Hard Times – Part 2

I started a short story last Sunday that is based on true tales passed down from my mom and older sister. The story takes place during a time when the full raging effects of the Great Depression had displaced so many.

We met Walter and Ella Smith, who are living with their three children in a small wood-frame house that Walter built for $50 out of used lumber and bent nails. But, it was a sight better than the tent they’d occupied before the drafty tiny house. When we left them, Walter had gone off to work at the gas station and Ella had been summoned from hanging clothes on the line by her oldest daughter. The baby, Charlie, was bleeding. We’ll rejoin them now and see what has happened.

Ella burst through the door and gasped when she saw Charlie sitting in the middle of the floor wailing with blood running from his mouth. 

“Jane, what happened?”

The eight-year-old girl sobbed. “I don’t know, Mama. Me and Celie were playing and he started crying.”

Ella scooped up the crying baby and examined his mouth. Tiny shards of glass could be seen. 

A look back at the floor revealed more glass. 

She grabbed a quilt off the bed and wrapped it around him. “Jane and Celie, get your shoes on quick! We’ve got to go get help.”

Running like the devil chased her, Ella flew down the hill with the two girls close behind. 

She banged on the door of her nearest neighbor. 

A white-haired man opened the door. “What in tarnation is wrong, Ella?”

“Please, help me, Mr. Fagan, I’ve gotta get my baby to the doctor. He’s bleeding awful bad.” She swiped at the tears streaming down her face. “And he has glass in his mouth.”

The old man moved like cold molasses. “Well, then. Let me get my coat and I’ll drive you to Doc Davis’s.”

“Thank you, sir. But, can we hurry?” She attempted to soothe the squalling baby in her arms. 

Panic gripped her heart tight, like a vise around a ripe melon. She feared it might explode from the pressure. Guilt overtook the fear and she chastised herself for not taking the younguns outside with her. It’s just that it was so cold. 

Mr. Fagan hobbled out to the rusted 1934 Chevy coupe and groaned when he slid behind the wheel.

Ella wasted no time getting the girls into the car before joining them on the narrow seat. 

“Sh,” she rocked the crying baby. “Can we hurry, Mr. Fagan? I’m so scared.”

The old man ran a gnarled hand through his white hair and started the engine. “Don’t reckin I ever heard of a baby eatin’ glass before.”

“Me neither,” Ella managed. 

“Where’s Walter?” The old man asked.

“Working at the station today. Can you stop by there on your way home, and let him know?”

The old man nodded and pulled to a stop in front of the corner building where the doctor’s shingle hung.

Ella sprang from the car. “Jane, hold your sister’s hand.” They rushed inside the doctor’s office. 

                                                                             TO BE CONTINUED…………

Advertisements

Hard Times – Part 1

merry-christmas-santa-greeting-gif-14

I felt the urge to share a Christmas story this year and I truly hope you enjoy it. My family was poor. Not the kind of poor that we think we are today, but the kind of poor that, for many years during the great depression, had no home in which to live, and very little food to eat. Sometimes they had a tent, sometimes a shack and sometimes only the side of the road, but they survived. This story is loosely based on tales handed down from my mom and oldest sister. Some of this actually happened to them, but not all in Roswell and not all in the same sequence. I am taking literary license here to create a fiction tale from their recollections.

Roswell, New Mexico in 1940 was just starting to grow and develop. After all, the air base located there brought people and people brought prosperity, but not for everyone.

Roswell-1940

“Christmas is right around the corner, Walter, and we have nothing for the children.” Ella Spencer put her hands on her hips and faced him.

Walter ran a hand through thin brown hair. “I know, Ella. Can’t you see I’m doin’ my best?”

Cold wind whistled through the cracks between the rough wood boards that made up the fifty-dollar house built into the side of a hill.

Walter checked the kerosene level on the single stove in the back corner.

Ella sighed. “I know. So am I. The washings I take in help, but it’s just never enough. If we had electricity, I could do more.”

“Dammit! I can’t work more than three jobs in a day’s time. So, I don’t know what else you expect me to do.”

“If I knew how to drive, maybe I could get a job in town.”

Walter waved a hand around the small square room. “And do what with these younguns?”

Ella’s small shoulders drooped. Walter was right. She had to take care of the children with what few resources they had.

But, at least they now had a house. It was a sight better than the tent they’d lived in before Walter built this house out of used lumber and bent nails.

“Times have got to get better,” she said. “They just have to.”

“Damned government don’t care one lick about us poor people. We ain’t the only ones, Ella. There’s a whole slew of us that ain’t got a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of.”

Again, she knew he was right, but it didn’t lessen the sting of not having a single present to give the children on Christmas morning.

They were doing good to put shoes on their feet, and food in their mouths, much less anything that wasn’t a pure necessity.

She let her mind drift back ten years. Maybe if she’d married Tommy Turnbow instead of Walter they’d be better off. But, she hadn’t. Walter had promised a good life.

She’d learned that promises were only made to be broken.

“Walter, if I could just buy a few yards of material, I could sew coats for the girls. They need something to help keep them warm through the winter.”

“I’ll take you into town Saturday and see what we can find. But, we can’t spend more than two dollars. That’s all we’ve got to spare.”

“Two dollars is better than zero. We’ve seen many a day where that was the case.”

Walter rolled a cigarette and blew a smoke ring. “All I know is I’m doin’ my best and I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late to the gas station.”

Ella handed him a tin box that held two biscuits and a thermos of soup. “I’ll see you tonight.”

The door slammed behind Walter, and Ella turned her attention to the wash tub and pile of clothes. She carried water from a single faucet outside the door and set it to boiling on the stove. The baby, Charles, crawled on the wood floor and banged a spoon against the boards. The two older girls played in a corner with rag dolls a kind lady had given them a couple of years back.

She sighed. “Girls, watch after your brother while I get this washin’ done and hung out on the line.”

The oldest looked up. “Okay, Mama.”

Ella worried about the scorpions they shared their house with. So far, no one had been bitten, but she remained vigilant.

Her hands red and chapped from the lye soap stung when the cold air hit them. By the time she had the clothes pinned to the line, she could no longer feel her fingers. Just as the hung the last sheet, her oldest daughter ran outside.

“Mama, Mama, come quick! Charles is bleeding.”

Ella dropped the clothespin bag and ran.

Unknown Playmate, Irene, Jean 1939 (2)
Actual photo from family archives

TO BE CONTINUED…….