Saturday, August 6, 2016


(1967/68) Fig Leaves and Toilet Paper

Growing up in rural Mississippi in the 1960s must have been a nightmare!  I know that as a city girl, if you can call Laurel a city, visits to the country often took on the guise of nightmares.
I was seven or eight years old when we went to visit my Uncle Frank. I don't remember but a couple of visits to him, but his one I will never forget. If I recall correctly, my two cousins, Charles and Stanley, might have been in Vietnam during this time. I know my cousin, Sam, was around, but he was still a little older than I. My Uncle Frank and Aunt Birdette (Yes, that was her name.) had only four boys. The eldest, Frank, Jr., was already gone and married. As I said, visits to their home were rare. Thank God!
Uncle Frank lived in the middle of nowhere. When it got dark, it was pitch black. I grew up with lights shining in my windows at night. I hate the dark.
When I say I was a city girl, I grew up within the city limits of Laurel, Mississippi. We were poor, and we lived in the housing projects. Nonetheless, we had electricity and running water, and a TOILET!
The lack of a toilet at Uncle Frank's house is one of the worst nightmares of my childhood. I don't recall if Uncle Frank had electricity; he might have used lanterns. He milked his own cows, and the milk was disgusting—hot and lumpy. It was not pasteurized or homogenized or cold. However, neither of those things tormented me as much as the lack of running water. Not only did he not have running water, he did not even have an outhouse!  No!  To relieve oneself meant going down behind the barn.
Well, I had to go. I had to go badly!  My mother told me where to go, so I trudged off to the barn, praying that no cows would attack me. I was scared stiff, but I had to go!
It got worse!  Not only did Uncle Frank not have a toilet, he did not have toilet paper. I wondered if they used corncobs. No, they used old newspaper. However, nobody told me, a child of seven or eight who lived in town with a toilet and toilet paper, to take some old newspaper with me.
What was wrong with these people? How could they assume I knew to take some old newspaper? There was supposed to be a roll of toilet paper, wasn't there? Panic set in. I could not hold it another second, and I don't mean tinkle!  I had to do the big job.
Forgive me, but I had no idea how to dig a trench, if they did that. I found a pile of sand. I guess this was kind of like a big litter box for humans. I glanced around for the crazy cows. No cows. I was safe. I pulled down my shorts (It was summer.) and panties. Oh, the relief!
At that point, I realized there was no toilet paper. What was I to do? I looked around in alarm. How was I supposed to wipe?
You would be surprised how creative and inventive the mind of a desperate child can be. I didn't have toilet paper. I didn't have newspaper. I didn't even have the dreaded corncob. What could I do? Ah!  The solution stood in plain sight.
Near the sand pile was a tree. That tree had leaves, broad leaves, leaves at least twelve inches across. I picked a couple of leaves and wiped myself clean. Problem solved.
"Ow!  Ow!  Ow!" Half an hour after taking care of my unwanted nature call, those were the sounds coming from my lips. I could not sit. I could not walk. My bottom and private parts were so sore and swollen I could hardly move.
I started to cry. My mother was frantic. "What did you do?" she asked.
I whimpered, "I didn't have any paper. I used some leaves from the tree down there."
I could not tell if the look on my mother's face was horror or humor. She felt terrible that I was in pain, but I could see the smirk playing around her mouth. The thought that I had improvised with fig leaves played havoc with her emotional response.
I now know that I am allergic to fig leaves!  I now understand why my mother wore long sleeves and gloves when she gathered figs. She was allergic, too.
An allergic reaction to fig leaves is similar to poison ivy—ON STERIODS. Oatmeal baths and calamine lotion eased the agony, but there was no Benadryl at the time. For days, I lay on my stomach on the couch at home. I didn't want to go the bathroom anywhere, not even in my safe toilet with soft toilet paper. I wasn't soft!  "Ow!  Ow!  Ow!"
Oh, the pain and the humiliation!  I recall Aunt Birdette laughing at me. I remember her biting words, "Magdalene, I thought she was real smart. Why would she use fig leaves?"
I recollect my smart remark back to the old bat and the surprise that my throbbing bottom was not swatted causing more pain. "I'm not the stupid one. Who in their right mind lives without a toilet and toilet paper? Y'all are a bunch of retarded redneck hicks!  I want to go home."
My aunt snapped, "Magdalene, are you gonna let her talk to me like that?"
Momma frowned. I waited for the fanny pop. "She's right," she replied. Then, she called, "Frank, take us home!" (We didn't have a car, and my mother couldn't have driven if we had.)
I honestly can't remember if I ever went back to Uncle Frank's house. Aunt Birdette was not a nice person. How could she blame a child for not knowing the rules of the hick? I have only one other vague memory of that place. I was sitting on the porch steps talking to my cousin Stanley, when he was home from Vietnam. He was sad, so I might have gone back once. Stanley was a very pleasant person and very attractive. It's hard to believe he was brought up under the conditions I experienced when I visited his home. Having few memories of Uncle Frank's home does not bother me. Honestly, that was I place I want to forget.

Of course, now I laugh at the experience, but it was an unforgettable nightmare. It was so NOT funny!  Adam and Eve must not have been allergic to fig leaves. Of course the fig leaves came before they were banished. Therefore, remember that if you ever get stuck somewhere without toilet paper, fig leaves and toilet paper are not synonymous!

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