The next morning I was awakened by the smell of bacon frying on the stove and Grandma singing “Momma’s little baby loves shortnin’, shortnin’. Momma’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.”
“Ahh-boo,” cheered Wanda.
I opened my eyes, stretched and could still taste the musty, waxy flavor of orange flower petal in my mouth. I fumbled for the glass of water Grandma had given me and sat up in bed to take a drink in hopes of diluting the acidic taste. As I scooted my bottom across the cushions, I felt my thin pajamas and tiny foam balls sticking to my back.
‘Oh no!’ I thought. I did it. I had pee’d on Grandma’s cushions again. I sat still, contemplating my escape. Maybe she wouldn’t notice. How could I, a seven-year-old with a reading level of at least a third-grader, have let my bladder spill again?
I crept out of bed and tore the wet PJ’s off, throwing them on the ground.
“Oh gross, stupid, you pee’d the bed again, didn’t you?” laughed my brother.
“No I didn’t!” I screamed. “I just got sweaty, that’s all!”
Mom came into the room with a half-hidden look of disappointment. “You be still,” she told my brother. Without a word, she gathered up my urine-filled pajamas, blankets and sheets and left the room to run them through the washer.
She returned carrying a towel and insisted that I bathe immediately. I felt ashamed as I wrapped the towel around me, hung my head low and scurried into the bathroom where a tub running warm water awaited my urine-coated body.
Grandma’s house had become full with relatives. Distant cousins referred to Grandma as Aunt Mary. Confused, I deduced that it must have meant that my aunts were their grandmas. It sounded logical at the time.
I finished my bath and skipped back into the kitchen wearing the terry cloth shirt and shorts my mom had placed on the sink for me.
“Patti Duke, your plate is over there on the bar. Pull up a stool and eat your breakfast,” said Grandma.
I carefully hopped upon the unsteady wicker stool and examined my plate. ‘Bacon…check, toast…check, eggs…uh, negative. Too runny.’ I munched on the bacon and toast. It felt good to finally get the orange flower petal taste out of my mouth. I studied the mushroom-shaped ceramic cookie jars that sat directly in front of me. I wondered if there were really cookies inside of them. I surveyed the room to see if anyone was watching me. They were all preoccupied with laughing at Dad, telling one of his wild motorcycle tales.
“I was running close to forty miles per hour through a bunch of trees and a limb snagged me in the nose and threw me off the bike. It went clean up my nostril,” he said. His audience was in tears, laughing at his near brush with death.
I turned my attention back to the cookie jars and as quietly as I could, lifted the mushroom top lid and peeked inside. Bingo! There were two sugar wafer cookies inside. I reached inside and pulled out a crumbling vanilla cookie. I snapped it into my mouth and chewed quickly.
“Yuck!” I shouted and spit the half-digested cookie onto my plate, ruining my toast. The cookie was dry and stale and didn’t taste very sugary at all. It felt like Styrofoam in my mouth. I quickly put the lid back on the cookie jar and fell into a coughing rage once again. This time I took a drink of milk and luckily it was too noisy for anyone to notice I was gasping for air.
“Patti Duke, when you get done there, I have a special surprise for you,” said my Grandma.
“What is it? What is it?” I asked anxiously, forgetting about the dreadful Styrofoam lingering in my mouth.
“You finish your breakfast first,” she said.
“I’m done. What is it?” I asked. I could hardly wait and hopped down from the wicker stool. I abandoned the stale, saliva filled cookie covered toast and rushed to my grandma.
“Go wait in the other room and I’ll be there in a minute,” she said. I raced into the family room and bounced on top of the orange and brown floral couch, waiting for Grandma. ‘I wonder what it could be,’ I thought to myself.
Grandma danced into the room with my mom, holding something behind her back.
“Pick a hand,” she said.
“That one!” I exclaimed, pointing to her left arm.
She pulled her arm to the front of her and presented a calico cat.
“Wow!” I shouted. “It’s just like the one in the story!”
She then pulled her other arm to the front and handed me a dog made of gingham.
“It’s the gingham dog and calico cat!” I cheered.
“She made those for you last night,” explained my mom.
I looked them over closely and studied the beads she used to form their facial features. Tiny black beads were sewn on their faces under embroidered eyebrows. She used black thread to make triangle-shaped noses and red beads to form their mouths. The cat wore black embroidered whiskers and a long tail hung from his derriere. She had sewn big floppy ears onto the dog and a small piece of red felt formed a tongue protruding from his mouth.
“Wow, they’re so cute!” I said. “I’m going to take them to school and show my teacher!” I knew Mrs. Bohlmeyer would be so pleased to know I had read the story before it was assigned.
It never occurred to me to question how Grandma had time to make my stuffed animals. She never used a pattern to create anything. Since she was unable to read, she relied on trial and error with scrap fabric to perfect her crafts. To most, it would seem unlikely that she would have gingham and calico fabric on hand, but Grandma’s house was full of crafty treasures. She had collected drawers full of fabric in every pattern imaginable that she used for sewing clothes for her wooden dolls. In the floor laid stacks of denim pant legs that had once been attached her grandkids’ jeans before they became calf-length. Grandma fashioned the denim remnants into over-alls for her male dolls. Each garment was hand-stitched with hundreds of threads locking every ruffle, button, bead, collar, cuff and pocket into place. White thread accents on the over-alls gave them the appearance of rugged authenticity.
“Do they have tags with their names on them?” I asked as I turned their butts into the air. Grandma looked at my mom and smiled.
“Well, no, but I reckon you can come up with just the right names for them,” she said.
I thought for a moment and said, “This one is Checkers,” addressing the gingham dog, “and this one is Callie,” holding up the cat.
“I think those names are just dandy,” said Grandma.