Our Awful Friends

Freedom at the Awful’s  Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

Mother was a cruel beast of a woman who rarely allowed us out of our own yard.  I felt so deprived when free-range children passed our house in pursuit of adventure.  Sometimes we were able to tempt them in with our tire swing, zip line, or huge barn, but invariably greener pastures called and we were left morosely watching them amble off to Donnie’s or Joey’s house.  Sadly, we’d pine as the motley crew and their retinue of dogs disappeared down the dusty road.  It wasn’t that we didn’t have wondrous opportunities on our own place;t we just hated being left behind.

Once we accepted our sad abandonment, we didn’t waste time whining to Mother that “We don’t have anything to do.”  I only made that mistake once and Mother set me to hanging out diapers, dusting, and washing woodwork.  In fact, she was mean enough to assign jobs to break up fights.  It’s terrible growing up with a mother who turns human nature against innocent children.

At any rate, a family neighboring us raised their fortunate children with a complete lack of supervision.  Those kids roamed long after dark, before daylight, dropped in for meals all over the neighborhood, drank out of from the neighbor’s faucets, rode the neighbor’s cows, and generally led a charmed life.  Though their name was Offut, I misunderstood it as Awful.  In her frequent dealings with these children Mother reached the conclusion Awful was an excellent name.  She was particularly offended when we came home from town and found them in the house making Kool-aid.  The Awful’s had little understanding of private property and had often had Kool-aid with us, so of course they felt free to help themselves, even if Mother had been careless enough not to leave it in the refrigerator.  Her attitude baffled our uninvited guests.  I think the syrupy floor and Jerry’s standing on the counter helping himself to a pack of Daddy’s cigarettes off the top shelf also ruffled her feathers, but she was the crabby type, after all.  The loss of cigarettes were of particular concern.  A carton cost two dollars and eighty cents, a significant portion of her fifteen dollar grocery budget.  At any rate, she took an unreasonable stance and forbade them to enter the house again when we were gone.  I don’t think they found it particularly disturbing since a couple more packs of cigarettes went missing before Daddy found a better hiding place for his stash.  

Babies and More Babies

I Connie and Marilyn's Toddler Pictures

I was I was eight years old when my whole world changed.  Mother had a baby.  Never having been much interested in babies, this one seemed like a waste of time.  Life was far better before the baby.  Mother was nicer; not constantly carping about being tired.  She’d also gotten incredibly lazy, now expecting me to fold towels, dust, and clear my own dishes from the table.  I hadn’t minded the first time or two, especially when she thanked me so effusively, but when it became obvious she expected it to be a regular thing, I was disgusted.

Not only that, Mother went on and on about how much things cost now.  It made no sense that before the baby, there had always been plenty of money for cowboy boots, the ice cream man, and trips to Grandma’s.  Now we were poor.  She got her stupid baby and now I got nothing.

Eventually, Connie started playing and I loved her  Before too long, Mother got the pathetic mopes again.  She got lazier than ever, sat around with her feet up or took to her bed for hours at a time, sometimes even crying a little.  In desperation, Daddy even hired a lady to help out.  I loved Miss Annie, but she seemed a lot more interested in Connie than me.  Mother did nothing but lie around and play with Connie, till she she started sewing.  She bragged to her friend one day that she’d hand-made and embroidered eight baby dresses.  My jealousy alarm went off.

Kids

“Mother, make something for me.”  I had no use for dainty embroidered dresses, but surely she could come up with something!

“You’re too bigI can’t handmake anything for you.”

I made a point to be crushed, devastated by her selfishness, going out to pout as long as I could manage it.  Fortunately, I had a short attention span and soon got lost in play. The next day, Mother had Marilyn.  By this time, I knew babies quickly got cute, so I loved her from the start.

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