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Rated: E · Non-fiction · Family · #1243111
short chapters based on a true story of my mothers secret life.
         The times were hard, Pa always worked in the Cotton fields and Ma did as well. There are twelve kids and Pa always claimed they were cheaper by the dozen. No matter what they did, they did it as a family as a unit, some not always so willing. Ma always seemed to think it would bring better things for them. The only thing I think it brought them was division. But taking in consideration of the way things were back in the 40’s and 50’s I guess as told to me by relatives… “It’s just the way it was.”

          It had been a hot day in the cotton fields of Southern Oklahoma, the family was tired, sweaty and beaten down by the long labor of the day which was normal for most folk in this area.

         The two mile walk home seem to be endless today as the chatter of the younger ones could be heard in the back, Pa yells back " Get a move on, we got work to complete". The older children pick up the pace; they range from the ages two to eighteen. The oldest girl, Edna Lee, just celebrated her fifteenth birthday and was not in the mood for cotton fields or more chores to do at home. Her mind began to drift into a day dream as she made her way up the gravel road carrying her baby sister on her hip.

         The dreams most girls have at that age, looking good, meeting the right boy, living in a nice house with nice clothes, the scene of fresh green grass and flower gardens submerge her mind as she is then slapped into reality.

         The sting of Pa's leather glove across her face brought instant tearing that she tried to hold back, wiping them with the back of her hand, leaving upon her pale creamy face a slight dirt streak mixed with her tears leaving a stain. Edna picked up the pace to catch up with the rest saying she was sorry again seemed to fall upon deaf ears as her ma simply shook her head.

         Donnie Lee, go fetch a chicken and butcher for supper" ma said as they all walked into the yard. "yes ma" was all Donnie had to say. Edna put the baby Mary Ann down to go play as she walked to the clothes line to help ma take in the mornings wash... "Someday Ma, I am going to marry me a rich man and have nice clothes, a big white house that might even have a fence around it!" Ma simply would shake her head yes.

         }After their supper Pa had to make a run to town, told them not to wait up that he would be late. Edna helped get the younger ones bathed and tucked in after reading from some old story books that she kept from her early years.

         Morning comes; Edna helps Ma get breakfast ready, the smell of biscuits and gravy filling the air. The children arise of the aroma of the food, each one having their own place to sit, Pa at the head of the table and Ma at the other end, the kids line up on the benches as Pattie and Sweetie set the table. The table was a long picnic like table that Pa made of used lumber gathered from abandoned farms nearby, six kids to each side on the long benches. Pa always had rules of the home as well as at the table, if you wished for more food; it was a must to ask to have it passed. It was not a free for all to be reaching across to help your self. The backhand of Pa was always a reminder to keep your place and mind the manners. Each one cleaned up after themselves and removed their utensils and plates to be washed, Edna would clean up after the younger children that were too small to do so.

         The home was a small two bedroom farm house, Ma and Pa had their bedroom. The girls all shared their room they had one double bed, and one small dresser with a mirror, Edna, often at times would make her self a pallet on the floor along side the bed to make more room for her sisters to sleep. It was just one of those unspoken moments of love in a small way, the boys for the most part slept on pallets in the living room floor or at times in the dining room. There were eight boys and four girls. Each morning the bed would be made, the pallets neatly folded and placed in closets until the next use.

         Within the hour of rising the chore of the morning would be complete by each one taking their own chore to completion and they would dress and prepare for their walk to the fields, some days it would be close to three or four miles they would walk, each child had their own canvas bag that they would carry by a sling on their shoulder, each striving to fill their bags several times a day, as Pa got paid by the pound, the more they picked the more they made. Many times the older kids taking from their bags to assist the little ones to making their quota set by Pa, still no words spoken and very little talk in the fields, but the actions and assisting to one another showed a deep inner strength that only a few of them could understand.

         As the sun beat down and sweat falls upon the brows, Edna would place her baby sister Mary Ann at her feet, handing down cotton bolls to put in her bag, at times allowing her self to once again drift off in the land of dreams of nice white houses, picket fences, pretty clothes and just seeking a better way of life that she knew would have to exist someplace along the way and prayed someday she would find it.

A Visitor Comes

         The slamming of the front door on the porch bangs, Sheriff Loftus told Ma that Pa was cattle rustling and also stole a neighbors pig. He was picked up and taken to the county jail, Ma waves her hand at Edna, she gathers up the smaller children to take them out of ear shot of the conversation. But straining her own ears to hear what is being said from the other room. In low voices, Loftus says "Pa claimed he did not do that". But then I guess not many would admit to such a crime. Edna wishes she could hear more, but the voices trail off.
They still ate a lot of oatmeal and rice, Donnie Lee’s chickens and the fresh farm eggs. Ma always got the fresh cream and milk from old farmer Carter up the road a mile. All of the kids would take turns turning the crank of the churn to make butter. Ma always was so fussy about her butter, “just a pinch of salt for flavor” she would say.

         Times were hard, Dust bowl and droughts seem to plague the area. Ma and Pa have seen the droughts, and poverty stricken families are plentiful in these areas. Everyone seemed to be down trodden and poor. Harrison, the oldest of the boys all of seventeen said he could take over Pa’s place in the cotton fields. He quit high school so that he could work longer hours. Along with him Frank is sixteen and followed suit, the boys both figured four hands were better than two.

         Edna did not offer any of the extra services but Ma made sure she knew her place to help keep the youngin’s in line. “Just because Pa is gone does not lessen the laundry or cooking load." Edna’s hazel eyes narrowed as she listened to her mother and proceeded to assist her in folding some laundry. Edna’s mind wandering as she folded the white crisp towel carefully making sure all the edges met. Ma would make her redo it if she did not do it right.

         Edna as well dropped out of high school. Education did not seem to be of top importance but existence did. To be able to manage and to eat it would mean everyone doing their small part.

         Day after day, the older kids would walk the two mile road to the cotton fields. Each one taking a sack to fill, on a good day they could maybe fill 2. They carried their water canteens as well across their shoulders. Edna would always give baby Mary Ann her canteen to play with. Mary Ann would always be Edna’s responsibility because some of the girls that were not quite old enough to pick cotton could sweep for Ma, or help tie quilts or wash dishes. They never knew what the day would hold for chores. But they all knew they had to do their part. They also knew if they did not pull their load it would mean Pa becoming angry and taking out the belt.

         One of the visits to see Pa, the jail seemed to be full of men that looked like they should have lived way back in the mountains. The cells they lived in appeared to be six by nine and the walls were so gray, cracks in the cold concrete floor and musty smelling. Not a place that Ma cared to bring any of the kids to see Pa.

         Six months had passed and Pa served his time. Nothing ever proved of that pig and cattle rustling, just the town folk flapping their jaws, making accusations of things which they knew nothing of. Ma always taught that it was best to be honest and work hard. She seemed to think one would get further in life this way. Pa brought home with him a man that he met and befriended in jail.

         The man was tall, thin. His brown wavy hair hung forward in his eyes as he made his way up the steps of the porch behind Pa and nodded to the kids on the porch as they went in the house.

         Edna was summoned to assist Ma with peeling potatoes and carrots for the hearty stew they were to serve. Edna’s hazel eyes stared at the strange man, when his brown eyes met hers she swiftly looked away. Her face felt the crimson on her cheeks as she hoped secretly that he had not noticed her looking at him.

         Now with Ma and Pa and twelve kids, meal time in the home could lead to some very good table discussions. Tonight, with a visitor it would be no different.

         The evening was sultry as the family gathered around the supper table. Ma and Edna paid careful attention to the table setting since a guest was in the home.
After the food was placed, everyone gathered to their seats. Ma and Edna took their places at the table last. Pa began carving the chicken, taking his slice and passing it around. The platter ending at Edna as it had hundreds of times before with just a wing left on it, she knew better than to complain. After all, it was better than nothing. Edna took the chicken wing, a tablespoon of mashed potatoes, and some green beans from Ma's garden. What was there not to be thankful for? Even though Grace was never said, Edna was grateful and thankful.
          Chatter around the table was a normal. Well, at least normal for a family of twelve children. Dean, with his bright red hair and green eyes, he grinned a toothless grin as he told everyone about the catfish that was caught today. George, being one year older added in that he caught one bigger as he screwed his face in a prune shape and sneered at Dean. "Boy's" Ma said, "Not in front of company"
          Harrison, being the oldest of all the children at age seventeen announced that he found a job working for Mr. Hayes at the local garage in town and was hoping the extra money could go for a car.
          Pa wiped the grease from his mouth with the napkin and held up his hand. All the kids knew it meant silent.
          Clearing his throat Pa started: "I want all of you know that Slim will be staying with us for a little while, and I expect you to mind your manners and be a helping hand where needed." Pa let down his hand and looked to the visitor.
          Slim was a quiet man. He always stayed to himself. Spoke only when spoken to. Softly speaking Slim said “I do not wish to intrude on this family. I will be looking for a place to live and some work within the week.” Ma nodded and glanced over at Edna.
          The table was cleared, household chores tended. Each child had their own duty in order to make life flow in one direction. Otherwise things became chaos and Ma did not care for chaos and all of the kids knew it.
          Later that evening, Pa offered Edna's services to take Slim to town to look around and perhaps meet some people in the area.
          Town was only a three mile drive across the Cimarron River. Edna was not one to drive so she offered Slim the keys. Not daring to look into the face of the stranger as their hands touched, she dropped the keys into his palm and darted out the door.
          The humming of the engine fading off in the distance as Slim and Edna take a trip to town. For the first time Edna felt at ease, even if Slim was a stranger to her, she did not feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Slim did not seem to mind that she was tagging along with him. After all, it was Pa that suggested it.
          They drove the old dirt roads into Hollis. There never seems to be much happening in Hollis. Mr. Duke at the grocery store sat out front in his lawn chair and waved as they drove by. Then up the road at the local garage were Wayne and his father Henry. Edna knew them very well because Pa always bought his gasoline from there, and all the kids got to buy penny candy on Fridays.
          As Slim drives around Hollis taking in the few stores, Edna chatters and tells him of the places in town and talks about some of the people. Slim keeping his eyes open for any vacant homes to rent as they proceed to the outskirts of town.
          North of town one mile they come upon the Hollis carnival. Slim pulled the old Chevy car over to the side of the road and put it in park. Edna rolled down her window to feel the breeze flow through.
          Slim and Edna sit on the hood of the car and watch the carnival from the road. After several hours had transpired, they found themselves sharing about their lives, hopes and dreams. The evening turns cooler, the fire flies are out. The sounds of the carnival coming to a close and the lights of the barns and rides go dim.
          The ride home appeared to be a quick one, seems time travels faster when you have one to share hopes and dreams and inspirations with!

         Slim and Edna over the course of the last two months became well acquainted and somewhat close. Edna liked how his blue eyes sparkled when he smiled if he thought something she said was funny, or when he would laugh at the normal small mishaps in such a large family setting. Edna never knew eyes could sparkle like that. Eyes so blue reminded her of some marbles she kept in a bag under her pillowcase.

          The long summer months are over. The hoeing of cotton is complete. Now comes the true test of the times to head back into the fields and begin picking. Edna always hated picking cotton. The one reason she hated picking cotton was that it was a long duration of manual labor. At the end of the hot days, Edna's hands, feet, back and shoulders hurt from carrying the heavy bags full of cotton. She always kept dreaming about the day when this would no longer be a part of her life.

         The days and evenings were cooler now; the cotton fields were being paced by many families filling their bags. Edna’s bag was about five feet long, heavy canvas type bag. The dingy gray and green bags had thick leather straps that slid over their shoulders to carry on their backs once filled. Folks were paid by the bag. The more bags you filled the more money you earned. You would think that a family of fourteen out in the same field would be earning good money, but then considering most were kids the bags did not fill as fast as Pa would like.

         Even the baby Mary Ann had her own small twelve inch canvas bag to carry. Edna would pick some cotton and hand down to the two year old and she would work diligently to stuff her bag while Edna grabbed more and proceeded to fill her own bag, not paying attention to the cuts, scrapes from the cotton bolls on her hands and bruises left from the strap on her back from the previous days work.

          The sun goes down, again the end of another hard day in the fields. Pa collects all the bags then goes to collect their pay. This particular day close to eleven hundred pounds of cotton were picked. On an average that was a very good day considering the ages of the kids.

         The two mile walk home was always a good one and one that Edna did not mind doing because it was her time of day to dream and reflect. Today her dream was disturbed by the running footsteps behind her.

         Catching up to her and completely out of breath was Ronnie. The dampness of his hair clinging to his neck and traces of sweat down his sideburns as he slowed his pace to a walk.

         }Reaching the steps of the front porch Edna places Mary Ann down on the ground to play and Slim joins in on the fun as well as they sit and talk. Slim wishing to share in his happiness but not wanting to burden the family any longer he states: “Edna, I found a job!” Edna’s eyes darken as she tries to hide her disappointment, she barely mutters, “Where at Slim?” Too happy about his achievement he did not notice the change in tone of her voice. “I got a job with the carnival. I am leaving next Monday.” Edna could feel her heart sink, blinking back tears she picked up her baby sister, Mary Ann, went inside and burst into tears.

          Secretly knowing this is not what dreams are made up of. Several days pass by and Edna asks permission at the supper table to go with Slim to see if she too can get a job at the carnival.

          Ma glancing at Pa not saying a word, Pa’s jaw clenching tight as he swallows hard to find the right words and grants his blessings to Edna to move on. Pa rises to walk out the door only to be heard saying: “One less mouth to feed.” A tear falls down Edna’s cheek as Slim reaches over and takes her hand in his.

         Slim looking at Ma, his slate blue eyes fixed on her face. “Pauline, would you grant the permission for me to marry your daughter Edna? I promise I will always look over her and I will take care of her. I love her.” Pauline not saying one word, simply nodded her head and cleared the table. Edna sat motionless, not knowing what to say. After all she was not quite sixteen.

         Pa sat on the front steps of the house wiping sweat off of his brow pondering a deal he could make for the hand of his daughter. Clifton was not a business man of any sort, nor was he one that did a lot of dealing but when the cards seem to play in his favor he could certainly bargain with the best.

         Slim walked out to join Clifton on the steps. Not a word spoken by either, Clifton reached in his pocket and pulled out his harmonica and began to play. Slim taking in the sounds of the music, the children talking amongst themselves, the clatter of the dishes as dinner was being prepared. Peering down in dirt, Slim looks to Clifton and says “I have an offer.” The music stops.

          The men stand and walk up the driveway then across the road. Ma watching from a nearby window turns to Edna complaining; “two more meals to keep warm.” Edna sliding the pie plate tin like plates back in the oven to keep the food warm; she can not help but wonder what Slim and Pa have to talk about.

          The scuff of their footsteps heard along the dry dirt driveway. Edna prepares their plates and takes a seat at the table near her pa. Ma as well entering the room after settling the young ones into bed takes her place by Edna.

          Speaking up Pa says; “Everything is in place. Tomorrow is the day.” Ma simply nods and lowers her dark eyes. Edna is sensing emotions but she is not familiar with the adult talk at the table so she is uncertain of what Pa means. Slim rises with a smile and nodding bids all a good evening.

          Pa looking at Edna simply says; “Get your bags packed. Tomorrow you leave.”
Edna quietly walks to the back bedroom that she shared with two younger sisters. She pulled the suitcase off of the top shelf of the closet, sorted through her articles then packed them neatly in the case, hearing the click of the suitcase she wiped a silent tear away from her cheek. Looking around the bedroom that she calls home she knew now would be no more.

          Morning comes, the sun appearing brighter today for some reason. Edna comes out to the living room dressed in her gingham dress that Ma made long ago for each of the girls. The dresses were only to be worn for special occasions. Not that they had many, but today Edna thought would be one.

          Ma and Edna take off for town. Words seem to be far and few today. So the walk deems to be a long hot one. Edna slows her pace as the suitcase begins to be a burden and is heavier with each step. After twenty-five minutes they reach town and walk to City Hall, waiting on the steps is Slim. The three of them proceed inside. Sheriff Loftus meets up with them in the hall and walks with Slim and Ma to the Judges Chamber, Edna following behind.
          The heavy wood double doors close behind them as they enter the room. Edna feeling her heart skips a beat, she is uncertain of her crime. Sheriff and Ma speak quietly a few minutes and then Sheriff nods to Slim. Slim steps forward turning back to motion Edna to follow him they walk up front before the judge.

         Before Edna even knew what was taking place the judge announced them married, Ma signing as a witness along with Sheriff Loftus.Slim cupping her face in his hands telling her; “It is going to be alright. I will take good care of you.”

         Edna looks back at Ma, no smile, no tears, just a set jaw. A day Edna vows under her breath she will never forget. October 4, 1958.

Chapter 2

          Late November 1960.... winter was well on its way to Clinton, Oklahoma. Thanksgiving had come and gone like any other day. There is not much to be thankful for when you’re hungry, cold and nine months pregnant. Although Edna and Slim were excited about the upcoming birth of their first child, this was not how Edna had always imagined it would be. When she was a young girl, taking care of her baby sister Mary Ann.

          Edna would dream of how it would be when she had her own baby. She would have a small cozy house with a nursery equipped with a big rocking chair, lots of stuffed animals, and the sun would shine through the window in the early mornings, bathing mother and child in warmth as they slowly rocked back and forth breathing the sweet scent of baby powder. Her husband would have already gone to his law office where he would do whatever lawyers do for ten hours a day. After her morning bottle, Edna would dress her daughter in something frilly and pink. The baby would coo happily in her playpen while her mother tidied around the house, picked fresh vegetables from her small garden and prepared supper with pineapple upside down cake for dessert. Her husband would come in the door whistling a familiar tune, anxious to swing his baby girl up in the air just to hear her squeal. Life would be good, they would never be hungry, cold, or dirty, and her little girl would never, ever work in the cotton fields.

          Fate had other things in store. Their home was an eight by ten foot travel trailer with a leaky roof and a big ceramic pot under the bed for the toilet. In such close quarters, there was no room for a crib, or even a bassinet. Her baby would be sleeping in a drawer that pulled out from the wall. The few baby clothes that she had were given to her by a friend whose three children had outgrown them. Her momma had made the baby a quilt out of flour sacks and this would act as a makeshift mattress for the makeshift drawer/bed.

          The cold wind constantly blew through the trailer from around the two oblong windows. Their only source of heat was from an old Coleman camp stove, which doubled up as a cook stove. The kerosene fumes would fill the trailer and make her nauseous and no matter how hard she tried, the fumes would never wash out of their clothes. There was never enough food. Slim earned one dollar a day at the Christmas tree lot, there wasn’t much left after they bought the gallon of kerosene for the stove, they were fortunate enough that some of their friends took pity upon them and would share their commodities with them. Commodities were what the state called the food that was distributed each month to the reservations and the poor. They consisted of a one pound block of cheese, powdered eggs, powdered milk, 5 pounds of flour, and sometimes there was also canned meat that would fill the skillet with grease.

          Clinton was a big city compared to Hollis. People were busy with their everyday lives, the steady flow of cars shuttling those busy people to their daily and nightly activities never stopped, there were even stores that didn’t close until 10:00 at night, bars that men and women staggered out of at midnight, movie theaters that were always packed on Friday and Saturday nights, and two drive inns that had cars parked at every speaker stand after sundown. Some with windows so steamed up that Edna couldn’t understand how in the world the occupants could see the big screen, when she asked Slim about this, he only laughed, almost choking on his coffee that he had been sipping. Most people who are born and raised in a rural area are intimidated by big city life. Not Edna, she and slim had done a lot of traveling in their two years of marriage. They would either follow the rodeo or the carnival circuit from town to town in the Midwest. Slim was a bull rider, but most of the time, they didn’t have money for the entry fees, so he would work as a rodeo clown. He had long legs and was quick on his feet. With the carnivals, he and Edna would take whatever jobs were available. Edna would usually sell tickets and Slim would either be a barker at one of the games, or operate one of the rides. Traveling was a way of life for them, with all of their belongings packed into the back seat of an old Chevy. Slim preferred Chevy’s because he claimed they were easier to work on. They would often stop in Hollis to see momma and daddy, and the kids. On rare occasions that they had extra money, they would bring food or candy. The kids loved horehound candy and Edna knew that it was a rare treat. She missed her family when they were on the road, especially the younger brothers and sisters, but there was nothing in Hollis but red clay and cotton. She wanted more.

          In preparation of the birth of their child, Slim had painted a sign for a business man in Altus in exchange of the trailer. Slim was an excellent artist and could letter and paint a sign as well as any professional. He hooked the old Chevy up to the tiny trailer and drug it to Clinton to be near the state hospital, where they would deliver the baby for free. There, he found work selling pumpkins and then Christmas trees and mistletoe. It seemed that her husband was a jack of all trades and a master of none. This would be his legacy.

          By all accounts, Slim was the black sheep of his family. He was born in Indiana to a family that was well known in the farming community. His father and uncles farmed hundreds of acres that had been in the family for many years, each year they added to their acreage as smaller farming operations were sold off. They had a comfortable life and the entire family was active in the local Baptist church. His mother was always concerned about appearance, there was no such word as “momma”, she was to be called “mother”. He had a younger sister whom he adored when she was little, but as she got older, she became more and more like his mother. She was considered the chosen child who could do no wrong and even when she did, she would blame any wrongdoing on Slim who would be severely punished as his sister looked on with a small, satisfied smile on her angelic face. When Slim was twelve his mother decided that farm life was not what she wanted for her precious daughter. So, Slim, his sister, mother and father moved to Florida where his father found work as a glass blower and later opened a diner. At fourteen, Slim found it impossible to live up to his mother’s standards, and more difficult to live in his younger sister’s shadow. He stuffed a change of clothes into a pillowcase and jumped into an empty train car headed west. His family would not see him again until after the birth of his own daughter, some twenty years later.{/c:}

A Blessing

          By the time Edna went into labor she had gained forty pounds, her ankles were swollen and her back constantly ached. The day before, eh even resorted to drinking castor oil because she had heard that this would bring on labor. All it resulted in was a night spend sitting on the ceramic pot while she could hear Slim chuckling softly from the bed. He tried to muffle his laughs because he knew that a pregnant red head with the binges was not somebody that the devil himself would dare to anger when riled. She could be meaner than any bull that he come up against and he could very well wake up with the ceramic pot and its contents over his head.
          After a sleepless night, Slim was at the Christmas tree lot early the next morning when his boss came to him at ten o’clock to tell him that Edna was at the hospital. This being his first child, he was not familiar with the fact that Mother Nature takes her sweet time with such things. Running the four blocks to the hospital, sometime after six 0’ clocks that evening, Edna gave birth to a baby girl they named Juva Ruth. For the next three days Slim would spend two hours a day staring through the nursery window at the daughter that he couldn’t wait to start a new life with.Edna had packed a faded pink sweater with a matching knitted cap for the baby to wear home, some how just knowing she was going to have a baby girl.
          The first two weeks were both exciting and exhausting for Edna. She found it challenging to keep the baby supplied in clean diapers; they had to be washed in a bucket and then hung around the trailer to dry. It was also difficult to keep the formula from spoiling because they could only afford one block of ice a week. Edna would leave the mixture carnation condensed milk that she diluted with water in the car at night to take advantage of the cold December air. She and Juva would nap together on the small bed and Edna would wish that her little baby would take the breast, because at least they would not have to worry about the cost or the care of the formula. Slim would come home bad take over the care of their daughter, changing diapers, feeding her and singing her to sleep.
          It was a cold December night and the small family was snuggled together in the bed, they had all the blankets and coats they owned piled on top f them and the Coleman camp stove burning a steady flame until it ran out of kerosene in the middle of the night. A strange sound woke Slim and he could see his breath in the air, he rolled over to make sure that the baby was covered and suddenly he realized that he could not see her breath, he shouted to Edna to wake up and in a panic searched for his boots in the dark. Both Slim and Edna felt like they were moving in a fog, yet desperate to get help for their two week old baby. Slim swept the child into his arms and once again ran for the four blocks to the hospital, praying with every step. He rushed through the hospital doors, saw a nurse and out of breath thrusting the baby at her. The nurse looked into the baby’s face and saw her small lips had turned blue. Suddenly nurses and doctors were whisking the baby into a room and telling Slim to wait in the waiting room. Edna arrived at the hospital with tears streaming down her cheeks, screaming for somebody to save her baby. All that the couple could do was cling to each other and cling to the hope that God would allow them more time with the gift that He had sent them.
          After what seemed to be an eternity, the same doctor that delivered Juva came to tell Edna and Slim that the baby had survived, but would need to be in an oxygen tent for a couple of days. The doctor explained to them that the baby had been poisoned by the fumes from the kerosene heater. At that very moment, they felt both relief and guilt. They had been trying to keep their newborn warm and nearly killed her in the process. They had never heard of carbon monoxide. Obviously, they could no longer live in the trailer in the dead of winter.
          The day after Juva was released from the hospital, Slim and Edna packed up everything they owned into the old Chevy, filled up the gas tank with the last bit of Slim’s pay and they headed to Hollis. They were going to stay with Edna’s family until they could get a place of their own. Although eight of Edna’s brothers and sisters were still living with them, she knew that momma and Daddy would somehow make room for them. When they drove into the dusty barren yard, they were warmly greeted by Spot, Edna’s little brother’s hound dog. When the front door opened the family filed out two by two surrounding the car with squeals of excitement. This would be the first time that Momma and Daddy would see their first granddaughter.

          The four room house was bursting at the seams. The boys gave up their bed to Edna, Slim and “Baby Juvy” ( as Juva would be called by Edna’s family). The boys slept in the floor on whatever items they could find to make bedrolls. Edna’s Momma would cook gravy and biscuits for breakfast, there was no such thing as lunch and supper would be either a large pan of oatmeal or a pot of beans. Sometimes there would be salt pork for the beans or sugar for the oatmeal. On rare occasions, Momma would fry up some squirrel that Daddy or the boys had shot. Possum was also a somewhat greasy luxury. Edna’s sisters were always happy to volunteer to wash the dishes, because this would give them the chance to eat any morsels of food that may have been left in the bowls and pots.

          Edna was happy to be able to visit with her momma and sisters, not to mention the chance to have others who were eager to change, bathe and feed the baby. Her sisters thought of Baby Juvy as a doll and would argue over who was going to hold and feed her. Edna was enjoying the reprieve.

          Things had not changed much in Hollis, Slim could not find work. Even the cotton fields are bare in December. He sold the Chevy to a man in Hollis and bought Grey Hound tickets. After six weeks in Hollis, the small family was on a bus going to Tampa where Slim’s family lived.

          Slims father had arranged employment for him at a shipyard building boats. His sister was married with two children of her own. Slim, his wife and child would stay temporarily with his mother and father. Things were much better in Tampa. They lived in a modest, but comfortable home, they ate three meals a day and within a month, they had saved enough money to rent a one bedroom house of their own. Edna missed her family, but she enjoyed having running water and plenty of food for the first time in her life. Their future was looking brighter. However, she had married a man who had often been described as having “itchy feet.” Before long, Slim had bought a car and was relocating them halfway across the country again. By this time, Juva was six months old and was still young enough to sleep most of the time while the car was in motion, but the minute they would stop, she was ready to play and test her new crawling skills. Edna had never learned to drive, so she would catch cat naps while Slim drove, then keep Juva occupied while he slept.

          They returned to the carnival circuit, from time to time they would stop in Hollis to spend some time with Edna’s family. They traveled this way for the next two years, sometimes with the carnival, sometimes with the rodeo and spend winters either in Hollis or some small town in Texas where Slim could find some off season work.

          In early November 1963, they had made a trip to New Mexico to visit Edna’s older brother, his wife and two children. They stayed for a week, visiting and catching up on each other’s lives. Edna and her sister in law had been best friends back in Hollis. When they left New Mexico, they were going back to Hollis. Things were not going well between Slim and Edna by this time. She was tired of living in a car and knew that her childhood dreams were not in the cards with this man who was twenty years her senior. He was content not to be tied down to one place and not have to live a life of drudgery that he thought every other working stiff lived, he couldn’t see himself going to the same old job day after day, year after year. When they neared Amarillo, they had been arguing for hours, their child had grown accustomed to the squabbles and slept in the back seat, oblivious to the turn of events that would soon take place and change her life forever.

          Just East of Amarillo, Slim pulled the car into a rest area to use the bathroom. As if on cue, once the car stopped moving, Juva awoke and crawled into the front seat beside her mother. Ten minutes later when Slim returned, Juva was still sitting in the front seat, smiling up at him, but Edna was nowhere to be seen. Thinking that she had gone to the bathroom as well, they waited. After twenty minutes had passed slim became concerned and asked a woman who had been standing on the sidewalk to check the ladies room to see if his wife had fallen ill. The woman was happy to oblige, when she returned she told him that the ladies room was empty. He became more than a little concerned and barged into the ladies room himself, certain that the woman hadn’t checked each stall. There was no sign of his wife. Maybe she had decided to stretch her legs, although he knew that she would probably have taken Juva with her if she had simply gone for a walk. He looked behind the small building that housed the restrooms and began calling her name. His fellow travelers heard the urgency in his voice and assisted in the search. After two hours had passed, Juva was hungry, so Slim reached in the back seat for some crackers which was the only food that they had. While rummaging for the food, he discovered that a pillowcase was missing from a pillow and so were some of Edna’s clothes and her purse. It was obvious that she had left intentionally. He thought that maybe she would return once she had calmed down and thought things over. After all, how far could she get on foot and he figured that she would never leave her baby girl. He settled into the car after dark with his daughters head in his lap and waited throughout the long night.

          As the sun rose in the Eastern sky, Slim was startled from his sleep by Juva’s cries for her mommy. The world was moving on around them as if nothing had changed. Cars filled with people came and went. There was still no sign of Edna. Slim was hungry and knew that Juva was as well. He had no choice but to continue the journey to Hollis, hoping that Edna had gotten a ride and would be waiting for them at her family’s home. When they drove into the dusty yard once more, Spot greeted them and just as dozens of times before, the family filed out of the house to take them into their fold. There was no Edna, nobody had heard from her and had assumed that she was with her husband and toddler. Slim got Juva out of the car and wiped the tears that were streaming down her face, between hiccups, she was still asking for her mommy. Edna was gone. {/c:}

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