James L. Cowles
Copyright 2020 by James L. Cowles
It was a good day. Dad picked up his new bi-focals
could finally read without getting a headache, mom finished sewing my
sister Gloria's dress, which she had been working on for at least two
weeks and I picked up my brand new cornet and would be taking my
first lesson next week. Meanwhile, I had been instructed to practice
"buzzing" my lips and trying to get a good tone from my new
was busy reading the newspaper and would
periodically comment how wonderful it was to finally be able to read
the small print of the Louisville Times. "Now I can read the
whole paper, cover to cover and not end up with a nagging headache,"
he said, smiling. Mom was bragging how beautiful my sister Gloria's
new dress was and how well it fit her. "I have become quite the
seamstress," she proclaimed, "even if I must say so
myself." Meanwhile, Gloria was standing in front of our living
room mirror admiring her dress, and herself. It was the only
one of any size in our home and the entire family used it to
straighten our clothing before leaving the house.
I think you've got that lip buzzing thing down pretty well, son,"
dad said sternly. He was obviously becoming irritated with the sound
and I figured it was about time for me to get in bed anyway. I had a
history test in my fifth grade class the next day and I wanted to be
fresh when I took it. All those names and dates were a little
difficult, but I was pretty sure I could ace it.
got a funny look on her face and said, "Shhh - listen! Was that
a car door?" We all sat still, listening, as mom hurried to the
front blinds and raised one slat slightly so she could peer outside.
"Oh my Lord!," she whispered. "It's Lester James and
Thelma! Quick, turn out all the lights and everyone go to bed! Hurry
now; get going and don't make any noise!"
We all knew
what that meant and we moved briskly, turning out lights as we went.
Lester and Thelma lived in Indiana and were no doubt on their way to
Brownsville, their hometown. They had a bad habit of showing up
without warning and it seemed to always be late in the evening.
Louisville just happened to be about half way to their destination
and since we were kin in some way, they always stopped so we could
"catch up on each other's lives." Of course, we all knew
the real reason they stopped. Lester was always looking for a free
meal and a bed in which to sleep. He was a mooch of the worst kind,
always looking to save a buck, with absolutely no concern for anyone
else. Staying the evening was just one part of his deal. He also
expected a hardy breakfast and he wasn't shy about suggesting what he
liked. Three or four eggs and a pretty big stack of pancakes and of
course, grits. He had to have grits and a lot of them, along with
numerous strips of bacon. The man had the appetite of the Male High
school football team.
my father and mother were born in
Brownsville, Kentucky, a small city near Mammoth Cave National Park,
and somehow we were related to these people. Lester was a very large
man with a high forehead and the largest hands I had ever seen. He
would always force me to shake hands and my eleven-year-old hand
would disappear, clean up to my elbow. His stomach hung over his belt
and he was in all ways, a very sloppy man. I Remember hoping he
wouldn't sleep in my twin bed, but he usually did. Thelma was a cheek
tweaker of the worst kind. My face stayed red for hours from her
pinches. She was also rather large and had a perpetual smile on her
face, with thick lips liberally covered with red lipstick. I was
always afraid she would kiss me and always happy when she didn't. It
was a toss up, but I still preferred she sleep in my bed instead of
Bam! Bam! Bam! They knocked loudly. We each
our tracks and froze. Bam! Bam! Bam! They knocked again and called
out, "We saw your lights," they said. They had us. There
was nothing to do but open the door. "We saw your light and I'm
so glad we caught you before you got in bed," he said. "We
haven't seen you guys in a long time and thought this would be a good
time to catch up on things. How have you been, Aubrey," which
was my father's name. I didn't hear it very often, because most folks
called my dad by his surname, "Mr. Coles."
Interpreted very loosely, Lester was really saying, "We're tired
and need a place to stay tonight. How 'bout we just stay here?"
knew I would be sleeping on the sofa tonight. Drat! Why did I have
twin beds, anyway? But it always got worse. Lester and Thelma talked
incessantly, well into the evening. It was a school day tomorrow and
I had a big test. I needed my rest, but my bed for the evening, the
sofa, was occupied by Lester and Thelma. I wanted to say, "Please
shut up and take my room and my bed and let me have the sofa, which
is my bed for the night. I need sleep!" But I didn't, of course,
because my parents taught me better.
also knew not to
question mom about her attempt to avoid opening the door for "our
relatives," although I never quite understood how we were
related. She was pretty quick with those instructions; had I tried
anything remotely similar, I have a feeling I would have had a lot of
explaining to do.
kept an eye out for Lester and Thelma
after that, but they always managed to get us to open the door and
then wrangle my bed. That may be the reason I refuse to give up my
bed today; my wife and I have two guest rooms in our house just in
case guests show up unexpectedly.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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