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.