Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton
Chapter 8
In Which We Get
Another Brother
(1920)

40 Every day Papa walked to Dorty (George) Gibson's barber shop with his checker board rolled up in his back pocket. This checkerboard, made of narrow slats on a canvas back, was a gift from Grandma to him when he was a boy and is a marvel to me to this day for its smoothness and fine finish, considering the years of constant use. Dorty was the town barber and champion story teller. His shop was a social center and Papa was the town's undisputed checker champion. There was a satisfaction in being a champion's daughter.

One day just before sundown. Papa came home to supper. As he sat down to the table he took a pink celluloid bracelet from his pocket.

"Oh Papa," I cried, "where did you get it?"

"I found it on the sidewalk on my way home," he replied.

"Can I have it?" I asked.

"No, it belongs to the person who lost it."

"But we don't know who lost it," I reasoned covetously.

"But we must try and find out."

"If we don't find out, then can I have it?"

"Yes," he replied.

"Some little girl is sad tonight because she lost her bracelet," Mama said.

"I would be sad if it was mine and I lost it," I admitted.

The next morning Papa told the principal of the school about the bracelet. What neither Papa nor Mama knew was that I had taken the bracelet from the cupboard. I didn't own anything pink, and I wanted to wear it for just one day, so 41 I slid it above my elbow under the long sleeves of my brown dress. I kept touching it through my sleeve during the day, knowing how pretty it was, even though I couldn't see it. After school I put it back in the cupboard just in time, because Stella Campbell came to claim it.

Stella had everything pretty—pink dresses, ribbons and beads. She had all of the things I did not. She even had Sunday shoes. Not many girls in town owned two pair of shoes. But Stella deserved the bracelet, because she missed a lot of fun that the rest of us had. In the summertime when we played in the big ditch under the mulberry trees east of Mae Petty's house, Stella couldn't play in the mud with us.

That ditch was as important to us as the beach is to people who live by the ocean. The clean, white sand from the canal seemed to build up at this one spot, making the best ditch in town for mud houses and for making little roads with spool wagons and for all of those wonderful things. Stella used to stand on the ditch bank silently watching us. She looked like a boudoir doll with her pretty starched skirts ruffled above her lace petticoats, and her crisp white collars and cuffs, and her hair shining like silk. A speck of dirt would not have dared get on her. I felt like she would have liked to crawl in the soft sand with us. Naturally the pink bracelet was much prettier on her arm than stuffed up under my brown sleeve.

Easter morning Mama busied herself helping us get ready for Sunday School, and then she suddenly disappeared. Pretty soon Grandma came into the kitchen and said, "The stork just brought you a new baby brother."

"Grandma," I cried, "why weren't we outside to see the stork?"

Grandma bustled back into Mama's bedroom oblivious to my question.

"Oh dear," I lamented, "we'll never have a chance like this again."

Grandma was a midwife and she delivered babies to lots of mothers. She kept a black leather bag behind the marble-topped table in her parlor that she used to deliver them with. I had a hard time getting this straight in my mind. If Grandma delivered babies in her black bag, what business did the stork have delivering them too? Since she never answered me when I asked, I had to draw my own conclusions. Our third grade reader had a story called "Tom and the Water Babies." There were pictures of dozens of chubby, curly headed babies swimming and playing among the water lilies. The babies with hair must have come from there and Grandma had carried them in her bag. The bald headed ones like Mama had must have been delivered by the stork. I wished I had seen the stork carrying our brother in his beak.

They named the baby Clinton Floyd, and we loved him a lot. In no time at all he learned to laugh and his hair came in shiny and curly.

Mama subscribed for the "Hearth and Home," a magazine filled with love stories, recipes, old time songs and poems and crochet patterns. It cost 35¢ a year. For selling three subscriptions, I could earn a birthstone ring. Getting the subscriptions was no problem to me, but waiting for the ring to come was. I watched the mail every day. Finally the package arrived. In it was a little blue velvet box containing a gold ring that had a sparkling red ruby stone. My heart almost burst as I gazed into its depth. Proudly I wore it, putting it in its case each night. Then somehow, somewhere, I lost my treasure. Promptly I got out and sold three more subscriptions for the magazine, earning a new ring.

42 My success at getting a second ring impressed me with other luxuries that lay within my grasp. A girl brought a Lee's Manufacturing Catalog to school and at recess a cluster of us pored over the list of premiums. A pretty vanity case with a mirror in the lid was especially appealing. Five of us decided to earn us each one, so we divided up the town, taking orders for dishes, pots and pans.

We sold enough to earn our vanity cases, but we had a problem. The order had to be sent in the name of an adult. We really didn't want to discuss this with our parents for fear they would put a stop to our venture. Finally I volunteered Mama's name, and in our clumsy way, we sent the order off. This time I didn't hail the arrival of our order with joy because I wasn't sure how Mama would take it.

Well, I found out. When Ira Bradshaw came with his freight truck from Lund and unloaded a fifty-gallon barrel in our yard. Mama and Papa were flabbergasted.

"We haven't ordered anything," Mama said when presented with the freight bill.

Scared as I was, I spoke. "Mama, Iantha, Nona and I and some other kids took orders for some dishes. We thought you would like them to come to you."

"You what?" she asked in a tone I'd never heard before. "What did you say?" She was shaking me as she spoke.

"Load the barrel right back in your truck and return it," Papa demanded.

"Please," I begged. "Can't we keep it? There're pretty dishes in it that the people want."

"Who is going to pay the freight?" Papa demanded.

"The people will give us the money and we will pay it," I pleaded.

"But the bill has to be paid right now and we don't have the money." Papa reasoned.

Mama's lips set tight, angry veins stood out on Papa's forehead, and Brother Bradshaw looked embarrassed. "I do have to collect the freight," he said simply.

Silently Mama walked into the house. Since it was safer to stay close to her heels than to be alone with Papa, I followed. She took a little cream pitcher from the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard and dumped out some nickels, dimes and quarters. After counting them out, it took almost all of them.

"You'd better collect for these dishes right away, because this is the money for the light bill," she said.

I ran to tell the other kids the dishes were here. We gathered together our crude records of who had ordered what. Mama helped us take the dishes from the excelsior packing, sorting them into little piles. There was an awful mixup in our bookkeeping and Mama scolded all of us. Usually she was quiet about everything, but this time she was mad as a setting hen. It took her a few days to reconcile our orders and get us out to deliver 43 and collect.

After it was all over, there was a stack of eight dinner plates and one big vegetable bowl, in an allover pattern of gold lace and pink rosebuds. This was the grand prize for the orders we had taken. I thought Mama would divide them up with the five of us, but she didn't. She said they were hers, that she had paid for them a dozen times over, and I'd better not ever do a thing like that again.

Cloverine Salve, circa 2010
Cloverine Salve, circa 2010 on Amazon.com

After things calmed down, we enjoyed our vanity cases that were like a status symbol to us as we carried them to school. But I had been sufficiently warned not to get involved in any more group business deals. Selling seeds or Cloverine Salve to earn a little bottle of perfume or some talcum powder was the extent of my next business ventures.

On September 15, the first "aeroplane" flew over Hurricane. The roar of the four-winged craft brought people running into the streets. Excitedly I waved my hands and shouted, "Hello, hello." Grandma Dolly Humphries, whose house was just south of Grandma Isom's, was standing by my side.

"Hello, hello, hello," I called. Then I thought I heard a voice from on high. "Grandma Humphries, I heard him. He said hello!"

"Ello, eh?" she chuckled.

The plane landed on the Bench Lake Flat. A short time later Hortense Beatty, on horseback, galloped up to our gate. Breathlessly she said, "I touched it! I touched it. I raced on my horse to the Lake Flat, slid off and touched that aeroplane."

Our eyes were wide with admiration for Hortense.

Nora Barber was our fourth grade teacher, but etched in my memory is her sister Christie who played the piano for us to march in by, and who read "The Little Colonel" books to us. From her I acquired a deep love for the south and negro mammies and little pickaninnies. I loved Christie's dialect as she read. I loved the shine on the lenses of her glasses and the stray locks of hair that curled around her face. Books became dear to me, for through them I visited far away places and people. "The Little Dutch Twins" books created a fascination for Holland within me, and I longed for a pair of wooden shoes.

Halloween was a time for painting funny masks on pieces of old bed sheets with crayons, but we wore them only to Aunt Mary Stout's and Aunt Mary Campbell's. We didn't go out on the streets. Trick-or-treat had not yet been heard of. Halloween was all "trick", and boys played all of the tricks. Papa still sat back and laughed about the tricks he used to pull when he was a boy. Again we heard, between the raucous grating of tick-tacks on our door, about the time the boys at Virgin dismantled the bishop's wagon and reassembled it straddle of the ridge of the church house roof. And about the time they strung a wire from the church bell, through the apple orchard to Brother Beebee's mule's leg, which kept the bell rinqing all night.

The most interesting part of Halloween was the morning after. I could hardly wait to see whose front gate was hanging on the cross bar of a power pole, or how many outhouses were assembled on the school playground, or how 44 many wagons were piled in a heap on the streets. Outhouses were the choice targets of goblins. The one I loved most was the one parked on a wagon in the dead-end lane by Uncle Lew Campbell's place.

Usually people needed their property and retrieved it the next day, but this little house was unclaimed for days, so Iantha and I moved in. With lye soap, scrubbing brushes and buckets of water we scrubbed every inch of the interior until the lumber took on the yellow of fresh sawed pine. From old magazines and catalogs and a bucket of flour paste, we papered the walls, putting the prettiest pictures in the best places. Aunt Mary let us have some discarded lace curtains that we hung on the wall. Putting a board over the seat, we padded it with an old camp quilt. Two velvet cushions, borrowed without the asking, gave it the homey touch. On the floor was a hooked rug that had been put away for repairs. This little privy became a castle in our eyes. We could hardly wait until school was out each day to go and play. Then we came home one day to find the wagon, the house;and all of our finery gone. We couldn't grieve, because we knew eventually it would happen. We could only imagine how delighted the owner must be to see the transformation.

With the beginning of school a major change came in our family. Grandma Isom moved to St. George to spend the winter doing temple work, and our sister Annie went with her to attend Dixie High. Mildred promptly graduated from sharing my room and moved in with Kate, and Edith moved into my bedroom. The general shifting was like "fruit-basket tipped over." Life took on new dimensions. Mildred had always pampered me by seeing that I was safely in bed before she turned out the light. Things were mighty different now.

Edith was scared of the dark. I had to go to the room first and turn on the light, then Edith came cautiously and looked under the bed. "Nope. Nobody there," she'd say, then leap into bed, burrowing under the covers, and I turned out the light.

This nightly ritual gave me the prickly feeling that eventually we'd find a monster under the bed. In fact, he could suddenly appear after I had turned out the light. He could reach out from under the bed and grab my feet before I pulled them up under the quilts.

Once I decided to beat Edith at this game, so she'd have to turn out the light. I snuggled down in bed, and with a look of fright, she turned out the light and leaped through the air, landing in the middle of the bed with such a jolt that the board slats under the springs clattered to the floor. I had to get up and wave my arms through the dark searching for the drop cord to turn the light on so we could rebuild our bed.

As Christmas drew near. Mama began making a red calico dress, just my size. As she fitted it to me she said, "This dress is for Venona Stout. It's her Christmas present from Aunt Mary, so we must not let her know about it."

I loved the dress, and felt excited as I modeled it. I knew it was for me, and that this was Mama's way of surprising me. And then on Christmas morning, Venona burst into the house to show off her new red dress. I survived the shock, because Mama had been honest.

Dr. Davis rented Grandma Isom's house while she was in St. George. He gave us each a big orange for Christmas. Oh,my!