Annie was one of my neighborhood friends who lived on the street behind us. We often played jacks and hopscotch together. Actually, there were five of us girls who played together: Annie, Jeanie Lou, Novelene, Margie, and me.
Most of the time, we played jacks, hopscotch, or Red Rover Come Over when we had enough kids. We also played Simon Says. In the daytime, if it was too hot outside, we would play paper dolls or color in our coloring books.
We all liked the coloring books that had princesses in them. Their dresses could be so pretty if we did a good job of coloring and stayed in the lines. I liked the pretty, pastel colors. Then, I would use a darker color to go around the edges. I loved to color, and I was pretty good at it.
My sisters, Jeanie and Ola, taught me how to color when I was real little. The hard, fast rule was to always stay in the lines and do not scribble. Later on in life, I taught my great granddaughter Taylor how to color. She learned the rule very quickly, to stay in the lines. She always thought the color white did not work, but she stayed in the lines.
It was summer, and Annie, Jeanie Lou, Novelene, Margie, and I had been playing together all day. It was getting close to time for my mother to come home from work, so my brother Junior was still the boss.
“You kids are gonna have to go home now,” he said.
“Why do you have to say it so mean?” I asked.
“You need to remember who the boss is here, brat.”
He knew I hated it when he called me brat.
“Everyone needs to get on out the door.”
“I’m gonna tell Mother how mean you are to our friends.”
“Tell her whatever you want, brat.”
The girls picked up their coloring books and crayons and started for the door. Margie and I followed them out to say good-bye. We were standing on the front porch just talking.
“You think you can come over later to play?” Annie asked me.
“I’ll ask Mother when she gets home.”
“Okay, I guess I will see you later then.”
“Yeah, I can probably come over.”
Margie and I went back in the house. I was really mad at Junior for being so rude to our friends and for calling me a brat two times. I knew I could not let this pass. He would do it all the time if I did. He was sitting in the big rocker, and I attacked him from behind. I grabbed his hair and would not let go. He got loose from me and jumped out of the chair. When he was out of the chair, I ran and jumped on his back.
He tried to swing me off, but I held on. I was hitting him with my fists. He was hitting me, too, and it hurt like the dickens! He always hit me on the top of my arm and rubbed his knuckles real hard on my head. I finally broke loose from him.
“Why do you call me brat?” I asked.
“Because you are one.”
“I can’t stand you, Junior!”
“Well, I don’t like you either.”
“I’m gonna tell on you when Daddy gets home!”
“Go ahead, he won’t do anything.”
I didn’t say anything else. I knew he was right. Daddy wouldn’t do anything because Mother wouldn’t let him. Junior was the number one kid in her eyes. He always got his way. They never listened to me because I was the baby of the family. Sometimes they listened to Margie if she told on him, but he never got punished like we did. I got the most punishment of all of us. I guess some of it was my own fault, but I had to stand up for myself. I was kind of hardheaded I guess. I didn’t know what else to do when someone was mean to me. I went into attack mode. Just as I decided to shut up, the telephone rang.
“I’ll get it. It’s for me,” Junior said.
“It’s not always for you, dopey.”
He answered it and looked at me.
“It’s for you, brat.”
I hated him so bad at that moment I wanted to kill him – or at least hurt him real bad.
It was Annie. She asked me to eat supper at her house.
“Is it all right with your mother?” I asked.
“Yes, it is,” she said.
“I will ask when my mother gets home.”
I hung up the telephone, looked at my brother, and made an ugly face at him, just to let him know that I got telephone calls, too. I didn’t tell Junior what she wanted. I knew he would do anything he could to spoil it for me. Sometimes I wished that I could go live with my sister Jeanie. She had always taken care of me. I thought she was my mother when I was little because she was always the one there for me. She wanted me to live with her, but Mother wouldn’t have it.
When Mother got home, I asked her if I could go to Annie’s house for supper.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“Because I said so.”
“But her mother wants me to come.”
“Ruthie, I said no.”
“Mother, please let me go. I really want to.”
“Are you sure her mother said yes?”
“Yes, ma’am. You can call her if you want to.”
“I believe you.”
“Can I go then?”
“You can go, but you better act nice and help with the dishes.”
“I will. I promise.”
“Be home by seven. Before dark.”
“I will. I’ll be home before dark.”
I washed my face and hands, combed my hair, and got ready to go. I ran out the door yelling good-bye. I was at Annie’s house real quick. I knocked on the door, and Annie let me in. Supper was not ready yet, so we went to Annie’s room to play. Their house was old like ours, but ours was a lot cleaner. My mother kept our house spotless. Annie’s dirty house didn’t bother me though.
Annie had an older sister, Delores, and a brother who was my brother’s age. His name was Kenneth. She also had a little sister about five years old. Her name was Sarah. They were a nice family, and I liked all of them. Her daddy’s name was Frank, and her mother’s name was Betty.
It was not long, and her mother was calling us for supper. We ate in the kitchen. They had no dining room. Neither did we, so I was used to that. We had pinto beans and fried potatoes with corn bread and sliced tomatoes. It was a good dinner. I liked everything we had. We had water to drink.
They were poor, just like we were. I was happy, though, because Mother let me go.
No one talked while we were eating. It was not like our house. Mother had to tell me to stop talking and eat my dinner. Then I would sing, and she would tell me, “No singing at the table, Ruthie.”
She was always telling one of us to stop talking and eat. I nearly always spilled my milk before supper was over, and she would say, “Ruthie, you spill your milk every night. How do you do that?”
She would gripe the whole time she was cleaning it up.
“I don’t know,” I said.
After we finished supper, I told Annie I would help her with the dishes. Her mother went into the living room to smoke while Annie and I started cleaning the kitchen. It was just the two of us. We had to heat water to wash dishes at her house just as we had to at mine. They had only cold water just like us.
We had quite a few dishes to wash, so we hurried to get finished. Before we knew it, we had everything washed, dried, and sitting on the table. That is when it happened. I picked up a stack of about eight plates to put them in the cabinet. I made it to the cabinet all right, and then I don’t know what happened! The next thing I knew I had dropped every plate in the floor! And every plate broke! It was a noise so loud that I bet it could be heard all the way to China!
Everyone came running to the kitchen. I was so embarrassed. I could feel my face turning red. I just wanted melt into the floor.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I am so, so sorry.”
I had broken every plate they had. I felt so bad. I was crying hard. Then, Annie’s mother came over to me and knelt down in front of me. She hugged me and said, “You didn’t mean to. It was an accident. Don’t cry.”
“But I broke them all.”
“Don’t worry; it will be all right. I can get more plates.”
She told me I had better go home because it was getting dark outside. I ran as fast as I could all the way home. I ran in the back door and started telling Mother what happened. I was crying so hard she could hardly understand me. I never felt so bad in my life.
“I broke every single plate,” I told Mother. “I know they don’t have money for plates.”
“Okay. Stop crying now, and let’s figure this out.”
“But what can we do?”
“I think I have some plates in the top cabinet. How many did you break?’
“All of them. About eight or nine plates.”
“Let me look up here,” she said.
It was a miracle, I guess. She reached high into the cabinet and started pulling out plates. They didn’t all match, but neither did the ones I broke. Some of them matched though. They were nice plates, too. She counted out nine plates.
“Can we give those to them, Mother?”
“Well, you broke their plates, and we have to replace them. I never use these anyhow.”
“Can we take them over there now?”
“Yes. I think I better go with you.”
We walked down the path to Annie’s house, and I was feeling much better. When we got there, she knocked on the door, and Annie’s mother came to the door.
“Ruthie told me what happened, Betty.”
“She didn’t mean to, Ellen. It was just an accident.”
“Well, I have these extra plates I never use; you are welcome to them.”
“Well, I guess I better take them so we can eat breakfast.”
“She is sorry. She felt real bad.”
“I know she did.”
We went home then, and all the way, I was so thankful to my mother. She saved my life. I was so grateful to her. I changed my mind about moving to Jeanie’s house that night. My mother was right there with me in our little house. That was one of the best days that little Ruthie ever had.
Janice Sautter is a great great grandmother who spends her time writing, painting, drawing, and playing video games. She lives with her husband Jim and their two dogs, Daisy and Lilly. She writes under the name of J. R. Carter.