Mrs. E was 25 years my senior. Mom was 31 when I was born. These two women were raised during times that saw great change. Mom was in her 20’s when WWII broke out. Mrs E was 15 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Like Mom, many of the men and boys in her life went to war.
When I first met Mrs. E, it had been about 4 years since a stroke had left her partially paralyzed on her left side. This event changed her life in a very big way. Her house was full of reminders of her many talents. She had beautiful crocheted bedspreads and afghans in her closets, and bookshelves full of jigsaw puzzles. She had gardened and in other ways, had been very active. She had to give up all those fun and rewarding pastimes after the stroke.
Knowing that many people of her generation loved to play bingo, I asked her if she had ever played the game. She said, “Oh yeah, that’s how I got my 4th old man.” This started a conversation about the men in her life. She made it clear to me that she was not a “rounder,” nor were any of the “old men” who had been important to her .
Over that four year period, I learned about these men. The happy times, and the tragedies that she experienced. As I tell you about our conversations, keep in mind that sometimes her memory played a few tricks on her, and she did sometimes embellish for effect. Something of course, I never do.
When she was a young teenager, little miss E, developed a crush on the boy who lived down the road. They spent evenings in his living room where they would lie on the floor propped up on their elbows, and listen to the radio with his folks. This is where they were when they heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and the U.S. was entering WWII.
Mrs. E told me the young boy she was with went the very next day and enlisted. I waited for her to tell me more, but she just went back to eating her Spam sandwich. Finally, I asked, “What happened to the boy? Did he go overseas?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh yeah, he went over there, got killed and came back the same day.”
What was supposed to be her first date, with the man she eventually married, didn’t happen. She had agreed to go with him to some kind of a church or school social, but at the last minute, she chickened out. She climbed a tree in her front yard and waited. From her perch, she watched him come to the house and knock on the door. Her Mother answered and told him her daughter was around there someplace. They looked everywhere, but didn’t find her, so he finally left. She came down from the tree and went inside. She said her Mother never mentioned it.
Like many depression era families, she grew up very poor. She had to work in the cotton fields and couldn’t attend school. She told me how hard it was for her to go to school for the first time and try to join an 8th grade class. One day, as she waited for her school bus, she got sprayed by a skunk. She was so determined to go to school, she boarded the bus anyway. She made it all the way to school, but wasn’t allowed to stay and had to walk all the way back home. She never learned how to read or write anything but her name, however she was indeed street smart. She signed everything, even a birthday card to her daughter, “Best wishes, and always her full name.
She told me about her half brother who was about 4 years older. She called him Bubba. The two of them had some pretty wild escapades. They became irritated with a group of kids who walked passed their house each evening and sang loud songs. One day the pair spotted a dead animal, which gave Bubba an idea. The two of them found a board about the same size as the newly departed beast, who was looking pretty gruesome by this time. They nailed him to the board, and attached a long narrow rope to opposite sides of the board. Each took a rope and positioned the mounted animal beside the road. They hid themselves behind trees, one on each side. They were now ready for the singing children to come walking by.
It wasn’t long until they heard the familiar, yet irritating singing. They waited until the children were close enough to see the dead animal, but still couldn’t see the ropes. Bubba tightened his rope and slowly pulled the upright dead animal across the road in front of the kids, who by this time had stopped singing. Little E, slowly let her rope out as Bubba continued to pull the grotesque animal onto the kid’s path. Mrs. E told me those kids turned and ran as fast as they could. She and Bubba could hear the screaming above their own laughter. Apparently, the choir learned their lesson, because they never heard them come down the road singing again.
I thought of course this was the end of the story, but Mrs. E. went on to tell me that she and Bubba just left the mounted dead animal laying on the side of the road. That night, when they were called to supper, they had quite a surprise. Bubba and little E. sat on a bench pulled up to the table. When they were seated and ready to eat, their Father, left for a minute and came back with the dead animal still attached to the board and set it between them on the bench. I’m assuming this was his way of telling the pair he knew what they had done, and he did not approve. Mrs. E. said they both wished they could run away screaming, but they knew better. They sat there and ate their supper in silence.
Apparently Mrs. E’s father was a man of few words when it came to disciplining his kids. She told me of a time they got into some “Good Ole Mountain Dew,” and drank enough that it was noticed. Rather than say anything, he gave them an extremely bumpy wagon ride, until they felt the effects of drinking and riding. Both of them got pretty sick.
Mrs. E. could tell the stories with the best of them. She loved talking about the barn dances they had every Friday night. Her Dad played the fiddle and everyone had fun. We found a radio station that played those old familiar hoedown songs. I could tell by the look on her face that the music took her back to those special times. She knew all the words. I even knew a few of them.
It seems as we get older, the good times rise to the top like sweet cream, while the bad times no longer have the sting they once had. What a blessing that is…