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Adventures of Ron Huckleberry...#18 A weekend with Helen Mae
As you remember, Ron lives with his mom and dad and younger sister in Huntsville. His mom manages a lingerie store and his dad manages a loan company office as well as working at Redstone half-days. Ron and his sister are cared for daily and sometimes at night by wonderful maids.
The present maid’s name is Helen Mae. She is about forty five, is quite heavy and is definitely a country-girl. The real beauty is that she sincerely loves Ron and his sister, Sandra. Helen Mae lives in Ron’s house during the week and normally goes home on the weekends.
She asks Ron’s mom if Ron can spend a weekend with her and her family. Mom has agreed and Ron is excited. Soon after mom gets home from work Friday at about 5 p.m., she drives Helen Mae and Ron to the Trails Way bus station. Ron has a small overnight case with his pajamas etc and a large box of cookies for Helen Mae’s children.
Mom waits until the bus arrives at 6 p.m., so she can wave bye bye to her big ten year old son, who is departing on his first real trip away from home. Ron waves from the bus window with a smile. Mom waves with tears in her eyes.
The bus trip is fun and exciting as Helen Mae tells Ron about the area they drive through and a little about the farm where she lives. However, little in her description is similar to what Ron will experience.
The ride takes about one hour and thirty minutes. When the bus stops to allow Helen Mae and Ron to depart, Ron is experiencing his first of many week end surprises. There is no bus station or even a real bus stop with a bench. The bus stops beside the highway near a gravel and dirt road. The road is narrow and immediately begins to wind through the woods. He and Helen Mae will walk for about half an hour before reaching “the farm”.
As Helen Mae and Ron approach the house they are suddenly met by five young children and two large dogs that rush to Helen Mae as if she has been gone for six months. The children are all screaming and pushing each other to be the first to be hugged by their mom. Both dogs refuse to be left out as they too want to be hugged. They allow Ron to hug them too.
Helen Mae has not alerted anyone that Ron is coming for a visit. She is soon introducing Ron to everyone and they all seem very happy that Ron has ‘come for a visit.
As they near the house, Ron realized that ‘the farm” is not much of a farm compared to his uncle’s farm near Nashville. The house is quite large, but without paint or repair. It is wooden with an open porch along the front. Six wide stairs allow one to get to the porch. It’s summer time and only the screen door is utilized; and it is in bad need of repair. All windows have screens and are open.
They all walk around to the rear of the house. From the back of the house there is only one stair to enter into the large kitchen, because the house sits on a decline. Ron learns that there is no basement and the small attic is not utilized for living. The kitchen has a wood burning cook stove, two old cabinets for utensil storage and a huge dining table with ten chairs. A large wooden telephone hangs on the wall near the living room door. It is the very old type with a small crank on the side to ring the operator. The receiver shaped like a banana is attached to a cloth covered cable that is perhaps three feet long
The living room is very large with several straight back chairs, two couches and four over-stuffed chairs. There is a radio on one side of the large fire place and a huge pile of logs on the other side.
Helen Mae has eight children ages three to eighteen and they all live at home, expect for the oldest girl, Jake (age 16), who is married and lives with her husband’s family about a quarter of a mile down the dirt road.
There are six bedrooms and two of them have doors. Helen Mae and her elder parents have the bed rooms with doors. The oldest boys, Thomas (age 18 and Henry (age 17) have separate rooms; the two younger boys, Bill (age 12) and Bob (age 10) share a room; and the youngest (three girls) Ruth (age 7); Anne (age 5); and Jane (age 3) share a room.
The house flooring is rough wood planking and not insulated at all. Ron notices that two windows have broken glass. Rugs of different sizes cover most of the floor.
Ron asks where the toilet is located. Ron is surprised when one of the boys takes him to the out door toilet, which is quit a distance from the back door. He is instructed that the bushes by the garden fence shout be utilized if he only needs to pee. He soon finds that the toilet in the small wood one-person structure is not built for comfort. The seat is a large wood cabinet with a hole, it is too high, the smell is bad…and the toilet paper is a large stack of newspapers.
In the rear of the main house there are several pieces of old farming machinery, including a very old tractor. There are two small dilapidated barns, which are used for everything from tool storage to housing animals.
There is a huge fenced-in chicken pen built along side one barn. Chicken houses and nests have been constructed on the side of the barn. On the opposite side of the barn is a large pig pen. There are four low houses for the pigs, three troughs for water and slop. Ron notices that there is no grass in the pen and most of the ground looks muddy. That explains why the pigs look muddy. Ron hears the pigs long before he sees them. The cutest thing is seeing two huge sows slowly walking around the pen as their many babies try to get under their bellies and suck for milk. Two large cats are slowly walking along side the pigs.
Ron notices that there is a large tree near the barn and two squirrels are playing on top of the barn.
The year is 1945. Electricity has been installed at Helen Mae’s farm. Her father and a friend installed wiring to each room in the house as well as to the barns and other used structures. The family is poor and to them electricity is expensive. Therefore few light bulbs are used. Normally one bulb is in each room. There is no electric refrigerator. There is a large wooden ice box. Once each week a company delivers a large block of ice for the ice box. With ingenuity the family utilizes the river as a cooling facility for food
Ron, Bill and Bob are soon walking towards the river, which is about a quarter of a mile away. Ron finds the woods exciting and pretty, but he is especially impressed with the huge river and the sight of several boats slowly traveling by.
The three younger girls, Ruth, Anne, and Jane follow along for a short time, but soon turn back to the main house.
Helen Mae has asked Bill to bring some butter back to the house. Bill is soon explaining to Ron how they store a lot of things in the cool water to keep it a little bit fresher.
There are eight metal poles driven deep into the ground at the water’s edge. Metal chains are attached to each pole and a type of container is attached to each chain. Most containers are designed to stay submerged, like the one that contains the butter. Two larger cage-like containers are half submerged. These contain live fish. Ron watches as Bill drags in a container and takes out a sack of butter.
On the walk back to the house Bill and Bob show Ron the bee-cages his granddaddy maintains, so they always have plenty of honey. They did not get too close since the bees were loud and busy.
Bill explains that they do a lot of hunting in the woods. Bob boasts that he is the best shot with both rifle and shotgun. Bill disputes this by calling Bob a big liar.
About 2oo yards from the house Granddaddy has constructed a huge lean-to, where the cut ‘stove-burning’ wood is stored is stored and kept fairly dry until needed. There are three huge tree stumps near the wood pile. These are used as cutting blocks to cut the limbs into smaller pieces. The wood is used all year round for cooking or heating and Bill states that some one is cutting wood almost every day.
Ron sees several ducks walking around the area of the wood storage. Bill explains that they have about twenty ducks and they often lay eggs under the logs. He states that he does not like duck eggs, but loves cooked duck more than chicken.
“How do you cut the trees and big limbs?” Ron asks, since it looks like a lot of work.
On the way back Bill takes Ron into the larger of the two barns. “We have three milk cows and a horse that normally stay in this barn. Granddaddy will bring them back from the back lot in time for milking.
“Our sister’s husband’s family has a small lumber-mill and for years they have supplied us with the wood that we cut-up”. Bill explains. “Granddaddy normally goes with the Green’s a couple of times a year as they take the tractor into the woods. They cut the needed trees with two-man saws and later use the tractor to pull the trees near our wood cutting area. They then cut off the limbs and leave them with us to cut-up later. Some times they leave entire small trees. They then pull the big trees to their lumber mill area.
Bob remarks, “The lumber mill is one good thing about our sister marrying John, the Green’s son.” He must have heard Granddaddy make that remark.
Just before meal time the two older boys, both who work in the small town three miles away arrive home. They both have bikes for transportation. The boys are Thomas (age 18) and Henry (age 17).
After a fun ‘family-get together supper’ everyone finds a spot to sit on the front porch as they get Helen Mae to tell about her week in the big city. Granddaddy, Grandmother and Helen Mae sit in the large swing. She relates the details as the three of them slowly swing to the tune of the squeaky non oiled swing-chain. Thomas surprises everyone with the good news as he states that he will begin work at the mill in Huntsville in two months.
After awhile the grandparents say good night and go off to bed. It isn’t long before Helen Mae says she is tired and will also prepare for bed. Helen Mae explains to Ron that he will be sleeping with her. Ron soon finds out that there is something Helen Mae forgot to tell him.
As they prepared for bed, everyone is given a minute or two of privacy to change into their pajamas. Helen Mae’s bed is a normal large double size bed. The shock for young Ron is when Bill, Bob, Ruth, Anne and Jane also crawl onto the bed. Helen Mae laughs and explains to Ron that it is quite normal for all of them to sleep together. She then gives instructions for Ron, Bill and Bob to put their pillows at the bottom of the bed and that she and the three girls will have their pillows at the head of the bed.
To say the least, Ron is in a slight shock. It turns out to be a fun time as the seven of them laugh as they rub bare feet with each other and continue to tell some short stories. When they go to bed it is hot and naturally no cover is used. Before morning it gets somewhat cold and Helen Mae throws a large spread over all of them. Ron is not sleeping in the middle and he has a difficult time holding a piece of the spread over him. It is basically a lousy night for Ron.
The next morning everyone is up early. Everyone except Ron knows and is used to the normal morning routine.
Naturally everyone has a need to head for the outside toilet area. Ron joins the other boys as they all head for the bushes.
Located in a closed off area at the far end of the kitchen is a small room used for bathing and shaving etc. The grandparents are the first to use the wash room. Next are Helen Mae and then the older boys follow. The three girls join together to wash down and brush their teeth. Then it is time for Ron, Bill and Bob.
Granddaddy has constructed a gravity-fed shower in one corner nearest to the kitchen sink wall is a huge wooden barrel that is used as the bath tub. Granddaddy has constructed a large metal container high above the barrel that holds water for a gravity-fed shower. A ladder allows one of the boys to carry water up and pour it into the container. One can stand under the container and pull a chain, which allows the water to slowly run out of the container and provide a shower. The water is collected in the barrel until a stopper is removed allowing the water to drain from the barrel through a hose extending through the wood floor. The water drains onto the dirt ground under the house.
In the winter (once a week) warm water is poured into the container, but everyone is warned to ration the warm water…or else.
A basin hangs on the wall near the shower. It drains into the shower-barrel by use of a hose pipe. A nice mirror is attached above the basin and there are nails for everyone’s rags and towels. The bath is crude, but function able.
There is a kitchen sink also. The soppy and greasy water is caught in a container under the sink. The container is always taken out of doors and empted away from the house. The wood stove is very large, fairly new, and very effective for cooking and heating the kitchen and dining area.
While breakfast is being prepared the children go into the yard to play or do the assigned chores. Ron is hungry and it seems like hours before Helen Mae comes outside with a tray full of huge biscuits stuffed with egg and ham.
Ron thinks it is strange that Billy gives Bob a container and tells him to take Ron to the hen house and get eggs for grandmother. Regardless, Ron and Bob do this chore and return with the eggs. Billy is now standing and holding the tray of biscuits as he offers Bob and Ron their breakfast. Ron notices that Billy holds the tray in such a manner that he almost directs which biscuit Ron will to take. Ron takes the biscuit and then Billy and Bob take their biscuits, after the tray is placed on a tree stump.
Billy and Bob rush to begin eating their biscuits. Ron quickly joins in and bites into his biscuit. He has a huge mouth full of biscuit when he realizes they have played a trick on him. He has the most awful taste in his mouth he ever experienced. He immediately spits many times to clean his mouth, but the awful taste is still with him.
Billy and Bob are dancing around slapping each other as they make fun of Ron. Bill yells, “I knew all City Slickers love to eat chicken shit.” Ron then knows that Billy has smeared his biscuit with chicken shit while he and Bob went for eggs.
Helen Mae comes running out. “Billy, you and Bob come here this instant.” They do. She grabs them both by the arm. “Did you do you stupid trick again?” she screams.
Still laughing aloud they both say, “Yes, mama.”
“Ron, I’m very sorry for this behavior. I really am. She rushes into the house and returns. Here take this glass of orange juice and wash your mouth real good.” She says
Trying to be a good sport, Ron laughs, “It’s OK, but I’ll get both of you for this before the day is over.”
All was quiet for a few moments and very quickly both Billy and Bob apologize and the three of them finish-off the tray of delicious biscuits.
The girls and both Billy and Bob are always bare footed. Ron has seldom walked barefooted, but soon takes his shoes off and joins the others. Within minutes Ron has hurt his foot when he cut his big toe on a sharp rock. Ron also doesn’t like the feel of stepping on little piles of chicken potty or on a worm. He soon has his feet washed and his shoes back on.
Shortly after lunch, which they also ate out of doors, Billy suggests that they all go to the river and swim for awhile. Helen Mae asks Ron if he can swim.
“Not very well.” Ron replies.
She agrees to go with them to the river, but makes it clear that Ron must stay in her sight all the time. Ron agrees.
At the river they immediately go to a small area where the kids normally together to swim. It is a small area off of the river where the water is very still and not deep. Ron doubted anyone lived near this area and is surprised to see perhaps ten other kids their age already swimming and playing.
Helen Mae notices that Ron is shocked and quickly explains that around here all the children “skinny-dip” or swim in the nude. The boys and girls this age think nothing of
swimming nude together.
Ron is a bit bashful, but forces himself to join the others. They stay at the area for a couple of hours and everyone has a lot of fun.
The rest of the afternoon is spent on the farm playing tag, skip rope, hide-N-seek, and throwing balls. This Saturday night is the same as the night before, except the entire family sits quietly on the porch to listen to the Grand Ole Opera for an hour. Ron is surprised to learn that every one of the kids had been to the Nashville Grand Ole Opera at least once. Ron is almost ashamed to admit that he has never been.
Saturday night is ‘bath night’. It’s summer and that means the water isn’t warm. Ron joins in and sets a personal record for a speed bath.
Sunday morning he was informed that the entire family will walk over to the Green’s house and join in on the local pray luncheon. Helen Mae explains to Ron that when the weather is nice a prayer luncheon get together is held at a different family’s home each week or every other week. This time it is the Green’s time to host the event.
The weather is beautiful and Ron has an enjoyable day amidst a gathering of six families. Each family brings food and each family seems to know what is expected. The food spread is a small feast and the perhaps 30-40 folks have a great time. Especially the adults spent a lot of time singing and offering prayers.
Helen Mae and family return home a 3 p.m. Helen Mae and Ron must be back at the highway at 5 p. m. to catch the bus back to Huntsville. The big family sits around on the porch talking for a while and when it’s time to walk to the highway everyone walks with Helen Mae and Ron, except the grandparents.
When they arrive at the highway, they carefully cross the highway and wait at the “wave-down-the-bus’ bus stop for about ten minutes. They say their good byes and to Ron’s surprise, both Billy and Bob again apologize to Ron ’on their own’ for the trick they pulled.
Mom has checked on the arrival time of their bus and is waiting to pick Helen Mae and her big son up.
This has certainly been an adventure weekend for Ron.
© GENE HUDGENS
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