Old Wives Tales and Periods

imageI knew there was some kind of big, stupid mystery even before my “sometimes” friend Margaret Green broke the news to me in the fourth grade.  My grandma had started badgering me not to go barefoot and had taken to sneaking peeks at my underwear when she was sorting laundry.

This is some interesting information and dire warnings I was given regarding health care of young ladies after the onset of puberty. My maternal grandmother hissed these warnings at me, though she was hazy on rationale  Girls should never go barefoot or get their feet wet after they go into puberty. (She made no mention of how I was to wash my feet or bathe.). I must never bathe or get my head wet or ride a horse during my period.  She offered as proof the fact that when my grandpa’s sister was only sixteen, she was riding a horse just before she got ready to take a job as a teacher in her first school.  She got caught in a rainstorm while she was having her period and was soaked to the skin.  She got galloping pneumonia and died before daybreak.  I was never sure if all these variables had to be included for the situation to be deadly.  Perhaps if she had been fifteen, walking to her job as a clerk in a store while she was having her period and broke out in chicken pox, she might have escaped with only a few scars on her face.

Also, Grandma warned me young girls shouldn’t ever go swimming.  “Never?”  I was appalled.

For some reason, going barefoot was deadly, especially if there was dew on the ground.  There was something called “dew poisoning.”  Dew poisoning “stopped” periods.  How could that be a bad thing?  I didn’t want periods anyway.  Not only that, dew poisoning caused rampant infections should it enter a tiny wound on the foot, but I don’t remember her ever harassing my brother about going barefoot.  Maybe she wasn’t looking out for him.

Then she told me of a stubborn cousin of hers who went swimming all the time.  “Even when she was expecting!  Everyone of her kids had epileptic fits!”  That didn’t concern me at all since I had no intention of doing anything to cause children, in view of my recent sex education.

Mother had her own ridiculous rules about hygiene.  Hair could only be washed once a week, and never during you period.  That was a disaster for us with our oily hair.  I’d try to slip around and wash it more often, but she watched us.  She insisted on giving us hideous home perms.  They were awful!  I was so glad when Mother had to much on her mind to to to keep up with trying to enforce all her mindless rules.

Hard Time Marrying Part 9

traveling-medicine-show1No mother had ever loved her.  A woman or two passed through, but none of them stayed long.  Ever since she could remember, she’d trailed Pa at his blacksmith or on the homestead though some days he didn’t speak five words to her.  As she got older, she picked up a little cooking, but neither of them did more than they had to in the house.  She was near thirteen when Bessie and her three boys moved in homestead after marrying Pa, Bessie railed at the filth in the house and set about teaching Anya housekeeping with a ready back-hand.  She wasn’t partial to the girl, backhanding her own boys just as often.  When Bessie’s baby girl was born a few months later, she carelessly handed it off to Anya, taking it only to nurse.  For the first time in her life, Anya knew love, never leaving her new sister in Bessie’s way.

Bessie remarried quickly after Pa was kicked in the head by a horse and liked Anya even less after she caught her new man looking Anya’s way.  Within a month, she’d handed Anya off to a Snake Oil peddler passing through.  He warned her not to try to get away.  “I done paid good money for you.”  Anya endured his drunken assaults and those of men who paid him for her time.  After the most brutal beating and rape she’d yet endured, he passed out from his own “Snake Oil.”  Fueled by adrenaline and the knowledge that it was now or never, despite her useless right arm, Anya dragged herself to the wagon, took his pistol from under the wagon seat, aimed at his head and pulled the trigger.  It kicked her backwards against the wagon.  Desperately, she pulled herself up, took the shovel propped against the wagon wheel, steadied herself as best she could, and bashed in his skull.  Repositioning herself, she took another go at him, knowing if he lived, he’d kill her.

With agonizing effort, she pulled his old horse next to the wagon and slid over from the step.  Fortunately for her, the horse was old and docile or he’d have never tolerated her clumsiness.  Popping the reins, she gave him his head.  From time to time she’d nod off and awaken to find his head drooping, as he rested along with her.  Urging him on, they’d travel a bit more till he sensed she wouldn’t notice his dawdling. In that manner, they traveled on through the night and early morning.  As her fatigue and pain got the better of her, she spent less and less time pushing him.  He ambled along and grazed as he pleased with no interference from her.  She slid from his back as he made his way down a little slope to a stream.  She drank beside him and crawled into the shade of a willow to rest.  Somewhat interested, he watched his fellow traveler, then began grazing further and further along the stream.  It was a good day to be a horse on the loose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Champ and the Easter Hat

Horse and Hat

Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

I knew Champ, our horse, loved me since he trotted up to the fence every time he saw me. I carefully held my hand flat and let him snuffle up goodies with his velvety muzzle. My big sister said it he’d love anyone who slipped him apples, sugar and carrots, but she was just being mean. I didn’t tell my friends and cousins the trick, so they were scared he’d bite them. Before long, I found he could help himself to treats out of my pocket or off my shoulder.

My grandmother had written that she was coming for Easter and bringing Easter outfits with hats and shoes. I didn’t hear much except the part about outfits with hats and shoes. I was thrilled! I had been dying for a cowboy outfit with red boots, red hat, and shiny pistols in a holster but Mother said I needed other things worse. Good old Grandma knew what really mattered! I was up before daylight waiting for her. Breakfast and lunch dragged by…..…..nothing. I was getting more and more upset. Maybe Grandma wasn’t coming. Maybe she got lost. Just before dark an old black car crept up. We all flew out to the car, trying to get to her first. “What did you bring me? What did you bring me?” Mother tried to shush us, but nobody listened. Grandma was slow getting out of the car and slower getting in the house. No wonder it took her so long to get here. We got busy and helped with her bags and a big brown box from the back seat. There was plenty of room in there for a cowboy suit and lots of other good stuff.

Even though we were dying, Mother made us wait till Grandma went to the bathroom, got a cup of coffee, and caught her breath. She was slow at that, too. Finally, Grandma got the scissors and started cutting the strings on the box. She was so old her fingers shook. It took forever. I could have ripped into that box in a second, but would Mother let me? Noooooo!

Just before I died of old age, Grandma started pulling things out of the box. I knew she always saved the best for last. I got a gumball machine full of gumballs. That was great!! Next she pulled out a baby doll and handed it to me. Grandma couldn’t seem to remember I hated dolls, but I tried to be nice about it. All baby dolls were good for was burying when we played funeral. I tried to be patient till she got to the cowboy outfit. Finally, she hit bottom. She made me and my sister close our eyes and hold out our hands for our outfits.

I peeked just a little and was furious!! This was a horrible joke! We were both holding fancy Easter dresses, big ridiculous straw hats with flowers, and shiny white shoes. I hated them! Where were my cowboy boots and guns? My mother gave me a dirty look before I could tell Grandma what I really thought. I hated dresses, but Mother made us put on our Easter getups and pose next to the fence for a picture. It was hot. The clothes were scratchy. We looked stupid. My prissy big sister kept dancing around like a ballerina while the mean kids from next door laughed at us across the fence. I’d be dealing with them later. Boy was I disgusted.

Mother was as slow as Grandma. While I stood there like a dope waiting for her to take that darn picture, Champ came up behind me expecting a treat. We both got a big surprise. I felt a big scrunchy chomp on my head. The strap on my hat stretched tight, snapped, and that horrible hat with the flowers was gone. I flipped around, and Champ was eating my Easter hat. He still had straw and flowers sticking out of his mouth, but I could see he didn’t think too much of it either. He was the best horse ever. I never had to wear that hat again. He did love me!

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Our House

imageFive kids

In response to The Daily Post writing prompt “Our House”

Our house, was a very, very, fine house, I thought. The center of my world….a small, white frame house surrounded by a picket fence sitting under a huge shade tree.  For many years it was a three-room house till Daddy added two bedrooms and a screened-in back porch to accommodate his growing family.  I played in the deep, soft sand with my brother and sister on hot summer days. Honey-colored pine floors warmed the rooms, walls covered in cedar paneling.  Yellow and green tiles in an alternating pattern covered the kitchen floor.  The stove, with a pan of left-over biscuits for snacks, its door propped up with a stick, stood at one end of the kitchen, the refrigerator at the other, while cabinets ran along the outside wall.  We all crowded around a red dinette set with a high chair pulled alongside.  Mother’s wringer washer and the big deep freeze were housed on the screened-in back porch that had been pressed into service as a makeshift utility room.  She suffered terribly doing her wash in the cold till the screens were covered with heavy plastic coated hardware wire and a space heater was installed.  Clothes hung on lines strung across that room on rainy days.  Our house was noisy with the shrieks of children at play, my mother’s laughter, and the joy of rowdy children.  It was unusually scattered and looked like a tornado had ripped through not ten minutes after Mother finished cleaning.

The house was cold in winter, hot in summer, though the big attic fan lulled us to sleep on hot summer nights.  On sunny days, leafy shadows danced on my bedroom walls and floor.  Sometimes on hot days, I napped stretched out on the cool pine floors. Other times, I slept on a pallet of quilts with my cousin when company stayed nights.

Mother got up before we did to light the space-heaters that inadequately heated the house.  We’d back up to the heaters and roast our behinds while our fronts chilled till the house finally warmed up.

A wonderful two-story barn filled with hay stood in the barnyard behind the house.  On rainy days, we raced out to play in the barn, never to be held captive indoors.  It was heaven to play in the stalls and climb in the loft to build forts in the hay.  On fine days, we were free to roam the pastures and woods.  We climbed trees and dropped off on the backs of cows dozing in the shade, for short but exciting rides.  Sometimes we were lucky enough to lure a horse close enough to a fence to get on his back and get a bareback ride till he tired of us.  My brother still has a grudge in at me for jumping off as the horse headed into a stall, leaving him to be scraped off by the low roof.  It was a perfect way to grow up.

It pains me that today that house is about to fall down.

I Might Not Be Right but….

Growing up on a farm in the sixties had its bright spots.  Farm life was long on work, but we were at liberty to swim and fish in the pond and ride horses when we weren’t working. My brother and I counted on riding late Saturday afternoons and every Sunday after church with friends, then maybe swimming later in the day in the summer.  It was the high point of our week.  Winter wasn’t so bad because there wasn’t so much work and there were school and friendships to look forward to.  That tells you a lot about how much social life we had, doesn’t it?

When I was a young child, I adored Daddy who was very indulgent and loving, but as I aged out as a small child and became a girl, I felt he withdrew his love.  This was extremely cruel and painful.  I felt as though my heart had been amputated.

Daddy was fiercely stern, certainly not worried about being a friend to his children.  He was proud of taking a stand, always being right.  More than once, I remember him him saying, “I may not be right, but I am never wrong,”  feeling it was a weakness to back down.

By the time I was a teenager on the farm, the work on the farm was unrelenting, particularly during the summer months. My brother and I spent hours every day at tasks Daddy had assigned us and with him when he was home, an altogether miserable experience. Through the misery of the long week, we looked forward to our Saturday and Sunday afternoons off.  I even looked forward to church, remarkable for me, since I’d never cared for the monotony of church, but it was a rare chance to see friends over the summer. Our only socialization was family activities.

One Sunday I was impatiently helping Mother cooking Sunday dinner after church, just like always I had to, wild to be cut loose to go riding, when I saw Daddy open the pasture gate for the neighbor girl, Kim on her horse and her friend Susie on “my horse, Pixie ” while I was still stuck in the kitchen, like a mindless drudge. No one had even had the consideration to mention the plan to me, though all three knew I rode every Sunday. I was livid.  I went straight to Daddy and asked if it was true, “Did you really loan my horse without saying anything to me?”  It’s a wonder he didn’t knock my teeth out!

“I did.  I bought that horse.  I pay for every bite that goes in its mouth and yours.  That horse and everything on this place belongs to me.”

I turned and went back in the house, more determined than ever, that no one would ever own me.

Later that evening, I had the shock of my life.  My father came as close to apologizing as he ever did.  He said.  “I should have asked you if you were going to ride before I loaned that horse.”  I cried as I wrote this.  Maybe he was softer than I thought.  I wish I could talk this over with him today.  I know I have hurt my kids without meaning to.

“He did.”

Old Wives Tales and Periods

imageI knew there was some kind of big, stupid mystery even before my “sometimes” friend Margaret Green broke the news to me in the fourth grade.  My grandma had started badgering me not to go barefoot and had taken to sneaking peeks at my underwear when she was sorting laundry.

This is some interesting information and dire warnings I was given regarding health care of young ladies after the onset of puberty. My maternal grandmother hissed these warnings at me, though she was hazy on rationale  Girls should never go barefoot or get their feet wet after they go into puberty. (She made no mention of how I was to wash my feet or bathe.). I must never bathe or get my head wet or ride a horse during my period.  She offered as proof the fact that when my grandpa’s sister was only sixteen, she was riding a horse just before she got ready to take a job as a teacher in her first school.  She got caught in a rainstorm while she was having her period and was soaked to the skin.  She got galloping pneumonia and died before daybreak.  I was never sure if all these variables had to be included for the situation to be deadly.  Perhaps if she had been fifteen, walking to her job as a clerk in a store while she was having her period and broke out in chicken pox, she might have escaped with only a few scars on her face.

Also, Grandma warned me young girls shouldn’t ever go swimming.  “Never?”  I was appalled.

Then she told me of a stubborn cousin of hers who went swimming all the time.  “Even when she was expecting!  Everyone of her kids had epileptic fits!”

Mother had her own ridiculous rules about hygiene.  Hair could only be washed once a week, and never during you period.  That was a disaster for us with our oily hair.  I’d try to slip around and wash it more often, but she watched us.  She insisted on giving us hideous home perms.  They were awful!  I was so glad when Mother had to much on her mind to to to keep up with trying to enforce all her mindless rules.

Mothers Day Pinto

Mother was a slow learner.  It took her forever to learn that Daddy was not the thoughtful kind of guy who would ever surprise her with lovely gifts and gestures.  He was more the kind of guy who felt sorry for himself when she got her feelings hurt or got mad.  After all, he was pretty sure he’d gotten her something last year, for her birthday or Christmas, one or the other.  What had she done with that eggbeater?

This year was going to be different.  Virgil Hughes had a nice Pinto horse.  It was a good deal since it “wasn’t broke” yet.  Nobody really wanted it since it stomped Euless and broke his leg, but Daddy was sure he could make a fine riding horse out of it.  Kathleen was scared of horses, but she’d get over that.  If she didn’t, he’d ride it.  Daddy stopped off on the way home from work the Friday before Mother’s Day to pick it up.  It was kicking the side rails when he pulled in.  He called Mother out to. See her beautiful Pinto and she hit the ceiling.  “Of all the things I need, you come bringing in a horse.  We need another useless animal to feed like I need a hole in the head.”  She stormed in, furious.

Daddy stomped off, putting the horse in the pasture.  “Kathleen didn’t appreciate anything he did for her.  It would be a cold day in Hell before he brought her anything else!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Fluffy, the Species Confused Chicken

My little sisters, Connie and Marilyn, raised their baby chick, Fluffy, in a cloth-lined box in the living room. He spent his nights in their room, going to sleep as soon as they covered his sweet, little head. He woke them early in the morning, peeping around looking for them. Cleaning up after him wasn’t really a big problem while he was a tiny chick. Continue reading

New Babies

We had a family meeting and Daddy said we were going to have to start helping Mother just because she was having a baby.  He tried to make it sound like something great.  I wanted to tell him I didn’t want a baby or chores, but was smart enough to keep my mouth shut.  I had to dust, set the table, and fold towels.    I would be glad when Mother had that Continue reading