Sunday, July 16, 2017


January 29, 1962
      From the four podiatrist referrals my gynecologist gave me, I chose Dr. Robert Joplin only because I knew exactly where on Beacon Street his office was.  While I was on the operating table, he spent a long time trying to convince me I should let him perform surgery on my right foot, too. 
     “But there’s nothing wrong with my right foot!” 
     “It’s a splay foot like this one.  I’ve invented a wonderful procedure that will give you a beautiful foot.  Your insurance will pay for having them both done. It won’t cost you a cent."         
    “I just want the bunion removed,” I said      
    “If I just removed the bunion, it would leave you with a weak foot.” 
    [What he left me with was one narrow foot and one wide, creating problems for the rest of my life. 
     When the doctor told me I’d have to stay off my foot for a month, I began to worry about Vaughan. I hadn’t bargained on this.  How would I be able to carry her meals to the third floor? 
      I called the Social Service League and explained the problem to the visiting nurse.  Mrs. London said she was sure they could continue to come and bring Vaughan her trays.
      “By the way,” she said.  “Do you know whether Mrs. Ross takes her pills regularly?”
      I said Vaughan was obsessed with the idea that she might take too many.  I had assured her that Dr. Cline wouldn’t prescribe anything dangerous, but she persisted in doing things her way.
      Mrs. London told me Dr. Cline said it was better for Vaughan to depend on the pills for pain relief than to be having so many shots.  “The shots are much stronger than the pills, and she could become so addicted  they would no longer benefit her when she really needed them.”
      As Kathryn related when I got home on Saturday, Vaughan wanted the doctor to come last Tuesday and give her a shot.  Kathryn called Dr. Cline and he said, “Has she taken her pills?”
      “I don’t know,” said Kathryn.
      “Go up and find out,” said Dr. Cline.  “If she hasn’t taken them, see that she does.  If she continues to be in pain, I’ll come over.”
     Our gardener, Mattie, was there so he went up and quizzed Vaughan.  He explained what the doctor had said about relying on the pills instead of the shots.
      Vaughan said, “Quick, hand them to me, they’re over there on the bureau.”
      The outcome? She was down for dinner that night, she went to the beauty parlor the next morning, and Thursday she went out with Mrs. Bursk and had a lobster.  When she went to the doctor’s office on Friday, she was doing so well, he didn’t give her the usual weekly injection.
      He did give her a lecture.  Kathryn, Ed, and the visiting nurse also gave her lectures.
      “Pills, pills, pills!  That’s all I hear!” she said to me yesterday.
      She had to admit they made her more comfortable, “but they make me so sleepy.  I could fall asleep right now while I’m standing here.”
      I found out why she was so sleepy.  She is the world’s most stubborn female.  Night before last, she said, she wanted to see whether she could get through a night without “sleeping pills."
     “Do you mean your pain pills?”
     “Yes, the ones I’m supposed to take with aspirin every four hours.  Well, I had a basketball game to watch until 11:00, and then I cuddled down into bed and went to sleep.  I woke up at 12:30, and Babbie—do you think I could get back to sleep?  I tried everything.  I counted ten thousand sheep, I got up and walked around, I sat down and read, but I couldn’t drop off no matter what I did.”
     “How did your back feel?”
     Terrible!  I had the most awful pain, just like a boil, right in the middle of my back.”
     When I’m on my feet again I'll make sure she takes those pills if I have to stand over her in my King Kong costume.
     This morning I felt spry enough to tie a plastic bag over my leg and hop into the shower.  Getting over the ledge at the foot of the stall stalled me for a moment, but by holding onto the shower-head with one hand and the soap rack with the other, I managed to hurdle it.  Next, I made the beds and picked up my room, hopping around on my good foot instead of using the crutches, which are a nuisance when I need to use my hands. 
      At 9:00 I hitched my way up the stairs to see if Vaughan had had breakfast.  Her room was empty—she’d been down in the kitchen since 7:30, waiting for pancake customers.  
February 8, 1962
      I bought a pair of yellow lounging pajamas to wear during my convalescence.  When I hopped into the kitchen this morning, Kathryn said I looked like a Bantam rooster.  Ed, who was sitting at the counter eating a grapefruit, remarked sourly, “She has a disposition like one, too.”                         
      Kathryn thought his witticism was funny enough to repeat loudly for Vaughan, who hadn’t heard it.  In case the two of them might believe this libel, I said, “Well, now, let’s examine the record.  Just who was wide awake and grumbling at 5:00 this morning—not I, certainly.”  And while Ed kept saying, “Why, I’m the easiest guy to get along with in the world,” I told them all about how unreasonable he had been.
       He was grouchy for a number of reasons:  He’d been awake all night, I’d been asleep all night.  He had a headache, and there wasn’t an aspirin in the house—or so he claimed.
       “Vaughan has plenty of aspirin,” I had said sleepily.  “Go up and steal a couple of hers.”
       “Vaughan does not have plenty of aspirin,” he said.  “I’ve already looked, and that big bottle she used to have isn’t there anymore.”
       I said of course it was there, she had to take six or eight aspirin a day, she’d have told me if she ran out.  “She keeps them right on the desk with the rest of her pills—are you sure they’re not up there?”
       “Forgive me for expressing myself so clumsily,” Ed said.  “I should not have stated that there were no aspirin on Vaughan’s desk.  I should have stated that I examined her desk with great care, and in spite of my 20-20 vision, was unable to discern anything remotely resembling a bottle of aspirin.”
      “I forgive you,” I said, hopping over to the bureau.
      “What are you doing now?”
      “I’m looking for that little tin of aspirin we got at Eastover.  I thought it might be in my pocketbook.”
      “Why didn’t you ask me to look?” he said irritably.
      “Because I wanted to give you something else to grouse about.”
      “I’ll be glad when that foot of yours is better!” he snapped, as if his insomnia was my foot’s fault.
      “Just because you had a bad day at the plant and lost your squash match, you don’t have to come home and yell at everybody.”
      “There was absolutely nothing wrong with my disposition until I found Timmy watching television after studying for exactly half an hour.”
      “Now be honest,” I said, giving up my search for the tin of aspirin and hopping back into bed.  “You know very well you were mad long before that, you were mad when you had to go down to the drug store and get his books.  Remember how you told him if he didn’t get into Moses Brown next year he’d have to go into the army?  You shouldn’t have said that—you know how kids his age are, he’s already told us he wants to go back, but if you tell him he has to, he won’t want to anymore.” 
     “I didn’t say that, I said if he didn’t get back into Thayer he’d have to go in the army.”
     “Well, whatever you said, you shouldn’t have said it.”
     If Ed had a rejoinder, he kept it to himself.  I was just dropping off to sleep when he said accusingly, “I even tried a couple of your tranquilizers at four o’clock, but pretty much as I’ve always figured, they had no effect at all.”
      I got his message, tore it into small bits, and replied coolly, “I don’t take those any more, I take something that’s supposed to reduce excess fluid in your system—come to think of it, that’s a pill that might do you some good!”
     “Didn’t take you long to come up with that!” the carouser conceded.
     I could see that neither of us was going to get any sleep until I went up to the third floor to get the aspirin.  As I hitched my way up the stairs I heard Ed heave a window-rattling sighs that said,  “Look at her making a martyr of herself.  She’s got to show me, she won’t be satisfied until she’s proved how wrong I am.”
     I could see him lying there, his head splitting, praying I wouldn’t find the aspirin.
    There was enough illumination from the hall so that I was able to reach into Vaughan’s room and locate the bottle without waking her up.  When I hobbled back with the pills, Ed choked out a manful thank-you.  Five minutes later he was blissfully sawing wood, but I never did get back to sleep.
    “Babbie, did someone come up to my room last night?” Vaughan asked.
     “Yes, I did,” I shouted, to avoid having to repeat myself.  “I borrowed some aspirin for Ed!”
     “I thought so,” she said sagely. “I noticed when I got up this morning that the bottle was in a different place.”
    “No wonder no one can find anything around here,” Ed said, getting up from the counter.  I knew he was debating whether a tattletale like me deserved the usual goodbye kiss.  “Why didn’t you put it back where you found it?”
   “Because I found it under Vaughan’s mattress," I said.  "Didn’t you know she likes to keep it there just to frustrate you and your 20-20  vision?”
   I joshed myself out of the goodbye kiss.  
February 14, 1962
      Vaughan was nauseated all day Monday, but still she tottered downstairs yesterday morning.  She fixed my breakfast, refusing to let me get hers.
      “The exercise is good for me,” she said.  A moment later, she looked at the radio page of the Herald and cried, “Oh boy, I’ve got a basketball game tonight!”
      It’s marvelous the way she can enthuse about her sports, no matter how sick she is.  She felt much better by evening, so Kathryn took her to the Shack for dinner.
      “Come on, Vaughan, you’re in a rut,” she said.  “The change will do you good.”
       So the ladies got themselves all gussied up.  Vaughan came into the living room and did a curtsy before she left.  With her bright red lipstick and a touch of rouge, she looked as pretty as a valentine.  A stranger would never believe she was 86 years old.
       I have learned why she hasn’t been eating the salt-free vegetables I bought at Rizotto’s.  They had been gathering dust for so long, I decided to feed them to Tokay and the kitten.
       “I’m glad the animals like these dietetic vegetables,” I said to Kathryn.  “They might as well have them since Vaughan doesn’t seem to care for them.”
       Kathryn laughed.  “She thinks `dietetic’ is the same as `diabetic.’  No matter how I often I explain to her that they’re two different things, she’s got her mind made up that those vegetables are for people with diabetes.  `I’m not a diabetic!’ she says.  She gets real indignant about it.”

       I have been looking over the notes I made last year for Vaughan's “autobiography” and asking her further questions when I see her during the day.  It’s fascinating to hear about those old times when life was at once so simple and so arduous.  At the rate I’m going—one chapter a year—I should finish transcribing my squiggles around 1982.  Maybe by that time I’ll have learned enough about writing to start over and write an honest-to-goodness biography.
      I’ll continue where we left off last winter:
      "My parents were very fortunate in having a fireplace downstairs,” Vaughan said.  “The upstairs was unheated—I can remember lying in bed with the bedclothes pulled up to my face, frozen stiff.”
       Mr. Bolster was a man both thrifty and ambitious.  He was successful in acquiring for his family many luxuries that other people didn’t have.
       “We had a huge wooden bathtub he built himself that was quite a novelty in town.  He lined it with tin so it wouldn’t leak and connected it with a pipe that ran outdoors through a hole in the wall.  Once a week, the big clothes boiler would be filled with water and heated on the wooden stove in the kitchen.  We kids would carry steaming pots of hot water up to the second floor and empty them into the tub.  Then we would take turns having our baths.”
       “What was your kitchen like?”
       “We had a big kitchen with a wood floor.  It was kept so clean by my mother that you could eat from it. There was also a large pantry, a dining room and living room with a hall between.  Upstairs were four bedrooms--in three of them we children slept, several to a bed.  There was always at least one cradle in Mother’s room.”
       Each bedroom had its chamber pots and commodes.  It was the duty of the girls to empty these, the boys having enough “of that” out in the barn with the horses and cattle.
       Vaughan said they were a happy family on the whole.  She herself was happy until Harry was born.  Ralph had been her idol.  She had expected him to continue to be the baby of the family.  When little Harry appeared on the scene, she was displeased.
       “I know I caused my mother a lot of anxiety because I was so mean to Harry—not that I was cruel to him, but I was cold and indifferent.”
       He was not a healthy baby.  He used to fret during the night, and it would fall to one of the girls, usually Vaughan, to sit on a little stool and rock the cradle to keep him quiet.  Mr. Bolster was always shielding Mrs. Bolster. 
        “He had to or she never would have stood up through the years. I would have to rock the baby for hours on end so my mother could sleep.  If I stopped for one instant, he’d let out a yell.  I can hear the sound that cradle used to make just as clear:  ping ping . . . ping ping.”
       Mrs. Bolster made all the girls’ dresses and the boys’ shirts.  The girls spent much of their spare time knitting stockings and mittens for the family.  
       "I was an expert knitter by the time I was ten. During the threshing season my father would come in at night with the hands of his mittens worn completely through. Mother and I would each start a new one, and often it was nearly daylight before we were through.”
       The Bolsters raised sheep, and at shearing time the wool was taken to a mill to be carded, returning in rolls that Mrs. Bolster would spin into yarn.  Then she would sit at her loom, the shutters going back and forth as she wove “homespun” from the yarn. 
       "She used to dye the yarn herself and was particularly partial to a mixture of red and black homespun.  With the approach of summer, she bought bits of cotton material from which she made underwear, trimmed with lace, for the girls.
      "There was a deep well in the yard.  When the cows were milked, the milk would be put in a ten-gallon can that had a wire attached to the handle, and it was lowered down into the cold water.  Mother made and sold her own butter.  The boys big enough to go into the field would get the churning done early in  the morning, before school.   Mother’s butter was known all over—how proud she used to be of her butter.”
       At harvest time it was necessary to take on hired hands.  Mrs. Bolster was kept busier than ever feeding them all. 
       "Breakfast consisted of pancakes, sausages or crisp fried pork, and lots of hot coffee from the ten-quart urn.  The children would grind the coffee beans the night before.  Mother would drop two or three eggs in the urn to settle the grounds, and the coffee would pour from the spout just as clear as amber.”
       While Mr. Bolster and the children and the hired hands were eating, Mrs. Bolster would pack lunches for the children to bring to school.  Everyone had to get up at 4:00 a.m., the young ones, too, or they got a strapping from their father. 
       “The boys got it more than the girls.  We girls helped our mother make bread and get breakfast ready."
       In the fall the men and boys dug the potato crop, racing with the weather to harvest it before the ground froze.  Mr. Bolster also hired help in the spring, and every child who could hold a knife was set to work cutting up potatoes, making sure there was an eye in each piece.    
     “Then we’d tramp, tramp, tramp up and down the rows, being sure to drop two pieces of potato on each hill.  We kids were never allowed to cover them, though, since the way they were covered meant a good deal as to the way they grew and prospered. . . .”

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