The radio alarm blasted Elvis Presley’s hit “Don’t Be Cruel”, as JoEllen Harper shot up in her bed. Sunlight spilled into her postage-stamp bedroom. She yawned and groaned, “Mornin’ already?”
“Today is Tuesday, September 4th, 1956,” the radio DJ announced.
It was also her twelfth birthday. But she pulled the covers back over her head. As for “Don’t be Cruel”, she could still hear her new classmates whispering their ugly taunts of ”country bumpkin” as she groveled through her first day of junior high school yesterday.
A barnyard rooster crowed as tears spilled down her check. She thought of how she’d eaten her lunch alone in the school cafeteria.
“Why did we have to move?” she sighed. But with Daddy out of work, her family needed to get on their feet so they moved to her grandparents’ farm over the summer. Meanwhile, Mamma’s alterations business brought in some needed income. But she’d bonded with the animals, deciding she wanted to be a veterinarian, not a simple seamstress like Mamma.
She got dressed, then trudged down the stairs as her family sang, “Happy Birthday to You,” handing her packages wrapped in pink flowery wrapping paper.
She tore into the wrapping paper, and then held up her new dress, mumbling “thanks”.
“I made it,” Mamma said. “Aren’t the little printed baby chicks and ducklings sweet?”
“Yeah, Mamma, uh....thanks,” she said, forcing a half-smile.
Another feedsack dress? It’s humiliating enough with my home-cut raggedy bangs. Now I have to wear this to school?
She unwrapped her grandmother’s present, staring in unbelief at Nana’s old Singer sewing machine.
“Since you’re learnin’ to sew, reckon you could use this. Now you can make your own feedsack garments.”
“Thanks, Nana,” JoEllen said, hiding her disappointment. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I have to cook and sew,she thought, remembering how Mamma and Nana had forced her to take Home Economics.
“Don’t have time to change clothes, but maybe I can wear this tomorrow,” she lied.
She grabbed her book bag and ran out the door, bracing for another miserable day. Her second day was even worse. In sewing class, she jammed her machine, ripping her fabric. She sat alone, again, at lunch. Choking back tears, she stepped off the school bus, forgetting it was even her birthday.”
She arose early the next day with a plan. I’ll wear my new feedsack dress to breakfast, then change in the stable…..
“Aren’t you the sweetest thing?” Nana beamed as JoEllen entered the kitchen.
“You’re up early this morning, dear,” Mamma said pouring her daughter a bowl of steaming oatmeal.
“Yeah, I guess…..I need to check on Great Mamma before I go to school.”
Great Mamma was an old quarter horse who was many times over a grandma stallion, too old to give birth but very pregnant.
“We need to call Doc Rogers,” JoEllen pleaded. “Great Mamma’s due any day now and will need help.”
“Now, now…. Don’t you worry your purty head, child,” Nana said. “The good Lord watches over old great grandma horses just as He watchers over me.”
JoEllen hugged everyone goodbye and headed for the stable.
“Don’t have your foal ‘til I get home,” she said, rubbing Great Mamma’s massive belly. Then she changed into her red poodle skirt and blouse crammed in her book bag.
She straightened her skirt and chestnut brown pony tail, and headed for the bus stop.
Much to her surprise she had a better day. She threaded her sewing machine (without help) and even made a new friend who invited her to listen to “American Bandstand” after school on Friday.
At 3:15 PM the bus let her off at the bus stop. She dashed to the stable to change clothes. Opening the door she almost fainted when she saw Mamma there, squatted on the ground, pulling out a wrinkly newborn foal ….The little mare’s twin foal wiggled beside Mamma’s feet.
“Twins? Wow, Mamma, you did this?!” JoEllen exclaimed, suddenly having a renewed respect for her mother. She noted the newborn foals were lying on her bloodied feedsack dress that Mamma had apparently found crumbled in the hay.
Mamma stared into her daughter’s anxious brown eyes. “Guess my little girl’s outgrown my feedsack creations?”
JoEllen’s cheeks turned the color of her crimson red skirt as she glared at her shoes, stammering to explain…
“It’s okay,” Mamma said. “I understand……Hey, Great Mamma’s really great, givin’ birth at her age.”
“No, Mamma, you’re really great”
“I wanna be just like you.”
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