methow grist 2011-2014 archive



We Get An Earful

This is an excerpt from her book, Eat it or Else, published in 1989.

On one side of our main kitchen is the gymnasium. In fact, only a sliding metal curtain separates them. The kids eat in the gym, so during the noon hour the curtain is up; the rest of the day it’s pulled down. When ever the kids are playing a game, those not playing lean on the serving ledge and visit and gossip. They’d have a fit if they knew I called them gossips, but really I’ve heard some real juicy tidbits when I’ve been working right on the other side of that curtain. Like, Sharon’s dad was forty years old and he’d just come down with the mumps; and Sharon’s mother was waiting on him hand-and-foot and wouldn’t let him exert himself one bit. She made the kids do all the chores, outside and inside. Sharon had to do all the cooking and the dishes. Her mother sat right by the dad’s bed to make sure he did as he was told. If it wasn’t the middle of the winter and twenty below, Sharon might just run away. She didn’t know where or how, but she was getting darn tired of being a slave.

June and Elsa, a couple of eighth graders, were talking so quietly one day I was having a hard time hearing at all. At first, it was just a word here and there; something about the town of S----, a certain store, not enough clerks, clothes with big pockets, ways to lift different things. I was beginning to lose interest when the dishwasher shut off and they came in loud and clear. These little scamps were going to do some shoplifting! June’s folks were going to S---- on business, so June wouldn’t get lonely and bored; Elsa was going along, then they could entertain each other. Wow!

I knew this damn eavesdropping would get me in trouble some day. I sure couldn’t ignore what I’d just heard, and I didn’t relish the idea of being an informer, either. Too, if I had to tell how I found out about these plans, I might have to give up my listening post.

The problem resolved itself when I found out the seventh-grade teacher was wanting to go to S---- to a meeting Saturday night. It took only a few words to June’s parents and the teacher was invited along. Then, a few more words to the teacher convinced her that the two conspirators were just two bashful little girls who wouldn’t ever ask anyone to accompany them on their little trips around town, but they were really scared to death to venture out on their own. Well, you know? Not once did that teacher let those girls out of her sight. While she attended her meeting, they were with June’s parents; otherwise, she guarded the poor little dears against all the evil of that nasty old city. Hah!

A few weeks after the event, three of our eighth grade boys were in R------ and were caught shoplifting. Although no names were used in the write-ups, we all knew who was involved. June and Elsa were amazed, when they heard about it. It seems the three boys were the ones that had showed the girls how easy it was and had convinced them to try it for themselves. The last time I overheard these two girls chatting, they had decided to give up their life of crime and devote their energies to getting boyfriends. Maybe I could get that seventh grade teacher to help the boys, some way.

One day I almost cut my finger off slicing icebox cookies, when I heard Raymond telling someone that his mother had run off with the hired man. “She wanted me to go with them, but she wouldn’t let me take my horse.” Now that made a lot of sense to me. Why should Raymond have to go someplace without his horse? He didn’t sound one bit unhappy that Ma had taken off. I’d met ‘Ma’ once, and I wondered what the hired man was like. She was big enough to play tackle on the football team and always had mad-on at anybody and everybody. ‘Course, Raymond’s dad didn’t have a hell of a lot to offer, so it wouldn’t take much of a hired man to look a lot better than him, so maybe Ma had a point there.

One day I was stirring Jello (very quietly, so I wouldn’t miss a word on the other side of the curtain). I heard Lori crying and Nita trying her best to console her. It was a big garbled at first, but I finally got it all together. “I told you Mom’s P.G.”

“So what? That shouldn’t make you cry.”

More sobs; then, “But everyone will know what they’ve been doing.”

“But everybody does that!”

“Oh, no they don’t.”

“Of course they do. How do you suppose you got here?”

“See, what did I tell you? Now everyone knows they do it.”

Then a teacher came in, and I never did found out if Nita got her all straightened out.


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