One family of renters stayed in the Little House for years. Mrs. D got to be a pretty good friend of Mom’s, anyway they had a cup of coffee together almost every day. Mrs. D drove a Corvair, she had three kids, Marian, Bonnie-Jo, and Wade. Mr. D went to work everyday in the Shop, just like most other dads did, when I was a little girl.
I’m sure Mrs. D had a first name; I could never use an adult’s first names, unless of course, it was an aunt or an uncle. That was disrespectful. I liked Mrs. D a lot, ’cause she was way different from my mom. For one thing, she was round as a pumpkin and she had what she called ‘dirty dishwater blond hair; Mom was never round unless she was expecting and her hair was brown as a black walnut. I never saw anyone so round as Mrs. D in my entire life. And she wore pants; my Mom wore house-dresses almost all the time. Mrs. D tucked Kleenex in strange places, like in her sleeves and between her thighs. Sometimes I wanted to ask her, ‘how come you don’t have pockets in your clothes, so you have some place to keep your Kleenex, especially that one between your thighs?’ That Kleenex down there really got me thinking: Why was it there? Did she put it there on purpose, or did she just lose it in that great big lap of hers? I decided she forgot that she put it on her lap, and it just got wedged in there when she stood up, then she couldn’t see it anymore, so out of sight, out of mind. Polite people would never say, ‘Hey lady, you got a Kleenex stuck between your legs,” and everybody at my house had good manners. On the other hand, she could have put it there on purpose, ’cause I supposed that was just as good as tucked up her sleeve, and it never, ever popped out of there by accident.
Mrs. D really liked Mom a lot; and I liked Mrs D, ’cause she was so darned interesting, and mostly she was happy. Sometimes I thought Mrs. D tried to be just like my mom. That was impossible. There was nobody like Mom. She smelled wonderful, like vanilla and baby powder and clothes-fresh-off-the-line, all mixed together into one happy smell. Mrs. D smelled sour and sweaty with Glade sprayed on top. Mom told me never-ever to say anything about the way Mrs. D smelled; it was off-limits to talk about how people smelled. I already pretty much learned that lesson after telling Dad his feet smelled like blue-cheese. People can get really hurt feelings about how they smell, sometimes even when they smell good, like when my friend Betty said she could always tell when Mr. Maize came in the room, ’cause his after-shave blew in before him. Betty got her lip-flipped for that one. Mom never did that lip-flipping thing; Betty said it hurt really bad. Anyways, Mom said Mrs. D felt embarrassed about how she smelled and tried everything to stop it, including Five-Day pads, which was a prescription that stopped a person from even sweating, which Mom said was why she smelled bad, but nothing worked. I’ll say.
Mrs. D yelled and hit her kids with a switch; and if her kids sassed back, she slapped their faces. Mom hardly ever yelled, except when she had one of her screaming banshee fits cause somebody lost their shoe or something like that. She hardly ever spanked either, although sometimes I thought maybe she bought us Paddle Ball games just for herself, ’cause as soon as the ball came off, which was after one day tops, Mom took control of the paddle. Mom never slapped faces, just butts, face-slapping was disrespectful and insulting. Besides, nobody sassed my Mom, not even Marian and Bonnie-Jo. Even Wade, who couldn’t hear or talk, obeyed my Mom, ’cause somehow he knew she meant business. It’s true, I always wanted to know why and Bonita said I asked way too many questions, and Mom said I was bull-headed and had to get the last word in, that’s different from sassing. I knew better than to sass.
Mrs. D drove a brand new Corvair. Dad picked up an old jalopy truck for around the farm and sometimes Mom used it get me around to 4-H and pick up sand for the sandbox and other super short trips where it was okay to have not-so-good brakes, a bad muffler and a lot of stall-outs. When we went into town, I got to ride in the truck bed, so I heard, clear as day, those loud-mouth guys yelled out, “Get a horse,” which made us all wave and laugh ’til we were ready to split a gut, ’cause those guys didn’t even have a car, they were just walking along like know-it-alls.
Mom sometimes let me ride along with Mrs. D, so I could help her with Marian, Bonnie-Jo, and Wade. Those kids were my very first babysitting job when I was 10. I got 50¢ and hour. Man-o-man was I rich; of course, I didn’t get paid just for riding along to town. Mrs. D made crazy turns: when she turned left, she got way over on the right side of the road, swung out right, then back left, like a boomerang. Uncle Jim said boys call that an Advantage Turn. He said a boy likes to wax the front seat up good and slick and make an Advantage Turn; that way a cutie-pie girl sitting way over hugging the door would come sliding right over next to the boy. Mrs. D didn’t need any help with wax; everybody went sliding all over the joint when she made her big dog-legged turns. Once Wade flew right out the back door; and Mrs. D never noticed until she got half a mile away. I’m telling you, people, even kids who can’t hear or talk, can say all sorts of things without saying one single word. Come to think of it, after that’s when Mrs. D started asking me to ride along.
Mrs. D was from Canada, so she called the davenport a chesterfield. Her chesterfield had a secret hiding place under the cushions where she hid Christmas presents and other stuff she didn’t want her kids to know about. She was pretty smart about finding places to hide things, which was a good thing, ’cause that Little House was so tiny, everything had to be right in its place or the place was a mess. My house was pretty much never neat; still Mom made sure all the underneath stuff was Spin-N-Span clean from top to bottom. My house never smelled like anything but pine and laundry detergent, except when Mom cooked Liver. I could smell that from anywhere on the farm, and it just made me want to barf. Why anyone called something that slimy and ugly smelling stuff a treat was way beyond me. Dad loved it, so Mom cooked it, and of course everybody but me said they just loved it.
There’s all sorts of interesting people in life. There’s always something to learn and love about them. Sometimes I have to get past a lot of unfamiliar ground to get there, but that’s okay. Because even when it seems like life is giving me a big dog-legged turn, I know there’s always somebody nearby willing to pick me up and set me straight.