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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(3) NO ONE HAD PREPARED ME WHEN I GOT MY PERIOD.

      "My father was known as one of the wealthier farmers, but he worked hard for his prosperity.  Sometimes he couldn’t get enough men to help him when potato-digging time came.  If there was a cold night, the potatoes left in the ground would freeze, and he’d have to take a loss. Every year was a struggle.” 
      I asked Vaughan if there were any incidents in her childhood that stood out in her mind.
      “Well, there was one that happened that always seemed cruel to me.  One afternoon when I was about fourteen, instead of going home right after school I went home with a girlfriend, Idella Knight.  Her cousin John Frazier lived at her house, and I had a crush on him.  I stayed a while and was late getting home, but in time for dinner.  My mother met me at the door with a strap and began whipping me.  I backed up and fell through an open trap door in the kitchen that led down to the cellar.”
      Vaughan said she could have been seriously hurt, but what bothered her more than any physical pain was the humiliation she suffered.  She had been disobedient, she knew, but she felt that a punishment that severe was unjustified.
      “I didn’t dare look at John after that, and I never again went to Idella’s without asking.”
      Idella was her seatmate in school.  “One day I bit her toe.  I don’t remember what she’d done to me, but I got down under the seat, and I sure gave it a good bite.”
      For this, she was given a strapping by the teacher, Mr. Sawyer
      "In those days children had to go barefoot as soon as the frost was out of the ground.  For Sunday School we had good shoes which we would carry under our arms, along with our socks, until we were within sight of church.  Then we would sit down and put them on.  As soon as the church service was over and we were outside, we would sit down again and remove our shoes and socks.
      "Mr. Sawyer was eventually expelled for brutality to the pupils in his grade school.  “Once my brother John did something to rile him.  He had him down on the floor, whacking him, and I got down too and beat his bald head and slammed him with one of my books.  Years after, John used to laugh about the way I rushed to his defense.”
      Vaughan recalled that Mr. Sawyer’s wife, Jenny, had a mustache that she used to shave.  “Her lip was all white when she shaved, like a man’s.”
      Clara, Vaughan’s youngest sister, and Marie, the oldest, had beautiful curls.  One of Vaughan’s regular duties was to comb Clara’s hair every morning, brushing the shoulder length ringlets over her finger.  Vaughan had straight black hair that she wore all during her childhood in two long braids tied with ribbons.
      When she was eight or nine years old, she nearly drowned.
      “My brothers were going skating one evening, and I coaxed my mother to let me go along.  There was an air hole in the ice, and the boys began competing to see who could go nearest and not fall in.  I always had the notion that I could do whatever they did.  I didn’t do these things to show off but to keep up with them.  So I, too, began skating nearer and nearer the air hole.  Suddenly the ice gave way and I dropped in.  The water was freezing cold, and the current pulled me under the ice.  My brothers ran for a fence rail and pushed it toward the opening, but the ice kept breaking.  They finally managed to push it under the ice, and I caught hold of it.  They shouted for me to hold on, and when they pulled me out they took off their coats, wrapped me up, and put me on the sled.”
      It was a mile from the pond to the Bolster home.  "My mother stripped me and put me in our big wooden tub filled with hot water.  She added practically the entire contents of a package of dry mustard to ward off the cold."
      “Was your mother angry?”
      “No, she was too frightened to be mad.  She was so happy I was alive that no one was punished.  I never liked the water after that day.  I never skated again, nor did I learn to swim.”
      “What did you do for amusement in the summer time?  Did you go on picnics and hayrides and that sort of thing?”
      “Yes, we did occasionally.  We especially looked forward to the Fourth of July picnic.  You know why?  Because we got lemonade.  My mother would make a great big crock of it with pieces of lemon floating in it.  To us, this was a wonderful treat.”
      The biggest event of the year was the County Fair, which took place in Presque Isle, eight miles from Easton.  Mr. Bolster would make preparations for days ahead of time.  The hayrack would be filled with hay and the whole family would pile in.
      “My mother almost always had a babe in arms.  We would all live in the wagon for the three days that the fair lasted.  Mother had boxes and boxes of food to keep us going.
      "My father had handsome horses and nice cattle. In those days a good-looking horse was admired and envied the way a Cadillac is today.  His horses invariably won a blue ribbon and a cash  prize.  Mother liked to enter her best animals, too.  One year she won first prize for a pig.  And I can’t remember a time when she didn’t get prizes for her canned goods and baked food and fresh garden vegetables.”
      There was an amusement park at the fair, but in Mrs. Bolster’s opinion, many of the contraptions were unsafe.  “We kids were lucky to get one ride on the merry-go-round.  When we were told we couldn’t go on the other amusements we didn’t set up a howl, we just accepted it.
      "My mother had a horse named Half-Hip Sally.  She was injured when she was a tiny colt, and consequently one of her hips would buckle when she trotted.  When my two brothers and I were in high school, the boys used to drive Half-Hip Sally to school.
      “I often wonder what kept us from getting our necks broken, they would go so fast.  In winter the snow was deep and the roads were bad, but my brothers didn’t like other buggies to get ahead of them and they would try to pass the other fellows driving to school.
      "One day the buggy tipped over, we all fell out, and Half-Hip Sally trotted along home without us.  Poor Mother.  How frightened she was until we showed up.“
      Maine winters were bitterly cold.  In addition to mittens, caps, and heavy wool socks, Vaughan used to knit a piece of wool that covered her nose and tied behind her ears.
      “Christmas we always had a tree cut down by my father.  Through the year we would save up pretty bits of wrapping paper, every little bright thing we could find, and we would make paper chains.  Evening after evening we popped corn and strung it with cranberries.  On Christmas Eve we hung our stockings in front of the big fireplace.  I remember so well the time Cliff thought he’d fool Santa, and he hung up two different socks.  The rest of us were worried that Santa wouldn’t know, but the next morning when we scrambled out of bed, there was Cliff’s extra sock lying on the floor empty.”
      “What sort of gifts did you get?”
      “Only what was in our stockings—an apple and an orange in the toe, a stick of striped candy, a gift such as a doll for the girls and a knife for the boys, and something practical like socks or mittens.  That was the extent of the gift-giving.”
      Vaughan had known how to cook for as long as she could remember.
      “Mother was one of the best.  I used to watch her and learn from her.  I was making biscuits when I was so small I had to stand on a chair to mix the dough.  We had a patch of buckwheat for pancakes.  My father used to take the buckwheat to the mill and the miller would grind it into flour.  Every morning the females of the house would be up at dawn, making stacks of pancakes for the hired help and the rest of the family.”
      Vaughan often thought in later years of how she had taken in stride whatever was expected of her.  Her sisters Gertrude and Clara were quite a bit younger than she, and by the time they were old enough to help with some of the heavier chores, there were modern conveniences like potato-digging and potato-planting machines. 
      "As for Marie, my older sister, I don’t know why it was, but she never lifted a finger on the farm.  She was inclined to be a spitfire, and her attitude was, `Either let me do as I please, or I’m leaving.’  I was in the middle, and I always did what I was told without question—like rocking little Harry.  Ping, ping, that cradle would go, I can almost hear it.
       “Of course we used to have our good times, too.  We never had real parties like children do now, but we’d have parties among ourselves.  We had an organ, which not many people in town had.  Father bought it new and planned to have Marie take lessons, but she didn’t want to practice.  When I was old enough, around eight, I started taking lessons.  There wasn''t a music teacher who could come to our house, so I used to walk two miles after school to the teacher’s home—May Pitcher, her name was.  When I got so I could play well enough, the whole family used to gather around the organ and we’d sing.  In my early teens I began playing the old church organ for Sunday school.  Just the old hymns, you know.  For three years I never missed a Sunday.
      "Clara, my youngest sister, taught herself to play the organ when she was about five.  Since she wasn’t big enough to reach the pedals, someone would pedal for her.
      “She could play anything she heard, and she had a sweet little voice.  She was the one my parents used to drag out to perform when we had company.  I was both jealous and proud—proud because Clara was so smart and could sing so prettily, and jealous because I had no voice.  In everything I did I always tried to do my best and wanted my best to be better.  I was very competitive—either I picked as many potatoes as my brothers or I wouldn’t want to pick at all.”
      In Clara’s case, Vaughan said, she comforted herself with the thought that  she could play the organ for church and Sunday school and her sister couldn’t.
      “I was really quite proud of Clara, she was such a pretty little thing with her blond curly hair.  I used to love to comb her curls.  My, but I’d love to get hold of Mother’s big photo album  I don’t know who has it now—maybe Gertrude.  My mother lived with Gertrude after my father died.”
      Vaughan recalled again how jealous she was when little Harry was born.  “I was so mean to him, I wouldn’t even look at him for three days.  I went out to the outhouse and cried and cried.”
      “Why were you so upset?  Didn’t you know your mother was expecting?”
      “No!” Vaughan cried resentfully, her grammar lapsing and her voice registering the same sense of injury she must have felt over 70 years ago.  “I didn’t know where the heck the thing come from!”
      She was 13 or 14 when Harry was born, and her indignation stemmed from the fact that little Ralph would no longer be the baby of the family.  She had taken care of him since he was an infant, and now it appeared that her favorite had been relegated to second place by this upstart.
      Still looking affronted, Vaughan continued, “I just thought Mother was getting fat—then all of a sudden, he shows up!  If the older children knew, they never mentioned it to me.  You weren’t supposed to talk about things like that.  I was 13 or 14 when I got my period, and no one had prepared me in any way or given me a word of explanation.  We used to wear `drawers’—with a lock and key on ‘em!” she added with a chuckle.  “I remember noticing a stain before I went to school and I was so scared I didn’t know what to do.  I went down to the brook—it was winter and the water was frozen—and broke a hole in the ice.  I took off my drawers, washed them, and put them on again wet.  It’s as plain to me as if it were just happening.
      “A girl named Bertha Turner was boarding with us.  She lived way out in the country and used to come during the school months.  She was a little older than I, maybe a year or so, and I don’t remember how I got around to telling her what had happened, but Bertha told me not to be afraid.  I didn’t have any idea how to take care of myself.  By that time my older sister Marie had left home, and of course the subject never came up with my mother, that sort of thing was very hush-hush—you hardly dared say, `I want to go to the toilet.’
      “Babbie, I’m going to tell you something that is the absolute truth, although it seems as if it shouldn’t happen to a dog, as they say.  When I got married, I thought I knew what was what.  I thought when a husband and wife had intercourse they had a baby and that was it.  Fred had to explain things to me.  He was very understanding, but I still could hardly believe it, it was such a shock.”
      Vaughan's stories about her mother were chastening.  I complain about twelve or fifteen people milling around the house for a few weeks during the summer, but at least I don’t have to get up at 4:00 and make pancakes for them.  Or spin wool, weave homespun, sew, knit, darn, scrub, put up preserves, raise prize pigs, and have a new baby every two years.  When would I play tennis?      

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