by G. G. Goodson
[As encouraged by her brother]
In the 1940s and 1950s, the houses in Watertown were identical. This house never hosted a Saturday night hoedown with foot-stomping, cigarette smoking guests as its predecessor had. There were no music filled nights with children sleeping on the floor in the bedrooms. Instead, somber people came and talked in hushed tones. The little girl sometimes heard laughter from the back of the house when her father’s life-long friend, the County Judge, visited.
The Sheriff brought presents, but sadly the live music drifted, suspended in the humid air of the shotgun house. Of course, there was always the incessant noise of her older brother sawing on his fiddle and her mother’s Patsy Cline and Hank Williams radio when they were home. The child strongly resembled her father with her pale blue eyes, a plain freckled face and dark hair that curled slightly. She was said to have his moody, distant disposition. She often thought this must be the reason her mother described her as his favorite child.
The frail nine year old was not the same in this house. She set the clock daily so as not to overlook dispensing her father’s medication. The right side of his face was a deep shade of red and no longer moved after radiation treatments. She heard there was something wrong with his brain and his face would always look like that.
She made beds, washed dishes, operated the wringer washing machine and hung clothes out to dry. Grownups warned that “tits” got caught in those wringer machines, but she didn’t have to worry because she had no tits--not even a couple of sprouts.
She swept floors and made her father’s Cream of Wheat every two hours. She emptied his “slop jar” in the outdoor privy throughout the day (you know, those stinky, white buckets with red lips that stood defiantly at the bedside in the daytime and under the bed at night). She lined its bottom with an inch of her mother’s bath powder after each scouring, hoping to mask the gosh-awful odor. As she worked she sometimes heard him singing or humming the music he once played as Florida’s champion fiddler. His oldest son was a good student and showed talent with the same instrument.
Standing on the bed rails to make the beds, her most exciting challenge was the daily treasure hunt for her mother’s “True Story” and “Modern Romance” magazines hidden under the mattresses. As she worked she read about the movie stars and true love. The stories had to be true because her mother, known as the most beautiful woman in the county and a person with real star power, read them religiously. She wondered though when she was going to change from ugly to beautiful like her mother--at least grow a couple tits and lose the freckles. She dared to look at her mother’s one tube of lipstick, but Lord, never at her perfume. She was hoping to change to a boy by not combing her hair, not wearing shoes and wearing her brother Broward’s overalls. Little did she know she would only mature. While this was a fruitless endeavor, she did succeed in becoming a champion bed wetter, but blamed it on Broward.
Knowing everyone depended on her, the girl took great pride is her cooking. Unfortunately, the more she cooked the more often she had to clean the wooden floors. She constructed a dining chairs bridge from the table to the stove and dropped food as she moved back and forth. She scrubbed the floor with a shuck mop and all of the Rinso washing powders she could find – depleting the water supply in the icebox drain pan in the process. The bridge had its advantages though because while standing on the chair at the kerosene stove she was tall enough to see inside the pots. Her mother said to keep the water in the food at a certain level – usually dry lima beans and rice or a pot roast - which she did all day or until her mother came home from work.
During KP she discovered Morton salt pours even when it rains – she came to this conclusion after numerous tests both in the kitchen and on the porch on rainy days. For the final test she moved the rocking chairs from the “front” room to extend the bridge all the way to the back steps near the pump. That little umbrella girl on the Morton saltbox nearly drove her crazy.
Hanging out in the kitchen had its advantages. Slices of watermelon did not stand a chance, for she ate all that didn’t have seeds. Prairie Belt oil sausage disappeared so fast her mother changed brands in the mistaken belief their contents data was misleading. She learned that corn tassels were a poor substitute for body hair. She scrounged her mother’s Camel butts from the ashtrays and the yard, saving them in an empty green bean can hidden from Broward in the kitchen safe. When he was not in the care of Grandpa who lived down the road, her baby brother, who was quietly mischievous, followed her lead everywhere. He packed a mean sling shot.
This was life in Watertown for the young family as the months shortened to days and the clocks gradually lost time that no one could find. The music died quietly one day while her back was turned just before her tenth birthday.
Today the memory haunts a gray haired grandmother, and once again her father whispers, “Goodbye, little darling, goodbye."
Note: Five days after the music died, her mother discovered a whole village of head lice in the girl’s hair courtesy of the transient Urtleys. According to the gossip, her whole class was infected. In the dark of night she was shuttled off to Jacksonville, where the grownups picked lice and doused her hair with a noxious concoction by lamp light. But that’s another story.
BIO: G. G. Goodson writes online using the penname “RiverDancer.” She says she has no credentials other than she is a retired Corporate Director of Human Resources. She works occasionally as a Surface Mine Safety consultant. RiverDancer and her husband have lived in the panhandle of Florida all their lives.
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