Scared, not Saved, by the Buzzer, not Bell

It was a simpler time when three big hats, some snazzy duds, and something to blow on meant fun times.

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.

There's a cornfield this way and there's one that way. Then there's one that way. Now for the cows...

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 guardzoo-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.

When Tina wore a cape, she ruled. Elvis got this tip from her. Too bad Nixon didn't listen to her...

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.

This phone looks like our set of phones. Ours was rounder, bigger, and didn't have what looks like birth control pills next to it.pill

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.

"Is this the party to whom I am speaking? Well, goodie-two-shoes for me. I'm going to ask you for the last time: stop buzzing me. You know how sensitive my ears are!"

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.

What doesn't pop your sister's eye out makes for a great story.

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.

Guess who inspired this poster?

Don’t think for a minute this is the end of our adventures in lack of supervision…

~ by Lorna's Voice on February 2, 2012.

22 Responses to “Scared, not Saved, by the Buzzer, not Bell”

  1. I probably could have gotten stitches, but the gash healed over and I have a nice scar I’m looking at right now to remind me of my exploits. No real harm came to me. I often wonder about all the concern about sterile conditions these days. I survived just fine. Where were all the infections and germs back then?

  2. Well now – Pepe was a bad boy for giving you a knife.
    One major plus – you didn’t fall on the knife. Golly – that
    was your own special adventure. So happy you didn’t
    share it with your sisters. Ironically, it doesn’t sound all
    that dangerous but I’m sure it was. How’s the digit ????
    Funny knife experience ….

  3. Oh, I bet you could…Give it a try! 🙂

  4. Never a dull day when you were growing up!

    Our family had 6 kids. I was the oldest and the assigned caretaker. I’d never share the harrowing experiences because I couldn’t write them and humorously as you do. 🙂

  5. I was only level-headed in my not wanting to get in trouble so I was thinking about how to cover up my accident. I didn’t know about germs and infection and gangrene back then…thank goodness! 😉

  6. The buzz became a kind of non-verbal communication between Meme and us. We could tell if she was in a good mood or not by the length and volume of the buzzer. Funny now; not so funny then.

  7. I leave others out of my mishaps these days. I’m most at risk in the kitchen (burns and, of course, knife accidents). Because of my dizziness, I tend to bump into things (walls and furniture mostly). I try to avoid falling into people; well, there are certain people I don’t mind falling into… 😉

  8. I’m feeling kind of jealous – you had a special “Hot Phone” directly connected to your home? How uber cool is that, loud scary buzzer notwithstanding?

    Tell me, has your tendency to bring injury upon yourself and others carried forward into your adult life? 🙂

    Enjoyable reading, as always.

  9. Forgot to mention that buzzing phone! Oh my goodness…had to check in by 8AM…no sleeping in and relaxing in the mornings? I could just picture you all huddled together…wanting each other to answer it…little darlings… 🙂

  10. Oh, my gosh, a “know when to stop whittling” poster…with a bloody red rag..too much! Yes, you were a very level-headed girl to so calmly react to all that blood gushing out. I’m sure some of that was from not wanting to bother a grandparent who can panic over rain on the drying outdoor laundry!

  11. I have a reputation to uphold, you know… 🙂

  12. Thanks! I was a danger to myself and others. Amazing we all survived. And have the scars to prove it!

  13. I’ll give it my best shot, Androgoth. But I think the stories about bloodshed are over…well, now, maybe not… 😉

  14. I may not have had a father, but I sure had one heck of a great Pepe! You’ll learn lots more about my “first love” in upcoming posts. For a man who didn’t get the time of day in our family, I thought the world of him.

  15. Only fitting–quite an awesome book!

  16. Just don’t let me near you with a pocket knife or rake! 😉

  17. ah yes, our Lorna is amazing, indeed… and we, her readers, are most blessed

    shine on Lorna!!!

  18. Great post, Lorna…can hardly wait for your book to be finished! And by the way–thanks so much for reviewing my “Postcards From Home” book this week–an awesome review from an awesome woman!

  19. I missed out on a grandpa with whom I could share secrets and schemes! 😀

  20. You are quite the adventurer aren’t you Lorna? 😉
    I have enjoyed reading this one, well with all that
    bloody crimson splashing around I would wouldn’t
    I my fine and most wicked friend 🙂

    Now I will be waiting for your next adventure, I do
    hope it will be as ghoulishly told as this one was 🙂

    Have a lovely rest of day and evening Lorna…

    Androgoth XXx

  21. Wonderfully and fancifully told! 🙂

  22. Ray Bolger, Nixon, Elvis, Ernestine, Norman Rockwell, blood and gore all in the same post. Amazing! Only Lorna could pull that off.

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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