The Eagle Has Landed. But Where?

Henry Clyde Billingsley was a young WWI soldier who awoke one day with an unplanned, unwanted but spectacular new eagle tattoo. Decades later, your editor recalled the incident to Brother Paul who, consistent with his contentious nature and faulty memory, insisted the tattoo had somehow been squeezed onto Grandpa's left forearm.

It was, of course, spread-eagled in all its glory on Grandpa's chest, wingtips stretching from nipple to nipple. There ensued a heated, still smouldering family discussion, that ended in a call to Blonde Cousin Kathy, who listened tactfully to both cousins before uttering five utterly Kathy-like words: "Grandpa Bill had a
tattoo? Short of exhumation of old Grandpa, the matter may appear long dead and buried. But the mission of this blog will be to rectify this and other faulty family memories ...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New topic: Why Paulie and Bill never had a baby sister

Blame it on diapers. Mom swore our baby sister never came because of a lucrative job offer that kept her at work instead of the bedroom. I say it was the way you had to keep kids’ butts clean in the late 1940s, early ‘50s.

Today’s Mom and Dad can cruise hundred-yard long aisles at Wal-Mart for endless alternatives that address the age-old issue of 20-pound boys with 3-pound bowel movements: As Natalie and David can attest, you can even call a diaper service and they’ll bring fresh-smelling, hygienic diapers right to your door. You can also buy all sorts of self-help books on how to housebreak your boy before he starts kindergarten.
In Paulie and Bill John’s day, we didn’t even have kindergarten.

What we did have was a tiny, coal-heated home on the wrong side of the tracks in Gale – “wrong” being defined as the side furthest from the communal water well that sat in Badeye and Suzy Prewitt’s back yard. For a bath, the newlywed Praters would haul water across the tracks to their own back porch. That’s why, in those days, a Saturday night bath was an occasion that never garnered universal acceptance. And “doing the wash” meant hauling water over the tracks, heating it on the stove and pouring it into a modern-day miracle: an “automatic washer” that would swish clothes up and down and around before they could be hung outside on a “clothes line.”
The point is, if washing clothes was so tedious that people would dye their newly made clothing the color of dirt or poop, you can imagine how thrilling it was to wash diapers.
Anyway, that, I belive, is why Paul and Rosemary (Stack and Diggie) never had my little sister. They had been too nauseated, for too long, diapering nearly twin boys for something like three years nonstop.
You scoff? Ask Jean Kennedy why Betty Prater was an only child.

“How about Linda Prater, you ask?” Well, once again the exception proves the rule. Until shortly after youngest son Floyd finally grasped the concept of toilet training, the Lees ran a very traditional Chinese-American business: Joe’s Laundry. They even had hot water piped in!
However the water got there, in those days you were forced to take each article of clothing and, piece by piece, push it between two fast-turning, electric-powered rubber rollers that would literally “wring the clothes dry.” That’s why they called it a “wringer washer.”

There is more to this story (Okay, the following is pretty much irrelevant to Joe’s Laundry or brown in your diapers, but it still needs telling, as an essential part of the Prater Ancestral Record:
One day Grandma Freda Billingsley’s aging cat fell asleep on her wringer washer, the warmest place on the unheated front porch. To make a long story short (which is a self-improvement project I’ve been working on, together with not thinking so much about Laura Bush naked), the poor kitty’s tail tragically slipped between the two rubber rollers with predictable results, including the very first, haunting scream now universally known as “caterwauling.”

For years after the incident, Grandma detested her necessary shopping trips to Stout’s Store in Downtown Gale, Ill. (Okay. Okay! Stout’s was Downtown Gale.) At the entrance to Stout’s was an ever-present gauntlet of old farts, retired railroaders spitting chewing tobaccy and lying in wait for someone – anyone - to torture and tease (Quick aside: these were the same old coots who traded a nickel for my Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, so they could send me back home eating a Snickers in my underwear.) Sorry. I digress:
Anyway, whenever Grandma would head into Stout’s, someone on the liar’s bench would patiently wait for the opportune moment to yell the “bon mot” that Grandma knew was coming:
“Hey Freda! Got your pussy caught in the wringer lately?”
     # # #

1 comment:

  1. Much to my surprise and (chagrine) my bros. memory has been depleted by too many RC's and moon pies. The old man Bill gladly had himself tatooted (notice spelling) and it was on the underneath side of his forearm...(which cousin Nicki confirmed. donations for Bill's elder care would be much appreciated