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Carolyn Matherne

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When Ms Orrie Died
By Carolyn Matherne
Sunday, April 03, 2011

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Recent stories by Carolyn Matherne
· Fresh Milk 1968
· Prologue to Growing Up Burns
· Love Potion Number 9
· Momma's In The Well!
           >> View all 5

Heavy rain and rising water set in motion a series of events which resulted in untold guilt and dreadful nightmares for a small child.
This story happened only a few weeks after "Momma In The Well" and is the 2nd chapter of "Growing Up Burns", a collection of true stories from my childhood.


 The rain steadily fell for what seemed like a very long time to a five year old child who would rather be playing in the yard than stuck inside playing around a hospital bed sitting in the middle of Grannies front room. I stood with my nose pressed against the screen and enjoyed the breathed deeply the misty air from outside and wished momma would just let me go play on the gallery.
 Henry and Johnny were right there with their little noses pushed against the screen and we all got the giggles at the mesh pattern we imprinted on our noses.
 It kept us occupied and momma had long since given up on worrying that we were pushing the screen out of the frame and mosquitos were already getting inside to make sleeping at night almost intolerable. She had her hands full with another younger child and she was taking care of Grannie Fannie who was bedfast with a broken hip.
 Daddy moved us to Oklahoma after Grannie fell and he delegated the nursing care to momma, even though she had more than she could handle with six children, all under the age of ten.
 Margaret and Frank, the two older kids, were in school and that left me, Henry, Johnny, and Buck at home and underfoot while momma cooked, cleaned and took care of our grannie.
 I remember the rain just kept falling and water was running like little rivers in the street out front. The boys and I entertained ourselves and even at our ages, we were quite a lot of help with Buck who loved to be included in our games.
 The most favorite game we had was to see just how far we could roll up Grannies bed after we discovered how the cranks and levers worked.
Grannie was always blind, at least as long as I knew her, so when she was in the hospital bed propped up in the living room she never knew which one of us were cranking up her bed. It was always me or Henry. Johnny was only two so he had not mastered the crank handle- but he did like to push the bed across the room.
 Grannies bed had two crank handles. One would raise her legs and the other would either elevate or lower her head.
 Henry and I learned to work together and it always seemed to confuse grannie if we operated the head and foot cranks together, especially if Johnny was pushing the bed across the room at the same time.
 Poor Grannie knew momma’s plight so she generally put up with us tinkering with her bed, unless we cranked her up too much. Momma just made sure Grannie didn’t get thrown from the bed by keeping the rails up. We never did figure out how to work the rails, mainly because Grannie could reach us if we got that close and she would box our ears if we tried.
 I think what we did was actually good for our grannie. Henry and I would crank her up and then crank her back down, several times every day, and it had to help keep her from getting all stiff.
 Daddy found an old sheep herder’s cane on the farm where we lived and he told Grannie to use it to pop us on the head when we messed with her bed. Grannie did use it! She would rap us pretty good and she learned she had to really hang onto that cane to keep us from hiding it.
 It didn’t take us long before we learned to duck below the footboard and we could crank the bed all day long and all she did was beat daylights out of the metal bedframe.
 Johnny was a little slower to learn the lesson but when he did, he also learned to push harder and poor Grannie was really frazzled.
 Uncle Wallace and Aunt Othello came by and as soon as he saw how we were playing with Grannies hospital bed, he pulled his belt off and gave it to her, “Beat hell outta them, Possum!”
 That worked! It didn’t matter how low we ducked down, when she whipped that fifty-six inch belt over the bedframe, we got a good lashing!
 That’s why we were entertaining ourselves by making screen mesh indentions on our noses and giggling at the silliness.
 Later that day when the older kids got off the school bus, it was still raining and the water was coming right up into Grannies front yard. I didn’t remember ever seeing it that high and it sure would have been fun to play in!
 Momma put us all to bed after supper and it was still raining.
 At some time during the night daddy woke us all up hollering that water was coming inside the house. I sat up in bed and looked through the window. The street light was shining on what was now water everywhere and it was still raining.
I slid off the bed to stand knee deep in dark cold water. Daddy hollered us to stay put so I crawled back onto the bed with the other kids.
 Momma came into the room with Buck on her hip. She lifted Johnny to the other hip and told us sternly, to stay put! Don’t get off the bed and she promised to come right back. I could tell momma was scared and that scared me.
 I saw daddy pass by the window and he was carrying Grannie all wrapped in a quilt. Grannie was crying out from the pain of being moved and momma was following right behind with two little kids on her hips.
 Margaret, Frank, Henry and I stayed on the bed but by now the mattress was soggy wet and we soon found ourselves setting in puddles. We were all holding on to the metal bedframe but the water was still rising.
 It felt like a long time before we saw a light coming from the direction our parents had gone. Flashlights were aimed through the window and the four of us were bathed in the bright light.
 “Here they are!” someone hollered.
 All I could see was shiny wet yellow slickers and two strange men. Momma and daddy were nowhere to be seen and I was terrified!
 “Unlock the window, Frankie, open the window!”
 And he did. My big brother struggled across the soggy mattress and unlatched the window.
 The strange men were able to get the widow pushed open and called for us to come through to them.
 Margaret was always brave and she never hesitated. Water was already over the window sill when she went through and disappeared with one of the men.
 Frank grabbed Henry and pushed him screaming and kicking out to the other stranger.
 Once more we were told to stay put.
 “Hang on Frankie! You keep your little sister holding to the bed! Don’t let go! We’ll be right back.”
 We could hear Henry crying and I just knew they were hurting him.
 Soon it was quiet again and all we heard was the rain falling.
 “Hold on little Mouse. We’ll be okay.” Frank was doing his best to comfort me.
 I saw the light coming back and the strange men calling to us. “Hold on Frankie! Hold on! We’re coming!”
 And the lights came closer. I was more scared of the strange men than the cold dark water that was by now up to my chest.
 Frank was closest to the window but he wasn’t willing to go through until I was safe.
 As the strange men approached I had moved further from the window and was hanging on the far side of the wrought iron bedstead.
 “Come on Frankie.” They urged him to come through the open window.
 “No, Mousey goes next!”
 Frank was trying to pull me loose but I was not letting go.
 “Come on Frankie! We’ll get her! Come on!”
 But Frank wasn’t listening. All he could think of was getting me out first and I was too terrified to let go.
 “Mouse, come on!” He was scared but he wasn’t going to leave me.
 By now the water was almost to the bottom of the raised window and it was coming over my shoulders.
 One of the strange men reached through the window and dragged Frank under the dark water to surface on the outside.
 “We’ll get her son, don’t worry! We’ll get your sister!”
 I heard them taking him away and I was all alone, still hanging on to the bedstead and so cold.
 I was grabbed from behind and instantly turned loose, thinking daddy had finally come back.
 One of the strange men had come through the open front door and made his way through the water to find me.
 As a trained firefighter, he realized that I was frozen with fear and the only way to get me out was to come in and take me out.
 He held me as high as he could and carried me from Grannies house. I’ll always remember the feel of his rain slicker and how scared I was as we made our way through floating furniture.
 He carried me up the hill to where all my family had taken shelter with a neighbor.
 By the time I got to Orrie Fanning’s house, she had got out dry clothes for everyone and even had Grannie settled into a bed.
 Momma made me take off my wet night gown and I had to put on the only thing Ms Orrie could find, a pair of her drawers. I almost got a spanking when I refused to wear them!
 Momma didn’t take NO for an answer. Those old cotton drawers were so huge, momma fastened them on my shoulders with safety pins, like horrible overalls!
 Ms Orrie was the mother of my Aunt Othello and she was extremely fat- just as fat as Aunt Othello was skinny. And her awful cotton drawers were the ultimate horrible thing to happen that night. I never forgave Ms Orrie for that one act of kindness.
 Michael was born in May, less than a month after the flood. We stayed through the summer to care for Grannie but with seven kids, two in diapers, momma was worked beyond her limits.
 Ms Orrie offered to watch those of us old enough to play outside. She had a hard time getting off her porch but she sure could holler if she needed to! Her house was up a hill, her yard joined ours and we were under strict orders to stay between the houses so Ms Orrie could see us at all times.
 That old woman did everything she could think of to make friends with me. She tried to teach me to crotchet and I refused to learn
 She made special cookies and I would not taste them.
 She planted flowers and wanted me to plant some too. I pulled hers up and planted them upside down, several times, until daddy spanked me and I had to apologize to her.
 Ms Orrie tried to entice my friendship with donuts but I still held a terrible grudge over those awful drawers.
 Uncle Wallace and Aunt Othello came to visit Grannie and Ms Orrie several times that summer and I always loved to see my cousins, George and Fluffo. George was older than me, younger than Frank and the three of us had so much fun.
 When George and Fluffo came to visit, Aunt Othello made all of us go up the hill to Ms Orrie’s house so they could visit with their grandmother too.
 It was a really hot August day and Ms Orrie was sitting in a lawn chair on her front porch, crotcheting while all of us kids were playing in the yard.
 George and I found a Dixie cup and were taking turns filling it up to water the flower beds. It didn’t take long before we were throwing water on each other and Ms Orrie was fussing at us to turn the water faucet off!
 We didn’t listen to her any better than we listened to Grannie and she was too fat to chase us.
 I don’t remember what made us do it but George and I turned that Dixie cup upside down under the faucet and sprayed Ms Orrie until she was soaked and hollering for Mr Fanning to whip our butts!
 We didn’t get a whipping because Mr Fanning was old and he didn’t run too fast but he did turn off the water and he dared us to go near it again.
 We would have but he tied Ms Orries hateful little dog to the water pipe and we knew he would bite if we even came close.
   It was really hot that day but Ms Orrie never had a chance to get dry before she just fell forward against the porch railing. Mr Fanning ran over and pulled her back up straight and her head fell back, her mouth was open and I saw blood on the back of her tongue.
 George went running to get his mother and I stood, frozen in place, even when the ambulance came, driving across the yard with screaming sirens and flashing lights.
 I watched four men lift the lawn chair to get her off the porch and down the steps and onto the stretcher. I was still standing in the same spot when they closed the door and drove away.
 I was still standing in the same spot when daddy picked me up and carried me to Grannies house.
 I never talked to anyone about what happened but for a very long time I had to sleep with a light on.
 To this day I feel a peculiar dread when I hear sirens.
 Years later I asked George if he remembered when we had killed his grandmother with cold water.
 He said he had told his dad what we had done and Uncle Wallace assured him that what we did was NOT what had caused his grandmother to die.
 There was no way I would have told daddy that I had any part in what happened that day and momma was too busy to listen.

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Reviewed by June Williams 4/3/2011
Oh poor baby!! sniff this is bringing back a lot of childhood memories of my own childhood. I have so enjoyed your stories..Can't wait to get started on your book!!

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