My name is Ruth, but as a child everyone called me Ruthie. I spent some of my summers with my granny in the small town of Healdton in southern Oklahoma with my older sister, Margie, and my cousin, Rosie. My Granny Gallion, a very strict German woman, let Margie, Rosie, and me water the garden, pick the fruit, feed the chickens, mow the grass, and whatever else she needed done. Did I say let? I wonder now why we did not paint the fence for her. She probably just forgot. All joking aside, she was about seventy-five years old then, so I am sure she needed help. I suspect that our parents arranged for us to stay there so that we could do just that.
Margie and I fought a lot. I could always beat her up. My mother said she was frail and sickly, but I knew better. She faked most of her illnesses. Still I followed her around wherever she went, and I cried if she did not let me go with her.
Rosie was from Texas. She talked different from us. She was pretty, and later on she became a cheerleader for her school. I liked her, but she and Margie were more alike. I was kind of a tom boy. I liked climbing trees, shooting BB guns, going swimming in the creek, and just looking around for something to get into. Of the three, I was the youngest and certainly the smartest. I know some would not agree with me, and my granny would be one of those. Still, the truth is the truth.
The star of this particular incident though was R.C. He had this bike that I really wanted to ride, but he refused to let me or anyone else ride it. So, me being the smartest of the three of us girls, I knew I had to come up with a plan that would get me a ride on that bike.
So this is what I figured out. R.C. lived on the other side of the railroad tracks from my Granny’s house. That doesn’t mean he lived on the wrong side of the tracks because Healdton was a small town where everyone was about equal as far as money was concerned. The plan was to get R.C. over to my granny’s house.
Margie and Rosie yelled across the tracks for him to come over to play. The plan I had required a burlap bag and a rope. We were all out on the dirt road near the tracks waiting for him and out of Granny’s sight, of course. When he got there, we all started talking and trying to decide what we would do.
So, I said, “Hey, R.C., let’s all take turns riding your bike.”
Margie and Rosie chimed in, “Yeah, R.C., let’s do that.”
He immediately said, “No. No one can ride my bike.”
That meant we had to go to Plan B, which included using the burlap bag and the rope. Without any warning, we all three tackled him and put the bag over his head. He was screaming bloody murder. Somehow we managed to stuff him in the bag and get the top tied with the rope. In my mind, I knew we should not be doing what we were doing, but I wanted to ride that bike really bad.
We had to get him away from the house so Granny could not hear him yelling like a stuck pig. We told him if he didn’t shut up we were going to put him on the railroad tracks. Now, wasn’t that brilliant? But, as I have said, I am the smart one.
Of course, we had no intention of doing that. We just put him in the ditch next to the tracks. He was still yelling as loud as he could for us to let him out and to leave his bike alone. I knew that was not going to happen. I firmly intended to ride that bike. So, I got on the bike with all that darned yelling going on, and I rode to the end of the road and back. Then, Margie and Rosie each had a turn.
Meanwhile, R.C. was still yelling to high heaven, “Let me out of this burlap bag and leave my bike alone!”
I told him, “You had better hush, or we’ll leave you on the tracks until the train comes by.” I don’t know for the life of me why I said that, but I did. He, of course, yelled even louder than before!
Suddenly, we really did hear the 10:00 a.m. train coming and blowing the whistle. I was thinking, “Boy, we are in real trouble. I mean real trouble.” We sat real close to the bag to make sure R.C. couldn’t go anywhere. With all that yelling, I was really scared that he might just jump on that track by accident. Then, we would all go to Sheriff Ratliff’s jail for killing R.C.
After the train went by, I breathed a sigh of relief. He was still yelling. We were done with the bike, so we just untied the rope and ran as fast as we could to the house. Somehow I just knew this was going to turn out badly for me. I knew my granny would be really mad if she found out, and to top that off, I was her least favorite of the three of us.
Now, my granny’s house was a small house. It only had a kitchen with a bed in one corner where my granny slept, a living room that was full of old lady things, like doilies, and a bedroom with one closet where all of her stuff for the next depression was stored.
She used to say, “There will damn sure be another depression. Never trust the politicians. We almost starved to death in the last depression.”
I thought, “I wonder what a depression is?” I knew it must be bad because my granny said it was, and she never told a lie in her life. I wanted to look it up in the dictionary, but school was the only place I knew that had a dictionary, and I did not want to go back to school yet.
My granny did not have electricity; she had gas lights. There was no running water in her house either. We had to go outside and draw water from the well in a bucket. She had a big well house where she put all of the food she canned from her big garden. She had lots and lots of jars with everything that could possibly grown in a garden. Her garden was also for the next depression.
She had no inside plumbing, so we had to go outside to the outhouse to go to the bathroom. I hated getting up in the middle of the night to go pee. It was a long walk out there, and I got scared in the dark. I guess my granny knew I was scared because she would get up and stand at the back door until I got back. I loved her for doing that. She would hold her flashlight on the path so I could see.
She also had an orchard with apple, pear, and peach trees. She had grape vines and strawberries in the summer. All this had to be watered, so we would take turns drawing water from the well. We drew bucket after bucket of ice cold well water. When we ate meals, my granny would always ask God to bring some rain for the garden and the fruit trees. I guess God must have heard her prayers because it seems like she always had plenty of food.
I was lying on the floor just daydreaming about this and that, when all of a sudden I heard someone yelling for my granny. “Mrs. Gallion!” she was yelling. “Mrs. Gallion, are you at home?”
I knew right away who it was. It was the mama of R.C. Boy, oh boy, I knew we were in big trouble. I wanted to hide under the bed, but I knew she would find me.
Outside I could see his mama waving her arms and telling Granny what we did. Then Granny yelled, “Ruthie! Margie! Rosie! You kids get out here this minute.” We looked at each other, and we knew the jig was up. We had to face the punishment. We eased out the back screen door like a fox caught in the hen house.
Granny asked, “Did you do all that to R. C.?”
I sure did want to say t to say no, but I knew I had to fess up. If anyone lied to Granny, that person could count on getting two whippings. We all nodded our heads.
She said, “Tell R.C. you are sorry for what you did.” We said it, but we didn’t mean it because we finally got to ride that precious bike of his. We also did not want two whippings.
Then Granny walked over to the tree where she cut the switches for whippings. Margie and Rosie began to cry and were telling Granny that it was all my idea. I was determined not to cry, so I told myself, “Don’t cry; don’t cry.” I did not deny the truth because it was my idea. I was beginning to wonder if I really was the smartest of the three of us.
She was coming at us with the switch in her hand. It was a long, thin switch, the kind that really stings your legs. “Don’t cry,” I said to myself again. “Don’t cry.” My granny was short and chubby, but she was moving pretty fast. She grabbed Margie and gave her a few licks. Then she got Rosie a couple of times. Then she turned to me. She got me by my arm and started to switch my legs.
She was saying, “Ruthie, I know this was all your idea! Where do you get these ideas? Shame on you!” All the while she was switching me, I was jumping up and down, still determined not to cry. She finally stopped because she was worn out from holding me up. I did not cry though. I was real close a few times, but I just bit my tongue. R. C. and his mama left, and Granny was still yelling at me about how damned mean I was.
“You’re a child of the devil!” she said.
I walked off to the orchard, climbed an apple tree, picked myself an apple, and took a big bite. I was wishing I could bite R.C. and my granny that hard right then. The bike ride was not that much fun either. I was sitting in that apple tree asking myself, “Why do you do these things?” I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t seem to stop myself when I got a really good idea going. Oh, well, it was just another typical day in the life of little Ruthie.
Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Flour Bluff, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer a glimpse into the past and present of the little community of Flour Bluff. She wrote for The Flour Bluff Messenger, wrote and edited for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper that existed from December 2017 to April 2020, served as copy editor on three books, and continues to tutor students of all ages in the lively art of writing.