In my posting of A shaggy dog story—click here to read that story— I left the viewer in suspense, with me and my sister hiding in the woods early on a cold winter morning beside a gravelled country road after Papa John, our stepfather, shouted to us from our front porch, saying he was going to get his shotgun. At the time we were standing in the middle of the road in front of our house, driven by fear that stemmed from an incident that occurred in the kitchen a few minutes earlier. He called to us to come back in, that everything would be alright, that he was not going to hurt us.
We never knew whether he actually got the gun. Our mother later said he did not, but her testimony in such instances was not very reliable. In any event we took no chances. We fled into the woods and remained hidden while Papa John and our mother drove back and forth on the road calling to us, saying that everything would be alright, to come out and go back to the house with them.
Being sound of body and reasonably sane, we silently declined and remained hidden, prostrate among the trees and undergrowth, until the sound of the car faded towards home. We then came out on the road and started our long walk toward town, some twelve miles distant. Every time we heard an auto approaching—the road was graveled, remember—we took to the woods again and remained there until the vehicle passed. We followed that in and out strategy until we heard the distinct put-put-put sound of a Model T Ford, and we were reasonably sure of its occupants. As the auto neared we came out on the road and flagged it down. The Model T was owned by Sid and Looney and occupied by the same. The two men lived a few miles from us and passed our home daily on their way to work in the city.
In retrospect, I believe they constituted a domestic couple, joined by forces that were not suitable for discussion in the company of children, particularly in our part of the country in that era. Regardless of their various preferences, they obligingly took us aboard and carried us to the edge of town. They either knew our problems and were sympathetic, or perhaps simply had no interest in knowing why two kids were in the woods instead of being on a school bus. They asked no questions and we volunteered no explanations, and they dropped us off on the outskirts of town near the lumber yard where they worked. My sister and I then walked a short distance from there to the home of an older sister.
And now for an explanation of this episode. The reader will have to take my word that the story is true, because I am the only person extant. I am the last one standing of those involved in the proceedings. All are gone. I have my opinions of the direction each took, but I’ll keep those opinions to myself. Trust me—the story is true in every detail.
My early morning tasks while we lived on the farm included interior as well as exterior duties. The interior duties included emptying chamber pots—that’s an acceptable synonym for slop jars, items used at night by the family because we had no bathroom and the necessary was set well behind our house—an outhouse, so to speak. Other interior tasks were building fires in three places—one in the room I shared with my sister, one in our parent’s bedroom and one in the kitchen stove. This allowed my sister and my mother to arise to a warm room, and my mother to a hot stove, ready for our breakfast preparation. As for our stepfather, that worthy arose to a warm room, dressed and stepped into a warm kitchen and sat down to a hot breakfast—he remained abed until breakfast was on the table.
My outdoor tasks included feeding a mule, formerly one of a team but the other died. He leaned against the barn wall on a cold night and died, an event that warrants its own posting. To continue: I slopped the pigs (slopping means feeding, a term applicable only to pigs, an unpalatable nomenclature but one that was in general mode at the time), I carried in wood for the kitchen stove and coal for the fireplace, I hand-pumped water into a huge iron kettle for our livestock, and I cleared the barnyard of any offensive material—dung—that had accumulated so my mother could make her way to the milking stall without stepping in something. Yep, her husband—my stepfather—was really solicitous of her well-being, at least in that instance.
On my return to the house into the kitchen after finishing my outdoor chores, I asked my mother for some of her hand lotion—my hands were reddened and chapped from the cold. I posed the question just as Papa John entered the kitchen and he said—these are his exact words: What are you, a cream puff? My sister, aged 13, entered behind him and said, Well, you use a lot of talcum powder when you bathe, and he slapped her, a blow strong enough to slam her against the kitchen wall.
My sister bounced off the wall and attacked him—she applied the fingernails of her right hand to Papa John’s left cheek and plowed four red furrows from the corner of his eye down to the corner of his mouth—I tend to believe that his eyes were the target and she missed. He cursed, raised his fist and moved to strike her again just as my mother was moving toward the table with a pan of biscuits fresh from the oven. She told him, Don’t hit her again, John, and in order to protect my sister she dropped the pan and stepped in front of him shouting, Run, kids, run outside.
And we ran—my last memory of that tableau was that of hot biscuits rolling everywhere on the kitchen floor. I ran out the front door and my sister ran out the back door. We met in front of the house in the middle of the road and waited for further developments. That’s when Papa John came out to the front porch and told us to come back in, that he would not hurt us, that everything would be alright. We refused to comply—that’s when he threatened to get his shotgun, and that’s when we headed for the woods at top speed.
Now you know the rest of that story.