Lately I have been involved in a really fun project. It’s a joint venture with my niece, Zoe Kuhn Williams. She has taken on the task of sifting through a mountainous pile of my mother’s writings. These have been in storage boxes, many for over 50 years, the ink fading, the paper disintegrating, but mostly waiting to be discovered. Right now, Zoe and I are compiling and editing a good number of short pieces my mother wrote and preparing to publish them in a book title Lois, unboxed.
Several of these writings are stories from my mother’s childhood memories. An excerpt from one is presented here. By the way, on the podcast of this posting, Lois’ great great granddauhter, Haley Kuhn, reads her excerpt.
My mother was seven at the time which puts the year at 1921. The only information you need to know is that boiled fish was an almost daily menu item in her household and, of yeah, you need to know about Mrs. McCoy. My grandparents owned and ran an old-fashioned type general store in Philadephia. Mrs. McCoy was a fastidious housekeeper who helped around the living quarters above the store and watched over my mother when her parents were busy taking care of customers So here goes, a looksee through the childhood portals of Lois Harris Kuhn.
...When I was a little past seven, I rebelled. On one of my mother’s less busy afternoons, I talked to her about something or other which was more important to me at the time than anything else in the world. I have forgotten now what it was. However that may be, she didn’t think much of my idea, so I decided to leave home.
“All right, you may go.” My mother was tranquil enough. “Only pack everything you have so that there’s no reason to come back.”
With that, I rushed upstairs and tried to gather everything I might ever need, only I couldn’t pick it up, so I had to settle for an extra pair of stockings and underwear, the Bible and my Alice in Wonderland. I put in extra handkerchiefs (these were pre-tissue days), my Sunday pearls, my wooden dolls and ten jacks in case I found someone to play with. Then I came downstairs, went out the back door, slamming it behind me, and sat down on the steps to decide where to go.
We lived on Germantown Avenue which was then and is still a heavily trafficked street. I had never crossed it without supervision, but now I was on my own. I was scared of it all the same. Besides, it was almost dinner time and I was hungry. A walk around the block took one into a residential section, all shrubs and trees, but no genuine adventure. My stomach growled. I thought hard. I didn’t have enough cab fare to do anything but walk now that I thought of it.
Abruptly, a door behind me opened and Mrs. McCoy held out a small package, wrapped in heavy butcher paper. I took it and she turned and went back inside. I promptly opened the package. Cold boiled fish! Mrs. McCoy loved me, even if my mother didn’t.
So a decision was made. I would stay, for Mrs. McCoy’s sake. She cared whethermade out in this world, whether I starved or not. She saw to me through everything. It was awful to think of her as my real mother, but she would do for a while.
I knocked timidly on the door and my mother answered. She said nothing, but held the door a bit wider. I looked at her and for the first time in my life, decided to keep my mouth shut. I entered the house and made my way to Mrs. McCoy whom I nearly knocked over in a half-gallop.
“You got your panties dirty sittin’ on those steps!” she cried, pushing me away. “And more than likely, the sniffles besides. Get upstairs and have yourself a nice hot bath now and don’t forget to scour the tub clean!”
I turned back and looked at my mother, but she only smiled. She didn’t even look sorry that I had been about to run away! So I sulked up the steps, stump-stump-stump as loud as I could and then I took a long, long bath. When I was done I scrubbed the tub until the white shone pearl and then white again. It was the cleanest tub in the world.