A Hog a Day Part 20

Image courtesy of Pixabay

I’ve got to end this series, since it is the basis of my next book and I don’t want to give it away but there are so many stories I want to share.  One is about a suicide and a mean Christian.

Mrs Rivers was as old as the hills. I believe she was born that way.   Widowed more than forty years, no one ever spoke of her husband.  It was impossible for me to imagine anyone could have ever wanted to marry her, as unpleasant as she appeared.  Still living in the house where  she raised her children, her son had built a house on her lot. My mother often remarked she’d be a trial as a mother-in-law as we drove  by and saw her dressed in a dark, long-sleeved dress and sun bonnet working her garden with a push plow. I’m sure she refused her son’s offer to plow her garden, because no one would have expected someone that old to plow.

Old Lady Rivers, as she was known, was a practicing Pentecostal, though she attended the Baptist Church just across the road from her house and interfered with its runnings as much as she was able.  While she didn’t have a vote, she did have opinions and battered the faithful with them as often as possible.  She was the first at services, wakes, and funerals, eager to share “how they took it” and why.  Never losing track of when a marriage was made, she was the first to predict should a baby appear to be coming “too soon.”

She was a skilled craftsman of gossip, eager to bear bad news or scandal. In the days before telephones were common in our rural community, it could be a challenge to get messages to people in a timely manner.   One sad day, a poor old gentlemen shot himself in the head out by his mailbox. His panicked wife called her son from next door for help.  The son covered his father with a sheet, but left the body lying awaiting the sheriff. A neighbor hurried to a local store to call the school principal to intercept his daughter, Alice Fay,  a school bus driver, before she left school with a bus load of children.  Sadly, they missed her by about fifteen minutes.  The principal summoned the coach and together, they hurried to catch up, hoping to spare her happening up on the grisly scene at her parent’s home, not realizing a couple of her stops had been eliminated.  He was behind her at every stop.

Old Lady Rivers heard the news before the bus was due.  She waited on the porch and puffed her way out to flag Alice Faye’s bus down.  The principal skidded to a stop behind the bus just as Alice Fay opened the bus door to see what the excited old lady wanted, Mrs. Rivers propped herself on her cane and announced, “Alice Faye, yore daddy done shot hisself in the head! God help him, he’s going to Hell for shore!”

Alice Faye reacted, as you might expect, erupting into hysterical tears as the principal and coach rushed up to comfort her and restore order to the traumatized children, three of whom were Alice Faye’s.  It was a horrendous situation.  The principal drove Alice Faye and her children home, and the coach finished the bus route on that awful day.  It was a shocking announcement of tragedy Alice Faye and her children could have been spared.

A Hog a Day Part 18

Photo shows girls dressed in styles reminiscent of dresses I wore in  the 1950’s

 

children wearing pink ball dress

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Church clothes were special.  Starch was the order of the day: crisp shirts for Daddy and Billy, frilly homemade dresses for the girls, shirtwaists for mother. While still wet from the wash, clothes were dipped in a dishpan of boiled starch and allowed to almost dry before being rolled in a tight ball and stuffed in a pillowcase in the freezer till time to iron. Should she miscalculate drying time, Mother sprinkled them with water from a stopper-topped coke bottle. I magnanimously gave her that sprinkler top for Christmas one year. It cost fifteen cents. Ironing was a huge job, so we had to hang up those fancy dresses the instant we got home. Tossing one in a heap on the bed or floor ensured real trouble. The rough armhole seams felt like razors if Mother forgot to crumple them before ironing. Even though I hated dresses, I have to admit they made an impressive show worn over full petticoats. Those lace and beribboned petticoats were a wonder to behold, way fancier than the dresses that covered them.

When I was little, before school started each year, we got five new dresses, most often homemade or rarely ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Billy got five shirts and three pair of pants. Besides that, we might get a gift of clothes at Christmas and Easter. I thought clothes made an awful gift. As kids were added to the family, the budget was stretched tighter and of course, we got less. Until I reached sixth grade, we could wear pants to school, a great boon on the playground and on cold days. The cold wind sailed under skirts, making frosty days a misery.

Dresses on the playground cut down on the fun of monkey bars, slides, and swings. I feared hearing boys sing out, “I see London. I see France. I see Linda’s underpants!” One day, I had the horrifying experience of catching my skirt tail at the top of the slide and reaching the bottom in only my slip and bodice, the red skirt left flying like a flag at the top. I was the object of hilarity as girls gathered round me to hide my shame as I skulked in for the teacher’s assistance. I expected her to send me home, but no. She pinned that skirt roughly back on and I had to finish out the day looking like a ragged sack of potatoes. A few times, I’d have a sash ripped off playing chase on the playground. Boy, was I in for it when I got home in a ruined dress! Three-cornered tears were the worst! Unlike rips, they couldn’t be mended.

I was always delighted to see someone else suffer a wardrobe humiliation. One Sunday evening, Brother Robert taught a class of young people before evening worship. Right off the bat, we noticed his open fly. I never paid such close attention to a lesson before, struggling not to look. I kept my eyes on his face, as did the rest of the class. He was a stern man. No one dared tell him. The instant class was over, he marched straight to the podium making ready for his sermon. One of the deacons did him the kindness of tipping him off. With a shocked look, he spun to zip his pants to the amusement of the choir filing in behind him. He had nowhere else to turn. It was lovely.

One Sunday morning a few years later, my sister Connie provided the entertainment for the service. She was sitting proudly near the front of the church with her new fiancé and his little niece, Amy. Connie was lovely in a beautiful yellow, spring dress. As the worshippers stood for a hymn, little Amy slid behind Connie, grasped the tail of Connie’s dress, and raised it as high as her tiny arms would reach, giving most of the congregation something truly inspiring amazing to consider, for which God made them truly grateful.

A Hog a Day Part 17

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Original art by Kathleen Swain

Unless you’ve been cursed with a prissy, goody-two-shoes older sister, you couldn’t possibly appreciate this, so just go on with whatever you were doing. If you want to commiserate, jump right in. Phyllis was three years older than I. This put her just far enough ahead of me that all the teachers and Sunday School teachers were still raving about her performance. “Phyllis never misspelled a word on a test the whole year. Phyllis is the best student I had in all my twenty years of teaching. Phyllis is the neatest kid in class. Phyllis always reads her Sunday School Lesson and knows her memory verses.” I’m sure it was all true. She worked on her homework from the time she got off the bus every day till Mother made her go to bed every night, copying it over rather than have an erasure.

I did my homework on the bus, if I could borrow some paper. The second day of first grade Miss Angie called me a blabbermouth and a scatterbrain. I was delighted till she sent a note home. My parents pointed out neither was a good thing. The only notes Phyllis ever got asked if she could be the lead in the school play, tutor slow kids, or be considered for sainthood. Mother had to chase the schoolbus to brush my hair. If we had pancakes for breakfast, my papers stuck to me all morning and dirt clung to the syrupy patches after recess. I never got the connection between being sticky and not washing up after breakfast.

It was bad enough that Mother tried to civilize me. After I started school, Phyllis was embarrassed about being related to “Messy Mayhem.” She started in telling Mother I needed to pull my socks up, brush my hair, not wipe my snotty nose on my sleeve, and most of all, not tell anyone I was related to her. She was a hotline home for anything that the teachers forgot to send a note about. It didn’t help our friendship.

Phyllis was always first in line to get in the door at church. I am surprised she didn’t have her own key. Sitting quietly and thoughtfully through sermons, she’d occasionally nod and mark passages in her Bible. The minister was sure she was headed for “Special Sevice.” Meanwhile, I sat next to Mother, barely aware of the minister’s drone, desperately trying to find interest, somewhere, anywhere. I liked the singing but it didn’t last long. The words didn’t make sense, but it sure beat the sermon. Once the sermon started, I’d start at the front and enumerate things: roses on hats, striped ties, bald men, sleepers, crying babies, kids who got to prowl in their mother’s purses, or the number of times the preacher said “Damn, Breast or Hell!”. Once in a while something interesting would happen, like pants or skirt stuck in a butt-crack, or a kid would get taken out for a spanking, but all this made for a mighty lean diet.

One glorious Sunday, the sun shone. As we filed out, I looked longingly at the lucky kids running wild in the parking lot. We had to stand decorously beside Mother and Daddy as he waxed eloquent, rubbing elbows with the deacons, whose august company he longed to join. As he discussed the merits of the sermon with Brother Cornell Poleman, a deacon with an unfortunate sinus infection, Brother Poleman pulled a big white hankie from his coat pocket and blew a disgusting snort in its general direction. Fortunately for Sister Poleman, she wouldn’t be dealing with that nasty hanky in Monday’s laundry. A giant yellow, green gelatinous gob of snot went airborn, landing right on Phyllis’s saintly, snowy, Southern Baptist forearm, where it quivered just a bit, before settling into its happy home. Her expression was priceless. Mr. Poleman grabbed her arm, rubbing the snot all over her forearm before she could extricate herself from his foul grip. She flew to the church bathroom to wash before joining the family waiting in the car. That snot trick had put a hasty end to all visiting. When she got home, she locked herself in the bathroom to scrub her arm with Comet. I enjoyed church that day.

My brother Billy certainly didn’t have to deal with comparisons to a saint when he followed three years behind me.

A Hog a Day Part 16

I was always grateful when the preacher enlivened the service with a joke or was able to  come up with an interesting story.   I was blessed one memorable Sunday when a well-known evangelist preached to a packed house.  Brother Paine was hailed far and wide for his moving sermons. He was eloquent and erudite, a born speaker whose knowledge of scripture was legend, as he quoted long passages flawlessly, without opening his beloved Bible.  This was all wasted on me, a kid who zoned in and out and listened with less than half an ear.  I usually managed to notice the change in rhythm when a joke, a good story, or an interesting bit of Bible lore might be forthcoming.  Otherwise, I just tried to maintain consciousness enough to stay out of trouble with my parents.  I did find Brother Paine’s sermon a bit more interesting than the usual fare, especially when he got to the story of Baalam. He spun a tale of Baalam’s evil deeds stoking God’s anger. As Baalam’s faithful ass carried him down the road, only the ass saw the sword-wielding angel of God in their path, prepared to strike Baalam down for his wickedness. Three times the ass turned away, saving Baalam from the death-angel’s sword. Three times Baalam cruelly beat her for disobedience. Intending to make the point that God miraculously gave the ass the power of speech to rebuke Balaam for his cruelty, Brother Raymond paused dramatically, pounded on the podium and boomed out. “God spoke through Baalam’s ass!!!!”  He had our complete attention! Silence reigned as he realized his error.  Some of the teenagers and younger kids snickered first, then a few of the less pious joined in. The song-leader faked a few coughs trying to regain his composure, then snorted two giant snot bubbles.  We all burst into full-fledged, knee-slapping, undeniable laughter. Brother Raymond gave it up and church was done for the day. The final prayer was short and sweet.

If I’d had a quarter, I’d have put it in the love offering.

 

A Hog a Day Part 15

 

Against his better judgment, when Billy was about eleven or twelve, Daddy relented and gave him permission to sit with his friend Kenny in church one Sunday.  He’d always had an iron-clad rule that we had to sit together as a family way up in front on the third pew, but was somehow, Billy convinced him he could handle the challenge that day.  Neither had reckoned with the devil super ball hiding in Billy’s pocket as he ecstatically took a seat next to his friend about five rows back.  All was well till that devil ball started sending psychic prompts a few minutes into the sermon.  Billy took it out, inspiring awe in Kenny.  They passed it silently between them a few times keeping their eyes straight ahead.  No one was the wiser.  Temptation got the better of Billy and he bounced the ball between his feet, catching it on the return.  There was a small plunk, but no great disturbance.  He was emboldened by success and had to try it again.  The slight plunk on the hardwood was noticeable, but since the boys kept their composure and stared straight ahead, the sermon continued.  It was going so well, Billy bounced it another time or two.  Of course, luck finally ran out and the hard rubber ball bounced and rolled down the slightly inclined pine floor, bumping a few supports and bouncing joyously along the way.  Daddy knew immediately who the culprit was, turned, and shot Billy the “look of death.”  Kenny, who enjoyed much more casual parenting struggled to stifle his hysteria.

That ball rolled and bounced, bounced and rolled.  The sound seemed deafening, though Brother Robert, the preacher, never faltered in his sermon.  As the ball neared the dais, he stepped down, and scooped up the ball mid-bounce.  I had to admire the smooth move.  I could see he had some natural athletic ability.  Without hesitation, he continued the sermon, walking in front of the dais and bouncing the ball.  Brother Robert held my attention as never before. Never missing a catch, he pocketed the little ball and went straight to altar call.  I truly prayed for Billy’s life.  I couldn’t imagine what his fate might be.  We finished church as always, filing out to greet the preacher at the door.

Surprisingly, Daddy didn’t kill Billy as I expected.  Maybe it tickled his funny bone, though he never let on.  The next Sunday, Billy was in his usual seat on the third row, right next to Daddy.  He never got his superball back.

 

A Hog a Day Part 14

Communion charmed me.  It pained me to see the perfect little glasses and morsels of wafer in the gleaming trays pass me by.  I suspect Mother’s thoughts weren’t sacred as she warned me off with dark looks and head shake.  It seemed wrong to waste communion on adults when those cups were obviously child-sized.  Glenda Parker boldly reached in and took two tiny cups right under her mother’s eye.  She slurped the juice from one cup, then poured the juice from the other back and forth a few times before spilling it.  Her mother sweetly wiped up the pew with a dainty hanky, never shooting her “the look.”  With my head bowed during prayer, I saw Glenda stack and restack those cups and slip them in and out of the little slots on the back of the pew in front of her while her mother piously bowed her head in prayer.  Why couldn’t God have given me to a good mother like that?

Baptism was even more interesting.  The first baptism I witnessed took place in a pond.  The congregation gathered around as the preacher led the candidates in one by one and dipped them backwards into murky water.  I yearned to get in that line, but had been warned not to move from Mother’s side.  The next baptism took place in our church’s new sanctuary.  The curtains behind the choir loft opened to reveal a glass-fronted tank before a lovely mural of the Jordan River.  The preacher stepped  in and spoke a few words before assisting Miss Flora Mae down the steps into the tank.  Miss Flora Mae’s full-skirted white skirt ballooned on the surface of the water as she descended, revealing chubby legs and white panties, an unexpected thrill for me and other less-holy onlookers.  A few even snickered as Miss Flora Mae struggled to recover her dignity.

By the next baptism, the baptistry’s glass front had been painted.

 

 

 

A Hog a Day Part 13

With eons of sermons stretching out before me, life looked grim.  Occasionally, there was a bright spot.  Sometimes the preacher told a joke.   I truly enjoyed church music, especially if it was something lively, like “Onward Christian Soldiers” on the hymn list.  I sung along enthusically, though lots of the words did’t make sense.  For the life of me, I couldn’t fathom why we sang about laundry, as in “Bringing in the Sheets (Sheaves).” There was also a Christmas carol about laundry.  “While shepherds washed their socks by night (watched their flocks by night.)  I thought it odd, but so much adults did seemed odd.

One special Sunday, God had a startling surprise in store for me.  Mrs. Simmons, the pianist, brought her brother Eddie, a handsome young man, along to play the organ.  His boogie-woogie style hymns were a vast improvement over sedate hymns.  I could see some of the old ladies exchanging shocked looks, but  I was entranced.  I was practically bouncing in the pew when suddenly he dropped to the floor in a seizure.  Mrs. Simmons shrieked and rushed to his side.  He rallied and they trooped out, along with the rest of her family.  I was so jealous.  The preacher made an anemic attempt to salvage the service, but his flock was clearly anxious to get out and enjoy a good gossip.  I genuinely enjoyed church that day.

 

A Hog a Day 12

Church was a trial for me. Daddy marched us into third pew from the front on the right side of church. He’d stomped out any hope of back- row giggling long before. I did look longingly at the lucky, wicked girls happily ensconced there, but had learned not to even ask to sit with a friend. We always filed in and took our seats in the same order. Daddy was first with Billy sandwiched between him and Mother. Mother held a baby on her lap. I was in easy reach next to Mother, with Phyllis and Connie, a toddler next to me. Sometimes during the service, Mother and Phyllis exchanged charges.

Phyllis, an adolescent, was the model of propriety, the darling of Sunday School teachers and choir directors. She’d have crawled to church on her hands and knees and sung a solo every Sunday if they’d let her. I compared poorly. Every Sunday I offered up excuses to avoid church. “My stomach hurts. I have an earache. I can’t find my shoes.” That last one was probably true! Billy and I could be depended upon to misbehave if allowed to sit together.

In preparation for the Sunday show, Mother spent endless hours sewing, starching, and ironing frilly dresses for us to show off at church. To ensure total misery, on Saturday night, she clamped me between her knees and twisted my fine hair into tight pin curls as I whined and wiggled. Invariably, she expressed the hope the some day I’d have fifteen girls with straight hair. Ironically, I have one daughter with curls. As final punishment, Mother wrapped my head in a scarf, and made me sleep on those damnable pins. Come morning, I was transformed into a kinky-headed mess in a Shirley Temple nightmare of a dress. I hated it.

The enforced quiet of church sermons was endless. In the days before ADD, I was BAD. My parents didn’t believe in providing distractions for restless children during church, offering up pre-sermon threats and terrifying looks, instead. I completely understood what was waiting at home if I messed up, so I passed the time manufacturing silent distractions.

Mr. Rose and Miss Bessie sat on the pew directly in front of us. He wore ancient gabardine suits with wide ties. He drifted off to sleep as soon as the preaching and his gastric system relaxed. Soon he regaled the congregation with a symphony of flabby farts. Poor Miss Bessie elbowed him to keep him awake and silent, but was no match for his system. It was a fascinating show, made all the more thrilling, since I was supposed to ignore it. How can you not notice farting in church?

 

It Couldn’t Be Helped Part 8

This happened not too long after she came home with the extra twenty dollar bill, claiming she messed up making change in the offering plate.  I’d never have known if she hadn’t been talking to me on the phone as she changed clothes after church, questioning herself, “Now where’s my bra?”  She finally decided she must have forgotten to wear one.  Is that any better?  At her age, imagine trying to incite all those poor men to “lust after her in their hearts” when all they were doing was trying to worship.  Not satisfied with the previous commandments she’d broken by stealing from the offering plate, getting caught paying her tithe with a money order from  “Mr. Thrifty” liquor store.  She appeared to be bearing false witness by claiming to be a teetotaler. It looks likes she’s knocking out two more or she wouldn’t have lost that bra at church. Technically, she may not have committed adultery, since she’s a widow, but it’s fairly likely she was coveting her neighbor’s husband or her neighbor’s husband’s ass, since she came gallivanting home a little short on underwear.  I can promise you, she wouldn’t have bought that ridiculous story “I guess I forgot to wear one,” when I was a teenager! I don’t think she’s going to be satisfied till she manages to break them all, at church no less!

If this weren’t bad enough, one afternoon she called me demanding I go to her house, get her extra car key, and bring it to her at Thrifty Liquor, where she claimed to have been paying her utility bills.  She sure hangs out there a lot for someone who claims not to drink.  My sister Phyllis and her pre-teen daughter came by about then.  I got them to ride along in the hope that she’d be embarrassed into giving up Thrifty Liquor.  I don’t know if she did, but she hasn’t gotten caught there again.

Note:  I have no doubt she forgot her bra!  Just couldn’t pass up this opportunity to tease!