Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton
Chapter 3
Papa's Feminine World
(1915)

11 Papa was a blessed man, surrounded by women! He had always been surrounded by women. He was the only boy in Grandma's family, and his sisters, Ellen, Alice, Mary, Kate, Annie, Evadna and LaVern loved and fussed over him. Now he had Mama and six lovely daughters. (Mama and Papa never told us we were lovely. They simply didn't talk that way, but we knew they thought so anyway.) Our Aunts Ellen, Alice and Mary lived in Hurricane, and they traipsed to our house 12 real often to see that "George was eating right." They pampered him and he often reminded us with a grin, that he was "the cutest little boy along the river." Just imagine what Mama had to put up with! All that adulation, plus his special little side dishes at the dinner table and all.

Papa took all of the fussing for granted, as though it was his just dessert. He played his role with dignity, and set the rules that our household had to abide by. Although his feet could not run, his voice reached everywhere, giving instructions or laying down the law. He was the disciplinarian. Mama executed his orders.

We got more training at the dinner table than anywhere else. Papa, Grandma and Mama were a trio. Grandma always said, "Now mind your manners," and Papa would say, "Don't take anything on your plate you cannot eat." Mama put the food before us and silently ate.

Once when I couldn't finish the molasses on my plate, Papa said, "It looks like your eyes are bigger than your belly," and Grandma added, "When the pig gets full, the slop gets sour." My plate with its puddle of molasses was set on a pantry shelf, and the next meal it was set before me. Before I could have anything else, I had to clean it up. Eating off a dirty plate was punishment. It never happened again.

If I over-estimated and took too much food, I struggled until it was gone. But it wasn't fair to have to eat what someone else put on my plate, like pig rind. Once when Grandma dished up my beans, there was a wiggling, curled up piece of pig rind floating in my soup. The fat side curled out, half clear, jelly like and slimy. My stomach lurched at the sight of it.

"Now you eat it," Grandma demanded. "If you waste it, there'll come a day you'll wish you had it."

We were always threatened with starvation as a matter of discipline. I couldn't enjoy the beans because I knew I had to eat the rind. I'd rather be thrashed. With Grandma sitting next to me there was nothing to do but cut into the detestable morsel and try. The greasy piece stuck in my throat and I gagged. Tears welled in my eyes. Rubbing them away with my fist, I obediently gulped down all of that horrid rind. I resolved right then to never, never force a child to eat what he didn't take.

There was some conflict in Grandma's philosophy, however. Tough as she was about our cleaning our plates, she would still say, "It is better that food should waste than a belly should burst," when we licked up the last morsel left in a bowl as we cleared the table.

To have Papa and Grandma boss us was an accepted thing, but to have Kate think she could do it too, exasperated me. Just because she was five years older than I didn't give her any authority. Annie didn't boss me; neither did Mildred. They were peaceful. Mildred and I cut out paper dolls together and made little houses under the desk when Kate thought we should be doing something else. Kate was a lot like Papa and Grandma. One day when she hit me, I sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor and howled in fury.

"If I bawl loud enough," I thought, "Kate will get slapped!" I yelped a mighty blast, and Mama, walking past, swatted me across my wide open mouth. In shocked surprise I shut up instantly. Without saying a word, Mama had straightened me out.

In the springtime, when the apricot tree was in bloom, our new carpet was taken up. This was part of the spring-cleaning ritual for these were the days 13 before vacuum cleaners. We swept with a straw broom. On Saturdays, to make the carpet nice for Sunday, the broom was dipped in a bucket of water, then shaken. The damp straw picked up extra dirt and kept the dust down. And now, with sunshine spilling everywhere, the carpet was pulled out and hung over the clothes line to be beaten clean and stored for winter. The straw that had been shiny gold last fall was pulverized to powder, to be swept out and burned. The hush of winter's insulation was gone, and the bright, scrubbed room echoed as merrily as the sparrows in the currant bushes.

The smell of blossoms and the song of the birds put a wanderlust yearning within me. Frank Beatty's family lived kitty-corner across the street from us. Mildred Beatty was my playmate and she had relatives living in Leeds. One Saturday morning I wistfully watched her Pa hitch their team to the wagon.

"Alice, would you like to go to Leeds with us?" Sister Beatty asked.

"Oh yes," I gasped.

"Run and ask your mother," she said.

I ran across the street, but I was afraid Mama would say no. We never went anywhere but to Virgin, Kolob or Springdale. I wanted to go with Beattys more than anything, and couldn't bear the thought of being refused. Slipping into the house, I hid behind the front door with my face to the wall. "Mama," I whispered, "can I go to Leeds with Beattys?" "Yes you can go," I answered softly. Racing back I said, "Mama said I could go."

I should have enjoyed my first view of the other side of the earth, but I didn't. My conscience nagged me. It was dark before we got home. I took my scolding because I knew I deserved it, but the terrible thing was the nightmare I had after I went to bed. All night long the "bad man" chased me in his long legged underwear. He was big and flabby fat, pale and bald headed except for one gray wisp of hair that waved when he ran after me. The whole night through I barely managed to keep out of his reach.

I had tasted the wages of sin and was relieved to see daylight streaming in through our bedroom window and to hear the resounding ring of Papa kissing Mama.

Papa's and Mama's bedroom was down the hall from ours, and always when he awoke in the morning, his kiss reverberated through the upstairs rooms, sounding like the ring of Uncle Lew's hammer on the iron tires of his wagon wheel. Although I couldn't see, I knew exactly how Mama's face looked. Papa wore a big, bushy mustache, and his kiss was much the same as being kissed by a haystack. His lips never met Mama's because she always screwed her mouth away from him, giving him lots of cheek which he smacked with a merry sound.

He also puckered up after every meal and leaned toward her at the table, planting his bristling affection upon her cheek, and we watched with pleasure, because Mama's mouth was drawn half way across her face to the opposite ear.

My sisters and I came in pairs. Annie and Kate were a team and slept in the southwest bedroom, Mildred and I in the northwest bedroom and Edith and LaPriel in the northeast bedroom just off Mama's and Papa's big southeast bedroom. Mama and Papa had a feather tick on top of their shuck tick. When we piled into their bed we almost sunk out of sight. Our beds were crackly corn shucks.

Papa was surrounded by girls, including our playmates. Uncle Lew and Aunt Mary Campbell's family lived in the next house east of us, and Uncle Marion and Aunt Mary Stout's family lived in the next house west of us. Venona Stout and Iantha Campbell were a little older than I but they played with Mildred Beatty and me, and they were very important people in my life.

14 When strangers came to our house, Edith would crawl back against the wall under the lounge and stay until after they left. Once she stayed there almost all day.

Papa was a loving patriarch. He called the family together daily for family prayer. Our days began and ended with all of us on our knees together.