Terrible Tom Turkey

Awfuls chasing tureyRepost of ne of my favorites.  Original art by Kathleen Swain.

When I was a kid, we often went places normal people would never intentionally go. Periodically, Daddy would realize he hadn’t spent any time around social misfits and needed a fix, bad! One day he announced he’d had heard of somebody who lived back in the woods about four miles off Tobacco Road who had a thingamajig he just had to have. Never mind, all five kids needed new shoes and the lights were due to be cut off. He NEEDED that thingamajig!

He HAD to check it out, driving forever down rutted roads that looked like they might disappear into nothing. Finally we got back to Mr. Tucker’s shack. Mr. Tucker was wearing overalls and nothing else. Apparently buttoning overalls wasted valuable time needed forpile junk collecting. While Daddy and Mr. Tucker disappeared into the tangle of weeds and mess of old cars, car tires, trash, broken washing machines and other refuse scattered around the house and into the woods. Mother sweltered in the car with the five of us while Daddy and Mr. Tucker rambled.

It was hot. It got hotter the longer we waited in the punishing July heat. We opened the car doors, hoping to catch a breeze as it got hotter and hotter. The baby and the two-year-old were squalling out their misery as Mother fanned them. Daddy wasn’t known for the consideration he showed his family. He was “the man.”

Mrs. Tucker, a big woman in overalls came out in the front yard and started a fire, never even looking our way. She probably thought our car was just another old clunker in their yard. It got even hotter. We were all begging for a drink of water. Daddy was still gone, admiring Mr. Tucker’s junk collection. Daddy could talk for hours, unconcerned that his family was sweltering in the car. He thought misery was character-building. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know the people he’d just stumbled up on. We spent many an hour waiting in the car while he “talked” usually having stopped off on the way to visit some of his relatives.

Finally, in desperation, Mother got out of the car, introduced herself to Mrs. Tucker, and asked if we could have a drink of water. Mrs, Tucker turned without speaking, went into the house, came back out with some cloudy snuff glasses, called us over to the well, drew a bucket of water, and let us drink till we were satisfied. That was the best water I ever had. Mrs. Tucker pulled a couple of chairs under a shade tree and Mother sat down. We all sat down in the dirt in the cool of the shade and played. Daddy was still prowling around in search of junk, but things looked a lot better after we cooled off and had a drink. Mrs. Tucker was interesting to look at, but didn’t have a lot to say. She had a couple of teeth missing, had greasy red hair that was chopped off straight around, and long scratches down both arms.

Mother tried to talk to her, but Mrs. Tucker wasn’t a great conversationalist. I suspect she didn’t know too many words. I couldn’t take my eyes off the missing teeth and long scratches down her arm. Despite Mother’s attempts to quell my questions, I found out a lot about her. She didn’t have any kids. It didn’t take long to figure out she “wasn’t right.” I was fascinated and wanted to ask about what happened to her teeth, but knew that would get me in trouble, so I asked how she scratched her arms. Mother told me to hush, but fortunately, Mrs. Tucker explained. It seemed she was going to put a rooster in the big pot in the front yard to scald him before plucking him. He’d scratched her and gotten away before she could get the lid on. Apparently she didn’t know she was supposed to kill him first. Just at the point where things were getting interesting, Daddy came back and I didn’t get to hear the rest of the story.

Mrs. Tucker gave us a turkey that day, teaching me a valuable lesson. Don’t ever accept the gift of a turkey. Ol’ Tom was going to be the guest of honor at our Thanksgiving Dinner. Daddy put him in the chicken yard and Tom took over, whipping the roosters, terrorizing the hens, and jumping on any kid sent to feed him and the chickens. We hated him. Mother had to take a stick to threaten him off when she went out to the chicken yard. He even flew over the fence and chased us as we played in the back yard till Daddy clipped his wings.

Before too long, we saw the Nickerson kids, the meanest kids in the neighborhood, headed for the chicken yard. Mother couldn’t wait to see Tom get them. Sure enough, Ol’ Devil Tom jumped out from behind a shed on jumped on the biggest boy, Clarence. Clarence yelped and ran. The other boys were right behind him, swatting at the turkey. Unlike us, they didn’t run out with their tails tucked between their legs. They launched an all-out attack on Tom, beating him with their jackets, sticks, and whatever they could grab. They chased him until they were tired of the game. Tom never chased any of us again, but Mother never got around to thanking the Nickersons.

Ask Auntie Linda

Auntie LindaDear Auntie Linda, My husband, Bob, had a cancerous kidney removed four years ago. Our marriage was never good. He is a truck driver and did well until three weeks ago when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor after a seizure. Now, he is unable to work. His prognosis is poor and he needs my health insurance. We have three children. I had already told him I was leaving before all this happened. I could never leave him, now, with him being sick. He had already confronted me because of some text messages and emails he found, though I am pretty sure he has been unfaithful as well. He knows I have gotten involved with Mike, co-worker. I want a relationship with him.

Bob, our children, and I are all devastated by Bob’s illness and terminal diagnosis. They know I was leaving before all this happened, and immediately they all started saying I had to stay now. I feel awful about Bob’s illness. I know I am hopelessly stuck. Both our families are involved now. We live in small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Our minister has already been here to visit.

I know I have to stay and care for Bob till the end. That is not my issue. Mike is very supportive. He understands I cannot leave Bob and isn’t asking for that. There is a workshop for my job I must attend in San Francisco next month. Bob’s parents will be coming to stay with him and the children while I must be gone.

Mike wants us to be together that week. I don’t see how it would hurt since Bob knows how I felt before his illness. I wouldn’t hurt Bob by rubbing his nose in it, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t take this opportunity since Bob knew I was leaving him before his diagnosis. Am I wrong to want some happiness before what promises to be a miserable, lengthy ordeal?  Molasses Molly

Dear Molasses,  No, you are not wrong to want happiness, but this is not the time to put yourself first.  Escape will not solve your problems.  Examine your conscience.  You know Bob’s time is limited.  If your relationship with your children is important, don’t lose sight of the fact that it will be impacted forever.  Their sympathies will be with him.  If the ethics of that don’t concern you,  being involved with a coworker may be a sexual harassment issue, not to mention the damage to your professional reputation and possible job loss.  On a more practical level, you and Bob share a financial situation.  You could be left with astronomical expenses should you lose your job.

I suggest you back off, support Bob and the children through his illness, and consider your needs when the situation changes. I can’t see how adding another problem to the mix will help. Auntie Linda

P. S.  Old Mike sounds like a real buzzard.


Dear Auntie Linda,  Our parents had to go in a nursing home a year ago because two of my sisters and I could no longer care for them at home.  My father had end-stage lung disease requiring professional care.  Mother has early Alzheimer’s Disease.  Though she appears fairly functional on visits, she requires constant attendance since she wanders off and can’t manage her daily care.  The problem is, my father died three weeks ago.  Now, one sister who lives several hours away insists Mother is well enough to return home with some help.  Of course, Mother is all for it.  The problem of managing her care would fall on me and my two sisters who live near Mother.  Even though she appears pleasant and competent, Mother can not be left alone.  She was leaving burners on even before she went in the nursing home.  Several times we had to go looking for her in all weather.  Even though we have made this clear to my sister, she insists Mother can manage with home health.  She says we (not her) can check on her a couple of times a day.  The responsibility of Mother’s care would fall on those of us who live in town, and we have already tried everything.  I am worried my sister will move her home over our objections.  What do we do? Exhausted

Dear Exhausted, Make it clear to your sister that you will not accept responsibility for caring for your mother at home.  If your sister insists on bringing her home, involve the social worker and adult protection if necessary.  Your sister cannot force you to assume responsibility.



Wonderful Times of Reading Aloud

It has always been a joy to hear my sister Phyllis read aloud.  Till my last days, I will cherish a few days during school Christmas vacation in 1961.  Phyllis was enjoying reading Great Expectations in her ninth grade English class and offered to read a few pages aloud. Daddy was working second shift at the paper mill, so once he left and the remains of the noon meal were cleared away, we settled in the cozy living room for a reading.  I would have been eleven, Billy, eight, and Connie and Marilyn, two and a few months old.  Enraptured by the story of Pip, the cruel Estella, and the mad Miss Havisham, I would have probably saved the book first had the house caught fire.  I loved the kindly Jo and despised Mrs. Jo, his mean sister.  Phyllis read for several hours as the babies played on the floor in the warm front room, enjoying being in the middle of us all clustered together around the reader.  We broke only long enough to get a simple supper together and do evening chores.  Soon we were back in place, where she held us till bedtime, happy captives.

The next day, we rushed through chores to be free for reading again, settling in as soon as Daddy left.  Phyllis read on and on, as we did whatever chores we could that didn’t, interfere with her reading, folding laundry, ironing, watching the babies.   Mother hemmed a skirt and hand-worked buttonholes in a blouse.  Mother just felt we couldn’t through another afternoon listening to Phyllis read.

The next day, and the next, Phyllis read as we hung on every word about foolish, arrogant Pip.  Finally, late on the fourth day, Phyllis finished Great Expectations,

leaving me questioning and hungering for more.  Why had Miss Havisham gone to so much trouble to be cruel?  How could Pip be so ungrateful and foolish?  What happened afterwards?

Phyllis read us many more books, to my great joy, introducing me to some great literature.Great Expec

Shot in the Foot, Again

imageMother's 88 bdayHave you ever seen a happier face?MotherIt was a perfect storm.  I’d made up my mind not to take Mother to the garden center any more this summer, not that I have anything against garden centers.  Mother is addicted to flowers, just like I am.  She just isn’t strong enough to dig holes.  In contrast, I’d never be able to convince anyone I couldn’t dig a hole.  If I tried, they’d hand me a shovel and point me toward China.  Anyway, I’m tired of digging holes.  If all the holes I’ve dug this summer, in my yard and hers, were lined up end to end, they’d reach…..well, you know.

Anyway, one of my meddling sisters called one day last week and invited Mother and me to lunch.  It sounded innocent enough.  At the worst, I would only get stuck with her lunch ticket.  Mother doesn’t believe in paying her own ticket when she dines with her children.  I can’t say I blame her, after all the biscuits and gravy she’s cooked over the years.  Connie’s husband generously treated us all to lunch. I had a wonderful time till somebody shot me in the foot.

“__________ has their plants marked down.  Anybody want to stop by?”

Mother was the first in line.  I was loading my buggy up when I heard Connie ask Mother.

“Is that all you’re getting?  Get whatever you want and I’ll pay for it!”

“Nooooooo!  ………..only if they sell the holes to go with them!”

Mother was deaf to my protests and loaded her cart.  Connie went home proud of herself for being good to her mama.  The checkout lady even gave her a lantana someone had left at the counter because she looked so cute standing behind that cart full of plants.

I took my posthole digger over a couple of days later and spent some time digging holes.  If anyone else buys her any plants this summer, I will have to commit mayhem.

,Garden hint:  Posthole diggers are great for digging holes for your plants!

Happy Birthday, Mother

Mother at Cracker Barrel
Mother’s Birthday lunch. Far left, Phyllis Barrington, center front Kathleen Swain, back center, Linda Bethea, far right, Marilyn Grisham
Mother's 88 bdayimage
Today, May 5, 2016, is Mother’s birthday. I am not permitted to say which one. Suffice it to say, she is more than eighty-five and less than ninety. She and my father were married thirty-five years and raised five children. She is a remarkable woman, goes to the gym twice a week, and walks at least a mile a day. She likes to get next to puny men at the gym so she can show off how tough she is. She works in her yard every sunny day and keeps a cooler of water out on her back steps for walkers and children in her neighborhood. She’d never worked a public job till after my dad died, but worked for many years first as a pre-school teacher, then as an office manager. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to have to seek a first job in one’s fifties. She is long retired, though never unoccupied. She is active in her church, community, family, and goes out in her car every day to her coffee group and to run errands. We are all so lucky to have her as our mother.Mother sitting in yard

Easter with the Family

I am the barefoot girl standing in the back row. Mother made me wear a dress, since it was Easter. By the time this photo was made, I’d been playing football with my cousins. Two buttons were missing from my new blouse, finished it only that morning. The hem of my skirt was dragging. Needless to say, Mother was not pleased.
Eater egg hunts with my cousins were a lot more like cage boxing than gentle competitions. I am sure I fit right in. I had more than forty first cousins, mostly wild animals. By the time my aunts and uncles herded them to the scene of the Cousins on Christmascrime, they just opened the car doors and all Hell broke loose. Exhausted from defending themselves and the babies on the ride over, it was every man for himself. God help anybody in the way.

They’d rip through the house under the guise of needing the bathroom and a drink of water, destruction in their wake, before being cast out into the yard like demons into swine. Actually, they were cast out onto the other cousins. We’d get a baseball or football team going, all the big kids on one team, so the little ones never got a chance to bat, or got mowed down in football. They’d go squalling in to their nosy daddies who’d come out long enough to straighten us out a vague semblance of fairness, often lingering to play a while.

Once the egg hunt started, it was chaos. It was survival of the meanest, shoving kids down, stomping eggs little ones dropped, squalling, and even a few bloody noses. Crazy Larry kept trying to pee on us while we were distracted. One aunt in particular didn’t think her big kids ought to have to share at the end of the hunt, even though they had twenty eggs and babies had none. “They found ‘em!” It didn’t matter that she’d only brought a dozen eggs to the hunt.

Ah, family. Better get busy. I have company coming. But not Crazy Larry. He’s in the witness protection program.

Ask Auntie Linda, Straight Answers from a Straight Shooter

Auntie LindaDear Auntie Linda, I am a twelve-year-old girl.  My mother left me with my grandma when I was born.  I lived with her till she died.  After that, I had to move in with my mother’s older sister.  She has four kids in a small house and they don’t really have enough of anything to go around.  I don’t know how they’d make it without the money they get for taking care of me.  My cousin is seventeen and kind of snotty, but I love the three little boys.  My cousin Jody and I are supposed to be taking care of them when Aunt Cindy works nights at the nursing home but Jody usually disappears into her room or slips off with her boyfriend.  I do like the school and am doing well.  My mother showed up last week and wants me to move in with her.  I’ve always wanted to live with Mama, but am worried because she’s always off here and yonder, usually following a druggie boyfriend.  She says she and Bobby(the boyfriend) are going to get jobs and at a factory a couple of towns over and get a place so I can l live with them.  Bobby creeps me out, but maybe Mama can get a place for just us.  I’d have to change schools and don’t want to do that.  What should I do?  I am kind of scared to leave Aunt Cindy’s even if it is crowded.  Good Girl

Dear Good Girl,  It won’t hurt to stay at Aunt Cindy’s.  It’s safe even if its crowded.  Don’t put too much stock in Jody being snotty.  Sisters say the same thing about each other.  It’s a bad idea to move in your mother’s boyfriend’s house.  Give her a chance to get a job, work a while, and get a place of her own before you even consider it.  Life is very stressful and her situation is unsettled.  What’s the hurry, if you are okay?

Auntie Linda Dear Auntie Linda, I am seventy-four and have four children.  I live next door to my oldest.  The other three live a couple of hours away, so they don’t get over too often.  Louise, the oldest takes care of everything I can’t.  Her husband fixes my roof, changes the oil in my car, and treats me just like a mother.  I have very little money, so that won’t be an issue.  I do worry over how to divide my belongings.  How can I be fair and still express appreciation?  Poor Mama

Dear Poor,  Why not ask the daughter who helps the most if there’s anything she’d like to have before the rest is divided.  Let her pick one special thing.  If it’s something you can part with now, it might be good to let her have it now so you can see her enjoy it.  The others don’t have to know.  How you divide your things is your business.  Auntie Linda

email your questions to Ask Auntie Linda lbeth1950@hotmail.com


Best of the Afternoon Weird Relative Funnies


weird relatives weird 2 weird 3 Weird4 weird5When you are dealing with family, it clarifies things to have a scale.  You don’t have to waste time analyzing people when you have a ready reference.  This one works pretty well for us.

  1. Has a monogrammed straight jacket and standing reservation on mental ward.
  2. Family is likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in the past or the future
  3. People say, “Oh, crap. Here comes Johnny.”
  4. Can go either way.  Gets by on a good day.  Never has been arrested.  Can be  lots of fun or a real mess. Relatives usually will invite in for coffee.  Likely to have hormone-induced behavior.
  5. Regular guy. Holds down a job.  Mostly takes care of business.  Probably not a serial marry-er.  Attends  church when he has to.
  6. Good fellow. Almost everybody likes him or her. Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.  Manages money well enough to retire early.
  7. High achiever.  Business is in order.  Serves on city council.
  8. Looks too good to be true. What’s really going on?
  9. Over-achiever. Affairs are in order.  Solid citizen.  Dull, dull, dull.  Could end up as a 1

Instead of saying, “Uncle Henry’s a pretty good guy, but sometimes he goes off the deep end, you could say, ‘He’s a usually about a 6 but he was a little 4-ish after Aunt Lou took his new truck and ran off with his brother’.” Or…

“Why in the world did Betty marry him?  He was a jerk to her when she was married to his daddy.”

“Well, you know she’s a 5.”

“Oh, yeah.  I forgot about that.”  Or…

“You set the house on fire trying to dry your underwear in the oven??  What in the hell were you thinking??    And you call yourself a 6?”

“Look, you know darn well I’m a 6.  It just seemed like a good idea.  Appliances should be multifunctional.  I’ve seen you pull a  2 lot of times and never threw it up to you.  It could happen to anyone.”  Or…

“You forgot and put the turnip greens through the spin cycle and now the washing machine drain is stopped up!   I’m not even going to ask you what turnip greens were doing in the washing machine!   You’re a 2 if I ever saw one.  Your mama and sisters are 2’s, too!!  Did you put the beans in the dishwasher, too, while you were at it?”

“No, I’m not an idiot.  You cook beans on the stove.  I put my rolls in the dishwasher to rise.”

Family reunions are an eclectic mix of mostly 5’s who vacation in 4 and 6 on occasion, some fairly regular folks, seasoned with a picante’ dash of street-corner preachers, nude airport racers, and folks who are just interesting in general.  We have a couple of 7’s thrown in, reminders of what we could do if we tried.  A person’s situation on the social ladder is likely to be greatly influenced by his company or partner.  For instance, if a submissive #5 marries a dominant #7, it is likely he or she will benefit.  If the lower number is more influential, not so much.

I was comfortable growing up in this milieu of the 1950’s. While I gave lip service to my parents’ goal of strict respectability, I enjoyed a ringside seat to periodic lunacy.  It also justified my lapses. It ran it the family! And no matter how disappointed my parents might be when I messed up, at least I hadn’t been caught naked in traffic yet.

When considering their upcoming parenthood, most people entertain hormone-tinged delusions, imagining their children as cute, well-behaved, athletic, and smart.  We gaze fondly at our partners imagining a baby with his blue eyes, her sweet smile…we should have looked a little closer at Grandpa’s buck teeth or Grandma’s frizzy hair.  Even better, this baby is just as likely to inherit genes from a great-great grandpa, the horse thief, as from Grandpa John, the Pulitzer Prize Winner.  The baby may look a lot more like Aunt Fanny, the lady wrestler, than its pretty mama.  A better plan would probably be to put all babies in a lottery at birth, so parents could credit their lumps to bad luck and the joys to good parenting for the next twenty-one years.  The kids would definitely appreciate it.

My family is as much a mixed bag of nuts as any.   As a kid, I was most fascinated by the ones on the fringes.  My favorite was Uncle Chester, not because he was friendly, funny, or even seemed to notice me, but because he was the first solid #3  of my acquaintance. (Family likely to move away without leaving forwarding address.  Has jail time in past or future.)  As a young man in the depression, he started out as a moonshiner and petty criminal, lounging a bit in local jails.  He never really hit the big time and made the Federal Penitentiary till he got caught counterfeiting quarters.  His technique was sloppy and his product unpolished.  He was fortunate in getting caught red-handed passing his ugly quarters. In 1941 he was sent up to Fort Leavenworth for some higher education. and made good use of his time apprenticing himself to a cellmate who was doing time for making twenty-dollar bills.

Aunt Jenny #5 (Can go either way. Gets by on a good day.  Never been arrested.  Can be lots of fun or a real mess. Relatives usually will invite in for coffee.  Likely to have hormone-induced behavior.) was short-sighted about Uncle Chester’s situation and ditched him while he was imprisoned, but realized she still loved him when he came home with his enhanced earning capacity. They let bygones be bygones, got back together, and had three lovely children.    Their eldest son Lynn and daughter Sue were solid #7s from the start. (Good fellows.  Almost everybody likes him or her.  Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.  Manages money well enough to retire early.)  Uncle Chester was perfectly willing to give Lynn a good start in business, but Lynn was ungrateful, distanced himself from his father’s dealings, joined the military, and avoided the family business altogether, even seeming to resent his father. One Sunday dinner, when Uncle Chester was dropping names of the interesting people he had been in jail with at various times, Lynn rudely interrupted, “Daddy, you’ve been in jail with everybody at one time or another.”  Uncle Chester did step up and keep Cousin Lynn from making a mistake.  Lynn came home on leave from the military and met a girl he wanted to marry; love at first sight.  She was a pretty as a spotted puppy and even she noticed how much she looked like Ross.  Uncle Chester got her off to the side and asked a few questions about her mama and daddy and where she was raised.  He was waiting up for Lynn to get home.  “Son, I sure hope things ain’t gone too far. I hate it, but you can’t marry that li’l old gal.  She looks just like her Mama did when we was running around together.  There’s a real good reason she looks just like yore brother Ross – a real good reason.”

By the fifties, Uncle Chester had branched out a little.  He did a little research and decided lawsuits paid well and weren’t too much work.  He captured some bees, applied them to his leg.  When his leg was good and swollen, he got his buddy to drop him off downtown at a trolley stop.  As the trolley approached, Uncle Chester carefully stumbled into the path of the trolley, suffering a knee injury in front of numerous witnesses.  He collapsed to the ground, moaning and groaning. Suffering terribly, he was transported and treated at the hospital. Now  Uncle Chester was set with a fifty-thousand dollar settlement, a tidy sum for that time.

Their daughter Susie turned out real well, became a teacher, and married a Baptist Preacher, lending Uncle Chester a much appreciated touch of respectability. Uncle  Chester and Aunt Jenny  were very generous toward her church, and the legitimacy of their donations was never questioned.  Sadly, many years later Susie’s daughter a bona fide #3, embarrassed them all by stealing from her employer.

Ross, Uncle Chester’s youngest son, a gifted #3 (Family likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in past or future) followed in Uncle Chester’s footsteps. He dabbled in moonshine, petty crime, and scams but just never rose to Uncle Chester’s level. He initiated a few crooked lawsuits but lacked the brain power and organization to pull bigger things off.  All went well till he got too big for his britches and tried setting up business in Texas. When he got caught moon shining in someone else’s territory, he called the old man for help and Uncle Chester had to admit, “I’m sorry son, but I can’t do a thing for you.  I don’t have any influence with the law out there.”  Uncle Chester felt bad about one of his boys getting in trouble till the day he died,” but sometimes you just have to let kids make their own mistakes.”

Aunt Jenny was stingy.  You would think she got her money in the usual way.  Or maybe she just got tired of hearing Uncle Chester complain how hard it was to make money, but she would even make her own mother pay for a ride to the grocery store.  When Maw Maw won some groceries in a weekly contest she had to share with Aunt Jenny since she rode with Aunt Jenny to the grocery store every week.  Aunt Jenny sold eggs and tomatoes and charged Maw Maw the same as everyone else.

When Aunt Jenny got older, she got dentures.  She liked them so well she saved them for special occasions.  She wore them when she had ladies over for coffee, church, and Sunday dinner.  Being toothless didn’t hold her back a bit.  She could take a bite off an apple as well as anyone and could have won a fried chicken eating contest hands down.

We had plenty of other interesting relatives, too.  Dogs were off limits inside our house.  All we had were hunting dogs, dogs with a purpose.  People with house dogs were considered silly and weak-minded.  Cookie and Uncle Riley (#4 People say, “Oh, crap.  Here comes Johnny.”)never came to visit without bringing a couple of fat, shiny, little house dogs.  You can guess what category this put them in.  Daddy grudgingly tolerated their dogs as long as the dogs didn’t bark or mess up the house.  They chattered endlessly about their dogs.  Uncle Riley frequently assured us his dog, Jackie, was, “just like a person.”  Daddy agreed the dog was as smart as Uncle Riley.

Unfortunately, Jackie got some kind of skin infection.  Cookie and Uncle Riley showed up for a visit with poor Jackie, bald as an egg, the skin on his entire body irritated and red.  Uncle Riley had been too cheap to take him to a veterinarian and concocted his own home remedy. He would dip Jackie in a Lysol and pine-oil mixture, reasoning it would kill any bacteria.  The best we could tell, Jackie was bacteria and hair-free, but itching miserably with blistered skin.  Uncle Riley felt badly about his medicine gone bad, and lovingly coated Jackie with Calamine Lotion several times a day.  While Uncle Riley told us of Jackie’s troubles, he was unaware of Jackie sitting at his feet, licking his wounds.  Not surprisingly, the harsh home remedy inflicted the most damage on Jackie’s sensitive nether portions.  As he licked his little doggy privates tenderly, Uncle Willie reminded us Jackie was “just like a person.” Three-year-old John was watching Jackie’s ablutions intently and remarked, “I never saw a person do that!”

Uncle Charlie , another #3, was a compulsive liar.  It didn’t concern him that no one believed him.  He just lied because he was so darn good at it.  Uncle Charlie would climb up on the roof to tell a lie instead of stand on the ground and tell the truth.  If Uncle Charlie told you it was raining, don’t bother with your umbrella. He worked at the paper mill with Daddy, and had such a reputation for lying, that anyone repeating one of Charlie’s stories had to buy coffee for the group.  One afternoon on coffee break, Charlie came rushing by the fellows in a big hurry.  “Charlie, stop and tell us a lie!” one of them called after him.

Charlie never looked back, “I can’t!” he called over his shoulder as he rushed on.  “Ray Pierson fell in Smokestack #2 and I’m going to call an ambulance!”  They all rushed to see about their buddy and found Ray Pierson in perfect health at his usual work station, Smokestack #2.

Cousin Vonia #5 and her husband Joe #4 (Oh, Crap!  Here comes Johnny) came to visit a lot, bringing their three little kids. Joe was “disabled” and didn’t have to get up early, so he just wouldn’t go home.  Mother sent us on to bed, but Joe wanted to sit till midnight, even on a school night.  Their little kids would have been drooped over asleep for hours.   Finally Daddy started telling Mother, “We’d better to go to bed so these good folks can go home.”

Joe would look disappointed, then get up and shuffle toward the door, saying, “Well, I guess I better get my sorry self on home.” Vonia would trail behind him, carrying two sleeping kids and guiding the other staggering kid to the car.  Joe couldn’t carry kids.  He had a “bad back.”

Joe had a few other quirks.  He had been fortunate enough to hurt his back at work and land a nice settlement and a monthly disability check so invested in a few cows and took care of them from then on.  For those who know nothing of cattle farming, it is extremely hard work.  Joe and his disabled back spent many hours building fences, making hay, stacking hay in the barn, unstacking that same hay later and loading it on a trailer, then taking it off and feeding it to the cattle, herding cows, wrestling soon-to-be steers to the ground and helping them become steers.  He spent hours on end driving a tractor.  Hard, hard, hard work.

Joe had a strange quality for a farmer, eschewing all healthy foods and existing on a diet of peanut patties, banana pudding, and milk.  He also smoked like a smokestack.  This careful attention to diet paid off for him.  He didn’t have a tooth in his head by the time he was thirty five.  He refused to get dentures.  He just dropped peanut patties from his diet.  He said he didn’t need dentures for just milk and banana pudding.  The smoking finally killed him when he was seventy-eight.  He dropped a cigarette down the bib of his overalls and pulled out in front of a train.

Even though Great Uncle Albert was only a 4.5 – 5, he had given Daddy a place to stay and let him work for his keep during the terrible times of the 1930’s when Maw Maw was struggling to feed seven children alone.  Daddy appreciated this and was loyal to Uncle Albert all his life.  Old, grumpy, and hormone-depleted by the time I knew him in the mid 1950’s, it was hard for me to imagine him in his younger, randy days.  He was dull, and full of good advice, a habit he’d developed since he’d gotten too old to set a bad example.  Aunt Jewel wasn’t his first wife, and frankly, was on pretty shaky ground as a #2, but as far back as they lived in the sticks, there weren’t any airports, so she was hanging on.   I heard whispers she had broken up his first marriage to Mary.  Even more shocking, Uncle Albert was entertaining her when Mary tried to force her way in to the marital bedroom.  Uncle Albert slammed the door, breaking his poor wife’s arm.  Mary got the hint, took the baby, and left.  Smart girl.

I had trouble envisioning this.  I had never met Mary, but she had to look better than the Aunt Jewell I knew.  I had heard Aunt Jewell used be really pretty, but she had gotten over it.  By the time I knew her, she had smoked over forty years, had nicotine-stained fingers and teeth, wrinkles around her mouth from drawing on a cigarette, and her mouth pulled a little to one side.  She had a thick middle, thin hair in a frizzy old-lady perm, and bird legs.  She wore stockings rolled to her knees and cotton house dresses. She wheezed constantly and never spoke except to whine, “Albert, I’m ready to go now.” Or “Albert, give me a puff off your cigarette.”  Oh yes.  One time they came to visit after she’d fallen and broken a rib and she started crying and said, “Albert, I want a puff off your cigarette, but I’m too sore to cough. “ That was kind of interesting, but I couldn’t imagine a man choosing her over anyone else.

It was interesting to see my father treated as a kid.  Uncle Albert felt free to give his opinion about whatever Daddy was up to.  He arrived for a visit one day before Daddy got home from work and was inspecting the place.  Daddy  aspired to 8 or 9 (8. High achiever.  Business in order.

  1. Looks too good to be true.) despite struggling to maintain a 6 (Regular guy. Holds down job.  Mostly takes care of business.  Probably not serial marry-er.  Attends church when he has to.)

Uncle Albert kept all his stuff organized and in perfect repair. Daddy’s barn was a disorganized mess.  He tossed things wherever he got through with them.   Uncle Albert walked around, examining items and commenting.  “This is a good old singletree.  It just needs a new chain.”  “This is a good rasp.  It just needs to be cleaned up.” “This is a good axe-head.  It just needs to be sharpened and have a new handle put in.”  Before too long, Daddy came striding up, delighted to see his uncle.  He was smiling broadly and thrust out his hand.

Uncle Albert looked at straight at him and pronounced, “Bill, you need to get the junk man out here and get all this #^%$ hauled off.”

I’m pretty sure I can pass for a 5 most days.