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LIFE ON SARDIS ROAD

 

Life in the country was not a pleasant thing.  The year was 1942, and the U. S. was fighting World War II.   That year my mother, daddy, and I moved from the red brick “Bell” apartments across from Queens College in Charlotte to a small, light brown wood-shingled house owned by my daddy’s Aunt Sally Shannon on Sardis Road.   We were definitely residing in the country.  Pigs and cows lived in pens and pastures up the road; my daddy shot at crows with a rifle in the woods behind the house; and corn grew in the side yard.

  I really disliked leaving the Bell Apartments, not only because I liked looking at the lovely homes along Queens Road and Selwyn Avenue as I rode in my stroller, but mostly because I hated to leave Mrs. Bell’s fluffy, soft, white Persian cat.  Mrs. Bell, the owner of the apartment building, was also the owner of this extraordinary cat.  She would let me hold the divine, immaculate, creature whenever we were outside together.  I was allowed to pick the cat up and hold it under its front legs.  Its back feet would hang down in front of my dress, and glorious purrs would come from somewhere inside its body.  I still like Persian cats.

 Life in the country was not the same as living in town.  Instead of paying rent we had to feed Aunt Sally all her meals and give her one of the three bedrooms to sleep in and stay in whenever she wanted.  Although Aunt Sally lived in a fine, big brick house, which she owned down the road, with her daughter Marian, granddaughter Little Sally, and her son-in-law Boot, she wanted for some reason to have a place where she could escape. Aunt Sally was the widow of my paternal grandmother’s brother, Joe Shannon. 

My mother and daddy thought the arrangement with Aunt Sally was a good deal.  In addition to saving money, they believed that fresh air, being closer to nature and blood relatives, and the opportunity to acquire pets and have a garden would be a good thing for our little family of three.   I sensed that Aunt Sally thought my daddy was grand and that my mother and I were barely to be tolerated.  Aunt Sally finally had  herself “the son she had always wanted” in my daddy.

  Every evening after supper Aunt Sally would give Daddy advice about money management, land investment, land cultivation, and many other useful things.   Cousin Marian, her daughter, taught at Myers Park Elementary School.  Her husband, Boot, was away at war in Australia.  The problem was six year old Little Sally, Cousin Marian’s daughter.  She was like Rhoda in the Bad Seed except that she had long black braids instead of long blond ones.  Little Sally pinched me on a regular basis when nobody was looking, because she considered me an intruder into her space that she had never shared with anybody.  I would strike back at her with my hand every time she pinched me, and she would scream out, “Mary Lynn hit me.  She needs a spanking.  She’s a bad girl.”  Her charms and clever words were no match for a three-year old, so it was an awful time for me.

     When we moved to Sardis Road, I missed Mrs. Bell’s beautiful cat and told my parents I wanted a cat like Mrs. Bell’s.  One of my daddy’s relatives in the country gave him a skinny, black striped gray cat that looked kin to a big mouse I had seen on the Hickory, Dickory, Dock page in my nursery rhyme book.  This was to be my new pet.  I asked why I could not have a cat that looked like Mrs. Bell’s, and my daddy said this one was free.  Every time I picked the cat up, like I always did Mrs. Bell’s cat, the cat would diarrhea down my dress and on my feet.  My mother would say “oh no, not again” and hose me down.  My wet dress would then be removed, and I would have to go get into the bathtub.  Cat diarrhea is very runny and smells awful.  I remember the terrible odors to this day. This happened over and over.   About every day  I would pick the cat up and hope that it would not diarrhea on me, but it always did.  My daddy built me a sandbox, and even my wonderful sandbox was full of cat diarrhea.  Every sand castle smelled awful.  People did not take cats to vets in those days.  My mother was very conscientious; and if she could have stopped the cat’s diarrhea, she would have.   Nothing about Sardis Road was bringing me very much pleasure.  Birds flew all around the back yard, and the blue jays dive bombed me when I was sitting in my smelly sandbox.  My daddy said to be careful as they might peck my eyes out. 

One day my daddy came home from work at Firestone and said a man at his office was offering a free dog, a fine red Irish Setter, to anyone who had a big yard. The man said the dog needed more space.  My daddy said a free, pedigreed dog was nothing to turn down.  This wild, aggressive Irish Setter unfortunately became ours.   It was big and knocked me down all the time.  It made the chickens in our chicken pen so nervous that their feathers starting falling out.  We soon had a pen full of nude and partially nude chickens.  Feathers were strewn all over the dirt floor of their coop.  One benefit to me, however, was that the chickens stopped laying eggs.  I hated eating eggs more than words can tell.   In fact, I did not like any food much until I tasted butter.  People always told my mother I was so thin and frail looking.  I got into the refrigerator one day and ate a large portion of a round cake of butter. I broke out all over, and my mother had to put Vaseline on my whole body and wrap it up in gauze.  I remember standing on the toilet lid while she attended to me. 

Life was stressful to me most of the time.  I was told that the skies should be monitored for “Japs” as we could be bombed at almost any moment.  At this age of three I spent a lot of time looking up and kept a crick in my neck.  Each time a plane flew over the house I was sure it must be a “Jap” plane coming to kill us.  Nighttime was no better.  After dark when the siren was sounded by a car going down the road, all lights had to be out in all the houses.  After my twin brothers arrived, these “black outs” were a nightmare for my mother during middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes. 

 One day Aunt Sally told my mother the Ringling Brothers Circus was coming to town and that we should all go and have fun.  We went.  I remember a big tent, the straw on the ground inside and outside, and the wooden bleachers.  I sat there looking at elephants do tricks, dogs jumping through hoops, clowns riding bicycles and more. I liked it.  Then I looked up and saw a man on a bar with ropes hanging from the top of the tent.  He was swinging on the thing and suddenly let go in mid air with his arms out.  I knew this was not normal activity, and I fainted.    My psyche got overloaded.  My three-year-old mind could not comprehend how a human being could fly through the air.  I did not understand that he was “the man on a trapeze.”  My mother thought I had died from shock.   She carried me outside, and luckily I came to.  We did not go back into the tent.  Aunt Sally, Marian and Little Sally finally came out, and we all went home. 

    Aunt Sally was very skinny.  She had wrinkles on her long, thin, face, and a cackling, irritating voice.  Purple was her favorite color.  She always had a certain smell, not awful, but not so good either; and I asked her one day where her smell came from.  She replied that lilac perfume was her favorite fragrance and that she put it on out of a purple bottle everyday.  To me she looked like the witch in the book Hansel and Gretel  my mother read to me.  Aunt Sally wore lilac-pink rouge and white powder but no lipstick or eye make-up, and she had an “up high on the head hairdo” composed of many elaborate, lavender tinted curls.

 Occasionally my mother and I would go with Aunt Sally to a third floor beauty parlor located about four miles down the road on the square in Matthews. Aunt Sally got hooked up to a special machine that looked like an Octopus with about sixty tentacles, each of which created fancy, showy hair ringlets on her head. They made Aunt Sally look like a gussied-up gargoyle.  While she sat under this contraption, I would spend about an hour socializing with a parrot that could say a lot of words.  It sat on a perch in an open window overlooking the main street of Matthews.  My mother would sit in a chair nearby to make sure the parrot did not bite me. I kept the parrot happy by feeding it crackers.

  We would leave the beauty parlor in Aunt Sally’s gray convertible coupe.   My mother would sit beside me in the rumble seat because she thought I was too young to ride in it alone.  That left Aunt Sally sitting by herself in the front seat; and she drove like a race car driver, even though the country roads were bumpy and narrow.  The wind blew so hard that debris often got in my eyes, but Aunt Sally’s ringlets were so stiff that they never budged.  I would get terrible ear aches after these wild, windy rides.  My ear drums ruptured several times, and to this day my ears don’t always work right.  

One Saturday I was in bed with my usual ear ache when I woke up in mid-afternoon to see spread out on my youth bed  a large black crow my daddy had killed by shooting his shot gun from the small window in the attic. My daddy shot crows only on Saturdays. I was aghast, but he thought it was a wonderful “gift.”   My mother came in the room, said that she couldn’t believe he would bring a dead bird full of germs and bugs in the house, much less put it on my bed.  My daddy got the large crow off my bed immediately, and my always-dutiful mother changed all my bed covers.  The next week, probably to make amends, daddy brought me a translucent bright green comb home from a business trip he had made to Salisbury.  Green is my favorite color to this day.  

 Everything went along fine for my parents for over a year, because they catered to Aunt Sally’s every wish on a daily basis.  Then my mother got pregnant.  Mother was terribly nauseated all the time, day and night, and functioned best just staying in bed.  Aunt Sally was obviously annoyed with my mother letting herself get pregnant.  The fine suppers and all the attention that my mother had given Aunt Sally ended, so Aunt Sally said to forget the meals and pay $25.00 a month rent instead.

 Aunt Sally said one girl was enough for anyone.  She had one girl, and her daughter had one girl, none other than Little Sally.   Aunt Sally said that if someone found it necessary to have two children, it was best for all concerned that the baby be another girl.  When my mother delivered twin boys in early May 1943, Aunt Sally was shocked and chagrined.  She ordered us to leave, incredibly on Christmas Eve, 1943.  I was glad to get out of Aunt Sally’s house and get away from smelling her lilac perfume, looking at her lavender-tinted curls, and especially being pinched by her Rhoda-like granddaughter. Sardis Road conjures up memories of a cat with the never-ending diarrhea, a wild, aggressive Irish Setter, nervous, nude chickens, mean blue jays that dive bombed me, Little Sally the pincher, Aunt Sally the skinny witch, my aching ears, nose congestion and often “stuck together” eyelids, and  my  nauseated mother.  Thank goodness we were forced to leave.

Housing was scarce, and my parents did not know where they’d find another place to live.    Boot, Marian’s husband, a kind, friendly man, arrived home from the war for a visit that same Christmas.   Pale yellow from malaria, Boot didn’t look like he’d live long.   As it was, he ended up outliving Cousin Marian and Aunt Sally, and even got a nice second wife.  After Boot returned to Australia for duty he sent me a stuffed koala bear from Australia.  I loved that bear.  Somehow several years later it got left in the back yard one afternoon by mistake; the rain came and flies laid eggs in the bear’s gray fur.  Since this took place during the polio epidemic in 1948, and flies were said to carry polio germs, my precious bear got put in the trash can.

 Boot returned home safely from the war, got a job and resumed living in the house with Aunt Sally, Little Sally, and Cousin Marian.  We had moved away, of course, back to the City, and no longer had daily interactions with these relatives.  We did get word that Marian, still teaching at Myers Park Elementary, needed gall bladder surgery.  Her doctor told her lots of people got their gall bladders removed and not to worry.  Marian prdicted several weeks before the scheduled surgery that she would die on the operating table despite what the doctor said, and sure enough she did die during the operation.  Happily, she had paid her hair dresser in advance the fee for fixing dead people’s hair so Marian did look good in the coffin.  The beautician had just thought Marian was a pessimist, but she had taken the money to pacify Marian, anticipating that she would, of course, be returning the money.  Guess again.      

I never did learn why that skinny, dark gray cat had such bad diarrhea.  I never saw it again after I left Sardis Road and was afraid that if I asked about it the creature might somehow show up.  I don’t know what happened to that hyperactive Irish Setter or the featherless chickens either.  All my troubles went away when I left Sardis Road.  The war ended, my mother got well, my ears, nose and eyes improved, and I gained weight.   I didn’t have to interact with Aunt Sally and Little Sally and their odd assortment of animal companions anymore.   

            What a blessing it was when Aunt Sally kicked us out of her house and we got to return to town. My stressful life on Sardis Road was over.  We moved into a rental house on Lombardy Circle where we lived about a year and then moved to East Boulevard where my mother resided until 2002. 

  

 
 

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