Red Wagon War

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Mother and I went to one of our favorite stores the other day, Goodwill. I headed straight for the back to see if I could find a nice piece of cast-iron cookware. I am always on the lookout for cast-iron. En route, I stumbled up on this miracle. They were pulling a red wagon out to the floor. I grabbed it and headed for the front without even checking the price. It was a bargain, no matter what. I ran over a nice middle-aged gentleman on my way up.

“Oh, did you find that here?”

“Yes, I am so thrilled. I’m not even going to shop any more. I’m just going to take it and run.”

“How much was it?”

“I don’t know. I was so excited I forgot to look. Let’s see. Ten dollars! What a deal!” I was dancing a jig for sure,now.

Just about that time Mother walked up. “Oh, you found a red wagon! Did they have any more? I’ve been looking all over for one!”

“I know! When I saw this one I grabbed it!”

Clearly the man thought everything had its price. “My mother has been wanting one forever. Would you let me have it for forty dollars?” Mother looked at him with blood in her eye. She had her eye on that wagon.

“No Sir, If I’m not going to give it to my mother, I’d better not give it to yours.”

Doesn’t she look good pulling it around in my back yard?

Grandma and the Wardrobe from Hell

Since we had such a big family, Grandma did her best to help out when she could. Sometimes I still hate her for it. Once she went to the Goodwill Store and bought me the ugliest coat in the world. I didn’t have a problem with Goodwill. It was ugly that bothered me. It was a knee-length brown hounds-tooth wool dress coat of the style not seen since movies from the 1940’s, trimmed with brown velvet cuffs and collar and huge brown buttons with big rhinestones in the middle. I had hoped for a parka with fake fur collar like the high-society girls in my class. I turned to Mother, hoping for salvation, but she stabbed me in the heart. Mother was ecstatic, probably because she’d wanted that very coat when she was little back in the 1930’s. She made me try it on then and there. Mother was even more thrilled. It had plenty of growing room!

Mother wasn’t faking her ecstasy. As soon as we were out of earshot, I started whining that I despised that ugly coat and wasn’t going to wear it. She shut me down before I got too far and told me it was a beautiful coat, and I was wearing it as long as it fit. Truer words were never spoken. I was stuck with it. I slipped out without it whenever possible, and if caught, I took it off as soon as I got out of sight of the house. I sat down and flipped it over the back of my desk and a kid pointed out a large rip in the lining. This coat humiliated me even when I wasn’t wearing it!! I tried to lose it, but Mother was ahead of me. I was stuck. I drug that abomination around for two years, until the cuffs were far above my wrists.

Finally, finally, it was time for a new coat. I was heartsick when Mother read us Grandma’s letter saying that she’d been back to Goodwill and gotten me a another “beautiful coat.” “I believe it’s prettier that the last one.” were her exact words. It would be hard to be uglier. I managed to put it out of my mind.

We loved getting boxes from Grandma. They were always full of wonderful things: animal shaped erasers, pencils with our names on them, wind-up toys, cars driven by cartoon characters, jumping beans, sticker books. She sewed well and always included something made especially for each of us. Grandma always packed the best at the bottom to build suspense. This box was no different. Mother unpacked it dramatically, examining each article fully before passing it around to be admired. I knew she had to be at the bottom when she held her breath and said, “Oh…this is just gorgeous!!!” When she finally pulled it out, it took my breath, too. Grandma had somehow managed to find the exact replica of the nightmare I had abhorred for two years, but if anything, it was worse, was green hound’s tooth, “with plenty of room to grow!” That was when I realized that even though Grandma looked and acted like a sweet little old lady, she was the devil incarnate.

imageThat wasn’t the worst of Grandma’s Goodwill gifts. When I was in the eighth grade and anxious to fit in, she hit the mother lode and stopped by Goodwill just after Shirley Temple cleaned out her closet. Grandma sent me several party dresses. Mother was overjoyed. They were exquisite and probably just what she had wanted twenty years earlier. Mother held up the worst of the worst, and reminded me, just in case I had gone into a coma and forgotten, I had a band concert coming up and had to have a new dress. I had been praying for a miracle, a box pleated wool skirt with a pullover sweater. Hope died. She held up a disaster in sheer lavender with a wide satin cummerbund. Mother made me try it on right then. It was so sheer, my ugly cotton slip, which Grandma had thoughtfully provided earlier, was perfectly showcased. (All the other girls had lacy nylon ones) It looked like a horrible joke. Better yet, its low cut back showcased off my pimply back perfectly. image However, as sheer as it was, a high back wouldn’t have hidden anything. It was a good three inches too long. Mother explained it was tea-length, just what I needed in a fancy dress, and cut me off when I suggested hemming it. It would ruin all that beautiful embroidery around the tail of the skirt. I was heartsick. “Mother, I can’t wear this. It’s embarrassing. Nobody wears stuff like this!”

Mother went straight for the big guns…guilt. “Well, I’d wear it if I could. I’ve never had anything this nice. I haven’t even had a new dress since…” She got teary-eyed, suffering the dual pain of an ungrateful brat of a daughter and not having a new dress since the forties. I knew when I was whipped and slunk off to ponder my upcoming humiliation.

I decided the best plan was to be sick. On Thursday before the concert on Friday, the band director shot me down. Anybody missing the concert without a doctor’s excuse would fail band that grading period. Fat chance of getting a doctor’s excuse. We only went to the doctor for resuscitation. I prayed for a miracle. I got a nightmare. I tried to getting out in another dress, but Mother caught me and sent me back to put the lavender nightmare on. “It was so beautiful.” As I turned for her inspection, my ugly cotton slip looked especially stunning under sheer lavender. Every pimple on my back pulsed with excitement at its chance to shine. Mother was enchanted.

“Oh, don’t worry about your slip. Those little bumps aren’t that bad. Let’s just put a band aid on this big one.” I realized she didn’t lack fashion sense. She was just insane.

Ignoring the fact that it was a hot May night, I considered wearing the UGLY coat over it. Instead, I grabbed a heavy pink sweater, need taking precedence over temperature. When I got to school, I rushed to the bathroom and tied a string around my waist, pulling the draggle-tailed skirt up and bunching it under the cummerbund. It might have looked a little better. My pink sweater hid the sheer bodice, ugly, old cotton slip, and my pimply back. I buttoned the sweater from neck to the waist, so it looked like I had bad taste in skirts as well confusion over what season it was. It was so bad, for a moment, I thought of trying to drown myself in the toilet, but it’s hard to get privacy in a school bathroom.

I convinced myself it was an improvement over that lavender humiliation. I sweltered through the concert in embarrassment and moderate anxiety, instead of total the social annihilation I had dreaded. As we filed out after the concert, I could feel the fabric bunched up under the cummerbund in back slipping free of the string, but I got to the bathroom before the entire skirt attained tea length. Only the back of the skirt trailed unevenly below my knees. All in all, the evening was a success. No one saw my ugly, old slip or pimply back. They only laughed as I walked off and I was used to people talking about me behind my back. Two out of three wasn’t that bad.

Grandma, I hope God forgave you for getting me that awful stuff. I’m still working on it.

Goodwill Toward Kids At Christmas!

I was dying for a bicycle.  What I really wanted was a Spitfire, dark blue!  That had to be the most beautiful bike in the world.  However, I was a realist. I had heard my mother worrying over Christmas enough to know there would never be enough money for a new Spitfire.  That would have cost more than she had to spend for the whole family.   I would have been happy with anything of a reasonable size without training wheels.  It didn’t have to be new.  It didn’t have to have a horn.  It didn’t have to be blue.  I just wanted a bike.

My mother did make a mysterious trip to Goodwill in Shreveport before Christmas.  There is no way I could have missed knowing this.  She was a timid driver. “Driving in town” was a frequent topic of discussion among her group of friends.  The bolder ones proudly bragged, “I drive in Shreveport!”  Most of them “drove in Springhill.”  Mother didn’t mind “driving in Cotton Valley.”  It had businesses on two major streets, no parallel parking, and no parking meters.  A kid could drive a tricycle down Main Street undisturbed.Needless to say, Mother must have felt pretty pressed by our pleas for bikes to plan a trip to Shreveport.  She worried a lot that Goodwill might have parallel parking.  Finally, the big day came.  Though she was secretive about her purpose, I knew it had to be related to Christmas.  She even recruited a friend to babysit Connie and Marilyn, the only time I’d ever known her to do such a thing!

She left as soon as we were on the bus, not getting home till long after dark, unheard of for her.  There were no packages.  The next day, we stopped by Bud Hooten’s Hardware store where she bought a quart of sky blue enamel paint, some sandpaper, and a brush.  We took these to my Uncle Albert’s house.  He had a boy, Bobby,  staying with him.  While Mother drank coffee with Aunt Jewel, possibly the dullest woman on earth, Bobby came in, wordlessly took the bag from the hardware store, and disappeared.  Mother entertained no questions, so I knew it all had to be related to the trip to Goodwill and Christmas.

Christmas morning finally came.  The mystery was revealed.  Next to the tree stood two bikes of sky blue, a color never favored by Spitfire!  Draped across the handlebars of my bike hung a string of lollipops!  I was thrilled with my bike.  “Oh, I love it!  I love it!  This must be what you got at Goodwill!  I never thought I’d be able to get a bike for Christmas!”

At the mention of Goodwill, Mother’s face fell.  I never dreamed she’d think I’d believe this was a new bike!  It was obviously repainted with wear marks that a simple paint job couldn’t fix.

I tried to make her feel better.  “I love it. I knew we couldn’t ever get new bikes.  I just wanted a bike.

She recovered, somewhat, though still disappointed. “Oh, well, I’m glad you like it.  Now be careful.  As soon as it was daylight, we were off on those Goodwill bikes, riding the first of a million miles!

HO! HO! HO! Deer Season Doesn’t Come But Once a Year

Daddy took his hunting very seriously.  This was a man’s sport, an entitlement.  Real men hunted and fished.  A man’s outdoor gear was a reflection of him.  Daddy would have sooner worn lace panties than not follow the unwritten rules. His hunting gear was a necessity, not an extravagance like a dependable car, bills paid on time, and clothes for Continue reading