Miss Laura Mae’s kids were long gone. I loved tagging along with Mother to visit her since she always took time to talk to me a little before offering me a buttered biscuit and glass of milk. I loved the biscuit, but refused the milk, repulsed by the thick layer of cream atop the fresh cow’s milk in the glass jar in her refrigerator. I thought the thick cream looked like snot as she carefully spooned it into her coffee. Most of Mother’s friends had a houseful of kids and shooed us out before pouring coffee. “The kids are out back.” Sometimes I got a hint of gossip, though Mother always shooed me out as soon as I got my biscuit. “Now, stay on the steps and don’t let that ol’ hound dog git your biscuit!” Miss Laura Mae always reminded me as I closed the screen door behind me. I knew from experience that if I didn’t stand on the top step and hold my biscuit out of his reach, Ol’ Boots would help himself.
From my vantage point, I listened in as Miss Laura Mae launched into her story. “Floyd was pretty good to me, but he never did hold a job long. I don’t know what we’d a done if we hadn’t lived in that old house on his Mama’s place. He always did plow and put a good garden in or we’d a’gone hungry. He’d work a little pretty good for a while, but then he’d go off on a toot and get fired. The only thing he was good at was knocking me up. I had six youngun’s in eight years. Seem’s like I got another one ever’ time he hung his pants on the bed post. Times was just gittin’ harder and harder, and Floyd got mad the last couple of times I told him I was that way. You’d a’thought them babies was all my doing, but Lord knows more babies was the last thing on my mind when I couldn’t hardly feed the ones I already had. We couldn’t even keep ‘em in shoe leather. I had Berry in 1941 just before World War II started and nursed her long as I could, hoping I wouldn’t get pregnant, but sure enough, when she was about eight months old, my milk dried up an’ I felt a baby kicking under my apron. I kept hopin’ it was just gas, but then I started blowin’ up and I knew it was another youngun’ on the way.
I dreaded tellin’ Floyd, knowin’ he was gonna git mad. Sure enough, soon as I told him, he lit out a drinkin’. That was on a Monday night. I waited till then on purpose. He got paid on Fridays and I didn’t want him to go off a’drinkin’ before I got my groceries on Saturday. Sure enough, he got mad, just like l was a’plottin against him and took straight off. I didn’t see him again till Wednesday evenin’ and was feelin’ purty low about the fix I was in, a man that didn’t work steady, six kids and another one on the way, stuck livin’ in a shack on his mama’s place. When he came draggin’ in, he looked kind’a hangdog and I figured he’d got fired again while he was layin’ out drunk.”
“Well, Laura Mae, I got something I got to tell you I know you ain’t gonna like,” he started, looking down at his raggedy boots.
“It don’t take no genius to see you got fired,” I told him.
“No, that ain’t it.” He went on. “I was a’ drinkin’ with some fellers and they was on their way to enlist in the army. I wasn’t thinkin’ straight and I went right along and enlisted with ‘em. I just got time to get my stuff.”
Miss Laura Mae paused a moment, saying more to herself than to Mother, “Turned out that was the best piece of luck I ever had. The army was the first steady pay Floyd ever made. He was put in the paratroopers. Right off I was gittin’ a regular check. Paratrooper was extra pay, and he got extra for the young’uns. The first month, I got shoes for all the kids. The next month, I paid down on a stove. The one in his mama’s house didn’t have but two burners. Inside of a year, I had saved enough to pay down on this house. This is the first place I ever had a’ my own. Floyd didn’t get home for four years. I mean to tell you, it was good not to be pregnant all the time. I must ‘a been going through the change, ‘cause I didn’t have but one more after he got home, and I was ready for another one by then. Things was better with Floyd workin’ more regular after that. Seems like having a home kind’a gave him a lift. You’d a’thought he done it all hisself.”