When I was a preteen, I suffered from sort of an asthma-type ailment. It was never called that, but there were times when I coughed, wheezed and had a hard time breathing for no apparent reason. At such times as these, my mother took me into a spare room, made up a little bed, started the humidifier, and slept by my side so she would be close if I got into breathing trouble. As you can imagine, this was a scary situation for a kid and so to calm me down my mother told me stories. Usually this worked and I would relax and go to sleep.
One night I asked her to tell me about where she grew up and what she liked to do as a young person. Momma told me she loved going to dances. Since she spent most of her youth in a farming community called Grand Junction, Colorado (in the 1920’s and 1930’s), the biggest dance of the year was in the fall, around peach harvest time. Momma and Fern, her younger sister, looked forward to this event all year long.
In those days, young teens and preteens of the community were hired to pick peaches from Grand Junction, Palisade and Fruita orchards. This gave the young folks a little money of their own while helping the fruit growers. After the fruit was harvested and safely on the way to market, the young folks had a big barn dance to celebrate. This was usually hosted by one of the fruit growers in Mesa County.
According to Momma, the dances worked up quite an appetite and they lasted into the wee hours of the night, say somewhere around 11 P. M. Because my mother was a healthy eater and always had to feast after one of these soirees, she developed an ingenious plan to get a snack when she came home without alerting my grandmother to the late hour of her daughters’ arrival.
She made herself a sandwich and hid it in her closet before going to the dance. My mom and I never shared tastes in cuisines but one particular delicacy she found irresistible was enough to put me off food altogether. It was a Limburger cheese and onion sandwich. Momma ate this sandwich often throughout her life. She said it kept her from catching colds. My Papa said it was astonishing that practicing this particular culinary exercise didn’t help her catch a bullet. Now if you are not familiar with this extraordinarily odorous concoction, count yourself among the blessed of the world. Sorry, I digress.
Momma had to find a place to hide her treasure until she returned from the dance. Her closet was an excellent choice. Most folks in those days didn’t have a lot in their closets and Momma was no exception. In fact she only owned three pairs of shoes – work shoes, regular everyday shoes and her dance (doubling as dress-up) shoes. The brilliant young lady constructed the sandwich and wrapped it in waxed paper (remember that stuff?). She tucked it safely into one of her everyday shoes. She insisted the right shoe was best. Then she closed the closet door securely and the door to the bedroom she shared with Fern. She went happily to the dance, knowing her treat awaited her upon return. This worked and was a lovely solution for several years.
However, one night after the harvest dance, the sisters came in so exhausted that Momma went straight to bed without eating the well-hidden snack. The next morning she was awakened by the screams of my Granny, who was issuing the order for all hands to report on deck in the kitchen. Now, my mom’s mom, Grandmother Fisher, was a formidable individual. She was not a tall woman. She was perhaps 5’4” and skinny with it. But she had a way of looking at you that indicated if she was not pleased, it would be a good idea to prepare yourself for a front row seating at the next lunch with the Lord.
When Momma and Fern appeared, Granny Fisher’s eyes were blazing and her hands were on her hips with her rather bony elbows jutting laterally like threatening weapons. There in front of Granny lay Sir Stinky the family cat who earned his keep by ridding the establishment of rodents. Momma said Sir Stinky was assigned this name based more on personality than on personal kitty hygiene habits. It appeared Sir Stinky had been poisoned.
Granny Fisher was a sharp gal and, as I said, not someone to rile up. She had been married twice. One husband died. And one husband narrowly escaped death because he dared to raise a hand against this not so timid Southern Bell from Alabama. She was a divorced woman (practically unheard of in those days)bringing up three children on her own by working as a manager in the Ladies Department of the local J. C. Penny’s. She was used to people doing what she requested (?) and dishonesty or the appearance of not being forthcoming with information was considered a punishable offense. Sorry, I digress.
Granny turned to face her daughters with a question that was more like an accusation concerning the condition of the furry working member of the family who now resembled a sprawled out bear-skin rug. In her very distinct Southern accent Granny looked at my mom and asked, “What has happened to my cat?” It wasn’t that Sir Stinky and Granny had a close bond, you see. But he was a valuable employee and a team member deemed vital for maintenance of a clean, sanitary home.
Although Momma found the whole situation sort of funny (she never liked Sir Stinky at all), her amusement was short lived when she caught whiff of an aroma coming from SS that threatened to curl her otherwise very straight red hair. The sandwich!! Momma ran from the room and straight to her closet where she found shredded waxed paper and an empty right everyday shoe. “No,” she breathed in disbelief. Turning to find her mother glaring at her, Momma did what many folks would do in this situation – she lied – flat out and without apology, she lied. She told her mother she had no idea why the feline was ailing. Then she tried to divert attention off the lie by using good old-fashioned indignation feathered with resentment at having been suspected to begin with.
Now Granny Fisher (called Skinny Fisher by some but not within her hearing), realized the genetics she blessed her daughter with were playing against her. The tempers flew and Granny soon realized her oldest offspring was as formidable as she, herself, was. The Scottish-Irish tempers pulled both women into a standoff of snarling, green eye bulging, red hair spiking, non-yielding animosity. Granny demanded and Momma denied – demand, deny, demand, deny. This would have gone on much longer had it not been for the victim of the alleged crime returning to face his perpetrator. My mother stared in horror as he whom she thought deceased now reappeared. She held onto the door frame while Sir Stinky (soon to be nicknamed Lazarus by Momma) staggered across the room like the town drunk. He plopped down at Granny’s feet and issued an ugly stare directed at Momma through double-lidded “I gotcha” eyes. That justified the indictment, the trial, the verdict and the sentencing for Judge Granny. It appeared the cat would live, but Momma was not sure she would share kitty’s good fortune.
Declaring her innocence until the end of the dispute, my mother finally accepted the verdict. The swift punishment was doled out. There would be extra chores for what seemed like an unreasonably long period of time and no extra activities, like dances, for that same unreasonably long period of time. Done and done, as they say in the South.
By the time the tale ended,I was laughing so hard my mother was afraid I would bring on a coughing fit. Momma reached up and turned off the light, kissed my forehead and said goodnight. She went to sleep. But I lay awake piecing things together. I was quite sure then and am sure now that during our pet owning years, Momma warmed to every animal except the stray cats we brought home. Funny that. And although I will never be able to prove it, I am today convinced Sir Stinky was the reason Momma always showed distinct preference for dogs.
Copyright November 2011
Lakewood, CO 80401