I walk through the front door and stand still, already wanting to be back at home. I had heard talk about my aunt’s house, but from the look of things family gossip did not tell the half of it. The malodor of urine, stale and fresh, attacks my nostrils; in fact all I see reeks of disregard, neglect and a coarse existence.
How did I ever come to be here? It is my mother’s fault, all her fault. She should have sensed my lack of enthusiasm for this visit and politely gotten me out of it. But no, she let my Aunt Dolly talk rings around her and so I am to be stuck in this misery pit for the next seven days. What a stinker.
To begin with for terribleness is the fact my aunt and uncle live in THE COUNTRY. At ten I have never experienced the charming side of rural living; fresh air, vegetable gardens, compost piles, even little buggies if they are helpful ones, may intrigue me some day. But at ten I am a pernickety ninny with only the opinion of my family and Aunt Dolly’s raw world to define life outside civilization.
Next in line of importance, I am terrified of my boy cousins. I have never seen the vast pack of redheads on home turf but I have heard plenty. Aunt Dolly has a stern look about her, but her selective observation where they are concerned has not escaped me.
To make matters worse, my four sibling turncoats ditch me right off. I think they figure it is every boy or girl for numero uno.
Although the front door experience when I first arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house remains vivid, after that my memory banks yield voids as well as features. I think of it as barbed wire. The smooth parts represent blank spaces; otherwise, certain hellish and bizarre events stick out like barbs:
“Drink it, it’s good for you.” My aunt is holding a dented metal dipper of fresh cows’ milk, warm from the udder. Her hair and eyebrows are black and I think I see a printed cotton dress on a stocky torso. I feel blessed not to remember if I accepted the cow pee.
“Want to go swimming?” My cousin Marsha sounds eager.
I am dubious. None of her ideas so far have worked out in my favor.
“The Brubaker’s. They live down the road. They’re rich.”
“Do they mind?”
She looks condescending. “Mother says we can swim there any time we want to.”
The non-specific cable goes along for a while and then another barb appears. It is afternoon and a group of us are on our way to the Brubaker’s. The sandy soil interspersed with stones and noxious growth scorches my bare feet so I try to walk fast. But I fall behind the others. Sudden, sharp pain causes me to howl my head off. We had burrs at home but not this kind.
“A goat head,” Marsha calls over her shoulder. “Pull it out.”
I sit on scorched plain and John Wayne enters the barb. He is extracting an arrow from his foot: he grits his teeth and bears the agony. Wire, wire. The others are now out of sight and I have no idea how to get to the Brubaker’s. What I do know is that something vicious is chewing on my legs and bottom. I inspect the ground and realize I chose the center of a red ant bed for my hurried seating. Immediately more hallowed wire intervenes.
Barb. “We can sew.” Marsha holds up a length of fabric.
“On your mother’s sewing machine? She won’t get mad?”
“No, I do it all the time. You can go first.”
I seat myself before the ancient Singer, process through bobbin winding, and start to snip the thread end.
“Boy, are you in trouble.” Her tone is bossy like my aunt’s.
“You’re wasting thread.”
The thread becomes fencing material that stretches into the days of the Aunt Dolly week, a long and dreadful strand of missing home and parents, especially my mother. A knot in the wire pops up, but it has no bite to it. I am in my own back yard and it is bliss. I am kneeling on green grass petting my dog, Daisy.
“Were you homesick? Did you miss me?” My mother sounds like the angel of my heaven.
I do not look up. “A little, I guess.”
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