The Manchester Enterprise: A Boy's Memories Bits of Clay

The Christmas Gift

The Christmas Gift…a boy’s memories.
By: Rodney Miller

I had a dream the other night. I dreamed I was a small boy again back at home and it seemed so real. It was nearly Christmas and I was helping Momma decorate a small cedar tree that I had cut from the mountain behind our house. We were singing Christmas songs as I untangled the lights to be strung on our little tree. We had used the same decorations year after year and they were beginning to look a little aged. Some of the bulbs didn’t work or had lost part of their luster, the garland had been broken and retied, and the icicles were really a mess. But after Mom was finished, the tree look like a masterpiece.
The last thing to go on the tree was the tree topper, a small angel with feathered wings and it was something Dad always did, but Dad wasn’t there, so Momma asked me if I would place the angel at the top of our Christmas tree. Momma handed me the angel and warned me to be careful as I climbed into a chair to reach the top. I gently placed the angel at the top of the tree and climbed down to check how the angel looked. Momma then handed me the extension cord that went to the lights and I plugged it into the wall outlet. It was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.
Everything on the tree looked brand new again. The lights sparkled like diamonds, colorful and bright. The icicles moved as if there was a slight breeze blowing them, reflecting the colored lights. The Christmas bells never looked more stunning. They too, seemed to be dancing with the Christmas music. And the angel at the top of the tree, well she was shinning like the evening star as her wings also fluttered gently.
I had to take a step back to really take in the full beauty. Yep, Momma and me had decorated what I believed was the most beautiful Christmas tree ever. We were both so proud. The only thing missing I thought, were the presents that would be underneath the tree on Christmas morning. But Santa would take care of that, I was sure.
We then made our way to the kitchen and Momma asked if I wanted to help her with the cooking. Of course, I jumped at the chance. We began to mix the dough for the Christmas cookies, rolling it out with her rolling pin to cut out trees, snowflakes, snowmen and Santas. She then handed me the green and red colored sugar to sprinkle on the tops, I really felt like I was helping and not just in the way. Then, she began making chocolate and peanut butter candy, both turning out perfectly.
She even made me a German Chocolate cake, my favorite of all her delicious cakes. After covering the cake heavily with icing, she gave me the bowl with the left over icing knowing how much I liked to scrape the bowl with a spoon to get ever last drop.
It seemed like old times again. Everything was perfect. The tree was beautiful and I got to put on the angel. The cookies and candies were the best ever. And my cake, well it was a masterpiece. But one thing was missing. Momma and me were the only two people there. I went from room to room and I couldn’t find anyone else. I ran out the front door and yelled to my brothers and sisters and no one answered.
I turned to walked back inside the house and noticed the house had suddenly changed. Now, our
house was empty. The beautiful Christmas tree was gone. The cookies, candies and cake weren’t anywhere to be found. Again, I called for my brothers and sisters but all I heard was silence.  I called out to Momma and she never answered. I walked from room to room looking everywhere for her but all the rooms were empty. I was all alone. 
I was sad as I made my way to the front door to leave. Then, I noticed something in the corner of the living room. Something was glowing. As I walked closer, I realized it was the angel Momma had let me  place on top of our tree. I slowly walked over and picked it up and noticed the angel had a Christmas tag attached to it. On the tag was a picture of a Christmas tree just like the one we had decorated with the angel at the top. I opened the card and it read “ Merry Christmas Rodney, Love, Momma.”
Then, I awoke with my eyes wet with tears. The dream seemed so real that it took a little while for me to realize that it was only a dream. I lay there for a few minutes thinking about the dream and what it meant. I then realized that memories of my Momma would never leave me; she would always be there.  All I have to do is, just close my eyes.
“Merry Christmas Momma.” Love, Rodney.

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The Egg Bag Story

I had rarely ever heard Momma so upset. She was tore all to pieces. “Do you know what your brother Ronnie did?” Momma asked me over the phone.
“No, Momma. What did Ronnie do?” I answered not expecting the story she was about to tell me.
“Well, you know he had them chickens out there in the pen,” Momma started.
“Yeah, what about his chickens?” I asked.
“Well, it seems he was getting tired of taking care of them and feeding them. And, I told you how he was giving me brown eggs off of ‘em and you know how I like brown eggs,” she continued.
“Yep, there’s nothing like country brown eggs. I love ‘em too,” I squeezed in between her ranting.
“And if I would have known he didn’t want ’em anymore, I would have loved to have had ‘em,” Momma went on.
“What did he do with the chickens, Momma?” I asked in wonder.
“He paid somebody to kill and dress his laying hens for a church dinner.  And when I asked him about what they had done with the egg bags, he said I guess they threw ‘em away. Now Rodney, you know how much I love a hen’s egg bag and Ronnie knew that too.” Momma explained. “I would have given anything for them egg bags. I ain’t had any in so long I can’t remember. They make the best dumplings. You know that.”
“Yeah, I remember Momma. They sure do make good dumplings. But I don’t think Ronnie thought anything about saving the egg bags for you,” I said trying to calm her down a little.
“Lord what I wouldn’t have given for those egg bags. Since I ain’t raised chickens in a long time I’ve thought time and time again about buying me a couple of big fattening hens just for their egg bags,” Momma said pitiful like. “If I knew where they threw ‘em away at I would go get ‘em. All I would have to do is wash ‘em out real good.”
“I don’t know about that Momma. I doubt if I would eat ‘em if they’ve been laying out overnight,” I told her. “I’ll bet the dogs have eaten ‘em up by now anyway.”
“You’re probably right. I’m sure them dogs had a mighty good meal. But I can’t understand why he wouldn’t have thought how much I love ‘em and had them people to save ‘em for me. Why if he would have told me he was going to dress out them hens, I would have done it for nothing, just to get the egg bags,” Momma said sounding like maybe she was calming down a bit.
“I can go to the store and get some chicken fat. That makes good dumplings, don’t it?” I asked.
“Nothing like a good egg bag full of those little undeveloped eggs. Why there’s as many as a dozen of ‘em in a egg bag and there’s nothing no better to me.” Momma sighed.
I could tell that she really had her heart now set on getting her hands on a couple of egg bags. If she didn’t we would never hear the end of it.
“Momma why don’t me and you go to the stock sale Tuesday morning and buy you a couple of hens,” I asked trying to figure out a way to satisfy her hunger for egg bags.
“No. That’s too far to go for laying hens. I’ll get on the trading post in the morning and find me some hens,” Momma told me.
Well the next day Momma calls again. “I bought me two fattening hens but they cost me a purtty penny. I had to pay $6.00 each. I know that was too much to pay but I got my hens,” Momma said triumphantly.
“Sounds like you did Momma. Now when do we get the dumplings?” I asked jokingly.
“That’s what I called you about. They’re almost done. When Margy gets home you two come on up and I’ll feed you the best dumplings you’ve ever tasted,” Momma bragged.
Well, we did and they were.
That was the last time I can remember Momma cooking her delicious dumplings. Not long after that she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lost most of her cooking skills. But as I write this memory down in words I can still see that big smile on her face as I took my first bite of her dumplings that evening.
Momma was right. The egg bags had made them better than any of the other ones before that I could remember.
I really miss those dumplings and I’m sure glad Momma got her egg bags. I had never seen her more happier.

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Tough Jack, Wire Pliers and Alcohol

Tough Jack, Wire Pliers and Alcohol …a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

It was a long way to town and a dentist cost money. Money that was usually needed for something more important than having a tooth pulled. Anyways, we had the best dentist for miles around. Her name was Dr. Mom and the doctor was always in.
Pulling teeth was Momma’s specialty. But most times, loosing a tooth involved a little pain. The reward for a tooth was a shiny quarter left under our pillow by the tooth fairy. The more teeth that came out, the more money! 
Sometimes a tooth either just fell our on it’s own or it was removed with force. Here are some of the ways Dr. Mom used force when she had to get out a stubborn tooth.
The first method tried was Momma just asking to touch the loose tooth to feel if it was ready to come out. If it was loose enough she had it out most times before we even knew it. But this trick only worked one time.  After that, everyone knew not to let Momma a hold of a loose tooth or it would be out “lickety split” whether the tooth was ready or not.
If we refused to let Momma touch the tooth while we were awake she would sometimes wait until we were asleep and try to pull it. If she were successful she would most times wake us gently holding the tooth explaining how she “found the tooth on our pillow”.
The next one I recall was the “string and doorknob” trick. This method involved tying one end of a string around the loose tooth and the other end around the front doorknob. After the string, which was sewing thread, was tied to the tooth, the person who had the loose tooth either waited for someone to open the front door or someone quickly yanked the string themselves.  Either way a tooth was sure to come out as long as the string was strong enough.
Another way for her to remove a loose tooth was using the “sticky” method. The way this one worked was, Momma either made a sticky taffy from molasses called “tough jack” or bought us a Sugar Daddy to chew on.  Either one of these super-sticky candies would bring out any loose tooth they came into contact with. I remember more than once biting on a tough-jack and coming out with a tooth stuck to it.
When none of the above worked to remove a loose tooth, out came the pliers. And I’m not talking about the pliers a dentist uses. I’m talking about a pair of wire pliers. The ones like you work or a car or a bicycle with.
But before the pliers could be used they were sterilized thoroughly by washing them in a dishpan of water and then drenching them in Swan brand rubbing alcohol. The alcohol was something we used a lot. All cuts and scrapes got plenty of it to kill the germs. It burned like fire on a fresh cut.
But when the tooth had to come out, it had to come out, one way or another. And the worse part of it was seeing those wire pliers coming at your mouth knowing that Dr. Mom wouldn’t stop until the tooth was out. She would latch a hold on that loose tooth and with some twisting, cracking and pulling the tooth finally would give up.
And all of this was done without any painkiller for the kids. Unless you counted the two Bayer “baby” aspirin we took minutes earlier. But before the aspirin had time to dull the pain the pliers were in and the tooth was out. It still hurts just thinking about it.
After the tooth was pulled we rinsed our mouth out with warm salt water. When the blood and water mixed it looked a lot worse than it actually was as we spit out the red fluid. Next, a piece of cotton taken from the Bayer aspirin bottle went in the now vacant hole to slow the bleeding.
When we thought we had given the gums time enough to stop bleeding we removed the cotton and rinsed again. But this time with a little rubbing alcohol mixed in with the water. Momma always said that alcohol would either cure or kill just about anything.
The grown ups were a little more fortunate. Sometimes they got the other kind of pain killer, distilled alcohol. A few drinks of moonshine or whiskey and the patient wouldn’t feel it if all their teeth were pulled.
Yep, times sure were different back then. Sometimes now I even laugh a little when I think about them. But one thing was for sure; we didn’t need a dentist as long as we had Dr. Mom.

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The Party Line

The year I think was late 1965 or maybe early 1966, but finally, phone service had come to Paw Paw. It was a much-anticipated wait. With lots of begging, we eventually talked Dad into getting us hooked on to the “party line”.
Those younger than me probably won’t understand what I’m talking about and those as old as me will understand perfectly. The phone line was most times a blessing, sometimes a headache, but always entertaining.
What “party line” meant was, more than one family shared your phone service. The line up Paw Paw had six families fighting for possession of who got to use the phone. The correct way for a polite person, who picked up the phone while it was already in use, would be to hang up the phone after apologizing for interrupting the conservation.
Usually, I would wait about 5 or 10 minutes and again pick up the receiver to check if the line was still busy. Next, I would wait about 2 minutes and if the line were still in use, I would ask how long would it be before I would be able to use the phone. Most of the time, everyone shared equally because everyone knew all parties on the line. But sometimes, it was a battle over the use of the telephone.
If someone was made mad, they would merely lay the receiver off the hook and no one could use the phone until they got over their mad spell. Many times when somebody on my line left the phone off the hook, I would do some pretty crazy things to try to get him or her to hang up the phone. I would first try yelling in the phone really loud, “Would you please hang up the phone?”
If that didn’t work after about repeating my request for about fifty times, I would resort to other measures. I would get a loud whistle and blow it constantly for about 5 minutes or until Momma or Dad made me stop. I would sometimes turn on the radio really loud playing rock music, or as the older neighbors called it, “the Devil’s music!” And if that didn’t work, then I would start apologizing for being so rude and hope they felt sorry for me and hung it up.
When that didn’t work, I would walk to my neighbors and beg politely, “Please hang up the phone. I’m so sorry about the whistle, it wasn’t me, it was my little brother Carlos, he thinks he’s a policeman. I won’t let him do it again. And the music, that was my sister Jackie, she loves that awful stuff, and she loves it loud. I hate it!”
When I got older, I would sometimes drive my car to their house and hold down the horn until they came to the door and then ask them to please hang up the phone or I would lay ours off the hook for a week. Most times one of the above would work.
Only one home could use the phone at a time, but anyone who decided to pick up the phone while it was in use, couldn’t do anything until the caller hung up. Except, hear every word, of every conversation by the person who was on the phone. And some got their entertainment by listening to private conservations. The name given to the unwanted listener was “eaves- dropper”.
A real nosey person, and we had plenty, would sit by the phone most of the day to hear all the gossip. They discovered if they laid their hand on the phone and another home had a caller, the phone would vibrate letting the eavesdropper know. If they wanted to listen, and we had plenty who did, they would wait until the phone stopped vibrating letting them know the other party had picked up the phone.
Quickly they would put their hand over the phone receiver keeping down any noise the caller might hear letting them know they were listening to the conservation. Later on, someone figured out you could unscrew the hand receiver and remove the little microphone in the mouthpiece and no one could anything at the home of the person who had the phone up.
Once, while talking to my soon to be wife, I was telling her goodnight after a long phone conversation when someone butted in and said “Don’t forget to tell Margy you love her.” They had been listening to every word of our call. From then on, I really had to be careful what I said on the phone.
There were no secrets on Paw Paw after the telephone. No conservation was private.  There was a group of women who called themselves “The Lonely Hearts Club” who met once a week in a small one room building on the right side of the road at the mouth of Paw Paw and their main topic each week was what they had overheard on the telephone that week. So I got the idea to make things a little more interesting for the lonely women who had nothing better to do than listen to everyone’s phone calls.
I got one of my friends to give me a call one night, knowing one of the lonely hearts club women would pick up the phone to hear our conservation. After hearing the “click”, that let me know an eavesdropper had picked up, I started with my bull.
“Larry, have you had a chance to check out the good looking women on Paw Paw at the Lonely Hearts Club? Man, all are single and really lonely, if you know what I mean. The next time they are having their meeting, I’ll give you a call, if I can get on the line. You gotta’ check ‘em out. They’re all really hot!”
After that, I had no trouble getting on the phone any time I wanted. Once, when two of the women were on the line gossiping, I ask if I could please use the phone. The answer came really quick. “You sure can young man.” One of them said.
The other, then snickering said, “Who are you going to call, Larry?” and giggled like a schoolgirl as she hung up the phone.

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The Curtain Caper

Lessons in life are sometimes learned the hard way, so it goes with the story of the curtain caper. There are things you only have to do once and you know to never do it again. But some of the times you just don’t know better and those times can sometimes be a little funny looking back on.
My Momma had gotten “new” green curtains for the windows to replace the old tattered ones she had for so many years.
“They’re just beautiful!” she told everyone, standing back and admiring the long, flowing waves of shiny fabric. The material matched the fresh beige paint Dad had just put on the walls. Mom couldn’t have been more proud.
Our house wasn’t the most expensive one on Paw Paw but it was probably the cleanest. She worked so hard to keep it clean and with 7 kids that was a job. One thing I can say about my Mom, we never went hungry and we never went dirty.
We didn’t get a bathroom at home until I was 12 years old. I was like most kids growing up in Clay County, we had an outhouse to do our “business” during the day, but at night we kept a pot under our bed for any late night emergency. The pot was nothing more than an 8 lb. Partridge lard bucket and every morning the bucket had to be emptied.
Most of the times, we emptied the bucket by taking it to the outhouse each morning and pouring the contents down the hole but occasionally if there wasn’t any “solid” stuff, we would slip and throw it out the window. We never let Mom or Dad know this because they wouldn’t stand for the bucket to be emptied out the window, because of the smell it would leave. But, we sometimes did it anyway not wanting to walk all the way to the outhouse.
One morning feeling a little lazy we thought we would take the easy way out and throw the contents through the window. Mom walked into the room just about the time we were doing what we knew better than and screamed, “What do you think you’re doing?”
Being startled, I turned the opened window loose and down it came, her beautiful new curtains were soaked. Well, needless to say, Dad didn’t go to easy on us when Mom told him what we had done. I could take his punishment but I was hurt more for ruining Mom’s curtains.
She took the curtains down immediately and put them in the washing machine with our clothes she was washing for church the next day. When they came out of the wash she made us take them to the clothesline and hang them in the summer breeze to dry. That evening, the curtains looked new again, Mom was happy, and we had a sore behind. One lesson had been learned.
The next day was Sunday, and like every Sunday, we were up early eating our breakfast and then getting ready for church. We put on our clean clothes Mom had washed the day before and got in our car for the trip to Horse Creek Baptist.
I didn’t notice too much right away, but I was itching a little and thought I must have gotten in poison ivy or maybe a chigger or two had moved in. Walking funny into church I noticed I wasn’t the only one scratching and digging, all of the family had an itch.
The morning service seemed like it went on for hours, as all of my brothers and sisters were really restless with an itch no one could explain. Preacher Rush even made a joke that he thought the Lord was really working on some of the congregation this morning, smiling at us as we were really squirming around in our seat.
Dad and Mom neither could figure out what was wrong with us but he didn’t think it was too funny. Most of the time we were very respectful in church but today we couldn’t sit still.
After church was over we almost ran to our car stripping off clothes as we were getting in, with Dad wanting an explanation. We didn’t know what was wrong but we all were itching like crazy. By the time we were pulling over the hill at the house, most of us were down to our underwear and wanting to take those off as well. We had large red patches all over our body and it wasn’t poison ivy it was something else.
Dad figured that we must have had an allergic reaction to the clothes detergent and asked Mom if she had changed what she normally used? She told him it was the same as she had used for years.
He then asked if she had washed anything with the clothes that she hadn’t before?  She told him she had washed the green curtains with the clothes yesterday.
“It must have been the curtains.”  Dad told Mom.
Dad was right. The new curtains Mom had gotten were made of a new fabric called fiberglass. We had never heard of fiberglass but lesson number two was learned. Never wash anything with fiberglass in it, especially underwear.

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Page 17 of 25

e-Edition A-Section 10-23-14


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e-Edition B-Section 10-23-14


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