Part 8: “If You Promise You Won’t Tell: A Memoir”

Continued from Chapter 3: Mem Buys a Baby and a House

Somehow my parents managed to live in a four-room house with all five of us children until the summer Simon was born. One night at the supper table, Mem brought up the idea of buying an old house from up the road and adding it onto our own. Datt resisted the idea at first, but Mem was determined. She persuaded her father to manage the project.

Not long after that I was coming home on the kindergarten bus when I thought my eyes were tricking me. There in front of the bus was a flatbed truck with a house on it. Several other kindergarteners got up from their seats and pointed saying, “Look!”

I saw something moving on the peak of the roof. At first I thought it was the chimney moving, but then I realized Datt was sitting up there. I’m sure my mouth was open in a big O, just as the other children’s were.
As the bus driver slowed down, I realized she could not turn the bus around in the usual way because the truck had stopped in the Sakura’s lane. I got up out of my seat and walked up next to the bus driver and said, “You can turn down there, and back up into our lane to turn around!”

She said, “Yes, I can do that,” with a chuckle in her voice. It was the same chuckle I’d heard in the voice of other grownups when they thought I was being too forward. But I was too excited to think about that now. As soon as the bus stopped, I hopped out, and ran toward the house with questions bubbling out of me.

“Mem, why is Datt on top of the house?”

To move the telephone wires out of the way of the chimney,” Mem said.

“But, what about him getting shocked?”

“Telephone wires don’t shock people, only electric wires do.” This was the first time I knew there was a difference.

I watched the truck backing up towards the house. Grandpa directed the driver of the truck. The driver had to make several attempts until he finally got the house lined up the way Grandpa wanted it. Then began the long process of unloading the house from the back of the truck. They jacked up the house and pulled the truck out from under it. Now it was ready for the basement to be dug out.

It was time for Datt’s hard work. He didn’t want to spend money on hiring a backhoe to dig out the cellar hole, so he dug it out by hand, one wheelbarrow full at a time. I still wonder why he left his rocking chair to do this hard work, even though his inertia often required that Mem or Joey do the daily farm chores.

After Datt dug out the cellar hole, we had a “frolic” or work party to put up the cellar walls. Uncles and aunts and cousins gathered at our home on that beautiful autumn day. The men set about constructing the cement block walls with Grandpa in charge, while the women made middog — the midday meal. They set up tables out in the yard under the trees, with rows of benches nearby.

When the meal was nearly ready, several of the aunts brought tubs of hot water out and set them on a bench. They added cold water from the hand pump out by the barn, and laid out hand towels and bars of soap.
The men lined up and took their turns washing up. The uncles joked with one another about who was (or wasn’t) working hard and they jabbed at each other jokingly.

Everyone gathered around for hendt nunna — the silent prayer before meals. I was surprised when Grandpa asked everyone to be silent before we bowed our heads. Normally the father of the family hosting a gathering did that. Datt didn’t seem to take charge of anything, but Grandpa had no problem stepping in to take his place.

The men and young boys went first. They filled their plates with fried chicken, steaming mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, applesauce, baked beans and bacon, homemade bread and butter, and numerous side dishes that the aunts had brought. The desserts would come later.

After the men had filled their plates, mothers filled plates for their little children, and then the women and girls filled their plates.

After middog, the men went back to work on the cellar walls, and the women cleaned up after the meal and washed the dishes.

At the end of the day, the cellar walls were done. Grandpa stood back and surveyed the work as he slowly chewed his tobacco. It must have been a satisfying feeling to work with others to build those walls, all in a day.

A few days later, Grandpa oversaw the pouring of the concrete floor in the basement.

Next began Mem’s hard work. She repaired the plaster and lath walls on the first and second floors, papered them, and painted the woodwork and the floors. Before winter set in, we moved in and had twice the space we had before that.

Conclusion of chapter 3.

Sharing is caring

4 thoughts on “Part 8: “If You Promise You Won’t Tell: A Memoir””

  1. Saloma, what a great story. How crazy it would have been to see your dad sitting on top of a house going down the road!! Your Mem sure was a hard working woman. Did it make you feel proud to see your parents working so hard to make a nice home for you and your siblings? Or was working together as a family and as a community so instilled within your way of life that you didn’t even question it?

    1. The latter, I think. I was too young to reflect on what was happening around me. You’re right, though. Mem was very hard-working and resourceful. I sometimes marvel at how she was able to create something out of nothing. She was also a wonderful nurturer of young children. This is why Mem was such a paradox. To see her all one way or the other — as a good and nurturing parent or as a harsh and manipulative parent — would be missing what a complicated person she was. It’s a lot to comprehend, even as an adult child of hers. It was utterly bewildering as a young child.

      Thanks for stopping by, Pamela. It is always good to see you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top