Reach back to when you were just three years old. I was the youngest brother of four and we had four older sisters. Every morning, long before dawn, mother would be up beating the dough and rolling it out for biscuits. She would lay two large pans full, leaving the scraps for me to feature stars, animals and funny looking creatures with the rest. These biscuits would be our bread for the day. We were poor and could not afford sliced bread at 8 cents a loaf.
We lived in the outskirts of Miami, Florida. Six sacks for lunch were put side by side on the screened in porch by the door. One by one my sisters and brothers would be off to school grabbing a lunch as they went. We stood and watched them grab a lunch, kiss Mother and disappear around the corner grocery store. Miami Edison school was 10 blocks away. I remember turning with Mother and saying in a rather tongue tied voice, “just you and me, just you and me”.
Every Monday was the same. There were nine stacks of dirty clothes in a shed just outside the back door. The old black boiling pot had been started by my older brother Tom. The ancient two tub washer was filled and the work began. Sometimes Mother’s hair would get caught in the ringer, and she would butt it and it would fall apart. She would put it back together again and start over. We had eight lines to hang the clothes on and would spread the rags or heavy work pants over the bushes. The last of the clothes were hung just before dark. It happened every Monday.
Tuesday was ironing day. Mother would sprinkle the shirts and pants with water and roll them up for ironing. I leaned to fold underwear and the rags. There was no such thing as “wrinkle free shirts or pants in the early thirties. Dad’s shirts and pants had to be sprinkled in starch water before ironing. Dad was the District manager of Life and Casualty Insurance Company of Nashville Tennessee. He had to look nice.
Wednesday was the day that Mother put away the clothes. Mother and Dad and seven kids lived in a house on 57th street. My brother Fred and I revisited the house long after the family had moved. It had been condemned by the city and soon to be destroyed. The house seemed awful small, less than one thousand square feet. We four boys had a room all to ourselves that was 8 by 10. The three girls lived in a bedroom about as large, and mother and dad lived in a room all their own. All nine of us shared one bathroom that was so small you had to back out of the room to change your mind.
Behind the bathroom door was the miracle medical devise of all ages. The red rubber bag hung on a nail high up on the door. Attached to the bottom was a long black rubber tube that ended in a bone like shape of hard substance. It took three of us to operate on the afflicted. One would stir the soapy water in the bag. Another would squeeze open the tube that had melted together during the hot summer days, while the third was the one that supervised the entire operation. He would face the patient and say, “Got enough, got enough?” It was known to us as the “Friendly Enema”.
The miracle drug of the ages was Caster Oil. Just one look at the bottle and we would shout, “I’m better, I’m better!!!” We took things back then that would be marked today “For External Use Only”. When we were sick, miracle medicine women would invade the house shouting various ways of saving the child. “Have him breathe in a sack”, one would shout. “Turn his liver over,” another would say. “Make a pot of onion soup and have him smell the vapors”, another would advise. One man in the neighborhood discovered a cure for an unknown disease. He wife caught the cure and died. When anyone in the neighborhood took a new medicine and recovered, others would overdose on the stuff and get sick.
During the summer, Dad always wanted to go to bed when we wanted to stay out of it and he always wanted to get out of it when we wanted to stay in it. But he was good to us and only required us to work half-a-day, and he didn’t care which 12 hours it was. When we had a piece of gum we would chew it for days and each night stick it to the metal bedpost. If you didn’t wake up early, one of your bothers might have it and be gone. We could always track it down by color; the flavor had departed days before.
I’m looking at a page from mother’s journal. The daily listing of the various bake goods mother would make that were sold to neighbors to help dad meet the weekly bills that were due.
The marvel of all that Mother was and did was really miraculous. You see, my mother was stone dead all of her adult life. She never heard any of her children laugh or cry or sing, or speak. Mother was the wonder of the ages and it all goes back in my memory to the time when I would say in a tongue tied voice, “Just you and me, just you and me.”