Hey, don't let the photo fool you.
from this chicken pen in our back
(Fourth Grade in the 50s)
Try covering your face with a pillow while the West Texas winds stir furiously through the dusty lot and right through the thin window panes in a barely-room-to-move trailer when you are used to green grass and quiet stories in Texarkana. Odessa was certainly different and I never found my speech strong enough to call it home. I was just a kid during the days of the oil boom. Daddy was a roughneck and sometimes Mother tugged Paul, baby Gary, and me with her to the jobsite and we’d gaze at Daddy high up on a rig until he caught sight of the old faded-blue Dodge; and he’d back his way down knowing Mother had brought lunch. About every time we went to the oil fields, endless with stinky drillings going on, Mother had a fit and whined and demanded Daddy quit his job before he fell from the tall silvery straight-up mess of metal and left her with no support and three kids to feed. But Daddy being Daddy just said something like “Squaw, you’re crazy” and braced his teeth in the fried chicken thigh and ripped off hunks of greasy breaded skin as if he had never tasted the stuff before—back home in Texarkana we had a pen full of fryers to eat breakfast, dinner and at supper time.
Course, I don’t know what Mother did on days Paul, two years younger than me, and I had school. Speaking of school, I went to several during that short stay in that hot town I thought was surely out of America, even if it was somewhere in the middle of Texas. New schools were opening every day it seemed and I was constantly being switched—I don’t know, maybe according to the trailer-park address. Once I was the fifth Patricia in a fourth-grade class. When I was taken to the room and introduced to the teacher as “another new student” I got labeled “Patricia Ann.”
To more complicate my education, Mother decided I had to learn the steel guitar and signed me up for private lessons. The young male teacher didn’t teach me anything that I remember. He mostly just sat across from me in the closet-size hull used for a room strumming and singing something that made no sense to me and looking into space for the full forty-five minutes. I didn’t really like school then; but on Valentine’s Day a boy named Donnie whose blond hair grew half-way over his ears—not cool in the fifties—gave me a valentine, which made me very sad and upset with myself because I didn’t have a card for him. Before all the valentines got passed out, I quickly drew and cut one out and wrote the typical words, “I love you; be my valentine,” and handed it to Donnie. The prettiest best-dressed girls, who incidentally hung together, teased me about “claiming” the boy. “Patricia Ann claims Donnie, hee-hee.” Shoot, I didn’t even know they knew my name since hardly anybody talked to me unless it was to yell angrily: “kick the ball, kick the ball” when we were on the dusty field during outside p.e.
The trailer we lived in was so tight. Paul and I, and sometimes baby Gary, slept in a little bunk tucked in above the tiny dust-covered window; and our family shared restroom facilities and showers located in the middle of the trailer court with all who lived there, and even folks wandering in from the busy street somewhere out front. The space was cramped, to say the least. And we were so joyed when cold weather hit the desert and Daddy came home grinning and circling his finger in the air like a cowboy roping a calf through snowflakes as big as Texarkana plumbs. All he said was “Pack up.” Just once.
Next day we were scrunched in the old Dodge and headed HOME.. Was good to get back to Mrs. Buchanan’s’ fourth-grade class and listen to her read from the Bopsy Twins, where I didn’t have to share my name—I was just Patricia.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Patricia Lieb
Author of Bridged by Love