The Show Must Go On
by Rowena A. Moitoret
MY second year of school was a traumatic experience for me. We had moved away from all of our friends in County Line, Texas, and I knew none of the students in Lenorah School except my older sister, Viola. To make matters worse, I had a rather sharp-tongued teacher, Mrs. Airhardt, and I was so afraid of her that I could hardly speak. Somehow she understood my name to be “Lorena,” and I was too scared to correct her, so I remained “Lorena” for the whole school year! I did learn a few things that year, mainly because Viola started bringing books home from the school library, and I tried to read everything she read. I read Tom Sawyer, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner, skipping over the words that were too hard for a seven-year old, but getting something from what I read, nonetheless.
My parents didn’t think much of Lenorah School, or its teachers, either, particularly after Mrs. Airhardt sent a note home with me saying, “Lorena will haft to buy a notebook for school.” So I suppose I should have known that they wouldn’t care to attend the last-of-school program. Somehow I had been given a part in the program – probably because Mrs. Airhardt told me to take part, and I didn’t dare tell her I couldn’t. I was supposed to bring my doll and stand up on the stage (which was the front porch of the schoolhouse) with a group of other little girls singing something about my favorite doll. (My favorite doll was my only doll, and I felt very pleased with the pair of shoes my mother had made for her.
But on the night of the program my father came home from the cotton field dirty and tired, and he didn’t want to drive over to the schoolhouse.
“But, Daddy, I said I’d come!”
“You shouldn’t have gotten mixed up with that program!”
Finally he got himself ready to go, but I was getting worried and upset because I was afraid of being late. Sure enough, when our Model-T Ford pulled up in front of the school, the group I was supposed to sing with was already lined up on the porch holding dolls, so there was nothing for me to do except scramble up the steps and squeeze into place. Then I looked down at my doll and saw that she had lost one of her shoes, so I felt compelled to go back down the steps to pick it up, to the amusement of the audience.
You would think, after all this, that I would have been a little bit reluctant to be in another program the next year, particularly since we had moved again and were attending another new school. But my teacher, Miss Conway, spoke so enthusiastically about my being in a “drill” and wearing a costume that I was easily persuaded. I found the “drill” was sort of a dance, with children weaving in and out in a pattern on the stage.
“Can your mother sew a costume?” my teacher wanted to know.
“Yes, she can do all kinds of sewing,” I told her proudly.
But when I got home and told my mother what she was supposed to do, she had a strange look on her face. “I can’t make you a costume,” she told me.
I think I know now why she couldn’t make the costume. She could have sewn it easily enough, but the dismal truth was that she didn’t have the money to buy the rose-colored crepe paper. Probably the paper would have cost forty-five cents – but if you don’t have any money, and no way to get any until cotton-harvest time, forty-five cents might as well be forty-five dollars.
I must have had a very understanding and sympathetic teacher that year – I think she realized what the situation was. She bought the crepe paper herself and made the costume. I don’t know how well I performed in the “drill,” but I loved that rose-colored costume with the ruffled, three-tiered skirt, and I wore it around home until it fell into shreds.
And when I had children of my own in school, I made many, many costumes. I made several ballet costumes, a Russian costume, a blackbird costume, a black cat costume, a tree costume with plastic leaves attached, ghost costumes, clown costumes, and even a Princess Ozma of Oz costume. I made these for our children, of course, but was I making them partly for myself?
Survivors of the Storm – and of the Storm Cellar
by Rowena A. Moitoret
FARMING cotton in a dry place like West Texas is a precarious occupation, and I feel sure that my father sometimes wished he had chosen some other way to make a living. I remember that he anxiously studied the clouds in the sky, particularly the ones in the northwest, because those were the ones that usually came in our direction and brought rain. Our house was in a valley, but my father went up the hill just back of our house and watched for a long time, trying to determine whether the clouds were really coming our way or not.
Those were the night clouds – in the daytime we would all be in the fields working, and we gave the clouds our eager attention. If they looked stormy enough, white and puffy with dark, flat bottoms, my sisters and I would happily drop our hoes and run for home, not really minding if we got caught in the shower, so long as there wasn’t hail in it. We weren’t supposed to carry our hoes home because they might attract lightning.
Only once did I ever feel afraid of a cloud. This was because I had been temporarily promoted from hoeing to running the cultivator pulled by two horses. I’d had sufficient instruction so that I knew how to run the cultivator, but what I didn’t know was what I should do in case a storm came up – and one did! I wondered if I should just stop at the end of a row and hold the reins taut – but I knew I would be in danger, staying so near the metal cultivator, a likely place for lightning to strike. Finally I decided that I should go home, which was about a mile away. The horses approved of my decision. In fact, I had trouble keeping them from running, especially when the sand began to blow and the lightning and thunder began. We came bumping over the ends of the terraced rows, sometimes on one wheel instead of two, and I was very scared. My father was watching from the house, and he came running to unharness the horses when I got to the barn.
“You were coming down that hill like you were studying to be a racing driver!” he told me.
I guess the only time I disliked clouds and storms was when they came late at night. My father was cautious (I thought overly cautious) about tornadoes, which he called “cyclones.” Many times he and my mother got us all out of bed, out the back door, and into the storm cellar, with most of the children protesting every step of the way. I had seen snakes and centipedes in that cellar in the daytime, and I was quite sure that I would rather be blown away than to be bitten by a snake or crawled on by a centipede. We had a kerosene lantern to give us a little light, but I was never sure whether it was better to see all of the crawly things, or not see them and pretend they weren’t there. There was a lumpy old mattress on the floor of the cellar, and we huddled there while the wind roared and shrieked outside. When my father decided it was safe enough, he would open the cellar door, and we’d all go back into the house, wipe our muddy feet, and get back to bed, still grumbling.
More than fifty years have passed now, and the storm cellar has fallen in and filled with mud. The house is gray and dilapidated but still standing. If my father were still alive, I’d be tempted to say, “Look, Dad, we needn’t have gone to that cellar after all – the house hasn’t blown away yet!”
Lesson for a Salesman
by Rowena A. Moitoret
AFTER my mother died, and after we children were all married and living away from our old home on the Texas farm, my father lived all alone in the old farmhouse. He had no intention of ever remarrying, because, he said to us, “I could never find another woman as fine as your mother.” We knew he missed her very much and was often lonely.
He did very well at cooking for himself. Many years before, when he was trying to earn money in any possible way, in order to keep the claim he had filed on in northern New Mexico, he had worked on a nearby Indian reservation, cooking for some Indians. He still remembered how to make biscuits and was rather proud of it. He wasn’t so good at cleaning the house, just now and then taking a broom and sweeping out all the mud and sand that he and his old hound Lion had brought in on their feet.
Thus I was rather surprised, on one of my infrequent visits, to find in one of the clothes closets a new tank-type vacuum cleaner.
“Where did this come from?” I asked.
“Well, I bought it,” he told me. “One day I was sitting on the front porch, and along came this vacuum cleaner salesman. He was a pretty nice looking young feller, but awfully nervous, probably new to the job, and I decided he needed some practice. I didn’t have anything else to do that morning so I thought he might as well practice on me.”
“Looks like he learned in a hurry!”
“Yeah. He was showing off his machine, showing how much suction it had, and I noticed all the wasps and dirt-daubers flying around the porch, and I had a bright idea. I told him I’d buy one of his vacuum cleaners if it would suck up the wasps and dirt-daubers – and sure enough, he tried it, and it worked fine. In a few minutes there wasn’t an insect left on that porch! So what could I do but buy me one of those machines? I really made a salesman out of that boy – I taught him to use his head, not stick to his prepared speech. He will probably be head of his company one of these days!”
And I’ll bet that for many years the salesman told and re-told the story of the old farmer who used his vacuum cleaner to catch wasps and dirt-daubers.
But even my father and the vacuum cleaner salesman never knew the final chapter of this story. This happened when I was living on Cap Ferrat, in southern France, in a typical villa with wooden shutters to keep the sunshine out during the day, but no window screens to keep insects out, either day or night. (After I had lived in France for a while I realized that the long multicolored strips of plastic hanging down to cover some of the doorways in shops and villas were to keep the flies out.) So, in our villa I finally decided there was no use in my even trying to keep the large buzzing flies out – instead I opened all of the French doors and let the flies come and go at will. I didn’t bother them, and they didn’t bother me – much.
It was a different matter, though, when it came to the mosquitoes at night. They sang around my ears when I lay in bed and they bit the whole family – when morning came they retreated to the ceilings, enlarged with blood – our blood. In the beginning I tried to kill them with a fly swatter. First, though, there was the problem of finding a fly swatter. My husband, Vic, couldn’t find the word in his biggest English-French dictionary, and our daughter, Jackie, had not picked that word up from her French-speaking schoolmates yet either. Vic finally resorted to the faithful pantomime that made the French shopkeeper laugh – but it did produce a fly swatter. When I used it, though, I found I had a second task to clean all the bloody spots off the ceilings.
It didn’t take me very long to remember my father’s insect removal system and put it into operation. The sated mosquitoes were too sleepy to know what was happening to them until they were already sucked down the vacuum cleaner wand. Vive Electrolux!
Hand set in Goudy’s Deepdene; display type is Craw Clarendon Book. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 400 copies on an SP-15 Vandercook. The cover was printed on a 10×15 C&P.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, MD 20770