Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Family

With the holidays being what they are for my family, I haven’t had much time to write so my blog has suffered. But all of the out of town gifts are mailed, the cards will go out tomorrow, the cookies are in their assorted tins, the tree is standing in its splendor and there is a wreath on the door. This doesn’t even cover the church activities and the volunteer groups that have special activities. While I have not been writing, I have been pondering the season and some of the things that are part of the family traditions.

I consider Thanksgiving as the beginning of the holidays. It is my favorite because there is not all of that crass, commercial hoopla; and it is a great family time. We do a big meal with slow talking conversations and lots of trading of family stories. I have to admit, I do not identify with the cooks who complain that they cook for two days, and the meal is over in fifteen minutes. I did not grow up with that sort of rapid consumption of good food, and I have refused to let my children and guests do it either. We eat leisurely and enjoy the feast. We generally don’t do dessert until later in the day so there is plenty of time to visit and relive some of the old blessings. This year, we got into a discussion on silver wear.

My younger daughter, whom we affectionately refer to as the speaker for the house because she always said what everyone else wanted to say but were afraid to, has teased me over the years for trying to enforce gracious manners and charm in a rowdy family. I have had some success as all of my children know very well how to behave in any social situation. They do what my grandmother always said we should do. They show up appropriately dressed and behave with consideration of others, which is the basis of all good manners. The other thing that was drummed into me at an early age is that there is no excuse (nada, zero, zilch) for rudeness. Armed with this knowledge, one should be able to function well anywhere. The fact that I enjoy coupling this basic knowledge with the family heirlooms and setting a beautiful table does not make me a snob, or etiquette Nazi.

Those family heirlooms were the topic of one of our discussions. My silver ware is a combination of pieces that I inherited when I got married and pieces acquired later. My mother and father chose their silver as all young people of that day did in 1936. They liked the simplicity with just a little ornate design of Candlelight by Towle. My father split the set between my sister and I so that I had four complete placements and acquired several more as wedding gifts. Over the years, I have added to what I have so that I now have service for twelve. This is not the only pattern I have as there are tablespoons from my maternal grandmother in a lily pattern and six large dinner forks that were made by my three greats grandfather, a Philadelphia silversmith, in 1810-1815. They were the subject of our discussion. I let the grandchildren know that after I am gone they will go to their parents and on to them. I hope that the family can keep them for many generations to come. My table settings will be divided between my girls and so the tradition goes on. The grandchildren were able to see that the Thibault name was stamped into the backs of the forks. That was my mother’s maiden name. They also saw that the original four place settings were engraved with an “R” for my maiden name.

My grandchildren see all of this as novelty right now; but as the grow, I hope that they will recognize that these are not cherished for their monetary value but for what they represent, a family linked to its history. I think most people cling to some treasure that speaks to them of whom they are and where they came from. Some of the things I have tell a special story. One of those are my paternal grandmother’s sherbet spoons. These were given to my grandmother and grandfather when they married in 1905. They are about 6 inches long with a delicate round bowl. The handles are twisted and the top is a flattened moon shape with a tiny art nouveau design. The thing that I cherish most about them is that there are eleven of them. People have told me that I should try to find the twelfth one to complete the set. That how many there were in the original gift. What they don’t understand is that that absent spoon is a treasure to me and to my memory of my grandmother. Wessie Dickie was what some would call generous to a fault. I don’t agree. She loved to entertain. In fact, I had the impression growing up in her house that I was living in Grand Central Station. There were always folks about at mealtime and they always stayed to lunch or dinner. At one of her lunches, my grandmother served ice cream with her dainty spoons. These little spoons charmed one of the ladies whom she was entertaining that day so my grandmother did what was typical for her. She gave her one. That absent spoon represents my grandmother’s generous heart; her clear understanding that people are more precious than things. I want my children to get that as well.

We may bring out the china, crystal, and silver for these lavish dinners; and we may rehash their stories until the children roll their eyes; but what I want them to get is that family is what is important. I have preserves these bits for them so that when I am gone, they will remember the stories and me and the links to their own larger family. By telling these stories, my children and grandchildren have come to know my father, mother, and grandparents all of whom were gone before any of them were old enough to remember or were even born. They, too, are learning, as I did, that we are all links in a great chain. My hope is that they will not break it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Grandmother and Demon Rum

The holiday season is approaching, and it has me thinking. This is about the time that my grandmother would make her fruitcake. She made it ahead of time, usually about six weeks, to give it time to “cure.” That fruitcake is what caused me to stop and ponder just how it is that people rationalize their behavior especially when it both defies what they generally stand for and makes little sense as well. We’ve all known people who live one way then act out of character, and we probably fit the pattern ourselves at times. I have one child that has pointed out my inconsistencies to me on more than one occasion. In fact, she delights in it.

My grandmother loved fruitcake as did many of her generation. I think it was because sweets were a luxury, and a fruitcake could be made to last for such a long time. It was economical and with a little help from John Barleycorn, could be preserved until the last crumb was consumed. Grandmother would cut her fruitcake on Christmas Eve, and the family would nibble on slices for the next few days. Grandmother, on the other hand, would indulge in this treat for the next several months. My Grandmother was raised British although she would never see England for herself. Her mother had been born on the Isle of Wight and came to America when she was in her teens. She was forever a Brit who raised her daughters as good English girls. The kind who pampered their complexions, faced crisis with a stiff upper lip and were unfailingly courteous. No matter how busy her life, my grandmother stopped at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and fixed herself a cup of tea. Since Grandmother was a devout Christian, she spent that thirty minute break in Bible study while sipping her tea as she sat in the dining room window seat. My siblings and I have discussed the fact that we were never told that that time was sacred to her. However, we all knew intuitively that blood had better be coming in spurts, a face turning blue, bones protruding from skin, or the house on fire if we needed to interrupt that time. During the winter months, Grandmother added a delicate slice of fruitcake to her tea ritual.

I have said that Grandmother was a Christian, and she was. She was a Methodist, the kind with all the letters capitalized…A METHODIST. She was Wesleyan through and through; and as such, she was a teetotaler. At least that was the impression we got from hearing her decry the evils of drink and the terrible havoc it wrecked on the loved ones of drunks. I never saw her drink a drop, not even any of the pink champagne that toasted my wedding. But come November, my grandmother sent my father to the store for a bottle of Wild Turkey, Jack Daniels or Southern Comfort as she prepared to make her fruitcake. Once all of the spicy flour had been stirred into the creamed mixture of butter, eggs, and sugar, she would add in about a fourth of a cup of whiskey and fold in pounds of flour dredged, dried fruit and chopped pecans. She baked the cake in a large tube pan in a moderately slow oven. I like to think she, at least, contemplated her next step and perhaps asked for forgiveness of the inconsistency to come. As soon as the cake had cooled, she took clean white feed-sacking, tore it into wide strips and soaked it in the whiskey. She then wound the fabric around the cake so that each surface was dampened. She then placed the cake in a tightly closed tin. Every week, she would take out the cake, unwind it, soak the cloth, and rewind it before returning it to the tin. By Christmas Eve, a person could get lightheaded just sniffing that cake as it was unwound for the first cutting. By then the bottle of whiskey was gone. It had all been absorbed.

Years later, when I was in college, young people went through a craze for folk music. During that time, I heard a parody on the old song, “Away, Away With Rum.” There was a verse that said,

“ I never eat fruitcake because it has rum,
and one little taste turns a man to a bum.
Oh, can you imagine a sadder disgrace
than a man in the gutter with crumbs on his face.”

When I first heard that, I fell down laughing and thought of my grandmother who could preach and, for the most part, live a life of absolute sobriety but, with great relish, could eat a fruitcake that had been saturated with alcohol.

What I really think is that we all compromise somewhere, and we rationalize the compromise. You can’t be a drunk if you chew up the alcohol before you swallow it. As I see it, this is a small thing. I doubt that my grandmother even gave it a thought. She certainly didn’t seem to fret over her soul on it’s account. I see her inconsistency and cherish it as a fond memory of someone who was almost but not quite perfect. I can only hope that my own inconsistencies are as small and as harmless as hers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life's Little Embarrassing Moments

I took part in a conversation today about life’s embarrassing moments. Everyone there had one. It seems to be a universal truth that just when you think life is grand, something trips you up. People who know me, know that I have had a goodly number of literal trip-ups. I’ve been falling down as long as I have been walking. I have fallen at home walking across a perfectly level uncluttered floor; but most frequently, I fall in crowded public venues. Like the time I slipped on a grape at the supermarket and tore a ligament in my leg. Fortunately, for the crowd that gathered, I had become use to such accidents and spent my time on the floor waiting for an ambulance to cart me off for treatment in assuring the onlookers that I would, eventually, be fine. The people who should have been embarrassed then were the young Indian couple who saw me fall in an otherwise empty aisle. They came running to my aid. When I told them that I was injured and needed help, they ran through the store shouting, “Help! Help! She needs the doctor!” They caused such a commotion that the entire staff and all the customers came to gawk.

I am so well known for these incidents that I could pick up the phone right now, call almost any one of my close friends, and ask if they could guess what I just did and the answer would be, “You fell down.” While that may seem embarrassing, it is not the thing that came to mind as I tried to think of the most humiliating thing that ever happened to me. The thing that popped into my mind was not only disheartening but it lasted for a whole school year.

In a town as small as Scott, Arkansas, nothing happens that isn’t common knowledge within a few hours. When I began the fifth grade, I was looking forward to being in Miss Ellison’s class. She was young, cute in a plump sort of way, full of energy and adored kids. She had only been at the school one year prior to my being in her class, but the word was out that she was the best teacher around. I liked school and I was good at it. Aside from one ongoing difference of opinion on penmanship in the second grade, I had perfect report cards. ( I still say that teaching kids to write those big, two line high letters is ugly. So I refused. Fortunately, at the end of the year, the national penmanship test was on miniaturized lined paper. I aced it because I had been writing small all year. It probably made Mrs. Templeton choke to have to give me an “A” after all of those “C's” ) Anyway, I was ready to impress this new teacher as the star pupil.

Those of you who follow me, know that my mother died when I was very young. I was growing up in my grandmother’s home in the company of my brother, sister and father. My dad was a handsome man and knew a number of ladies who hoped that he would look their way. He was also smart as a whip, well educated, funny and fun loving. In other words, he was a good catch except for the three kids attached to his coattail wherever he went. To this point, he had not shown much interest in dating. He and my mother had been childhood sweethearts, and he grieved her loss deeply. That was before his first encounter with Miss Ellison. They hit it off right from the start. She had all the same qualities that he had, plus she wasn’t in the least intimidated by a trail of children. Just as I was taking my usual place at the head of the class, my father began to date my fifth grade teacher. From that point on, nothing I did was accepted at face value. All of my classmates decided that every “A”, every appointment to monitor, every time I was called on, was because I was the teacher’s pet. She didn’t help the matter much as she always smiled sweetly at me, or touched my shoulder as she passed my desk. That year droned on forever. I got to where I dreaded getting up on a school day. I slouched in my seat and cowered from being called to the board. At the end of the year, I raced from that room hoping to never have to live through such an experience again. For reasons unknown to me, Dad and Miss Ellison parted company after my sixth grade year and she moved on to a different school.

For years I thought that that was as bad as it could get. Then I met up with Sam and Sarah.* We lived near each other in the St. Louis area and had kids the same ages. They had boys and were into scouting. Sarah and Sam are an odd match with him being staid and humorless while she is vibrant and quirky. In fact, she is one of those people that craziness seems to follow. I don’t think I would have believed this story except I was right there when it happened.

The two of them were involved with the Boy Scouts and so was I as a den mother. Each year the big (I mean really big) United Methodist Church where we lived hosted Boy Scout Sunday by having all the area troops participate in an opening flag ceremony and awarding God and Country badges to those who had earned them. This particular Sunday, Sarah, a good Catholic, came in to sit next to me while Sam helped get the boys ready to march in. Almost as soon as she sat down, I noticed that she reeked of wood smoke. I leaned over to ask her what was going on. She explained that Sam had closed the damper on their fireplace thinking that the fire was out. I had smoldered all night filling their house with smoke. She had no choice but to wear clothes that smelled of smoke. She was confident that I smelled it only because I was so close. Sam joined us and at Sarah’s insistence I sniffed his shirt sleeve and confirmed that he, too, reeked of wood smoke.

Eleven O’clock came, the church was packed, and the choir was in place. The organist was playing the pre-service music, and we noticed that ushers were walking up and down the outside aisles, bending over registers and moving on. Five minutes passed time for the service to start, we turned around to see if something had happened to our kids who were suppose to be up the center aisle by now and leading the ceremony. Just as we looked back, a half dozen firemen in full garb came through the doors and began checking registers, especially those on our side of the church. The whole church was abuzz by this time. Then it dawned on Sarah what was happening. She left her seat and approached one of the firemen who went out to the vestibule with her. We all watched as she explained what she thought was the problem. To the whole church's amusement, she allowed the fireman to sniff her clothing then motioned to Sam to come join her. He was sniffed as well. The pastor came and sniffed them as did all the ushers. The other firemen joined in until everyone was satisfied that there was no potential fire hazard just two people who had not had anything else to wear on the day their son was to carry the flag through a huge church full of people. Sarah was sure it was the low point of her life. The rest of us just thought that it was hilarious and were grateful that it wasn’t one of us.

I have pondered this often. Humans are the only creatures who suffer embarrassment. Rude noises don’t upset those other creatures nor do bad choices. They just muster on. We, on the other hand, blush and stammer, make excuses and even blame others. I actually think that a lot of the things that should truly embarrass all of us, don’t. The only fairness about this is that, sooner or later, we all have a moment that we cringe to remember. Some are just bigger than others. While I may fall on my face, knees or butt and my dad dating my teacher was a lesson in public humiliation, I still haven’t been thought of as the reason to call out the fire brigade.

*Names changed to protect me from libelous law suits.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Getting Cozy With the Grim Reaper

This last week when the WSB met, we talked about death and cemeteries. Before you think that this was a morbid discussion of such things, let me assure you that the WSB can find humor in almost anything, and they didn’t fail on this occasion.

We all ruminate on death and dying; and at our ages, possibilities rear their heads regularly. In the last year or so, several of the gals have lost a friend or family member. Pasty has been to the local big funeral home so often that they now greet her at the door. That is not a good thing as she has buried a father and brother in that time.

One of the things we were trying to come to terms with is how does a person get comfortable with the loss of a loved one and one’s own inevitable demise? The issue was raised Wednesday because we did not expect Lucy Scarlet to show up. Her elderly father is has been placed on hospice. She has a very close relationship with her dad, and this is a tough time for her. As in many families, one child bears the burden of providing most of the care. That person is Lucy Scarlet. She has been running her parents to one appointment after the other and has been ignoring her own health in the process. We’ve been trying to encourage her to demand some down time. Like that ever works with dedicated caretakers.

Well, she showed up anyway, but she had to pay attention to any incoming calls, as she might need to leave at any time. She also got to talking about her father’s seeming acceptance of what is coming. He has been terrified about dying for several months now, but has found peace with this in the last week or so. She is glad for that, but she still needed to get away and lighten up a bit before what she knows is coming.

I told her that I am surprised at how well some people deal with their own dying. I teach a Sunday school class of older adults; and one of the members, Ann, is a fellow writer buddy. She has just published a book on her West Virginia Appalachian upbringing where death and haints (ghosts) were treated as quite ordinary. The previous Sunday’s lesson was on the Book of Ecclesiastes, which makes three big points.
(1) Life is unpredictable
(2) God is unknowable
(3) Death is inevitable

Ann commented, in class, that she and Elmo, her husband, have already ordered their tombstone and it is in place over their plots. It has everything they want on it already engraved except for their death dates. They decided to go out and inspect the final installation just recently. It was a lovely day and their hillside site was so inviting, they decided to lie down in front of their stone to get the feel of their chosen resting place. And they did just that. Lying side by side with their arms folded as they would be for eternity, they gazed up at the clear autumn sky passing overhead and around at the “view”. They enjoyed every minute of it so Ann tells us, and she saw nothing odd about this at all. The class was divided between those who were falling out of their chairs laughing and those whose mouths were hanging open in astonishment.

I got to thinking about that and wondered how I could pull off the same thing. I have told my family that I think cremation may be the way for me. I suppose I could go to one of the big nursery and landscaping places around here and climb into one of their giant concrete urns to see if I like the feel of that. Of course, trying to explain how an old lady got in the urn and why might be almost as comical as what it would take to unfold me and take me back out.

Tallulah is the only widow in the group. When her husband was dying, he wanted to take part in making his own arrangements. When they went to look for plots, they were told that they could share. They would bury the first to die, at nine feet while the second would simply be buried above the first in the same plot. Since her husband was the first to be buried, she promised him that, since he was face up, she would be buried face down. Make of that what you will. We were screaming with laughter.

Years ago, I lived on a large southern farm that had the first owner’s family cemetery on it. I remember this place well as it had two big long needle pines growing inside its wrought iron fencing. We would go there before Christmas and get lovely boughs and cones for our fireplace mantel. My grandmother’s sister-in-law, Rose, had taken over upkeep years before. Rose’s home was one of the most beautifully decorated in the area as she had a good eye for color, proportion, and design. One day returning from a shopping trip, my grandmother happened to see Rose’s car and a pick-up truck parked by the cemetery. She stopped to see what was going on. There was Rose with two huge black men cleaning the grounds and rearranging the stones. Rose, you see, had been incensed for years by the randomness of the stones' placement; and she was out there moving them into a much more pleasing design. My grandmother reported to us that the two men looked at her as is to say, “She’s paying us to do this job; but frankly, this is one crazy white lady.” Those stones have never been moved back because no one had a record of who was buried where. I have to say it is one of the prettiest little cemeteries I have ever seen.

After all, of this discussion of death and burying, we went to lunch at Ginghams. We got there just as two buses were unloading folks from local nursing homes for Ginghams once monthly “Seniorpoluza.” Tallulah, whose turn it was to choose out lunch spot, had no idea that we would have to navigate a “walker maze” as Lucy Scarlet called it or that we would be trying to get the hostess to understand that we were not with the old folk’s home people. It didn’t help either that we were sitting where we could see one old gentleman slumped over his food in a nearby booth. His boney knees were sticking our of denim Bermuda shorts. He was wearing thin, beige men’s nylon dress socks pulled up to the knees paired with mustard gold loafers. There may be some things worse than dying.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Growing up, I felt the pangs of sibling competition and reacted in both negative and positive ways. On the one hand, I felt out-classed in the area of mathematics and science by both my siblings because, quite simply, they were better at those things than I was. On the other hand, I could write better and read people better than either of them. As a result, they went into the sciences; and I was first a teacher, then a social worker, and, finally, a writer. We use to say, at work, that we were social workers because we didn’t do math. Oddly enough, the genius husband of a good friend, while watching me do some necessary record keeping for an organization we both belonged to, pointed out to me that I was really quite good with numbers. Once that possibility was opened to me, I found that he was right. It has taken a silly turn in my household where my husband, an accomplished mechanical engineer (a breed known to be non-verbal) does the crossword puzzles while I work the Sudoku.

Not all rivalries are sibling in nature. In our family, competition was everywhere. It seems to have been born out of a sense of self that dates back for generations on both sides. My great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Meader Johnson Rixie was born on the Isle of Wight just as the US was recovering from the Civil War. She and her family were my last immigrant ancestors to come to this country. She soon learned that among the old settlers, you needed something that set you apart and made you worthy of attention.

She was fond of telling her story to her children and grandchildren. The Isle of Wight is located off the southern coast of England in the English Channel. Its rolling meadows and quaint sea towns made it right for sheep herding and tourists. The most famous of the latter was Queen Victoria. She loved the little island and visited often coming across from Hampshire on the royal yacht. When she arrived, the schoolchildren would come to the pier in Ryde and greet her. One child would be chosen to go forward, present the queen with a bouquet and make a curtsey. In 1874, that child was my great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Meader. It must have made quite an impression on her as my father said that she acted like she was on a first name basis with the queen for the rest of her life.

Her daughter, my grandmother, was widowed when her children were young and she had to go to work to support her three children. The oldest boy, Charles, went to live with the paternal grandparents. Sarah took over the care of my Aunt Stella and my father. Sarah didn’t care much for boys. She found them noise, dirty, and difficult. Sarah had only girls whom she had raised with good English manners and equally good English sense regarding skin care. She jumped at the chance to pass on her expertise to her granddaughter. As a result, Aunt Stella grew up with a rather inflated idea of who she was. It didn’t hurt that she was also petite, cute, and a great dancer. She could Charleston well into her 70’s and did at the slightest hint of interest. This attitude was accepted in the family as just being Stella.

One of the favorite family stories of her volatile temper, she told on herself with great pride. When she married Uncle Jimmy, she had already turned down a number of suitors. He was an Irish Catholic with a biting sense of humor and the fatalism that haunts the Irish. They married in the midst of the depression. Wedding gifts were practical and much appreciated. It seems that Aunt Stella had warned her husband before the ceremony that she sometime had migraine headaches. He did not take the warning seriously. They came back from their honeymoon and were busy putting away their new dishes, a wedding gift. These were apparently depression glass and had been carefully collected into a complete set. As she stood on the counter putting the last of the dishes into the cupboard as he handed them to her, Aunt Stella said that she was glad they were finishing up as she was developing a headache. Uncle Jimmy said that he thought maybe those headaches were all in her imagination. You could have heard a pin drop for a second, then the dishes started flying. She slammed every one of them into the sink as she yelled at him that her headaches were real, and he better not forget it. Needless to say, the word got around to his family that she was a delicate lady who needed to be treated with kid gloves. This was accepted by all but one of the family, her brother-in-law’s wife, Beryl, who considered herself to be every bit as precious and delicate. So the rivalry began. While the two were openly friendly and enjoyed many good times together, the competition was always just under the surface. Whatever Stella did, Beryl would out do; and the same was true of Stella trumping Beryl.

Beryl never had children and Aunt Stella had only my cousin, Mary. When the two women were nearing the ends of their lives, Mary took them both in so that they would not have to go to a nursing home. In order to do that, Mary had to hire a daytime helper. The family agreed that Alice would be ideal. She was Aunt Stella’s house cleaner for years and knew the family well. She agreed to take on the job.

Things seemed to go smoothly until Mary came home one day to learn the truth. According to Alice, these two old ladies fought over everything as they each tried to vie for the most attention. Alice had had enough and wanted to quit. Mary asked for a few days while she addressed the issue with her mother and aunt. Alice agreed to give her a chance to settle them down. Mary sat the two women down and read the riot act to them. She let them know that they had tried Alice’s patience to the breaking point; and that if they lost her services, she would have no recourse but to place them in a home.

Miracle of miracle, it worked. Alice reported a week later that the ladies were behaving beautifully with a minimum of discord. She would stay on as long as they continued. Mary breathed a sigh of relief as she sent Alice on her way that evening. She also sat her mother and aunt down to tell them the good news and to compliment them on their good behavior. They accepted the praise with beaming faces. Beryl said that it was all true and that they had only had three little arguments that very day. Aunt Stella agreed then threw in for good measure, “and I won two of them.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Southern Lady Solves a Problem

This last week, I was out of town. The first part of my trip took me to West Plains, MO, which is almost impossible to get to from here. I was there for the Missouri State Poetry Society annual convention. As a member of the state board, I was expected to show up, and I was glad that I did since I was able to reconnect with some good friends in and out of state who also happen to be exceptional poets.

Since West Plains is almost on the Arkansas border, I decided that this would be a good time to go on down to visit my sister and check up on my cousin, Mary, as well. I wound up spending big chunks of time with some of the important women in my life and reconnecting to the stories of others. I have not always appreciated the terms steel magnolias or iron butterflies that are applied to southern women in the same way that the term iron fist in a velvet glove implies a hidden hardness. The women I knew and still know tend to have an inner strength that is tensile rather than rigid as those names imply. My children have accused me of being one of those women who can be unfailingly polite even when I am extremely irritated with someone or something. In fact, they referred to me as Julia Sugarbaker when such situations arose. You may remember her character in Designing Women, a sit-com set in Atlanta. Julia had a strong social conscience; and when someone riled her up, she could deliver a scathing speech that cut straight to the heart of the matter without raising her voice or losing her polite tone. In those speeches, she would outline the full nature of the offence and exactly what she thought about anyone who committed such a breach of good manners. The women I visited this week are just as polite and just as sure of proper decorum. They are also confident and capable and steeped in the family traditions that support those qualities.

My sister has a granddaughter who is a young mother who now wants to hear family stories. Since I seem to be the keeper of the lore of our family for this generation, I told her of our great-grandmother’s unconventional marriage and our grandmother’s vagabond life that brought her to her soul mate and her true home. So many young people think that their generation invented love and passion. It is always amusing to see the light dawn as they come to the universal truth that these things have been going on for centuries.

My father’s paternal grandmother, Frances Jane Roberts, was born on the eve of the War Between the States. (There was nothing civil about that war.) She was the first child of James Calhoun Kellam and Melissa LeFevre Kellam, and she was born on the LeFevre plantation just north of the Arkansas River. Her mother had an uncle who was not much older than she was. His name was Leon LeFevre; but for some reason, everyone called him Uncle Mimi. He never married, but he adored his niece and nearly worshiped the great-niece who became his sole heir. When she was three, Frances Jane’s father died in the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry south of Little Rock, and Uncle Mimi sent the rest of the family to Texas to wait out the war. On the way, her mother lost the baby she was pregnant with; and one of Frances Jane’s earliest memories was of burying that tiny body beside a rutted dirt trail somewhere in north Texas. After the war, the family returned to the plantation. Since schools were crude in that area, Uncle Mimi sent Frances Jane to a fine girl’s boarding school in Memphis. Like many southern river towns and cities, Memphis was regularly plagued with yellow fever epidemics. The 1870’s, in Memphis had a series of yellow fever outbreaks that culminated in the horrific 1878 epidemic. When the first one occurred, Uncle Mimi didn’t wait. He hired a Captain Ward who sewed the girl into a gunnysack, smuggled her onto his cargo ship, and took her south to the mouth of the Arkansas River and north to the dock at the LeFevre plantation. After a short visit at home, Frances Jane was sent to a girl’s seminary at Cane Hill, Arkansas. Her mother had married a Carnahan in that same area so the little family was back together.

Many people may be surprised to learn that there was a girl’s school in the Ozark Mountains near Fayetteville before there was a college in the area. These settlers were almost all Scots who had come through the Cumberland Gap to claim land grants for service during the American Revolution. What many people do not realize about the Scots is that they have a long history of supporting public education. Seventy to eighty percent of Scots were literate several centuries before any other European nation even considered educating the general population. This is why Scots were at the forefront of the Protestant Reformation. About the only book that was available was a Bible. They read it, saw discrepancies in what was there, and what the church was teaching.

Frances Jane completed her education and became a schoolteacher. She returned to Uncle Mimi’s home and taught in a small school there. She also met the overseer of the plantation. This was still a class-conscious society, and she was far above this young man who was considered the hired help. In fact, he was a wild boy out of Georgia with a rudimentary education and a history of reckless adventures. Good girl meets bad boy and the sparks flew. Of course, her family put their foot down. Like that ever works! The two of them ran away leaving her uncle swearing oaths of murder and her mother wringing her hands. They were gone for a week when early one morning, Uncle Mimi spotted a campfire on an island in the middle of the Arkansas River. Taking two of his farm hands with him, he rowed to the island and brought back the disgraced couple. She was banished to the house; and he, to the barn. They couldn’t hang him right off in case they had to save her reputation. The young people were devastated by the separation, but it didn’t last long. Within a few weeks, the family gathered the minister and marched those two unrepentant sinners up the aisle. They stayed married for 63 years. She could make him smile just by walking into the room. Someone once told us that our great-grandfather was the meanest old man in Pulaski County. We heard many stories about his tough nature and his hard bargaining. What I remember is that anytime he began to get cantankerous around her, Frances Jane would look him right in the eye and say in her soft southern drawl, “Now, Charlie, that’s enough.” And he would smile sheepishly at her and behave himself for the rest of the day.

When I first told my sister this tale, she was shocked. After all Grandmother Roberts, as we called her, was the epitome of southern, lady-like behavior. Well, she was right about that, but Frances Jane was also a girl who knew what she wanted and she knew how to find a practical solution to an otherwise insurmountable problem. That’s what southern women do. While the neighbors may whisper and even look down their noses at some behavior, a true lady holds her head up, makes her plans and carries them forward. She doesn’t raise her voice, and she smiles sweetly as she gets her way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Levee Hopping

One of the things that I have ruminated on over the years is the whimsy of who survives stupid childhood decisions when others do not. There were situations that some of my friends and I got into by choice that probably should have killed us. Yet, most of us are still here decades later; and those who aren’t, didn’t die from our antics.

Most of my friends and I grew up on large cotton farms or plantations, and most of those farms had airstrips with aviation fuel pumps nearby. They were used by crop dusters who were commissioned to poison boll weevils, armyworms, and spider mites that attacked the crops. A few of the families use those strips for private aircraft as well.

One of the families had two sons that were near my age. The younger one ran around with the group of kids I did while his older brother was too busy with the distractions of first love to run with us the summer I was sixteen. For the sake of telling this tale, I’ll call them Jack and Jamie. Jamie was the one who was a member of the gang, and he had two things that made him popular and fascinating. Jamie had the most mesmerizing eyes of the oddest color that any of us had ever seen. The girls described them as pastel green. The boys, who were probably a little jealous of the attention they brought him, called them pond scum green. The other thing that endeared him to all of us was that he owned an Army surplus jeep of World War II vintage. It was our favorite transportation because it could go anywhere.

Like most jeeps of that era, it had a ragtop stretched over a metal frame. At least, it started out the summer with one. The ragtop had been torn away when Jack and his girlfriend fell out of the barn loft where they had been, quite literally, rolling in the hay. Fortunately, for them, the jeep was parked right under the loft door and the ragtop broke their fall but tore apart from the impact leaving only the frame.

The other thing that the jeep had was a hinged front windshield that could fold down over the hood. Being young and impervious to such assaults, we usually drove around with the windshield down and ignored or cursed the bugs that flew into us. One or two people could sit on the hood and hold on to the dash or any knobs we could grab. That was my favorite place to ride even if it meant that I had my back to the road. From there, I could carry on a conversation with anyone else in the vehicle.

One evening, six of us were bumming around when Jamie noticed that we were running low on gas. We decided that we needed our money more for treats at the drive-in more than spending it on gas. Besides, Jamie had a key to his family’s aviation pump and we were near the airstrip. So, we went there and filled up the jeep on high octane aviation fuel. Since we were on the airstrip, someone suggested that we run the jeep as fast as we could down the strip to see if it would take off. After all, it was full of airplane fuel.

Needless to say, that didn’t work, but we were pumped up with the idea of a flying jeep. Then someone had a brilliant idea. We decided to go to the Arkansas River levee. We ran the jeep as fast as we could up one side of the levee so that as we went over the top, the jeep actually went airborne for several feet before bouncing down on the other side. We were all hanging on for dear life. It worked so well that we did it a number of times before we got tired and went off to the drive-in. Jamie would tell people for years afterward that he once flew a jeep. He loved to leave that remark hanging without further explanation. The rest of us came to refer to that adventure as levee hopping.

Why did none of us bounce out of that jeep? Why did the jeep stay upright? God only knows. Those six people went on to live productive lives. We became college professors and teachers, social workers and Jamie? He became a Presbyterian minister. When I wonder if this was just a stupid thing that God decided to protect us from, I am truly grateful. Other times, I think death just chose that time to look away.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Awful But Unspoken Truth

This last week, the WSB was deep in discussion about our childhood antics. Talullah and Windy were comparing notes on the behavior of teenage girls. Since Windy was raised a Catholic she was far more aware of the nature of sin than the rest of us. There was no escaping it. I remember thinking just that as a child. My cousin, Mary, would tell me about all of the types of sin she had to deal with. It was hard keeping tract of whether hers were the more serious kinds that could have a person skidding straight down that terrible shoot to hell or were the type that would cause you to spend a few thousand years hanging around somewhere between earth and heaven in a place called purgatory. I wondered about this a lot then because my grandmother said that everyone sinned and that we were all at the mercy of God. She didn’t seem to think there were degrees of wrong. For her life was pretty much a black or white issue. You were born to do the wrong thing and you had better keep on God’s good side if you expected to escape punishment.

I thought that I had a pretty good chance of being on the wrong end of the judgment thing. It seemed that I was always the one to challenge the authority of just about anyone who acted like they had any authority. Looking back, I wonder if all children don’t see themselves as the center of the universe no matter what direction they are headed. For that reason, we tend to do what ever it takes to protect out hides. I know that I could lie with the best of them and honed my skills often.
That may be why I got such a kick out of Pasty’s story of one of those things that only a kid would do unless it was a hardened criminal with experience in covering his/her butt.

She was about eleven when she and some of her friends were spending a nice summer’s day playing in the woods near her home outside of St. Louis. In those ancient times, this suburb was out in the country; and kids could roam free most of the day without worrying parents. Pasty has a sister and had a little brother. The neighborhood kids had gone to great effort to build themselves a tree house. This was not a pressure treated lumber thing designed by someone with fifty safety features to protect every digit a child has. This was a structure made of whatever they could get their hands on from various wood piles and garages. I like to see these kids, in my mind’s eye, confiscating nails and swiping dad’s hammer to beat this thing together. From what Pasty says, they loved their handy work and spent long afternoons going up and down that tree. On this particular day, Pasty’s sister climbed up, but she didn’t climb down. She fell, landing in a splat on the ground. The other kids, including Pasty, rushed over to have a look.

To her horror, there lay her sister, dead on the ground. At least, that’s what Pasty and her little brother and friends thought. So they did what any smart kid would do. They left her there and went home. They did not tell a soul because who wanted a mother to go all ballistic about how you had allowed your little sister to get killed so foolishly. At home, they carried on as if this was any other day. Pasty remembers thinking it would be much better if her mother went out looking for her daughter and found her herself rather than Pasty having to tell her mother the truth. She doesn’t recall being in a panic about her dead sibling. All she could think about was, don’t let them blame this on me.

Then Pasty got the shock of her young life. In walked her sister. Pasty thought she must be seeing a ghost because she had left her less than an hour earlier dead on the ground under the tree house. Her sister never knew that she had been left as a corpse and may not to this day know that. Pasty and her brother sure never told the parents. In fact, none of the children spilled the beans. It turned out that her sister came to under the tree and after getting a second wind, got up and came home with no one being the wiser. Except that Pasty carried this story with her to this day as a reminder of how self protective we all can be.

I like to think I could have done the same thing or better yet made it my sibling’s fault. We all seem to have that self-preservation gene, and it seems some of us can call it forth without the least bit of hesitation or conscience. We were all in awe of Pasty’s gutsy approach to solving this dilemma. I wonder how it would have effected Pasty if her sister had been killed. Or what would have happened if she had simply told her mother the truth as she thought she knew it. Pasty, however, isn’t impressed by my ruminations on these points. She just knows that there was no way anyone was going to point the finger at her.

Friday, August 26, 2011

In the Summer, Mary Came

My paternal grandmother had four grandchildren, but I missed out on grandparents as a child. My maternal grandmother died when I was seven. Most of my memories of her center around her illness. She was soft spoken and gentle natured, but she had little strength for dealing with grandchildren. My grandfathers had both died before I was born. The only one left was Grandmother, the woman who was the mother in our household. She could not afford to indulge us as I do my grandchildren whom I can return to waiting parents full of sugar, gifts, and broken rules regarding bedtime and breakfast food. Lest you think I am whining about this, let me assure you I am not. These are simply the facts. My widowed father turned to his mother for help in raising his children, and she turned to him for help running her farm. Theirs was an unusually good relationship based on clear communication and respect. If they ever did disagree about how we should be treated, we never knew about it. They presented a united front.

The only grandchild my grandmother could indulge was our cousin, Mary. She was Irish and Catholic thanks to her father. She lived in North Little Rock and attended her local parish school. Her tales of the teaching nuns scared us, Methodists, half to death. My brother Luther was 14 months older than I, and Mary was six months older than he. The two of them had a tight bond that continues to today. Since Mary wasn’t there a good portion of the year, Luther and I were playmates. Our sister was several years younger and usually played alone or with Jackie, a black child of one of the sharecropping families.

In the summer, Mary came to stay most weeks. She came on Sunday afternoon and stayed until Saturday morning when she had to be home in time to go to confession and attend Mass on Sunday. Her family came for Sunday dinner or supper and the cycle began again. When Mary came, she and Luther paired up, and I found myself left out. I didn’t like that one bit. Mary shared my room and my big double bed when she was there but little else. When we were together, we argued, mostly about God. We’d been arguing, discussing, pondering God since we could both say the word. Otherwise, we didn’t spend much time together.

She and Luther had much more in common. They both loved sports. Mary’s dad had been a professional baseball catcher, even playing for the Cardinals for a season in the early 1930. She had inherited his natural athleticism. My brother excelled at individual sports such as bowling and golf. While he could shoot perfect basket after basket in our backyard and hit a mean long drive of a baseball, he seemed to have trouble coordinating his actions to those of a team. He and Mary spent hours playing flies and skinners, shooting baskets and pitching horseshoes.

It was a horseshoe game that changed Mary’s and my relationship forever. Luther and Mary had been playing for some time. It was not unusual for them to be neck and neck in any game with a score involved, and such was the case that hot July afternoon. Luther is pretty laid back by nature while Mary is passionate about…well, about just about everything she has any interest in at all. She doesn’t do anything half way. So, when Luther’s score topped hers, she wanted a chance to get even or better yet, to pull ahead. Luther, however, had had enough. Like I said, he’s laid back; but he is also stubborn. He decided to quit on his win, and Mary argued with him. His mind was made up so he walked away leaving her fuming. He hadn’t gotten far when a horseshoe whizzed past his head, and he did the sensible thing. He ran. The chase was on. Luther was just trying to get away. Mary, on the other hand, was bent on murder. The harder she ran, the madder she got. Not only had she lost the game, she was losing the race as well. She chased him across a cotton field where he lost a shoe. He didn't think it prudent to stop and pick it up. They ran through Grandmother’s vegetable garden, Mary crying hysterically and yelling, “I’m gonna kill you!”

Grandmother, Jane, and I heard the commotion and ran to the back porch. Grandmother called to Luther to get in the house. As he ran in, she directed him to his room and told him to stay there until she called him to come out. He didn’t have to be told twice. Grandmother turned just in time to block Mary’s entrance. Mary adored our grandmother above all other human kind including her own parents so there was no way she would do any harm to her. She stopped dead in her tracks. Grandmother led her to the kitchen and sat her down in a chair. She was still crying and muttering threats and her anger was high. Grandmother did what seemed to her to be the most dramatic way to put a stop to an uncontrolled outburst. She threw a cup of cold water in her face. As Jane and I gasped in astonishment, Mary’s tantrum came to an abrupt halt.

Grandmother drew up a chair opposite Mary and gently wiped her dripping, flushed and feverish face with a cool washcloth as she calmly talked her through all that had happened. Then she did the strangest thing. She assigned Mary and me to an afternoon together. I thought she had lost her mind. We had almost no similar interests except our religious arguments, but here we were, having to seek some common ground. And we did.

I don’t remember what all we talked about that afternoon aside from sharing our negative experiences of dealing with my brother. I do remember sitting for hours on the front porch swing, drinking lemony, sweet iced tea and talking and talking. It was a significant turning point for both of us—the beginning of a close and loving friendship and sisterhood that is still an important part of both of our lives. Mary eventually forgave Luther, but I have been eternally grateful for their battle of titanic proportion. It brought Mary and I together in a way neither of us would have ever guessed that it could. It made us sisters more than cousins. We still argue, discuss, ponder our varied takes on God, but we do it with love and connection, more than either of us would have ever imagined that July day. I can’t imagine my life without her.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Strippers and Southern Gentlemen

I was raised in the South, Arkansas to be precise. I grew up with people who believed in Southern hospitality and good manners. There were ways of saying things that got the message across without doing harm to someone else’s psyche. Those good manners were mandated in homes, churches, and schools and seemed to have little to do with economic status. Every boy I knew shot to his feet when a lady (we never used the word, “woman”) entered the room. All adults were answered with a “sir” or “ma’am” tacked on to the end. We also had that strange custom of addressing the adults of our acquaintance by their first name with a Miss or Mister precursor. My father was never Mr. Roberts but Mr. Luther. My grandmother was Miss Wessie. It was perfectly acceptable to have nicknames and hers was short for the middle name, Westfall. And on more formal occasions, children were addressed in the same manner.

I look back on those days with longing because I feel we have let things drift so far from good manners that it is now perfectly ordinary for adults and children to treat each other rudely without even causing that slight lift of the eyebrow that use to say, “Dear child, who is raising you, and why are they neglecting their duty?”

The boys I knew might tease a girl, but it was never suggestive or improper in any way. They could disagree vehemently with a girl’s take on things; but in discussing it, gentlemen used a moderated tone and listened politely. At home, my brother might tell me that one of my friends was as crazy as a Betsy-bug; but when he was around her, he treated her as if she were perfectly sane and had every right to her opinion. I have to say, I miss this.

The summer I was 17, I witnessed this form of chivalry applied to me. It is a thing I have remembered fondly since. I knew then that I would forever adore those young men I grew up with and hold them up as examples of what young men can aspire to.

One of my childhood friends lived in one of those old southern mansions that are sometimes referred to as working plantation homes. While they are huge and graciously appointed, they are comfortable and have an easy lived in look. This big house was on the banks of Old River Lake. The front door faced the lake, which meant that the driveway from the road branched off to go around to the front while the main drive went to the back. Like most working farms and plantations, the back of the house also had access to barns, tool shops, and multi-vehicle garages. Hers had a wide circular drive in the back with spoke going to the house and various buildings. The house was two stories with deep two story screened back porches. The top one was outfitted as a sleeping porch for those hot Southern nights in the days before air-conditioning.

My friend liked to throw a party each summer and the summer of 1957, was no different. This was a significant time for all of us as we were all students of the Little Rock School system by choice and the fact that our parents paid tuition. We were all college bound kids whose parents wanted us to have the advantages that a large school could give. That included foreign languages, arts, and music as well as advanced placement classes in all of the regular subjects. Most of my hometown friends qualified for those. If you remember your history, you know that that was the year Little Rock Central High School would become the most famous or infamous high school in the world. We all knew what lay ahead and most of us were being instructed to keep our heads down and mind our own business which was getting an education not a reputation.

Everybody I knew was at this party. We danced to Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper. We were having a great time, and there was a new boy in town to make things more interesting. He was a distant cousin of one of the girls and was visiting from out of state. When he heard one of my girl friends mention that she was nervous about school, he joined the conversation. As always, I took the most liberal view of things and said I had no problem with the upcoming changes. After all, we had been playing with “colored” kids all of our lives, and we knew that some of them were plenty smart. In those days, “colored” was an acceptable word. This boy turned on me with, “So that makes you a N----- lover.”

You could have heard a pin drop. Then in one swift move, every one of my childhood male friends circled this kid and hustled him out of the room. He was back within five minutes, untouched but humbled and apologized in front of everyone there for his behavior. I could not have been prouder of those boys who came to my defense even those that I knew were probably as prejudiced as he was.

When the party was over, the girls stayed for a sleep over. We donned our baby-doll pajamas and retired to the sleeping porch. It wasn’t long before all of the boys came back for their annual drive through. They would come up the road and make a couple of turns around the circular drive and honk and wave as they yelled good-night. We girls would go to the screen and wave back. While our jammies were short, none of us was allowed to have anything immodest. This night as I waved to the boys, I bumped the wooden framework of the porch. I dislodged a wasp nest, and the wasps flew up under my little top stinging me as they fought to get free. I did the only thing I could think of while in pain and under attack. I pulled off my top. There I was with my lithe, 17 year old body displayed brazenly to all of these boys I had known for years. There was a moment of silence followed by hooting and honking such as had never been heard before. I, on the other hand, fled to the bedroom with friends who could see that I was in serious trouble. I began having an allergic reaction to the nearly 20 stings I had suffered, and after a quick phone call to my family, was transported to the hospital.

You might be asking how chivalry comes into this after those boys reaction to my strip tease. Well, the word spread quickly that I had been dangerously close to dying . To this day, not one of those young men ever mentioned to me or anyone else that I know of what happened that night. What they saw may be burned into their brains just as the experiences of that evening are burned into mine, but a true gentleman tells no tales.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Street Acting Career

Entertainment in a rural community in the forties and fifties was often a thing of creative thinking and a willingness to be the subject of ridicule. The local school had a womanless wedding with my father as the bride. There were talent shows and musical recitals, square dances and carnivals. I often wonder if today’s children or their parents could come up with some of the things we did to provide ourselves with needed breaks from the hard work of cotton farming.

In the early 1950’s, our church, All Souls Interdenominational Church, called a new pastor. He was a full blood Italian whose parents had immigrated to Philadelphia from Italy. After a very bad experience with a local priest, they left the Catholic church and joined a Southern Baptist congregation there that was a mission to Italians who were fallen away Catholics. Their son, Michael Carozza, sought out our congregation when he heard about its interdenominational status. There were so few people in Scott that they decided to worship together rather than scatter their resources among several small churches. All Souls had a fairly wealthy congregation who built a beautiful example of turn of the 20th Century architecture as their house of worship. The building is now on the National Registry of Historic Buildings.

Mike Carozza brought some new ideas about ways to entertain ourselves. For one thing, all of our church dinner for the eight years he was our minister were Italian style. Among his talents, he was an excellent cook. Lasagna, spaghetti, and chicken cacciatore became standard fare. And who would have guessed how much Arkansas farmers would come to appreciate a pancake breakfast with side orders of peppers and eggs with salsiccia.

The other thing that Mike Carozza brought with him was a love of movies. We were near enough to Little Rock that we occasionally went to movies, but it was an infrequent treat. Mike found a movie distributor and set up Friday night movies in the church hall. Because they were being served up to good Christian people, the movies we saw were the classics, family fare and good westerns and war movies. We sat in folding chairs set up in rows with an aisle down the center. Some of the ladies brought desserts and made lemonade. Sometimes there was popcorn, popped in the church kitchen. It was easy to get the treats, as most of the movies were three to five reels long. Since we had only one projector, there were breaks between reels so that the new reel could be set up for viewing.

Here, I fell in love with Mutiny on the Bounty, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Norte Dame. It was this last one that led to one of the less than stellar moments of my young life.

My grandmother was a clotheshorse and loved to shop. My father, out of appreciation for all she did for him and us, indulged her shopping by taking her to Little Rock on many Saturdays. As we got older, we were allowed to go with her. By the time I was eleven, she would let me take my little sister for an hour or so to shop by ourselves at the Woolworths while she prowled the aisles of M.M. Cohen’s, Blass (later to become the flagship of Dillards), and Pfeiffer’s, all upscale department stores. The plan was always to meet at the side door of Pfeiffer’s at the designated time. My brother went with my dad. I had no idea that she ever went near any of the dime stores or the Rexall Drug where we could get a soda and listen to the tableside jukeboxes. Because of this, I thought I was perfectly safe playing a little joke on the good shoppers of Little Rock. We had just seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I was taken with Laughton’s performance. I talked my eight-year-old sister into leading me around our usual haunts while I pretended to be mentally and physically challenged. I took my posture and movements straight from Quasimodo. Jane had nothing to do but hold my right hand and coax me down the street and I hunched over and limped and grunted along. I was getting quite a kick out of the pitying looks and comments although one woman declared that people should keep such children out of the public eye. Her companion replied that at least, I appeared to be clean and well cared for. When I wanted to go to Rexalls, I made a garbled sentence that was something like,” Woah gos geh ahh danck.” Jane had no idea what I was saying so I pretended to cry and pull her in the direction of the drugstore. To my horror and hers, my grandmother had had a yen for a cherry coke, something she sometimes allowed herself. There she was coming out of Rexalls as we were approaching. Jane saw her before I did because she suddenly dropped my hand and stepped away. It was a feeble attempt to distance herself from the titanic disaster she saw looming in my future. As I peered up from my hunched over position, I caught the full blast of my grandmother’s anger. She took one step forward and yanked me upright. Had the streets not been teeming with Saturday shoppers, I am not sure I would be here to tell this tale. She did what she always did when she was about to lose the generally well-developed control. She spoke quietly through clinched teeth. It is a trait that my children would say I inherited. I saw my life flash before me and I was certain that the future held some dire consequence if I could just live long enough to see what that would be. She informed me that I was not to leave her side and that we were going to march straight over to Allsopp and Chappel’s Bookstore where my dad was a faithful and well-loved customer.

When we got there, my father took one look at my grandmother and her hand digging into my shoulder and excused himself from his conversation with the owner. We all walked silently to the car, and silence reigned until we got home. My brother and sister peeked at me whenever they dared, but neither offered a sympathetic word of comfort. My grandmother and father conferred in the privacy of her bedroom before my father came out and told me that I was confined to my room for the week, and would miss the next month of movies at the church. He seemed to be right there with my grandmother, and I was ashamed that I had caused them so much grief. My brother and sister stayed as far away from me as they could for the rest of the day. Maybe they feared that some of my inherent evil would rub off on them. Just when I thought I would be forever a disgrace to my family, my dad came in to say goodnight. As he leaned over to plant the customary kiss on my forehead he murmured, “I would have loved to have caught your acting debut, but you’ll have to live with your grandmother’s decision.” Just before he turned out the light, he gave me a big grin and a wink while shaking his head in disbelief.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Burying Jackie

Some of my friends, especially the WSB, think this story is entertaining and asked me to send it out there on my blog. It brings up, for me, one of life’s real ponder-able qualities. Why is it that ten people or even a hundred can witness the same thing, and each one will tell a different story about what happened? My friends laugh at this childhood mischief; but my sister on reading it, said quietly, “I don’t remember it happening this way.”

The summer I was nine, I attended my first funeral. Who knew that dying could be so fascinating? The ritual was enthralling; I learned that person’s reputation could vastly improve simply because he stopped breathing. I had overheard adult conversations about this man’s behavior. I had a talent for being absorbed in my own play while actually listening intently to adults. Today, it’s called multi-tasking. Then, it was snooping in things that were none of my business.

Mr. George was a drunk who was abusive to his wife and children; yet at his funeral, he took on a mantle of respectability that no one knew he possessed. Daddy said that he almost checked to see if the man in the casket was the right one. He thought we had gotten into the wrong service by mistake. My grandmother declared that people want to remember the good in people after they die. To which Daddy commented, “I didn’t know there was any good in that one.”

At the funeral, the widow and children grieved openly and loudly. They placed mementos gently beside the body and murmured to him. At the eulogies, they all spoke of a kind loving man who would do anything for his family. Then they stumbled out of the church behind the closed casket weeping loudly and clinging to one another.

The pageantry of the graveyard scene was even more magnificent. The casket was suspended over the open grave by a shiny metal framework. A green cloth and banks of flowers covered everything. I heard Daddy say to a neighbor, “Old George would have had quite a toot on the money spent on bouquets for this turnout.” My brother and I were discussing the possibility of seeing the casket lowered so ardently that Daddy turned and gave us “The Look.”

As the service ended, we were all startled to see the widow fling herself across the swinging coffin knocking the casket spray askew and causing the framework to groan ominously. She let out a wail that raised the hair all over my body; and while I clung to my father’s hand as the terrifying drama unfolded before me, I could not turn away. Her children finally dragged her off as the preacher said the last prayer, and I was hooked on burying.

Going home, we all discussed what had happened. My grandmother was distressed and thought the whole display was undignified. Daddy said that each family has ways of dealing with grief, and no one can say which way is the right way. Their way wasn’t what he wanted. “Just drop me in a hole somewhere, preferably under a tree so I can, at least, fertilize something,” he said.

For weeks afterward, we played at burying dolls and acting out the drama of grief. I got to be good at eulogizing and preaching colorful sermons. My grandmother’s cat refused to cooperate with our efforts to bury him, so we continued to look for a corpse with more warmth and credibility than a doll. Burying became the focus of pretending which we called “play lack,” as in, “Let’s play lack I’m the preacher and you’re the widow.”

If you ever visited the Arkansas River Delta, you know that the ground there is a rich sandy loam. It will grow any seed dropped into it. My grandmother’s farm had several black sharecropper families who worked that soil while Daddy oversaw the farm’s operation. During the summer months, we played in the dirt with the black children who were too young to work beside their parents. One of these children was Jackie. She was my little sister’s age and the only child and only grandchild in her family. Her mother, Melba, adored her and constantly protected her even following her to college years later so that she would escape the dangers that could befall black girls. Jackie always went to the fields with her mother and grandparents. She would play at the end of the rows her mother worked and would eat her lunch there with her family. She would even take naps curled up on a quilt at the end of a row. My sister and I often joined her in play.

During one of these play sessions, I suggested that we “play lack” burying. Jackie said that she did not like funerals much, but I explained that they were really wonderful. I told her how a preacher got to say all kinds of great things about the dead even if they weren’t true. Jackie said that dead people were “haints” and she didn’t like “haints.” I had no idea what she was talking about, and I told her that we were going to play lack burying anyway. She seemed to agree. Working together, we dug out a deep trench in that sandy loam. When the weather is dry, the soil may be two feet deep and as easy to scoop as beach sand. When wet, it can bog a car down to its axles. The weather was blessedly dry so digging a grave was easy. We told Jackie to lie down in the hole and we covered her up. We were not so dumb as to think that we could cover her whole face so we pushed the dirt up to her bottom lip and mounded it gently around her cheeks and brow. A small triangle of brown lips, nose, and two very round brown eyes was all that was left exposed.

As my sister began to “play lack” mourning, I began to preach a sermon on Jackie’s goodness. She was all virtues and no vices. I praised her family’s love for her glancing down the row where I saw her family had paused to see what was going on. Waving confidently at them, I returned to my sermon on God himself coming to take Jackie straight to His bosom.

Just then, Daddy drove up in his truck. He often drove along the ends of the fields to check on work in progress. Usually he’d pause and call from his truck, “What you kids doin’?”

This day, I answered back, “Playing lack…”
“Playing lack what?” he countered.
“Playing lack burying Jackie,” I replied.
“Where’s Jackie?” his face wrinkled into a frown.
“Right here in the ground, of course.” I was beginning to wonder why he seemed so upset.

I didn’t have long to wonder. Daddy killed the truck and was out of the cab in a second. Then he was standing over us saying, “What the Hell?”

Now, my daddy did not cuss. Ever. So right away, I knew there was real trouble.

My sister quit “playing lack” crying and started up for real. In a tight voice Daddy said, “Don’t you see how scared that child is?”

I looked at Jackie. She did not move a muscle and her eyes had grown even rounder with fear. I looked down the row and here came Melba and the grandparents running to beat sixty. Daddy was on his knees digging Jackie out of the dirt, talking softly to her just like he did to us when we were hurt or afraid. Jackie looked at him crying and said, “Mr. Luther, am I
a “haint” now?”

About that time, her family arrived looking worried and wringing their hands. Jackie came out of the ground with sandy loam clinging to her hair and body and making a dusty frame for her face. Daddy placed her gently in Melba’s arms and told them all to sit with her awhile.

Taking my sister and me by the shoulders, he marched us around to the other side of the truck. He made us sit on the running board while he paced in front of us explaining how Jackie’s family feared death and the dead. He also explained that she would do what we wanted because we were white folks, and she would think she had to cooperate even if she was afraid. He ordered us to march back around the truck and apologize to Jackie and her family.

Heads drooping in shame, we came from behind the truck and stood on the edge of Jackie’s burying hole kicking the dust and apologizing for not seeing that she was scared. We filled up the hole and rode back home with daddy in the truck. On the way, he talked about other people’s feelings and accepting that some people see thing differently. He finished by asking if we had anything to say. My sister said she was sorry that she had scared Jackie and through new sniffles, said she’d never hurt her again.

“And you, Sissy?” he asked.
“Well, Daddy,” I said, “I guess I’m sorry, too; but you know, that sure takes all the fun out of burying.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frog Giggin'

One of life's truths is that you can't choose your relatives. I think that's a good thing as long as they are not abusive or dangerously criminal. If they are just normally crazy the way most of our relatives are, then they are a great source of reference for building stories and for learning life lessons. I have wondered why someone can be so dumb as to do some of the things I saw adults do when I was a child. Don't get me wrong. I was glad they goofed up. It was entertaining, and it took some of the heat off of me when I goofed up. After all, if Uncle Charles did stupid stuff, couldn't I be cut some slack for what I did. Believe me, I needed all the excuses I could find.

My Uncle Charles was a volatile, unimaginative man. For that reason, he was much funnier than he intended to be. He had one supreme talent, horsemanship. The rest of his life would have been dull to us was it not for his childlike urge to tease us unrelentingly. There are certain advantages to being half-orphaned, and having overly indulgent relatives was one of them. We children loved Uncle Charles because he caused delightful chaos in my grandmother’s otherwise quiet and organized house. He brought in candy bars or treats and tease us to try to get them. The house rocked with the noise. He would stand around chatting with Daddy and Grandmother quite a while before even acknowledging us. We knew better than to breach good manners and ask. When he did bring out the treats, we would jump up and down to get them as he laughingly held them higher and higher. My grandmother, in her measured tone, would say something like, “Please, don’t excite the children that way.”

When one of us did managed to get a hold on a sleeve or arm, he’d take off running, dragging that child through the house with the rest of us in hot pursuit followed by my grandmother calling as firmly as she could bring herself to, “Stop the running or someone is going to get hurt.”

We never actually wrested any of the gifts from him as he always gave in just about the same time as my grandmother’s refined English manners had taken her as far as they could, and she was telling him he would have to leave if he could not stop. The other thing that we loved about Uncle Charles was that he did dumb things --- the very types of things we children were capable of doing. The difference lay in the fact that he did things accidentally while we had to plan and scheme for the same effect.

My favorite tale of such an exploit was the time he and my father went frog gigging. Uncle Charles loved the out of doors; and he loved frog legs, preferably lightly dredged in seasoned flour and sautéed in butter. In the Central Arkansas delta where I grew up, there are numerous rivers, small lakes and bayous; and in spring and summer the night air is a symphony sung in four part frog harmony. Uncle Charles and Daddy took advantage of the docile nature of the large bullfrogs that provided the bass section.

In order to catch these frogs, they used spring style gigs attached to long poles. The gigs would be stretched open like the claws of a lobster until the gig was brought down onto a frog’s back tripping the spring and snatching the frog from his perch on a log or grassy bank. This didn’t usually kill the frog so they had to be released into a burlap bag with a drawstring closure to keep them from escaping. The other bit of necessary equipment for these adventures was a strong light. Daddy and Uncle Charles had acquired old miner’s helmets with attached lamps. These were battery operated so that each man carried a 9-volt battery in his hip pocket with a wire running up to the miner’s helmet perched on top of his heads. When this beam of light hit the frog in the eyes, he would be temporarily blinded giving the gigg-er time to attack the gigg-ee.

While no other weapon was needed, Uncle Charles always took a six-shooter with him on these outings, just in case. Daddy never armed himself saying that if Uncle Charles ever did shoot him he wanted it to be perfectly clear to everyone that his death was accidental homicide not the result of Daddy loosing control and challenging his brother to a duel over some stupid remark only Uncle Charles could make. Thus equipped, they would go out to Grassy Lake so named because of the grassy rushes that covered the banks and grew well out into the shallow edges. There were a few widely spaced willows along the bank as well.

Daddy liked to do his gigging from the lake bank, as he believed there were more frogs there. Uncle Charles preferred to quietly pole a flat bottomed boat along the shore line. He had built this boat himself out of
corrugated tin stretched over a wooden frame. The boat was purely functional and had no redeeming aesthetic qualities. It was, in fact, a joke among the locals who, non-the-less, borrowed it for their own excursions into night fishing or frog gigging.

The brothers were keeping to their usual pattern one moonlit May night when Uncle Charles paddled his boat under an overhanging willow tree. Standing in the front of his craft, poling it quietly forward, he was startled to hear a soft thud behind him in the floor of the boat. Turning to see what it was, he came face to face with a water moccasin that had apparently been resting in the tree and had chosen that moment to drop back into the water for a swim.

As I said in the beginning, Uncle Charles was fairly unimaginative. He cussed frequently, a thing that made my grandmother unhappy. He only had one phrase that he used, and I don’t think it harmed us particularly as I was fully grown before I heard any cussing other than Uncle Charles’, “God-damn, Son of A Bitch.” Grandmother usually addressed this behavior with something like, “Please, not in front of the children.” We found that wholly amusing since it was already said in front of the children loudly and clearly.

You would think that staring down a water moccasin would be one of those times when Uncle Charles’ cussing would have come in handy. Instead, he started to scream incoherently flailing his arms wildly. His gyrations knocked his hat and light into the water. He was now in the dark, in a boat with a water moccasin.

When he heard Uncle Charles let out his frantic yell, Daddy turned towards his brother, flooding the scene with the light from his miner’s hat. He stood transfixed as Uncle Charles pulled the six-shooter from his belt and fired Blam! Blam, blam! Blam, blam, blam! All six bullets fired at the snake. Daddy said later that he was even more amazed as he watched six fountains form in the bottom of the boat and then become bubbling waves as the boat slowly sank into the lake leaving Uncle Charles standing in a tin-roofing and wooden boat submerged under two feet of water.

The frogs inside the burlap bag were trying desperately to get away from all of the commotion, so they were thrashing around in a soggy lump of burlap as Uncle Charles frantically searched the surrounding area for the snake. Ripples from the gyrating frog bag spread out over the water in ever widening circles. Uncle Charles and Daddy saw the snake at the same time. It was calmly slithering and bobbing away along the surface of the water right in a path of pearly light from Daddy's miner's lamp. For years, Daddy swore that the snake stopped at one point and looked back over whatever shoulder it had with a grin on its face. Uncle Charles raised the gun and clicked off several empty rounds. Finally, in frustration, he threw the pistol at the departing snake. As the gun sank into the water without touching the snake, Uncle Charles stomped out of his sunken craft, took two steps forward as if he was going to chase down his fleeing nemesis, then raised his fist to heaven and finally said, “God-damn Son of a bitch.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Eight Years, Six Months, Twelve Days

When I started this blog, I wrote in my first post that I would be rethinking old experiences, pondering some things that I question individually and some that I think of as universal questions. I also indicated that some would be light hearted and others more serious. I have heard from some of my readers that they think I write funny stories and have had amusing experiences. This post is not one of those.

In August of 2009, I volunteered to be a “Grandma” to a first grade child, Robert Sanchez, who was in the McCurdy Mission School in New Mexico. Our church has supported McCurdy financially and by sending mission teams there who did building and repair work. Berniece Coriz, the first grade teacher, instituted a program of asking for volunteer surrogate grandmas who would be pen pals to each of her students. Each child has two volunteers assigned to him or her. The purpose of this program is to help the children develop their reading and writing skills. We, as grandmas, could also send little gifts and especially books for the children to keep and to share with their fellows. In return, the grandmas got regular notes from our grandchildren telling us the things they like, how they spent holidays, their favorite foods, colors, toys. Robert told me about himself, and I told him that he shared a birthday with my sister so it would be easy to remember his. I wrote about my grandchildren, and he told me about his family. Early in the year, the children sent school pictures to their grandmas. What a beautiful child! He sits smiling sweetly, looking back over his shoulder at the camera. It is such an adorable picture that I framed it and sat it on the kitchen book shelf where my grandchildren’s pictures sit.

Of course, those grandchildren wanted to know who that other kid was. And I told them, reading to them his letters and sharing his little gifts. These were craft items like many first graders make. Turkeys with a hand print feather tails, angels with hand print yellow wings, hand made valentines. By the end of the year, I felt I knew him and determined that the next time I was traveling in his area, I would take the time to go meet him.

That will not happen. In November of 2010, I learned that Robert had been diagnosed with leukemia. I was hopeful, and wrote to him to let him know that I and others were praying for his recovery. A few weeks later, I found out that this was not Robert’s first diagnosis of leukemia. He had this disease when he was two, but had been in remission for years. The second occurrence meant that treatment choices were narrower. When the drug options ran out, a bone marrow transplant was all that was left to him. He was sent to Denver Children’s Hospital in February of this year where he remained until July 1, 2011, when my little friend died.

In the 90th Psalm we are told to “so number our days.” I look at Robert’s days and wonder why his were so few. Eight years, six months, twelve days. I cannot imagine what his parents and family are going through. I know that I hurt, and I am sad for the loss I feel. I know that what I feel must be infinitesimal compared to the loss they feel. I find myself wanting to shake my fist and ask why? I know that would be fruitless and does not honor the smiling child in the picture that still sits in my kitchen. I will keep that photo there because it is a constant reminder of how fragile and how precious life is. It says loudly what I spent my career saying. A child is a gift. Make every moment count.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Crashing the Wake

When we moved to the St. Louis area after spending several years in Baton Rouge, we noticed right away that there were French names everywhere. I already knew that St. Louis was originally a French settlement; and that it was, indeed, named for the saintly King of France, Louis IX. What was unexpected was that many of the place names and French surnames were mispronounced. It was then that I figured out that all the English, Germans, Italians, and Irish that followed the French looked at the spellings and said what they saw. Another thing I noticed was that some of those early French settlers from St. Louis and south along the Mississippi River were extremely prolific so that now days some of those names take up as much space in local telephone books as Smith or Johnson did in the Little Rock area I was raised in. Because of that, what happened to me last week could have happened to anyone. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

After years in St. Louis, my husband and I retired to the country south along the river. In this little city, there is a quaint custom of posting obituaries on public buildings. Perhaps it grew out of only having a weekly papers. By posting these obits, people could find out about neighbors who had died and were about to be buried between publications. Whatever the reason, this custom prompted a writer friend to send out an e-mail announcement to fellow writers that she had seen on the post office door an obituary for Joe Dumas (I’ve changed the names to avoid lawsuits and /or the wrath of family members should they ever come across this blog.) The obituary listed survivors including the wife, Jane. We were deeply distressed as Jane Dumas is a prolific writer who has had to curtail her involvement with our writing group to care for Joe, an invalid.

Using the posted information about the services, I determined to go and show Jane the support of her fellow writers. To that end, I washed and dressed appropriately in a respectful outfit and headed to the local funeral home on the published date. There was a large crowd gathered, and attendants were directing traffic in and out of the parking lot. This did not surprise me because the Dumas have lived here all of their lives, and both were professionals with many contacts at the nearby college. Once I was out of my car, I noticed that while Joe and Jane tend to be sophisticated, fairly conventional people, most of the people at the funeral home were country folk. This is not a bad thing, just a distinction between those who attend such gatherings in suits and those who come in jeans. Nonetheless, the Dumas family are old home folks who probably have a wide spectrum of friends many of whom I don’t know. So in I went, smiling sympathetically to those standing around in the hall and dutifully signed my writer name on the register.

My first clue that something wasn’t right was when I walked into the parlor where Joe was laid out. Around the perimeter of this large room, set up on sturdy easels were five mounted deer heads. Hunter’s trophies. I had been to Joe and Jane’s home several times and could not recall any deer heads, but I had never been in the downstairs rec-room where he might have kept them. In fact, their home has a collection of fine antique pieces mixed with beautifully handcrafted furniture, a high quality pottery collection, and an impressive number of books. I ignored this distraction as well as one can ignore five mounted deer heads, and went to pay my respects to the body and my friend, Jane. I have to say, Joe looked better than I remembered. These funeral parlors can do great things with makeup and hair dye. I was glad about that as his last year had been hard on him and Jane. When I turned to speak to the widow, I had a shock. I had never seen the woman before in my life. She was much younger than the man in the box and she was wearing the same beehive hairdo that was popular in the ‘80s. Wait a minute, could I have gone into the wrong room? No, I distinctly recall reading Joe’s name on the registry. Like a lot of funerals these days, there was a large photo collage in the back of the room. I made my way back to look at the photos and try to make sense of this experience. Nothing looked like anything I remember about their home although the people in the pictures seemed to be having a great time. Lots of beer and casually dressed folks eating what looked like good country fare. About that time, a harmless looking woman came up beside me so I asked how well she knew the family. She assured me that she had known them well but had not seen them in resent years. I asked if she knew if the wife was a writer.

“Oh, I knew the first wife. I don’t know much about this one,” she replied. I then asked if they lived out in the country. “Why, yes,” she said, “They have a little house in town, but they love their farm out in the country. It’s beautiful out there.” and she named an area where Joe and Jane live. She moved on as I stood there even more puzzled. They lived in the same place. Both were in their second marriage.

About that time a country gentleman stepped up to gaze at the pictures so I thought “I’ll try this again.”

He confirmed that Joe and Jane did live in the country, but when I asked if the wife was a writer, he came back with, “Are you kidding. Between you and me,” and he lowered his voice to a whisper, “that gal is a dumb as a rock. She was his little piece on the side until he got divorced and married her.”

This was more information than I needed so I began to giggle nervously but as discretely as I could under the circumstances. He asked me what was so funny and I confessed, but only to him, that I was a wake crasher. He got a big kick out of that. He even said that he wished his old friend, Joe, could know about it as it was something he would have enjoyed telling about at some of the wild parties he liked to throw.

Looking back, it was a simple mistake, but it makes me wonder about the number of coincidences that led to crashing the wake; same first names, same unusual last names of both the central parties, same living area, both couples in their second marriages. I left as quietly as I could showing that same sympathetic smile I had pasted on when I came in only now it was hiding mirth. The good news is that my friends, Joe and Jane, are still with us.

People talk about bucket lists these days. If I had thought for a hundred years, I wouldn’t have thought of crashing a wake as a candidate for my list; but I have to tell you, it was a weird and enlightening experience. You might want to try it some time. Deer heads at a wake. Who knew?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Comparing notes (My brother's memories)

One of life’s mysteries is how siblings raised in the same household can have such different memories of the same events. My brother, Luther, came to visit us over the 4th, and he and I spent some time reminiscing. We don’t do that too often because he is a live-in-the-moment type of guy. That has stood him in good stead especially in the last few years when he’s had health scares. Actually, our sister and I were scared. He wasn’t too bothered by it all. He should have been. It made him a little more careful about eating habits and exercise, but that’s about all.

One of the things I learned was that he really doesn’t remember much about our early childhood. I, on the other hand, remember details about experiences I had before I was two years old. The writer, Reynolds Price, told of remembering seeing sunlight filtered through leave when he was nine months old. For me, it is florescent stars pasted on the ceiling in the formation of constellations. Our mother put them there. We moved from that house when I was two and he was three. We shared a room so he would have seen the same star formations floating above us as we drifted off to sleep. He knew that he had model aircraft suspended above his bed because our dad told him about them, but he doesn’t recall what they looked like. Our mother made those too out of balsa wood, glue, paper and string. I recall them dangling at different heights and angles like his own private air show.

My brother and I have a long history fraught with many incidents that involved me at the brink of disaster and him, the causative factor, standing on the sidelines as innocent as a lamb. He still has that air of un-involvement. Because he was bigger and I was hell bent on keeping up, I found myself in predicaments that were scary for me as well as for our parents.

He loved the mechanics of everything so he was always tinkering with something. One of the things the parents had to keep him away from was the family car. I was only a year and half old when he had the great fortune, in his way of looking at things, to find the car open and no adults right there. He climbed in, but I wasn’t big enough to follow so I sat down on the running board. Within no time, he had managed some how to disengage the gears and start the thing. As the car rolled back, I was knocked off my perch. Of course, my father who was suppose to be watching us and who had turned his back for a few moments, whirled around just in time to see the wheels of the car miss my head by inches. He raced after the car and managed to get in and stop it. I, of course, was screaming my head off over the indignity of being dumped unceremoniously but was other wise unhurt. My father later declared that he aged 20 years in that moment of watching the car roll by me. He also reported to us later that Luther didn’t take too kindly to being shoved from the drivers seat. He seemed to think he had everything under control.

Luther also taught me to climb trees about that same time. We had a small chinaberry tree in the front yard with branches low enough for us to gain purchase and swing ourselves up. He helped me along until we were as high as we could go, then he turned around and returned to the ground. When I tried to follow, I fell probably six or eight feet and was struck on the way down in the right eye socket by a twig that pierced the lid. Fortunately, it missed the eye proper. I still have the little scar.

As if this weren’t enough climbing, he taught me to climb ladders as well. We had just moved to my grandmother’s home so that my father could take over running the farm for her. She had recently lost her husband, my step-grandfather, and World War II was going on. The country needed cotton and all of the young men were gone except those farming. My grandmother’s house was large and old. It had a long screened in back porch where she did laundry and had access to a large pantry for her home canned goods. For some reason, my father had been up on the roof and left the ladder by the back entrance. I’m not sure how he did it, but Luther managed to right the ladder against the edge of the porch roof, and up he went. Wherever he went, I followed. I was two and a half so just stepping from rung to rung was probably quite a fete. Once on the roof, we pretty much had seen all there was to see up there so Luther took the lead and went down. I wasn’t so sure of how to go about getting down so he told me to just do what he did. He promised to hold the ladder for me. I turned around and made the first downward step just as he pulled back on the ladder for some reason. I fell. Not all the way because Luther immediately slammed the ladder back against the roof, catching my left leg and pinning it between the rung and the house. There I dangled and started screaming bloody murder. Our pregnant mother came running. She knew that she could not make it up the ladder, but she held it fast and sent Luther running to get our dad. When he got there, he stepped between the ladder and the house and told Mother to pull it back. When she did so, I dropped unharmed, except for a bad bruise on my ankle, into my father’s waiting arms.

All of this before I was three and much more was to come over the years. I have scars to prove that he who acted as if I were his favorite playmate, was probably subconsciously trying to do me in. He doesn’t deny that these things happened. He heard our dad and grandmother talk about them so often that they became part of the family lore. He doesn’t deny, but he says he doesn’t remember them either. Memory is such a convenient thing.