Grannie never recovered completely from having her hip broken and even though the doctors cut a huge slice down the side of her hipbone and used screws and pins to repair the bone, Grannie never walked without a crutch and she was never left to live alone. In the beginning we lived with Grannie and Uncle Wallace would bring his family to stay for a while allowing daddy to take us back to the farm. I never thought of it as a disruption and never resented the time we spent taking care of her. Grannie was actually quite easy to be around and we all loved her. Even momma was uncommonly fond of her mother in law and never complained about the additional burden of caring for a blind cripple, she just took it all in stride.
I don’t remember where Sarah was born, just that she was and it ended my reign as the baby girl. Momma had given birth to four boys after me so when another baby girl came along, well- that was something special. After four knuckle headed boys, a baby girl was so sweet and such a pretty baby! She was not nearly as robust as the boys, in fact Sarah seemed so frail compared to the rest of us. Momma always said I was her puny one but I never remembered having a puny day in my life!
Sarah was not even a year old when a good dose of Chicken Pox went through and poor Henry not only got Chicken Pox, he got Whooping Cough as well. Momma had about all she could handle and Grannie did everything she could to ease the burden, spending hours rocking Sarah in a room away from where six of the other seven kids had Chicken Pox. I was the only one who didn’t break out. Grannie said I didn’t get it because I was hiding behind the door. I probably was.
Momma no sooner got everyone past the Pox and the Whooping Cough when Sarah became fussy and feverish. She and Grannie were really worried because Sarah was just too tiny and too frail to go through all that Henry had been through.
It turned out not to be Chicken Pox or Whooping Cough but a very serious respiratory infection and within days it became full blown pneumonia. The doctor sent momma and daddy to the Catholic hospital in Sherman Texas where they were better equipped to handle tiny babies.
This was the first and only time Grannie Burns was left alone since her accident and the only time she was ever left with seven children ranging in age from two to twelve. That had to be a frightening experience for a blind and crippled old woman but thankfully Aunt Othello came as quickly as she could, adding another four kids, ages two, four, seven and nine to the mix.
Momma was crying when she and daddy came home to change clothes. I heard her telling Grannie and Aunt Othello that Sarah was unconscious and a priest had given her last rites. I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it was bad because all the grownups were crying and that made all of us kids cry. I felt so sad because I thought our baby sister was going to die.
Sarah was a little fighter I guess because she came home again and was more precious than ever.
It was after Henry had Whooping Cough and Sarah had pneumonia that momma seemed to change, to be more fearful. There was a change in daddy too. He was looking for answers I guess. Sometimes there are no answers for what happens. Sometimes it just does. Daddy began blaming momma for letting us get sick. The more daddy complained and blamed momma, the more she kept to herself.
It wasn’t long after Sarah came home from the hospital and we were back at the farm when I overheard a particularly vicious argument. Daddy was accusing momma of wanting to kill her children. Momma was crying and trying to tell him that wasn’t true .
“But that’s all them damned pills are good for!” he kept yelling at momma.
As a rule I never eavesdropped on grownup conversations but the terrible things daddy was saying scared me, especially after how close we came to losing Sarah.
I heard just enough to know momma had some pills from the doctor that could kill babies! And daddy was by now screaming at her that she and the damned doctor were planning to murder his babies.
This was one of the most shocking accusations I had ever heard, but just the beginning of many more to follow as daddy’s mental condition spiraled into a deep dark place.
It took several days of snooping and hanging close to momma before I discovered the poison pills she was hiding on the very top of the kitchen cabinets. The first chance I had to climb up in the baby’s high chair I managed to reach over the high ledge and take the round cosmetic looking case from where I had seen momma slip it out of daddy’s sight.
On shaky legs I dropped the round packet in my pocket and quickly pushed the high chair back in place before running to the barn. I scrambled up in the hay loft to examine the pills that were supposed to kill babies.
I had never seen pills like these, all sealed in individual bubbles with almost half of them already gone!
All I could think of was how sick Sarah had been, how sick Henry had been.
Never once did I ever think momma had anything to do with them being so sick, but it was like the pills took on an evil all by themselves. Daddy said so! And he seemed so sure!
All I could think of was how sick Sarah had been and how sad momma was. I did the only thing a barely ten year old girl could think to do. I dropped the packet between the stack of hay between the wall joists of the barn and never said anything to anyone, until now.
Rebecca was born in September before I turned eleven in December.