Mama, the cat installment 3

Published 10:29 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

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By Lloyd Albritton


“I sure wish I had one of those new wringer-type washing machines,” Ossie Lee muttered to herself as she prepared the fire underneath her wash pot.  “Washing clothes would be so much easier.”

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Ossie Lee had seen a picture of the new wringer-type washing machine in the Sears & Roebuck catalogue.  Bud had promised to get her one as soon as they could afford it, but he insisted that there were family priorities that needed to be taken care of first.  For example, his pasture needed lime and fertilizer right away if the grass was to survive the summer months.  And the fence was also in bad need of replacement.  Bud did not like keeping his horses inside barbed wire.  A horse could panic and run through barbed wire and get hurt real bad, he said.  Net wire fencing was much safer, but more expensive.  Still, Bud wanted to replace all the rotten fence posts and put up net wire around his pasture before the worst actually happened.  “Money don’t grow on trees, Ossie Lee,” Bud often chided his wife.  “One of these days you’ll learn what its like to work for a living.”

Ossie Lee Tullis had been barely sixteen years old when she and Bud Albritton married in 1944.  Bud was in the Army at the time, a dashing 21-year-old soldier who cut a handsome figure in his uniform.  Both had grown up in Nokomis.  Ossie Lee’s mother had strongly encouraged the early marriage because Bud was one of the few boys in the community to finish high school, an asset which increased the likelihood of a good job.  The country was in the middle of World War II and Bud was stationed overseas, so Ossie Lee stayed with her parents the first year of their marriage, and several months after Ronnie was born.  After the war, they lived for awhile with Bud’s parents and tried farming, then shared apartments with other married couples as Bud moved the family about with different jobs.  They lived in an apartment in Montgomery, Alabama, for a year where Bud managed a chicken farm.  They lived in Mississippi while Bud worked at the Pascagoula shipyard.  When Bud

acquired a job with the local funeral home as an undertaker and ambulance driver, the couple moved back closer to home, but still lived in a series of rented houses and apartments.

Finally, when Bud acquired permanent employment with the government at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, Alabama, they were able to buy ten acres of land in Nokomis, where they built a small wood-frame home of their own.  The little house only had three rooms.  The living room doubled as a bedroom for the children, while Bud and Ossie Lee shared a bedroom at the back of the house next to the kitchen.  The house did not have inside plumbing, but Bud made sure the outside hand pump was close to the kitchen to make things easier on his wife.  Bathroom facilities consisted of a two-seater outhouse out back at the edge of the woods.

These accommodations were not comparable to most modern housing being built in the early 1950’s across the nation, but they were not uncommon to Nokomis.  Ossie Lee was not entirely contented with things the way they were, but this was her first real home and she was glad to have it.  Since the older children had begun to attend school, the difficulties of keeping them in clean clothes without running water in the house or a modern washing machine had increased significantly.  Still, Ossie Lee was five years younger than her husband and she had accepted a role of submissiveness at the beginning of their marriage which continued to this time.  Though she was generally strong and healthy, having children had taken a toll on Ossie Lee’s health.  She was skinny and hollow cheeked, anemic and tired most of the time.  She had lost her natural teeth by her early twenties due to vitamin deficiencies during her first two pregnancies and now wore full dentures.  As she toiled away with the clothes washing, Ossie Lee pondered these matters and resolved to take a stronger stand with her husband to make some improvements to their living standard.  Perhaps she would broach the topic this very evening when he came home from work, she thought, starting with a demand for one of those new wringer-type washing machines.

Old Tom scampered out the crib door and disappeared from sight.  Mama continued to lie face down in the corn pile with her face buried in her arms.  Her thin body slowly began to shake as her dispirited sniffles turned into deep sobs, then to an uninhibited wailing that issued forth from the crib door and reached her children’s ears as they stood huddled beneath the chinaberry tree.

Five year old Phillip looked at his older brother and whimpered, “We better go see about Mama.”  Baby Avis, sensing stress in the family unit, started bawling as he sat on the grass in his wet, sagging diaper.  All the boys looked up expectantly to their oldest brother for leadership in this moment of crisis.  Ronnie suddenly pursed his lips, looked angrily toward the corn crib where his mother wept, and declared angrily, “Mama’s gon’ kill ‘at cat!”

Suddenly, Mama appeared in the corn crib doorway with her rifle in her hand.  She wasn’t crying anymore.  Her face was streaked with a mixture of sweat, tears and dirt.  She jumped down to the ground from the crib doorway, landing on both feet, and hurriedly walked to where her children waited.

“Me hung’y!” blurted Gregory, sticking out his bottom lip.

“I know, Baby,” Mama replied as sweetly as she could muster.  “Mama’s going to feed you soon.  It won’t be long now.”

Turning to Ronnie, she asked sharply, “Which way did he go?”

Ronnie responded immediately.  “He went under the house, Mama.  You want me to crawl under there and shoot him for you?”

“No, Sugar,” Mama replied calmly, turning her attention to the crawlspace underneath the house.  “You stay with these young’uns.  Mama’s gon’ kill that cat.”

Mama kneeled at the edge of the house and peered into the dark crawlspace for a moment, them got down on her belly and started to crawl forward.

Stay tuned next week for Installment Four of Mama and the Cat.