Many memories come to mind when I revisit my childhood. One in particular came to visit today. It was in the springtime of 1953.
We were the Smiths and the Jones lived across the street…. honest to goodness truth. About 20 yards behind the Jones’ house were the railroad tracks, the view partially blocked by the grain elevators. We were at the end of Cleveland Street with only two houses closer to the tracks than we were. I wasn’t sure which side of the tracks we were on – the wrong side or the right. My 7-year old mind hadn’t yet acquired such knowledge.
Our house was a huge, white, two-story, which could have easily housed 4 families, but since the Smith family included 4 boys and 4 girls, we easily filled its quarters. It was said that Dad saved up $3,000 and paid cash for it.
In the afternoon of this particular cool spring afternoon, I was watching the sun stream across the pretty fabric on the old, Singer, treadle sewing machine, as mom diligently created a new dress for me. I watched the little dust flakes waltzing in the sunbeams, mom’s feet keeping rhythm with the foot pedal….up and down, up and down. I was in a half-daze when I heard a knock at the front door.
“Come in!” my 9-year-old sister called out. (You see, in those days, we didn’t lock our doors, neighbors and parishioners from dad’s small church often stopped by for a visit).
The front door opened into the hallway, which separated the rooms to the left and to the right. The huge wooden staircase leading to the boys’ bedrooms, stood in the middle. I caught a glimpse of this woman, and sat up straight. Her eyes wandered in all directions, and landed on me, then Mom. She didn’t wait to be invited. With a commanding presence she barged right into our living room, and plopped herself down on the couch. Mom stood from her labors to see the somewhat large and very tall woman intruding into our home.
My mind was at full attention, as my kind-hearted mom asked “Hello. How can we help you?”
Tightly clutching her flat but roomy-looking purse, she gently touched the zipper at the top, sliding it open, and then closing it, slowly.
“Well,” she blurted out. Her voice was as commanding as her presence. “I’ve never been in this town before. I just got here from Arkansas….just got off the train, and I’m looking for a place to spend the night.” She continued, “I’m down in my back, I have no money. Word on the train is, you’re good Christian people who will lend a hand to one in need.”
“Well, we really can’t offer a bed, ma’am. You see, we are going to church services tonight, uh…in another town.” That was true.
“That’s not a problem,” she bellered. “I can stay here while you’re gone.
“I’ll see if my husband has any suggestions. Cecil!” my mom called out. She wasn’t about to let this woman stay in our house – especially with us gone. Cecil was in the room within seconds. Had he picked up the distress in her voice?
“Yes,” he answered as he walked into the living room, a surprised look on his face to see our unknown visitor.
By the twinkle in mom’s eyes, you could see she was cooking up something and it wasn’t a pot of beans. She smiled as she explained, “This woman has just gotten off the train, and was needing a place to spend the night. I explained we wouldn’t be home tonight.” My mom paused, then continued. “I was thinking maybe we could call Mr. Harrison. He always has an extra room.”
With, great strength, this large woman leapt to her feet. “You ain’t callin’ no sheriff on me!” she exclaimed, and off she went. She found her way out the front door, as quickly as she came in, dashing back toward the railroad tracks.
For the next few weeks, our unknown visitor provided many nights of entertainment as our imaginations filled in the blanks. And even now, I remember it vividly, as I allow my mind to wander, ‘New in town?’ How did she know the sheriff’s name? ‘Down in her back?’ She certainly showed no evidence when she practically ran to get away. “What was in that purse that she so mysteriously and slowly unzipped, then re-zipped? Was it a knife…or maybe a small gun?” Who knows?