Scared, not Saved, by the Buzzer, not Bell
Let’s see how Lorna and her sister’s fared with minimal supervision.
The time: late 1960s when we were pre-teens.
The place: in the country next to my grandparents house, which was flanked on three sides by corn fields and faced a major road across from which was another corn field and a big dairy farm.
The situation: Mom was working and we lived in the trailer next to Mémé and Pépé’s house. When Mom wasn’t around, we had to report to Mémé, who was responsible for
making us miserable…keeping us safe.
Mémé wasn’t just a full-time
guard… zoo-keeper…baby-sitter. She had to boss Pépé around, cook, sew, fret about the weather, have headaches, do her eye-exercises, nap, drink tea, and boss Pépé around some more. Tina was the oldest and had natural bossiness leadership skills, so she played parent when Mom wasn’t there, leaving Mémé with the role of Commander in Chief. She required daily reports and was there if any “situations” got out of hand; otherwise, she left things pretty much to her Chief Advisor, Tina.
To facilitate contact, Pépé rigged Personal Communication Devices between the house and the trailer. These devices were big black telephones that weighed about 45 pounds. Each. They sat in a central location in each home and stayed put due to simple gravity. There were no dials on these phones–only a small button that, when pressed, made an
annoying…a clear buzzing sound on the receiver’s end.
Here’s how things worked.
8:00 AM: Tina would gently touch the button to make the tiniest buzz, like a happy gentle honey bee, alerting Mémé and Pépé to get ready for their granddaughters. We were required to go over and pay our respects each morning.
If we were lazy-heads and didn’t report in by 8:00 AM, by 8:15 AM we’d hear a longer buzzzzzzz, like an angry wasp looking for vengeance. If we hadn’t picked up by 8:30 AM, the phone would rumble with BUZZZZZZZ…..BUZZZZZZZZZ. Think Giant Alien Flying Insects ready to bite your head off and suck your guts out. By this time, even Tina was afraid to pick up the phone. She’d look at me and say, “Lorna, answer it.” My eyes would have that look that people in the Giant Alien Flying Insect movies have during any one of the incessant invasions. “I don’t want to. Maybe she won’t yell at Lisa?” Lisa was cowering behind me. Her phone-phobia started when she was a toddler and this wasn’t helping. Eventually one of us would take a deep breath and pick up the phone, putting on our most cheerful voice. “Cheerful” was never what we received from Mémé after she’d laid on the buzzer. I’m still panicked by heavy buzzing.
For young girls left on our own for a good deal of time, we were pretty good. There were, however, a few close calls and times when I would have appreciated an adult around.
Pépé stored all of his outdoor
junk…equipment in a small storage shed. It was packed. To get inside, you had to open the door and immediately start removing all the stuff crammed in there. There came a time when I had to fetch a rake. The rakes were stacked, no, woven, up above on cross beams in the cramped shed. I was barely tall enough on tip-toes to reach them. Coaxing them down at an angle in the small space took patience and skill. Further complicating the task were metal capless gas cans balanced on the same cross-beams. I was diluted… possessed with the notion that I was agile enough to wrangle the rakes down without removing the cans. Lisa was standing beside me, looking up. We were both looking up as one of the cans tumbled down onto her face. The good news: the can was empty and the spout missed her eye. The bad news: the rusty spout cut a gash so close to her eye that I thought her eye popped out. I put one dirty hand over her eye, took her other hand and we went screaming out of the shed toward Mémé and Pépé’s house. Blood was everywhere. Even at an early age, Lisa had unusually fine artistic ability; I thought I ended her artistic career before she turned 9. A trip to the hospital and some stitches later, Lisa ended up fine. She still has the scar around her eye as evidence of her interest in my rake fetching finesse.
Pépé loaned me his pocket knife and told me to be careful. I had some serious whittling to do and he was tinkering with the lawn mower. As I was focused on being careful, I carefully sliced a 2″ gash in my left thumb. I didn’t feel a thing. I was focused on all the blood pouring out of me and wondering how I was going to hide it. As nonchalantly as possible for a beefy girl losing more blood than is spilled in most vampire movies, I sauntered over to the infamous shed and grabbed the red rag Pépé used to wipe off spark plugs, dip sticks and anything gross. Using that rag to cover my thumb, I casually walked to the trailer and went into the bathroom. Bandaids were useless. I tried all of them in the box. I finally gave in and showed Mémé my thumb wrapped in the blood/oil-soaked rag. She was surprisingly level-headed in a blood emergency (for a woman who freaked out about rain when she had clothes drying outside on the clothes-line). I hid Pépé’s knife and gave it to him later. Mémé said I would have a big scar and he’d be in trouble if anyone knew he gave me the knife. I wanted credit for that scar. It was mine. All mine.
Don’t think for a minute this is the end of our adventures in lack of supervision…