I just read a great article in The New Yorker: Spoiled Rotten, by Elizabeth Kolbert. “Why do kids rule the roost?” Oh my, that question would never even be thought of when I was a little girl. Not in my family, anyways. Kids were there to make things easier on the adults. Even Little Kids helped out as much as they could.
Big Kids had jobs: mowing lawn, washing dishes, setting table, dusting, sweeping, helping with the Little Kids. When a Little Kid lost something, which was just about every day, everybody jumped up and looked for it. Nobody wanted to see
Mom’s screaming banshee fit, which mostly only happened when somebody lost a shoe. and we had to get somewhere fast.
When baby Johnny had to take 20 minute baths in Bal-n-tar, every two hours, Deanna and Bonita and I all helped out. I liked that job way
better than mowing the lawn, or weeding the garden, which I was what I’d doing if I wasn’t giving Johnny a bath. Babies smell way better than grass and weeds.
Lots of times I made lunch for everyone. That was right up there with giving Johnny a bath as favorite jobs. I liked making peanut butter swirl sandwiches, especially if the bread was frozen, so we got to have toast. Oh, toasted PB&J. So deee-licious. Besides, was super-neat at making sandwiches, and I hated cleaning up the mess when Bonita and Vicie or Loren tried to make them.
Every Saturday we first went to catechism, then cleaned house, then baked cookies. Baking cookies was the best, ’cause I could read a book for exactly 10 minutes between batches. Two minutes to pull them off the cookie sheet and re-load, 12 minutes in the oven altogether —
for my favorite recipe that I knew by heart: Toll House Bonita liked to make peanut butter cookies. I liked those too. Nothing’s better than hot out of the oven peanut butter cookies and milk. Deanna made cherry winks. Who knows how long those bake? I never wanted to even smell those things. I hated cherry winks. .
Only Mom ruled the roost. Unless Dad was home, then she let him think he was in charge. I heard her tell Aunt Annie:
“A smart woman let’s the man think he’s in charge.”
Mom was the smartest woman in the whole wide world. Except when it came to dogs. Then Dad had the upper hand. We never went too long without a dog. Dad brought one home, put it on the porch, and waited for it to whine a little.
“What’s that noise,” Mom said.
“I don’t hear anything,”
“I hear whining.”
“Must be Frankie.” Dad held onto his jaw, ’cause a grin was about to get away from him. His eyes always told on him, anyways. I could see a grin through those eyes, even if his mouth frozen by the dentist.
“Dee-ean.” Mom put her hands on her hips. “Did you get a dog?”
“You told me not to.”
“Yes, I did. I told you in no uncertain terms.” Mom voice sounded exasperated. Nobody, but nobody could resists Dad’s blue eyes, twinking. Mom was already cracking.
Any of us kids in hearing distance log-piled onto the porch to find a lonely, shaky puppy, that was gonna be all ours if it could survive all that love. Always a mutt, a puppy given away or abandoned. Always a puppy who would grown into a big sturdy outdoor dog. Except for Bingo, who I told you about before. Always a dog that could listen to any kids troubles, with hair that could absorb tears.
“I told you not to ever bring a dog home again,” Mom said, trying hard to look all down and out about it.
“The kids just found it on the porch. What can I say?”
“Who’s going to feed this dog?”
Of course all us kids raised our hands and shouted ‘me’, ‘I will’. It was a done deal. The only thing left to decide was the dog’s name. By the time we decided that, feeding the dog was another job on the list, right along with cracking walnuts or hickory nuts for the chocolate chip cookies.
Mom still rules the roost. She has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who are happy to help with her list of things to do.
Come to think of it, maybe even with dogs, Mom ruled the roost, too. Dad’s been gone for 12 years now, and she still has a dog. The last dog he brought home died of old age years ago. Hey wait a minute, who’s fooling who? Oh that’s right, “A smart woman, always….”