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
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
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
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.
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.