Just Folks Getting By Part 9

Kathleen Holdaway in flowered dress0002

“My mother, Kathleen Holdaway circa 1946. ¬†She would have been about the age of Jenny in this story.

Look here, Jenny.” ¬†Lucille settled in a kitchen chair and pulled a letter out of her apron pocket. ¬†“You know I never go nowhere without my Mama’s Bible. ¬†I forgot I had the first letter I wrote your daddy at Huntsville. ¬†He wrote me back on the back side. Do you want to hear it?”

“Oh yes, Mama, if It’s not too personal.” ¬†Jenny examined the worn envelope. “It’s good you wrote small so he could scratch your name out and use the same envelope to write back. You wrote this in pencil. ¬†I’d have thought you’d have written in pen. ¬†This writing is so faded.”

“Honey, I didn’t have no pen. ¬†We was poor. ¬†I was at Aunt Lu’s and she gave me a dozen eggs. ¬†I took ’em to the store and traded for two sheets of paper, an envelope, and two stamps. ¬†She knew your daddy wouldn’t have no way to git stamps. ¬†The store owner had the post office, too. ¬†He told me how to address the envelope so your daddy could reuse it. I had to borry his pencil. ¬†Anyway, let me read it to you. ¬†It’s faded and you might not make it out.”

My Dearest Russ, We have fell on some hard times.  I got word from Uncle Melvin about you and Luther gitting in trouble.  I wish you had stayed clear of trouble, but I know you was trying to take care of me and the children.  I will be waiting for you when you get out, for I love you.

That brings me to sad news.  Our boy Jimmy died three days after we got here.  We buried him down by the creek.  My heart is broke to have to tell you when you already got trouble.  I will stay here with Aunt Lucy.  Jenny is well, but misses you and Jimmy.

Please write to me on the back of this letter.  A stamp is folded inside.  I love you always and will pray for you.   I will write you again when I can get a stamp. Till we are together again.  Your loving wife Lucille

“Now look here on the back where he wrote back.” Lucille said.

Dear Wife, When I put you on the bus, I feared it was the last time I’d see Jimmy. ¬†I wished I’d figured a way to git y’all away soon enough to save him. ¬†I hope Jenny is well. They say I will be here five years. You are a young, pretty woman. ¬†If you meet someone else and have a chance at a better life, I will set you free. ¬†I broke the law and must serve my time, but you don’t need to suffer along with me. ¬†I will always love and pray for you.

You must not worry about me. ¬†I will not do anything to get in trouble. ¬†I miss your cooking. ¬†We mostly get beans. ¬†The man in my cell don’t talk, but he don’t give me no trouble. ¬†Nobody here talks about what they done. ¬†I would be glad for a letter if you can get a stamp, but don’t do without to get one. ¬†Take care of yourself and Jenny. ¬†I hope God lets us be together again.

All my love, Russ

Lucille took her glasses off, took a hankie out of her pocket, wiped her eyes, and cleaned her glasses. ¬†She refolded the letter and returned it its envelope. ¬†“Don’t ¬†let me forget to put this back in my Bible.” ¬†She looked up to see Jenny with tears running down her cheeks.

“That’s so sad, Mama. ¬†Your heart must have been breaking when you had to write Daddy that Jimmy was dead.”

“That was one of the saddest things I ever done. ¬†I was still numb from losing Jimmy. ¬†That was the worst. ¬†Next to that was walkin’ off and leavin’ you a’cryin’ at the Hope Home. ¬†You were’t even three and ain’t never been away from me even one night. ¬†You done lost Jimmy, your daddy, and now I was a’walkin’ off. ¬†I never felt so low.”

It was three months before I got to write to your daddy again. ¬†I found a dime in the dust of the road when I was a’walkin’ to the store to get some lye for Aunt Lucy. ¬†That was the first money I’d had since before Jimmy died. I bought you a lollipop, two three-cent stamps, two sheets of paper. ¬†The store-owner gave me an envelope with a coffee stain and loaned me his pencil. ¬†I wrote your daddy I’d be a’waitin’ when he got out.







Just Folks Getting By Part 8


Shot of a sweater I am crocheting my granddaughter.

“Now that’s some purty crochet. ¬†You’re getting real smooth with them stitches. ¬†Does it feel like your hands is gittin’ the idea?” ¬†Lucille and Jenny were at the kitchen table¬†with¬†Lucy resting in a basket at their feet. ¬†“Just look how sweet she looks with this pink.” ¬†Lucille held a skein of pink baby yarn next to her little granddaughter’s face. ¬†“Don’t tell Shirley, but I was always hopin’ for a girl ever’ time she got that away. ¬†I wonder if it was because I just never got enough of you when I had to put you in the Hope Home. The thing was, I never even cried. ¬†I just had to toughen up to get by. ¬†I was afraid if I started, I’d fall apart. ¬†I had to work and get the three dollars a week to the home or I might lose you.¬† That’s all I kept thinkin’ when the work got hard and the hours got long.”

“I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been, especially with Daddy in jail.¬† How did you find out what happened to him?¬† Weren’t you at Aunt Lucy’s?” Jenny was trying to piece her family’s past together along with learning to crochet.

“Let me show you how to do a double crochet so you can practice while I tell the story.¬† It’s a long one.¬† Okay, watch this.” Lucille demonstrated slowly, then picked up speed.¬† “Keep the tension on and git a rhythm.¬† There, now you are doing good.¬† Do a few till it gits easy, then I’ll show you how to turn for the next row.”¬† Jennie concentrated on her crochet while her mother picked up her own crochet and started her tale.

“You remember your daddy had sent us to Aunt Lucy’s on the bus to git us out of the dust when Jimmy was sick.¬† Well, Jimmy never did git another good breath.¬† He coughed up muddy stuff and kept getting worse.¬† We propped him up to sleep and built him a tent so he could breathe steam from a tea kettle with a few drops of kerosene in it.¬† We even give him three drops of kerosene in a spoon of sugar to ease the coughin’ and it worked some, but he still died about four days after we got there.¬† I didn’t have no way to git in touch with your daddy in time, so we had to go ahead and bury him on Aunt Lucille’s place.¬† We put him right near the creek, where you could hear the water running all the time.¬† The sound of that running water give me some comfort, at least knowing he wouldn’t be breathing dust no more.¬† Anyway, I wrote your daddy.¬† A few days later, I got a letter from Uncle Melvin lettin’ me know your daddy and his boy, Luther, had got caught runnin’¬† moonshine.¬† I was never so shocked in my life.¬† I thought Russ was drivin’ a truck. Uncle Melvin said they both got five years at Huntsville.¬† That just about kilt me, comin’ right on top of losin’ Jimmy. ¬†He’d sent my letter back and gave me an address where I could write Russ in jail. ¬†He’d been a’hopin’ I’d write ’cause he didn’t have no idear how to reach me. ¬†It like to broke my heart to write your daddy in jail.

I didn’t know what to do. ¬†I went straight to bed a’cryin’ my eyes out. ¬†You followed me to bed, just a’pattin’ my face with your little hands. ¬†I never got up that day. ¬†Your Aunt Lucille left me alone, but the next mornin’ she come in and told me to git up and cook you some eggs. ¬†You was hungry. ¬†Then I had to help her get a wash out. ¬†She was takin’ in washin’ then to make the rent. ¬†I told her I didn’t feel like it, to leave me alone. ¬†She said, “Gal, git your behind outta that bed before I take a broom to you. ¬†You got a baby to raise. ¬†It ain’t her fault her brother died and her daddy’s in jail. ¬†I didn’t take you to raise!”

Lucille laughed,”I believe she’d a done it, too.” ¬†I mean to tell you I jumped outta that bed and got to cookin’. ¬†Soon as I got done with the dishes, she set me to drawin’ water for the wash. ¬†I had to fill two of them big ol’ iron wash pots. ¬†We shaved in homemade lye soap and scrubbed dirty spots on a rub board before puttin’ clothes to boil a while. ¬†Then we dipped ’em out with a stick and put ’em in the rinse water. ¬†We done the whites first, then good clothes, and finally towels and work clothes. ¬†You had to go from cleanest to dirtiest or you’d mess up your whites. ¬†When the wash water got too dirty, we’d put soap in the rinse water and finish the wash with it. ¬†‘Course I had to fetch clean rinse water. ¬†I hated wringin’ them clothes. ¬†They was so heavy. ¬†The sheets, towels, diapers went straight on the line. ¬†The dresses, aprons, shirts, and overalls had to be starched before dryin’. ¬†Aunt Lucille stirred some corn starch in cold water, mixed it real smooth, and stirred it in the boilin’ rinse water. ¬†When it was smooth, she dunked the clothes and poked ’em around with her stick till they was soaked up good. ¬†We fished them steamin’ clothes out an’ wrung ’em out when they cooled enough. ¬†We had four long lines of clothes flappin’ in the breeze by the time we was finally done. ¬†The diapers and sheets was usually ready to take in by the time we got the last of the wash on the line.

By the time we got through washin’ and foldin’ I was whipped. ¬†We ate cornbread crumbled in ¬†buttermilk and sliced tomatoes for supper. ¬†I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes open to eat, I was so tired. ¬†The next mornin’ Aunt Lucille had me up at six to start the ironin’ while she picked beans. ¬†That afternoon, we canned ¬†beans. ¬† She had two big pressure cookers so we put up twenty-eight quarts of green beans that afternoon. ¬†If Aunt Lucille came in and caught me wipin’ tears, she’d set me to another task. ¬†Every night, I was so tired, I just drug myself off to bed. ¬†I still grieved, but it was kind of like I put my grief in a drawer and just took it out when I was free to be alone. ¬†Aunt Lu knew what she was doing. ¬†She’d ¬†lost three children in one week. ¬†She still had four to raise that needed more than a broken piece of a mama.

The Joy of Nursing

Early in my nursing career, I cared for Betsy Mercer, a young mother of six and seven-year-old boys who had lost her baby when the placenta detached before delivery. ¬†She was catastrophically ill, suffering every complication. I dialyzed her for weeks while she was on the ventilator in ICU as she went from bad to worse to worse. ¬†The only thing in her favor was her previous good health and the fact that she was a mother. ¬†As a mother, I identified with the grief she’d feel at the loss of her little girl when she finally regained consciousness, and regretful that two little boys were likely to lose their loving mother. ¬†I sang to Betsy and talked to her as though we were friends every day. ¬†“Betsy, Your husband brought these pictures of your boys today. ¬†They are so cute. ¬†He said they miss you but Grandma Sweet is getting them to and from school. ¬†Joey made you this bracelet and Kerry drew you a picture of your family. ¬†He drew you the biggest. ¬†He must really love you.”

I put the bracelet in her wrist every day when I was with her and posted the kid’s art where she could see it when she was turned to the left. ¬†Patients who can’t move are repositioned often to keep their skin healthy and to help prevent pneumonia. ¬†Late one Thusday I finished my shift and told Betsy I’d but would see her Tuesday morning after my long weekend, though I had little hope she’d be there.

I went back to the ICU to check on Betsy before my shift Tuesday morning. ¬†My heart fell when I saw someone else in her room. ¬†I felt just awful till I asked her nurse when she’d died.

“Oh, Betsy rallied midday Friday. She didn’t need dialysis and got off the ventilator Saturday night. ¬†By Monday, she was so much better, she moved out to the obstetrical floor.

I was ecstatic at her recovery, and meant to visit her in her room, but didn’t get up there. ¬†About six weeks later, a beautiful young woman stopped off at our unit to visit. ¬†It was Betsy, fully recovered come to pay her caregivers a visit. ¬†I’d never have known her. ¬†It was such a joy to see her returned to health and her family. ¬†It’s days like these that keep nurses coming back.



Making an Ass of Myself at a Funeral

funeral cartoonMy brother Billy and I decided to go to Mr. Charley’s funeral together.  I should have known better.  He always gets me in trouble.  We grew up playing with Mr. Charley’s kids, in and out of their house a lot.  He was a good guy.  I certainly didn’t decide to go to his funeral just to make a total ass of myself.  That was Billy’s doing. Continue reading

Mr. Bradley and the Old Floozies


Mr. Bradley died!! Mr. Bradley died!!

This was unbelievable! I had seen people get shot on “Gunsmoke,” but I‚Äôd never known anyone who had actually died. I knew I was supposed to cry when someone died but I couldn‚Äôt manage it. First of all, Mr. Bradley was an old grouch. He wore khaki pants and shirt and an old gray felt hat with oil stains around the hat band. He was really selfish. He had built us a chicken house. When I went out later to Continue reading

Laughter and Life

parents wedding pic             Bill and Kathleen Holdaway Swain on their wedding day, June 29, 1946




I have continued to think of¬†Pegoleg’s post¬† and Yadadarcyyaday posts yesterday. Laughter has saved me in some of the most stressful situations of my life.¬† It is cathartic.¬† On the way to my father’s funeral, my mother was sitting between me and my husband.¬† Of course, it was a somber time.¬† I was anxious to be of support to her, mindful of her grief and all the problems loss of a Continue reading


Mr. Bradley and the Old Floozies

Mr. Bradley died!! Mr. Bradley died!!


This was unbelievable! I had seen people get shot on “Gunsmoke,” but I‚Äôd never known anyone who had actually died. I knew I was supposed to cry when someone died but I couldn‚Äôt manage it. First of all, Mr. Bradley was an old grouch. He wore khaki pants and shirt and an old gray felt hat with oil stains around the hat band. He was really selfish. Continue reading