The trials and Tribulations of Elnora (age six)

It was a regular hot, fall, Sunday afternoon in Alabama. The year was 1949 and the women were inside frying chicken on an old Coal Stove. The children were outside playing hopscotch. One of the games children often played during that era. There was no cost. Someone simply drew the board in the dirt and all the children played. Others jumped rope or played fiddle sticks. Fiddle sticks was a game actually played with wooden sticks by holding them in one hand and letting them drop on the table. Once they dropped, the one dropping them had to pick them up one at a time without touching any of the other sticks. They were color-coded. The player received different points, corresponding to the the number of sticks and colors picked up. When a stick was touched, it was another child’s turn. Children had fun in those days that did not cost their parents an arm and a leg.

We also played, How many Miles to Bethlehem. We played by everyone holding hands. The leader on one end asks the leader on the other end: How many miles to Bethlehem? The leader at the end of the line answered: Three score and ten. The next question would be: Can I get there by candlelight? The answer would be: No not without your bow and bend. The leader would then bow very low and say here is my bow. Then the leader would curtsey and say, here is my bend. Open the gates and let us in. The leader at the end of the line would hold one arm up and the person next to him/her would do the same. Everybody would go through holding hands. The leader would get at the end of the line and the game would start again.
Another game we enjoyed was, “Here Come the King a Riding.” First, there would be only the King. We sang “Here comes the King a riding, a riding (repeat) for tipsy, tansy too.” As we sang he skipped forward and backwards. Skipping toward the King, we would sing “What are you riding here for, here for, here for? (Repeat) for tipsy, tansy too.” The King would say: I’m riding here to get married, married, married (repeat) for tipsy, tansy too. We would ask: Who do you want to Marry, marry, marry (repeat) for tipsy, tansy too. The King would say: I’m going to marry (a girl’s name would be inserted) for tipsy, tansy too. The King would give her something cheap. We would say: you cannot have her. The king would then offer something expensive and say “Come on let’s take a buggy ride, a buggy ride, a buggy ride, (repeat). The queen would ask for baby, the baby would ask for a lady –in-waiting {so forth and so on}.
Cooking in the Kitchen
The sisters that did not have to sing in the choir or work the usher board, stayed at home to start dinner. On the first Sunday, everybody went to church to take Communion. The smell of: chicken, ham, turnip greens, black eyed peas, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, rice and gravy, lettuce salad- with tomatoes, corn bread cooked in iron skillets shaped in the form of little corn cobs, unfrosted cakes, homemade ice cream, lemonade, Ice tea or store bought coco-cola was enough to keep the children in check. They allowed the older girls in the kitchen to help. Nothing ever went to waste. The little girls used corn shucks to make doll dresses. Homemade dolls were made out of coco-cola bottles. We used the yellow silk part to make hair.
The Men
The men engaged in enjoyable activities such as baseball, football or basketball, according to the season. Some of the big boys took part in the games with them. Those that were too young to play ball took turns churning ice cream or riding horses or bikes. All of the men and the big boys sat at one table.
I overheard Uncle Paul tell one of his sons (James), he could not play for Alabama. The advice was mute because Colored boys couldn’t go to Alabama. Uncle Paul’s reason was; he heard when Paul William “Bear” Bryant was at Alabama in 1941, he called the Coach of the opposing team over to engage his best quarterback in a fight. Coach Bear’s quarterback beat the opposing team’s quarterback to a puff. Next, the Alabama quarterback challenged the other coach to send his next best quarterback and a running back. They too were beat to a puff. Then, the Alabama quarterback challenged the entire team. The entire team went over and they too were beat to a puff. Full of confidence, the Alabama quarterback challenged the coach and his staff to come over. They were about to come when one suffering teammate yelled, “Coach, don’t come! It’s a trick! There are two of them!
The Women and no one worked on Labor Day
The women and big girls sat at another table. Then we little ones had our table. At the table, the women interacted socially with one another about the first day of school starting the day after tomorrow. In spite of the fact my name was Elnora, everyone called me Baby Dew. Momma gazed at at our table and announced Baby Dew is going to school this year. I have told her older siblings to look after her. You cousins do the same. Peggy your room will not be too far away. Be sure to look in on Elnora. Little Peggy and her twin, Bay Brother were in the third grade. I would start school the day after tomorrow. I was as happy as a chicken wearing a dress. The world was a big place and I would go to school and learn about all of the unique, wonderful places in the great big world.
The next day was Labor Day and no one worked on Labor Day. Labor Day was a significant holiday because the men stayed home and cooked. We had a countless number of new garbage cans the men sawed in half and used to Bar-B-Q on. They bought a couple of pigs from Brother & Sister Boyd down the road. Good times were enjoyed by all when friends and family dropped by. Children played yard games and the men took turns playing ball and watching the Bar-B-Q. On Labor Day, women sat on the porch and gossiped.
Uncle Hosea’s attempt to show off
After the men finished with the Bar-B-Q Ribs, Pork Chops, Chicken, etc.; Uncle Hosea decided to Bar-B-Q Franks for the children. For whatever reason I am unable to rationalized, Uncle Hosea decided to get fancy. He relit the fire with a match and threw the match in the air. He caught it, blew on it and stepped on it to make sure it was completely out. All of us kids thought that was fantastic. Encouraged by his children to do it again, Uncle Hosea did it again. We kids looked up and anxiously waited for the match to come down. Uncle Hosea looked and waited with the same enthusiasm and expectations. We did not have to wait long. Uncle Hosea’s behind was on fire. I suppose when he threw the match in the air, the match fell in his overalls. Uncle Hosea took off running up to the second floor to his room to take off his overalls. He came down to the first floor to use the bathtub with only a towel wrapped around him. Occasionally, we used the outdoor toilet in a crunch. However, we very rarely used it. Technically speaking, we only had the one bathroom. Sometimes when we children were playing and we didn’t want to go inside, we used the outhouse.
I was an exceedingly concerned child. I asked: How is your booty, Uncle Hosea? Uncle Hosea gave me an evil eye and called my Mom. “Liz, come get this child before I kill her.” For the life of me I could not not phantom why he was so angry with me. After all, he was the one that threw the match in the air. I was only a concerned child. Mom grabbed me so hard it nearly broke my arm. Aunt Sylvia, one of Papa’s sisters, told my mom not to yank me so hard. I was just a worried little child. I had asked a fair question. Uncle Tommy, Aunt Sylvia’s husband, expressed he wanted her to stay out of the mess. He didn’t know why God chose to make a woman so pretty so dumb. Aunt Sylvia said she knew why. He asked her to explain it to him. Aunt Sylvia informed him; God made me pretty so you could love me and He made me dumb so I could love you. That being said, she pulled me to her bosom and said God bless your little heart and your gizzards too.
My Mom wiped the tears from my eyes and told me to go play. I told her I wanted the new kids up the road to come play with us. Mom called big sister Carlene and asked her to take me up the road to meet the new folk. It was customary for people to carry something to newcomers. Aunt Ruby reminded us to carry a gift. Aunt Katherine told us to get one of those sweet potato pies and carry that with us. Carlene led the way with Peggy, Bay Brother, me and all of the other little ones behind. We got to our neighbor’s house and knocked on the door. An o elderly man came to the door. A middle age woman stood right behind. I knew those two did not produce the kids I saw. Before I asked where your grandchildren are, a younger woman appeared and he said this is the mother of my children. We nearly fainted! The wife asked us to have a seat. I started to sit when Carlene grabbed the same arm Mom grabbed. Again I started to cry. Big sister told the folk we had to go because her little sister was homesick and she was about to cry. She told the wife she could keep the pan. Carlene told her that was the Chamber Women’s traditional gift for her. I was about to say; no it wasn’t when Carlene’s dirty hand covered my mouth.
When we got down the road, I told big sister I wanted to cry because my arm was hurting. Also, I was a little confused. At our church, Deacon Harold had two families but the two women did not like each other. Deacon Harold and his wife and children lived on a farm. His girlfriend and her children lived in the ghetto in town. One weekend I was at the Ten Cent Store and the two families met. Mrs. Harold and her children walked pass the girlfriend and her children and the two families turned their heads. Yet, the children played together at school. I bet the mothers would be surprise to know how well their children got along at school.
We had a big family and all of the teachers knew our family. They had taught my brothers, sisters and cousins. I was the baby girl in our family. I was the knee Baby. Momma always said she was not expecting Little Earl. He showed up uninvited. I know I wasn’t looking for him. I had been the darling apple of my parents’ eyes until he showed up.
The first day Mama could not go to school because she worked for Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Hall would not give her the day off. Mama wrote my birthday, social security, her maiden name and papa’s full name on a piece of paper. Mom put all of that information in a purse I carried on my shoulders. All of the Chamber children attended the school in prior years. They already had our address and we all had the same telephone number.
Most of the Chamber men and their wives choose to live in the home house. It was a big house at the time. At first, none of them except mama and daddy had children. As the families grew, we made room for everybody. Four chamber men, their wives and children lived there. Daddy’s children were ages twenty-one, nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, eleven, nine (the twins) six and almost two. Our names were (1) Carlene (2) Chester (3) Brenda (4) Bernice (5) Janie (6 & 7) the twins, Samuel & Samuetta (8) me, Elnora and (9) Little Earl. Brother Hosea children were ages seventeen, fourteen and ten. Their names were (1) Mark (2) Valencia and (3) George. Brother Paul’s children were twenty, sixteen, fourteen, twelve and eleven. Their names were Anthony, James, Rebecca, Trent and Moses. Brother Bob’s children were seventeen, sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten and the twins eight. Those were exciting times for me. The wives were Momma (Elizabeth), Aunt Mable, Aunt Ruby and Aunt Katherine.
Let me not forget Brother Jerry; Daddy’s baby brother, often times he and the other brothers did not get along. Yet, all of the children loved him; especially when he played “Alabama Hit the Hammer-. high or low” Uncle Jerry would take a coin, show it to a kid, close his hand into a fist, turn his back, then turn around crossing his fist over and under chanting “Alabama Hit the hammer-high or low. The child had to guess which fist held the coin. If the child guessed correctly, the coin belonged to the child. If the child guessed incorrectly, it was the next child’s turn to guess and the game would start again. Uncle Jerry was a hard worker, but he had some issues. It was hard for him to keep a job. He was a hard worker, however, it was an immense blessing Uncle Jerry did not have children. He had a girlfriend and a dog. Once together, they saved their money. Everything was fine until his drinking got in the way, Uncle Jerry’s girlfriend left him and took everything with her including his dog. He had to walk to work until his co-workers got together and bought him a bicycle. Uncle Jerry started using his bike to carry drugs. One day a cop stopped him. He suspected Uncle Jerry was doing something wicked, but he had no way of proving it. Uncle Jerry told one of the women at his place of employment the cop said he couldn’t ride that bike in his town anymore. The lady became irate. She assumed that was harassment, therefore she was going to report that officer. Uncle Jerry said, never mind. He told her he was a Christian and he was going to pray for that man. Uncle Jerry did not want an investigation. At one time while Uncle Jerry was selling drugs, he became his best customer. My grandparents found out about his little enterprise and sent him to live with Uncle Potato Head in California. He was sent to stay with grandfather’s brother. Uncle Potato Head was not his real name. His parents named him Phillip. He was born in Idaho. His friends called him Phillip Irish Potato Head because after he married he worked on a potato farm for some people from Ireland. They sold the farm to him and went back to Ireland. His brothers and sisters shorten it to Potato Head Phillip. His nephews and nieces shorten it to Uncle Potato Head. Until this day, we still call him Uncle Potato Head.
In spite of the fact Uncle Jerry no longer ingest drugs, he still drank. When Uncle Jerry came from California, he found a new girlfriend and a new dog.
As Momma said, a school was a great place to be. My first reader was East of the Sun and West of the Moon. However, I soon had a rude awakening. The school was not all glitz and glamour. I was not disappointed by learning new things. I did not figure bad boys and girls into the equation. I quickly learned when a boy or girl put their fist up to their nose; it meant they were going to beat you up after school. My brothers and sisters were much older and they got out later than me. They provided no assistance for me. My big cousin, Peggy, got into lots of fights for me. Peggy beat up girls and boys. Peggy fought so energetically with such regularity until she would actually come out of her clothes. That went on for days until Aunt Mabel started meeting us after school. One day Aunt Mabel had something to do. A girl said she was going to beat me after school. Peggy told me I had to fight for myself. I went after the girl with such grave violence until it frightens the other kids away. They said that little girl is crazy. After that incident, I never had to fight again in that class. All of my classmates wanted to make me the class bully. I did not want that title.
Between the brothers, there were so many children; the Pastor’s Board took three to buy Christmas gifts. The Trustee Board took three. The Missionary Society took three. The Choir took three. The Help-One–Another club took three and the Welcoming Board took three. Each board took one kid in high school or college. We had an extremely merry Christmas. The Dads took turns each year taking pictures with the younger ones as Santa Clause.
The Christmas before I started school, my parents bought me a store-bought doll. Since we did a lot of playing outside, often I would forget my doll and she would stay outside all night. The summer before I started school, I forgot Deloris (my doll). The next day I went outside looking for her and I could not find her. I searched high and low. I examined completely every place I could think of but I couldn’t find her. Eventually, I gave up my search. I told my parents it was the other children’s fault. They told me to hurry. Supper was on the table. From summer to winter, I thought about Deloris. I would even dream about her. On Christmas Day, under the tree, Daddy placed my doll. In spite of the fact, the church had given me a brand new bike; I ignored the bike and ran straight to Deloris. I promised I would never leave her out overnight. That is one promise I kept. Never again did I leave Deloris out at night nor day.
The Church
The Church was a big part of our lives. Once I was in a church play. I was one of the children of Israel. We had to march around the congregation singing “The Signs of The Lord”. For the sign of fire (we held up a red cheerleader’s tom-tom). For the sign of clouds (we held up a white cheerleader’s tom-tom). The audience enjoyed seeing the little children march. One little boy did not march to my approval. I punched him in his nose. He had to stop marching so his mother could attend to his nosebleed. Now I am sorry I did that.
Mr. Sewell a member of the church always prayed long prayers. One Sunday Night, he was overcome by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Sewell was so full of the Holy Spirit he grabbed the chair everyone prayed on and started shaking it like a feather. The little ones laughed. When we got home, all of our parents were waiting for us with a not so small tree branch. Most of the time, you were asked to get your own punishment switch. This time there was no waiting. When we got there, our parents were prepared. After our whipping, we cried and then we laughed again.
Yes, I remember the church being a big part of our life. We only had one bathroom; consequently, one of the adults put a bath calendar on the bathroom door. At that time people took a bath once a week. Other times people took wash-ups. I was a happy camper when my bath day fell on Sunday.
Spring Break
The week of Spring Break, the church had revival. Other churches waited to late spring or summer. On the other hand, we were always different. Other churches in our community used local ministers or someone from our state. We always used someone from another state or country. This year a traveling Evangelist from Asia wanted to come to our church. He was traveling throughout the United States trying to learn to speak as a Native Born American. He wanted to learn American slang, the way young people spoke. The Pastor told the congregation he would place him in the home of Professor Yates. The pastor said he thought that would be a good fit because Professor Yates was the High School Principal and he knew many young people.
When Evangelist Woo arrives at the church, he said he wanted a poor family with children. He wanted to practice slang. Not only exchanging cultures, but he would also give the family he stayed with a thousand dollars. Uncle Paul said Evangelist Woo should stay with us. We had an abundance of children and our state of poverty was unquestionably known throughout our church. Well, we were not poor. We were por. We were so poor, we could only afford one “o”.
Besides preaching every night, Evangelist Woo went with us on scavenger hunts. We would go to the railroad tracks and pick up jars people had thrown away. We would take them home, wash them outside and inside in a big number three tub. When they were clean, we brought them in, place them in a large container and boil them on the kitchen stove. We would throw that water out and boil them again. Once completely sanitized, we use them for drinking tea, cool-aide, water or anything liquid. We never picked up a jar that was broken or had a crack. Some of the jars looked brand new. Some were still in their original box. They came twelve to a box. We figured rich people left them there for us to find.
On one of our trips, my two older cousins saw a pretty girl from our church. One cousin told the other one about a dare game the boys played at school. They would slip inside the girl’s home at night and steal a pair of panties. He wanted a pair of this girl’s panties something terrible. Evangelist Woo was walking with me and didn’t hear the entire conversation. The only thing he heard was panties. The boys told him panties were slang for parents.

Evangelist Woo’s big mistake
After church, everyone at home sat down for supper. Evangelist Woo decided he would show off his new slang word. After he prayed over the food, he asks Cousin Rebecca, “Where are your panties? I haven’t seen them all day.” Aunt Ruby said Sir, what is it you said? Evangelist Woo repeated what he had said. Uncle Bob shouted. Do I need to get my gun? Rebecca declared “Honest, I don’t know whatever he is talking about.” Aunt Ruby noticed how innocently Evangelist Woo asks the question and how fast the boys ran away. Aunt Ruby exclaimed, wait! Where did you hear it was ok to ask that question? Evangelist Woo cried loudly, Anthony and Joe-L told him panties were slang for parents. Aunt Ruby uttered angrily uh-hum. Boys get back in this house, right now! The boys came back, pathetically heads down and eyes rolling. They attempted to sit when Aunt Ruby informed them to go to their room and for Anthony to wait for his panties to come home. Anthony left the room so fast, he stepped on my foot. He spoke dolefully: Excuse me, Elnora. I cheerfully replied: You are excused. I will never obliterate your kindness. Obliterate was a big word for the Chamber Children. We eagerly welcome any opportunity to use it. We used it in the right place and sometimes in the wrong place. It did not matter to us as long as we felt fate had given us the opportunity to use it. As Aunt Ruby brought her fork to her mouth, she stated: Joe-L, when I finish my supper, we are going to have a very long talk. Joe-L exclaimed: Please, let me explain! Aunt Ruby spoke angrily saying the talk is non-negotiable. Daddy shouted: Sister, take your husband with you and I hope you two do more than talk. Uncle Paul said: Yea, I could just imagine Bob explaining to the police how he killed a perfectly good white man. Uncle Bob added: Additionally causes us to lose one thousand dollars.

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