Pa & Ma

Pa had set himself to the task of getting the little home ready for the summer. The warm mid-afternoon sun awakened memories of the days when the catfish were biting in the creek down by the old footlog nearly half a century ago. While with one hand he lighted his pipe, with the other he was absentmindedly fumbling with a loose fastener on a screen. He could see Ma puttering around in the backyard, and as his wandering mind snapped back to the present, he shouted "Ma, where in tarnation is the hammer? Here I bust myself tryin' to put up these dadgasted screens, and somebody always a sneakin' off with the tools I work with."

With a disgusted tone in her voice, Ma answered, "Pa, you know very well that I can't fix this here trellis unless I have a hammer. Why don't you get yourself a rock or somethin'? And you aint washed the windows yet, and I aint goin' to have no screens stuck up over' dirty windows. You get that window-cleaner down there in the southeast corner of the basement, on top o' that box under the old washin' machine that's behind that buildin' material back o' the stairs. Get a couple o' clean rags off that line, either back of the ironin'-board or the one on the west side, or maybe in that box under the table in the little room, and come up here and get the old high-chair, or a box or stool or somethin' and get at them windows. Now I want you to get 'em good in the corners. You always smear 'em up so that I 'most always wish that I'd done it myself. Last time you painted the woodwork you left paint in gobs all over 'em and you got paint all over my red peony bush. You'd just as well 've cut it down like you did my yellowbell bush out by the back fence."

Pa gulped and tried to grin. He shuffled down into the basement, couldn't find the necessary equipment, and in groping around in the dark under the stairs, banged his head on a two-by-six. The air was not merely blue, it crackled and sizzled. Swearing did not normally come easy for Pa, but in this instance, the valve was open and hot, searing, highly emphasized pronouncements poured out in a steady stream. Ma rushed to the head of the stairs and screamed, "Pa, what's all that goin' on about? You, a father of three right nice manly boys and a beautiful daughter. You ought to have some respect for them even if you aint got none for me nor for yourself. Did you break somethin'? "Nothin' much, just my danged old skull," Pa answered, "and I aint givin' a dern, I aint goin' to do no more diggin' around tryin' to find stuff that the Lord hisself couldn't find, and I'm servin' notice right now, come Hell or high water I aint cleanin' no windows today."

There was a gleam in Ma's eyes as she said, "Pa, you get yourself up here right this minute and quit goin' on like you didn't have no sense; and since you're so feeble and everything, you can just give the bath-room a cleanin'. Don't let me have to tell you again that I want them walls washed, and don't spend all your time a rubbin' on the lookin'-glass. And that medicine chest is a sight, full of old stuff o' yours I reckon. Clean it out and carry stuff we aint usin' up to the attic or down into the basement; but leave the few things that I have in there right where they are, and don't get no water on 'em".

With this slight reprieve, Pa secured the bucket, brush, old cloths, can of Dutch Cleanser, etc., proceeded to the bath-room, closed the door and locked it. Then he sat down on the edge of the tub and reflected. "He, a full grown man, father of a family and even a grandfather, and bein' pushed around like a boy that was too big to cry and too little to cuss." "Oh well, such is life," he thought; "You've got to take the bitter right along with the sweet, even though the sweetenin' comes in pretty short doses and not very derned often." Pa got up and looked the situation over, and there was born a feeling of grim determination; he'd do such an all fired, outstandin' job of bath-room renovatin' that Ma would have to hang her head in shame for ever havin' doubted him. He would start with that bulged out medicine chest and hopin' against hope that he wouldn't slash his hands on that mess of old, rusty razor blades. While with one hand he lighted his pipe, with the other he pulled open the door of the medicine chest, when, CRASH, SLAM, BANG, BOOM! It seemed like the entire house was falling down as articles came cascading down from the crowded shelves. Then, Pa felt the shivers creeping up and down his spine. His right hand was dripping red right off the tips of his fingers. The washbasin was the color of ripe strawberries, and there were great red splotches on the walls. Pa began to have a sort of sick, all gone feeling and for the very first time in his life, fainted dead away and fell with a dull thud against the locked bathroom door.

Ma heard the crash and the sound of the falling body and she dashed into the house, screaming at the top of her voice. She frantically called to Pa, but Pa didn't hear her. She threw her weight against the door without avail. She rushed out of the house, secured an old stepladder and thank Heaven, the bathroom window yielded to her touch. The gory sight that met her gaze almost caused her to swoon, but Pa was dying, maybe dead, and needed her. She clambered down into the room and tenderly took Pa's lifeless form into her arms, and with streaming tears and breaking heart crooned over him just as she had over her babies, long, long ago. But, she aroused with a start. Was Pa's heart air-conditioned that his blood should be so cool to the touch? Pa was still breathing, but could any human being shed all that blood and still live? And then, she saw the broken mercurochrome bottle lying on the floor. She straightway relaxed her hold on Pa, and Ma was not in the least concerned when his head struck with a resounding thump. Picking up the half-filled scrub-bucket, she dashed its contents full into Pa's face. Pa began to sputter and opened his eyes. Ma seized him by the hair and pulled him away from the door. She was deadly calm now. Pa groggily swayed to his feet and was impaled by the steel points that flashed from Ma's eyes. "Pa, you old, no 'count, loafin' hypocrit, you sail right out there and get them windows washed, and if I hear one word out o' you, I'll - I'll -----" and then, while both laughin' and cryin' her arms went around Pa's neck. And Pa, with one hand lighting his pipe and patting Ma's back with the other, said, "Its pretty late now Ma, don't you figger I'd better wait 'til mornin'"?

H. B. Austin.