Uncle Albutt Part 5

Quite often, our family and friends would gather for a late evening meal.  While the kids ran wild in the dusk and on into the darkness, the women prepared a filling meal of beef stew or chili and cornbread.  It would be near bedtime by the time they called us in, hysterical  with chasing each other in and out of the darkness.  Of course we’d been warned against running in the dark, but staying in range of the lights was for sissies.  I’d be in a delicious frenzy of terror till I stepped back into the light, where all horrors vanished.   They would be so many kids we’d be settled on the floor with our supper in a pie or cake pan.  This was before budgets stretched to include paper plates.  It was an honor to sit on the floor with the big kids.  Babies and toddlers sat at the tables where their mamas could keep a grip on them.  Two or three dinners were always dumped on the floor and there was squalling a’plenty as mamas cleaned up the mess and resettled the messy kids.  The kids finished in short order and tore back outdoors while the adults took their turn at the

After the meal, it wasn’t unusual for the men to load up their guns, flashlights, thermoses of coffee, and the dogs for a night of hunting, leaving the women and children to visit.  Mamas gave their kids a cursory wipedown with a washcloth before bed, since it wouldn’t have been possible to bathe that many children and settled them on pallets on the floor, sometimes as many as six to the bed.  Mamas rocked the knee babies and lap babies to sleep before putting them on a bed flanked by pillows once the settling down started, the women started their stories.  I loved these nights, especially if Mawmaw was there.  She believed in ghosts and could make our blood run cold.  Mother worried about nightmares, but lacked the courage to shush her mother-in-law, for which I was grateful.  I NEEDED those stories. Mawmaw thrilled us with tales of babies buried alive, girls who died of broken hearts when their dead sweethearts appeared to them, and big black ghost dog, and ball lightning rolling through the house. The kids didn’t dare move off the pallet, they were so terrified. Fatigued by their play, finally they drifted off to sleep, one by one.

As the women talked, they thought they heard an intruder trying to get in the front door. Someone else scurried to check the back door, unsure if it was locked.  .  Had there been an intruder, he’d have had a horrible shock breaking in on half a dozen  terrified women and a gaggle of children.  Meanwhile Mother hurried to the door.  Thinking she’d scare him away with a bluff, she called out.  “I’ve got a gun.  I’m gonna shoot through the door!”

Aunt Jewel stood right behind her.  Obviously terrified, she shouted out.  “Well, don’t just stand there!  Go git your gun.  You ain’t got no gun!”  Fortunately, there was no intruder, or he thought he’d better not break in, since nothing happened.

 

Uncle Albutt Part 2

Through a connection with his son, Uncle Albert somehow came up on a ninety-nine year lease on several acres on Dorcheat Bayou in Louisiana.  Ready to retire from farming, he decided a fish camp would provide a modest retirement income.  My father bought his farm and stock, but that’s a story for another day.  Obviously, he was a multi-talented man, able to turn his hand to any task.  His farm boasted two cabins.  He moved into the second cabin, disassembled the log house he was living in loaded it piece by piece on his old truck, and moved  it to his lease, where he went to work reassembling it just as it had originally been, except he added an additional bedroom, occasionally recruiting help from relatives with bigger jobs.  Once the reassembled house was in the dry, he took apart the second cabin, using the timber to cover over the logs and seal the house tighter.  One day, Daddy decided we’d go by and check on Uncle Albert’s progress. My older sister climbed on the unsecured log walls, tumbling them to the ground.  I was so glad she got to them before I did.  Neither Daddy nor Uncle Albert was pleased.  Daddy spent the rest of that evening and Saturday helping Uncle Albert get it back together.  None of us kids were invited along, for some reason.  When Uncle Albert was satisfied with his house, he used the rest of the salvaged lumber for fishing boats, a pier, fences, a bait shop, and outbuildings.  Soon he had a pretty good business going.  By the next spring, he had a large garden underway.

Prior to construction of his house, Uncle Albert took care of necessities,; first, a toilet before summoning all his nephews for the digging of a well, uphill from the toilet, of course.  They came, bringing all their wives and children, a festive day of barbecuing, fishing, children running wild, while the men took turns shoveling the hard red clay from the well site..  Only one man could be in the hole at a time.  The others stayed above ground, pulling the heavy dirt from the hole.  They all took their turns.  By the end of the first day, thanks to the high water table, water was beginning to seep in at a depth of twenty feet.  They dug a few feet more, set the curb so the well wouldn’t silt in, and came back the next day to build a protective well-housing.  Uncle Albert was able to draw a bit of water by the evening of the second day.

Along with all my cousins, I was desperate to be lowered by pulley and bucket as the fortunate diggers were, into the depths of that well.  Sadly, all the mothers and aunts were just as anxious to keep wayward kids out of the well, warning us away every time we came near.  However, were able to indulge in one other life-threatening activity as they focused on that well.  A gravel road ran down the steep hill along one side of Uncle Albert’s property where it intersected with another dirt road fronting his house alongside the steep-banked bayou. The occasional oil-truck, fisherman, or hunter who travelled that way would have had no expectation of kids running wild, since until only recently, it was nothing but woods.    Someone of my cousins had thoughtfully brought along their red wagon to Uncle Albert’s that day.  Naturally, we pulled that wagon to the top of the red-dirt hill, piled in as many cousins as would fit, and prepared for a thrilling coast down the steep graveled road.  There were no engineers among us.  Confident as only a cluster of kids can be, we set off for a bone-rattling ride.  That wagon clattered and bounced, held down only by the weight of kids.  A couple of the smaller ones were pitched out, left squalling in our dusty tracks.  The clattering, crying, and dust cloud caught the attention of the well-diggers and mothers who were laying out the picnic lunch, secure in the knowledge we weren’t falling in the well.  As they looked on at the screaming wagonload of kids hurtling down the hill, an oil truck approached the crossing at the bottom.  It slammed on its brakes, swerving enough to allow us to pass, though our unlikely survival was concealed by the massive dust cloud.  The wagon flew on toward the high bank of the bayou, where we were saved by a brush thicket just short of the water.

In the manner of parents at that time, once the loving parents found their children weren’t dead, they gratefully expressed their joy with beatings for all. I had one fine ride down that hill, but I never got another crack at it.

A Hog a Day Part 18

Linda First GradeIn some ways, my older sister Phyllis was a parent’s dream.  She would walk a mile to follow a rule and was always on the lookout to alert my parents of mine and Billy’s actual or suspected transgressions.  We must have been satisfying siblings to a natural-born tattler.  On occasion she would report, “Linda did such and such.”

Most of the time, Mother either took action or sent Phyllis back to straighten me out.  However, once in a while, Mother replied, “That’s okay.”

Realizing she’d needlessly missed out on the fun, she’d ask.  “Then can I?”

Phyllis was a perfect student and never missed a spelling words the whole time she was in grade school except for forgetting to dot the I in President and not crossing the T in Grandfather.  When I followed three years behind her, the teacher always said, “Oh, you’re Phyllis’s sister.  She was the best kid in class and always did such neat work.”  I was so proud the first time I heard that ominous description, totally unaware that I wouldn’t be shooed into that position with no effort on my part. I thought the role was inherited, not earned.  I wasn’t even on the good kid list.  I was sloppy, careless in my work, chattered incessantly, rarely got to class with homework or school supplies, and was best-known for staring out the window when  I should have been listening.  Billy, who followed three years behind me probably dealt with a whole new type of comparison.  The second day of school, I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mother and Daddy that Mrs. Crow said I was a scatterbrain, having no idea it was not an honor.  It didn’t take long for Daddy to bring me up to speed on that.

I was fairly bouncing my first day of school, delighted with my red and green-checked book satchel and school supplies.  I’d been admiring the two fat yellow, pencils, box of eight chubby crayons, jar of paste, blunt-ended scissors, and Big Chief tablet for days.   When Mrs. Crow had us introduce ourselves,  I was horrified to find I was sitting next to a girl named Virginia. Weeks before I started school, Phyllis had misinformed me that the name of female genitalia was Virginia.  I couldn’t imagine what would make any parent name their little girl after that particular body part, but knew I wouldn’t be able to talk to her. I might get in trouble for talking dirty. If that wasn’t bad enough, the boy on the other side of me was named Peter!  I hadn’t been in class an hour before Mrs. Crow confiscated my paste just because I tasted it, finding it sweet, but pretty bland.  She didn’t like it when I stuck my fat yellow pencil up my nose, either.  My school experience was going downhill fast.

 

 

Accounting

Bud is fussy about his budget.  He does a computer check on the bank account every morning.  Our big dog, Croc eats a lot.  That goes in the budget.  What goes in must come out, so he poops a lot.  Bud also likes to work that not the budget.  “Croc pooped about a dollar’s worth.”

I’m glad I’m not in charge of accounting!”

Icy Showers and Rotten Sausage

Cousin Kat was tight. We always took plenty of food when we went to visit, knowing how “conservative” she was. She thought three rolls, three scrambled eggs, a little jam and a dab of butter was plenty for any number of guests there might be for breakfast. “I just don’t think there’s any point in folks being hoggish,” was her favorite phrase as she set out a meal. She was a devout believer and had probably heard that story about Jesus feeding the multitudes on five loves and three fishes one too many times.

A few days before our last visit, someone had given Cousin Kat some fresh homemade sausage. She’d eaten a bit and saved some for us. That sounded fine till I opened her tiny 1940 model refrigerator to get some water. The rank smell of bad meat nearly knocked me down. “Ooh, Cousin Kat, I think something’s gone bad in here!”

“Oh, it’s not bad. It’s just that sausage Barney gave me. It’s real spicy!” She answered, totally unconcerned. “I’m gonna cook it up for supper.”

I made up my mind then and there to eat popcorn. I’ve never smelled a spice that mimicked the smell of rotting meat so closely. Mother and Phyllis both found other options. Count Kat cooked that sausage and ate up all by herself, since she was determined not to let it go to waste. It stunk the whole house up with its nauseating odor as it cooked. We all told her it smelled like it might have “gone to the bad.” She disagreed.

We planned a road trip for the four of us to go into Amish Country and packed a nice picnic …no sausage. Phyllis and Cousin Kat decided to take their showers the evening before so The four of us wouldn’t be competing in the morning. Cousin Kat told her how she could run a bit of water in the tub, sit on the edge, wash her face, ears, neck, then her body before washing the best parts and her feet. That way, she could get by with just a little of that expensive hot water. Well, I do believe I heard the shower running while Phyllis was in there, despite her lesson. Cousin Kat perked up her ears, too. When Phyllis came out, Cousin Kat said, “I hope you stopped up the tub and saved your water for me. Just one person don’t mess up bath water none.” Shamefaced, Phyllis had to admit she run it all down the drain. Cousin Kat gave her a look.

We went on to bed. I snore and talk in my sleep, so no one would bunk in with me. I am always early to bed, so I took the small bedroom. Cousin Kat gave Mother an inflatable mattress her son had left there to put on the living floor. Unfortunately, he had taken the pump home with him, so they sent a great deal of time trying to inflate it with a small hand-held hairdryer, the wrong tool for the job. Eventually, it approximated a mattress, though it flattened out the minute Mother reclined on it. They hadn’t bothered to pad the floor with quilts, so Mother was freezing the minute she lay down that frosty October evening. She got up, dragged her covers tote old-fashioned bi-fold sofa and tried to warmup. It was hard, lumpy, and had a couple of exposed springs but it was better than the icy floor.

Meanwhile, things weren’t going much better for Phyllis in the large, unheated upstairs bedroom. She’d chosen it because she liked to sleep in the cold. She’d dawdled and was the last to get to bed. I was quickly asleep though I kept up a listen for retching during the night, expecting Cousin Kat to come down with food poisoning, but the next thing I knew, Phyllis was climbing in the small creepy bed with me. “I thought you were too good to sleep with me.” I reminded her.

“I am, but when I got upstairs and switched on that dim overhead light, and everything looked fine, but when I turned back the quilts, rice scattered all over the place. I couldn’t imagine why rice would be on the bed, like that. I turned on that little flashlight Cousin Kat gave me and saw the bed and floor covered in mouse pellets. Mice were scattering everywhere. I can’t sleep up there with all those mice. She was mad! I was laughing so hard the springs were creeping. We sounded like honeymooners.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t sleep well, I talk in my sleep. In truth, it’s much worse than that. I curse and hurl epithets, language I’d never use during waking hours. Once I drifted off, Phyllis and I rolled up in that ancient mattress like a couple of hotdogs in a bun. She swears I shoved her and screamed at her to “get the f…. Out of here. I don’t remember a thing about it!

In a huff, she got up in search of a place to sleep. Seeing that Mother had abandoned the perfectly good air mattress, she gave it a try. Of course, it put her right on the floor. Not to be defeated, she folded it in half and stretched out. That was a little better. Just as she drifted off, it gave up the ghost and blew out. Hearing all the racket, Mother and I got up to help. I invited her to share my bed, but she was mad and wouldn’t have any part of it. Mother offered to share the bi-fold sofa, but there was no way that would work. She ended up spendinding the rest of the night wrapped in a blanket trying to sleep in a not-so-easy chair.

We got up early to Have breakfast and get ready for our trip. At the kitchen table, We chatted over breakfast and sipped coffee. Mother and Phyllis lied about the extent of their miserable night. Phyllis had to come up with an excuse about abandoning the mousy attic. Cousin Kat polished off the last piece of the rancid sausage with her breakfast.

I got the first shower, keeping it short, since I remembered Cousin Kat’s lesson. It was pleasantly hot, but Mother said Cousin Kat ducked down to the basement to “get something” while I showered. Mother was next in line. When she got in, the water was nice and hot while she soaped up, but in just a minute, an icy blast hit her. Obviously, Cousin Kat’s basement errand was to cut off the water heater. The water came from a spring, so Mother’s hot shower was over. She had to wipe the soap off with a wet washcloth dipped in icy water.

She was furious when she shivered out of her shower, accusing me of using all the hot water.
“Mother, I wasn’t in there but a couple of minutes. I didn’t use that much!”

All the while, Cousin Kat sat humming contentedly, finally offering, “Oh well, that water heater’s old. I guess it just gave out.” Only the day before she’d told us that her son had just put in a new one, over her objections. “I can heat what water I need on the stove and save the heating bill.” She made no mention of turning off the water heater.

Finally, the cold, sleepy bunch was ready to start the trip.

To be continued

Bucket List for a Spring Chicken Part 3

When I left you,  Ollie had just found out we were arriving a day earlier than she thought.  “Yikes!   I was going to clean house tomorrow.” She exclaimed.

I reassured her.  “Go ahead, but I’m not helping.  I’m on vacation.” None of us cleaned house.  Instead, we drank coffee and told wild stories till time to go out to lunch every day, then shopped a little in the afternoons.   I haven’t shopped since I retired, so I really enjoyed it.  I even bought red pajamas.  Next time I take a trip, my host can sing  “She’ll Be Wearing Red Pajamas When She comes.”

We visited my uncle’s grave in the National Cemetery at Elgin, Oklahoma,  a very reverent and fitting place for our service members and their spouses. (Pictured above.  Shirley Martin and  Ollie Johnson)

Regrettably, we had to leave after a short three days.   I would have loved to stay a month, but Ollie got lucky.  We had to get home for Christmas.   I love travelling with women.   dawdling over lunch and drinking all the tea I want.  No  one complains about stopping for the bathroom or worries about “making good  time.”  You can even stop at fruit stands or resale shops.

The last thing Mother said as she got off the train was, “Now I want to ride the train to San Antonio to see Ann.”  So much for clearing her bucket list!  I guess that’s how she made it to eighty-nine!

Homeward Bound.

Bucket List for a Spring Chicken Part 2

 

This battered beauty makes  every mile with Mother.  I will never forgive my daughter-in-law, Carissa, for gifting Mother with it when Mother complained  her old one had worn out.  I’d been looking forward to its demise for a while.   Except for that betrayal,  Carissa is a perfect DIL.  Please note the frayed seams and the deluxe cat collar fortifying its temperamental zipper.  Though lots of folks think it’s a fanny pack, Mother wears it prominently displayed in front where no one will catch her by surprise.

While we’re on the subject of money, when Mother told my brother she couldn’t afford her ticket, he put one hundred dollars in her account.  One concerned sister gave her two hundred, enough for the trip and spending money.  Lest you think that money went on her trip, it disappeared deep into the bowels of her savings account.  Financially, that trip worked out really well for her.

The three of us caught the train in Marshall, Texas, unaware the price of the shuttle from the Shreveport Airport seven miles from home was included in the ticket.  You can be sure we caught the shuttle on the way home, sparing Bud the return drive for pickup. Mother was as excited as a kid at Christmas as we boarded Amtrak.  We found seats on the second floor of the coach.  They were spacious and comfortable, a delight after air travel.  Mother made fast friends with the conductor.  We spent a great portion of our ride in the lounge car.  I highly recommend it.

During our four-hour layover in Fort Worth, we had time for a leisurely lunch downtown When the eager waiter whisked her leftover chicken salad back to the kitchen without asking if she was done, he had to come up with a replacement for take out. Mother always gets at least two meals out of a restaurant meal, especially after she gleans the leftovers off her dining partner’s plates. Back at the waiting room in the depot, Shirley and I made a quick trip to the bathroom, leaving Mother alone for just a few minutes.  We should have known better.  On our return, Mother was deep in conversation with an elderly gentleman who’d moved to the seat next to her.  I warned him she’d already buried seven husbands and he ran like a rabbit.  I told Mother a long time ago I didn’t want any more mean brothers and sisters, but still have to remind her occasionally. I guess that poor man didn’t want a mean daughter, either. I didn’t get a chance to tell him I was kidding.

An hour or so before we got to Oklahoma City, our host called to see if we were still coming the next day.  “No, we’ll be there in an hour.” Fortunately, she picked us up anyway.

More to come……

Bucket List for a Spring Chicken

Mother will be ninety in May.  A few weeks ago, my youngest sister asked if she had a bucket list.

“Not really,” she answered.  “I’ve seen London, Dublin, New York City, and San Francisco.  I’ve been to Canada, Mexico, and lots of the United States.  I’ve worked as a teacher and in a cemetery.  I’ve seen my name and art on the cover of a book.  I’ve been married and had five children, then had lots of years on my own since your daddy died.  I’ve been lucky and gotten to do so many things I only dreamed of growing up in The Depression in Cuthand, Texas.  I guess the only thing I’ve been thinking about is taking a trip on Amtrak.”

That didn’t sound like much of a hill to climb.  I called a very dear family member we’d both been wanting to visit for a while and wangled an invitation. We invited my sister-in-law, Shirley, which ensured a great time.  After checking the dates with everybody, I got the tickets.  About a week before we were to leave, Mother called.

“Have you already bought those tickets?  It’s really not a good time for me to go before Christmas.  I’d rather not spend the money right now and I haven’t done any shopping.  Can you get your money back?   Could we schedule it sometime later?”

I didn’t remind her she’s never once, in her whole life has ever felt it’s the best time to spend some money.  I also didn’t remind her she always gives everyone cash, so there’s no gift shopping.  “You don’t have to decide today.  Think about it a day or two.  Your ticket is your Christmas gift, so that won’t cost you anything.”

That sealed it.  “Oh, in that case, I’m ready to  go.” She was as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.

More to come …..

 

 

Our Awful Friends Part 3

Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

I entered the Land of Enchantment when I passed through that gate.  Shrubs had entangled and obliterated the tangled yard fence.  An amazement of possibilities greeted me.  Hounds and a few chickens lounged on the drooping porch.  A long-abandoned truck rested on blocks.  Old tires, stacks of lumber, pots and pans, and broken toys littered the dirt yard.  The hounds had dug dozens of holes, which the kids had expanded.  A few wild children were whooping with joy, slinging missiles of Chinaberries at each other.  I never wanted to leave.  Mrs. Awful disappeared into the house while we set about entertaining ourselves, a perfect system. 

At four, I was not concerned about social order, so I made my way to the doorless truck, shoving a hound off the battered seat so I could drive, my first opportunity to get behind a wheel.  I stood behind that wheel, turning it madly, till I was shoved over by a late-comer.  I wasn’t particularly disturbed, I knew bigger kids got the first crack at stuff, so I didn’t waste time whining, just kept shoving till they moved on.  I did hurl a broken toy car as they ambled off, but they didn’t bother to come back after me.

All around me, unsupervised kids were running wild, screaming, shoving, running over smaller kids, and just having a wonderful time in general.  Fortunately, there was a wide age-range of kids, so I was able to get in on the fun.  Eventually, Mrs. Awful made it out with birthday cake, serving it up to us on napkins.  She didn’t linger long, quickly returning to her soap opera.  We heard the organ music pouring out the window.  For some reason, she left her toddler, Becky, among us as she returned to her soaps. 

Unlike a couple of the little girls, I had no interest in playing Mama, particularly since Becky’s diaper appeared fully loaded.  I had a baby brother and grasped the significance of that drooping diaper.  Within minutes, Becky’s secret was out.  Kids ran screaming as she approached, like she was “It” in a mad game of chase.  Several tumbles in the dirt did little to clean her up.  Even though she was a baby, Becky understood and protested the shunning.  She stood bravely squalling in the midst of the melee.  Even that didn’t bring her mother to the rescue.  Jamey took mercy and turned the water hose on her, hoping to sanitize her and make her more socially acceptable as he stripped her of her diaper.  To the universal delight of the party-goers, his enterprising brother grabbed the hose sprayed the general crowd, including dogs and chickens.  Should you ever want to plan a good party, be sure to put a water hose first on your list?  We joyously ripped through the spray, fighting for control of the hose.  Our game was cut short by Mrs. Awful hurling curses at us.  If only we had not sprayed water on the television through the open window, our fun could have lasted longer.  She scooped naked Becky up and exiled us to the barnyard.  Fortunately, the barnyard was promising.