“First things first,” said Aunt Chin putting me down. “the three of us need to sit back down for one more doughnut and coffee.” Her Gus and I went back to the kitchen. As we sat down enjoying the food she pointed to one slice of bacon left on the platter. “Now that’s just sad,” she said. I thought she was then going to give it to me, but she was full of surprises. Up she popped like a piece of toast and grabbed the broom. I wondered if I was going to sweep the floor to earn the bacon but that wasn’t her intention. In a wink she had three straws plucked and in her hand. “What we need is a contest” and she leaned over to me and said “pick, short straw wins” I picked, then Uncle Gus picked an obviously smaller one, I felt my face frown but tried to be polite. Then Chin showed us her straw and declared Gus the winner for which she offered the platter and he snatched up the bacon and it was gone…that quick.
My expression must have betrayed my surprise ‘cause he winked at me and said “Well… fair is fair, aye sugar bear?” and he gave me a poke. And all was right with the world.
Uncle Gus pushed his chair back a bit and savored another sip of coffee. “The way I sees it t-boy,” he addressed me…“you has two choices. You can stay and help Chin her (here) or you can help me in da workshop. I’m building a pretty litta’ table”
It took me a moment to realize that was a question not just a statement. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, though I wanted to stay with aunt Chin. And yet, I did want to see the table, but not necessarily help. “Can I do a little of both?” I asked.
“Indeed you can, bebe.” Aunt Chin confirmed. She was already up gathering dishes and things to the sink “we can share you.”
To which Uncle Gus stood up and announced he had morning business to attend to and I could stay there and help Chin until he was ready to go to the workshop. And he turned grabbed a little newspaper from the hall table and retreated with his coffee to the direction of the bathroom. “Don’t you leave that cup in there bring it back to be washed when you finish.” Chin admonished.
Somewhere down the hall already “Yes cher” echoed back.
So I turned to Aunt Chin and wanting to impress I went to the broom and offered to sweep the floor. “Sure ‘nuf,” was her reply, “but first wipe off the table. That way you can brush the crumbs off to the floor before you sweep” and a freshly wrung dishcloth was already being put in my hand, as she took the last of the dishes off the table in one final swoop. Something I was to learn of aunt Chin that day was she was swift efficient and thorough, usually having done something by the time you realized what she was about to do. I remember later, once overhearing my mom query to my dad as to how Chin could stay so large when the woman never quit moving and doing! But that was the bigger than life whirlwind of Chin’s charm. And all the “doing” she did, …she did with a kind of happiness as shiny as polished chrome.
By the time I wiped the table and swept the floor as diligently as I could, I wanted to do a good job for her, she already was handing me the dust pan, and took the broom from me, and instructed me, “You bend down and hold it for me, OK, while I sweep the mess into the pan. You are closer to the floor than ole Chin.” After she swept the debris into the dust pan she walked to the back door and opening the screen for me with her foot, was also hanging the broom on a nail by the door just next to a flyswatter. she told me to throw the dust out side. Sometimes I don’t know how she moved so fast but as I turned back up the steps after emtying the dust pan, and stepped back inside she traded me a dish towel for the dustpan, hung the dustpan up and motioned for me to go to the sink and start drying the dishes she was washing, the drain board was already almost full. “Stack ‘em on the table as you dry, cher. Then when we finish we’ll put ‘em away”
As we did the dishes I asked her what we were going to do today.
“You can help me straighten up.” She remarked. Straighten what? I thought. This place has nothing out of place. “Then I have some wash to do. We’re gonna make some pies... pick some peaches for those pies...”
“I REALLY looove peach pie.” I exaggerated a bit trying to get into the enthusiasm of the moment. She didn’t answer. I looked up from my dish drying
She hesitated a moment then looking down at me she said almost quietly, “Well,…one thing I have to do is kill two chickens so we can add chicken to the supper tonight.” My eyebrows raised, and my eyes got round before I could think to quell my expression. “But if that is too much for you, you can go help your uncle at that time.”
“No, I want to help kill chickens.” Even as I said it I thought it sounded awful, but I wanted to seem brave.
She saw through my façade. “That sounded a little over anxious.” And she paused eyeing me. I wasn’t sure what she was getting at. “Baby you really don’t want to kill chickens, do you?”
“Wellll…” I lingered. “I know we need to kill’em so we can eat’em. And I helped kill chickens before.” I half lied. I had watched other relations kill chickens before and watched part of butchering a hog, but the most I helped was to pull a few feathers.
“And how did that go for you, cher.”
“Well, it was kinda’ bloody and messy.” I answered, which was true
“Mon Dieu (My God!)” she exclaimed. “Some folk don’t know what they is doin’. Maybe you should see it done properly.”
About this time Uncle Gus returned with his cup, walked over and set it on the counter by us. He glanced down at me. “Killin’ chickens huh?”
Aunt Chin interrupted with her arms crossed looking perturbed at him. “Well we are done now! Maybe you should wash that cup y’self.” I saw that this was about the cup… not the chickens. Uncle Gus looked at her through his eyebrows pretending to be very ashamed. “Is a joke tit pette.” She continued and standing on her toes kissed his forehead. Then around she turned and with what seemed like one motion had the cup washed and handed to me, the water draining in the sink, and her cloth wrung out and hanging folded and over the sink edge.
As I dried the cup I returned the conversation to the chickens. “Aunt Chin’s gonna show me the right way to kill chickens for us to eat tonight.” I asserted as though I knew it all.
Chin corrected me a tad, “Well actually sweet, we won’t eat the chickens we kill tonight. I would never eat something the same day it was killed. I jus wanna replace the one’s we will eat.”
I did not understand and implored “Then why kill them?”
“One, they need to go before they get much older and tougher, and two, to keep up inventory.” Her answer didn’t really make sense to me and she could tell. “Let’s just put these dishes away and I will show you later. But we do have to do the pickin’, and the pies, and kill the chickens early in the day before it gets much hotter. Then we will get to the other stuff.”
Uncle Gus put his hands up in an expression of futility “Myyyy, myyy,” he looked at Chin. “I can see you done scheduled up the help, wit no plans of sharing’.” He shook his head. And aunt Chin was cutting her eyes at him.
I felt the need to make peace. “I can help you too uncle Gus.” I looked up at him, and from this close angle I realized just how big his stomach was too. He was quite the cubby guy as well but next to Chin it had escaped my notice.
“I’m playin’ witchu t-man,” he assured me, “actually ole Chin problee needs your help more dan I do.” He looked to Chin. “Can you put your dishes away witout his help, my der (dear)?” he waited, and she nodded “den I will take him from you for a bit, and return him shortly for his day a’ chores.” He looked around as though he had lost something “wer’s dat list she got for you to do, boy, I bet it’s five feet long.” He bantered her direction. “you see son, my lovely bride her(here), never lacks for somtin’ to do. I jus hope you still standin by the end of de day.”
“Awww,” Chin waved us off and we headed out the back door.
“Grab de broom boy.” He instructed me. Which I did and I followed him out to the yard.
Sunday Drive: Stand by Me
2 days ago