Monday, February 24, 2014

The Misses Head, Whom I Have Forgiven

The Misses Head, Ada Belle and Alpha Retta (not kidding) were my sitters when I was in elementary school.  The Misses Head were not among my favorite people.  Ergo, this story.

First, let me just say this before anyone gets the idea that I'm complaining about my parents.  I am not.  I had a loving mother and daddy whom I loved very much. Make no mistake about it. And they did the best they could by us kids.  No matter who your parents are, though, life just has a way of being a little rough sometimes.  At the same time, let me also recognize that the frailties of my childhood pale in the face of others.

My mother worked a large portion of my childhood.  I don't think it was so much because she wanted to but that she thought it necessary.  Some mornings, with my older sister inside getting ready to go to work herself, I would tell my mother goodbye then sit on the front porch swing and watch her climb in with her carpool buddy.  Off they would go, out the driveway and down the hill.  Then, when my mother couldn't see me, I would unleash the tears.  I didn't want her to see me crying.  I'm not sure why.  My greatest wish in the world was that my mother didn't work and would be home with me in the summers and waiting for me when I got off the bus during the school year. Never mind the milk and cookies.  I just wanted my mother there, so it was bittersweet when she became disabled with a couple of different kinds of heart conditions when I was about thirteen years old.

Until that time I had been left with different sitters in the summer and after school.  My paternal grandmother, who lived with us for a short time, tended me until she died six days before my fifth birthday.  I was taken aside and told that the anticipated birthday party was canceled.  It sort of wouldn't look nice if we were partying six days after my grandmother passed away.  I agreed.  I don't think I even missed the party.  It wasn't like I had one every year.  That practice wasn't as rampant as it is now.  (Heck, these days it can even be true for adults.  "We're having a party for Joe Doe!  He's turning 42 next Wednesday!")

When I was around nine or so, my parents decided to rent out the tiny house next door that they owned and had lived in for a short time many years before I was born, probably not 500 square feet to the place.  They married in 1935, and I was born in 1954, after two somewhat older siblings.  (No, I wasn't an accident...I asked Mother and was promptly put in my place.  "No, ma'am!  I'll have you know I had to beg your daddy for all THREE of y'all!")  Yikes!  I was silent on the subject thereafter.

So...they rented the house to The Misses Head, two elderly (well, at the time I thought 64 and 68 were elderly) spinster sisters who wore their yellow-gray hair in buns, cardigans and head scarves inside the house, and snuggies (a really ugly but warm thigh-length precursor to Under Armour) and what appeared to be orthopedic shoes.  You know, those black lace-up things with the chunky heel.  The little house had no air conditioning, which was okay...ours didn't either.  Not many houses did in the 60s.  It had never had paint on the wood plank walls, and they wouldn't let my daddy paint it for them.  The house had a small kitchen and a tiny area where the wringer-type washing machine sat, through which you walked to enter the living room, through which you walked to enter the lone bedroom where the feather bed beckoned me to sink into its fluffiness.  That was the best part about being there.  That, and the yellow and white cat with the unlikely name "Pinky."

Well, there was one more good thing.  On occasion Retta would make tea cakes for me.  I have not had a cookie since then that compared.  They were marvelous cake-type cookies that retained their soft yellow dough color even after baking and seemed as big around as a cat-head biscuit.  Probably if I saw one today I would think they were tiny, but back then they looked huge.  And they were delicious.

The Misses Head had a radio tuned not to our local station but to a station in the next county, familiar to them before they moved into Daddy's little house.  They had no TV or bathroom.  They had no running water but walked to my house next door and got water either from the well or from a spigot.  They had a wood pile outside for their only source of heat, the little wood stove that sat in the middle of the tiny living room, but I'm not sure where they got the wood.  I think they lived on Social Security, so maybe there was a Benevolent Giver of Wood.  Doesn't matter now.  They are long gone.

Now that I ponder the situation, they probably agreed to babysit me in the summers and after school as a part of the rental deal.  Why do I think this?  Attitude is everything.  They were not particularly fond of my presence, not that I was mistreated (hey, they made me tea cakes and let me make peanut butter and syrup sandwiches) but one particular day I remember backtalking Ada (for some stupid reason I can't remember) and she started "having a spell."  I was promptly told that I had caused it.  (Somehow, though, she seemed to get over it pretty quickly.)

So you can imagine, and I hope forgive me, if I was just a little overjoyed when I found out my mother, in the hospital at Christmastime having had a radical mastectomy, was told she had heart troubles that would keep her from working.  I tried not to do Snoopy dances.  Yes, we had Snoopy back then.

That was a miserable Christmas, by the way.  My mother was in the hospital an hour away from home so my sister, father, and I arose early and I pretended, for the movie camera, to happily inspect the Christmas gifts that Santa had brought, an Oscar-worthy performance which my mother would watch and enjoy later.  But all I really wanted was to get to that hospital to see my mother.  The house wasn't "right" when she wasn't there, especially on Christmas morning.

That was in the day of the telephone party line.  The explanation, for those of you who have never heard of this antiquated phone system, is that several houses shared one line.  Each had their own phone number but shared the same line.  It's complicated, but the bottom line is, if you picked up the receiver to make a call and heard someone talking, you immediately replaced the receiver and tried later.  (Well, you were supposed to.)  One day during the middle of mother's breast cancer situation, I picked up the phone to make a call and immediately heard two familiar female voices talking about my mother.  When I heard them say, "You know it's malignant," I quietly replaced the receiver in a state of shock.  Even at the age of thirteen I knew what that normally meant.  However, the radical mastectomy took care of it and she never had any treatment, or cancer, again.

There were other painful situations in my childhood.  Maybe I'll tell you about them later.  Or not.  The point I'd like to make is this:  Even though life sometimes stunk back then, there were many, many happy times and I wouldn't change any of it.  See, your life, however it is that you have to live it, helps shape who you turn out to be.  This means you can turn out to be a stinker because you whine that life has treated you badly, or you can use the past to strengthen the future.

And if you are as fortunate as I am to have had a loving and caring person (Thank you, Joyce!) come along in your life and introduce you to the Jesus Christ that you claimed to know but really didn't, you are infinitely empowered to view your future as a bright one (if not in this life, then in the unending life hereafter) one for others to observe and emulate.  And when they ask you about the light that radiates from you, tell them about this Jesus Christ, the One Who alone is the Light of the World.  The One Who alone makes THE difference in your life.

Sometimes you don't even suspect that someone had a difficult childhood, and sometimes it is painfully obvious.

I think the Misses Head had difficult childhoods.  I hope they found peace.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Have Mercy!

Kids can be downright brats.  I've known many such kids over the years.  There have been times when I wondered how in the world a parent could let a child "act like that" in public.  (Wal-Mart, my other home, comes to mind first.)

You may think this blog post is about bratty kids.  It's not.  It's about mercy.  I have received more than my share of mercy in my life.  Much more.  Here are two accounts of times when I most assuredly should have been punished but was shown mercy.  Both times said mercy was extended by my precious mother, now in Heaven for 27 years.

Once when I was about six or so, Daddy decided it was time to add the bathroom to his old home place to which we had moved upon leaving our home near Atlanta.  Yes, THE bathroom.  The only bathroom it ever had.  Decision made, Mother and Daddy asked someone they knew that was qualified to install the new loo, and he came over one day to discuss the particulars.  He brought his little boy with him.  His little boy was my age.  His little boy was in my class at school.  I was the only kid on Briscoe Hill.  Do you know what it does to a kid who is the only kid in the area when a kid...a kid from school...comes over for the first (and only) time?  A kid like me has to show out a little because she doesn't know anything else to do.  So when I was to put the glass milk bottle out (yes, we had a milkman who actually brought milk to our house in glass bottles!) my mother said, "Don't throw it.  It'll break."  Of course, I knew more than she did and gave it a toss into the grass.

Upon hearing the tinkling of breaking glass, I knew all too well what had occurred, was mortified, and ran into the house.  I think I was even crying.  The boy from my class was sitting on the porch watching as I totally disobeyed my mother AND made myself look foolish.  My mother followed me into the house and found me sobbing.  Instead of the thrashing that I probably expected, she came near and put her arm around me.  She probably hugged me to herself and told me it was okay until I quit crying.  I don't remember what happened after that.  I guess I was too much in awe of her kindness to remember or even care.

The second time was several years later when my cousin and her parents were coming to visit.  She is about my age and we played together well, so I was excited.  We only had the opportunity to get together a few times a year and when we did, it was always fun.  But wouldn't you know it, something came up and they couldn't come.  I found out just about time we were sitting down to supper with my brother and his family.  I was pouting and acting up (again) and my brother, who was sitting across the table from me, thought it necessary to mock me.  (Don't ever mock a kid who has been sorely disappointed.  I've already said I was the only kid on Briscoe Hill, so pulling the rug out from under a promised visit from another kid was serious.)  I simply HAD to get back at him, so I scooped up some mashed potatoes from my plate, pulled back the spoon, and catapulted the thick, sticky goop across the table and planted it firmly upon his bare forehead.  What was that voice?  My conscience.  "June, you are dead where you sit."  Again, when I expected my mother to launch herself across the table at me, she just dished out the mercy.  Looking back (and being a mother of two myself) she probably was thinking to herself, "Good for you.  He deserved it."  After all, he's seventeen years older than I am.  He should have known better.

My mother taught me a lot about parenting, just by her excellent example.  I don't mean to mislead you...I got plenty of punishment for plenty of misbehaviors.  However, my mother was a very loving and discerning person and balanced life very well.  I suppose there are three kinds of mothers in the world:  those who beat their children for the least infraction of the rules; those who have no rules and therefore never punish a kid for breaking them because they don't exist; and those like my mother who weigh the circumstances at hand before acting.  I wish all the brats in the world had mothers with as much love and mercy as the one I had.