Regarding Sheetrock, or Drywall: Back When

 

A slow drip leading to a leaking pipe leading to several brittle pipes and serious drips, and finally to a plumber, have brought contractors in to cover holes left in the drywall of the laundry room, and appreciation for a landlord who responds to problems without delay.

With strangers in the house, William is lurking behind the cedar chest. Ernest is folded up on the bottom shelf of an empty bookcase still hidden by boxes and facing the patio window. They don’t enjoy the process. I do.

I grew up calling drywall sheetrock. Well into adulthood when drywall cropped up, I asked what had happened to sheetrock and learned that it’s properly Sheetrock. More properly it’s Sheetrock™, a trade name that’s become a generic term like Kleenex (Kleenex™).

Frank Waller, aka Dad, dressed for painting me dressed for watching, ca. 1953.

I learned about Sheetrock in early childhood because my grandfather, sometimes assisted by my father, did remodeling and repair around town. Once or twice I got to watch.

Dad was meticulous. Unlike some I’ve seen, seams he taped and floated disappeared, the drywall mud flush with the Sheetrock. Seams in my parents’ living room remained invisible for a good fifty years.

When he painted, the brush moved slowly from side to side, no slopping of paint onto floors, windows, or doorknobs. Stray paint was immediately cleaned up.

During my family’s brief sojourn in Del Rio, we lived across the street from a young man who, post-high school, had briefly lived on the farm with Dad after his parents moved away from Fentress. While visiting, Dad found Dick painting the walls of his kitchen but getting paint on the ceiling, where it didn’t belong. Dad took the brush out of his hand and finished the job himself.*

(My father was almost as particular. He and my mother stopped in to see neighbors who were hanging wallpaper. My dad had to leave because he said they weren’t using enough paste, and the paper was going to fall off almost before they got it up. He couldn’t watch.)**

When Dad was painting Dr. Luckett’s clinic, I dropped by and insisted on helping. He tolerated more from his nine-year-old granddaughter than from adults, and handed me a brush. He knew I wouldn’t last. After about twenty minutes, I stopped to play with a ball of putty, (unsuccessfully) keep my puppy, who had followed me to town, from getting into the paint, and generally get in the way. Not long after that, I went home to air conditioning. My parents had recently elected to move back home from dry Del Rio, and the South-Central Texas humidity was killing me.****

Me with San Marcos River catfish caught by Frank Waller (still aka Dad).

Dad was famous for taking off in the middle of a job to go trotline fishing. Family shook their heads and said, “Well, that’s just Dad.” If people complained, they did it out of our hearing. Many were relatives—extended family lived all over town—and they expected him to disappear for a while.

Or he might have shared his fish. He caught enough to spread some around.

Once in early spring, he did some work for a sister- and brother-in-law who had a peach orchard beside their house. His helper said, “Mr. Frank, I sure wish we were going to be here when those peaches get ripe.” Dad said, “Don’t worry. We will be.”

For years, I thought leaving like that was a character flaw. When I heard that other contractors sometimes take time off in the mid-project, I thought it was a tall tale. People who worked for me finished in a timely fashion. Then a fellow who was repainting the door of a previous apartment—the blazing west sun hit it in summer, so it required paint that wouldn’t peel—told me he did a lot of painting, but he took off and went fishing whenever he wanted, and he didn’t ever apologize for it either. Business as usual, I guess.

The Sheetrock people have gone. They left no sign they’d been here. Dad would be pleased.

###

*My grandfather had other crotchets, too. My mother claimed that when he was driving down the road and saw a sunflower, he would stop and pull it up. (Farmer.) He let most things go much further than other folks would, but certain things he could not abide.

**As to my father’s other requirements: After retiring, he worked for some farmers he was acquainted with, hauling maize from the field to wherever it went.*** He enjoyed driving, and he liked the men, but after a week or so he resigned. He said they let Johnson grass grow up at the edges of their fields. (Farmer.) He wasn’t obsessive about anything else, but his fields had to be clean, and his fences tight, with sturdy cedar posts and six strands of barbed wire, so his cows couldn’t escape, except for big, fat, sleek Hereford Opal, who lay down and rolled under. Impossible, we thought, but he finally caught her in the act.

***Once upon a time, I knew where maize went, maybe. But I wasn’t a farm girl, and I was busy reading in the air conditioning and didn’t pay attention. I wish had, because now when I set a story in a rural area, I have to look things up.

****After a zillion years, the humidity is still killing me.

Ragdoll Cat (Temporarily)

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. — Herman Melville

When it’s November, I give thanks summer is over and 100-degree weather temporarily behind us.

This November I gave thanks for the veterinarian.

While was in Dallas at a writing conference, David noticed symptoms of diabetes and took Ernest in for confirmation and treatment. I asked how he got the cat into the carrier. “With great difficulty,” he said.

After I returned home, we took him back to the doctor for gastric problems related to his new dietary regimen. The next day, he seemed to be in worse shape, so we took him back. Because he doesn’t like injections any more than he likes the carrier, we hadn’t been able to give him insulin, so that afternoon, before releasing him, the vet gave him a shot.

That night about midnight, in the dark, I stepped on a furry mass beside the bed and turned on the light. Guess who. Ernest. That was a surprise, since he usually sleeps under the bed. When I picked him up, another miracle occurred—he tolerated it. He doesn’t like to be picked up and held either. He  felt like a rag doll. David rubbed honey on his gums, and we headed for the animal ER/hospital (where he went several years ago after eating thread).

By the time we arrived, his blood sugar was 25, so he stayed for an IV and monitoring. At dawn–6:00 a.m., but it felt like dawn—we took him back to our vet for further monitoring. At 5:00 p.m, on the vet’s advice, we delivered him to the hospital for 24 to 36 hours of monitoring. The vet who had given him the insulin was amazed his glucose plummeted like that. The next afternoon, we picked him up.

Over the next two days, I functioned as a lap.

He’s doing well now. We hoped his diabetes could be controlled by diet, but he’s taking injections from David as if they’re no big deal. We watch him for hypoglycemia.

I don’t know whether I could inject him. He and David have always been buds. David is calm, so in David’s sphere, Ernest is calm. I energize him, so he marches around on me and sits on the arm of the chair and pulls on my sleeve. To give him his due, he’s learned to “liiiiiieeeeeeee dowwwwwwwwwwwn” after hearing me plead not too many times. But he has no intention of learning, “Stop pulling on my sleeve.”

On the topic of energy, since retiring, I’ve realized I energized my students, too, more’s the pity. They didn’t need energizing.

Anyway, November, to me, will always be The Month of the Hypoglycemic Cat.

And on a less alarming note, the The Month It Is Cooler, and in 2019, Damp and Drizzly, and Sometimes Even Rainy, Which is Nice.

*

I shouldn’t say this, lest it embarrass him, but in the hospital, Ernest’s legs were shaved so veins could be accessed, and now he looks like a 1950s lady wearing a fur coat with three-quarter sleeves and gauntlet gloves.

Note the elegant tilt of the head.

 

 

The Great Throwing Away or, The Great Unearthing: Toy

“One of the advantages of being disorganized
is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”

~ A. A. Milne

Some of my surprising discoveries during the Great Throwing Away didn’t surprise me, because I knew they were there, waiting to be unearthed. One of those takes me back to the summer I was eight, when my grandmother, Mary Veazey Barrow, spent a month in Del Rio with my family. (To prevent confusion, Veazey was her maiden name.)

For a week—it might have been a weekend, but I like to think it was a week—my oldest cousin, Mary Veazey Worden, came from Houston. Those two women were funny, and with my mother in the mix, everything was hilarious. They were more entertaining than any of my child-friends ever could have been.

We (they) spent much of the week making aprons. I don’t know why. I think the material came from feed sacks. I don’t know where we got it, considering we were living in a city and had no farm animals. I presume my mother had saved it from our years in a minute country town. She’d made me several play suits from chicken feed sacks in a green and white pattern. They were comfortable, attractive, and sturdy, and were probably handed down to some smaller child when I outgrew them. Few things last longer than a feed sack.

The highlight of the month was a day trip across the Rio Grande to Piedras Negras.

My family usually went to Ciudad Acuna, only three miles from home. I loved Acuna, because for seventy-five cents, I could buy a ring. The first time I went there, when I was seven, my parents footed the bill, so I bought maracas and a puppet whose strings I never managed to untangle. They bought me a leather jacket with fringe. The maracas weren’t popular at home because I insisted on shaking them, but I loved the coat. It was soft and warm. I felt quite cowboyish in it.

I despised it, however, the Halloween my mother made me wear it over my princess costume. The night was chilly and probably fell into her category of “I’m cold so you have to bundle up,” but it ruined the effect I wished to project. Clad in a long, glittery dress and scraping along the asphalt in high heels enhanced by fur-covered elastic bands across the toes, I felt elegant and feminine, two qualities that usually eluded me. Wearing the cowboy jacket, I felt like Gabby Hayes in drag. Even a bag of chocolate didn’t console me. After sixty-two years, the disappointment is still palpable.

But back to Piedras Negras. Situated across from Eagle Pass, it was larger than Acuna and offered shoppers more variety.

The shopping didn’t make much of an impression, except that we covered a lot of territory, and that we didn’t have lunch until we got back on U. S. soil. My parents had a thing about not eating in Mexico, even though some of our neighbors ate at Acuna’s Crosby Hotel, and others went to the dentist over there.

But the toy is a happy memory. My grandmother bought one for each of her four younger grandchildren. I don’t think she bought them for the older three, although she might have gotten one for Mary Veazey, because although twenty-something, VZ was nevertheless younger than the rest of us.

Why is the toy memorable? Because for the entire hour’s drive back to Del Rio, Mary Veazey and I sat in the back seat and tried to get the little wooden ball into the little wooden cup. My grandmother (who once amazed the grandchildren by trying out a hula hoop in the living room) took several turns herself.

The feat isn’t easy, and it’s made more difficult by the little wooden piece, which attaches the handle to the cup, sticking up a half-inch in the middle. It’s a wonder we didn’t hit someone, including ourselves, in the head. We shrieked a lot. I’m sure my father’s hearing aid magnified it, but he didn’t complain. He never did.

I tried the toy a few minutes ago. Getting the ball into the cup takes more skill, and luck, than I remembered. It takes considerable force to swing the ball high enough to get the cup under it. I fear my right triceps has deteriorated. Well, I know it has.

About the eating thing. Years ago, David and I spent Christmas Eve in Ciudad Acuna, moving from cafe to cafe, eating tacos—real ones, not Tex-Mex. In the evening, we walked by the Crosby Hotel, which had no vacancies, and saw through the windows the dining room, white tablecloths, small red poinsettias at the center of each table. Beautiful.

The hotel no longer exists. I wish we’d eaten there.

***

Today, WP refuses to print a tilde. Thus Acuna. Maybe tomorrow.

The Great Throwing-Away: Bob’s Grocery

I just packed the egg separator from Bob’s Grocery in Fentress, Texas, ca. 1956.

Why?

Because it’s from Bob’s Grocery in Fentress, Texas, ca. 1956.

Bob–really Rob Waller–was my father’s first cousin. They grew up on neighboring farms on the Guadalupe County side of the San Marcos River.

Nell, Rob’s wife and partner in the grocery store, was my second mama. She and I were the sole and exclusive members of a Mutual Admiration Society.

Rob and Nell’s three daughters, teenagers when I came along, were my idols.

There are a lot of stories I could tell, but the movers will be here any minute, so I have to stop.

But the point is, no matter how broken and cracked and shabby that egg separator is, you just don’t go throwing it away.

The Great Throwing-Away: Quilts

Today’s Great Throwing-Away was more of a Great Packing-Away, but I’m stopping for a brief post. Anything to take me away from the task at hand.

Like my mother’s cookbook and her high school diploma, three quilts will stay with me.

The first is a baby blanket my mother’s mother, Mary Veazey Barrow, made for me. It’s blue, the safe color, since at the time no self-respecting boy would have been seen curled up under a pink blanket. Today there are no boy or girl colors, but I suspect blue is still the safe one.

The second is a quilt my great-grandmother, Nettie Eastwood Woodward (“Granny”) made for my dad. I don’t know exactly how old it is, but Granny died in 1940, so I assume it was made in the ’20s or ’30s–close to a hundred years old, anyway. I spent hours under that quilt during my sinus infection years and occupied myself by contemplating the one-inch squares of reds and blues and yellows and the tiny stitches binding them together. Today I look at it and think of the work that went into just piecing the top.

 

My grandfather Waller provided fabric for the third quilt. He chain-smoked Bull Durham roll-your-own cigarettes. After my grandmother died, when he was thirty-five, he lived on his farm but ate many of his meals at his mother’s house in town, and, consequently, did a lot of smoking there, too.

When he emptied a tobacco sack, he set it on the radio table in the living room. His older sister, Ethel, who lived there, got tired of picking up the sacks and decided to see how long he would let them stack up before he moved them. I gather he let them stack up as long as she waited to see how long he would let them stack up . . . etc.

Finally, she collected them, cut them open, washed them, and pieced two quilt backs, one for each of my grandfather’s youngest sons. But she never got around to making the quilts. When I was in my twenties, my uncle Donald’s wife and mother-in-law matched one of the backs with a sheet and made a quilt for me.

 

The Great Throwing-Away: Tomato Soup Cake

The Great Throwing-Away continues to unearth items I refuse to throw away.

Today it’s The Household Searchlight Recipe Book my mother acquired, according to the inside cover, in 1940.

It’s had a hard life. I referred to page 77 repeatedly during my Divinity Phase, when I was eleven. Every rainy weekend—and there were more of them back them—I made divinity. It never set. I knew it wouldn’t, and I didn’t care. I didn’t like divinity all that much, but I enjoyed using the candy thermometer. The divinity always turned out sticky and had to be eaten with a spoon, but it was perfectly good.

Anyway, the highlight of the cookbook appears in the back, written in pencil, under “Additional Recipes”: Tomato Soup Spice Cake.

I grew up hearing the Legend of the Tomato Soup Cake: “Ted [my mother’s uncle Ted Lynn] was always saying, ‘Crys, when are you going to make me a tomato soup cake?’ That was his favorite.” For some reason, maybe because my father was more of a chocolate- and lemon meringue pie addict, I never got a glimpse of the cake. I don’t think I wanted to. I was addicted to Campbell’s tomato soup (cream of, made with milk and mushy with saltine crackers) but cake and tomato soup sounded incompatible (like bleh). I was in my twenties when I finally insisted on seeing what Ted was so crazy about.

Well, Ted was right. For anyone who likes spice cake, this is the one. For anyone who doesn’t like spice cake, this could be a game changer. The layers are velvety. The icing is a candy in itself.

My mother got the recipe from—if I remember correctly—the wife of the Methodist minister in Martindale, Texas, in the late 1930s. Instructions were dictated and lack detail. I’ve inserted a few extra steps in brackets. Some I remember doing myself. My mom might have directed the operation the first time I baked it, or she might have written out a fuller version for me.

And before anyone asks, I have no idea how to define a scant teaspoon.

Tomato Soup Spice Cake

Layers

2 cups tomato soup [2 cups canned soup, not the entire two cans]
1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs – optional
1 handful raisins
2 scant tsp. soda

[A wisp of memory said to dredge raisins in flour before mixing with other ingredients. Specifically, I remember saying, “What does, ‘Dredge raisins mean?'” BUT, on second thought, I believe dredged raisins went into my grandmother’s applesauce cake, not into the tomato soup cake. I hate to make this difficult, but I haven’t baked either since the 1980s.*]

Cream butter and sugar, add 2 scant teaspoons soda to soup and add to sugar and butter mixture.

Sift together:

4 scant cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cloves
3 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. all spice
1/2 tsp. mace (or nutmeg)

[Add sifted dry ingredients to wet ingredients and blend.]

Add 3 tsp. vanilla to mixture.

Makes 2 large or 3 medium layers. [For best results, make 3 layers. See “Further instructions from Kathy,” below.]

[Pour into cake pans. Bake. Possibly at 350 degrees.]

Icing

This:

1 Phila. cream cheese
? powdered sugar
? vanilla

[The corner of the page is missing, so I don’t know how much powdered sugar and vanilla are called for. Check online, act on experience, or guess. But if the online recipe calls for butter, don’t add it.]

or [and!]

This:

1 C milk
2 C sugar
1 C dates [Pitted dates. And a warning: 1 cup doesn’t sound like enough. In fact, I’m not sure this makes enough icing to cover three layers. If you increase the recipe and have some left over, that will be all right, because the extra can be eaten as candy.]

Boil to soft ball and add dates before taking off.

Add 1 tablespoon butter afterward.

[Another warning: After butter is added, the icing may need to be beaten a bit. I think it does. Fudge and pecan pralines do.]

 

Further instructions from Kathy:

Now. This is what the all the fuss was about.

Make 3 layers.

Make the second “This” icing with milk, sugar, and dates. Ice the tops of layers.

Make the first “This” icing with cream cheese. Ice the sides of the cake.

My experience: Do not try to slice in wedges. The candy icing hardens/sets and can make slicing difficult.

Instead, bisect the cake—a bread knife and a light touch can help—and then make cuts perpendicular to the cross cut. (The icing might have hardened because I cooked it too long. But I think it’s supposed to set that way. Like divinity does when the humidity is low.)

I’ve seen similar recipes online, but none looks like it would match this beast. Combine three layers of light, velvety cake with two kinds of icing, and the end product is simply devastating.

The Tomato Soup Cake recipe is included in a cookbook published by the Fentress Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary (or maybe it was the church?) in the 1970s or ’80s. I don’t have my copy any more, so I can’t verify, but one of the ingredients may have been recorded incorrectly. I seem to remember—lots of my memories are wispy these days—using it and coming out with an unexpected result.

According to WorldCat, The Household Searchlight Recipe Book is housed in the collections of the Turpin Library (Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX), the Texas Woman’s University Library (Denton, TX), the Marfa Public Library (Marfa, TX), the Alcorn State University Library (Lorman, MS), the Perry Memorial Library (Perryton, TX), and the Conway Springs City Library (Conway Springs, KS).

It receives excellent reviews on Goodreads. Various editions are available on Amazon.

***

*I haven’t baked much of anything since the 1980s.

The Great Throwing-Away: Martindale High School

The Great Throwing-Away continues. I opened a bin I thought contained photographs but found more paper than photos. Cards. Letters. Newspaper clippings. Little bits of life.

And my mother’s diploma from Martindale High School in Martindale, Texas, which she received May 31, 1935. It’s signed by Chas. E. Lumpkin, Superintendent; Ruby C. Slaughter, Principal; and J. E. Carnes, Secretary of the Board of Trustees. I can’t decipher the school board president’s name.

The diploma was folded inside a little booklet embossed on the outside with the letter M.

I held one corner down with the copy of Twelfth Night she read for an English class at Mary Hardin Baylor College, and the other with a copy of Liz Carpenter’s Ruffles and Flourishes, given to her many years later by Nell Waller, a dear friend.

On the last page of the booklet, there’s a note from the superintendent.

 

S Is for a Sin & a Shame: #atozchallenge

 

LONG before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.

~ Eudora Welty, “Listening in the Dark

 

In the olden days, my family spent most holidays in my hometown with my father’s side of the family. Dinner rotated year to year from my house to Aunt Laura and Uncle Joe’s to Great-aunt Ethel’s. The woman hosting cooked turkey and dressing; the others brought side dishes.

Some of the same sides appeared year after year: Great-aunt Bettie’s potato salad, Great-aunt Aunt Jessie’s something-or-other salad, my mother’s pecan pie. Aunt Bettie put sugar in her potato salad–the older generation of Wallers sugared everything–and it was delicious.

Mother’s pecan pie was delicious, too; every year I ate  pumpkin pie, then regretted it. The pumpkin was good, but, as Garrison Keillor pointed out, the best pumpkin pie you ever ate isn’t that much better than the worst pumpkin pie you ever ate.

Aunt Jessie’s salad was a delicious enigma. Nobody knew what was in it then, and nobody knows what was in it now. Finely chopped pecans were recognizable. Lime Jello was highly probable. It wasn’t Jello-smooth, it didn’t taste like Jello, and it didn’t jiggle. As to the third major ingredient, I’m guessing cream cheese.

She brought it to every communal dinner, and  the other women wondered aloud what was in it. If anyone asked, she didn’t get an answer. Aunt Jessie certainly didn’t volunteer the information. She was known for not telling anything, most of all her age. After Uncle Curt died, she put up a double tombstone with her birth date engraved on it. Everybody in the family made a point of driving out to look at the miracle.

After dinner, we sat in the living room and the men–my father and his brothers–told stories, some about their childhood, others about local current events. As the only child there, I wasn’t outside playing with other children; I was sitting on the floor, listening.

Like Aunt Jessie’s salad, the same stories were served every year. Most of them were funny, and we laughed as hard each year as we had the last. Fentress was a singular place. It was like Charles Dickens created enough characters, most of them elderly, for an entire book and then set them down in a little town in Central Texas. Their quirks, their mannerisms, their speech, their opinions, their actions marked them as individuals.

Mr. John Roberts steered his old green Chevy well to the right before turning left, just as if he were still driving a horse-and buggy. Every time his brother, Mr. Perry, left the post office, he backed his old gray pickup at least a hundred yards before turning around to head for home (long-time residents knew not to not park behind him). My grandfather rolled Bull Durham cigarettes with one hand, drove on the left side of the road, and glided right past every stop sign he saw (if he saw them).

The stories were about small things, but they were our history, and worth hearing again. For example:

Mr. George Meadows used to wake my father up in the middle of the night because old Fritz was down in the river bottom baying at a treed raccoon and disturbing everyone’s sleep, and he wasn’t going to stop till my dad took his shotgun down there and took care of the coon.

When Great-uncle Carl was agitated, he fidgeted with the waist of his trousers. Once, back in the 1920s, a group of teenage boys, including my father’s oldest brother, Joe, went to Seguin, about twenty miles away, imbibed some alcohol, and landed in jail. The next morning, word got back to their families, and the fathers gathered downtown in the Waller store, to discuss what they should do. “Leave them there,” said Uncle Carl, “just leave them there and let them learn a lesson.”

Then someone mentioned that Carl Jr. was among the incarcerated. Uncle Carl started fidgeting with the waist of his trousers. Aunt Bettie said she thought he was going to pull his pants clear up under his armpits. He drove right over to Seguin and got Jr. out.

The best part of the story, in my estimation, is the crime that sent the boys to jail: They stole an anvil. I’ll bet in the history of the world, they were the only ones who ever stole an anvil.

The law imposed no consequences. I assume the anvil was returned to its owner and he boys apologized and that was that.

There. Those anecdotes aren’t interesting to the general public, including the readers of this post–they fall under the heading “You Had to Know the Participants,”–but I remember Uncle Carl’s fidgeting, and the image is as vivid now as it was sixty years ago. And that anvil . . .

The stories told on those holidays represent some of my happiest memories. They’re also material. I write fiction, and if you think I’m not weaving in bits and pieces, you can think again.

It would have been a sin and a shame if I’d missed out on those holiday gatherings.

*

I’m pleased to report that Uncle Joe went on to be a sober citizen, and a postmaster, and in that job he saw and spoke with most of the townspeople every day, and therefore had the opportunity to gather more stories to share at family gatherings.

**

Eudora Welty, “The Making of a Writer: Listening in the Dark.” New York Times on the Web.

***

Images of Raccoon and Anvil via Pixabay.com

 

N Is for No: #atozchallenge

When I was a child, my family lived across the street from a couple whose daughter, Denise, was almost three years old. Denise had blonde hair her mother put up in a curly little pony tail. She was as cute as a bug and as bright as a button, but not as sweet as pie. She wasn’t a holy terror, but her attitude often (most of the time) made her difficult to deal with. She  was just plain contrary, and she made sure everyone knew it. Her favorite word was, “NO.”

One evening she and her mother, Phyllis, was sitting with us in our front yard, as they did nearly every summer evening. Phyllis sat in a glider and Denise stood in the seat beside her.

In the course of the conversation, Phyllis said, “We’ve had quite a day.” She went on to say–in vague terms–that there had been much discussion, much disagreement about what and how things would, and would not, be done, starting at breakfast time and running nonstop for the rest of the day–but she thought an agreement had finally been reached. Then she looked at her daughter and said, very sweetly, “But we’re not going to use that word any more, are we, Neesie?”

Denise leaned over, got right in her face, and said, in a very nasty tone, “NNNNNNNNNNO.”

The audience erupted in laughter.

And Denise beamed.

*

I would like to say there’s a moral to this story, but after decades of pondering, I haven’t found one. If you can think of anything, please leave it in a comment.

 

 

 

 

***

Image via Pixabay

D Is for Stinky, Ruffy, and a Dollop of Muggs*: #atozchallenge

Probably no one man should have as many dogs in his life as I have had, but there was more pleasure than distress in them for me except in the case of an Airedale named Muggs. He gave me more trouble than all the other fifty-four or -five put together, although my moment of keenest embarrassment was the time a Scotch terrier named Jeannie, who had just had six puppies in the clothes closet of a fourth floor apartment in New York, had the unexpected seventh and last at the corner of Eleventh Street and Fifth Avenue during a walk she had insisted on taking.

~ James Thurber, “The Dog That Bit People”

 

Now you would probably rather read “The Dog That Bit People” instead of the rest of this post, and so would I, but bear with me for the next few paragraphs and then you can do what you want.

The Muggs James Thurber references was a “big, burly, choleric” Airedale who acted as if Thurber wasn’t one of the family. “There was a slight advantage in being one of the family, for he didn’t bite the family as often as he bit strangers.” Over the years, he bit everyone but Thurber’s mother, “and he made a pass at her once but missed.” Mrs. Thurber felt sorry for Muggs and often said, “He’s not strong.” Thurber says, ” [B]ut that was inaccurate; he may not have been well but he was terribly strong.” He was also sorry after he bit someone, she said, but Thurber observed he didn’t act sorry either. Mrs. Thurber’s philosophy was, “If you didn’t think he would bite you, he wouldn’t,” but the ice man didn’t buy it. “Once when Muggs bit Mrs. Rufus Sturtevant and again when he bit Lieutenant-Governor Malloy” she told the cops “that it hadn’t been Muggs’ fault but the fault of the people who were bitten. ‘When he starts for them, they scream,’ she explained, ‘and that excites him.'” The time he emerged from under the couch and bit elderly Mrs. Detweiler, Mrs. Thurber said it was just a bruise and, “He just bumped you,” but “Mrs. Detweiler left the house in a nasty state of mind.”

I met Muggs and got to know him intimately (practice, practice, practice) for a high school prose reading competition, and I’ve loved him ever since.

Well, enough. If you want to read the story, here’s the link, but I hope you’ll wait till I’ve told you about my dogs.

First came Stinky, when I was about three years old. He was a rat terrier. My dad had tied a rope to the handle of my little red wagon so he wouldn’t have to bend double when he pulled me around in it. Stinky watched, and, intelligent dog that he was, often took hold of the rope and replaced my dad at the helm. He also took the helm when I wasn’t in the wagon; on hot, moonlit summer nights, through their open bedroom windows, my parents heard him pulling the wagon around the back yard. I don’t remember it, but I was told that one day I ran into the house crying as if my heart would break and said, “I hit Stinky.” I know what happened–I had invited him to jump up on me, and he did, but pretty soon I’d had enough and he hadn’t, and I hit him to get him to back off. My heart was breaking, and over sixty years later, I still get teary when I think of it. I’m always sorry after I’ve someone. Except for my friend Phyllis, but that’s a story for another time. H, perhaps, for hit.

My mother brought home Ruffy, a Border Collie-Shepherd mix, when he was only four weeks old. The giver insisted that was old enough. It wasn’t. The acquisition of a second dog surprised my father, who, I presume, thought it should be a family decision (even at that age I was surprised they didn’t discuss it, but I suppose Mother thought a 2/3 majority was enough), but he didn’t say anything, simply set his jaw in the same way he did the summer before my senior year of college when I said I was going to drop out and go to work for the IRS. I stayed in college and got my degree, but if I hadn’t, I’d have been spared a lot of school-teacher grief and would now have federal employee health insurance, which is a super deal.

(My dad played ball with all our dogs when he thought no one was looking.)

Except for a white bib and little brown “eyebrows,” Ruffy was all black, even his eyes; his hair was thick and wavy. His official name was Rough Bones, which shows why you should never ask a pre-schooler what she wants to name a pet. We gave our dogs bones from steaks and roasts, and they gnawed on and then hid them in the lush St. Augustine grass, and I stepped on them with my perpetually bare feet and cried out in pain. Two or three times a day. At four weeks, Ruffy wasn’t yet weaned, so Mother had to feed him warm milk mixed with white Karo syrup from little doll bottles I’d gotten for Christmas. At first I woke for the four a.m. feeding–yip yip yip–but soon stopped hearing his call and slept through it.

As a young adult, Ruffy, who spent most of his time confined to a big back yard plus the adjoining quarter-acre of chicken yard that lay on the other side of the driveway, chased a twelve-year-old neighbor boy who was passing the house, and ran another one up onto the porch across the street. The stiff, heavy pocket of his new jeans saved the second one from puncture wounds. After that occurrence, we confined the dog for ten days, the time prescribed for making sure he didn’t have rabies (he’d been vaccinated).

My parents took his behavior seriously but my mom noted that both boys teased him through the hog wire fence every time they walked down the street. She believed the dog considered himself provoked; she definitely considered him provoked. (She’d told the boys to stop teasing him, to no avail.)

However, when some of Mother’s out-of-town relatives couldn’t rouse anyone at the front door and offered to enter the back yard through the picket gate, Ruffy told them in no uncertain terms not to bother.  We decided he was being a conscientious, if overzealous, watch dog. We weren’t home when they came and so couldn’t call him off. Considering these particular relatives, I thought he’d been provoked.

(When it came to me, my parents always gave the dog the benefit of the doubt. “You know Sabre snaps when you pet him; leave him alone.” Sabre, my cousins’ Cocker Spaniel, didn’t often see me, and didn’t like me bothering him (probably didn’t like me at all), and he did snap, and I knew he would snap, but he was a dog and I couldn’t help myself. I saw a dog, I petted the dog. When common sense set in, about the time I was forty, I learned restraint.)

The situation with Ruffy became clear, unfortunately, the evening we had a yard full of other relatives sitting in lawn chairs and eight-year-old Sharan appeared from down the street. While she was standing in the middle of the family circle, Ruffy walked up, in my mother’s words, “smiling, with his tongue lolling out and his tail wagging,” and bit her on the thigh.

I was in the house and didn’t see him bite. When they told me they had to take Ruffy to Dr. Matthews to be watched for ten days, and then Dr. Matthews would find him another home, I cried so hard they gave me a St. Joseph’s (baby) aspirin and put me to bed. The aspirin didn’t help. Dr. Matthews told my parents Ruffy was too good a dog to put down, and he would give him to some rancher living out in the country, away from little girl visitors. I was sad but understood. Later Dr. Matthews told them that when the ranchers he offered Ruffy to learned he’d bitten someone, they declined to take him, and so . . .  It was years before I realized what had happened to him. I asked and was told the whole story.

We later learned that Smoky, a litter mate owned by another family in town, also bit. They were both sweet, beautiful dogs, good playmates for their children, and we wondered if there was something in the genes that prompted them to bite strangers. Probably not.

I have pictures of Stinky and Ruffy, but they’re not, shall we say, accessible, so I can’t post them. The dogs pictured here don’t do them justice.

So. I’ve expended all these words on two dogs. Like Thurber, I’ve probably had more dogs than one person should have, but I’ll have to write about the rest of them later, perhaps for M, as in More Dogs.

Okay. Go read “The Dog That Bit People.” You’ll be glad you did.

***

*D is also for Dogs.

***

I wish I could post pictures of Muggs, but I’m sure they’re under copyright. However, the two links in the second paragraph take you to Thurber’s sketches of him.

Image of James Thurber by Fred Palumbo, via Wikipedia. Public domain.

Image of Rat Terrier by kteri3565, via Pixabay.com

Image of Border Collie by PascalCottel, via Pixabay.com

Day K: Kerfuffle #AtoZChallenge

For more Day K posts click here.

K is obviously for Kathy, a name at the heart of a lifelong kerfuffle.

The plan was to name me Katherine for my great-grandmother and to call me Kathy. But at the last minute, when the nurse came in and asked for the baby’s name so they could type up a birth certificate, my mother added Mary for my grandmother. Later she told my father what she’d done and he said that was fine with him. He liked his mother-in-law. My grandmother liked the name.

Mother later told me she’d wanted to spell Katherine with a C, but she was afraid her grandmother would say I wasn’t really named for her (the family was funny that way).

Thus was I denied the privilege of assuming the mantle of romanticism connected with hearing Heathcliff call across the moor, Catherine! Catherine! (I don’t think he did that in the book or the movie, but I have a good imagination.)

The precaution turned out to be unnecessary, because every time my great-grandmother, whom we called Grannygirl (that’s another story) wrote my name, she spelled it Catherine.

(I was glad I’d been spared her first name, Minna. She didn’t like it either and changed it to Minnie but later wished she hadn’t.)

My grandmother, Mary Veazey Barrow, front row 3rd from left (big hat); my great-grandmother, Minna Katherine Stagner Veazey, front row 5th from left.

Otherwise, my name was fine with me, too, as long as we stayed put. But when we moved and I had to enroll in a new school in the middle of second grade, the teacher said they already had a Kathy so I had to be Mary. I didn’t mind–it was just one more of the slings and arrows of being uprooted from my hometown and moving halfway across the universe*–but when I discovered the other Kathy was always called Kathleen, I thought the teacher’s reasoning was a little off.

The next September, I sat with twenty-something other third-graders and their mothers while the teacher called names from a stack of book cards. She got to Mary K. Waller; my mother marched me up and said she’s here, and she’s called Kathy; the teacher said, No this is Mary K-A-Y. I sat back down. Mary Kay didn’t appear. The teacher went through the no-shows and once again, Mary Kay didn’t appear. My mom said she thought that must be a clerical error–one person read the names, another person wrote them down?–and so I settled in as Kathy.

The next year, mothers didn’t hang around for the settling in–I suppose fourth graders were deemed able to fend for themselves–and when the teacher called Mary Waller? I let it slide. Later when my mother asked why, I said something like, “Meh.” Vicki, my best friend from third grade, called me Kathy; others who’d known me before took their pick.

Fast forward to college: Roommates said Kathy, but otherwise, I was Mary. Once I was Mark. The first time the philosophy professor called for Mark Waller, I said nothing, but when Mark didn’t answer the second time, I raised my hand and said in a small voice–one doesn’t want to accuse a prof of illiteracy on the first day of class–Mary? he rechecked the list and laughed. Since then, two more people have made the same error. Perfectly understandable: when you’re skimming, Mary K. resembles Mark.

I was a bit miffed, however, last Christmas Eve, when the young man at Best Buy told me he didn’t have my order. I said the computer said he did have it. He said he didn’t. I said would he check again. He pointed at his monitor and said there was only one Waller on the list.

I said, “Mark?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Mary K.?”

He said, “Oh,” and forked over the box. I was as sweet about the situation as I could manage, considering it was Christmas Eve and I knew he’d  been extra busy; but, considering it was late afternoon on December 24th, and I’d started shopping on December 23rd, my store of sweetness was at low ebb. My words might have carried an undertone that said, Knothead.

My adult life has comprised a series of minor tangles with officialdom. Minor, because I’ve defaulted to Mary. Sometimes I forget. Last week, the nurse assigned to handle my infusion looked up from her monitor and said, “Hi. I’m Holly.”

I said, “I’m Kathy.”

Her expression changed from welcoming to stricken. I got it, admitted I was Mary, and watched her begin to breathe normally again.

My mother once said she thought I didn’t like my name. I did, and I do. It has a pleasant sound, and my written initials have a pleasing symmetry.

 

It’s sharpened my mental acuity and flexibility by requiring me to (usually) remember who I am in (almost) any setting.

But there are drawbacks. The first hearkens back to the third-grade Mary Kay thing. I do not like being confused with a cosmetics company.

 

 

 

 

 

The second concerns two questions I’m asked more and more frequently by young people who don’t understand that Mary Katherine was a perfectly acceptable, mainstream, plain, ordinary, everyday name before it gave way to Lisa and Jennifer and Ashley and Madison:

Are you Catholic?

Are you a nun?

Neither.

I’m a member of a large Protestant family that recycles names.

 

 

 

#####

* About 250 miles to the southwest, to Del Rio, on the border with Mexico. It was a nice place, and after a few months, I loved being there. Sometimes I wish we’d stayed.

** Serendipity! [An English major thing] Attempting to find a reference to Heathcliff calling Catherine, I came across this article–Heathcliff and Cathy, out on the wild, windfarmed moors–by Lucy Mangan, published in The Guardian, April 12, 2012.

I hate to admit it, but I like Ms. Mangan’s starcrossed lovers much more than I like Emily Bronte’s.

 

 

#AtoZChallenge Day C: Contrariwise

I believe I’ve fallen behind.

My Day B (April 2) post went online about five minutes before Day C started in my time zone. Now, less than four hours before Day D begins, I’m just starting on Day C.

Technically, I’m okay–observing the letter of the law (take some time to chuckle over that before reading on) but giving the spirit short shrift.

I haven’t observed a few other guidelines, either. I was supposed to–or maybe just invited to–choose a theme and reveal it here last month. But I couldn’t settle on anything, so I skipped that step.

It’s a shame, because I had a pretty good idea: Contrariwise. In the first place, I love the word. It reminds me of the first time I saw it in print, Alice’s meeting with Tweedledum and Tweedledee:

They stood so still that she quite forgot they were alive, and she was just looking round to see if the word “TWEEDLE” was written at the back of each collar, when she was startled by a voice coming from the one marked `DUM.’

`If you think we’re wax-works,’ he said, `you ought to pay, you know. Wax-works weren’t made to be looked at for nothing, Nohow!’

`Contrariwise,’ added the one marked `DEE,’ `if you think we’re alive, you ought to speak.’

`I’m sure I’m very sorry,’ was all Alice could say . . .

`I know what you’re thinking about,’ said Tweedledum: `but it isn’t so, nohow.’

`Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.’

I was seven years old, lying on the back seat of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Laura’s new car, on the way home to Del Rio after a week-long visit with family in Fentress, and reading Alice in Wonderland, when all of a sudden, my stomach revolted. We stopped at the next service station so they could hose me down. My grandfather, who occupied the other half of the back seat, somehow managed to stay out of the line of fire. Aunt Laura said, “I told you lying down to read would make you carsick.” But it never had, and it hasn’t since, so I think other forces must have been at work.

Anyway, I’ve loved contrariwise ever since. Go figure.

I learned the base word, contrary, long before Alice. My great-aunt Ethel used it to describe her mare, Lady. It was an apt term. That horse personified the expression, “Beauty is only skin deep.”

She never unseated anyone; she simply refused to cooperate: hard to catch (she could walk faster than I); hard to bridle (she was taller than I); hard to saddle (she found the nearest pecan tree, leaned against it, and walked ’round and ’round while I followed, holding the saddle shoulder high and trying to heave it across a moving target.

Once saddled, she gave up being a moving target and became a stationary one. If I wanted to go one way and she wanted to go another, she didn’t insist on her way. She just stopped. And stood. And stood. And stood.

When I was four or five years old, my father let me ride her around in the little fenced enclosure where we kept chickens while he worked. Every time we neared the gate, she stopped. I would holler for my dad. He would come, say, “I told you not to let her get near the gate,” and lead her past. We would make another circuit. She would stop. I would holler for my dad. He would come, say, “I told you not to let her get near the gate,” and lead her  . . . You get the idea.

So there it was. Contrary Lady. Contrary Kathy.

Oh, darn. It’s nearly midnight. Day D.

Contrariwise.

***

To read what other bloggers in the Blogging A to Z Challenge wrote on Day C, click AtoZ.

***

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Happy Birthday, Veazey

seven-cousins (2)Today is my cousin Mary Veazey’s birthday. I will not say how old she is. I’ll say only that she is old enough that she’s always thought she had the right to boss me around.

We have had many good times together.

The most memorable, right now, aside from the times we almost broke up church because we couldn’t stop laughing, and the time she made me go on the Cruise from You-Know-Where, is the time we went to the drive-in movie to see The Great Gatsby, and her eleven- and twelve-year-old sons–I’ll call them Boy C and Boy G–sat in the back seat griping for the length of the dumb, boring show and yowling to go home.

When the second feature came on, however, the boys displayed immediate interest. It was The Sterile Cuckoo, a cute, sweet movie starring Liza Minnelli. We hadn’t planned to stay for it, but every time Mary Veazey said we had to leave, the boys protested. This was a real good movie, Mom, so we stayed.

We stayed so long that we ran into the scene in the little motel room in which Minneli’s college freshman girl, Pookie Adams, offers Wendell Burton’s sweet, shy freshman boy the opportunity to “Peel the Tomato.”
 And there we were, as they say, ketched.

The boys in the back seat were leaning head and shoulders into the front. They were very, very quiet. I don’t think they were breathing.

Their mother and I didn’t breathe either, because if we had, laughter would have bounced off the screen and echoed throughout the lot.

Suppressing that much laughter for an entire scene hurts.

Finally, the camera pulled waaaay back on the two young characters walking across a field of green, accompanied by the Sandpipers’ lovely rendition of “Come Saturday Morning.”

Mary Veazey saw an opportunity and grabbed it. “Okay, time to go.” She replaced the speaker on its stand, started the car, threw it into gear, and tore out of there.

Boys: “Aw, Mom, it’s not over yet.”

Mom: “Yes it is.”

Boys: “But the music isn’t over. Let’s stay till the music’s over.”

Mom: “No, I want to get out before everybody else does. Don’t want to have to wait in line.”

Boys: “Awwww, Mom. We want to stay.”

Mom: “No, it’s late. Gotta get home.”

Kathy: “Hahahahahaahahahaha.”

Mary Veazey couldn’t give me the evil eye because by that time she was laughing, too.

All the way home, we heard from the back seat, “Boy, that was a good movie.” “Yeah, that was good.” “I wish we could have stayed till the music was over.” “Yeah. That was good.” Periodically, one leaned forward and said, “What’re y’all laughing at?”

Then Boy G said, “What was the name of that movie?” They looked back at the still visible marquee.

Boy G read, “Shirley Cuckoo.”

From the front seat: “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”

“Not ‘Shirley,'” said Boy C. “The Stirlee Cuckoo.”

Front seat, louder, “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”

Laughing that hard hurts, too. And it can be dangerous. I’m surprised Mary Veazey didn’t run the car up onto the sidewalk and get us all hauled off to jail. It’s good she didn’t, because we’d have just laughed harder.

The next morning no one mentioned the movie. But that afternoon, while the boys and two neighbor girls played cards in the living room, and I sat in the kitchen waiting for cookies to bake (cookies the boys were making, hahahaha again), I caught part of the conversation.

Boy G (quietly): “We went to a movie last night.”

Girls: “What was it rated?”

Boy C (whispering): “X, I think.”

I was sorry Mary Veazey was at work and missed the punch line.

Several years later, The Sterile Cuckoo aired on television. About five minutes into the movie, the phone rang. It was Mary Veazey. “What are you doing?”

“You know what I’m doing. Watching The Stirlee Cuckoo.

“Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”

Happy Birthday, Mary Veazey. We ought to take the boys to the movie again sometime.

 

*****

mamaw in hat
Mary Veazey Barrow

Note 1: Our grandmother’s maiden name was Mary Veazey. For people who say, Mary What?, it’s pronounced VEE-zee. Alternatives, for those in the family, are Veazey, Merveazey, and other such diminutives. She introduces herself as Mary. I got the Mary part of our grandmother’s name but was spared the Veazey confusion. My problem comes from the Katherine I got from my great-grandmother. I’m Kathy, but I have to introduce myself as Mary to anyone holding an official, or unofficial, record. On seeing Mary Katherine, many people say, “Are you a nun?” I’m not.

Note 2: All this happened in 1974. I don’t know whether Boys C and G have even seen the real ending of The Stirlee Cuckoo. I don’t know whether they ever learned the correct title. I don’t even know whether they remember any of this at all. But if I send this post to their wives on Facebook, they will.

Note 3: President Nixon resigned later that week, but the movie is my more vivid recollection.

Note 4: Both The Great Gatsby and The Sterile Cuckoo had been out for several years before this story took place. I’m always behind in my movie-going.

Here’s a clip from The Sterile Cuckoo.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Sixty

Today would have been my mother’s ninety-eighth birthday. On last May 1, my father would have been one hundred.

When I take the time to really think about that, it’s mind-boggling. I can’t imagine them at those ages.

Mother used to tell a story about my great-aunt Lydia’s sixtieth birthday. Lydia, her mother, her two younger sisters, and two of her nieces–my mother and her youngest sister, who was generally referred to as “that cute little Betty,”*–went to dinner to celebrate.

Back home, my great-grandmother put on her nightgown and got into the big four-poster bed in Lydia’s downstairs bedroom. The other women sat around her and did what they always did when they got together–talked and laughed. No topic was off limits and everything was funny. A quiet child could learn a lot in those sessions.

That night, my great-grandmother, whom the younger ones called Grannygirl, sat propped against her pillows, old but still the quintessential sharp-witted (and sharp-tongued) Southern belle. While the others talked, she said nothing.

Finally, looking into the distance, such as it was, she uttered a single sentence: “Lydia, you’re sixty.” Her tone was contemplative, but it also carried an undertone of surprise.

In the silence that followed, Lydia said yes, she was.

A few minutes later, still gazing somewhere above her descendants’ heads, Grannygirl broke in again. “Lydia, you’re sixty.

Again, Lydia agreed she was.

Another few minutes passed and Grannygirl said it once more: “Lydia, you’re sixty.

Obviously having heard enough on that topic, Lydia responded, a bit sharply, “Well, Mother what does that make you?”

End of conversation.

I thought of that story because, like Grannygirl trying to get used to having a sixty-year-old daughter, I can’t quite get used to the idea of my parents at the century mark. At the same time, I believe, were they alive today, they would not have changed. I know, however, that to them, I would be radically different.

I wish they could have attended my wedding. I wish they could know my husband. I wish they could read this blog and my fiction. I wish they could read the pieces I’ve published. I wish they could know that, though I miss them terribly,  I’m secure and happy.

One thing I’m certain of: If my parents had been here to celebrate my birthday a few years ago, we would  have gone out to dinner, and then we would have come home and changed into more comfortable clothes. And then, while we sat in the living room talking about anything and everything, my mother would at some point have looked into the distance and said, “Kathy, you’re sixty.”

Crystal Barrow Waller and Billie Waller, 1942
Crystal Barrow Waller and Billie Waller, 1942

*

*Betty was short, had red hair and a sweet Irish face, and was drop-dead funny. She was everybody’s favorite, her nieces and nephews adored her, and she left us much too soon.

betty-and-kathy-19521
Betty and Kathy, 1952

Petting Zoos, Methodists, and Misbehavior

The petting zoo has come to BookPeople!

Consequently, the average age in the coffee shop–aka my office–is considerably lower than usual. I estimate it at approximately two.

Normally I filter out noise and activity to concentrate on writing. The ability to hyperfocus is a gift.

Today, however, what’s going on around me is more interesting than the story to be revised.

Behind and to the right, a little-bitty with black eyes and a pixie cut sings, “E-I-E-I-OOOOO.” She began in atonal mode but soon picked up the melody.

Directly behind me, a little boy I imagine as blond protested. “I don’t like to sit down.” Then he shrieked and wailed.

“OoooooooooooooooooOoooooooooooooooooOooooooooooooooo.” Finally he settled down to snuffling. I assume at some point, probably while the Ooooooooos were wearing down, he sat. Now he’s either resigned to his fate or he’s left the store.

There’s been a lot of wailing today. I don’t know why, considering the petting zoo is here. Maybe it’s tension. Maybe it’s that little kids are like adults: some days you get out of bed in a snit and you just have to share it.

Mothers have changed since I was a child. In my day, a mother would have taken the child outside and given him a choice: behave or go home and not get to see the animals or have a cookie or whatever special treat has been promised. I don’t know a child who was actually hauled home, and I don’t know a parent who meant what she–or he–said, but generally things quieted down a bit.

Something similar happened to me when I was a child. But I wasn’t offered a choice. And I wasn’t hauled home. I imagine a lot of people wished I had been.

At church one Sunday, the Methodist little-bitties–or, as one of my teacher friends calls them, ankle-biters–were all decked out to stand at the front and sing a song. Our teacher, who should have known better, had seated us in a pew, side-by-side. While the adults were doing their thing, Helen Ruth and I took the opportunity to converse.

My parents sat in the pew right behind us. They disapproved of talking during the service. My father picked me up, took me out on the front porch, and gave me a swat.

137
First United Methodist Church of Fentress, 2015. By MKW.

Ours was a small country church, and Daddy and I were maybe twenty feet from the back pew, so the congregation got the full benefit of my caterwauling.

And when we returned to the sanctuary, I refused to perform with the rest of the class.

Have I mentioned I don’t remember any of this?

Talking in church got me in trouble, but the swat got Daddy in trouble.

Because Mother blamed him for my declining to stand in front of the communion rail and be cute–and she was right; no way would I display myself in front of a bunch of people who’d heard that swat–and she stayed righteously indignant for the rest of her life. Periodically, she would say, “I was so mad at your father. All he had to do was lean over and say, ‘Girls, stop talking.'”

What really got her goat was that I refused to perform in Sunday school programs for several years thereafter.

I can’t fault my father, however. An inexperienced parent, he was trying to do the right thing.

Knowing what I do about myself, I’m sure I was angry and embarrassed. I was an eminently embarrassable child. I was also obstinate.

I know something else, too.

Years later my parents and I were sitting in the First Methodist Church in San Marcos, waiting for the choir to perform selections from The Messiah, when Daddy said, “I haven’t been in this church since I was ten years old.” That was 1925. “I went to Sunday school with Johnny Graham [a cousin], and they made me stand up and say my name and where I was from, and I never went back again.”

So there you are. Embarrassable is hereditary. So is obstinacy.

It gives me satisfaction to know that if my father had been removed to the front porch and given a swat, he wouldn’t have just refused to sing with his Sunday school class.

My father would have waited fifty years before he darkened that Methodist door.

 ***

I started this post for the purpose of telling a personal anecdote about a petting zoo but somehow got off onto Methodists and lost my way back. Because I have much more experience with Methodists–and Presbyterians and Baptists–than I do with petting zoos, it’ll be a while before I return to the animals. But that’s okay, because the church stories are a lot more interesting. And you won’t read them anywhere else.