Mixed Nuts Part 2

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When you are dealing with family, it clarifies things to have a scale. You don’t have to waste time analyzing people when you have a ready reference. This one works pretty well for us.

1.Has a monogrammed straight jacket and standing reservation on mental ward.

2.Family is likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in the past or the future

3.People say, “Oh, crap. Here comes Johnny.”

4.Can go either way. Gets by on a good day. Never has been arrested. Can be lots of fun or a real mess. Relatives usually will invite in for coffee. Likely to have hormone-induced behavior.

5.Regular guy. Holds down a job. Mostly takes care of business. Probably not a serial marry-er. Attends church when he has to.

6.Good fellow. Almost everybody likes him or her. Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. Manages money well enough to retire early.

7.High achiever. Business is in order. Serves on city council.

8.Looks too good to be true. What’s really going on?

9.Over-achiever. Affairs are in order. Solid citizen. Dull, dull, dull. Could end up as a 1

My family is as much a mixed bag of nuts as any. As a kid, I was most fascinated by the ones on the fringes. My favorite was Uncle Chester, not because he was friendly, funny, or even seemed to notice me, but because he was the first solid #3 of my acquaintance. (Family likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in past or future.) As a young man in the depression, he started out as a moonshiner and petty criminal, lounging a bit in local jails. He never really hit the big time and made the Federal Penitentiary till he got caught counterfeiting quarters. His technique was sloppy and his product unpolished. He was fortunate in getting caught red-handed passing his ugly quarters. In 1941 he was sent up to Fort Leavenworth for some higher education where he made good use of his time by apprenticing himself to a cellmate who was doing time for making twenty-dollar bills.

Aunt Jenny #5 (Can go either way. Gets by on a good day. Never been arrested. Can be lots of fun or a real mess. Relatives usually will invite in for coffee. Likely to have hormone-induced behavior.) was short-sighted about Uncle Chester’s situation and ditched him while he was imprisoned, but realized she still loved him when he came home with his enhanced earning capacity. They let bygones be bygones, got back together, and had three lovely children. Their eldest son Lynn and daughter Sue were solid #7s from the start. (Good fellows. Almost everybody likes him or her. Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. Manages money well enough to retire early.) Uncle Chester was perfectly willing to give Lynn a good start in business, but Lynn was ungrateful, distanced himself from his father’s dealings, joined the military, and avoided the family business altogether, even seeming to resent his father. One Sunday dinner, when Uncle Chester was dropping names of the interesting people he had been in jail with at various times, Lynn rudely interrupted, “Daddy, you’ve been in jail with everybody at one time or another.” Uncle Chester did step up and keep Cousin Lynn from making a mistake. Lynn came home on leave from the military and met a girl he wanted to marry; love at first sight. She was a pretty as a spotted puppy and even she noticed how much she looked like his sister Sue.  Uncle Chester got her off to the side and asked a few questions about her mama and daddy and where she was raised. He was waiting up for Lynn to get home. “Son, I sure hope things ain’t gone too far. I hate it, but you can’t marry that li’l old gal. She looks just like her Mama did when we was running around together. There’s a real good reason she looks just like yore sister Sue, a real good reason.”

By the fifties, Uncle Chester had branched out a little. He did a little research and decided lawsuits paid well and weren’t too much work. He captured some bees, applied them to his leg. When his leg was good and swollen, he got his buddy to drop him off downtown at a trolley stop. As the trolley approached, Uncle Chester carefully stumbled into the path of the trolley, suffering a knee injury in front of numerous witnesses. He collapsed to the ground, moaning and groaning. Suffering terribly, he was transported and treated at the hospital. Now Uncle Chester was set with a fifty-thousand dollar settlement, a tidy sum for that time.

Their daughter Susie turned out real well, became a teacher, and married a Baptist Preacher, lending Uncle Chester a much appreciated touch of respectability. Uncle Chester and Aunt Jenny were very generous toward her church, and the legitimacy of their donations was never questioned. Sadly, many years later Susie’s daughter a bona fide #3, embarrassed them all by stealing from her employer.

Ross, Uncle Chester’s youngest son, was also a gifted #3 (Family likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in past or future) followed in Uncle Chester’s footsteps. He dabbled in moonshine, petty crime, and scams but just never rose to Uncle Chester’s level. He initiated a few crooked lawsuits but lacked the brain power and organization to pull bigger things off. All went well till he got too big for his britches and tried setting up business in Texas. When he got caught moonshining in someone else’s territory, he called the old man for help. Uncle Chester had to admit, “I’m sorry son, but I can’t do a thing for you. I don’t have any influence with the law out there.” Uncle Chester felt bad about one of his boys getting in trouble till the day he died,” but sometimes you just have to let kids make their own mistakes.”

Aunt Jenny was stingy. You would think she got her money in the usual way. Or maybe she just got tired of hearing Uncle Chester complain how hard it was to make money.  She even made her own mother pay for a ride to the grocery store. When Maw Maw won some groceries in a weekly contest,  she had to share with Aunt Jenny since she hitched a ride to the grocery store every week. Aunt Jenny sold eggs and tomatoes and charged Maw Maw the same as everyone else.

When Aunt Jenny got older, she got dentures. She liked them so well she saved them for special occasions. She wore them when she had ladies over for coffee, church, and Sunday dinner. Being toothless didn’t hold her back a bit. She could take a bite off an apple as well as anyone and could have won a fried chicken eating contest hands down.

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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

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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.

Just Folks Getting By Part 4

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Both these quilts are are made with fabrics from feedsacks.  I was fortunate enough to be given the treasure of these vintage quilt tops.  Note the beautiful hand work on the Sunbonnet Sue quilt.  All the girls are completely different.  No two squares are alike on either quilt.  All I had to do was quilt them.

imageLucille and Jenny were working together on a quilt top Lucille had started when she first found out Jenny was pregnant.  “See this here pink, flowery piece.  When I was a’carryin’ you, I got two feed sacks and managed to swap my neighbor for another to make me a dress.  I fought you’ll ever have times that hard, but I ain’t sorry I know how to manage when times is hard.  Them chickenfeed sacks was real purty. It took three for a woman’s dress, two for a child, and two for a man’s short sleeve shirt. All you had to do was unravel them, wash’ em, soak’ em in salt water to set the color, an’ git to sewin’.  I had had enough left of this piece to make a collar and cuffs for a little dress for you.  I like to think of Lucy sleepin’ under the same stuff I wore when I was in the family way with you then you wore as a baby.  Who’d a’thought all these years later it would still be around.  If it don’t wear too bad, it could be she’ll be wrappin’ a baby in it one day.  I know I wouldn’t have hung onto a store blanket that way.  Once it got wore, I’d a’throwed it out. 

I’ll have to tell you a funny on me and your daddy.  The first time I made him a feedsack shirt, I put the buttons on the left instead of the right, not being used to sewing for a man.  Well, he wore it over to his Uncle Melvin’s to Sunday dinner and the menfolks just carried him high.  Turns out, he knowed it was wrong all along; he just didn’t want to hurt my feelings.  I told him not to wear it off the place after that.  I didn’t want nobody shamin’ him on my account.  You know he had to be a good man to wear that shirt knowing they was gonna laugh at him.  I made real sure to always git his buttons on the right, after that! Darned, if it didn’t take years to wear that shirt out, with them wrong-sided buttons staring me in the face!”

Jenny considered. “He was a good daddy.  I don’t remember him ever fussing at me.  I didn’t even know him when we all moved back home after I got out of the orphanage, but I do remember thinking I didn’t have to mind him till you straightened me out.  Exactly how did I come to be in the orphanage?  I don’t remember much before being there.”

“Well, you daddy got in trouble for moonshining on his Uncle Melvin’s place.  Him and some of Uncle Melvin’s boys was all in it.  Your Uncle Melvin had about four hundred acres him and his boys was working when your daddy got in with them.  The drought and dust storms started about the time we married and Russ never had a real good crop.  Ever’ year, it just got worse.  Finally, Uncle Melvin come to talk to your Daddy.  He’d borrowed from the bank and they was gonna take the place.  Well, that would git our living as well as Uncle Melvin’s and all his boys.  Luther, his oldest boy had got to running moonshine, and it was good money, especially for them hard times.  Somehow, folks can find the money to drink.  Anyway, Luther set up his own still at a crick on the back of Uncle Melvin’s place.  That crick dried up every summer, but would run pretty good over the winter when it rained north of us.  Your daddy run moonshine for Luther awhile and done real good.  Jimmy was already having real bad athsma from the dust storms, so your daddy put us on the bus and sent us back to stay with Aunt Lucy, meaning to come for us when the dust settled.  Jimmy died a few days after we got there.  That’s where we was when I got the letter letting me know he was going to jail.  If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have wished I was dead.  He got five years.”

“Oh no,” Jenny exclaimed. “I never knew how that happened.  “Why didn’t we stay at Aunt Lucy’s till he got out.”

“Well, we did stay a few weeks till Uncle Marshall come to visit.  That was Aunt Lucy’s younger brother.  He died when you was about six.  I doubt you remember him.” Lucille mused.  “Uncle Marsh never married and we was real close.  He was working two jobs in Dallas.  He was a janitor at a hotel and the Bar and Grill next door.  He knew your daddy and felt just awful about him being in the pen.  He said the Bar and Grill needed a dishwater and he might be able to get the job.  Now, I know that don’t sound like much of a job to you, but I was desperate enough to pray I’d get it.  I couldn’t impose on Aunt Lucille forever.  She was old and already had a widowed daughter and grandchildren living with her.  She got her husband’s Civil War Pension, but it didn’t go far enough to stretch for two more.

My sister Velma was having her fourth baby so I went to help out for a few days, hoping to hear from Uncle Marshall.  Velma’s old man was sorry.  He follered me out to the barn one night, wanting to mess with me.  I hit him in the head with the milk bucket and went in and told Velma we was gonna have to leave.  She got to crying, saying she’d feared it might turn out that way.  She sent word to a neighbor who needed help with gittin’ in her garden and canning and she said we could stay with her a couple of weeks till she could get her garden in.  After that, another neighbor needed help with her mama who’d had a stroke.  We moved ever’ few weeks for a while, just takin’ whatever work I could get.  Of course, I never got no pay, just food and a place to stay, but it got our feet out from under Aunt Lucy’s table. 

Sometimes, I’d git so worried I couldn’t sleep when our work was comin’ to a close, fearin’ I wouldn’t be able to get you under a roof.  I never eat no more than I could help, not wanting to impose.  I got down to one-hundred eleven pounds, which ain’t much for a big woman like me.  I just ate enough to make sure I wouldn’t git down sick.  I always made sure you got enough, even if I was afraid to.  I made real sure to stay shy of the men at the house, not wantin’ to have no problems.  Sometimes, I had to set them straight, right off.  It got to where I’d tell the man and woman right off when I got there, I didn’t want nothing to do with no man.

Finally, I got a letter a bus ticket from Uncle Marsh.  I like to cried with relief.

Just Folks Getting By Part 1

This story is not about my family, but from a time and place when my grandparents struggled to raise their family.  This is a picture of my grandparents Roscoe Gordon Holdaway and Mary Elizabeth Perkins Holdaway when they first married.  Mary Elizabeth Perkins and Roscoe Gordon Holdaway Wedding Pictu“Mama, how come I had to live in that orphanage for a while when I was little?  If you ever told me, I don’t remember.” Jenny sat in a porch rocker nursing her new baby.  Her mother Lucille sat across from her in another, crocheting a blanket for Little Lucy.

Oh, Jenny, I been wondering when you was gonna ask about that.  That like to broke my heart.  I don’t want you to think bad of your daddy.  He was a real good man, but got caught up in some trouble when you was just a baby.  We was a’farming the Henderson Place up in the Panhandle where The Dustbowl was the worst and he got caught moonshining.  You have to understand, back in The Great Depression, things was different.  They’d been a long drought an’ he hadn’t made a good crop in years.  Dust just kept a blowin’ ever’thing away.  It was just awful seein’ them dust clouds roll in, knowin’ we was gonna be a’smotherin’ and lose our crops..  That dust would git down in your lungs and turned to mud.   That’s what happened to your brother Jimmy when you was just a baby.  He died of the dust pneumonia.  Anyway, that’s what got your daddy moonshining.  We was a’starvin’ and then Jimmy got bad sick.  It was real flat out there and he put a still in the storm cellar.  The sheriff seen the smoke and come and broke it up and hauled him off to jail.  I didn’t know what I was gonna do.  Since I’m a’gonna be here a few days, it’d be a good time to tell you.  Now, you got a baby of your own, you ought’a be able to know what a hard thing it is to leave a young’un.  I always worried you’d hold it against me, but if I hadn’t a’put you in that orphanage, you’d a’died like Jimmy.  You almost did anyway.”  Lucille had difficulty speaking through her tears.

“Oh Mama.  I never held anything against you.” Jenny interjected.  “I remember you coming to get me on your days off.  I went there when I was so little, I didn’t know any other life.  I couldn’t wait to see you when Mama Margie and Mama Bertha told me you were coming.  Not many kids ever had anybody to come see them.  I thought I was real lucky, especially when you’d take me out on my birthday and Christmas every year.  Those were really special times.  Most kids never went out except when we all went.  I remember getting to sleep over with you a few times.  Those were the best times, snuggled close to you in your bed in your cute little-bitty room in that kitchen.”

“I’m glad you remember it that way, but that wasn’t a ‘cute little-bitty room.’  It was a cot in the pantry, but it’s a mercy that’s what you thought.  Mr. Jones let me clear out a space big enough for a cot.  Do you remember I had all them canned goods stowed up under the bed?  Till Mr. Jones let me git a cat, I had to set mousetraps all around and they’d be a’snappin’ all night.  I shore was proud of Ol’ Smoky.  She wouldn’t let a mouse stay on the place.  I sure slept a lot better after she come.  She was a good old cat.”  They both got a good chuckle out of that.

Corwin and the Hog Dog

image imageAunt Essie, like all of my aunts, was a wonder of fertility, if not child-rearing acumen, raising seven of the meanest boys outside Alcatraz. Thank God, her reproductive equipment gave out before she managed more. I thought Mother exaggerated when she said they’d all end up in jail or dead before they were thirty. She was wrong. Only four of the seven did jail time, and of these, one died in a bar fight after he was released at the age of twenty-eight. Most of rest passed their time boozing it up at Aunt Essie’s house when they weren’t begetting children or needed in jail. Contrary to Mother’s unjust prediction, all but one made it past thirty and one never went to jail.  The meanest of the lot turned out to be pretty boring. He opened a very successful auto body shop and became a deacon.  I hope Mother learned her lesson about being judgmental.

When Aunt Essie’s boys weren’t trying to kill us, they could be entertaining. Uncle July was an avid hog-hunter and was extremely proud of his Catahoula Cur Hog Dog, Catch. Out on the hunt, Catch would le go berserk with hog lust and “catch” wild hogs by the ear, hanging on until commanded to turn loose; not a nice dog. Uncle July kept him penned up, sternly warning us away from the fence. Catch might rage through the fence, “catching” us by the ear.

Aunt Essie and Uncle July heard “catch” noises from the dog pen and were horrified to realize one of their angelic three-year-old twins was missing. They rushed out and found Corwin and the monster dog rolling around in the dog pen. Expecting to retrieve the bloody corpse of his precious child, Uncle July leapt into to the pen to find Corwin latched down on Catch’s ear, blood pouring from the tattered edges. When asked why he bit the dog, Kelvin replied, “Dog bite me.” Corwin was fine except for a few drag marks.

Considering his tender age, it seemed premature to categorize Corwin, but he showed all the hallmarks of a psychopath. Energized and empowered by his encounter with “Catch”, his strange little mind focused on the unfortunate beast, making his life a living hell. Despite his concerned parents’ warning, he was soon back in the dog pen and had Catch cowering in a barrel half-buried in the dirt that passed for a dog house, howling piteously for rescue. Realizing he was no threat to Corwin, Aunt Essie and Uncle July abandoned poor Catch to his misery, knowing Corwin was off their backs as long as poor Catch was crying. Catch wet himself and ran under the truck next time Uncle July tried to take him out hog hunting, his spirit broken. Uncle July swapped him off to an unsuspecting buddy for a pirogue the first chance he got.

Surviving five horrible older brothers made Corwin and his twin Kelvin dangerous little devils. Their parents doted on all the boys, seemingly unconcerned about their reputations as hellions. When people complained about their bullying, their stock reply was, “What did your Johnny do to them?” artfully ignoring the obvious fact that the damaged kid was three years younger. Aunt Essie grieved because the twins would be her last babies, so she let them carry their baby bottles till the school put a stop to it. It was bizarre to see them coming in from playing football with their brothers, pull their bottles out of their back pockets, and fill them for themselves. They were fluent in profanity from the time they could talk.

As an adult, between stints in jail, Corwin lived in the dugout of the local ballpark. He’d worn out his welcome with Aunt Essie and his tippling brothers after attempting to burn her house down over their heads. He was forcibly extricated by the more sober among them, but did live to the ripe old age of forty-one. After the immediate threat of roasting in her bed passed, Aunt frequently mentioned letting him move back in, feeling he’d learned his lesson in jail, but her other boys had a longer memory and wouldn’t allow him back in.

Corwin spent the rest of his life residing between the ballpark, jail, and homeless shelters, except for brief stints with friends when he was flush with cash from his drug sales job.

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Mixed Nuts Part 2

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When you are dealing with family, it clarifies things to have a scale. You don’t have to waste time analyzing people when you have a ready reference. This one works pretty well for us.

1.Has a monogrammed straight jacket and standing reservation on mental ward.

2.Family is likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in the past or the future

3.People say, “Oh, crap. Here comes Johnny.”

4.Can go either way. Gets by on a good day. Never has been arrested. Can be lots of fun or a real mess. Relatives usually will invite in for coffee. Likely to have hormone-induced behavior.

5.Regular guy. Holds down a job. Mostly takes care of business. Probably not a serial marry-er. Attends church when he has to.

6.Good fellow. Almost everybody likes him or her. Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. Manages money well enough to retire early.

7.High achiever. Business is in order. Serves on city council.

8.Looks too good to be true. What’s really going on?

9.Over-achiever. Affairs are in order. Solid citizen. Dull, dull, dull. Could end up as a 1

My family is as much a mixed bag of nuts as any. As a kid, I was most fascinated by the ones on the fringes. My favorite was Uncle Chester, not because he was friendly, funny, or even seemed to notice me, but because he was the first solid #3 of my acquaintance. (Family likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in past or future.) As a young man in the depression, he started out as a moonshiner and petty criminal, lounging a bit in local jails. He never really hit the big time and made the Federal Penitentiary till he got caught counterfeiting quarters. His technique was sloppy and his product unpolished. He was fortunate in getting caught red-handed passing his ugly quarters. In 1941 he was sent up to Fort Leavenworth for some higher education where he made good use of his time by apprenticing himself to a cellmate who was doing time for making twenty-dollar bills.

Aunt Jenny #5 (Can go either way. Gets by on a good day. Never been arrested. Can be lots of fun or a real mess. Relatives usually will invite in for coffee. Likely to have hormone-induced behavior.) was short-sighted about Uncle Chester’s situation and ditched him while he was imprisoned, but realized she still loved him when he came home with his enhanced earning capacity. They let bygones be bygones, got back together, and had three lovely children. Their eldest son Lynn and daughter Sue were solid #7s from the start. (Good fellows. Almost everybody likes him or her. Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. Manages money well enough to retire early.) Uncle Chester was perfectly willing to give Lynn a good start in business, but Lynn was ungrateful, distanced himself from his father’s dealings, joined the military, and avoided the family business altogether, even seeming to resent his father. One Sunday dinner, when Uncle Chester was dropping names of the interesting people he had been in jail with at various times, Lynn rudely interrupted, “Daddy, you’ve been in jail with everybody at one time or another.” Uncle Chester did step up and keep Cousin Lynn from making a mistake. Lynn came home on leave from the military and met a girl he wanted to marry; love at first sight. She was a pretty as a spotted puppy and even she noticed how much she looked like Ross. Uncle Chester got her off to the side and asked a few questions about her mama and daddy and where she was raised. He was waiting up for Lynn to get home. “Son, I sure hope things ain’t gone too far. I hate it, but you can’t marry that li’l old gal. She looks just like her Mama did when we was running around together. There’s a real good reason she looks just like yore brother Ross – a real good reason.”

By the fifties, Uncle Chester had branched out a little. He did a little research and decided lawsuits paid well and weren’t too much work. He captured some bees, applied them to his leg. When his leg was good and swollen, he got his buddy to drop him off downtown at a trolley stop. As the trolley approached, Uncle Chester carefully stumbled into the path of the trolley, suffering a knee injury in front of numerous witnesses. He collapsed to the ground, moaning and groaning. Suffering terribly, he was transported and treated at the hospital. Now Uncle Chester was set with a fifty-thousand dollar settlement, a tidy sum for that time.

Their daughter Susie turned out real well, became a teacher, and married a Baptist Preacher, lending Uncle Chester a much appreciated touch of respectability. Uncle Chester and Aunt Jenny were very generous toward her church, and the legitimacy of their donations was never questioned. Sadly, many years later Susie’s daughter a bona fide #3, embarrassed them all by stealing from her employer.

Ross, Uncle Chester’s youngest son, a gifted #3 (Family likely to move away without leaving forwarding address. Has jail time in past or future) followed in Uncle Chester’s footsteps. He dabbled in moonshine, petty crime, and scams but just never rose to Uncle Chester’s level. He initiated a few crooked lawsuits but lacked the brain power and organization to pull bigger things off. All went well till he got too big for his britches and tried setting up business in Texas. When he got caught moon shining in someone else’s territory, he called the old man for help and Uncle Chester had to admit, “I’m sorry son, but I can’t do a thing for you. I don’t have any influence with the law out there.” Uncle Chester felt bad about one of his boys getting in trouble till the day he died,” but sometimes you just have to let kids make their own mistakes.”

Aunt Jenny was stingy. You would think she got her money in the usual way. Or maybe she just got tired of hearing Uncle Chester complain how hard it was to make money, but she would even make her own mother pay for a ride to the grocery store. When Maw Maw won some groceries in a weekly contest she had to share with Aunt Jenny since she rode with Aunt Jenny to the grocery store every week. Aunt Jenny sold eggs and tomatoes and charged Maw Maw the same as everyone else.

When Aunt Jenny got older, she got dentures. She liked them so well she saved them for special occasions. She wore them when she had ladies over for coffee, church, and Sunday dinner. Being toothless didn’t hold her back a bit. She could take a bite off an apple as well as anyone and could have won a fried chicken eating contest hands down.

The Mouth of the Beast

 

child-fist-pumpAunt Essie, like all of my aunts, was a wonder of fertility, if not child-rearing acumen.  She raised seven of the meanest boys outside Alcatraz.  Thank God, her reproductive equipment gave out before she managed more.  I thought Mother was exaggerated when she said they’d all end up in jail or dead before they were thirty.  She was wrong.  Only four of the seven did jail time, and of these, one died in a bar fight after he was released at the age of twenty-eight.  Most of rest passed their time boozing it up at Aunt Essie’s house when they weren’t begetting children or needed in jail.  Contrary to Mother’s unjust prediction, all made it past thirty.   The meanest of the lot turned out to be pretty boring.  He opened a very successful auto body shop and became a deacon.

When Aunt Essie’s boys weren’t trying to kill us, they could be entertaining.  Uncle July was an avid hog-hunter.   He was extremely proud of his Catahoula Cur Hog Dog, Catch.  Catch would go berserk with hog lust and “catch” wild hogs by the ear,  hanging on until commanded to turn loose; not a nice dog.  Uncle July kept him penned up, sternly warning us away from the fence.  Catch might rage through the fence, “catching” us by the ear.

Aunt Essie and Uncle July heard “catch” noises from the dog pen and were horrified to realize one of their angelic three-year-old twins was missing.  They rushed out and found Corwin and the monster dog rolling around in the dog pen.  Expecting to retrieve the bloody corpse of his precious child, Uncle July leapt into to the pen to find Corwin latched down on Catch’s ear, blood pouring from the tattered edges.  When asked why he bit the dog, Kelvin replied, “Dog bite me.”  Corwin was fine except for a few drag marks.

Considering his tender age, it seemed premature to categorize Corwin, but he showed all the hallmarks of a psychopath.  Energized and empowered by his encounter with “Catch”, his strange little mind focused on the unfortunate beast, making his life a living hell.  Despite his concerned parents’ warning, he was soon back in the dog pen with Catch cowering in the barrel half-buried in the dirt that passed for a dog house, howling piteously for rescue.  Realizing he was no threat to Corwin, Aunt Essie and Uncle July abandoned him to his misery, knowing Corwin was off their backs as long as poor Catch was crying.  Catch wet himself and ran under the truck next time Uncle July tried to take him out hog hunting. His spirit was broken.  Uncle July swapped him off to an unsuspecting buddy for a pirogue the first chance he got.

Surviving five horrible older brothers made Corwin and his twin Kelvin tough little devils.  Their parents doted on all the boys, seemingly unconcerned about their reputations as hellions.  When people complained about their bullying, their stock reply was, “What did your Johnny do to them?”  They artfully ignored the obvious fact that the damaged kid was three years younger.  Aunt Essie grieved because the twins would be her last babies, so she let them carry their baby bottles till the school put a stop to it.  It was bizarre to see them coming in from playing football with their brothers, pull their bottles out of their back pockets, and fill them for themselves.  They were fluent in profanity from the time they could talk.

As an adult, between stints in jail, Corwin lived in the dugout of the local ballpark.   He’d worn out his welcome with Aunt Essie and his tippling brothers after attempting to burn her house down over their heads.   He was forcibly extricated by the more sober among them, but did live to the ripe old age of forty-one.  After the immediate threat of roasting in her bed passed, Aunt frequently mentioned letting him move back in, feeling he’d learned his lesson in jail, but her other boys had a longer memory and wouldn’t allow it.

“I Wish I Had Left Whiskey Alone!”

Letter from Jail p1,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Jail p20070

 

I was delighted when a beloved niece made this family letter available to me.  An unfortunate gentlemen friend of Helen’s had become entangled with the law and needed her help.  According to family stories, she held influence with many judges, lawyers, and business men, since she ran a quite well-patronized house of ill-repute and had become quite wealthy as a bootlegger.  I don’t know how this gentleman’s difficulties worked out, but it is apparent for the moment, he regretted his involvement with whiskey.  Sad, sad story.  I hope his sweet Helen was able to assist him!