Escape Artist

Kate was an absolutely adorable little bundle of energy, her smile, a burst of sunshine.  I couldn’t get enough of her, except at bedtime.  Bedtimes were a marathon of up and down, back and forth.  She climbed like a monkey. By sixteen months, she’d mastered climbing over the rails of her crib.  With no fear of falling, she’d plunge to the floor.  In the interest of saving her brain, we had no choice but to put her in a twin bed. The total freedom of that bed made getting her to bed even more of a challenge, usually involving cuddling, books, quiet play, and numerous trips to put her back to bed.  Most of the time, I had to lie down with her till she drifted off.  As often as not, I’d be asleep first so she’d try to crawl over me to get out.

We had dinner guests one evening.  I made a fruitless effort to get her to be early. It seemed to give her extra energy for her usual festivities. This particular evening, she was proud she’d learned to take her clothes off, so she stripped to the skin before emerging naked as the day she was born.  I left the table four or fives times to times to dress her and put her back to bed.  The admiration of the guests only strengthened her determination to show off.    Bud always thought he knew a better way.  The last time she showed up, ringlets bouncing and little pink butt shining, he took a stern tone.  “Baby girl, if you pull your clothes off and come in here again, I’m gonna knock a knot on your head.”  This would have been a first if he had laid a hand on her. He put her back in bed and said in a gruff tone, “Now, I guess she’ll stay there!”

Our conversationed resumed.  I wondered resentfully why he hadn’t done that before.  After a few minutes, we heard pat, pat, pat coming down the hall.  A tiny girl, grinning like a bear eating briars tip-toed into the ding room.  Naked as a jay bird, she wore her brother’s football helmet on her head.  I guess he had made an impression.


Turkey in the Bra

Most nurses have to work half the holidays.  It’s a fact of life.  That means, you’re also working with a lot less help on those days, not always the best situation.  Patients need the same care as any other day. Since Bud and I were both nurses, we just planned our celebrations around the holiday, not a bad idea, anyway, since our many siblings had other family to visit.   One Thanksgiving, I was the only nurse working in the hemodialysis unit, assisted by a technician.  I made sure my patients knew when they were scheduled, so their family could have an uninterrupted visit, hoping not to cut a family visit short.  It’s a bad idea for a patient to eat a heavy meal before a dialysis treatment, so I always encouraged them to have no more than a light snack, to avoid a vomiting episode.  Patients who eat a large meal are very likely to throw up during their treatment.

The patient I had scheduled for one o’clock just couldn’t resist the delectable Thanksgiving Dinner his family had brought from home.  He had turkey, dressing, green beans, and pecan pie.  After a preliminary conversation and pretreatment assessment, I asked if he’d had a snack before coming.  “Oh yeah, I had a little bite of turkey.”

I got his treatment started and all was well for a few minutes, then the truth came out about his hearty lunch, literally.  He started heaving.  The whole menu was presented, dessert first, since it was on top.  Pecan pie is not appealing the second time around.  Turkey and dressing came up next, followed up by green beans.  He filled his own lap and the blanket covering him, with plenty to spare.  As I cleaned him up and got him into a fresh gown, he served up seconds.  This time it was turkey,  green beans with a few bits of egg.  Fortunately for him, I caught most of it in a towel.  The rest splattered me. He felt much better with his stomach empty and went right to sleep.

I always had extra scrubs in my locker for just such an occasion. While the technician watched the patient, I ducked into the staff bathroom.  I peeled the disgusting clothes off, trying to avoid getting the mess on myself.  I scrubbed myself, but didn’t have a fresh bra.  I swabbed the drenched one the best I could with a washcloth, and put on fresh scrubs over my bra.   I knew I smelled sour, but there was nothing else to be done.

We finished his treatment, uneventfully.  Hours later I got home.  The kids told me I stunk.  The dog agreed.  He couldn’t leave me alone, burning to investigate the intriguing aroma. I couldn’t wait to shower. When I peeled off my bra, turkey and green beans tumbled out.  They’d left an imprint.  Bud was repulsed.  The dog was entranced, gobbling them right up.

Rock and Roll, Mama

When I was a kid, nothing would have shocked me more than the thought of hurting my mother. Despite this, when I was about ten, my brother and I came upon my mother rocking the baby, one of her few opportunities to take a break out of her impossible day. She had very little lap for the baby, since she was hugely pregnant with another.. Most often, she drifted off for a little nap herself. We thought it would be fun to surprise her by pulling on the back of the rocker, tipping her back. She must have been shocked or extremely good-natured, because she laughed out loud. Foolishly inferring we’d pleased her, we rocked her even further back, with her continued shrieks  of, “Stop! Stop! You’re going to drop me!” Because she seemed to be having so much fun, we kept it up till the chair tipped backwards, leaving her stranded, lying with the rocker back on the floor, swollen feet high in the air, under the weight of two babies, one on top of her belly, the other inside nearly ready to pop out.
We were horrified, thinking we’d killed her. The baby was howling at being upside down on her incapacitated Mama. Of course, Mother could do nothing to help herself, except shout, “Help, get me up! Get me up!” I thought we’d killed her, and probably the squalling baby, as well as the one on the way. The two of us struggled to get the chair up, learning a valuable lesson in physics at the same time. It’s a lot easier to tip a pregnant woman over than to get to her upright. Everybody did survive, despite our idiocy. The miracle was, the whole situation struck Mother as funny. Since then, I’ve never tempted to tip another pregnant woman over.


My children took advantage of one of my fatal discipline flaws.  Should their behavior cross the line and require discipline, activating my funny bone rendered me useless.  The pastor in our small Methodist Church offered healing by laying on of hands at the end of the regular Sunday Service. I suspect that was one of the few times John, age ten, had ever listened.  He made a move as though he was heading to the front.  I was totally surprised, and caught his arm, thinking he’d misunderstood.

”What’s going on?”  I asked.

”I’ve got a heat rash!”  He giggled.

”Sit down.”  He got me.


Misogynistic Cat

Patches was an appealing calico  kitten until you took her personality into account. She clearly had issues.  I have to admit, I never got her to a cat psychiatrist, so my diagnoses may not impress the more knowledgeable among  you.  At first, like any kitten, she was all teeth and claws as she frisked around.  My daughter was a sweet little girl, totally enamored of Patches.  That fickle feline  wouldn’t give her the time of day unless the child was opening cat food. Patches spit or hissed at me every time I got close.

Conversely, Patches couldn’t get enough of my son, even though he put forth nothing good.  He’d stick rolled tape to her feet and she’d come back for more.  He rubbed her fur the wrong way.  She loved it.  He never fed her.  My daughter would try to entice Patches to sleep with her.  Patches always struggled loose and sped into John’s room.  Should she be locked out, she yowled at the door till he let her in.

Patches might have been a Floozy in a previous life.  She loved Bud, too.  If John was not available, she’d cuddle up on Bud’s lap and purr like a washing machine.  I believe she also suffered from hallucinations.  From time to time, she’d be walking across the floor and seem to see something then panic wildly, before running to hide under a bed or sofa.  Other times, she’d wake from a dead sleep and run till she banged her head into the wall.  It was not uncommon for her to pursue an invisible mouse or yowl at nothing.  It never occurred to me me till now, but perhaps she was Seeing ghosts.

One night, John was gone, so Patches had to make do with Bud.   She hopped on him in bed,  moving several times, made a lot of biscuits, with her purring in overdrive the whole time.  It was impossible to go to sleep. Eventually, she settled down.  “Finally.  That’s a relief.” I said, “Maybe she finally went to sleep.”

In a muffled tone, Bud answered. “Yeah, well I’d feel a lot better if her butt hole wasn’t right over my nose.”

Connie said, “Damn!”

My sister Connie is seventeen months older than Marilyn.  She was protective of Marilyn from the start, always giving over to “the baby,”. She wasn’t encouraged to do it, that’s just how she was.  Mother awas careful not make a difference or favor Marilyn.  In fact, she was felt bad at seeing Connie knocked out of the baby spot, so bent over backwards trying to be fair.

Marilyn had no problem asserting herself. Since Connie didn’t want Marilyn to get in trouble, she rarely hit Marilyn back or tattled on her.  I infer this worked well for Marilyn..  As country children often do, one day Connie didn’t want to take time to go in and wee wee.  She simply darted behind a tree to do the job.  Finding an abandoned hubcap that served as a dog-feeding dish, she squatted and filled it.  As she stood, Marilyn slipped up behind her and kicked it, splashing Connie liberally.  Instead of smacking Marilyn like a normal kid would have, Connie just exclaimed, “Damn!”  Marilyn was off like a shot, looking for Mother,  Connie ,right behind her as soon as she got her wet clothes pulled up.

””Mama, Mama!  Connie said “Damn!”  This was big trouble.  Mother wouldn’t tolerate trashytalk.

Mother whirled around, shocked, expecting Connie to deny the evil deed.  “Connie, did you say, “Damn?”

”Yes.” Connie whimpered.  Had she told Mother what Marilyn had done, they would both have been swatted.

”Get me the fly swat.”  Mother kept a plastic fly swat hanging by the back door ready for just such a occasion.  She gave Connie two or three quick swats and dismissed her, while Marilyn stood by self-righteously.  It was years before Connie told the whole story.

I wonder if the dogs thought “Damn” later that day when they smelled pee in their dish.

My family:  I am in the back row Left, holding Connie’s hands,  Billy Center, Phyllis  holding Marilyn Right.

Uncle Albert’s Barn

My great-Uncle Albert’s barn raised the bar for what a barn should be.  A rambling, splotched caterpillar, it sprawled behind his rustic house.   It was an amalgamation of scavenged lumber of various vintages. Over many years, he’d added on as the need arose and opportunity allowed Of an age to have experienced The Great Depression in its entirety, he understood waste not, want not.  His house and outbuildings were built largely of reclaimed lumber.   One stall of his barn was lied high with neatly stacked reclaimed lumber stored in readiness for his next project.  He had recently been hired to tear down and haul off an old house, the very lumber now resting in his barn.  Coffee cans of used nails sat on a shelf.  As tempting as it looked, one hard look from Uncle Albert made it clear his lumber was off limits for climbing.

Wisely, Albert did not seem anxious for the company of bothersome children, making no effort to be friendly.  In fact, I never noticed him behaving particularly warmly toward my dad., even though Daddy clearly admired him and sought his approval.  Uncle Albert was as likely to grump at Daddy as he was at us.  I was mystified at seeing Daddy treated as a troublesome child.  Daddy had spent months on end living and working with Uncle Albert during His childhood of The Great Depression.  His father had died young, leaving a widow with seven young children to to raise.

The barns multiple rooms opened off a central open area.  It’s many rooms held ancient implements, harness, plows and all manner of equipment neatly organized.  An ancient wagon Relaxed in one stall, in readiness for hay-hauling.  We were free to play on it, as long as we weren’t destructive.  Hay was stacked in numerous stalls.  Uncle Albert mad it clear the hay was not there for our pleasure. In one stall russet and sweet potatoes lay in their beds of hay, dusted with lime. String  of beans, dried apples, pears, and onions hung from the rafters. Several barn cats patrolled the barn to keep mice and rats at bay.  They weren’t the friendly house cat variety.

The barn was roofed with hand-split wooden shingles.  I can’t imagine all the hours he spent splitting them.  A neat fence made of various types of wire garden entry to the barn.  A couple of large metal road signs served as fence panels, adding to the barnyard’s appeal.

I just loved that barn.  I wish I could spend another afternoon poking around in it.


My First Barn

As wide as she was tall, the little old lady looked amusingly like a cartoon turtle in a floral dress slipping slowly out the back door before full daylight.  The last I remembered, I’d been asleep on the train.  Not wanting to be left alone, I rolled to my belly and hung off the edge of an unfamiliar bed, my pudgy feet peddling till I thudded solidly to the unfinished wood floor.  Following her out into the dewy grass of the early daylight, I saw her lurching one-sidedly under the burden of a heavy bucket of corn in one hand and a shovel in the other, totally unaware of my silent pursuit.  As I padded silently behind, sandburs pierced my baby feet.  Dropping to my round bottom, I shrieked at the insult.  The grass at home was soft and welcoming.  Startled by my banshee cries, she turned.  “Oh my Lord!  I thought I shut the door behind me.  You could have gotten in the road!”

Dropping the bucket of chicken feed, she rushed over to comfort me, as fast as a turtle could, I suppose, seating me on her shovel blade to pick sandburs out of my feet.  By the time she’d finished, I pointed out a huge yellow road grader a few yards away on the side of the dirt road.  “You want to see that?  Okay.  Grandma will take you over there.  It’ll be a while before the workers get here.  Little fellers need to see road graders if they get a chance.”

I admired the way she thought.  Blessed with my company every day, my harried mother would probably have told me to “Get away from that.  That’s none of your business!” I’d noticed early on most interesting things fell in that category. Standing on the shovel blade, I clung to the shovel handle as Grandma dragged me across the grass.   She lifted me as high to study the gigantic tires before setting me on the step to peer inside the cab.  I am still fascinated by heavy machinery.

After I had my fill of the road grader, we went back for her bucket of corn to feed her chickens.  I liked the chickens just fine, though they weren’t nearly as interesting as the road machine.  We had chickens at home.  The barn next to the chicken yard was a different matter.  Since the grass path was worn away between the two, I toddled over to have a look. A huge, two-storied white structure larger than the house enticed me, nearer.  A padlocked chain  ran through two holes in the big double-doors, denying me entry.  Peeking into the dee shade of the barn, I discovered untold riches: a child-sized table and chairs, a rocking horse, a tricycle, and a red wagon.  Grandma’s little black and white dog dropped to his belly and slid in the deep, sandy track worn under the doors.  I dropped to my belly and wiggled right behind him.  Had Grandma moved just a little slower, I’d have earned my prize.  Instead, she caught me by my heels and dragged me by my back into the barn yard howling in protest as she explained those things belonged to the child of the landlord and were off limits to me.  I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around that, having no idea what a landlord was, but I knew what toys were, and meant to have them.  To temper my disappointment, she led me to the back of barn and allowed me to climb on the rail fence.  The barn and lot  were shaded by an enormous oak tree.  Marvelously, a tire swing hung temptingly from a high branch.  I flew to the tire swing suspending myself in its embrace.  I could run and swing backwards, kicking up a sandy, white cloud.  I had a tire swing at home and had learned to wind myself up for a spinning ride.  Grandma generously let me entertain myself,  For the moment, I was satisfied, knowing I’d get find a way to get in that barn later.

Back in the house, Grandma slid brown-topped biscuits out of the oven.  Minutes later, I met my first true love, bacon. I have not tasted anything so goodsince.  I felt strangely independent sharing my first morning with Grandma.  I’d never been awake before my mother that I remembered.  I was surprised to see Mother wander through in her nightgown and robe looking for coffee soon after.  I’d never seen her dressed for bed before.

This is my first conscious memory, though I must have been familiar with Grandma.  Mother recalled the story, dating it to around the time I was eighteen months old.  I am older now than Grandma was then, and like her, carry a shovel as I putter in the yard, an excellent implement to have on hand for a little impromptu digging or snake-routing.  Some things never change.

This photo was taken on that visit.  I was eighteen months old, and my sister four.  This was taken at a park.  Later that that, we were allowed to take our shoes off and wade in a park pool  I cut my foot on a coke bottle, not badly, just enough to make me scream bloody murder.

Family Talk

We all have “family talk” that outsiders don’t get.  A much-used phrase in our family is, “I don’t like what I wanted.” was first uttered by my little niece, Chelsea.  She had a quarter and spent the morning begging her mother to walk her to a nearby store to put the quarter in a vending machine for a prize.  As soon as her afternoon nap was over, off they walked for her prize.  Upon popping her quarter in, a capsule with a lizard dropped in her hand.  She hated it and smashed it to the ground.

“Chelsea,  you’ve been wanting a prize all morning.  Why did you throw it down?”

”I don’t like what I wanted!”

That line comes in so handy.  You can use it referring to a car, a man, a job, or the new shoes that cramp your toes. Thank you, Chelsea.

My cousin’s husband provided another great phrase.  When he was frustrated with her, he’d pronounce, “Don’t go crazy, Sue!”  We use that one on each other at least once at every family gathering.

“It couldn’t be helped.” This one never fails to rile Mother. She used it often, usually after a big goof-up. It entered “family talk” after Mother made a ghastly mess hemming my brother’s new suit pants. It’s best to read that story in its entirety.

Another is “You’re gonna have to buy the coffee.”  My dad worked with a gifted liar.  The man’s reputation was so well-established that anyone who repeated one of his stories had to buy the next round of coffee.  On one occasion he came rushing by and one of the fellows called out, “Sam, stop and tell us a big one.”

” I can’t,” he replied.  A man just fell in Smokestack 9 and I have to call an ambulance.”  They rushed behind him to discover it was all a lie. He was just headed to the cafeteria.

”I just spent my last two bucks on toilet paper and didn’t even get to dookey!”  This one originated with my husband Bud.  We awoke in the night to hear water spewing from a pipe under the bathroom sink.  Sadly, over an inch of water was standing in the house.  It was awful.  We jumped into action, but floors and baseboards were ruined.  It was obvious we’d be disfurnished for days till life was back to normal.  After the initial water was syphoned and carpets removed we sat exhausted on bare concrete floors.  Bud sadly pondered the mess and remarked, “I spent my last two bucks on toilet tissue and didn’t even get to dookey.”  Since then, that phrase describes utter disappointment.

”You should have done it already.”  My niece, Haley, kept straddling the new mailbox her father was trying to install, ignoring her fathe’s orders to stay off it.  Finally exasperated, he warned her.  “If you don’t stay off that mailbox, I’m going to have to paddle you.”  That would have been a first.

She looked him straight in the eye, with all the wisdom of a four-year-old and said, “You should have done it already.”

”The head’s as dangerous as the rest of it.” said my sister as she warned us all away from the severed head of a rattlesnake. Very very people have been injured by the body and rattlers, for sure.

“You try to raise your kids right….. .” This is one of Mother’s favorites. When she met her mother-in-law for the first time, Mamaw gave her a chilly welcome. “You try to raise your kids right and then when the get old enough to help you out, they go off and get married.” Needless to say, it foretold a weak friendship. Since then, when Mother jokes about neglect by any of us, she dusts this phrase off.

“I didn’t want to be in the damn play, anyhow!” A young relative as coerced by his teacher to be in a school play by his teacher.

“Johnny, you have to be in the play. Your mama and daddy are coming. Your grandma’s coming. Everybody else is in the play.”

Finally, Johnny reluctantly agreed to a one-line part. All he had to say was, “Hark, I hear a pistol shot!”

“When his time came, he called out, “Hark! I hear a shistol pot!” He made a couple more attempts with no better luck.

Disgusted, he stomped his foot and proclaimed, “I didn’t want to be in the damned play, anyway!”  This comes in handy when we’ve had enough.

Mamaw was partial to her two-year-old grandson, referring to him often as “Ma’s little man.” His three-year-old sister was sick of coming in last. Planting her fists on her little hips, she waggled her butt and mimicked, “Ma’s little man!  Ma’s little man!  All me ever hear.  Ma’s little man!”

Mamaw early 1950s  She loved Ma’s little man.