Two to Five-Years -Old

The first house we lived in on Olive Street was directly across the alley from the elementary school which Billy attended. Our next-door neighbors were teachers. They asked permission to enroll me in an experimental program for the school district — it was called kindergarten. It always amused me that I was part of an experiment.

When I entered school, Billy was in the 6th grade, Margaret was in high school and Lee was in college. The school grounds had the usual swings, see-saws and slides where we spent most of our summer days.

Unless it was bitterly cold, we played outside all day. The back of the house had an alley which bordered the school grounds. Billy always made sure to let us know when rag-pickers were in the alley. Billy spent hours telling us that they were coming for us little ones. Havoc and fear were her calling cards. Lee had a Heinz 57 mutt, mostly bull-dog, that latched on to my underwear whenever I was outside. I wore a path around the house dragging that dog through the dirt.

On the back porch was a wooden ice box and in the summer the ice man delivered ice for it. After World War II, families were able to purchase refrigerators. Previously, most families survived with an old fashion ice box. I remembering seeing the ice man use a huge pair of tongs to sling that bulky block of ice over his shoulder. Icy, dripping water formed a trail as he walked around to the back of the house. Before the 1970s, most families had milk and butter delivered daily.

We listened to the radio as it was the lifeline for news, music and entertainment, much like television today. There were soap operas, quiz shows, sports, mysteries, comedies and dramas galore. I can still hear the mystery show announcer’s voice say in his eerie voice, “The Shadow knows!”

The older kids would slid back the throw rugs and danced to the Big Band programs, they tuned in on a tinny radio. They also did the “Jitterbug.” It was the first dance in centuries that allowed individual expression. During World War II, GIs took the dance overseas, and they spread it world-wide. We played cards, and it didn’t take much to start a “sing.” The entire family sang wonderful harmony, no matter what had happened that day.

Aunt Sadie, the last surviving child of John and Missouri Graham, passed away. Mother and Daddy rushed to Mississippi for the funeral and the reading of the will. The Graham property had been left to sons and daughters only. When Steed died, his share went to the remaining siblings. I am not sure if Daddy knew this or just failed to believe it. Through the elimination of siblings, the property ended up with Aunt Sadie who had no children. She left the property in total to one niece, who was the mother of our cousin, Louise. There was a lawsuit by Daddy and the other cousins to no avail. The lifestyle, so long ago promised by his mother, was no longer possible. That ship never came in, which is probably one of the reasons I am so cynical today. Don’t waste time waiting for a pig in a poke.

When they went to the funeral, Margaret decided to cut my blond curls into a Buster Brown hair bob, which I absolutely despised. In the early 1900s, there was a comic book character named Buster Brown, who wore bangs with blond curls over his ears. He had a dog named Tige. In the 1940s, a shoe company bought the rights to the Buster Brown name and opened shoe stores all over America. The stores had a contraption which would x-ray the foot in order to properly fit growing feet. Standing me on the toilet, Margaret held my chin with one hand to prevent me from moving. With her scissors snipping, I got the idea that being beautiful was torture. I am sure she doesn’t remember it that way. When the folks came home, I had pneumonia. I always attributed having pneumonia to that horrid hair cut.

We moved to another commonplace house further up Olive Street. It was old-fashioned without hallways, and the doors lead to each room. Lee threw a wriggling mouse into the bath room. Even with two doors leading out, we were unable to escape. Margaret stood on the toilet, screaming, while I cowered in the sink, crying until we were rescued.

While living in this house, I twice had pneumonia and a bout of whooping-cough. Unable to play outside and feeling better, I would pedal my tricycle in the house. When Santa came, he forgot to leave a toy piano for me. I remember Mother rummaging through a closet looking for the “God-damned” piano.

I vividly recall sitting on the front porch, watching an elderly, next-door neighbor smoke. She cut unfiltered cigarettes in halves. She would mount a lit, half cigarette on a toothpick which she daintily held with two fingers. It was years, before I realized that she didn’t want to get nicotine on her fingers. In the alley, there was a tiny, worn-out house where a Black family lived with two children about my age. I played with them and got lice, much to Margaret’s long-haired dismay. Ah yes, I had an idyllic child-hood, but somehow being number four was still the best advantage.

We moved a third time, up Olive Street to a nice house which was all brick with a large yard. The deep-set, smooth, concrete porch was so cool in the summer time, I played there with my dolls. The owner lived next door, a memorable Greek gentleman, Mr. Panis. He had grown children and seemed to adore us little ones. He would let me plant lettuce in his garden, and we played under his huge, grape arbor. On Saturday mornings, he would make pancakes, soaked in melted butter, sprinkled with sugar and crumbled bacon and layered with another pancake, butter, sugar and bacon. I thought this was the most wonderful meal I had ever eaten, much less for breakfast.

Cooking was never Mother’s forte. The only thing she successfully cooked were pots of Lima beans. Apparently she never cooked enough of them, because Lee would offer to pay me a quarter for my share. For all the beans he out-talked me, he still owes me. Dad had a Packard automobile, probably a 1949 model. It had doors so heavy I could barely pull them open. It was a four-door sedan, and we could roll the back windows down for air to blow on us.

The only responsibility that I recall Billy ever having was to take us to the movies, on Saturday afternoons. Margaret would braid my hair, apparently the Buster Brown cut had grown out. I hated that hair style, too. I would sit in the dark movie and upbraid my hair. I would emerge from the afternoon picture show looking like a future 1960s hippie.

We were dropped off at the movies every Saturday afternoon. We sat through several short features, cartoons and then the feature movie. There was not a specific start time for movies, you stayed until the place where you came in restarted. We would go in to the theater in the middle of a show and not be concerned as we knew eventually, we would see the beginning. Not until Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho in 1960 did anyone think about going into a movie in the middle.

A normal memory of Billy is at this house. On Halloween, she would get a large, paper bag and go trick-or-treating. She would not come home until she had visited every possible house.

On a Saturday, Lee was the designated baby-sitter for me while Mother and Daddy went to a church function. He spent the day telling me, “We are going honky-tonking.” I did not know what honky-tonks were and positive, I didn’t want to find out. Honky-tonks were rough establishments, mostly in the Deep South, which served liquor to neighborhood and working class customers. In honky-tonks, people danced to low-down piano players or small bands. I recall our parents dropping us off, and Lee dragging me down the sidewalk, caterwauling. He took me to see Snow White. Sometime later, Margaret took me to see The Wizard of Oz.

There is a black and white photo of me astride a pony. I remember the photographer coming into the yard with his camera and a pony. Putting a cowboy hat on me, he plopped me up on the pony. He took my picture with dirt still on my face, and my hair was frizzy from playing outside. It would have never occurred to anyone to brush my hair for a photograph.

Aunt Swint married Uncle Smitty, and they moved to Texarkana. Smitty was a true drunk, and I doubt if I ever saw him sober. Always sweet and patient, Aunt Swint worked and supported him. He eventually left her for his former wife Mary, also an alcoholic. Uncle Smitty was a fun drunk. We would eat cold hot dogs for breakfast as the night before he had come home drunk with a dozen hot dogs. On Sunday nights, he would take us to colored churches to hear the gospel singing.

Daddy resurrected “Kay Graham and the Night Herders” with Dallas Lee as the featured singer. Lee was in show biz. Over the years, Lee had a favorite joke. A man’s job was to be the pooper-scooper following behind the circus elephants. A friend told him he needed to find a better job. The man replied, “What and give up show biz!”

The band had been booked for an all day gig playing at a new Sears and Roebuck store. The featured attraction for the grand opening was Dub Taylor, a character actor of the Gabby Hayes genre. He was also known as Cannonball Taylor. He was balding with a fringe of white, spiky hair. His grizzled appearance was softened by slightly rotund, red cheeks. Between his bits, this gentleman played with me. He sat me on his knee, told me stories and teased me. He had blue eyes which twinkled when he cackled with his raspy laugh. I was impressed by an adult, who showed so much kindness and patience to a child. I looked up his biography on line. An actor of the movie heyday, he made 222 movies in his lifetime.

Lee was going to junior college and brought his buddies home, who boarded with us. They delighted in sneaking up and scratching on the window screens at night, scaring me and Ron witless. Ed Upchurch, one of Lee’s pals, was in a play in the college drama department. Lee took me to the dress rehearsal. Ed was lying in a casket. I became hysterical when I saw him. I was beside myself when he sat up. They lived to play pranks, even on a five-year-old.

Margaret was dating. After cleaning the living room, she would shut the double pane glass doors. She promised us dire happenings if we entered the room before her date came to pick her up. In close succession, both Lee and Margaret married. I didn’t go to Lee’s wedding as I was sick. Margaret and Van married in Nashville where his parents lived. They both moved out, and now Ron and I were saddled with only Billy for a big sister. She was a tomboy with the Dad’s volatile, depressive gene and Mother’s vanity gene. Always surly and abusive, she made her younger siblings pay, regularly, for having invaded her space. She bullied me every day of my life until I was sixteen.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is so funny. I love that you blame the pneumonia on the haircut. This is really funny. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. I see a lot of my childhood in your Az tales, I have the advantage of looking back after 60 years, so I am more relaxed. You really write well and should really pursue it.

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