One summer evening, by the light of a dim kerosene lamp, my Great Aunt Alta (pronounced Altie in the South) told me a story.
The story was about the worst whipping her dad ever gave her.
I watched Aunt Altie’s brown, wrinkled face in the glow of the lamplight. Snuff had stained her teeth, and she massaged her gums with a little, chewed stick she almost always had in her mouth.
“Well,” she said, “One day I rode a horse to my friend’s house. I must have been about 12.
While I was there, we got the idea to cut the sleeves off the dresses we were wearing. We had seen short-sleeved dresses in pictures, and we liked them.
Oh, we were pretty proud of ourselves,” she said, and she cackled.
“Our arms were pasty white, of course, because we always wore long sleeves.
I rode home wearing that dress.
Dad was in the front yard, and he looked up when he heard me come riding in.
He pulled me off that horse and whipped me with the horse’s rein. Then he ordered me into the house to put on something decent.”
I thought about Aunt Altie this morning as I went for my walk. (3,190 steps before 9:00 a.m.)
I wore a sleeveless top on this walk.
I avoid wearing sleeveless tops most of the time. Not out of modesty but out of vanity. My upper arms are flabby.
They haven’t always been so. Here is a picture of me in high school, back when I never gave a thought as to how my arms looked.
My Aunt Altie and Uncle Art lived across the road from my family, and they played a big role in my growing-up years.
They refused to believe, in July 1969, a man had walked on the moon. The news clip of Neil Armstrong stepping out onto what looked like the surface of the moon was filmed in a Hollywood studio, they said.
In the early 1970s, Daylight Savings Time was introduced and incorporated into the lives of most Americans. Uncle Art and Aunt Altie refused to reset their clocks.
“We’re staying on God’s time,” they said.
It caused them problems, mostly with television shows. They didn’t own a TV at the time, but they walked across the road to watch our TV some evenings.
It irked them no end the first time they walked into our house to watch The Waltons, only to find the show had already ended.
Aunt Altie was superstitious. You wouldn’t catch her opening an umbrella in the house, laying a hat on a bed, or walking under a ladder.
Once when I had a stye on my eye, she swore she could make it go away.
“Go stand in the middle of the road,” she said.
“Then say out loud: ‘Stye, stye, leave my eye. Catch the next one who comes by.’”
I followed her instructions.
I don’t remember if the stye left my eye or not, but I felt guilty soon after that incantation when Gene and Shirley Robbins, with their little boy, Tex, “came by” in their old blue pickup.
I avoided the Robbins family for a week or so. I never knew which one of them got the stye. I hoped it wasn’t little Tex.
Uncle Art and Aunt Altie had grandkids living in Kansas. Duane (my age) and Judy (my younger sister’s age) made great playmates when they came for extended visits.
Duane was amazing! He could run further and faster on a dirt road barefooted than anyone else I knew.
He was brave too. He once ate a pokeberry right in front of me, after I had just told him it would kill him.
The pokeberry didn’t kill him, but he died in a car wreck before he was 30. I still miss him.
Though I wasn’t supposed to know this, Uncle Art was a drinker.
It wasn’t easy to come by liquor where I lived. Ours was a “dry” county. But now and again Uncle Art found someone to drive him to the state line where he could buy booze.
When this happened, he stayed away from home for a few days.
Aunt Altie didn’t like to stay by herself at night, so my parents commissioned me to spend those nights with her.
It was on one of these overnight visits, I’m sure, when I heard the story about the whipping.
Young girls staying with lone women at night was not uncommon in those days where I grew up. We provided no protection. Just a bit of company to ward off loneliness.
I also stayed overnight with a woman whose husband was a preacher. When he went away somewhere to hold weekend gospel meetings, I stayed with his wife.
She was a wonderful old woman. Jewel was her name.
She drank her coffee from a tin can because, she said, it kept the coffee hotter longer.
She studied her Bible daily and took notes, writing them in blue ink around the edges of the articles in The Gospel Advocate.
Doesn’t she have notebook paper? I wondered.
She fed me scrambled egg sandwiches for supper, and we played Hully Gully, a game played with dried kernels of corn.
Jewel herself was as wonderful a person as her name, though she had a slight mustache.
I rode my bike to her house when I spent the night. Sometimes she gave me a quart of fresh cream in a Mason jar to take home to Mom.
“Now, if you ever feel like you are about to turn over on that bike,” she said, “or are about to wreck it, throw that glass jar as far as you can. I don’t want you to get cut on broken glass.”
How I wanted an opportunity to throw that Mason jar of fresh cream! It would be exciting, heroic in a way, and would make a good story to tell my friends.
Alas, I never had that chance. The bike, the jar of cream, and I always made it home intact.
I hope my readers aren’t expecting a strong punch line at the end of this narrative. I have none.
I do advise women to wear sleeveless tops when they are young, though, if they plan to wear them at all.
And, remember this: You, today, are creating memories for children who will grow to be adults, like us.
One day, they will set out to do something ordinary, like take a walk.
Then they will think of you, and the next thing they know they will be strolling down Memory Lane.
Make it a nice walk.