Dining With Mr. Floyd

Daddy had always wanted a place in the country, but was overwhelmed at the magnitude of work facing him on that totally undeveloped acreage.  It had been homesteaded and farmed shortly after the Civil War, but hadn’t been under production for many years, long enough that most of it was covered in mature timber.  A tangle of locust trees was matted  over the old homeplace beneath three huge oaks.  Though we worked hard at clearing  and burning the growth, locust thorns worked up through the ground and pierced our feet for years to come, even through our shoes.

There was more work than one man could do, so Daddy hired Mr. Floyd to help harvest the timber and clear the land for pasture..  All that timber would finance the payments on the place and make improvements.  Mr. Floyd lived on the fringes of society getting by on odd jobs.  Mr. Floyd was unkempt, rarely bathed, and kept to himself, but had a reputation as a hard worker, He lived in a shack in the woods with his brother, who didn’t manage quite so well.  Daddy couldn’t afford to pay Mr. Floyd much, so they worked out a deal on a small wage, meals, and lodging in our fine school bus camper. When Mother got a whiff of Mr. Floyd, she told Daddy the camper was dead to her after that.

So, Daddy set the camper up on the far edge of his place.  Mr. Floyd moved in with instructions  to leave propane off since there might be a leak.  There shouldn’t be a problem anyway, since he’d be taking his meals with us.  Mother put some old bedding in the camper and Mr. Floyd moved in.  The next morning, he showed up for breakfast before daylight.  He didn’t was his hands, just dove in to the biscuits, grits, and eggs.  His manners served as lessons, thereafter.  “You’re eating like Mr. Floyd.”  He didn’t hog the conversation.  He was too busy with biscuits.

The men went to work right after breakfast.  It was early summer, but hot as blazes.  When they came in for lunch, Daddy pointed out the bathroom so Mr. Floyd could wash up.  He wasn’t worried about that.  He took the the chair Mother had offered him for breakfast nearest the window.  Daddy always sat at the opposite end of the table that got the best breeze from the attic fan.  He sat downwind of Mr. Floyd just long enough to get a whiff of seasoned body odor marinated with the piquant aroma of fresh morning sweat the fan pulled over our guest before jumping up.  “Here Floyd.  Sit here.  It’s the coolest spot.”

Mr. Floyd also taught Mother to cut the cornbread before putting it on the table when he reached for the plate and broke off a big piece before passing it. Phyllis and I both declined cornbread and passed it right along.  I didn’t keep up with who else was feeling picky, but there was a lot left after lunch.  None of us kids ever learned to enjoy Mr. Floyd’s company, but he was a necessary evil.

One night, over in the winter, long after work was finished, we heard what sounded like a sonic boom, which was surprising to hear at night.  A few minutes later, Mr. Floyd knocked on the door.  The boom had come from the camper.  Mr. Floyd had run low on wood for the heater and opted to use the propane stove, instead, the very same stove Daddy had warned him not to use because he suspected a leak.  Mr. Floyd had lit up a cigarette before bed and came near burning himself up.  It’s bad he got some burns, but good he didn’t gas himself. He was done with the camper after that, so that’s when Daddy let him work out a deal for a 1953 Chevy Sedan Daddy could spare.

The camper was deemed unfit, not only because Mr. Floyd blew it up, but because his strong smell lingered.  You can’t get rid of a fifty dollar just because of that.  A farm can always use storage.  Daddy pulled the camper up behind the house to use for feed storage and a place for the dogs to sleep. Mother was furious to have it so near her new house.  From that time on, whenever Daddy had no particular place to store something, it went in the camper.  It wasn’t long before the dogs were crowded out of the nice smelly bunks.  Whenever they could, the chickens slipped in and helped themselves to the chicken feed and tried to set up housekeeping.  Rats also liked chicken feed.  Black snakes love eggs, so between the smell, spooked chickens, rats, and snakes it was fairly unappealing.

Miracle Healer

Daddy had a knee that troubled him from the time he’d left the Navy. It swelled and pained him in bad weather, likely osteoarthritis. He felt human bodies were like automobiles, if something wasn’t running just right, you fixed it. Unfortunately, as a few of us have noticed, wear and tear is normal with some things best left alone. Daddy visited numerous doctors, thinking knee surgery would fix him as good as new. He was disappointed when every one suggested conservative treatment, not surgery. Finally, he found a doctor at the Veterans Hospital who agreed to fix the knee, though he assured Daddy it wasn’t likely to make him better.

He lay in the hospital more than two months, casted from ankle to thigh. Getting up on crutches and ambulating was a nightmare. He was not a stoic man. This surgery business was not turning out to be a simple tune up like he’d envisioned.   Upon discharge, he was still casted and hobbling on crutches from bed to chair, not a good outcome.  He was still in a lot of pain, disappointed, depressed, and miserable. When Daddy was in pain, everybody was in pain. He spent his days stretched out in a recliner in the middle of the living room, watching TV, loud! From that point, he could supervise all goings on. He critiqued every move the family made. We were all most imperfect. He listened in on all phone conversations, insisting on knowing who it was. What did they want? It was not a good time to be a Swain.

Eventually, he got his cast off. The staff attempted to help him bend his leg. It was excruciating, of course. He was instructed to exercise every day and increase the movement daily, the extent of his therapy. He didn’t deal with the pain well, so he was left with a stiff leg.

All their vehicles had standard transmissions. Daddy couldn’t work the clutch, so he couldn’t drive. He was so critical, no one would drive him if they could get out of it. It was common for farm kids to drive early then, long before they got a license. Connie and Marilyn were eager to drive, so eventually, they were driving him about the countryside. If they went to town, Mother was stuck driving him, much to her disgust. Mother was barely five feet and Daddy six foot three inches. He slid the seat as far back as possible and stretched out on the front seat. When Mother tried to slide the seat forward, it jammed. When she put some muscle behind it and gave another try, the stuck seat broke loose and flew forward, bending his knee and simultaneously banging it into the dash. He screamed, shoved the seat back, and jumped nimbly from the car. When he finished his dance of agony, he found his stiff knee healed, though I don’t believe he ever thanked Mother

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.

Washday Blues

Image courtesy of The People’s History

Mother had some bad luck, then some good.  She was a  passenger in a car hit by a drunk driver and sustained a cut over her eye.  The good news was, she wasn’t badly scarred and got a two-thousand dollar settlement from the driver’s insurance.  Daddy and Mother were rich!  (He was the man and what was hers was his.) That was a lot of money in 1956.  She said the first thing she wanted was an automatic washing machine. She and Daddy made for the local furniture store.  When Daddy saw what a new Maytag cost, he balked. The set pictured above retailed at $494!  Of course, purchase of a dryer would have been ridiculous, since she had a clothesline and nothing but time, but the price of a new washer alone was outrageous!  They had a lot of better places for that money!  The upshot was, the salesman finally admitted he had taken a used Maytag in trade.  That was more like it.  Daddy always went for used.   That fine, used washer came home with them, for only fifty dollars.  It took place of pride on the screened-in back porch and Mother’s old wringer washer became a trade-in.

It worked okay for a few weeks and Mother dealt with her disappointment at not getting a new Maytag.  Soon, it revealed its true nature.  Apparently, the switch was moody.  It began to protest moving between cycles.  Sometimes it made a grinding nose, sometimes it meditated.  Eventually, it died.  Mother was livid.  They had wasted fifty dollars on a piece of trash.  At least her old wringer washer was dependable.  Of course, by now, the two-thousand dollars was history.  They’d paid some bills, and Daddy had purchased a small sawmill so he could go in the cross-tie business.  It looked like a great deal till the bottom fell out of the cross-tie business.  Money was tight as always.  Daddy had heard that a neighbor, J. D. Offut, worked on appliances, so he sent a kid over to ask Mr. Offut to stop by when he got off his day job.  This was before we enjoyed the luxury of a telephone.

I have no idea what Mr. Offut’s day job was,  but his hobby was soon performing CPR on Mother’s chronically ailing Maytag washer.  He always tinkered long enough to revive it for a few days.  Invariably he’d leave Mother with a handful of small unnecessary parts.  “I bypassed the such and such, so I didn’t need these.  You might want to keep them, just in case.  I don’t know how long it will hold up.”  His confidence in his work was well-grounded.  It rarely ran more than a few days, leaving Mother to  fish out a heavy load of cold, soggy laundry in anticipation of Mr. Offut ‘s call.  Sometimes, he had a previous commitment, so she’d have to finish the load by hand.  It was unfortunate she didn’t swear.  I believe it would have helped her feelings as she truminated on Daddy, the washer, and Mr. Offut.

Mother never did learn to appreciate that washer.

The Sad Saga of Door to Door Sales Part 2

The purchase of waterless cookware deserves more attention in view of the problems it caused.  The actual door the salesman knocked on was not ours.  It was my Uncle Parnell’s where we’d spent a couple of days .  That morning, we were to journey on to my maternal grandmother’s, a trip Daddy had put off as long as possible.  While he would have never given in to his impulse to shoot Grandma, I don’t think Daddy would’ve grieved too deeply had he backed over her.  At any rate, I’m sure that salesman was thrilled.  The spiel went on for hours.  Daddy would talk to anyone who’d listen, determined to ferret out a shared acquaintance.  Eventually, the salesman caught on and acknowledged a nebulous connection, realizing the sale hung on it.  Daddy bought that damned cookware, a three-hundred -seventy-five dollar purchase, at a time when his net pay was a bit over a hundred a week.  Mother was furious, first at the delay in leaving for Grandma’s, then at the outrageous purchase, not knowing the full disaster that was about to befall.

The salesman, who we forever afterward referred to as Mr. Pots, told Daddy Mother should launch a career selling waterless cookware, an idea Daddy quickly seconded.  He’d always felt Mother could contribute more if she’d just “get organized.”  She had nothing but leisure with five children, house and farm chores which included milking a cow, gardening, and food preservation.  In her spare time, she sewed everything she and the girls wore.  I don’t know why he’d put up with her laziness that long.

Mother hit the ceiling.  “I am not selling that mess!”  Her rotten attitude dashed no one’s hopes.  The upshot was, Daddy invited Mr. Pots to come stay with us for a week or so and induct Mother into sales.  Mr. Pots eagerly accepted, glad to find a man who could bully his wife  lining his own pockets.

A week later, Mr. Pots showed up, laden with Daddy’s cookware.  Daddy was appalled and embarrassed that Mother stuck to her guns, after he’d set this up for her benefit.  Mr. Pots moved into my unfortunate brother’s room.  Daddy gave Mr. Pots a list of possible victims and Mr. Pots was off, without Mother as his protege.  There wasn’t a lot of warmth in our home that week.  Daddy was furious he hadn’t been able to force Mother into sales.  She’d failed him.  Mother was was enraged that Daddy had once again proved himself an insensitive ass.

Everyone was glad to see the last of Mr. Pots.  Eventually, the cookware was paid off.

The Sad Saga of Door to Door Sales

Daddy would buy anything sold door to door.  He probably would have bought a helicopter had a salesman shown up and offered one on a no-money-down, three-year-payment plan.  He bought waterless cookware.  It was supposed to cut cooking time, save money and increase Mother’s effiency. He was all for anything that made Mother more organized. I guess it never occurred to him a string of babies and unending farm and house work might be a factor.

When the vacuum salesman came around, Daddy didn’t feel he could afford the new model, so he bargained for the used model the salesman had taken in trade on his rounds that morning.  The purchase probably saved the guy a trip to the dump. The salesman jimmied with it enough to get it running that day, but it never started again.  I don’t believe that helped Mother’s organization or her attitude a bit.  The good news was, the salesman took five dollars cash, and Mother was to send payments afterwards.  The good news was, Mother never sent a payment, which meant the guy only beat them out of five bucks.

We also had the only house distinguished by lightning rods on the roof.  The theory was, the lightning would strike the rod, rather than the roof.  The charge was to follow  a metal cable downward, where it would be grounded.  The lightning rods might have been an the answer to a prayer had Daddy not bought a remote-controlled television antenna which  was probably twenty feet taller than the model that came with the TV from the next guy who knocked on the door.  He enjoyed trying to find the best reception for a month or two until the antenna was struck by lightening.  The charge ran down the wire, melted a hole in metal TV case and fried the vacuum tubes.  Sadly, it also blew out the works in the beautiful ship lamp that came with the TV and melted its lovely red cellophane windows.  I was kind of glad when the antenna motor blew out since Daddy spent a lot of time adjusting it, limiting our viewing pleasure. We were frequently sent outdoors a lot to let him know if it was moving while he adjusted.  I never could tell when it moved, so I just gave random answers.  I don’t know why it gave him so much trouble.

 

to be continued

He’s the Man!

chauvinist pigIn her never-ending mission to make Daddy’s life miserable, Mother raised objections when Daddy wanted to move one of his sister, her dead-beat husband, and her horrible twins onto their place.  His plan was to buy them a mobile-home, set it up, install utilities, under his name, of course, since their only income was Bubba’s disability check.  The good news was, the happy couple could now afford rent sent they’d married and Bubba was getting extra income by acquiring her minor children.  The bad news was, Hubby was running from the law because he hadn’t paid child support for his own children in years.  They needed to get out of town fast since his ex-wife had finally located him and there was a warrant for his arrest.

Daddy was THE BOSS!  He would move anybody on his place he wanted to and if Mother didn’t like it, she could leave.  In fact, it was God’s Will that a man help his sister out.  Daddy went to work in a self-righteous swagger.  Righteousness became him.  Well, she would leave, by golly, but there was a small complication.  When Mother got ready to go, she found he’d taken all the vehicle keys with him.  She was waiting up for him when he got in after eleven that night for round two.

Quite satisfied with himself, he hid the keys and went to bed to sleep like the dead.  Rather than wrapping him in the sheet and beating the coon-dog poo poo out of him like she should have, she decided to give him the scare of a life-time.  It was one of Louisiana’s rare icy nights.

Enraged, Mother grabbed an afghan off the sofa and made her way out to sleep in the camper, sure he’d be terrified when he found awoke and found her gone.  She tried to settle in for the night, but the camper, but it was beyond freezing.  With only the afghan, she might as well have been out in the icy night.  Naturally, she had no idea how to turn on the propane heater.  She dug through and found a couple of sheets and blankets in the camper, but they weren’t much help.  Finally, her rage cooled enough she decided she’d seek comfort back in the house and deal with Daddy in the morning. 

Unfortunately, she had to deal with him a lot sooner than that.  She had inadvertently locked herself out of the house and had to beat on the doors and windows till she finally woke him up to let her in.  By that time, she was so cold she had to snuggle up to his back to warm up.  He was very forgiving.ther

One Toe Over the Line

milking_a_cow2This is a stock photo of woman milking a cow.  I can promise you Mother never smiled like that when milking.

My mother was so rough on my poor daddy, but thank goodness, she was punished for her sins.  She was a hulking five feet tall at best, so she was well able to best for six foot three inch husband any time she wanted.  Not only that, he was so bashful he’d barely speak up for himself.  Big joke!  Daddy wore the pants in his house and made sure everyone KNEW it.  I think he’d seen way too many John Wayne movies and had no intention of being taken for a softy.

I rarely saw Mother even bother to tangle with Daddy.  She understood her life was much easier if she just went along with his demands.  From time to time, she was forced to take a stand, like the time she kicked him.  Before you get all excited and set off to congratulate her for getting some gumption, it was strictly accidental.  She gets no points.  To set the stage, you need to know, Mother did all the milking.  According to Daddy, the Bible forbade men to milk a cow.  “Thou shalt not take what thee cannot give.”  He often invented Bible verses in time of great need, not bothering to quote chapter and verse. The Bible never was a big part of his day unless he needed to make a point anyway. 

As always, Mother put biscuits in the oven before she went out to milk the cow every morning before daylight.  One morning it was sleeting as she trudged toward the barn in Daddy’s boots and barn coat, making the job even worse than usual.  Just as she finished milking, the cow slapped her with its poop-encrusted tail, kicked over the milk bucket and stepped on her booted foot.  Mother hated that damned cow anyhow.  They’d traded insults through their whole association.  Furious at the hated cow and the loss of the much-needed milk, Mother worked her agonized foot way out of the boot still pinned under the cow’s hoof, kicked the cow as hard as she could, falling down in the filth in the process.  The cow showed little interest, just lifted her tail and splattered Mother with her most abundant resource. 

Mother hobbled to the house coated in manure.  She had to strip and clean up the best she could before starting breakfast.  Her two babies, one an infant and the other under two were just waking up demanding attention as she pulled the biscuits out of the oven.  Daddy yelled at her from the bedroom, “Come see about these squalling babies.  I don’t have but a few more minutes before I have to get up and go to work.”  Somehow, he lived, but they didn’t have more children! 

By ten o’clock every night, Mother was whipped.  Like all mothers, she was chronically sleep-deprived.  She always had a cup of coffee to relax her before she went to bed, but had a hard time staying awake long enough to finish it.  When Daddy got ready to go to bed, he got up, went to the bathroom, and hit the bed.  When Mother said she was going to bed, she hung a last load of laundry in front of the fireplace, hoping some of it would be dry by morning, put a load in to wash, made a last run through the kitchen, filled the tea kettle and put coffee in the pot so it wouldn’t take too long in the morning, made sure Daddy’s lunch stuff and clothes were ready for tomorrow, scouted out kids shoes, books, and coats, and a few other little things.  Finally, she’d check on the kids, and head to bed where Daddy was snoring away.

This particular night, she’d just gotten to sleep when Daddy rolled over on her long hair.  He slept like the dead.  She pushed and yelled, but couldn’t make him stir.  In desperation, she kicked him, forgetting she’d already hurt her foot that morning.  The pain was excruciating, but Daddy never woke.  She was finally able to hold get her feet in the flat of his back and shoved him off.  The next morning, he reported a restful night while she hobbled around on a bruised foot, the toe obviously battered.  Till today, she still has to buy shoes a full size larger since her great toe points to Heavenward.

 

Poke

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Woo! Woo! Cousin Wayne!

train interiorI wrote of my my mother, Kathleen’s laundry list against her cousin’s Robert Gordon and Wayne Perkins just the other day, mentioning her intention to tell Robert Gordon what a hellion should she ever met him again, even if he were Pope. It’s fortunate she never had that little conversation with his partner-in-crime, Wayne, since she found herself in need of his friendship one day early in her marriage.

Daddy was a busy man who had priorities. These included good times with his brothers and brothers-in-law and manly business. That being said, we spent endless weekends with his family, careening out our drive on Fridays after he got in from work and not often not getting back till late on Sunday night, despite the fact that there were young children to be bathed, homework to be done, and the week ahead to be prepared for. That was woman’s business. Fortunately, he was not a woman.

At any rate, at the close of school every year, Mother would break the news that yet again, she was going to visit her parents this summer. They’d fight a while till they’d reach an impasse.

Outraged, he’d insist she wasn’t going. She’d go on making her plans. Finally he threw out a challenge, “Well, If you go, you’re not coming back.”

She went on with her packing. “We have to be at the train by two.”

Defeated, he asked. “When will you be back?”

“Pick me up two weeks from today. I’ll travel through the night so I won’t have to wrestle with the baby so much.”

Two weeks later, when we got off the train, Daddy wasn’t there. Mother was disgusted, but not too surprised. He was always late. At nine, she called Aunt Julie who told her Daddy and Uncle Parnell had just left there to see a man about a dog, but had mentioned he was supposed to pick her up. He was just going to be a couple of hours late. Of course, Mother was furious, but had no choice but to wait. She called Aunt Julie back later, who hadn’t seen the men. By eleven she had thirty cents left, we were starving, and the baby was guzzling the last bottle. Mother wracked her brain till she remembered her Cousin Wayne lived nearby. She looked his number up and called. Miraculously, he and his wife were home. Upon hearing her plight, he picked us up at the train, took us home for lunch, fixed the baby up with a bottle and a nap, and let Mother use the phone to tell Aunt Julie she’d found a ride, after all. It was mid-afternoon by now. Daddy still hadn’t gotten back from seeing about that dog. Cousin Wayne kindly took us home. Daddy was delighted to see us when he finally came in with his new hunting dog and not surprised at all that Mother had somehow gotten a ride home from the train station. What a guy! I don’t know why she never killed him.