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.

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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 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.

 

 

 

It Couldn’t Be Helped Part 3

Mother is sensitive about her height.  For some reason, people feel free asking her how tall she is.  She dodges the issue by returning with a question,  either, “How much do you weigh?”  or “How much money do you have?”  By the way, she is not tall.  Most of her grandchildren pass her up by the time they are ten or eleven.  I was with her on a recent visit to her doctor when the nurse asked her height.

Mother feloniously claimed five foot two inches.  Realizing she was getting nowhere, the nurse took her to measure.  She was busted.

Compounding the issue of her slight build, is her squeaky voice.  She sounds just like Minnie Mouse.  The minute a caller hears her voice, they say, “Oh, hello Mrs. Swain.”  She’d never be able to make crank calls.

Mother was at loose ends one Sunday in June after church so decided to visit The American Rose Center.  As it was already hot that day, she donned her comfortable clothes:  cut off blue jean shorts, (neatly hemmed, starched, and ironed since “her mama raised her right!”) pink gingham shirt, tennis shoes and pink socks that perfectly matched her shirt.  She topped her ensemble off with a big straw sun hat.  She knew she looked cute!

She strolled around for an hour or so, admiring the lovely roses, when she noticed a gathering at a small rustic building.  Thinking there was a “program” of some sort, she decided to check it and cool off for a bit.  Based on the attendance, the program promised to be a good one.  The music was beautiful.  She had to go all the way to the front row to get a seat.  It was a hot day, but she was surprised to see so many hats.  Somehow, she failed to notice the wedding party standing before the altar.

Just about the time she got settled, the organist started playing the “Wedding March.”  It dawned on her that she had crashed a wedding as the usher escorted the groom’s mother to her seat.   Panicked to realize she occupied the seat intended for the bride’s mother, she fled back down the aisle to the giggling of the wedding guests where she was forced to make her way around the mother of the bride on the arm of the usher.  I can only imagine the confusion of the bride as Mother excused herself on the way out.

That was the most unfriendly family she’d ever met.

 

Kathleen Holdaway and Bill Swain June 29, 1946 on the day of their marriage.

 

Miss Tillie Tittilates the Heathen

imageMiss Tillie, my Sunday School Teacher held my attention like no other before or since, giving the class candy, bubble gum, and tiny little paper umbrellas if we learned our Bible verses. Mother thought she ought not to bribe us to do our lessons. I thought Mother ought to mind her own business. Miss Tillie had already taught Sunday School for thirty years by the time I had her in 1956. She still wore lacy dresses left over from her daughter’s high school days when she didn’t opt for gabardine suits with oversize shoulder pads from the forties. She showed up once a month with robin’s egg blue hair that faded over the next three weeks to a pale lavender. We always complimented her when it was at its brightest and she’d shyly say, “Can you believe I don’t even have to color it?” I couldn’t. She still wore seamed stockings long after the other ladies wore seamless. I always looked forward to seeing a special one with a mended run she wore every third Sunday. I got to know Miss Tillie before I was old enough to know she was a little wacko, so I admired all her differences.

Miss Tillie was so sweet I wouldn’t have wanted to misbehave. The naughty words in the Bible caused her a big problem. She couldn’t bring herself to say the bad words like lie, sin, Hell, and ass, so she made modest substitutions such as fibbing, doing wrong, the bad place, and donkeys. The lesson of Samson versus the Philistines was a challenge for her. Starting out fine, she described Samson’s great strength and glorious hair, reminding us of his obedience to God. Things were going well until the battle reached its zenith. With her modesty, she couldn’t possibly say, “Samson slew ten-thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass,” so after a great deal of obvious preparation and practice, she concluded the lesson with a flourish, “and so Samson picked up the assbone of a donkey and slew ten-thousand Philistines.” That lesson is still burned in my brain.

Scary Words

Scary things I’ve heard coming out of my kids’ mouths:

To a messy neighbor:  “My daddy said you need to clean that mess up!”

To my dad: “Climb a weed, Papa!”

Comment as portly lady turns to leave checkout line:  “I was good not to call her a great big old fat lady, wasn’t I Mommy?”

To the dentist who encouraged her to floss:  My mommy won’t buy me any floss.”

Loud protest when I tried to shush my daughter in a restaurant: “He is so a fat man!”

In a grocery store:  “My mommy took my money to buy groceries.”

To the neighbor man:  “My mama’s ta tas are bigger than yours.”  Go figure.

To a kid who had been hitting him:  “My mama said I have to hit you.”  Whack!   There was a little story behind this.

To a visiting relative:  “My mama is tired of you sleeping here.”

To an elderly relative: “You smell like pee.”

To a relative:  “My mama hates your mean little dog.”

My young son to his grandma:  “Not by the hair on YOUR chinny-chin-chin!”

Worst of all:  “My mama said…….”

When You Gotta Go…

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This is was not their picnic, but you get the idea.  No bathroom in sight.

Mother has always been pretty ditzy.  We will only suspect her mind is going if she ever becomes organized.  In the early days of their marriage, she and Daddy went on  a picnic with Aunt Mary and Uncle Willie, long before the days of nice parks with conveniences like pavilions, picnic tables and rest facilities.  They just drove down a country road till they found a quiet spot under a big shade tree and spread their quilt on the ground for a nice picnic.  Not surprisingly, after lunch, the men decided to stroll to a small grove of trees to “look around.”

Apparently, there was a lot to see, because they took their time.  Meanwhile, back at the picnic site under the lone shade tree, all that coffee and lemonade was starting to percolate through Aunt Mary.  In desperation, she realized she couldn’t wait for her chance to stroll to the trees and “look around.”  There was nothing to hide behind, so she had to rough it.

“I’m gonna have to go,” she told Mother.  “We haven’t seen a car the whole time we’ve been out here.  I’ll squat on this side of the car where the men can’t see me. You keep a watch out for traffic so I can stand up real quick if I need to.”

Anxious to be helpful, Mother assured Aunt Mary she would.  After all, by now, she had to go, too.

Aunt Mary reminded Mother, “Now watch for a car.”  She set about her business, hidden from the view of the men.

It must have been a great relief, because once she maneuvered herself into the awkward squatting position, she stayed there a while, in no hurry to get up.  Aunt Mary was a woman of generous proportions.  Meanwhile, Mother stared off to the West, forgetting traffic went both ways.

As Aunt Mary sighed with relief, a car buzzed by from the East, honking and waving. “There goes one!”  Mother offered helpfully.

How Miss Tillie Tittillated the Heathen

imageMiss Tillie, my Sunday School Teacher held my attention like no other before or since, giving the class candy, bubble gum, and tiny little paper umbrellas if we learned our Bible verses. Mother thought she ought not to bribe us to do our lessons. I thought Mother ought to mind her own business. Miss Tillie had already taught Sunday School for thirty years by the time I had her in 1956. She still wore lacy dresses left over from her daughter’s high school days when she didn’t opt for gabardine suits with oversize shoulder pads from the forties. She showed up once a month with robin’s egg blue hair that faded over the next three weeks to a pale lavender. We always complimented her when it was at its brightest and she’d shyly say, “Can you believe I don’t even have to color it?” I couldn’t. She still wore seamed stockings long after the other ladies wore seamless. I always looked forward to seeing a special one with a mended run she wore every third Sunday. I got to know Miss Tillie before I was old enough to know she was a little wacko, so I admired all her differences.

Miss Tillie was so sweet I wouldn’t have wanted to misbehave. The naughty words in the Bible caused her a big problem. She couldn’t bring herself to say the bad words like lie, sin, Hell, and ass, so she made modest substitutions such as fibbing, doing wrong, the bad place, and donkeys. The lesson of Samson versus the Philistines was a challenge for her. Starting out fine, she described Samson’s great strength and glorious hair, reminding us of his obedience to God. Things were going well until the battle reached its zenith. With her modesty, she couldn’t possibly say, “Samson slew ten-thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass,” so after a great deal of obvious preparation and practice, she concluded the lesson with a flourish, “and so Samson picked up the assbone of a donkey and slew ten-thousand Philistines.” That lesson is still burned in my brain.

Payback is Hell

dead batTurning the tables on a kid who’s spent most of his life (I am being intentionally ambiguous here so neither of my kids feels neglected) creating embarrassing situations is refreshing.  We went out of town for a few days, leaving our college-aged son home, after specifically asking him not to have guests over.  He was certainly old enough to be responsible, for what that’s worth, but we just didn’t want to deal with any problems on our return.

Needless to say, he had friends over.  I probably would have never known, had one of his lady-friends not gone to the freezer for ice.  I got this phone call.

Him: “Mom, what in the world are that frozen bat and squirrel doing in the freezer?”

Me:  “Oh, I forgot I put those in there.  Just leave them alone.  They aren’t hurting a thing.”

Him: “But why are they in there?”

Me:  “I found them dead in the yard and thought maybe they’d died of rabies.  I meant to call animal control to see what to do, so I put them in the freezer in case they needed to be tested, then forgot.  Why?”

Him: “Cindy went in the freezer and stuck her hand down in the bag looking for ice, pulled out the dead bat, and now she’s freaking out.”

Me: “Well, I told you not to have anybody over.  Just wrap them back up and put them back in the freezer, unless Cindy Lu Who wants them.  I’ll take care of them when I get home.  I told you not to have anyone over!”

Sometimes, things work out perfectly.