Icy Showers and Rotten Sausage

Cousin Kat was tight. We always took plenty of food when we went to visit, knowing how “conservative” she was. She thought three rolls, three scrambled eggs, a little jam and a dab of butter was plenty for any number of guests there might be for breakfast. “I just don’t think there’s any point in folks being hoggish,” was her favorite phrase as she set out a meal. She was a devout believer and had probably heard that story about Jesus feeding the multitudes on five loves and three fishes one too many times.

A few days before our last visit, someone had given Cousin Kat some fresh homemade sausage. She’d eaten a bit and saved some for us. That sounded fine till I opened her tiny 1940 model refrigerator to get some water. The rank smell of bad meat nearly knocked me down. “Ooh, Cousin Kat, I think something’s gone bad in here!”

“Oh, it’s not bad. It’s just that sausage Barney gave me. It’s real spicy!” She answered, totally unconcerned. “I’m gonna cook it up for supper.”

I made up my mind then and there to eat popcorn. I’ve never smelled a spice that mimicked the smell of rotting meat so closely. Mother and Phyllis both found other options. Count Kat cooked that sausage and ate up all by herself, since she was determined not to let it go to waste. It stunk the whole house up with its nauseating odor as it cooked. We all told her it smelled like it might have “gone to the bad.” She disagreed.

We planned a road trip for the four of us to go into Amish Country and packed a nice picnic …no sausage. Phyllis and Cousin Kat decided to take their showers the evening before so The four of us wouldn’t be competing in the morning. Cousin Kat told her how she could run a bit of water in the tub, sit on the edge, wash her face, ears, neck, then her body before washing the best parts and her feet. That way, she could get by with just a little of that expensive hot water. Well, I do believe I heard the shower running while Phyllis was in there, despite her lesson. Cousin Kat perked up her ears, too. When Phyllis came out, Cousin Kat said, “I hope you stopped up the tub and saved your water for me. Just one person don’t mess up bath water none.” Shamefaced, Phyllis had to admit she run it all down the drain. Cousin Kat gave her a look.

We went on to bed. I snore and talk in my sleep, so no one would bunk in with me. I am always early to bed, so I took the small bedroom. Cousin Kat gave Mother an inflatable mattress her son had left there to put on the living floor. Unfortunately, he had taken the pump home with him, so they sent a great deal of time trying to inflate it with a small hand-held hairdryer, the wrong tool for the job. Eventually, it approximated a mattress, though it flattened out the minute Mother reclined on it. They hadn’t bothered to pad the floor with quilts, so Mother was freezing the minute she lay down that frosty October evening. She got up, dragged her covers tote old-fashioned bi-fold sofa and tried to warmup. It was hard, lumpy, and had a couple of exposed springs but it was better than the icy floor.

Meanwhile, things weren’t going much better for Phyllis in the large, unheated upstairs bedroom. She’d chosen it because she liked to sleep in the cold. She’d dawdled and was the last to get to bed. I was quickly asleep though I kept up a listen for retching during the night, expecting Cousin Kat to come down with food poisoning, but the next thing I knew, Phyllis was climbing in the small creepy bed with me. “I thought you were too good to sleep with me.” I reminded her.

“I am, but when I got upstairs and switched on that dim overhead light, and everything looked fine, but when I turned back the quilts, rice scattered all over the place. I couldn’t imagine why rice would be on the bed, like that. I turned on that little flashlight Cousin Kat gave me and saw the bed and floor covered in mouse pellets. Mice were scattering everywhere. I can’t sleep up there with all those mice. She was mad! I was laughing so hard the springs were creeping. We sounded like honeymooners.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t sleep well, I talk in my sleep. In truth, it’s much worse than that. I curse and hurl epithets, language I’d never use during waking hours. Once I drifted off, Phyllis and I rolled up in that ancient mattress like a couple of hotdogs in a bun. She swears I shoved her and screamed at her to “get the f…. Out of here. I don’t remember a thing about it!

In a huff, she got up in search of a place to sleep. Seeing that Mother had abandoned the perfectly good air mattress, she gave it a try. Of course, it put her right on the floor. Not to be defeated, she folded it in half and stretched out. That was a little better. Just as she drifted off, it gave up the ghost and blew out. Hearing all the racket, Mother and I got up to help. I invited her to share my bed, but she was mad and wouldn’t have any part of it. Mother offered to share the bi-fold sofa, but there was no way that would work. She ended up spendinding the rest of the night wrapped in a blanket trying to sleep in a not-so-easy chair.

We got up early to Have breakfast and get ready for our trip. At the kitchen table, We chatted over breakfast and sipped coffee. Mother and Phyllis lied about the extent of their miserable night. Phyllis had to come up with an excuse about abandoning the mousy attic. Cousin Kat polished off the last piece of the rancid sausage with her breakfast.

I got the first shower, keeping it short, since I remembered Cousin Kat’s lesson. It was pleasantly hot, but Mother said Cousin Kat ducked down to the basement to “get something” while I showered. Mother was next in line. When she got in, the water was nice and hot while she soaped up, but in just a minute, an icy blast hit her. Obviously, Cousin Kat’s basement errand was to cut off the water heater. The water came from a spring, so Mother’s hot shower was over. She had to wipe the soap off with a wet washcloth dipped in icy water.

She was furious when she shivered out of her shower, accusing me of using all the hot water.
“Mother, I wasn’t in there but a couple of minutes. I didn’t use that much!”

All the while, Cousin Kat sat humming contentedly, finally offering, “Oh well, that water heater’s old. I guess it just gave out.” Only the day before she’d told us that her son had just put in a new one, over her objections. “I can heat what water I need on the stove and save the heating bill.” She made no mention of turning off the water heater.

Finally, the cold, sleepy bunch was ready to start the trip.

To be continued

I Don’t Have the Money Right Now

Sally Cronin was kind enough to let me blog sit and publish this post on her site, Smorgasbard today.  I had difficulty reposting so I am doing it today.  Thanks, Sally.

Mother prides herself on being frugal, but loves nice things. Should she win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes today and be guaranteed five-thousand dollars every week for life, it wouldn’t change anything. She’d live in the same house and drive the same car because, “I don’t have the money right now.” She’s been the same size and worn the same styles since she married, so she never has to buy anything that’s not on clearance. In fact, when shopping, she’s not above placing the size eight she has her eye on among the size eighteens and then coming back to see if it’s marked down a few weeks later. You’d think God was looking out for her. “Would you look at this? They’ve marked it down. I don’t mind paying fifteen dollars, but there’s no way it’s worth eighty-five to me.’

The one great exception is her pursuit of the perfect shoe. Domestic abuse early in her marriage messed up Mother’s ability to easily find shoes on the bargain rack. Just so you know, she’s the one who committed the abuse, though Daddy never even noticed. As a young man, Daddy worked shift work and put off going to bed as long as possible. He felt sleeping was a waste of time when there were better things to do. As a result, when he finally hit the bed, he slept like the dead. One night, he rolled over on Mother’s long hair and she couldn’t wake him. She poked, elbowed, and yelled, to no effect. In desperation, she kicked him till he finally roused enough for her to get her hair loose. In agony, she got up and soaked the toe till it calmed enough for her to sleep. The next morning, it was bruised and so swollen she couldn’t even get her shoe on. This was back when doctors made house calls. Daddy fetched Dr. Pike who diagnosed the big toe broken, pushed the battered toe back in place, and wrapped it to her second toe to act as a splint. She hobbled around in just a sock till the swelling went down enough to endure a shoe. Afterwards, she required a half size larger and needed more supportive shoes, which are of course, more expensive.

As a result, Mother fixated on good shoes. Should she find her heart’s desire, particularly at a marked-down price, a terrible dilemma ensues. Torn between her desire, for that particular pair of shoes, the battle of shoe desire versus frugality begins. It’s a trial to witness. “Do I really need these shoes? I don’t have any nice (brown, blue, white, green, yellow) ones. I won’t ever find any more this color, style, price, etc. again. You know I have a hard time finding shoes that feel good after I hurt my toe.”

She always makes it sound like the toe incident was an Act of God, not an attack of my poor, innocent father, so I feel obligated to remind her. “You know, you wouldn’t have all this trouble if you hadn’t kicked my poor daddy.” Just as I hoped it would, this remark always catches the attention of store clerks and nearby shoppers, who no doubt envision her kicking a poor, incapacitated invalid, not the snoring behemoth she kicked seventy years ago. They do seem a bit disappointed when they turn to stare and see only a tiny eighty-nine-year-old lady standing there, clutching a pair of red shoes.

After they’ve all had a good look, I remind her. “Those do look good. You’d probably enjoy them. If you change your mind, we can bring them back.”

“You don’t think it would be foolish of me to get these? I don’t really have the money right now, but I have a hard time finding good shoes. These were originally $169 and they’re marked down to $59. That’s more than I want to spend, but I’m not going to find them any cheaper? What do you think?”

“I think you won’t get a better deal unless you throw a brick through a window, so get them if you want them. Besides, if they were just a dollar, they’d be more than you want to spend.” She is just warming up. We both know she’s getting the shoes, but there’s still work to do.

“I know. I have a couple of new pairs I haven’t worn yet, but blah, blah, blah. Do you really think I should get them? I still have two-hundred dollars left from the money I got for Christmas.” This was in April. She’d rake in a fresh bankroll for her birthday in May, but this discussion is going to go on a while, anyway. I was almost, but not quite, ready to kick in on the shoes to get out of the store. She asked two customers and a clerk for opinions. They were divided. That didn’t help a bit!

“Mother, if you want them, get them. You don’t have to consider anyone but yourself. I’m going to look around while you make up your mind.” I head for the hills, returning with the hope she’s reached a decision. When I came back, she was in line with two shoeboxes, three customers behind her. She wasn’t budging.

“Look, I found the same shoe in yellow. Yellow is my favorite color. Which ones do you think I should get?” At least she’s made the decision to purchase something. There’s no way she was leaving that store without shoes.

I took a huge gamble. “I think you should get the red. You can wear them with more.”
Clearly offended, she made for the counter. “I’m getting the yellow! I might never find yellow shoes again.” She still looked torn about the red ones.

At this point things could still go horribly wrong. I know Mother wants me to recommend one over the other, but I don’t know which. It’s very important that I validate her reasoning on this matter. My psychic abilities failed me. Impulsively, I tossed caution to the wind, knowing the wrong answer could put us back at square one. “Get them both. You wear lots of red AND yellow. You may never find any more just that color and you do need shoes! When we get through here, let’s go to the Chinese Buffet for lunch. My treat!”

Thank Goodness, it worked. “I think I will.” She happily pulled out her money and made her purchase. Everyone in the store clapped. Mother hadn’t been that happy since her last shoe purchase.

Though we had eaten at a Chinese Buffet, she charmed the staff into a carry-out container and free coffee. “I have all this left on my plate and just hate to waste it.” Her shoe-high lasted all the way home all through the time I helped her in with her two shoeboxes, fanny pack, (which she usually wears instead of strapping on) and carry-out from lunch. Just as I started my car, she ran out to get her cell-phone she’d tucked in the glove box. I hadn’t been home ten minutes when my phone rang. “I’m so glad I got these shoes. I looked in my closet and I don’t have a single pair either color. I do have some tomato red ones and a yellow-greenish pair, but I didn’t have any in exactly these colors. I really needed these.”

Pinch a Penny till it Screams

Cousin Kat was tight as Dick’s hatband, or conservative as she called it.  We learned early on stop by a grocery store before going to spend a few days at her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Our first visit, she knew we’d be arriving about dinner time.  She insisted we wait and eat supper with her.  We were surprised to find she’d cooked a about a cereal bowl of full of beans, sliced a tomato or two and an onion, and cooked four chicken wings for herself and our family of four.  “I don’t eat much,” she explained.  “I don’t want to make a pig of myself.”  My fifteen-year-old son could have eaten everything on the table.  Then she stirred eight teaspoons of sugar into her iced tea.  About a half-inch of sugar settled in the bottom of the glass after she stirred.  Apparently, the rules did not include sugar.

We went out for breakfast the next morning over Cousin Kat’s objections.  The kids were starving.  It was buffet style, so Cousin Kat ate like a lumberjack, loading about six biscuits on her plate.  She wrapped the leftover biscuits in her napkin, tucking them in her purse, topping it off with packets of jam, honey, sugar, and butter from the table to take home.  “They put these out here for us!”

Afterwards, we drove twenty-five miles into Independence, the nearest town, to the grocery store.  Aunt Kat went straight for the reduced for quick sale bin where she loaded up a bag of battered fruit, several dented cans, some aged produce, and a taped up bag of flour.  Then she cornered the unfortunate manager, a guy she’d taught in Sunday School thirty years ago.  He paled when he saw her, obviously battle-scarred.  “Marty, how much do you want for this rotten fruit and bent cans?  Something has leaked on this flour.” 

“How ‘bout a dollar for the whole lot, Miss Kat?” he asked tentatively.

“Now, Marty.  I don’t think you ought to charge me that much for this flour and this rotten fruit buzzin’ with fruit flies. I ain’t sure I’m gonna be able to use ‘em.  These peaches and bananas look pretty bad and ain’t nobody else gonna buy this flour.  You’re gonna have to mark ’em down some more,” she countered.

He looked desperate.  “How much are they worth to you?”

“How ‘bout a quarter?” Marty looked hopeful.

“Well, I’ll give you twenty cents, but I’m coming back to see you if that flour’s bad,” she promised.

“Tell you what.  Don’t worry about paying.  I don’t want to see you disappointed.”  I’ll bet he didn’t.

“Okay, but I’d be willin’ to give you twenty cents.”

“That’s alright, Miss Kat.  Wouldn’t want to beat a good customer in a deal,” he finished gallantly.

I roasted a chicken, and cooked green beans, and mashed potatoes with gravy for supper that night.  We’d bought plenty of groceries, so getting enough wasn’t a problem.  Cousin Kat pulled the biscuits from her purse and made a small fruit salad from her finds of the day.  She ate heartily, since all those groceries were going to waste anyway.  She canned the rest of the fruit with the honey and sugar from the restaurant.

Getting Skinned at Lunch with Mother

JudithLeiberyellowcoinpurse2_1024x1024

Lunch out with Mother always starts with an understanding.  I understand I will be paying unless she tells me otherwise.  Let me give you a little background.  She is a tightwad.  If we stop at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee, she always holds her little yellow change purse where I can’t see it, pretends she has no change, even though it’s bulging, and asks, “Can you pay for my coffee?  I hate to break a dollar for coffee.”  Technically, this is true.  She never said she didn’t have change.  She just hates to break a dollar for coffee.  If we went to a car dealership, she’d say, “Can you get this.? I hate to write a check for a car.”

Today was no different.  We ordered our lunch, had a nice visit, and Mother disappeared to the bathroom.  The check came while she was gone.  She came back, totally surprised to find me paying check.  “I didn’t know the check would come so soon.  I’ll pay you back later……..if you’re not going to eat that chicken, I’ll put in my takeout box…..and if you don’t want the rest of your salad, and that roll……..”

Today was no different.  We ordered our lunch, had a nice visit, and Mother disappeared to the bathroom.  The check came while she was gone.  She came back, totally surprised to find me paying check.  “I didn’t know the check would come so soon.  I’ll pay you back later……..if you’re not going to eat that chicken, I’ll put in my takeout box…..and if you don’t want the rest of your salad, and that roll……..and pass me four of those Splenda packets.”

Turned Out In The Cold

imageUncle Joe sent word he needed the boys to cut firewood one November day in 1934.  He’d be ready about ten the next morning.  They walked barefoot three miles through the woods, kicking at the fallen leaves, since it was a still a warm day as November often is in Nortwest Louisiana.  Shoes had to be saved for school, but the opportunity to get a day’s work took precedence over school.  They needed whatever Uncle Joe paid, whether it be a little money or food.  Maybe they’d get a meal or some cast off clothes, too. Continue reading

Tombstone in the Bedroom

Cousin Kat  (Kathleen) was proud of being “conservative.”  To the rest of us, it looked a lot like stingy.  When it looked like her mama might be considering dying, it just so happened, Dan Walter’s Funeral Home and Monument Company was going out of business.  She talked him down till she got a real nice headstone for Mama and a beautiful double Continue reading