Flatwoods, Kentucky

Morning Milk

By Sarah Diamond Burroway

Daddy finally agreed to let me marry Paul Ray three months after my 16th birthday. “You know I’m only saying yes because you’re gonna do it anyway,” he said. He made Ma go with us to Catlettsburg to get our license. The next weekend, we rode the train and walked to a house a few blocks from the depot where a marryin’ minister lived. The preacher’s wife and my aunt were our witnesses.

Up until then, that was the best day of my life. Now, every day with my girls is the best day. I can’t hardly believe those babies sleeping in there are mine. Their little cheeks laying so soft against that feed sack pillowslip, all hugged up in one bed. I embroidered little roses on the hem with floss Miss Bellamy gave me.

I never planned to be a mommy so fast. We were only married 11 months when I had Sissy. Then came Brenda, four days after our second anniversary. Pamala Wray, the baby, came a year and a half later. I named her for Faye Wray, the movie star. I used to like reading those Hollywood magazines sitting at the fountain after school with my friends.

But that was before I got married.

Paul Ray doesn’t want to be away working. But there ain’t no work here. It’s harder on him than it is me. At least I got my family and I see his mama and brothers when I can get to church. Paul Ray’s up near Dayton working for Frigidaire. Comes home every payday weekend. But when he’s got to put in for gas riding home with the Berry boys and splitting room and board up there, there’s just not a whole lot left for me and the girls. But we get by. There’s one thing we agreed never to do. Never ask nobody for nothing, if we can help it. He doesn’t want Daddy thinking he can’t provide, after making such a fuss about us getting married. Sometimes, Ma gives me greens from the garden or taters, eggs, sometimes if she has extra that might go bad. But I don’t never ask.

Last night, me and the girls set a trap for our supper. I didn’t tell them we didn’t have anything to eat. They thought we were playing a game. I took the strings out of my shoes and knotted them to some twine then looped it around a branch I had fixed for a fall trap. We used that wooden crate from the house — the one the kids use for a stool. The girls gathered up a big handful of clover for bait, then we laid still in the grass where I’d seen rabbits playing until one got too curious.

“There it is Mommy! Pull it!” Sissy said and the girls squealed when the box fell. It was only a little one. A baby. And it cried when I reached in to grab it. It clawed my hand until it was raw. They wanted to pet it, but it was too wild, I said. And I sent them to the house to get some rags. The baby watched the girls run to the house, so I wrung its neck when Sissy had her head turned.  I put it in the box and carried it up on my hip where she couldn’t see.

I made the girls go out front to play while I cleaned it. The baby stayed with me, pointing to the box, saying, “Bunny, bunny, Mama.” The girls asked me if it got away, but just said, “You saw how fast it hopped, didn’t you?” It hardly made one skillet full and they were still hungry when it was gone, so I split the bones and scraped out what little bit of marrow there was.

I know Paul Ray’s gone two weeks at a time and it does get lonely, but at least I know when I get to see him. Not like Miss Bellamy. Her husband’s in the federal pen for stealing mail off the route he used to carry at Two Mile. He probably won’t ever come home. Her place is on the backwater so she can catch bullfrogs for eating and there’s always apples at the corner of her lane this time of year.

It’s almost daylight and I know the Good Lord won’t condemn for me waking so early to climb the neighbor’s fence to milk his goat and bring it home for the girls’ breakfast. After I get the chores done, we’re walking over to Miss Bellamy’s so the girls can play with her two boys and we can sit on her porch and she can show me some new stitches.

Miss Bellamy always sings and talks about God being a loving and forgiving God. She’s got to believe that for Mr. Bellamy’s sake.  And, for her boys.

Me? I got to believe that, too.