Murray, KY – I've already told you a little bit about Aunt Bell and Aunt Emma Pruitt. You know, the two spinster ladies who lived next door to Grandma Schroeder? The ones who were not really my aunts and who made me afraid of dogs? And how they calmed me down by feeding me cold, homemade biscuits?
I spent a fair amount of time at Aunt Bell and Aunt Emma's. Whenever Mom needed a break, she took me across the yard to their house where they lived with their nephew, Bryan. He worked somewhere and they cooked and kept house for him. I liked going there because of the change in surroundings and because it smelled different than Grandma's house. Not better. Not worse. Just different and I liked that.
I always took along a toy or two - usually little cars - because the only things they had to play with were library books. They went to the library often, walking blocks to get there and back, carrying bags full of books both ways. There were always stacks of books by the sofa in their living room and they let me use them as I saw fit - as long as I didn't mistreat them. The books became mountains and tunnels for my cars to climb and explore.
I don't remember many details about their place, except for the kitchen - where the biscuits were kept - and their dining room. Their dining room table sat near a double window. It was always set for the next meal and covered with a sparkling white sheet to keep the dust off the plates. I loved the way the sunlight played on the crisply starched sheet.
In the kitchen, they kept a permanent supply of huge biscuits in the bread drawer of their big roll top kitchen cabinet. The biscuits were as big as saucers. They used big tin cans to cut them instead of a water glass like Mom and Grandma used. And they were delicious, even when they were cold. By the time I was three, I was hooked on the Pruitt sisters' biscuits. Any time I wanted one, all I had to do was climb the steps to their front porch, knock on the screen door, and ask for one.
Mom didn't like it. She said it ruined my appetite at mealtimes. But I couldn't resist Aunt Bell and Aunt Emma's biscuits. And Mom -- happy, I suppose, that her finicky-eating son was at least getting something in his stomach -- was too soft-hearted to put her foot down -- until one day when she dropped by to find me helping the sisters make jelly from cherries picked from their backyard cherry tree.
Aunt Emma was dumping a bucket of cherries, straight off the trees and unwashed, into the big pot on the stove. Aunt Bell was busy with an earlier batch that had been bubbling on the stove for awhile.
Mom asked, Aren't you going to pit those, Aunt Emma, and pull the stems off?
Oh, no Marguerite. That's just extra work. They come out when we strain the juice.
Striving for delicacy, Mom asked, Well -- uh -- don't you check them for worms?
This time Aunt Bell piped up. Ah, naw, you don't have to do that. When it all comes to a bile, the worms float to the top and you just skim'em off. See? She ran her wire skimmer through the steaming foam and proudly displayed a dozen or so tiny, bloated, dead worms.
At that, Mom remembered something she had to do at home. Excusing us both, she led me out the back door. On the way across the yard, she told me, You are never, ever, to eat another thing at Aunt Bell and Aunt Emma's. Do you understand me? I didn't really, but the picture of the stiff, boiled worms was still unappetizingly vivid enough that I agreed with no further argument.
I don't remember whether I kept the agreement or not. In 1944, Grandma Schroeder died and my family moved to Bowling Green. I didn't see Aunt Bell and Aunt Emma again until I was eleven or twelve years old. They had moved back to their hometown, Junction City, just outside Danville. It's also where I was born.
Aunt Bell, the short one, was bedridden and dying from a stroke in a tiny, smoky little house that smelled like kerosene from the heater that made the room way too warm. Her gray hair that I remembered had turned completely white and was brushed down over her shoulders. Her skin was yellow and her eyes had a film over them. Mom said, Aunt Bell, do you remember Buddy? At that, Aunt Bell grinned a big, toothless grin and reached both hands toward me. All I could do was take her hand and murmur a weak, Hi. She scared the hell out of me. I needed a biscuit bad.