Turn My Face 03
Every Saturday in winter a large tub of water was brought in at night and filled with water. Dan would draw the cold water from the well, and it would sit in the sun all day warming. Then we’d all take turns bathing and lucky was the one who got to wash first. After our baths, our hands and feet were examined for splinters, our nails cut, and everything tended to that looked red or inflamed. This was Papa’s department as he was always a doctor at heart. For the sores or boils, he applied Gray’s ointment, a black mixture that looked like tar. If we had colds or were hoarse, he gave us a teaspoon of sugar with a drop of kerosene on it – this remedy must have been Papa’s favorite, for he gave it to us religiously, even when we didn’t have colds. "To keep them away," he said. Papa also used figs, prunes, and raisins and ground them together with a few senna leaves. He would mold this into balls or squares, and we’d eat them without ever tasting the senna—a sure-fire laxative. When Dan was young he had rheumatism so bad in his knees he sometimes couldn’t walk. Papa had a cure for this too—Yeager’s liniment rubbed on his knees plus a dose of pokeberry wine mixed with water which Dan drank. After these treatments, Dan walked a lot easier.
Papa also ordered from a mail order company cases of Jo-He oil, an all-purpose remedy for sore throat, colds, coughs, and many other ailments. He would sell this to the people in the village, and always did it for the good of the people, never making any profit and sometimes even giving it away to the poor people.
If any emergency came up, I was the one to go to the mill after Papa. I would go flying down the hill and into his office, then all over the mill looking for him if he wasn’t there. Sometimes I went to the mill in the afternoons after school and always took a friend with me as we knew for a big hug, Papa would give us each a nickel. That was a tremendous amount of money, and it took us hours to figure out how to spend it—most candy was five pieces for a penny.
I remember lots of friends from Cliffside, but having brothers and sisters to grow up with was what meant the most. Since Sister and I were so close in age we became not only like sisters, but friends. Growing up with Sister was always entertaining, made more so by the fact that she was afraid of a number of things. Sister would faint at just about anything. Children are often quick to capitalize on other children’s fears, and I’ll have to admit I was no exception.
I’ll never forget the time Clyde (Papa’s baby sister) and I, helped Sister get across the swinging foot bridge at Caroleen. Every time we went to the store, we had to cross that bridge, and Sister was always afraid to death to cross it, dreading it the whole way there. Everyone else would just walk on across, but poor Sister never met that bridge without fear in her heart or terror in her soul. I’m afraid I didn’t do much to ease that fear…
One day the three of us were walking to Caroleen and here came that bridge. Sister’s eyes got big and her knees got weak and started to shake, and Clyde and I, being right concerned about the situation walked on across the bridge to ponder awhile and see how we could best help poor Sister cross that bridge. Well, we stood there and thought a while and finally decided how she could best cross that bridge.
“Sister, get down on your hands and knees,” we said, “and start crawling across real slowly.” So she got down on her hands and knees, knowing that bridge wouldn’t swing when she crawled across it like that. Well, it did swing, just like it always did, and she said it really made her head swim. So the next time we came to the bridge we told Sister that she didn’t do it right the time before.
“Now before you start, put a stick in your mouth to chew on and that will keep your head from swimming,” we told her. And here she came.
Well, Clyde and I were just about to die laughing at Sister. Now that was a funny sight: Sister crawling across that bridge on her hands and knees with a stick in her mouth, and by the time she’d reached the other side, she’d just about chewed that stick plumb through. Sister never did get over being afraid of that bridge.
Another thing Sister dreaded was Papa’s white gloves. Back then the only people you ever saw wearing white gloves were pall bearers at funerals. Papa was often a pall bearer so he kept a pair of white gloves at home, locked up in his desk drawer.
Well, whenever I could I’d slip around and find that drawer unlocked and sneak those white gloves out and put them on. Then I’d go at Sister with my hands and arms up in the air and make a sound like a ghost. Well poor Sister would see me coming and think she saw a dead person and would either take off flying or faint, Sister hated those gloves and I loved them.
But the funniest thing about Sister, she was afraid to have her picture taken. Back then they didn’t have any studios so every now and then a man would come around and take the family’s picture. It was a big thing to have our picture made, and we’d all gather the family together and get on the porch or in the yard to pose.
We’d be standing there and the man would go and get under that black cloak and he’d yell, “Watch the Birdie.” About that time, Sister would faint. Poor Sister was afraid to death of that birdie, waiting for it to fly out from under that cloak and get her. She’d faint right away every time, and we like to never got that picture made.
Dan was also quite a character, and the one thing I remember about him was his long underwear. In the wintertime, Sister, Dan, and I all wore long underwear. The fashion was for children to wear long, black stockings over their underwear. Well, Dan used to get holes in his stocking, and his white underwear would show through. Dan solved the problem simply by taking black shoe polish and blackening his underwear where the holes were. No one could tell the difference, but it sure looked funny whenever he took his stockings off to see his spotted underwear.
When Sister, Dan and I were little, we had to be home at 9:00 pm. We weren’t allowed to stay out late, I guess, until we were twelve or fourteen years old. Then after we got up big enough to go to parties at Cliffside, we had to be home by 9:30 or something like that even then. One girl Ella Scruggs who lived out past the cemetery, had more parties than anybody one every two or three weeks. They had a big old house out there.. We’d go out to her house and have our party, and then it would be dark when we started home. We had to go through the cemetery or right through the edge of it. Boy we’d start through that thing, the crowd of us. Somebody would say, “Do you see that ghost over yonder?” and you never have seen such running in your life. The little ones would get behind and holler and take on (they were scared to death because back then they talked a lot about ghosts). We had a colored woman who lived with us then, and she used to scare the life out of us with her Ghost Tales. Annie would tell about riding horses through the cemetery and ghosts jumping on the back of their horses. They’d just fly, but if you ever came to a creek, the ghosts couldn’t cross water and they’d jump off. They’d run their horses nearly to death looking for a creek so the ghost would jump off the back of their horses.
I always looked forward to the summertime because that meant I could go and stay with Grandma Mac. I loved both my grandmothers dearly but visited Grandma Mac more often than Grandma Hawkins because there were more children to play with where Grandma Mac lived, We played with the Kennedys: Hoyt, Akin, May Phene, MB, Robert and Virginia. Robert was a little retarded boy who died at age ten with a fever. Up the road were the Wilkins, the ones we played with most: Ola, Ethylene and Sarah, At night we would walk up there with a lantern. Ola and I remained friends all through life, and we still see each other as she now lives in Forest City.
During the daytime, we played outside in the yard or close by in the woods. We’d sweep out pine needles and leaves from the ground and lay out rocks in a circle to make a room. Grandma Mac would save all her baking powder cans for us, and these would become pot and pans or cups and saucers in our imaginary kitchen. Two bricks with a plank across them served as a stove, and we baked imaginary biscuits and cakes of mud and served imaginary guests in the finest of styles.
Part of staying with Grandma was helping her with the chores. But we never minded because she was a person who made work seem fun. One of these chores was digging white dirt for the kitchen floor. Our job was to dig up buckets of white, chalky-looking dirt that Grandma would sprinkle all over the hardwood floor. As she swept up the white dirt, she also swept up all the grease and dust with it.
Late in the afternoon, Grandma would always say, “Let’s do up our night work.” Night work consisted of carrying in stove wood, filling two big wooden buckets with water for drinking, cooking, and bathing, and washing the lamp chimneys which Grandma then filled with oil for the night. Each night she lit three lamps and put one on the dresser, one on the mantel, and one on the table. The light from them was soft and comforting.
While we were all doing our night work, Grandpa Mac was busy reading and studying his Sunday School lesson. For years he walked the many miles to Henrietta to teach the Men’s Bible Class at the First Methodist Church. When Grandpa Mac first moved to Henrietta, he built a small village of three room houses. There were sixteen houses in all, and he rented them to Negroes who were hired to help the farmers. I used to go with him to collect rent—about twenty-five cents a week. This small village of Negroes came to be known as Rag Town. Grandpa Mac was very kind to his Negroes, knowing all of them by name, where they in turn, out of fond respect, called him Mr. Whit and Grandma Mrs. Whit. At Christmas, he always carried the Negro children apples, oranges, and hard candy, and took the grown-ups a nice gift. Some of the houses he built are still standing today.