My younger sister and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house when we were kids. For the most part, we played around the house, but occasionally Mawmaw and Pawpaw would load us into the cream-colored Fairmont for an outing. I still remember climbing onto the back seat. There was a distinct smell- a mixture of must, vinyl, and the stinging aroma of warm snuff that lingered from the Mason spit jar that sat between my grandparents on the front seat. A shared spit jar, because my little, old Mawmaw usually had her whiskered lip packed.
Now, the possibility of destinations for our outings was limited. We were usually headed to one of five places.
- The Grocery Store- which would be for reasons other than picking up edible items. Pawpaw would take my sister and me to the grocery store to rummage the dumpster. I kid you not. No, they weren’t poor, or hungry, or homeless. They just wanted free food for their rabbits. So, Pawpaw would toss us in the dumpster behind the store and have us dig out the expired produce. While some kids were building daisy chains in the park, I was pilfering through trash for wilted lettuce. Good times.
- The County Dump- because apparently our dumpster skills were so impressive that we got promoted. This was before recycling and all of our modern policies regarding trash disposal. Basically, the county allotted a plot of land and if you had something you wanted to get rid of, you just hauled it out there and dumped it out. There was no oversight, no sorting- just acres of trash, glass, needles and stink. But, like I said, my grandparents thought we had skills, so they would send us rummaging for crap. One man’s trash…
- Fishing- awwww, sweet fishing memories with the grandparents. Not really. Well, at least we didn’t have to dig through any trash. That was a plus. But, for some reason, Pawpaw didn’t seem interested in fair fishing. They would always take us to the spillway at Grenada Lake- right by the dam. He would teach us how to let our line and hook down by the wall, where the water was rushing the fish through and snag them with our hook. No bait, just hooking them wherever you got lucky. This type of fishing, I learned later, was illegal. Thanks, Pawpaw. At least we’d get a picnic lunch- which usually consisted of a can of Vienna Sausage, and a can of Potted Meat, and a pack of Saltine crackers. Nourishment at its finest.
- The Drug Store- aka, the Pharmacy – because both Mawmaw and Pawpaw had their own pharmacy cabinets at home that needed to stay stocked. That is not an exaggeration.
- And finally, the Medicine Store. You may be asking yourself right now, how The Drug Store and The Medicine Store can be listed separately. And as a 7-year old, I was often confused on the matter. We picked up medicine at The Drug Store. So, what did we get at The Medicine Store? Well, those prescriptions were apparently for different ailments.
Trips to The Drug Store usually involved us all getting out of the car, browsing through the candy aisles, etc. while we waited on the Pharmacist to hand my grandparents their white, paper bags. Trips to The Medicine Store usually involved my sister and me being commanded to sit in the car and wait on my grandparents to return, carrying their brown, paper sacks. What I once knew as The Medicine Store, I now know as Faye’s Package Store. And there lies the distinction.
Once we got home from The Medicine Store, Mawmaw and Pawpaw would send us out into the yard to play. And by “yard,” I mean the five feet of dirt between the front porch and the sidewalk, which was followed by the driveway where the Fairmont was parked, with the city street on the other side. But, we’d make mud pies, or pretend cook with some of the dumpster produce. Then, usually within an hour, Mawmaw would come out and park her petite frame on the porch swing and invite us to come sit beside her. And, reeking of alcohol and snuff, she’d start to cry and tell us all about how she was going to leave my Pawpaw. I don’t know if it was just the alcohol talking, or if it was our 5 and 7-year old counseling wisdom, but she never did follow through on those statements.
Now I sit here, thirty-four years later, with my own children, and I only have one question. What in the world was my mother thinking? Was she that desperate for childcare that leaving her children with alcoholic, law-breaking, dumpster divers was a viable option? I mean, there are times I feel like I’d do anything to get a break from parenting, but I have standards. And leaving my children with alcoholics is right on the list with hiring a convict or sex-offender to babysit. It ain’t gonna happen.
I suppose my mother could argue that I turned out okay. That’s debatable.
So, aside from humor, is there a point to this story? Yes. Mothers- have standards when it comes to childcare. I implore you.