by Jane Doe
That was the summer of the see-saw in the year of the dog. The whole time my parents and I couldn't figure out when I was a child and when I was an adult. Truthfully, and seen from afar, I was neither child nor adult, but, we both disregarded this while they kept sticking me in a box labeled "child" just when I wanted to be an adult, or the minute they pushed me to my feet was the instant I wanted to lean on them. We never got it right. We wasted a lot of adrenalin trying.
Mother and dad were full of house plans and land buying. I felt like a silent pillar of salt in the house when dad was home. I had enjoyed mother so much the day we had shopped for the formal. I wanted all our days to be like that one. I thought we'd have a pretty good chance if dad would leave us alone. But, no, every minute he was home, he and mother had their heads together discussing houses.
Mother had finally grown and canned enough food to satisfy her deep squirrel instincts. This year the garden was of reasonable size like two double beds. My indentured servitude was ended. I felt I should be able to relate to her on a new basis.
In late winter mother had launched herself in the dog breeding business. I didn't particularly like Chihuahuas. I preferred cocker spaniels, but taking care of dogs was preferable to gardening, so I didn't quibble about the breed. She had planned to start her enterprise with just the two female dogs. However, early in June, the lady she bought them from had a stroke. It seemed for awhile she might not live, and if she did, she would probably not be able to care for her dogs. She asked mother to take on her other four females and two males.
Mr. Knepper, had sold all of his chickens off in the winter so the long coop was standing empty, knee-deep in chicken shit, but empty. Mother and I spent long, hot days shoveling shit, scrubbing and nailing up broken boards; planning where the runs were to be improvised. Before we got the shed all ready, two of the females came into season. Our days now became a merry-go-round of letting these dogs in the yard, but not with those dogs, this door had to be shut, hooked and a big box shoved in front of it before that door could be opened to let the yapping dogs out. Neighbors' dogs from miles around milled around our house like cowboys around a saloon on payday.
Never having had a dog before, I wasn't clear what "being in season" meant. I knew this was the time and the only time, the female could be bred. I saw the bloody discharge coming from the little slit I was pretty sure was where a female dog made pee. I wasn't sure where the male dog went in or where the puppies came out.
After seeing how it was with dogs, I was no longer sure about some facts about myself. Would, when it finally came, the period come from the middle hole as Jane and I thought or was that wrong and dogs were right? I was pretty sure that with people the babies came out the middle hole. Why didn't dogs have a middle hole?
Also, if dogs could only get pregnant when they had a bloody discharge, was that true for women, too? How did one handle having a period and having intercourse? Was it pleasant or did one do it then even if it was unpleasant, just to make a child? Could one keep from getting pregnant by simply never having intercourse and a period together? If it was that easy, why all the spookiness and fears about a surprise pregnancy?
On top of this pile of questions was still the big one. When will my period start? As summer started, I again had more time to think about it. The more I thought about it, the more I began to worry.
At last, one day, I got up my courage to tell mother that I was concerned that my period hadn't started. Did she think I needed to see a doctor about it? Her answer? "Stop mooning around about it so much and just be glad you don't have to bother with it. If you'd work more and sit around in your room less, stop day-dreaming so much, you'd be better off."
Full of righteous indignation for all the days I had given helping her get the kennels ready, I emotionally withdrew from her to help Dave. He had called one evening to tell me the troubles he was having with his parents. He had decided, even though it was very late, to risk planting tomatoes. His dad didn't have a tomato planter. Since his dad was also against the venture, he refused to back Dave's asking to borrow a neighbor's. The question was: Would I help him set 3,000 tomato plants by hand? I was eager to get away just now and the idea of working with Dave on his land was exciting. It was like playing farm instead of house.
So, for two days Dave came to the house at sunrise and brought me back after dark. In between times, Dave, his sister and a friend - Leigh, and I set out the tomatoes. It was back breaking work. It reminded me of my days bitching about doing the same kind of work in mother's truck patch, and how I thought when she planted a smaller garden my days of groveling around on my hands and knees in the dirt were over. But, here were compensation, companions and a few stolen kisses.
Dave's mother brought us lunches we ate by the running ditch. The way she stared at me made me feel she knew about each kiss. I also had the feeling she was sizing me up to see if I would make a good farmer's wife. From her back as she left, I had the feeling I had
By the second evening the wooden boxes were empty of plants. We four were so tired, still we did a little dance to wish the plants luck. By the time Dave drove me up to our walk way, it was already deeply dark. We were tired, but felt rather grown up that we had accomplished something Dave's dad didn't think we could do. We were quietly celebrating with a few victory kisses, when the door of the car on my side swung
Inside the dark house I let out the sobs I had hidden from Dave. I didn't hear him drive away. Was dad out there saying terrible things to Dave? What? What had I done wrong? What caused dad to do this?
The next morning I didn't come down to breakfast until I heard his car driving out the lane. That evening he was a normal as blueberry pie. I wasn't about to risk another explosion by bringing up the whole mess again. I never did hear from him what he had been feeling.
I suspected it was connected with my helping Dave instead of mother. Angry, but so eager to be accepted, I offered to paint the outside of the kennels so when other people came to have their dogs bred, the place stopped being a chicken coop. Before my legs got over the pain from the whipping, my arms acquired their own by painting. After two days of working on the job alone, and getting very little of it done, mother joined me. Now the drudgery seemed less penal. We began joking, cautiously at first, but then with the companionship of our dress-shopping Saturday.
Before we got the whole coop painted – it extended back to the catalpa trees, mother had her first customer for stud service. I had overheard mother say the lady was coming at two o'clock. I was actively interested in seeing how dogs did it. I had watched cows trying to do but they seemed so awkward I felt they didn't know what they wanted to do or else they weren't being serious about it. It was going to cost the lady fifty dollars for the service of ol' Arneldo. I wanted to see what she, or more accurately, her dog, was getting for her money.
The lady was drove up in a Cadillac. I was impressed. We oohed and ahhed over her pretty red, blond bitch, assuring her that such a pretty dog would have very pretty puppies. When the two women started for the kennel, I started to follow. Mother stopped, turned to me and demanded, "Where do you think you are going?"
"To the kennel." When I saw her frown, I perceived that I was not invited, so I added, "To finish painting the east side."
"You go up to your room and stay there until I call you."
I looked at my mother. I looked at the lady. She looked at her dog.
I spun around, marched with my head held high with resolution, into the house, dropping my painting duds in a heap on the garage floor, hoping some dog would pee on them, took a shower and vowed never to lift another paint brush for my mother.
Insult was added to injury a week later when the bitch, Tina, went into labor. I had hoped I could watch the answers to some of my many questions. At least there was no one else to see my embarrassment when mother closed herself and Tina in the kitchen with strict instructions that I was, under no circumstances, to come in. It took Tina a long time and I got hungry, mad and built up a whole case of child neglect before the puppies were a reality in the cardboard box and mother was washing scissors, putting away the spool of thread and gingerly carrying out a wad of newspapers which she burned even though the trash can was not full.
Some weeks later, when I had simmered down, I tried to forget the incidences, but the whole mystery burned in me so I could no longer hold my tongue. Trusting in the closeness of our painting and shopping days, I decided to venture some more questions.
Mother and I were resting in the yard under the apple tree watching Tina's puppies explore grass for the first time. Several times I reformulated my many questions, hoping to ease mother into answering them.
"Mother, when are you going to tell me about babies?"
She shifted her legs so she was facing the other direction. "I don't think you need to know that yet. When it is time, I will tell you."
The Korean War had just started.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010