My Brief Career as a Religious Educator

Image result for flies on dirty dishes


Despite my parents’ earnest efforts, I never developed a taste for church. Church required dressing in starchy clothes, a miserable Saturday night hairdo session, major shoe polishing efforts, memorization of Bible verses, claiming to read my Sunday School lesson, and worst of all, not getting to spend the night with my heathenish cousins who didn’t have church inflicted on them.

It probably wouldn’t have been such an issue had my older sister not been the poster child for Christian kids. She could be mean as a snake all week, then nearly kill herself to be in church every time the doors opened. In all fairness, it is possible her meanness toward me was a result of torments I’d heaped on her, but if she was such a great Christian, you’d expect her to be thankful for the opportunity to turn the other cheek, like the Good Book says.

Any way, the summer after my junior year in high school, Mother came home from Sunday School with “Big News!” Mrs. Miner had asked Mother if I would take the primary class in Bible School. Mother assured her I would LOVE to, forgetting I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as my saintly sister. “Why, it was an honor to be asked,” Mother told me. “No one else your age was even asked.  Naturally Phyllis was also honored with an invitation to teach the juniors.  She was so excited you’d have thought the invitation was straight from God’s lips.

“I will not teach Bible School. I hate bratty kids and crafts, and I am going to enjoy the first year of my life not stuck in Bible School half a day.” I told Mother. This defiance came as a big surprise to her, since I normally went along with her. Daddy was so strict, that by the time I was that age, I’d pretty much given up on getting my way about much of anything, but this Bible School business was over the line. I’d had enough!

“Oh, yes you are,”. She insisted.” I’ve already told Mrs. Miner you would. Besides, she can’t get anyone else to take that class.”

“Mother, I hate Bible School. I won’t do it even if you beat me to death, and then I’d go to Hell for sure, getting killed over not teaching Bible School. Do you WANT me to go to Hell?”

Pulling out the Hell card was all that saved me. Mother considered and backed down. She’d made it clear on many occasions she had no intention of allowing any of her children to go to Hell.

Well, I didn’t teach Bible School and I didn’t have to go to Hell, but I got the next worse punishment. Mother gave up and taught “my class” but threatened me I’d better have the house spotless and lunch ready every day when she got in from Bible School. She was mad as hops for having to teach, which seemed odd when it was such an “honor” to be asked. Oh yes, I checked with my friends, all good Christians, and Mrs. Miner had unsuccessfully badgered them to take the class before she bothered cornering Mother about me. I guess they didn’t know what an honor it was.

That Monday morning the house was a real pigsty. Mother never was a meticulous housekeeper, but we’d had swarms of relatives in. Sunday evening supper was late, so the dishes waited for me in cold, slimy gray water ensuring they’d be as disgusting as possible for me.  I was always involved in housework, but this was the first time I was threatened with a job of this magnitude to accomplish alone in less than four hours.

Mother took pleasure in calling out over her shoulder as she headed off to Bible School. “This house better be spotless and lunch on the table when I get home…..and Oh, yes, clean out that refrigerator, too!”  The saintly Phyllis smirked as they got in the car.

I didn’t bother to tell her that she, Phyllis, and I couldn’t have gotten all that done if we’d been working like like our lives depended on it. It looked like a week’s mess piled up. I started in on the dishes, a Herculean challenge. All the countertops were covered, the stove, and a pressure cooker and several dirty pots waited patiently on the floor for their turn. Grandma apparently thought more pots was the answer to all Mother’s problems, so every time she went near a thrift store or replaced one of her pots, she sent her castoffs to Mother. Mother was a master of disorganization and grabbed a fresh pot for everything she cooked, tossing the used one on the dirty stack. A stack of crazily leaning miss-matched pots and lids always lined our counters, unless we’d just done the dishes.

I set in washing. The glasses, plates, and bowls went pretty fast. There were way, way more than the rack would hold, so of course, I had to stop to dry and put away several times. The dreaded silverware was next. I made fresh, hot dishwater to soak it during the drying and put away process. While they soaked, I tackled the refrigerator. It was a small, older model with few shelves. Never fear, those shelves were stacked two or three layers deep with ancient vegetables nobody wanted the first time, dried mashed potatoes, wizened onions, potatoes, and turnips with dirt still clinging from the garden. None of our bowls had lids, so leftovers quickly crusted over.  I scraped out the dried leftovers in a bucket for the hogs, and made a new stack to start after the silverware was done.

We didn’t have air conditioning, but our house boasted an attic fan.  For best effect, one closes the doors to unused rooms so the fan will pull a breeze though the areas in use.  I had the kitchen windows and back door open.  By the time I got the silverware done, a few wayward flies had worked their way in through a hole in the back door screen, not bothered at all by the cotton ball on the screen  that was supposed to terrify them senseless.  They didn’t share the family’s low opinion of the leftovers and were buzzing about them happily.  I took time out of my busy schedule to treat the hogs to that bucket of slop.  It’s impossible to climb up on the rails of a hog pen and dump slop into a trough with splashing some on yourself.  This just added to the fun.  A number of the flies journeyed with me to the hog pen, but a few slow learners lingered in the kitchen.  They were all over the slop I’d splashed on myself as soon as I got back in.  I didn’t have time for a showere, so I washed  my feet and legs with a washcloth.  The flies found a few spots I missed and pointed them out.  Of course, I had to swat them and sweep them up with the rest of the kitchen before I could continue.

About eleven-thirty, I realized it was way past time  to get lunch going.  We weren’t baloney and cheese sandwiches kind of people  We were big meal in the middle of the day people, a meat, dry beans, and two vegetables and biscuits or cornbread.  I couldn’t have made a quick lunch if my life depended on it.

In a panic, I perused the refrigerator and found nothing but a couple of eggs and a package of frozen sausage in the freezer.  Desperately, I scrambled the sausage and made a pan of sausage gravy and biscuits.  We often had biscuits and gravy for an emergency meal.  Just as I pulled the biscuits out of the oven, I put away the last dish away and finished mopping the kitchen as they got out of the car.  The rest of the house was untouched, but the kitchen sparkled.  “Don’t come in the kitchen.  The floor is wet!”

Even though the rest of the house still looked like a disaster zone, the kitchen looked good.  Mother looked self-righteous, but somewhat mollified till she asked what was for lunch.

“Sausage gravy and biscuits.  I forgot to put a chicken out to thaw and put beans on.”

Mother was furious.  It was summer.  I guess she’d thought I would somehow found time to gather and prepare okra and tomatoes from the garden like she would have if she’d been home.  “I can’t eat biscuits and gravy!  I am on a diet.  I have to have vegetables or I’ll put all that weight back on!”  In a huff, she went out and got tomatoes and radishes, and ate them with two fried eggs.

It still beat the Hell out of teaching Bible School,

You Used to Be Beautiful!

Kathleen Holdaway in flowered dress0002One warm afternoon in late May, 1960, Billy and I were lying on the living room floor as Mother reclined a few minutes with her feet up wearing the heavy surgical weight stockings the doctor had ordered. She was six months into a difficult pregnancy with her last child,and was supposed to be off her feet. She had spent a good portion of the morning tying to keep an eye on her fourteen-month-old, Connie, while trying to coax twelve-year old Phyllis and me at ten to do a little housework, help with Connie, and even get a little work out of seven year old Billy, while keeping him out of trouble. Phyllis was watching Connie. We were all terminally lazy, slacking off at the first excuse. None of us had any intention of doing anything we could avoid.

As we dawdled at her feet on the floor in the draft of the attic fan, one of us pulled out an old photo album. I quickly found a picture of her made her senior year of high school, the peak of her youth and beauty. “I graduated thirteen years ago today,” she remarked smilingly.

In my infinite wisdom, I proclaimed, “Oh Mother, you used to be beautiful!”

I turned for her smile, only to see a snarling, slobbering, swollen beast ready to pounce on me in rage! “”Used to be beautiful! Let’s see what you look like when you have five kids in twelve years! Put this stuff up, right now. Linda, you take your smart mouth and get those dishes washed. Phyllis, you put a pot of beans on for supper. Billy, you…”

By the way, this is not the picture in question. That one mysteriously disappeared

Evil Incarnate on a Pink Tricycle

imageMother gets pretty hot about a few things.  One of these is problems with mail delivery.  One day, she got to her mailbox to find her mail tattered,torn, and lying on the ground.  Worst of all, a government check had been ripped.  Somebody was going to pay for this crime!  Rabid with rage, she cornered a couple of kids who gladly gave up the perpetrator to save their own sorry hides.  They’d seen a little blonde-haired girl with pig-tails standing on her pink tricycle rifling through Mother’s box.  Mother gave the little snitches a five dollar reward after they located the child’s tricycle parked in front of a house two streets over.

Armed with this information, Mother called the Sheriff’s Department to report the heinous crime. Regaling him every shocking detail, the criminal’s description, description of the getaway vehicle, and last known address.  The deputy laughed, asking if she’d had the check back.

“Yes, but that’s not the point.  I want this stopped!  Tampering with the mail is a Federal Crime!”

“Lady, what do you want me to do, put out an APB on a little three-year-old girl on a pink tricycle?

Starry Night (from Kathleen’s Memoir of The Great Depression Part 1)

imageLike most of the people we knew, we didn’t have an car, so we never went anywhere at night we couldn’t walk, except for once.  Mama got the news that there was to be a brush arbor revival in Cuthand, hosting a guest evangelist!  To my everlasting amazement, we were going!  We put quilts in the back of the wagon, since we’d be getting home long after dark.  We hopped up in the wagon dressed in our best, headed for the revival, in a holiday spirit long before dark.  I had no idea what a revival was, but couldn’t have been more excited than a kid headed for the fair!

We pulled up to find dozens of wagons parked next to a brush-arbor in a clearing, a simple roof of branches on a make-do support sheltering rough benches. Though it was summer, a few small fires were smoldering, their smoke intended to discourage mosquitoes.  Before long, the song leader got us fired up with a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  The singing was wonderful, but eventually gave way to the Hell-fire and brimstone sermon, something that didn’t thrill me nearly so much.

It was late by the time the preacher concluded the altar call, releasing us.  After visiting a bit with our neighbors, we headed for home, long after the time I was usually in bed.  I lay in the back of the wagon with Annie and John on the quilts, looking at the magical night sky.  Travelling under its full moon and sparkling stars was a gift.  A slight breeze cooled us, keeping the mosquitoes at bay.  As the horse clomped along, Mama and Daddy told stories and talked amiably.  With all those I loved around me, I never wanted this night to end.

to be continued

Aunt Vola, Love at First Sight (From Kathleen’s Memoir of The Great Depression)

Aunt VolaHungry one afternoon, I raced home ahead of John, hoping there might be a leftover biscuit and slice of salt pork or piece of cornbread left from dinner.   Opening the kitchen door, I was surprised to see Mama and a guest sitting at the table drinking coffee.  Mama had neighbors popping in all the time, but this guest had skin the color of deep chestnut.  Continue reading

Maniac in the Wilderness

Bill 2Bill ever survived my mother’s abuse.  When he was only a tiny lad of eighteen, he was six feet four inches tall. I think the fact that she wasn’t even acquainted with five feet gave him a feeling of superiority.  While I won’t say he had a smart mouth, I will allow it was extremely well-educated.  I am sure they only reason my mother hadn’t already killed him was because she hated to go to prison and leave her younger daughters motherless.  It certainly wasn’t because the thought hadn’t crossed her mind at least a thousand times a day since puberty attacked him and her by proxy.

Anyway, on occasion, they had to travel places alone together.  It was a misery to them both.  It didn’t help that the car was a tiny Volkswagon Beetle.  It’s always worth a person’s time to stop and watch a huge guy unfold himself and crawl out of a Beetle, a pleasure Bill dreaded providing mirthful onlookers.  It didn’t improve his mood on arrival, a mood already blackened with inevitable conflict he’d shared with Mother.

At any rate, on this particular day, they started home with Bill driving.  According to Mother, he was driving like a maniac: driving too fast, following too closely, cutting people off.  I have no doubt this was true.  It was his typical manner.  She insisted he slow down.  He crept along at ten miles an hour, hoping that was slow enough to please her.  She’d finally had enough, telling him to pull over.  She’d drive.  He critiqued her driving as soon as she started.  “Speed up!  Don’t ride the clutch! Change Gears!”

Finally, she’d had enough.  She pulled over.  “Get out!”  Delighted, he hopped out, thinking she’d come to her senses and wanted him to drive.  She drove off and left him standing on a country road, thirty miles from home.  She enjoyed the rest of the peaceful drive.  At  home, Daddy wanted to know where Bill was.  “I left him somewhere close to Bossier City.”

Daddy was shocked she’d left the little fellow all alone in the wilderness.  “Well, You’d better go get him!  It’ll be dark soon!”

“You go get him if you want to!  I don’t care if he never gets home!”

Daddy was a lot better at giving orders than taking them, but he jumped in his truck to rescue his precious son and heir.  Billy met him at the end of the driveway, brought home by a Good Samaritan.  He’d somehow survived his abandonment but I think he still drives like a maniac.  I don’t think he and Mother voluntarily ride together till today

See attached picture if you care to put out APB on either

Dee Gibbs and Dishwater Soup

Of all the hobos who made their rounds periodically, Mama and the three of us kids despised Dee Gibbs the most, though we would have been hard pressed to come up with what was the worst: his smell, his voracious appetite, or his refusal to take the broadest hint that his welcome had worn thin. It was a mystery why Daddy tolerated him, but after Continue reading