I have one photo of this old lady, who was 68 when I went to live in her house and I was about six. I don’t know why she hated me so; I’ve wondered over the years and I always think it must have been because her and my grandmother didn’t get along so well. I was polite and well-mannered, quiet and obedient, but just my presence in a room was enough to piss her off.
She made me her unpaid slave. There was a household of twelve usually as she took care of ‘foster people’. The best way to described that situation is Assisted Living before there was Assisted Living. We cooked for them and carried their meals on trays to the front parlor, did their laundry, and she drove them everywhere they needed to go. She was very adequately compensated.
I was taught to cook very early and did so often. When I was in school, breakfast and lunch dishes would be waiting on me when I got home. These were not the days of TV dinners or frozen food or Hamburger Helper. So the stacks of pots and pans and dishes and glasses and silverware would be so much, that it often got washed in stages, with drying and putting away done in the middle as well as at the end. Two acres of yard to be mowed because, of course, Uncle Kenneth was ‘disabled’ and Kenny was never around during the day; he disappeared if a chore was even attempting to present itself.
She was just plain mean. I got one bath a week, in the tub, after she finished her bath, in her gray bathwater. And every week, I was so grossed out. So I tried to keep myself clean in the water hose outside or, joy of joys, if she went to town, I would run into the front bathroom which had a shower and wash all over. I used to wish that she would leave the house more often.
Stealing food was another preoccupation when she would leave the house. She was raised during the depression and for that reason, she hoarded food. We had four refrigerators and two standing deep freezers, stuffed to the gills. One metal trashcan full of flour, one full of sugar. One of the refrigerators had nothing in it but flats of eggs and pounds of butter. It was insane. Yet there was no eating between mealtimes.
Breakfast was at 8 AM; if you weren’t there, you didn’t eat. So no breakfast for me as my bus left well 7 AM. Lunch was the big meal of the day – meat, starch, veggies, dessert so I relished the summertime because other than weekends, I barely ate. Dinner was a half of a bologna sandwich and a small bowl of chicken noodle soup, sometimes tomato, sometimes chicken and rice. And that was it. And during school season, that was all I got all day. No breakfast at school back then, no money given for lunch.
In fifth grade, the school sent a letter home because when the school nurse checked me, I weighed 45 pounds and was severely malnourished. No one had ever noticed because I wore hand-me-downs from Kenny so I was always in baggy clothes. At this point, she decided to feed me. Every morning before I left for school, she would force me to drink a raw egg in powdered milk. So nasty. I know Hell saved a spot for her, right up front. But it worked, fattened me right up and no one ever questioned if I was being fed again.
Karma is a bitch, though. They say it and it’s true. Once I moved out and got my own life, I never looked back at that old woman. Sometime in the 1990s, my godmother asked me if I knew how “Violette” was doing. Apparently she was in a nursing home. So I called. The guy who answered the phone said she was doing “the same”; I told him that I didn’t know what that meant. He said, “She just sits and screams all day”. I asked what she was screaming. He said he didn’t know; it wasn’t something you could understand. “She just screams.”
Ain’t Karma a bitch?