One Way that I Owe My Life to Blueberries
While William and Grandpa Core chased off the hoodlums who were trying to kill half of their cattle, my mothers grandma was hatching a plan a few states away. Her home was humble, it was not in a city and not in the country but rather in the kind of in between place that is common to Western Washington.
The children were growing and so were her tomatoes. More could not really be asked for but that didn’t seem to stop the debt collectors.
She had married as a teen to a man with fiery hair, who everyone called Red. Her parents were gentle storeowners with several daughters. They disapproved of him. His grand children describe him as stern and proud and a great lover. Paulines’ parents described him as cold and cruel and too hard on the children.
He had many rules about how things were to be in his home. His children sat quietly if he was anywhere nearby. His wife wore skirts and dresses only (he preferred the ones that showed off the legs he loved) unless they were camping. And his wife was under no condition to learn to drive or work outside the home. There was plenty of work inside after all.
She would go to bed with him each night, like he wanted, and once he was asleep sneak out of bed to complete her days work. Every member of her family had one set of clothes that needed to be washed and pressed every day. All the cleaning of the house, the making of the food, the preserving of the garden…. she slept less than 3 hours a night for 40 years.
Though Red alone worked for the income, it was Pauline who managed all the money once it got home. It became clear during the hard years of that depression that the ends were drawing farther and farther apart.
She went around the neighborhood one day, after the kids were off to school and he was off to work and found a blueberry bog looking for extra help. So it was from that day on, for as long as they needed it, she would wake up in the middle of the night to prepare for the next day. Then she would crawl back into bed and pretend to wake up with her husband. After she sent everyone off, she herself went to her secret berry-picking job.
She would work as many hours as she could before rushing home to miraculously complete an entire days worth of work in only a couple of hours. It was in this way that she kept her family from ever suspecting that their income was supplemented. Dinner was always on the table, the children never looked as poor as the world thought they were. That is how I know that stories of kidnapped women spinning barns full of golden flax in only one night are true. If she had needed too, my great grandma could have done it.
At 4 am I would stir from the couch in the trailer that Pauline had moved into to be closer to her daughter. This was years after Red and her only son were gone. I could smell the coffee and hear the birds that my mom and her grandmother had been waking up with. In the dim light I could make out the many afghans and crocheted doilies around her house.
When I was seven, my Mom taught me to crochet as Pauline had taught her. When I took the yarn and hook, it came very naturally but looked very different from the way my mother had shown me to hold my hands. She began to cry and said that the only person she had every seen who held the yarn and hook just like I did, was Pauline.