These are the stories that bind us, hold us
Published 4:34 pm Tuesday, February 6, 2024
By Lloyd Albritton
Genealogy experts have discovered that most people have little interest in the dates and places of their ancestors’ lives, i.e., birth dates, death dates, marriage dates, etc. In fact, most of us have trouble even spelling “genealogy,” much less doing genealogy research. Family History, however, is another matter. Virtually every family has personal stories of their ancestors which they pass down at their dinner tables from one generation to another. It is these personal stories which most excites our interest in knowing who our ancestors really were. These are the stories that bind us together and keep our families strong. In this week’s column I share with you the first of five installments of a story I wrote many years ago about an incident that happened in my family. I hope you enjoy it and will stay tuned for all five episodes.
Mama and The Cat
It was the summer of fifty-five
When last we saw Old Tom alive.
That was the day the cat was bad,
And came to an end that was awfully sad,
For that was the day Mama got mad!
Her five little boys watched that day,
As Mama put Old Tom away.
“Mama done gone crazy,” said the little lad.
“She just might be,” agreed the dad.
But that’s what happens when Mama gets mad!
Crack! spat the .22 caliber single-shot rifle, followed by the thump of the lifeless body as it slid to the dusty ground from its hiding place against the floor joist. It was the summer of 1955, and curiosity did not kill the cat that year. Mama did!
It was wash day, an all-day affair for Ossie Lee Albritton, the twenty-seven year old mother of five sons, ranging in age from one to ten, two of them still in diapers. Ossie Lee routinely set aside two days each week for doing her wash. Though post-war modernization had introduced the new wringer-type washing machine into most American homes, modern times were slow to catch on in the rural community of Nokomis, Fla. Ossie Lee still did her wash in the back yard in a round, three-legged cast iron pot, the same way her mother had done it.
Washing clothes in this manner was a labor-intensive process. Ossie Lee first had to draw water from the hand pump behind the house into a five-gallon bucket and tote the water to the wash pot, a distance of about twenty feet. Several trips were required to fill the big pot. After gathering enough firewood to last through the day, she built a fire underneath the pot. When the water was sufficiently hot, she added soap, put the dirty clothes in, and stirred them until she felt comfortable they were clean. She then removed individual items with the end of the stick and scrubbed them by hand on a ridged, galvanized scrub board, rinsed them in a separate tubful of clean water, then wrung them by hand before finally hanging them on the clothes line to dry in the hot summer sun. She repeated this process through several loads of clothes, carrying fresh water to the pot as necessary.
Washing clothes was an exhausting task, especially during the hot, humid summer months common in the south, and consumed most of the day. But, oddly enough, Ossie Lee did not mind it so much. It was a labor of love for her, a peaceful, contemplative time. She loved being a mother and watching her five little boys play contentedly in the yard near her as she worked. She looked forward to the final result at the end of the day, when she would take the clothes in off the line and carry them into the house. The smell of an armful of fresh, soft, sun-dried diapers, piled high into her face, gave Ossie Lee an indescribable feeling of delight and accomplishment.
“Me-e-e-o-w-w-w!” screamed the big yellow cat as he sailed out the back door of the house, barely touching the rickety wood steps. Old Tom flew across the back yard toward the chicken house, his rear swaying like a boxcar in a long train as, in his haste, his back end seemed to be trying to outrun his front end. The surprised faces of five little boys looked up in unison at the sound of their mama’s enraged cry from inside the darkened door. “DADBURNNIT, I’M GONNA KILL THAT CAT!”
The cat slid to a stop at the corner of the chicken house and froze there in plain sight. With terror in his eyes, he watched the door to see if his human tormentor would follow. Each of the boys, with mouths agape, wondered in his own way what had happened to infuriate Mama so much.
A moment later, Mama burst out the back door with Daddy’s rifle in one hand and a box of bullets in the other. She squatted to the ground with the rifle resting across her arms, hurriedly fumbled open the box of bullets with trembling hands, took one out and inserted it into the chamber. She slammed the bolt home and quickly stood with her weapon raised in both hands, leaving the spilled box of bullets in the grass at her feet. Looking all about, she shouted to no one in particular, “NOW WHERE IS THAT BLASTED CAT? I’M GONNA BLOW HIS BRAINS OUT!”
“RIGHT YONDER, MAMA!” shouted Ronnie, the oldest of the boys, pointing his finger toward the chicken house where Old Tom waited. Mama hurriedly moved a few steps closer to get a better shot, then lifted the rifle to her shoulder and fired.
Pi-i-i-ng! the bullet echoed as it ricocheted off the rocky ground, missing Old Tom by only a few inches. The old cat quickly scurried to the nearest tree and scampered up the trunk to the lowest limb, where he crouched and watched for his attacker’s next move. His bewildered face seemed to ask, “What did I do? What’s this all about?”
Mama retrieved another bullet from the grass and fumbled with a reload. Loaded for another shot, she grabbed a handful of extra bullets in one hand, dropped them into her apron pocket, and looked up into the tree. Spotting the cat perched on the limb, she took a deep breathe to calm herself, slowly put the rifle to her shoulder and took aim for the second time.
(Join us again for next week’s edition of The Atmore Advance for the second of five installments on Mama and the Cat, a true historical narrative.)