11) My Story - Joyce Keown-Smith



A Collection of Short Stories
By Joyce Keown-Smith
In her own words

 Prologue

I mostly write Mama and Daddy stories, and family srtories. In a family this large, I think there's always one that stands just outside the circle and observes and makes comment about the others. It's not malicious but intended for fun. Sometimes it's a poignant view of the love and tenderness of a family. When my siblings and I get together, we share all these stories that we think are funny, but that humor sometimes gets lost when we share with others. I've told stories to a group of people that were stonefaced and, what I interpreted as judgmental, that came up later and said "You know, Honey, I wish my husband could hear you. He grew up like you and he feels ashamed of his drinking daddy, but if he could hear you, I think he would think differently.." 


 Stories

MY FATHER

What a rascal, my father.  Widowed at age 56, he lived on to the age of 73 and went out kicking.

Born of an Irish Catholic mother and an Irish Protestant father, he early on rejected both faiths and lived by his own creed.  But if he ever had pursued one faith, it would have been the Catholic one; not because he embraced all its ideas and doctrines, but because his mother did.  For him, that was reason enough.

But if faith wasn’t one of his strong points, money and the way he handled it was.  He knew all the angles.  He knew how to make money when he needed it, and how to hide it when you needed it.  But he mostly knew how to wheedle it out of others.  There was nothing dishonest about it.  It was just that he knew how to put up the best sob story you ever heard.  At least, you thought it was probably a sob story, but it could have been true.  After all, he was an old man, and he did get just a small check from the government, but in the back of your mind, you couldn’t help but think about all those times you had seen him with lots of money that you knew didn’t come from the government.  But, according to him, nobody owed more and had less than he did.

Like his car insurance.  I bet my daddy has paid more – (no, I bet I have paid more) for his car insurance for one barely running car than Hertz has paid for its whole fleet.  Almost every week my phone would ring:  “Collect for Joyce – will you accept charges?”  Of course, I always did.

“Hello, Daddy, how are you doing?”

“Not too good, Honey,” he’d start off; then dropping his voiced to a low whine.  “Lord, I’m in the awfullest fix.”

“What’s the matter, Daddy?”

“Well, I got this ole bad cold, and I been feeling awful bad, so I’ve just been to the doctor and he gave me a penicillin shot.”

“A penicillin shot?  Daddy, a  penicillin shot won’t help a cold.  That doctor just took your money.”

“Why, I’ve always gotten a shot – the doctor’s done it lots of times – it always helps – I’ve always gotten a shot.”

“Okay, Daddy, okay.  I’m not arguing.”  I dropped the subject, knowing not to argue.  If he believed it made him feel better, I guess it did.  “Well, I hope you get to feeling better.”

“Well, Honey, I didn’t call you about my cold.  I called you about my insurance.”

“Your insurance?  What about your insurance?”  I knew what was coming, but I decided to let him work up to it.  Even though I was being wheedled, I couldn’t help but be amused by the way he did it – the stories he could come up with.  For an illiterate man, he was very clever.  If he couldn’t read or write words, he could certainly count money – up to as much as he needed.

“My car insurance, Honey.  I’ve got to have $70.00.”

“Seventy dollars?  But I thought that was due last week.”

“It was, Honey, but I didn’t have enough to pay it.”

“But, Daddy, I sent you some money last week.  Don’t you remember?  You said you needed it for your car insurance.”

“I know, Honey, but I didn’t have enough money to pay it.  I had to pay my light bill.”

“Your light bill?  You didn’t say anything about your light bill last week – look, Daddy, why don’t you just send me the bill and I’ll pay it.” 

Now I shouldn’t have said that.  I knew he couldn’t send anything because he couldn’t read or write.  But he had never admitted it in all of his seventy years.  It seemed to me that he had never really needed it, so it was not a handicap for him.  If Mama didn’t read the morning paper to him, one of us kids would.  And he never missed the news on the radio every day at 12 noon, especially the police report telling all about the arrests made the night before.  He was just as interested in the hospital report.  Mama said he was the nosiest man she’d ever met and accused him of tending to everybody’s business but his own.  He, in turn, couldn’t understand why Mama wouldn’t want to know all about all of those things.

“Honey, thay ain’t enough time for that.  If you’ve got any extra, just send it so I can get it paid.  I sure hope I don’t have an accident and not have no car insurance.”

“All right, Daddy.  But you have got to pay it this time.  I’ve sent you money every week for two months now and you still have car insurance due.  I don’t understand it.  You’re not spending that money on something else, are you?”

A long deadly silence came over the line – then, in a low, pitiful voice, “Now, ain’t that a hell of a note?”  Whenever he wanted to shame you in the worst way, that was his opening line.  “Asking me something like that.  Like I’d call you up and ask you for money if I didn’t need it.  What do you think I’d spend money on?  I’ve got to pay my light bill, my oil bill, my phone bill…”

“Okay, Daddy, I’ll send it.”

“…I’ve got to have gas for my car, and I have to buy a few groceries – you want me to eat, don’t you?”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Daddy…”

“I just can’t believe it, Joyce, asking me something like that.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy, I didn’t mean it – I just thought …. – Okay – I’ll send you $30.00 – is that enough?”

Another brief silence – “Well, if that’s all you can send, I guess it is.”

Then his voice brightening with his newly and skillfully acquired wealth, “When you gonna come over?”

“I don’t know, Daddy.   Soon as I can.”

“Why don’t you come over tomorrow?”  He was always impatient to see me.  Out of eight children, I was his favorite.

“I can’t tomorrow.”  Then, jokingly, “Besides, you’ve taken all my gas money.”

“Thay, Lord, Honey, you got lots of money.”

“No, I don’t.”

“When you come over, I’ll get us a big hen and cook it up for our dinner.”  Dinner meant lunch.  Daddy was a good cook and even when Mama was alive, he always cooked the chicken.

“No, Daddy, don’t spend money on a big hen for me.”

“I got enough money for a hen.”

“No, no, now don’t worry about it.  When I come over, I’ll take you to lunch.”

“Aw, I don’t like to eat in none of them places around town.  Gives me heartburn.”

“Okay, Daddy, whatever you say.”  Trying to change the subject, I asked, “How’s Uncle Leo?”

Uncle Leo was Daddy’s brother.  He was older than Daddy and had spent a good deal of his life bailing Daddy out of this and that, especially since Mama died.

“Aw, he’s alright.  But you know what he did the other day?”

“What?”

“Well, he had this ole hat.  It wudn’t no good, but he give it to me, ‘cause I lost mine the other day.  Well, I been wearing the danged old thing, and he was down here the other day, and after he left, I missed the hat.  So I called him up and said, ‘Leo, did you take my hat?’  And he said, ‘Well, you don’t never wear it.’  And I said, ‘Why, I wear it every day!’  Now how about him taking my hat like that?”

“Well, I’m sure he wouldn’t have taken it if he had known you wore it every day.  Did you get it back?”

“Not yet.  He said he’d bring it back today.”

Yep - that was my Daddy…

Rest in peace, rascal father of mine - maybe you can convince the Father above that you deserve it…


Judy Smith

September 1989


Mama

I remember a shopping trip (we called it “going to town”) with my mother to buy a dress for her.  Poor but proud, my mother looked over the various racks, looking not for style, but for price.  Shortly, Mrs. Hammond, who had worked at Collins Department Store for many years, came over.

“May I help you?”  she asked.

“Yes,” my mother replied in her most dignified voice, “I’m looking for a housedress.”

‘A housedress?’ I thought.  Why is Mother trying to impress this clerk?  I knew she would have to wear it everywhere – to do housework, to go to town, even to church.  But she never blinked an eye – as though she could really afford two types of dress – one for the house, another for dress-up or church.

“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Hammond said sweetly, and began to look with Mother, taking her cue from Mother flipping through the dresses on the lower-priced rack.  She had known Mother for years and willingly participated in Mother’s charade.  Soon they were chatting amiably, inquiring about the other’s family and discussing style, pretending price didn’t matter.

I stood quietly by, taking a lesson in pride and dignity…

Judy Smith
September 1983


                                                                      Daddy and the Senior Trip

                                                                                A life Lesson

“My Daddy – what a character…”  My friends know that that is how I usually start (what they’ve titled) my “Daddy stories”.  Or sometimes I start off with “One time my daddy…”  They listen up because they know it’s always a story of something my daddy had done that brings a good chuckle if not a hearty, knee-slapping guffaw.  A hard-drinking, quick-tempered every-breath-cussin’, always mad about something (I think breathing made my daddy mad), short, balding Irishman, whose bark was worse than his bite, we soon learned to steer clear of his reach and his little rages, which was mostly a lot of fluster and bluster, and so we didn’t always take him seriously.  In fact, we usually were amused by his antics.  Our observance of his child-like ways (he was a grown-up version of a spoiled, over-indulged, undisciplined, youngest child) taught us more about maturity and the importance of responsibility than perhaps we could have learned any other way.  And yet for all these presumably “undesirable” traits, there was an innocence and honesty about him.  He was what he was – there was no pretentiousness about him. Not one to pass out compliments or sentiments of any kind  (I never heard the words “I love you” from him), still there was one occasion I’ll never forget…
It was my senior year in high school, and my class was planning the traditional senior trip to New York and Washington, D.C.   Of course it would require money for me to go – money that I knew we didn’t have (even though the oldest three had already left the house, still the five of us that were  left were quite an expense to feed and clothe).  One day, sitting at the kitchen table, Mama and I were talking about the trip and Mama, being the decision-maker and dispenser of never-enough funds, was trying to let me know gently that there was no way I could go.  Daddy sat by quietly.  When Mama and I finished talking, I was thoroughly heart-broken, and close to tears.  Mama got up and left.  Daddy turned to me and, with determination and conviction (and what I now know as love) in his voice, he very quietly said, “Don’t you worry about it, Honey.  You’ll go on that trip.  I’ll see to it.”  We had learned not to depend on Daddy’s word as he often promised something when he was drinking that never came to pass. But that day, there was something different about him – almost trustworthy.  Or maybe I just wanted so desperately to believe him.  I began to prepare for the trip…just in case my daddy could keep his word.  If I didn’t get to go, at least I knew he wanted me to.  It was never mentioned again until the day the money was due.  Daddy, quietly and proudly, beaming all over, turned it over.  All $105.00 of it, train fare and hotel room for five nights. 
Still he didn’t say “I love you” – he didn’t have to.
 
Judy Smith
December 1995

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