Rubbernecking Duckie

Rubberneck 1Rubberneck 2Original art by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

We endured periodic visits from Mother’s bizarre  relatives, Cookie and Uncle Riley. Whether or not they were actually deranged was debatable, they definitely teetered somewhere between eccentric and maddening. Most people who had to interact with them on a regular basis held out for just plain crazy. Both held Master’s Degrees, Cookie’s in Education and Uncle Riley’s in Mathematics. Cookie was head of a large public school system in Texas. Uncle Riley worked for the government as a mathematician in the 1950’s. I won’t press that any further, except to say that somehow, they miraculously collided and produced Cousin Barbie, The Wonder Baby. On their way to an Easter visit in 1957, Cookie and Uncle Riley made a few stops.


I digress, but needed to set the scene for their visit. Because my mother had married a blue-collar worker, a man they considered “beneath her” and had three children, Cookie and Uncle Riley held the impression that my parents ran an orphanage and would be grateful for any gift of apparel, no matter how useless they might drag in. This particular trip, they came bearing refuse from a fire sale: ten pairs of boys black high top basketball shoes in a wide range of sizes, six identical but slightly singed, size eight, red and green sateen dresses trimmed with black velvet collars and waist bands, six dozen pairs of size two cotton satin-striped Toddler Training Pants, and three six-packs of men’s silk dress socks in a nude tone, a color I’d never seen anyone wear. In addition to these useless prizes, they’d stopped by a fruit stand and gotten a great deal on a box of fifty pounds of bruised bananas and an Easter duck for Barbie. By the time they’d reached our house many hours later, four-year-old Barbie, Easter Duck, and Bosco Dog had romped in the back seat and pretty much-made soup of the bananas. Fruit flies circled the old black 1943 Ford merrily as it rocked to a stop. Uncle Riley, the mathematician, anticipating breakdowns didn’t believe in wasting money on new car parts. He always carried a collection of parts extracted from a junker in his back yard to keep his old clunker running. He also split the back of his old jeans and laced them up with shoe strings when they got too tight, but that’s s story for another day.


I know Mother must have dreaded their visit, with its never-ending pandemonium, especially since for some reason, the only thing they shared with Daddy was a healthy contempt and barely concealed animosity for each other. The five of us kids were always delighted to see them, in spite of their bizarre offerings. One pair of the smoky-smelling shoes did fit my brother, but shredded in a few steps, due to its proximity to the fire. The dresses were put back for “Sunday Best,” Thank God, never to be seen again, since neither of us girls was a size eight, nor was partial to singed, scratchy dresses. Fortunately, for my parents, at the moment, they had no size two toddlers for the training pants, though they did manage to come up with a couple just a few years later. Easter Duck, however, deeply interested four-year-old Billy.


Sensing misfortune in his future, Mother tried to run interference for Easter Duck, fearing for his health. For some reason she was distracted by the madness of intervening between Daddy and her whacked-out relatives, getting dinner ready for the whole crowd, dealing with out-of-control kids, and finding places to bed everyone down for the night. Not surprisingly, her concerns for Easter Duck were pushed to the bottom of the list. Never having been deprived of anything she wanted, ever, Barbie had no intention of being parted with Easter Duck. Billy needed a better look, and having had plenty of experience dealing with mean kids, patiently waited for his chance. Forgetting Easter Duck, Mother and Cookie went back to their visit, leaving the two four-year-olds to play. As you might expect, before long, they heard the screaming. Barbie held poor Easter Duck by his head; Billy had him by the feet. Between them, they had stretched the poor duck’s neck way past anything God ever intended, even for a swan. Neither exhibited the Wisdom of Solomon and was determined to maintain possession, at all costs. Poor Easter Duck paid the price! Though he was rescued, sadly his neck was not elastic and did not “snap back.” He didn’t get to spend the Easter holidays with his new friends, Barbie and Billy.



Terrible Tom Turkey and the Thingamajig

Original art by Kathleen Swain

Evil turkey

Evil turkey

Awfuls chasing turey

Awfuls chasing turey

When I was a kid, we often went places normal people would never intentionally go.  Periodically, Daddy would realize he hadn’t spent any time around social misfits and needed a fix, bad!  One day he announced he’d had heard of somebody who lived back in the woods about four miles off Tobacco Road who had a thingamajig he just had to have.  Never mind, all five kids needed new shoes and the lights were due to be cut off.  He NEEDED that thingamajig!

He HAD to check it out, driving forever down rutted roads that looked like they might disappear into nothing. Finally we got back to Mr. Tucker’s shack. Mr. Tucker was wearing overalls and nothing else. Apparently buttoning overalls wasted valuable time needed forpile junk collecting. While Daddy and Mr. Tucker disappeared into the tangle of weeds and mess of old cars, car tires, trash, broken washing machines and other refuse scattered around the house and into the woods.  Mother sweltered in the car with the five of us while Daddy and Mr. Tucker rambled.

It was hot. It got hotter the longer we waited in the punishing July heat. We opened the car doors, hoping to catch a breeze as it got hotter and hotter. The baby and the two-year-old were squalling out their misery as Mother fanned them.  Daddy wasn’t known for the consideration he showed his family.  He was “the man.”

Mrs. Tucker, a big woman in overalls came out in the front yard and started a fire, never even looking our way. She probably thought our car was just another old clunker in their yard. It got even hotter. We were all begging for a drink of water. Daddy was still gone, admiring Mr. Tucker’s junk collection. Daddy could talk for hours, unconcerned that his family was sweltering in the car.  He thought misery was character-building. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know the people he’d just stumbled up on. We spent many an hour waiting in the car while he “talked” usually having stopped off on the way to visit some of his relatives.

Finally, in desperation, Mother got out of the car, introduced herself to Mrs. Tucker, and asked if we could have a drink of water. Mrs, Tucker turned without speaking, went into the house, came back out with some cloudy snuff glasses, called us over to the well, drew a bucket of water, and let us drink till we were satisfied. That was the best water I ever had. Mrs. Tucker pulled a couple of chairs under a shade tree and Mother sat down. We all sat down in the dirt in the cool of the shade and played. Daddy was still prowling around in search of junk, but things looked a lot better after we cooled off and had a drink. Mrs. Tucker was interesting to look at, but didn’t have a lot to say. She had a couple of teeth missing, had greasy red hair that was chopped off straight around, and long scratches down both arms.

Mother tried to talk to her, but Mrs. Tucker wasn’t a great conversationalist.  I suspect she didn’t know too many words.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the missing teeth and long scratches down her arm. Despite Mother’s attempts to quell my questions, I found out a lot about her. She didn’t have any kids. It didn’t take long to figure out she “wasn’t right.” I was fascinated and wanted to ask about what happened to her teeth, but knew that would get me in trouble, so I asked how she scratched her arms. Mother told me to hush, but fortunately, Mrs. Tucker explained. It seemed she was going to put a rooster in the big pot in the front yard to scald him before plucking him.  He’d scratched her and gotten away before she could get the lid on. Apparently she didn’t know she was supposed to kill him first. Just at the point where things were getting interesting, Daddy came back and I didn’t get to hear the rest of the story.

Mrs. Tucker gave us a turkey that day, teaching me a valuable lesson. Don’t ever accept the gift of a turkey. Ol’ Tom was going to be the guest of honor at our Thanksgiving Dinner. Daddy put him in the chicken yard and Tom took over, whipping the roosters, terrorizing the hens, and jumping on any kid sent to feed him and the chickens. We hated him. Mother had to take a stick to threaten him off when she went out to the chicken yard. He even flew over the fence and chased us as we played in the back yard till Daddy clipped his wings.

Before too long, we saw the Nickerson kids, the meanest kids in the neighborhood, headed for the chicken yard. Mother couldn’t wait to see Tom get them. Sure enough, Ol’ Devil Tom jumped out from behind a shed on jumped on the biggest boy, Clarence. Clarence yelped and ran. The other boys were right behind him, swatting at the turkey. Unlike us, they didn’t run out with their tails tucked between their legs. They launched an all-out attack on Tom, beating him with their jackets, sticks, and whatever they could grab. They chased him until they were tired of the game. Tom never chased any of us again, but Mother never got around to thanking the Nickersons.