Original art by Kathleen Swain
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.