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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Walking With Jackie the Ripper

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Jackie is scared to death of all the Christmas decorations so prevalent in our little town, and she tried to bark them into oblivion. I enjoy them greatly for they bring back so many memories, most of them happy ones. Some even recall miracles.

One Holy Season Mama was sick. I'm not sure what the problem was, but we had a "hired girl" at the time and that was a luxury not easily afforded in those days, though they were only paid three dollars a week. Can you imagine working like a dog for three dollars a week?

We little ones realized there was not a lot of special cooking going on in the house; with us kids the helper had all she could do to keep any semblance of order, and it looked like the pickings were gonna be slim when it came to extra Christmas treats. This broke our young hearts for we did love extra treats.

Christmas Eve found us grieving in the yard. We had a sorry tree in the front room, thin and scraggly, one we had sneakily chopped down in the field back of our house when the owner wasn't looking. Not one present lay under it for in those days Santa Claus brought all the Christmas gifts, and the way things were going we were not positive even old Santa could pull off much in the way of a merry Christmas.

The silence of our sorrow was shattered as a shrill scream reached our ears. We determined that the unpleasant sound came from the throat of Mrs. Holloway, our neighbor across the road who in cruelty and mean-spiritedness knew no equal in our young minds. We couldn't believe it but it sounded like she said, "One of you kids come over here. Right now!"

Her run-down house sat way back from the sidewalk, completely surrounded by a wild overgrowth of shrubs and lots and lots of thorn bushes. A very scary place to us kids, especially when the witchy-looking old woman came out and sat all humped up in the porch swing, covered with a shawl which concealed not only her entire body but also an old pistol passed down to her by her father, a veteran of the late unpleasantness between the North and the South. Should any child venture close enough, the word on the street was that he or she would be used as target practice by Mrs. Holloway, who was childless and felt it to be a blessed state not nearly common enough in our part of the world.

At this point I must tell you that most of this information was not a proven fact, but all the local children firmly believed it, and anyone who values their life assiduously avoided the old lady.

She also had a cane which she flourished at us when we crept past her house on such small errands as Mama saw fit to trust us with. "Don't you come in my yard," she would shriek at us as we tried to sneak past her by crawling on all fours on the rough sidewalk.

Well, you may well imagine our shock, and none of us could believe our ears. Never had we been invited into that sanctuary dedicated to making our lives miserable, and not a one of us volunteered to make the trip.

Again we heard that hateful voice screech out, "I said to come over here. You want me to tell your daddy that you kids won't mind me?"

We sure didn't want that to happen, and finally Clark, being the oldest boy in the family, said he would go see what she wanted, and he told me that if she killed him I could have his Christmas stuff if he got any. That pleased me because Clark didn't like me very much, and I was amazed to be remembered in his will, so to speak.

Bravely he walked across the road, down that rough sidewalk where he disappeared into the shrubs and thorn bushes. We heard the gate squeak and wondered if we would ever see our brother again.

It seemed like a long time before he was back. Clutched tightly in his fist was one of the prettiest things I ever saw in my life; a gumdrop tree!

In my books at school I had read of them, but never in my wildest imaginings did I think I'd ever see one, let alone share in the joy of being part owner of such a creation.

That old lady must have heard about Mama being sick. She was quite feeble; it was all she could do to hold her pistol -- or so we thought. But somehow she had cut down one of those thorn bushes and absolutely covered it with little gumdrops of all colors. Mrs. Holloway had somehow temporarily overcome her aversion to children and wanted us to have a special treat.

We witnessed a small miracle that Christmas, and we changed our minds about our neighbor.Blessed memories.