventually, we wore down and settled in to roast hot dogs and marshmallows  on the open fire.  Many were burned beyond redemption, but some were even eaten.

As the evening cooled and the fire burned low and we sat on logs around the fire the stories started, first the old favorites like Bloody Bones that no one really believed.  As we quieted and the little ones drifted off in their parents arms, the older folks started with “true” scary stories: the time a mad-dog tried to drag Great-Aunt Bessie’s baby  from a pallet in the yard, the time so long ago when a hog devoured some cousin’s neighbor’s kid who fell into the pen.  Cousin Ray told a a man seeking shelter from the night who was turned away from several houses because he seemed suspicious but was eventually was taken in.  The next day the family’s mutilated bodies were found and murderous man never seen again. They later learned, the same thing had happened somewhere else. The beauty of all these terrible stories was that they all happened long ago to perfectly expendable people we’d never met, so we were able to enjoy them guilt-free with no emotional investment except a tingle of horror.

Finally, the delicious tales ended and we piled into cars for a dreamless ride home, to the sound of Mother and Daddy talking low in the front seat.  Of course, Mother assured us those stories were just tall-tales, not to be believed, but that didn’t hender my pleasure at all.

Aunt Ader’s Place

Aunt Ader’s House was reminiscent of the two pictured here.

dog-trotI had no idea who Aunt Ader was, or that her name should actually have been pronounced Ada, but her old farm house was a wonder.  Uncle C H, my Aunt Jenny’s on-again off-again husband apparently enjoyed some claim to it, because over the course of my childhood, several of my relatives rented it, probably when they’d fallen on hard times.  It stood high on a hill surrounded by several huge oaks.  A rutted red-dirt drive curved its way up toward the house, dusty in summer and rutted deeply in rainy weather.   In the spring and early summer weeds sprigged up between the tire tracks, kept short courtesy of the undercarriage of the vehicles making their way up the hill.  Though Aunt Ader’s forebears had been prosperous landowners a couple of generations back, the land had been subdivided and sold off long before I came to know it.  To the eyes of a small child, it was welcoming with its deep front and back porches and wide dogtrot.  An enormous living room and kitchen opened off one side and three bedrooms on the other.  Fireplaces on either side furnished the only heat.  Bare lightbulbs dangling on cords sufficed to light the big, high-ceilinged rooms, welcoming ghosts to the shadowy corners. Rain on the tin-roof could be pleasant or deafening, depending on the intensity of the storm.   I was never tempted to stray far from the light, though the sunshine from the huge windows flooded those rooms in the daytime.

A water heater stood in the corner of the enormous kitchen next to the galvanized bathtub on the wall.  The old wood stove was still in use, though the only indoor plumbing was water piped in to the sink in the one piece enamel cabinet with a built in sink standing before the window, looking out on a large field with several pear and fig trees.  Several unpainted shelves served as storage, for everything that couldn’t fit into the sink cabinet and pie safe.  A cord exiting the round-topped refrigerator was plugged into an extension cord connected to bare light bulb dangling from the center of the kitchen ceiling.  The light was turned off and on by a long string.  Strips of well-populated fly-paper hung near the windows.   An unpainted toilet stood slightly downhill about three hundred yards off to the left of an old barn.  Kids were always warned away from the hand dug-well, enclosed in a wooden frame with a heavy wooden trap cover stood a few feet from the back porch.  Mother was so adamant we not go near, I was sure it was surrounded by quicksand, just waiting to suck a foolish child in.  A bucket hung from a chain from the roof of the creaky structure.  Pigs were pinned up near the barn, though not far enough away to miss their smell, explaining the fly problem.

To be continuedwarhome2

The Tragic Tale of the Hen-Flogged Indian Princess

This is a story my mother told us dozens of times of her experience with a Mother Hen.  It didn’t save me from having the same problem.  This is her original art.indian-dress-and-henFor my birthday, Mama made me an Indian outfit. By now, I’d been around the chickens long enough to know a mother hen would jump all over anyone getting near their chicks.  I’d already been flogged trying it.  This was different.  In my Indian dress, I was brave and invincible.  I played pretend in the yard shooting several  buffaloes  with my bow, saving the tribe from starvation, single-handedly.  As I rode my horse, Midnight, bareback across the prairie, my long black braids flowed behind me. I had actually imagined myself up two horses. Midnight, a black stallion with a white mane and tail and Silver a white stallion with black mane and tail. If only I’d thought to imagine Silver was a mare, they could have created their own imaginary colt, but that never crossed my mind. They were both wild and would allow no one else to ride them.  When I rode one, the other ran along with us.  Deep in my fantasy, I slaughtered a bear and saved the chief, who by the way, was desperate to marry me.  I was having none of it.   I rode into the chicken yard, bravely scooping up a baby chick.  Mother Hen ignored my two stallions,  Indian dress, and the long black braids flowing behind me. In a split second, she was on my head, squawking, pecking, flogging, and scratching till I gladly dropped her baby.  I’d never been so disillusioned in my life.  That hen had no imagination whatsoever!!!

Thoughts on Presidents Day

After studying Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther KIng, Jr, my little grandson came home pondering their stories. He told his mother. “I want to do great things and help people, but I don’t want to get killed.” What a thing for a child to have to think!