Moms and Mom Stand-Ins

Miss Oneia Gahr, was as close to being my substitute mom as anyone.  My great-grandmother was her father’s sister.  She was mother’s best friend, attended the same college–earned a teaching degree.

Their personalities were exact opposites.  My mother was quiet and reserved, Oneia was outgoing and plain-spoken.  Mom taught fourth-grade elementary, Oneia, high school mathematics.  Miss Gahr was a strict disciplinarian at home, and no doubt, the same at school.

Several summers were spent working on Miss Gahr’s dairy farm.  As an adolescent, it seemed like pure drudgery.  Who knew dairy cows didn’t like their mornings interrupted?  “Talk to them gently, in a low voice, or they might kick you.”

That didn’t mean to act goofy and crazy, “Hey girls what’s happening this morning?” But, rather to be gentle, not boisterous.  It worked, and I never got kicked.  It did nothing, however, to stop swats from muddy cow’s tails.  To them, I was just another fly that needed swatting.

Whatever needed to be done–she worked as hard as any man around the farm.  She cut me no slack when it came to cleaning the dairy barn.  And, oh that cattle waste–tons of it, had to be hosed away.

Miss Oneia went at life full tilt.  Driving was no exception.  She liked flashy land yachts.  Had a slew of Pontiac Bonneville convertibles in the sixties.  Before that, she had a fifties-era, Ford hardtop convertible.

Riding with her in the old rattletrap Chevy pickup over farm roads was a neck-snapping thrill ride.  Nothing topped the day the wiring in the Ford two-ton grain truck  caught fire under the dashboard.  Acrid smoke filled the cab as the insulation burned.  Miss Oneia grabbed a hay bale hook, yanked out wires till the smoke subsided.

We always considered her part of the family, not just a distant relative.  All three of us boys raised bottle calves that she donated.  My sister raised a white pig.  She tutored me in Math and Geometry.  Happy Mom’s Day to both my mom, and my substitute mom!

 

 

 

The Past Week Summarized

Their visit started with a harrowing drive through unfamiliar territory in driving rainstorms.  Most of the week–with the exception of Thursday morning–weather was perfect.  Discussion topics were myriad and any mean-spirited implications were in jest.

  • The $5000 mutt, changes to last will and testament being considered.
  • Trip to veterinarian by the 18th, before warranty ran out.  Since when did pets come with warranties?
  • New dog couldn’t be left alone–even on bathroom trips.
  • Kennel cough contagious to other dog.  Trip to vet–another $75.00.
  • Sibling rivalries–new dog problems were, alleged to be, all my fault.  Who was most popular in high school?
  • Childhood recollections: Playing in pig slop.  Mother’s cooking.  Favorite teachers? Who was most mischievous?
  • Discussed children, grandchildren–no great-grandchildren at this point.
  • Activities: Walked the new pier.  Visited Ft. Morgan historic site.  Toured scenic Bon Secour, Magnolia Springs.  Spent time at Dauphin Island beach and Sea Lab.  Visited National Naval Aviation Museum and Pensacola’s old town.  Stopped for ice cream–rainstorm struck while waiting under canopy.  Dined at favorite local restaurants. Bought pecans at a pecan farm.  Shopped for antiques and souvenirs.  Exchanged pleasantries and promises to visit each other in near future.

 

 

Silence!

There’s not much noisier in the natural world than Great Blue Heron rookeries during mating season.  Cars being crushed would compare nicely.

Kids, in their unbridled enthusiasm, were naturally noisy.  Parents generally tolerated outside noises, unless someone started crying.

At bedtime, it was a different story.  “Knock off that racket and go to bed.”  It was best not to press the issue with dad–because soon came the dreaded, “Don’t make me tell you again.”

And if kid noises weren’t enough, there were other ways to make noise.  Two blades of grass moistened with just enough spittle, would shriek when blown through.  Balloons, playing cards in bicycle spokes, weren’t loud enough.  Pieces of wire, metal against metal, made a terrific motorcycle-like cacophony.  Which resulted in loose spokes and wobbly wheels.

The cloud of doom hung over my head when my younger brother or sister ran into the house yowling about something I’d done.  Nothing else to do, but wait for punishment that always followed.

Pity gift givers that gave us drum sets, clickers, whistles, or noisemakers of any kind.  They were likely to be confiscated.  Parents just wanted some peace and quiet.  Was that too much to ask?

Bless This House…

Old English scripted wall plaques with homespun homilies was what they were.  Sold to raise funds for our church.  The texture, applied to heavy cardboard, reminded me of asphalt shingle colors–spruce green, estate gray, federal blue.  “Blessed are the meek.”  “The family that prayed together…” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

It was small town America in the late fifties, far from the valley of death.  Peddling door-to-door on Sunday afternoon, seemed pretty close to it at the time.  “What if they didn’t answer the door?”  “What if they weren’t home?”  “What if they told my brother and me to go away?”  “What if there were mean dogs?” Just like that, I was out of “what if” questions.

Mom, always the eternal optimist, “You can go to the Wilsons, the Dowlands, the Parkers.  Do the best you can, dear.”  These were people we knew from church, the grocery store, and from school.  Everybody knew everybody, in our village of 300.  Dad didn’t say much–which meant, “Quit your grousing and do it.”

What I didn’t know back then.  It was tit-for-tat.  You buy what my kid’s selling, and I’ll buy from yours.  If it wasn’t fund raising for the church, it was garden seeds for school, candy for 4-H club, or something else.

Little kids were cuter–less likely to be turned down.  Parents weren’t walking from house to house–were grateful for time away from their little monsters.  So what if they didn’t win any of the neat prizes listed in the catalogue.  They’d get over it.

 

Sitting Still In Church

The pictured church from Cades Cove, without the cemetery and deer, closely resembled the church in my story from two years ago.   

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I was a fidgety, skinny kid–couldn’t sit still.  When I tried, my legs would swing.  Since they didn’t yet reach the floor.  I may have had ADD–who knows?  When the good reverend’s Sunday sermons ran long, there were always kid games; done discreetly of course.

Even with the windows opened, it was miserable in summer.  That’s when the paper fans came out–compliments of local funeral homes.  It seemed to me–the efforts taken to waggle fans back-and-forth, cancelled out the benefits.  The two front doors were left open.  Bugs and birds often joined the proceedings.

Father was a strict disciplinarian; his firm fingers turned my buzz-cut head around in an instant, with firm warnings.  “Turn around.  Sit still and pay attention.”  Fear of the coal shed hung over my head like the sword of Damocles.  I was convinced it was used as a whipping shed for unruly children.

Our little, white clapboard country church, was heated by two pot–bellied “Round Oak” stoves–manufactured in Dowegiac, Michigan.  There were oak leaf embossed silver-trimmed rails below the stove doors.  Were these foot rests?  I didn’t really know.

Brother Harold kept the stoves stoked for Sunday services.  Church faithful were addressed as brothers or sisters in Christ.  Brother Harold also worked as custodian at a local high school.

An oak “regulator” schoolhouse clock tick-tocked on one wall; a table up front, near the piano, had an antique Tammany Hall bank.  When coins for missions were deposited, the cast iron, brightly painted man in a suit, bowed his head in thanks.

My parents seemed old.  The rest of the church members were older still.  We four children were the youngest in attendance–unless there were visitors.

Sister Eunice was a sweet old soul, and mentally challenged.  She had episodes of jealousy and suspicion–which made others avoid her.  Her ill-fitting dentures, clicked like castanets, added to communication difficulties.

Once, when mother was to be away for teacher’s institute, Sister Eunice offered to babysit the four of us.  Mom had misgivings, but Sister Eunice insisted.  Mom relented and hoped for the best.

I hope when I reach the Pearly Gates of Heaven, the mayhem of that day has been long forgotten.  Things got completely out of hand.  Away from church, we weren’t the little darlings she expected us to be.  I deserved to be sent to the coal shed.

Sister Eunice was upset the entire day, until mom arrived.  We apologized, but the damage had been done.  Sister Eunice never volunteered for babysitting duty ever again.

Nicknames

“Hi Dot.  It’s been too long.  Stop by again–sometime.”  Mom’s given name was Dorothy.  Her friends called her “Dot” or “Dottie” before me and my siblings came along.  Nicknames, that were logical extensions of Dorothy.  It seemed weird at the time.

My given name was William, or William, middle name Arthur.  Nobody called me William or Willie–there was the normal Billy, when I was younger, and then Bill.  My closest friends called me “Wild Bill,” after I reached adulthood.  My middle name was left untouched.

Public school kids were cruel.  Nicknames intended as put downs, emphasized worst qualities.  “Four eyes,” for glasses wearers; “gimpy,” or “gimp,” named anyone with hitches in their get-a-longs.

In our little town, several residents had unusual nicknames.  There was “Peachy” Leach, “Push” Banks, “Silver” Scroggins, “Punk” Dowland; sometimes Floyd Rands was called “Slats.”  Never figured the last one out–unless it related to the “Abby And Slats” cartoon.

In high school, I was saddled with “Ice Blue,” because of excess perspiration.  I was also nicknamed “shaky” because of excessive nervousness.  Neither nickname stuck with me–thank goodness.

Why couldn’t I have had one of the cool nicknames–like, Scooter, Skip, Buzz, Zip, Biff?  All of which signified action–toughness.  It was just as well, none fit my personality.  None except “Wild Bill.”  I’ll leave everyone to figure that one out.

Turn Down Day

As a teen, the sixties rock band–The Cyrkle wasn’t a favorite.  They were contemporaries of the Beatles–never as popular.

“Turn Down Day” struck a chord as an anthem to nonconformity. Perhaps an ode to late night revelers that slept till noon the next day?  “Red Rubber Ball,” shall I compare thee to the bright summer sun?  No way–it wasn’t my groove.

I like to think remembering details from childhood is more a sign of my OCD tendencies, than senility.  There were several “hometowns” during these early years, as my father changed careers.

There were kids that stood out from the crowd–remembered because they seemed world-wise beyond their years; were bullies or neighborhood troublemakers.  Johnny Farkas, from Miss Kramer’s, Garfield School first grade class, in Canton, Ohio–why did I remember your name?

In Greenville, it was the Graves brothers.  During the early fifties, they terrorized my older brother with tales of Russian invasions.  They took advantage, hogtied him to a tree, with the warning, “When the noon fire siren blew, the Russians were coming to get him.”

The McNamara brothers lived next door in southwest Canton, Ohio.  They had things we didn’t have–a television, and BB guns.  The father, apparently had, had some run ins with the law.

In tiny Medora, IL there was a family at the end of the block with a brood of feral, firebrand children.  The youngest boy was three, roamed the neighborhood in his diaper–if he wore clothes at all.  He could typically be found on their front porch smoking smelly cigars.

Why did some of these little geniuses have all the answers about birds-and-bees?  Not that the information given was accurate.  Repeating their risqué jokes risked being overheard, and subsequent punishment.  Were you one of those guys–Johnny Farkas?