Momma said she named me Susan because my dark eyes reminded her of the Black-Eyed Susans in the little flower bed by Grandpa's big front porch. The sunny flowers with the ebony pompom centers grew up through the marmalade colored Marigolds and the ruffled purple and white petticoats of the Petunias. I quickly became Susie, not Suzy, kind of plump, kind of plain, with brown hair straight as broom straws, pulled back into a tight, too thick pony tail, crooked bangs sweeping across my forehead.
I was too loud and I giggled entirely too much. My wardrobe consisted mostly of hand-me-downs, and seeing as how I was fourth down of six sisters, by the time they came to me the dresses were more patchwork than pretty, with sashes torn from their seams. Ree got the dresses second in line and Ree was a tomboy. Schoolyard games of "Kick the Can" or "Red Rover" were death to sashes, which presented themselves as easy targets to anyone gaining the lead from behind. If I did happen to inherit a dress come down from Carol that still had sashes, I made short work of them. Robyn, who was next in line after me, didn't know what a sash was until she turned ten and got a new dress for her birthday. Mary Kaye came after Robyn, poor little thing. It's a wonder neighbors didn't take up a collection for the sixth girl child!
Momma loved us and told us so on a regular basis. She also told us She was "gone to China," when she became overwhelmed with our need of her. She never really went to China, but I'll bet she contemplated it nearly every day for many years.
Daddy worked as an accountant and on the side he raised chickens. We had three long wooden chicken coops out back, landscaped with overgrown stink-weeds and haphazard Pottawatomie Plum Bushes.Directly behind the house the egg cellar was build right into the ground. It's shingled red slope of roof was about all you could see of it. That roof became the ruin of many a pair of pants from the sliding down of it. The exhilarating, bumpy race down it's sandpapery surface fast became forbidden adventure, one that often got me into trouble and created more patchwork clothes.
We grew up well feed on Momma's ten loaves at a time, smelling like Heaven, home-made bread. Always there were eight for the family and two to share with friends and ailing neighbors. When she made bread, Momma would let us little ones still at home have a little hunk of dough to make what she called a Henry Loaf. A Henry Loaf was just like a regular loaf, only baked in a tiny tin that produced tea party size bread. I loved to be with Momma in the kitchen, the windows frosted with steam, the smell of yeast and browning crust casting it's enchantment. I felt safe and secure in my perceptions of how things were.
I think back to those easy days of knowing who I was. I thought I had the answers that Momma sometimes seemed unsure of. Often she would cry for no reason apparent to me, no bruises or band-aids, anyway. I thought I could make her happy if I tried really hard and was a good helper...I thought I could do anything when I was five. I was convinced I had a pretty good understanding of my sibling-drenched world and how it all fit together. When I was six there came a prelude to what I came to think of as 'the strangeness." I was grudgingly made to understand how little of the working of my life I had real dominion over. That's about the time I became afraid of the dark.