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Bodark Creek - 24. Chapter 24

Each of my children was different, almost from the beginning. And they kept changing. So something I’d say about Del one day wouldn’t be true even a week later. I learned a lot from him. I’d been around babies ever since I was little, so having one of my own seemed very ordinary. But when Del was born, nothing seemed half so important as being his mama. And I was a lot better with Joann, who was only born eight years later.

In the four years when it was just Del, Martin, and me on the farm, Del got a lot of my time. He got some of Martin’s, too, but not nearly as much. Martin would leave the house right after the sun came up, then we didn’t see him again till noon. After that, most days he wouldn’t be back till he was ready for supper. Once Del was old enough not to get too tangled, he helped me planting, and pulling weeds, and picking vegetables. Martin’s garden was much bigger than ours at home. It had been planted by his mama when there were eight people on the farm, and it never got smaller. Anything I couldn’t cook, or can, or bake into something, we’d give to family or neighbors.

Del would also help me when I was doing the wash, which he thought was a lot of fun. He’d get wet and soapy, and I didn’t care because he was getting clean at the same time. Afterwards, he’d hide between the sheets on the clothes line. They were his magic tent, and the only bad thing was he’d take fruit and sandwiches under there, and I’d have to wipe down the sheets before they were dry.

“Just tell him not to do that,” Martin said.

“It does no harm. And it’s easy enough to clean.”

“I never did that when I was little.”

It was sometimes hard to figure out what Martin had done when he was little, except work. His daddy seemed to give him jobs right out of the cradle. Fortunately, Martin wasn’t like that, and he really wasn’t good with children until they got older. He’d play with them till he lost their attention, then he’d wander off.

“Martin thinks children are women’s things,” I once told Rosalind. She’d laughed, but she’d easily understood. It was one of the reasons our brothers had so much trouble understanding Dock.

Del also liked pulling off the ends of beans and popping peas out of their pods. “Why don’t we eat all the pieces?” he’d ask. So I cooked up some pea pods and corn husks for him, and he spat them right out. Martin took the slop away for the chickens. “But I’m not sure even they’re gonna eat it.”

For a long time, I wouldn’t let Del use any knives. When he said Martin was already letting him whittle on twigs, I’d say, “Well, maybe your daddy’s better at watching you than I am.” But I remembered how much I’d cut myself when I was in the kitchen, even when Mama was trying to help. And I didn’t want Del hurting himself like that.

In the two years after Neal was born, Del didn’t get as much of my time. First, I was busy with the new baby, then I had to show Del how to treat him properly. Del didn’t really see a lot of babies. There were some at church, but he hardly touched them, and at Sonny’s house on Sundays, he was always the youngest one there. But we had cats and a dog on the farm, and Del learned to be around them. So I showed him how to be gentle with a kitten, then gentle the same way with Neal. Del especially learned not to wake Neal up because it was always hard getting him back to sleep. The second year with Neal was especially difficult, because I was also carrying Patricia. She and Neal were only sixteen months apart.

“How’d that happen?” Martin asked, as if he had nothing to do with it. Then he grinned. “We’re gonna have to be more careful.”

Patricia was born in February, so my last months with her were during the slow times on the farm. By then, Del had started school, but not the one in town. His schoolhouse was less than a mile away, and Del would walk there with his friends then be gone most of the day. Just before Patricia was born, I went to live with Rosalind. I didn’t do that with Del or Neal, but with Patricia, the doctor said he thought something sounded a little funny. As it happened, there was nothing funny, and I spent less time having Patricia than either of the boys. The only thing easier was having Joann, who came a little earlier than expected. Martin and I were talking about how we were going to spend New Year’s when I said, “I think we better go to town.” Almost as soon as we got there, Joann was born. But she was almost three years younger than Patricia, so we’d all had a little rest.

And if Del got too much time, and Neal not enough, Joann hardly seemed to get any. When she was born, Del was almost eight, and he took a lot of care for himself. He’d do his schoolwork and the list of jobs Martin set out for him, then he’d disappear to work on what he called “one of his secret projects.” They were usually science or farm things or magic tricks.

“Where’s the boy?” Martin would ask.

“Out in the barn. Or up in the attic. I can’t really say. But I guarantee he’ll be here for supper.”

When Del was eight, Neal was three-and-a half, Patricia was two, and Joann was just a baby. I was so busy that Walter’s second daughter Jessica came to live with us for a while.

“Are you going to stay with us forever?” Del asked Jessie.

“Would you like that?” she answered.

“It all depends,” he told her, which is what he said about a lot of things. He always wanted a chance to think things over and then change his mind.

“He better grow out of that,” Martin warned. “People need to make their minds up faster.”

“He’ll be fine,” I said.

“Maybe.”

Now Neal would make up his mind in seconds and then get in all kinds of trouble for it. If Martin or I told him something could make him sick or get him hurt, he’d go right to it. The summer he was almost four, Neal was warned again and again to stay away from the bull. Even Del said, “If you climb that fence, you’ll get yourself killed. Is that what you want?”

“No,” Neal admitted, but then he quickly forgot. Because one day, I heard screaming, and there was Neal in the bull pen. The bull had him pinned to the fence, with its horns stuck into the plank on both sides of Neal’s waist. Neal was still small enough so it didn’t hurt him much. But it sure scared everyone else.

“I can’t sell the bull,” Martin said, “and there’s almost nowhere else to keep it. Even if there was, there’s probably no way of keeping the boy away from it again.”

“I don’t think he’ll go near the bull for a while,” I said. “He was screaming pretty loud.”

“But he wasn’t crying,” Martin pointed out. “He was calling for help.”

“He wasn’t calling,” Del said, laughing. “He was just making noise.”

“You may be right,” Martin agreed, just a little proud.

Of my four children, Patricia was the best baby. She ate when I wanted her to, and slept through the night right from the beginning, and crawled and walked just on time. She even said the perfect first word.

“She said ‘Christmas,’” I told Martin. “I know it.”

“She couldn’t say that. It’s much too hard.”

“Why couldn’t she? It’s all we’ve been talking about for the last weeks. The boys say it, and we say it. Everyone who stops by says it.”

“Well, I’ll listen, next time. But I’m sure it’s something else.”

But it was “Christmas.” Even Martin had to admit it.

“I’ll be darned,” he said. And for a while he called her “Our Christmas baby.”

Now Joann had all the energy her sister didn’t.

“Where is she now?” Martin would ask.

“Under the table,” I’d say. “Maybe.”

Joann was only crawling then, but she was crawling everywhere. If we left the screen door open, she’d be out in the yard.

“Not the best idea,” Martin would say, heading her off. “I’ll put a hook on that door.”

Hooks couldn’t stop her. Piling furniture up didn’t stop her, either. Jessie even tied a rope around her waist once, like a dog. And things didn’t get better when she started to walk.

“She’s going to be a traveler,” Martin predicted, something none of the rest of us were. “I have a Christmas baby and one who wants to see the world.”

“Maybe she’ll join the Navy like Uncle Charley,” Del suggested.

“I don’t think the Navy wants women,” Martin decided. “‘Cept as nurses.”

With me being so busy, I didn’t stay in touch with Charley as much as I liked. But I still wrote him at least once a month. I wasn’t writing Rosalind every week, because we had a telephone by then, and she and Dock had a car, so I got to see them and Albie enough. But I transferred a lot of my thinking to Charley, in long letters I put together over a month. A lot of other things had changed, too. We had electricity and running water, and we’d made our smallest bedroom into a bathroom. I also had a refrigerator and gas stove in the kitchen. We still used coal for the furnace, but we had a furnace, along with central heat. We even had a little money. Maybe that was best of all.

2021 by Richard Eisbrouch
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We never had central heat in any house we lived in while I grew up.  The first central heat my parents ever had in a house was when I bought the place they lived and had central heat installed.  That was a luxury for sure!  Love this story!

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A friend of mine still had a hand pump for water in his family kitchen, just outside Dayton, Ohio, in 1967.  I can't remember how the toilet and bathtub worked.

Again, thanks for your continued support.

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