Oyez, oyez, oyez! Know that this post is not about woodworking, it is about life. So if it’s only woodworking you’re interested in, be away with you and come again, another time. But if you would hear a cautionary tale, told to anyone who has ever treated a wife, inamorata or companion with anything less than complete love and respect, then, by all means read on…
My grandmother had a cousin, Goldie. In 1920, Goldie was a young woman. She was always described as lithe, lovely, full of life and full of fun. Her family were good people, hard working folk, never having more than just enough. But the family was happy and Goldie well loved. Apparently, many a young fellow fell under Goldie’s spell. But she exhibited only the slightest fraternal feeling for any of her admirers. Then “Chick” came into Goldie’s life.
Chick’s given name was Charles. There’s no need for family names here. But, suffice it to say, that both Chick and Goldie were from Irish families who had “outdistanced” Mother Church on their migrations. But still, there were rules. Chick, according to my grandmother’s account was a tall, well proportioned man, with dark hair and piercing eyes, not “leading man” quality, but impressive. He was smooth and more than a bit of a rake. Had he followed his family trade, Chick would have been a carpenter or a boatwright. But Chick chose a different path. He decided to be a railroader.
In those days, everyone in the community drank, to a greater or lesser degree. Call it genetic predisposition, boredom, fear. Call it what you like, drinking was wide spread. Well it turned out that Chick, slick as oil and soft as an evening in spring when sober, was a mean drunk. And his meanness was without favor. On payday, Chick would stand a round for the house, but pity the man standing at his side after the fifth or sixth pour. And his meanness went home with him, as well. Payday usually meant that Goldie would become the target of Chick’s fury. But in Irish-American, working class communities in 1920, men venting their frustrations on their loved ones was not uncommon. And, silence became the accepted practice amongst wives and mothers.
After a payday night’s escapade, that may have left Goldie with blackened eyes and broken ribs, came the loving. Tearful apologies would fuel the passion and Goldie would welcome her true love and become pregnant once more. This was the cycle. Yearly children became the rule. But after eight births (including several stillborns), Goldie changed. No longer the willowy darling of the neighborhood, Goldie was tired, very tired. Most especially tired of Chick.
And then it happened. Chick falling across the threshold. Maddened. Raging. Goldie, trying to calm him, received blow after blow until finally she stood and said, “if you ever lay a hand on me again, you’ll regret it so long as you live”. A brutal blow left Goldie on the floor and Chick sprawled on the bed, unconscious in his drunken stupor.
So Goldie, weeping on the floor, next to the pot belly stove that heated the small house, made a decision. After insuring that the children are asleep, upstairs, Goldie gets her needles and thread. Goldie, it seems, was an accomplished seamstress.
In a workman like manner, Goldie pulled the sheet around Chick and began her sewing, following the contour of his now limp body. Stitch upon stitch, until Chick looked as if he was ready for a burial at sea. With arms across his chest, Chick lay, looking more like a beautifully symmetrical cocoon, than the drunken brute who had collapsed in the bed just hours before. But Chick differed from the usual cocoon in one regard, the soles of his feet were exposed.
Then Goldie, lithe, lovely, little Goldie laid the flatiron on the stove. This was the flatiron she had used for years to earn the money she needed to care for her children, as Chick drank away the family’s savings.
When the iron was hot enough, she woke Chick. He was startled and she waited a moment as his head cleared. Family tradition has it that Goldie told Chick that she would never be struck again, as she laid the hot iron to the exposed skin of his feet.
As years past, people often remarked how wonderful the relationship between Goldie and Chick had become. But it seemed that Chick never again knew a good night’s sleep.