A Hog a Day Part 17


Original art by Kathleen Swain

Unless you’ve been cursed with a prissy, goody-two-shoes older sister, you couldn’t possibly appreciate this, so just go on with whatever you were doing. If you want to commiserate, jump right in. Phyllis was three years older than I. This put her just far enough ahead of me that all the teachers and Sunday School teachers were still raving about her performance. “Phyllis never misspelled a word on a test the whole year. Phyllis is the best student I had in all my twenty years of teaching. Phyllis is the neatest kid in class. Phyllis always reads her Sunday School Lesson and knows her memory verses.” I’m sure it was all true. She worked on her homework from the time she got off the bus every day till Mother made her go to bed every night, copying it over rather than have an erasure.

I did my homework on the bus, if I could borrow some paper. The second day of first grade Miss Angie called me a blabbermouth and a scatterbrain. I was delighted till she sent a note home. My parents pointed out neither was a good thing. The only notes Phyllis ever got asked if she could be the lead in the school play, tutor slow kids, or be considered for sainthood. Mother had to chase the schoolbus to brush my hair. If we had pancakes for breakfast, my papers stuck to me all morning and dirt clung to the syrupy patches after recess. I never got the connection between being sticky and not washing up after breakfast.

It was bad enough that Mother tried to civilize me. After I started school, Phyllis was embarrassed about being related to “Messy Mayhem.” She started in telling Mother I needed to pull my socks up, brush my hair, not wipe my snotty nose on my sleeve, and most of all, not tell anyone I was related to her. She was a hotline home for anything that the teachers forgot to send a note about. It didn’t help our friendship.

Phyllis was always first in line to get in the door at church. I am surprised she didn’t have her own key. Sitting quietly and thoughtfully through sermons, she’d occasionally nod and mark passages in her Bible. The minister was sure she was headed for “Special Sevice.” Meanwhile, I sat next to Mother, barely aware of the minister’s drone, desperately trying to find interest, somewhere, anywhere. I liked the singing but it didn’t last long. The words didn’t make sense, but it sure beat the sermon. Once the sermon started, I’d start at the front and enumerate things: roses on hats, striped ties, bald men, sleepers, crying babies, kids who got to prowl in their mother’s purses, or the number of times the preacher said “Damn, Breast or Hell!”. Once in a while something interesting would happen, like pants or skirt stuck in a butt-crack, or a kid would get taken out for a spanking, but all this made for a mighty lean diet.

One glorious Sunday, the sun shone. As we filed out, I looked longingly at the lucky kids running wild in the parking lot. We had to stand decorously beside Mother and Daddy as he waxed eloquent, rubbing elbows with the deacons, whose august company he longed to join. As he discussed the merits of the sermon with Brother Cornell Poleman, a deacon with an unfortunate sinus infection, Brother Poleman pulled a big white hankie from his coat pocket and blew a disgusting snort in its general direction. Fortunately for Sister Poleman, she wouldn’t be dealing with that nasty hanky in Monday’s laundry. A giant yellow, green gelatinous gob of snot went airborn, landing right on Phyllis’s saintly, snowy, Southern Baptist forearm, where it quivered just a bit, before settling into its happy home. Her expression was priceless. Mr. Poleman grabbed her arm, rubbing the snot all over her forearm before she could extricate herself from his foul grip. She flew to the church bathroom to wash before joining the family waiting in the car. That snot trick had put a hasty end to all visiting. When she got home, she locked herself in the bathroom to scrub her arm with Comet. I enjoyed church that day.

My brother Billy certainly didn’t have to deal with comparisons to a saint when he followed three years behind me.


Make a Joyful Noise!

imageDaddy was always right.  Custom and rules were for us, the underlings and nobodies of the family, and we’d best not forget it.  He broke the news that some Church in the Wildwood was having a revival and we were going tonight.  I never liked going to church much anyway, so this ruined my day, but wait, there was a bonus.  In case that was’t bad enough, Phyliis and I were going to sing a special.  For those of you unfortunates not initiated into the strange goings on of Baptist Churches back in the sixties, it was common for a slightly talented, or not, fervently religious girl to do a solo, hold the congregation captive for what could be a few miserable minutes.  Presumably, she had collaborated with the choir director and pianist, so as not to hijack order of the service.

Phyllis fit the bill perfectly, and had enthusiastically sung several specials in our delighting herself, Daddy, and hopefully, at least some people of the congregation.  A couple of times, he had even sprung for a new dress, so she’d really shine.  In all honesty, she sounded good.  Despite the fact that I wanted no part in the of it, I’d even been dragged into it a couple of times as backup, kicking and screaming.  I did not sing with a joyful heart.

My heart was heavy with dread as Daddy drove manically through the back roads in search of this obscure church, throwing a fit the whole time because we’d made him late.  This was standard practice wherever we went, since he’d never bother to start getting dressed till after the time he’d say we were leaving.  When it was obvious we’d arrive after services started, I felt great relief,cheerfully offering, “Too bad!  We won’t be able to talk to them about singing a special.”

Always right, as usual, he shot me down.”Oh yes you will.  I’ll tell you when to go up and sing.  It doesn’t have to be arranged ahead of time.  Just be ready to go when I say.  Tell the piano player you want her to play ‘How Great Thou Art’.” I gave up.  We were going to be stomping up there singing like a couple of dopes.

The seven of us filled a pew as the congregation finished a hymn, and launched in to another as I waited for the ax to fall.  Phyllis and I had sat on the outside so we could make our way more easily to the front when the time came.  After the close of the offeratoy hymn and the collection of the offering, Daddy gave Phyllis “The Signal.” As she stood and prepared for our interjection into the service, the choir director announced a “Special,” to be sung by a saintly appearing young lady.  Daddy’s face fell and Phyllis quickly sat down.  The singer limped through “How Greet  Thou Art” clearly enunciating “Greet,” not “Great” as we were prepared to do.  I never enjoyed a song more, the hilarity of the situation not lost on me.  As she finished, I stood as though I still thought Daddy expected us to sing.  He reached over, grabbing my skirt tail, stopping my progress.  I gave him a questioning look, as though I was confused at his shutting me down.

God is good.



Goody, Goody! Goody, Goody!

The first and last days of school I got called down for running my mouth, and probably every day between. Born without a muffler or filter it paid off handsomely if not happily. My sister, Phyllis, on the other hand was the model of decorum and every teachers’ darling. It was unlikely she ever got scolded, but she often had to be told to “let someone else answer.” Of course, she knew all the answers, since she did all her homework as soon as she got in from school. From her earliest days, it was obvious she’d be a wonderful teacher, which she was. All her games revolved around playing school, especially after my teacher relatives passed discarded textbooks on to us. Many of those books were still in use in our classrooms. Imagine her joy when she poured over them and started school way ahead of her class. I was not so much interested in the textbooks and playing school. That’s where our trouble lay. She expected me to be her perfect student, as we went from reading to math to science to geography.
I was all in to the reading lesson, but ready to go when we moved on. That wasn’t how her school worked. She’d get her fly-back paddle after me, so school was over and the fight was on. I never hung around too long. She’d go to Mother to back up her discipline and get disappointed time after time. Home-schooling just didn’t work for her.
To my great joy, Phyllis did get in trouble one time. In the first grade, she shared a desk with Richard. Travis sat right behind them. When Mrs. Hanks passed back their work, Phyllis and Richard got an A. Travis got an F. Phyllis and Richard turned around and sang to him, “Goody, goody Travis.” Mrs. Hanks called them to the front of the class and made them sing to each other, “Goody, goody, Phyllis. Goody, goody, Richard.” Of course, Phyllis came straight home with the story of how she’d suffer, only to get more trouble. That took care of their classroom “Goody, goodies” but I think I still heard it at home a few times.

Three Quotes in Three Days

This is third of Three Quotes in Three Days my friend Brian at Vancouver Visions challenged me to.  Please check out his lovely blog.  You will love it.

laughing snakeMy Sister Phyllis is a champion blunderer.  She tries so hard to make her point that she often goes way overboard.  A friend was relating a fearsome tale of tangling with a rattlesnake ending with him finally managing to cut the snake’s head off, after nearly being bitten several times.  Phyllis was so impressed with the story, she pondered it long after the storyteller finished, finally remarking, “You really have to be careful about the rattlesnake’s head.  It’s as dangerous as the rest of it!”

None of us has ever forgotten it, using this phrase when someone states something so obvious it’s ridiculous.

Wonderful Times of Reading Aloud

imageIt has always been a joy to hear my sister Phyllis read aloud.  Till my last days, I will cherish a few days during school Christmas vacation in 1961.  Phyllis was enjoying reading Great Expectations in her ninth grade English class and offered to read a few pages aloud. Daddy was working second shift at the paper mill, so once he left and the remains of the noon meal were cleared away, we settled in the cozy living room for a reading.  I would have been eleven, Billy, eight, and Connie and Marilyn, two and a few months old.  Enraptured by the story of Pip, the cruel Estella, and the mad Miss Havisham, I would Continue reading

“It’ll Grow Back”

Phyllis BlondeI’m sure the hairdressers among you, as well as victims of bad haircuts, can relate to this sad story.  This is my sister Phyllis, over at Anchors and Butterflies.  Note the beautiful blonde hair.  Wouldn’t you just love to have hair like that?  Well, many years ago, in a land far away, she was home from college for the weekend, complaining that she needed a haircut, bad.  A person could be forgiven for thinking that she meant a bad haircut  I was just the one for the job.  I got right to work.

Like all jobs skillfully executed, hair cutting looks easy enough.  I’d watched it plenty of times and knew just what to do.  I wrapped her wet head in a towel and dragged a comb through her hair, despite her fussiness about a mole and her ears.   I kind of parted and pinned and got started.

I did pretty well at first, then took a wild whack on one side, getting it really short. When I tried to make the other side match, it looked awful.  It was a mess of gashes and ridges.  Her scalp shone through in spots.  It looked like I’d used rick-rack to cut a pattern. I felt horrible, but started laughing.  For some reason, I still thought I could save it, but the laughing gave me away.  She jerked the towel away, speeding to the bathroom to look.  When I didn’t hear anything, I dared hope she liked it.

“Wah!  Boo Hoo Hoo!  I’m gonna kill you!”  She came flying out of that bathroom gripping her hand mirror and hairbrush headed In my direction.. She chased me around the house three times before Mother got her stopped.  Fortunately, I had a good start or I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.

Mother tried to calm her with some worthless reassurances like, “It doesn’t look that bad.” and her old favorite, “It’ll grow back.”  Personally, I’d as soon have my teeth bashed in as be reassured, “It’ll grow back.”

Phyllis left later that day puffy-eyed, wearing a scarf.  Mother had scraped up ten dollars for her to get her hair repaired, reassuring her all would be well. Phyllis skipped her classes the next morning, hunting up a “good” hairdresser.  He told her he had seen worse haircuts — but couldn’t remember when.

I would like to have included an after picture, but there wasn’t one.

Broken Hearts and Pink High Heels

Kid in pink dot heels          Mother was always last on her own list, but she’d had enough when she admired Cousin Franny’s new dress, and Franny turned her nose up and said, “This old thing.  It ain’t fit for nothing.”   Franny was a doll-like woman who reveled in only weighing ninety pounds and wearing a size four shoe.  She dressed beautifully even if she charged her clothes and had to outrun creditors.  She took pleasure in making sure other women in the family couldn’t ignore her, putting them down at every opportunity.  Her girls were daintier, cuter, better dressed, and she had to work hard to get them to eat; a stark contrast to our voracious appetites and hand-me-downs.  I always wanted to be a picky eater at Franny’s, but her goodies always suckered me in.

“This ole thing,” was the last straw for Mother, a giant of a woman at five feet and one hundred and ten pounds.  She always indulged herself and made sure she had a new dress and shoes after having a new baby.  Spurred on by Franny’s snotty put downs, she pinched back nickels and quarters her whole pregnancy and was able to buy enough fabric to make two beautiful spring dresses and buy two pairs of matching pastel pumps to finish off her gorgeous ensembles.  She agonized over which to wear at the first family gathering to show off her slender figure and new baby. Finally, she decided to wear the green and save the pink outfit for church Sunday, her first back since having the baby.  Not surprisingly, she was the center of attention.  Her dress clung to her tiny waist as her post-partum bosoms imposed on her bodice.  All her sisters in law praised her eye for design and her perfect sewing.  She wore an apron to protect her new dress while helping get lunch on the table and carefully kept a burp towel on her shoulder while feeding her pretty new baby.  Her only regret was that she hadn’t been able to show off the pink dress and pumps that day, too.  Even better, Franny was bewailing her fifth pregnancy that day.  She was miserably sick but Mother saw her envious glances between episodes of throwing up.  It was a perfect day.

Mother needn’t have regretted not being able to show off her pink shoes that day.  She could always count on her children to anticipate her needs. At eleven Phyllis was a girly, girl. She got in Mother’s make up and gowns at every opportunity.  She wore dresses and wanted her hair curled every day.  She had coveted the beautiful shoes months before when Mother slipped them in. She was able to put them out of her mind when they disappeared deep in Mother’s closet, but as Mother twirled around in her new dress and mint green high heels, it was more than Phyllis could stand.  She was overcome with jealousy and righteous indignation. Mother had two new dresses and matching shoes to match and expected her to wear old scuffed saddle oxfords!!!  Phyllis sulked self-righteously until it got the best of her. Kicking the hated saddle oxfords far under the bed, she slipped in Mother’s closet to just see how the pink shoes felt.  They were perfect!!!   She had to wear them just a little while.  When she took a trial stroll by Mother, Mother didn’t say a word.  Okay.

After lunch that day, the kids went out to play. Predictably, it was not long before howling brought all the mothers flocking to the front yard.   The appropriate mother dragged the damaged kid in for examination and first aid, while the others ordered their kids to stop jumping off the high front porch in the mud.   Mother made a horrible realization.  Phyllis had abandoned her normal prissiness and joined the others, primly jumping off the high porch into the mud in Mother’s new pastel pink pumps……the ones she hadn’t even worn once!!!!!  Mother ordered her indoors, confiscated the precious shoes, and set Phyllis to cleaning the mud from the inside and outside while pondering the inevitable consequences she could expect once Mother had time to deal with her.

The shoes cleaned up better than Mother expected, so Mother was somewhat mollified and Phyllis’s life was spared.  The next Sunday came and went, and Mother looked great at church in her fancy new pink outfit.  Even that snooty Sally Greeley admired her.  Life was good.

Time rocked on.  Mother went to town on Thursdays to buy groceries and run her week’s errands.  She dressed in her pink outfit and was blissfully pushing her cart through the grocery store, generously acknowledging the compliments of all the other ladies who were also doing their Thursday shopping.  Mother was shopping for seven, so her cart was heavy as she teetered her way toward the checkout, a vision of pink loveliness.  An unhappy snap interrupted her pleasant jaunt.  Horrified, she looked down to see the heel of her pink pump snapped about one inch up its four inch height.  Worse yet, the break was not complete.  A thin sliver of dainty pink leather held the broken portion dangling crazily.  She looked around, hoping no one had noticed.  Fortunately, she and a couple of the children were alone in the aisle.  She sent one of them speeding for a roll of cellophane in hopes of salvaging her pride.  The tape held almost till she got near the front of the store, betraying her just as she was chatting with her friends, and of course, Sally Greeley was right there waiting for her, pretending to be sympathetic.

Hello, Mr. Flu!

imageMother always had a special capacity for bungling.  Sometimes she just talks to hear her head rattle. That can be as dangerous as leaving a loaded gun lying around.  When Mother was a teenager, the flu came to town.  The Pyles family next door all got the flu, except for Mr. Pyles.  He was struggling to care for his wife and six children.  The Continue reading

Coming to Jesus

Water headRepost:

Though I wasn’t an actual heathen, I looked like one compared to my older sister Phyllis.  In her religious fervor, she never missed a church service, sang in the choir, and volunteered for all kinds of activities, while I dreaded Sunday mornings, knowing I’d have to sit through another long service.   This really rankled me, so one Sunday I decided to Continue reading