-Ellen's Daughters -
James began gambling again, and when Ellen tried to dissuade him, he would fly into a rage accusing her of adultery. Sometimes, when he accused her of infidelity, Ellen believed he was trying to justify his habit of betting on domino games, but at other times he seemed to believe she was unfaithful. His gambling was an addiction and he became irresponsible even to the point of losing their grocery money. Their frequent arguments became more intense and in his outbursts of temper he didn't care if the children overheard or not.
One payday, in order to get groceries early, Ellen talked James into letting her pick up his check. When James came home from work he asked Ellen how much money she had left.
"WellÖ," Ellen hesitated. "I paid the bills and bought groceries so there's not much left."
"Just how much money do you have?" James asked again.
"Well, James, I haven't really counted it." Ellen faltered.
"I need forty dollars. You should have that much left even if you paid the rent." James stated firmly.
"We should keep back some money in case of an emergency," Ellen reasoned.
"Now, listen here," James persisted. "I worked hard for every penny youíve spent today. I have a chance to get back some of the money Iíve lost in the past. But I need some table dough."
"Youíll just lose again, James," Ellen said already tired of the argument.
"Thatís how you are, Ellen. No faith in me. You probably would rather be married to someone else, wouldnít you?" James accused.
"Donít start talking like that. You know itís not true." Ellen prepared her mind for the onslaught.
"Yeah, so you say," James spat out the words with malice. "I saw that Rod guy smile at you today. And I know you didnít miss it either."
"James," Ellenís voice shook with emotional disgust. "That Rod guy, as you call him, smiled at both of us."
"Boy, you sure can sound innocent. Looks to me like you would welcome me going to the pool hall tonight. It would give you two a chance to be alone," Jamesí ugly, distorted insinuations made Ellen angry.
"Yeah, alone. Me, him, and five kids." Ellen drew out the forty dollars from her purse and flung it to the floor.
"Here! Take the money and good riddance to you."
"Youíll be glad to welcome me home when I show up with two or three hundred dollars." James picked up the money. "But you had better watch what you do while Iím gone," he yelled at her as he started to close the door. "You hear me, Ellen?" James yelled again, but didnít wait for an answer.
"Yeah, I hear you. You sorry, good-for-nothing bum." Ellen mumbled under her breath. When Ellen turned around, Dorothy was standing in the hall. She had a wide-eyed, bewildered look on her face.
"Why Daddy yell, Mudder?" Dorothyís bottom lip began to quiver.
"Oh, Honey, Daddy didnít mean it. Donít you feel like yelling at me when you get angry?" Ellen reached down and picked her up. Dorothy shook her head yes, as a big tear rolled down her cheek, but she couldnít understand what it all meant.
"Well, Daddy and I yell at each other sometimes but we still love each other. Donít you love me even when youíre angry at me?" Ellen asked softly. Dorothy shook her head yes again and Ellen hugged her tight before putting her down.
"See, youíre just upset over something you donít understand but in the morning it will be all right." Ellen reassured her. Ellen silently cursed James again as she watched Dorothy walk back to bed with slow, uncertain steps. Ellen knew Dorothy was hurt and unsure of what was going on. She undressed and lay on her bed but sleep wouldnít come.
"He does me this way all the time and Iím the fool who puts up with it. If I thought I could support these kids by myself Iíd leave tomorrow." Ellen kept muttering to herself as she tossed and turned into the night. Finally, she heard James open the front door and slip into their bedroom. The moonlight shining through the window, made it easy for James to see that Ellen was awake.
"Honey, Iím sorry about what I said. Will you forgive me? I was just mad because you were going to put up a fuss over the money." He sat down on the bed. "I love you, Ellen, it's just that I wanted the chance to get a lot of money so I could buy you something fancy. You don't ever get anything nice and that breaks my heart. Please forgive me, will you."
Ellen began to feel sorry for him because she knew he meant well. She reasoned to herself that if he did have the money he really would buy her anything she wanted. "I forgive you, James," she replied. "I don't understand you though. Why did you accuse me of wanting another man?"
"Oh, Ellen. I know it's not true. It's just that, well, when you get mad at me I get to thinking about how pretty you are and how easy it would be for you to find someone else."
"My word, James! I can see it now, some nut really wanting me and all these kids."
"Yeah, I know you wouldn't run off without the kids. I guess I'm pretty sorry. You sure deserve better than me." He was full of self-reproach.
"James, don't say that because I do love you. You're a hard worker and you love us. Weíre pretty lucky." Ellen hesitated then asked, "Did you lose all the money?"
"Yes," he answered with a bowed head. "But, Ellen, I had such a good chance! I really thought I could win and you would have been so proud of me."
"James, money isn't everything. I don't care if we ever have a lot of it. I just want to get the bills paid and groceries on the table. But when you gamble it away and we come up short I wind up having to rob Peter to pay Paul I get tired of that," she contended.
"I'm sorry, Ellen. I'm going to buckle down and work like anything from now on. You'll see I'll make it up to you." He assured her.
"All right, James, I believe you," she smiled. "Now, come to bed. And first thing in the morning youíve got to explain to Dorothy that you didnít mean to yell at me. She heard us fussing and asked me why you were angry."
"Iíll talk to her. Iím so sorry to hurt you or my kids. You believe me, donít you, Ellen?"
"Yes, I do," Ellen said with a tinge of sadness in her voice. Every time Dorothy overheard James and Ellen fighting about his gambling, or his jealousy, she would sit in a corner and hold her hands over her ears. She seemed to take their fussing and fighting harder than the other children. Ellen was sure it was because Dorothy couldn't stand thinking of her daddy as being malicious. And as the years rolled by Dorothy slowly built up a deep resentment toward James. When he began to sense the anger from Dorothy he started blaming Ellen.
Ellen often thought of leaving and getting a divorce, but when she threatened it James always begged her to reconsider. Remembering how it felt to be without a daddy and knowing how much their children loved James, she just couldn't leave. The main reason though was because she remembered how it was between Henry and herself. She knew she wouldn't want to live alone and she worried about what type of step-dad her girls would have.
Thelma wrote that Carrie and Jack were getting a divorce. It was the first divorce in their family and Ellen knew it must have been a hard decision for Carrie to make. Carrie went home to Nora's for awhile. Ellen wrote to let Carrie know she didn't place any blame on her.
A year and a half after Patsy was born Ellen gave birth to their sixth child and they named her Peggy Arlene. She was a happy, easy-going child and never gave Ellen a minute of trouble. Peggy loved everyone and went to anyone who would hold her. By the time Peggy was born Dorothy and Patsy had become inseparable. Patsy followed Dorothy around like a little puppy dog and Dorothy was pretty good at issuing orders. The two of them formed a bond that would last all their lives.
Now, with the birth of Peggy, Ellen had three little girls and each one strikingly different from the other. Dark-haired, brown-eyed Dorothy was independent and self-reliant. She had to be the boss and Patsy usually let her. Dorothy smiled and flirted with others but rarely let anyone hold her. There was a mystical quality about her that drew attention, but she seemed unaware of her obvious attraction.
On the other hand, there was Patsy, a delightful, red-haired, green-eyed darling. She was shy to the point of backwardness. And, except for her single minded subjection to Dorothy, she was totally independent. She seemed to care less about anyone taking notice of her and usually stayed clear of strangers. Patsy wanted only Dorothy's attention and approval. Ellen often wished Patsyís individualistic heart belonged to her rather than to Dorothy.
Then of course, Ellenís third daughter, Peggy, was blonde haired and blue-eyed. Peggy was a sweet-natured little doll and she was full of mischief and fun although she rarely gave Ellen any trouble. She never met a stranger and would climb into anyone's lap for attention. She was easily satisfied and seemed to have a permanent smile on her little cherub-face.
One year and four months after Peggy was born, Ellen and James had their last baby. He was long and skinny, but the cutest baby Ellen ever saw.
"Honey, I'm real proud we have another boy," James said with a touch of humor in his voice, "but I really think you need glasses. He's not only an ugly baby, he looks like me."
Ellen reminded him of their first daughter, and of the difference of opinion on her looks. They named their laughing little boy Wilfred Henry, but everyone started calling him "Junior". Junior became a mamma's boy; only Ellen could hold him and he cried for her when she was out of his sight. He ruled his little kingdom (just as Dorothy had before him) "with an iron rattler". When he wanted his way he usually got it. Although, this time, it was Ellen who made everyone give in.
As the girls became older they often dressed Junior in their clothes and pretended he was their little baby. At first, he was too young to protest and even enjoyed the attention. But, one day, when he was about five years old, Ronald Lee called him a sissy and Morris took up the taunt. Not knowing for certain what it meant, but knowing it was because he played house with the girls, he rebelled. From then on he refused to dress as a girl.
"Come on, Junior," Dorothy pleaded. "let's get dressed up and you be my baby."
"No, I not a sissy," Junior stood his ground.
"Do you want to play with us?" Dorothy asked with a threatening tone.
"Not gonna' play sissy," Junior was firm. That's when Peggy took his side.
"Leave him alone. He can play. He can be the daddy," Peggy became his heroine.
Thereafter the two of them defended each other to the end. Watching her little monkeys playing, fussing and quickly growing up, was a bitter-sweet experience for Ellen. She felt sorry for Carrie and Gennieve because she was sure they were missing a lot of fun and love with only one child each.
Just after Carrie was divorced, she married a good-looking, pleasant young man named Arthur. He was good for her and helped raise Carolyn as his own. Gennieve and Hollis had several trials with their son, Hollis Junior, who had been born club-footed and cross-eyed. He had to have one operation after another, and when Ellen saw Hollis Junior with braces on his little legs it broke her heart. It took several years, but eventually Hollis Junior walked and ran without a trace of his handicap. Thelma had four girls now, Doris Marie, Delma Ann, Bernice, and Theda Faye. She often joked with Ellen about trading one of her girls for one of Ellenís boys. Ellen always laughed and said she was ready to trade and that became a personal banter between the two of them.
Summer-time became reunion time for all of the family. No matter where they were living, everyone tried to come to Noraís for part of the summer. And because there were so many family members, most get-togethers made for quite a reunion.
There was Carrie, Gennieve, Thelma, Ellen, their husbands and children, and sometimes even aunts, uncles, and distant cousins. Some slept on floor-pallets, others on living-room furniture. The boys made beds in cars and even outside under shade trees on army cots.
During the day, the men often gathered at the barn or around some farm equipment. The women, however, seemed satisfied to be in the kitchen or bedrooms and they always raised the windows in order to hear what was going on outside. Children played everywhere with plenty of supervision. If an adult saw a child doing something he shouldn't, no matter whose child it was, the child was punished then and there.
"Ellen, Hollis had to get Ronald Lee and Morris off the barn roof," Gennieve laughingly informed Ellen one summer-reunion day. "So, perhaps you had better warn them not to do it again."
"What were they doing up there?" Ellen asked.
"Well, Ronald Lee told Hollis," Gennieve quipped, "that they wanted to pick off some of the roof-patch tar for chewing gum."
"Ellen," Thelma called out from Nora's bedroom, "don't you ever buy your kids any gum?" At Thelma's response, loud laughter could be heard throughout the house.
"I wouldn't say anything if I were you, Thelma," Aunt Mona's voice rang out. "I had to get your two oldest off the roof yesterday," she continued, "and they gave me the same excuse." More laughter followed Aunt Mona's admonishment.
"Dorothy!" A loud, male voice could be heard from outside. "You girls get out of that horse trough, right this minute! How do you expect the cows to get a drink?"
"Sounds like James caught the girls swimming in the horse tank again." Carrie spurted out as she walked through the kitchen where Ellen and Gennieve were.
"I guess they'll never learn," Ellen said wearily.
Then from another part of the farm, Henry's voice rang out above the hubbub of activity. "Here! What are you doing? Junior, how many times do you have to be told not to throw rocks at the chickens? Do you want me to run you into your mother? Boy, she'll tear the hide off you!"
"Pap just won't spank a kid, will he?" Gennieve smiled. "He's always running them in here for punishment. I never saw anything like it."
Ellen thought back to the times Henry would get drunk and threaten to beat them, and agreed with her. "Yeah, Iíve never seen anything like it."
Gennieve left Ellen to her pondering and took Hollis Junior outside to watch James rope a calf.
Bang! The screen door slammed shut as Dorothy and Patsy ran in to tell Ellen about the calf-roping. "You girls slam that door shut one more time and I'll spank you good!" Aunt Mona threatened as she walked past them to join Gennieve outside.
"Mother! Daddy's going to rope a calf and let us ride it. Are you going to come and watch?" Dorothy asked.
"I'll be out later," Ellen smiled. "Now don't slam the door when you go back out."
"Okay, Mother," Patsy yelled as she and Dorothy ran back outside.
"Hey! Careful there you two," Uncle Jim cautioned Patsy and Dorothy. "You almost ran into your Aunt Mona."
"Good Heavens! Every time I turn around someone's yelling at one of my kids," Ellen complained to Thelma, who had just walked into the kitchen with Nora.
"Well, Ellen," Thelma laughed. "I was thinking the same thing about mine. I guess you can't expect anything else when you have a bunch of kids."
"Don't let it worry you," Nora put in. "Believe me, when they're grown you'll be glad you have a large family." Ellen could have hugged her mother for the encouragement.
Then, Carrie entered the room and put a damper on their talk. "She may not be so glad if they turn out to have gypsy blood and be unreliable...," Carrie snickered, "...like their father."
"Carrie!" Nora frowned. "We don't know the future, so we should never try to insert bad things into it."
"Well...," Carrie continued undaunted, "ÖI just know how Ellen's kids are now. Undisciplined brats."
"It's easy to think someone else's kid isn't as good as yours," Thelma spoke up. "Especially when you only have one."
"Maybe so," Carrie mumbled then left the room.
"What's wrong with her?" Ellen asked.
"She's mad because Dorothy and Patsy had a fight with Carolyn. Never mind that Carolyn started it," Thelma replied with a laugh.
"I didn't know about a fight," Ellen grimaced.
"Don't worry about it, Ellen," Nora encouraged her. "Carrie will get over it."
"But, what happened?" Ellen inquired.
"Well...," Thelma lowered her voice. "The girls were playing house and Carolyn decided they were going to play her way. I guess everyone was willing to give in, except Dorothy. It began with a word fight and would have ended that way. But Carolyn spotted Henry and thinking he would defend her she slapped Dorothy. Of course, you know how Patsy is. She jumped on Carolyn and Henry had to pull them apart. Carrie just happened to come along about that time and nearly had a heart attack. Of course Carolyn put all the blame on Dorothy and Carrie believed her."
"What did Henry do?" Ellen asked.
"Nothing," Thelma continued. "But Carrie started cussing Dorothy out. Dorothy just smirked and told her to get lost. And Patsy stood beside Dorothy with the same kind of sneer on her face."
"Oh, no," Ellen groaned. "I thought it was the funniest thing I ever saw. My two girls, Bernice and Theda, just stood there. They are scared to death of Carrie and so are Peggy and Junior. But that Dorothy and Patsy arenít scared of her."
"Well, I guess it's happened and there's not much I can do about it now. But I sure hate for Dorothy to be sassy with adults," Ellen frowned. "Nevertheless, Carrie shouldn't have been cussing at her,"
"It will all blow over by tomorrow, Ellen. You know how Carrie is. She blows up one minute and the next thing you know...," Carrie's loud laughter interrupted Thelma's encouragement to Ellen.
"As I was saying, she's mad one minute and laughing the next. Right?"
"Hey, Ellen!" Carrie called Ellen outside. "Come here and watch this, youíre not going to believe it unless you see it."
Thelma and Ellen walked outside to see what was so funny. Peggy had climbed on the back of a calf James had roped and was hanging on for dear life. Everyone was watching by then, and when Henry rescued Peggy, she cried for him to put her back on. Ellen was glad the distraction had helped Carrie forget about her bad feelings. She rarely fussed with her sisters and hated to have trouble at her mother's. She knew Carrie loved her, but Carrie always seemed eager to criticize.
"Carrie is quick to damn with faint praise. Thatís what my mother would always say about someone like her," James told Ellen.
As one summer reunion after another would come and go the good times seemed to outweigh the bad. Sadly, the years seemed to drift by without Ellen fully realizing she was losing them.