When I was about eight or nine years old we moved into another old house in the country, not much different from all the others. It was without electricity, gas, water or telephone. But we were used to outhouses, chamber pots, kerosene lamps and a water bucket on the washstand.
My mother soon became acquainted with the neighbors, especially those with kids the age of her own. But Lily Thompson and my mother became good friends even though Lily was childless. My mother said Lily was a “fleshy” woman, but everyone admired the way she looked. Lily always wore colorful, crisply ironed house-dresses, and her wavy, dark hair always looked clean. I thought she was beautiful and I enjoyed her musical voice as she talked of her childhood in the hills of Arkansas. I loved the scent of her too and can still remember the sweet peas on the label of the squarish, green and white can of talcum powder she kept on her dresser.
Even Lily’s outhouse was nicer than most. You were unlikely to get splinters from Lily’s toilet because the seats were painted with a glossy white enamel. She had wallpapered the inside with a dainty floral print paper, and often as not, she had a roll of real toilet paper instead of the usual catalog or bucket of corncobs.
Lily’s husband Frank worked nights at the cement plant so she enjoyed having my mother visit on a summer evening. She nearly always had a cake or some cookies to offer, and she and my mother would drink coffee and visit until it was dark, and we had to borrow a kerosene lantern to find our way home. I usually returned it the next morning and got another cookie or slice of cake for my effort.
One warm evening Lily’s five nieces and nephews from Arkansas were visiting, and Lily sent one of them down to our house to invite us up for cake and lemonade. I think she wanted some playmates for them so the adults could visit. It worked. Soon the kids were all chasing lightning bugs and the adults were talking and laughing on the front porch. I decided they were having more fun than the kids, so I crept in among the spirea bushes to listen.
“One time when I was about fifteen,” Lilly began, “there was a real bashful fellar that sorta had his eye on me. He took to coming over to our house in the fall of the year, and he’d just sit around the stove and give me the eye once in a while. Daddy thought maybe he’d be a good prospect for me because he had a good job at the hardware store, and me being so heavy and all.
“Well, one night it was real cold, and we’d taken all the quilts from out of the metal trunk in the front room and piled them on the beds. We had a good fire going and I was a-sittin’ on top of that big ol’ trunk with my legs dangling down, and that ol’ bashful feller was just a-sittin’ there lookin’ at me. All of a sudden like, I just had to let go of some gas. I never dreamed it would be that loud, but that ol’ trunk magnified it. I recon it smelt bad too, cause that feller turned red as a beet and ran out the front door.
“My daddy always said, ‘Lily, that feller would’a married you if you hadn’t a’ farted on that trunk!’ I cain’t even recall his name now, but I reckon my Frank is a heap better anyway. At least he likes to talk to me!”
More than seventy-five years later I can still hear Lily’s musical laughter as she finished her story.