Scruffy by Juanita Morgan Osborne
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From my bedroom, I could hear Miz Addie’s voice at the front door calling Big Ezzy. “Honey.” Miz Addie has a soft husky purry voice, sort of like Eartha Kitt’s. “Honey” she called again, about as loudly as she was able to.
“Big Ezzy” I called out “Miz Addie’s at the front door.” We didn’t call our mama Mama or Mother or MuDear. We call ours Big Ezzy. Big Ezzy like to say to say that there ain’t but one Big Ezzy on our street, and that that was her. That was what her brothers and sisters called her and that was what we called her, too. When friends and other people asked why we called our Big Ezzy that name, we just said it was because she was special. And that would be that.
Big Ezzy’s daddy’s mama gave her the middle name of Ezzene. It was a puttin’ together of Big Ezzy’s daddy’s name which was Ezra and her mama’s name which was Zena. Her first name was Honey, cause her grandpa said, the story goes, that she wasn’t nuttin’ but a brown glob of sweetness from the time she popped the hole. Outside folks and friends called her Honey.
Grandma, Big Ezzy’s mama, said they started calling her that from childhood, ‘cause she was always such a little woman, even from when she was the littlest little girl. Grandma said Big Ezzy been cooking since she was seven years old. Plus she had the sweetest easiest to get along with spirit.
Big Ezzy herself pronounced it Big-A E-say. Just ‘cause she can do that.
“I hear her.” Big Ezzy was in the kitchen taking something out of the freezer to thaw out for dinner. “The door’s open, Addie. Come on in.
I could hear when Miz Addie opened the door to come in. Everybody in the neighborhood probably heard. We have what have to be the squeakiest door hinges in the neighborhood.
Of course, Big Ezzy heard, too. “Have a seat, Addie. I’ll be with you in just a minute. You’re welcome to turn the TV up some if you want to. I wasn’t really watching it, if anything it was more or less watching me, nodding out.”
“I didn’t really come to visit. I came to see how the little mother-to-be is coming along and if she wanted me to fix her anything special. I haven’t seen her in a few days.”
Miz Addie wasn’t my real godmother, but she should’ve been. All through this pregnancy, she had treated me like I was carrying the future little prince or princess of the world.
I remember one time I had wanted not store bought butter pecan ice cream, but home churned cherry vanilla ice cream with fresh cracked pecans, not bagged mind you, but the whole freshly shelled nuts, stirred in. Miz Addie had asked “Girl, where do you think that I’m going to find fresh pecans this time of the year?” I don’t know where she had found them, but she had. Not only that, but she had churned the ice cream herself, using vine ripened cherries, the best vanilla beans, and the absolutely richest cream. I’m shame to say that I had eaten all of it; I mean all of it, by myself. I knew that Billy had wanted to taste some and I wanted to give him a little, too, but I just couldn’t.
Another time I had called her on the phone and had the raw audacity to ask her if she had had the stuff to make a salami sandwich with mayonnaise, peanut butter, strawberry preserves, and bananas. She didn’t mince words. To make it nervier, I had sat on the front porch and waited.
Big Ezzy would’ve done those things had I asked her, and Billy, my husband, lover, friend, and co-maker of the baby, would have done or just about died trying to do anything to please me. So would either one of my sisters if I had asked, but it just seemed to me that Miz Addie understood exactly to the exact the extend of my cravings, exactly without a lot of rig-a-ma row. Like the time when I had a taste for greens, I couldn’t tell which of the greens I had wanted the most, Miz Addie fixed me a pot of collards, mustards, turnips, and cabbage all mixed together. I didn’t need a plate or fork.
When Miz Addie had delivered that pot of greens, I sat sprattle legged with the pot of greens on top of a piece of newspaper in my lap and ate with my fingers straight from the pot.
I didn’t even have no drawers underneath my dress. I wanted to be good and comfortable while I savored every mouthful of them greens.
Nobody didn’t ask for none either. They knew better. They knew that they had better notta even looked hard at ‘em.
Nobody would have done that like that for me but Miz Addie.
Miz Addie always said that a woman with child should never want for nothing.
When my hair stood in a mess all over my head and I was walking around wearing Big Ezzy’s old housedresses in a don’t- care-very-much funk attitude, Miz Addie convinced me that just because a woman gets pregnant, don’t mean that she can’t still be sexy. In fact, Miz Addie said that a woman having a baby is even more enhancing. I like that word, enhancing. So every two weeks, she would set my hair, and she made me three dresses that made Billy drool when I wore them. The first time I that I wore the red dress that Miz Addie had made, Billy took me out dancing. I didn’t know until then that pregnant women were supposed to dance. He took me out dancing once a week after that.
I didn’t know either that pregnant women could still get some sex and like it. After Miz Addie made me sexy, Billy and me did it all the time, some times two times a night, and Lord, have mercy, was our sex good. The baby used to be bunching up and kicking all over my belly. Billy said the baby liked us liking it. It was good.
“Well, where’s Mommy?” Miz Addie asked Big Ezzy. “She should be about ready to go down any minute now, shouldn’t she?”
“Going down, Addie? She already went down. The baby’s three days old.”
“Three days old! The baby’s been here in this world for three days already and I don’t know? Honey, now you know better!” Miz Addie’s voice was so raspy with shock till she sounded hoarse.
“I know, Addie. I know. I have no reasonable excuse other than they’ve been here with me and things have been so busy. And besides, Addie, I’m shame to say, she acting like she don’t want nobody to see this baby. Sound strange, but it’s true.”
“What did she have? A little boy or a little girl?” Miz Addie asked.
“A little girl. A very little girl. She’s so little that you could sit her inside a tea cup with room on the sides to spare.” I could hear the tender pride in Big Ezzy’s voice.
Big Ezzy is such an exaggerator. My baby is little, but a teacup? She weighs two pounds and two ounces, which is way less than what Big Ezzy’s other grandchildren weighed at birth (of the five other grandchildren, the smallest one weighed eight pounds seven ounces). Her vitals was strong enough for her to come home.
Big Ezzy tended me through my delivery. She wouldn’ta had it no other way. I heard her telling Miz Addie that she was surprised that my baby didn’t slip through her fingers.
My baby ain’t frail. She little, but she feisty and strong. Them people from the hospital wasn’t fixing to release no baby what couldn’t hold its own at home.
They didn’t release me actually. I just got up and left. They didn’t even get no vital information for me. I wasn’t in no mood for discussing nothing concerning this baby.
“You know I wouldn’t lie about nothing as serious as a child especially one that’s one of my own, but I’m telling you that this is the most different baby I’ve ever laid these eyes of mine on and you know in my thirty-three and change years of midwifery, I done seen my share of babies starting from what some might call beyond beautifully normal, whatever that is, to heartbreakingly abnormal in many cases. I done seen babies that weighed in well into the teens. The biggest one weighed sixteen pounds and thirteen ounces. The mama was a lil ole girl, too. She wasn’t much bigger than the baby. I think she musta weighed all of eight-five or ninety pounds before she unloaded the baby and the bag of water. She didn’t utter the slightest murmur, neither. She just clinched those little tiny hands, but not before she gave me one anxious pinch which I didn’t mind at all.
I done had ‘em do and say anything while they be in the process of having them babies.
I done had my eyes blackened, my nose bloodied, and my teeth not ever knocked completely out, but hit hard enough to loosen ‘em to the point where they wished they hadda been knocked out.
One time I was hit in the mouth so hard that my top teeth jammed down in my bottom lip giving me the lockjaw. My mouth swelled up so big, fat, and fast, it looked like it had been gassed up with helium.
I know for sure that gal had knocked me cross-eyed ‘cause my left eye was viewing the things on the right side of the room and my right eye was doing just the opposite; it was seeing the left side of the room.” Big Ezzy said.
Miz Addie says that Big Ezzy’s stories are better than all of the soap operas rolled all up together in one. It’s nothing for her to get up and turn the volume down lower on the TV so she can hear Big Ezzy more better, and not miss a word.
I’ve known Miz Addie to pee her pants trying to make it to the bathroom messing with Big Ezzy. Water would be coming from everywhere. She would be laughing so hard that tears would be streaming down her face; spit would be spouting from her mouth while she was choking, and pee would be poring down her legs.
You would think that Big Ezzy would stop or that Miz Addie would get enough, but uh uh, no, that just don’t happen. NEVER.
Miz Addie goes to the bathroom, washes her face, rinses her mouth, dries herself off, and comes right back, sits in the same spot, and waits for Big Ezzy to pick up where she had left off. Big Ezzy, being Big Ezzy, would be delighted to go on and on, and on.
Big Ezzy says she don’t mind Miz Addie laughing all she want to and she don’t mind her peeing either, just as long as Miz Addie don’t lose control and piss up her sofa. So far, that ain’t happened. So far. And since this routine has been going on since forever, I’m guessing that it ain’t likely that it might ever happen. No, not probable or possible. Though it would be a real interesting experience to see what would actually happen if Miz Addie ever did lose control and as Big Ezzy says, “piss” on her sofa. I imagine that Big Ezzy would be more pissed than that sofa. She loves that sofa.
She, as she says, “inherited” that sofa when Miz Caroline Koonce moved.
Miz Koonce was the woman that Big Ezzy cooked for in addition to delivering babies.
Miz Koonce would swear that she had dined in some of the finest restaurants in the world; from Paris to New York, from Madrid to Milan, from Athens to Atlanta, from London to Las Vegas, and that no chef in the entire world and “Trust me, my dear, I’ve been served by the best of them all, all over the world, and none could match my Honey’s (talking ‘bout Big Ezzy) gourmet cuisine.”
We would tease Big Ezzy that she cooked gourmet cuisine for Miz Koonce and her family, and just plain food for Daddy and us.
Big Ezzy would laugh and say that chicken and dumplings, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, spare ribs and cabbage, catfish and hush puppies, blueberry cobbler, and some of her other specialty dishes could all be considered just plain food or gourmet cuisine, depending on the tastes and appreciations of the persons being served. That remark would hush us up for about a minute.
When Miz Koonce would hug Big Ezzy and say something like “My Honey is sweeter that the queen bee’s honey. There is absolutely no honey that’s sweeter”, we would tell Big Ezzy that Miz Koonce only calls her honey because she doesn’t know that Honey is really Big Ezzy’s real first name. Grampa, Big Ezzy’s daddy, had named her that. He says that he knowed from the minute that Big Ezzy was born that she looked just like Gramma and was sweet just like Gramma, too, but he says that he wasn’t fixing to stick her with the name of Ollie Ree that Gramma got stuck with, so he named Big Ezzy Honey. Uh, huh, Grampa think he funny, too.
I didn’t know if Big Ezzy had shared that with Miz Koonce, but one day when I was helping Big Ezzy serve a dinner party, Miz Koonce came over and whispered to me while I was washing, drying, and putting away the dishes “You know, Darling, I know that Honey’s name is Honey, but isn’t it sweet that Honey is not just who your mother is, but it is what she is, too. Isn’t that sweet?” Then she winked, kissed my forehead, patted me on the shoulder, and walked away. I don’t ever remember making a remark about Miz Koonce calling Big Ezzy “Honey” after that.
I don’t recall those two women ever having a crossword. I remember only one time Miz Koonce almost got Big Ezzy’s time wrong. Miz Koonce and Big Ezzy were around the same age and they both had three children apiece. Miz Koonce had two girls and a boy and Big Ezzy had my two brothers and me.
Anyways, Miz Koonce had wanted to go to Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband for a long weekend, to a Big Ezzy said, “to slay the one-arm bandit.” (I never did get that one.)
Well, anyhows, Miz Koonce wanted to know if Big Ezzy would stay in so they she could keep the Koonce children while they were gone away. She suggested that such an opportunity would allow Big Ezzy to make some extra much needed, she thought, money. When Big Ezzy had explained that Daddy would be away doing his long distance truck driving. Big Ezzy had asked Miz Koonce the question of who was going to keep us while Big Ezzy was keeping the Koonce children. Miz Koonce had said that she trusted only Big Ezzy with her children, and suggested the idea that me and my brothers were becoming of the age when we should be beginning to become able to be responsible for ourselves without the crutch of Big Ezzy.
I’m not sure- it’s never been completely clear to me what the exchange of words and opinions was after that point. All I know is that Miz Addie from next door who two boys was both away in the military, one in the Army and one in the Navy kept the Koonce’s children that time and thereafter.
I never remember Big Ezzy ever spending a night away from home from us. That is, not until Sam, but that’s another story.
Anyways, knowing how much Big Ezzy had admired her living room Miz Koonce had written a clause in her will leaving her living room furniture to Big Ezzy in the event of her death. And that’s the truth.
Big Ezzy had said that when her class was in junior high school that they had a field trip where they had went on a tour of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Big Ezzy had said that Miz Koonce’s living furniture was more beautiful that the furniture in the White House.
I don’t know how pretty the furniture in the White House was. I only know by what Big Ezzy says. But that furniture would have to go a few steps beyond beautiful to even come close to Miz Koonce’s.
Death wasn’t necessary for the inheritance.
Mr. Koonce got a new job and was transferred to somewhere in the Midwest, somewhere in Indiana, I believe.
Anyways, Miz Koonce said that it would be an injustice to not leave the furniture with Big Ezzy when she moved, knowing how much Big Ezzy had liked it.
They went a couple of rounds back and forth of “you must” to “I can’t” to “I insist” to “Oh, please don’t.”
Anyways, Miz Koonce moved and the furniture stayed along with a dining room set with a china cabinet a mahogany bedroom set with a chiffarobe.
Anyways, Miz Koonce moved and the furniture stayed along with a dining room set with a china cabinet a mahogany bedroom set with a chiffarobe.
It’s been some while since the Koonces left, but her and Big Ezzy still correspond. It’s been at least six Christmases, at least, because Big Ezzy always receives a card with a family picture and two one hundred dollar bills tucked inside.
Big Ezzy don’t have money to send, but she always sends a card, a written note of what’s going on with us, and a small gift from the ninety-nine cent store.
Miz Koonce always calls back to express how lovely the gifts are and how much she cherishes them. Big Ezzy says that Miz Koonce says that Big Ezzy’s choices in food and gifts are both gourmet.
Anyways, Miz Addie, dear friend that she is and desires to remain, doesn’t want to do irreparable damage to her and Big Ezzy’s friendship by getting so tickled that she would lose control and pee on Big Ezzy’s sofa. That’s just the way that is.
If she made an accidental dribble on the floor once in a while, that was okay and mutually accepted. She simply dampened a rag, put a little pine sol on it and wiped the dribble up. That worked.
Miz Addie was dry, back in place and ready for more. It was like she had never left.
“Addie, Honey, when I leave this earth, I’m taking the scar from that ding dang lick with me. I’m telling you, Child, I have some stories to tell, trust me. I’ve been hit and bit all over my body – my face, my arms, my hands, my ears, my nose, my legs, everywhere.
I was leaning over this one girl when a hard contraction hit and she bit the nipple off my left breast. You don’t believe me, do you? Here, let me show you.”
I could picture Big Ezzy opening her blouse. I just knew that Miz Addie wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity for the exhibition.
After a minute or two, Miz Addie stopped laughing and gasped “My Lord, Honey, how have you been able to stand it?”
I never could understand how Miz Addie could chew gum, stuff snuff, drag on a cigarette, drink, laugh, and talk while participating in Big Ezzy’s big show all at the same time, without gagging or choking to death. That within itself takes some talent. I’m here to tell you.
“Hazards of the job, Addie, hazards of the job. Like with any other job, there are peaks and pits. The joy of delivering a newborn life – all brand new into this world, gives me immeasurable joy and replaces any pain or indignity I might encounter.
People differ in the way that they react to pain. No two people have the same tolerance level to pain. Some can bear much pain while other can bear little or none, but the end results are almost always the same in the gift of a new life.
Most times the gift of life is welcomed, sometimes not.
Some celebrate life, while others cry bitterly.
I had a coupla mamas that carried a baby full term delivered a healthy normal child, get up, dress, and walk out of the hospital just like they was a visitor and leave the baby alone, unnamed, unclaimed for the starters in its introduction to his brand new world.
I’ve been spit on, clawed, cursed, and called some names that Webster has not only never heard of, but would probably have to search the depths of hell to define.
Did I mention about being kicked? One time I was prepping a young Big Ezzy, you know shaving and antisepticising her coochie for delivery. Well, let me tell you, this, Addie, this girl gave me a kick in my own coochie that shot shock waves all the way through by body bruising my butt hole. If I’m lying, I’m flying, and I ain’t neither angel, bird, nor airplane.
There are women who pine and long so to birth a child that that they hearts bleeds every month along with the bleeding of they wombs.
There’s others who can birth out a infant and flush it down the toilet with the same indifference as a wad of toilet paper. All in all, the joys of my job far outnumber the disappointments by far.”
Big Ezzy cleared her throat. “Like I said, Addie, I done seen some babies in my life time – all sizes. I told you about the biggest baby.
Well, the smallest one I delivered who survived tow ounces short of a pound. Talk about tiny; he was tiny, tiny, feisty, and determined. We used a hand towel for his blanket.
You talking about a little one having the will to live. This one had a will to live that was in-born, in-bred.
I seen rats, many of ‘em that was bigger than that baby, but the family didn’t give up on him and he didn’t give up on hisself from the git go.
He was under a twenty-four hour around the clock prayer vigil. He must be about seven years old now and the last time I seen his daddy some months ago he said that Daniel – that was what they had named him – was calling hisself playing soccer – first string no less.
I done seen babies all colors – white uns, red ‘uns, brown ‘uns, black ‘uns, yellow ‘uns- some blue and purple.
You know Addie, one baby I delivered, one little yellow baby whose eye lids was so closed and slit so narrow that a very delicate operation performed by a surgeon with steady miracle fingers who had to sit a opening for the gift of sight without scratching that baby’s eyeballs. Ain’t that something, Addie? Ain’t that something?
He wasn’t no old skilled doctor, neither. He wasn’t no old skilled doctor, neither. Well, he wasn’t no baby neither. He was, I guess about thirty-five or six which was at one time in my earlier years I woulda considered an older man. Ain’t that a blip, Addie? Aint that a blip.” Big Ezzy and Miz Addie giggled at the thought of the thirty-five year old man back in the day.
I woulda thought that to have the precision of skills that he had that he woulda had more years plus. I personally thought that he was very young, but he knowed what he was doing.
I followed the baby’s schedule to see when this young doctor made his rounds to check his little yellow patient. He would come a few times a day more than most do in regular routine tasks. A lot of doctors would allow interning doctors or nurses to perform those routine task, but he took special care to do his hisself.
The day that he removed the bandages was something. I was like a child who was about to witness the miracle of Christmas all the night before.
That baby’s eye lids was sealed so tightly that I fretted that the tears of this tiny soul having no outlet of release might rain on his little inside and flood his little heart.
I had been there waiting with the parents and grandparents. When he came in, he was void of any of arrogance, or pride. Or confidence, showing no visible sign of any emotion, at least not that I could see.
The little one laid there motionless, his little head and face swathed in snow white bandages covering all but nose and mouth. Childrens always amaze me, Addie, at they easy adaptation to things. Any grown up person woulda had deep problems with the discomfort and inconvience of those swathings. Comfort and convience is things we learn to get accustomed to, I guess. I think we birth into this world uncomfortable and inconvienced. We spoil ourselves with comforts and conviences.
He laid there as if he had been so coached to do. I know that don’t sound possible, but that’s just how trustingly motionless that baby was.
The young surgeon came with no assistant, carrying his own tools within his little black bag. He took out a pair of thin scissors, which he used to gently, carefully, and deftly used to cut am remove the bandages.
With that done, he opened a sealed small packet of a moistened medicated wipe and gently dabbed around on eye. What? No Addie, I don’t recall whether he wiped the left or the right eye first, but yes, he did take out another medicated wipe to do the same procedure on the other eye.
We all watched anxiously at the movement of the eyeballs beneath the closed eyelids.
The lids fluttered slightly, then to our wonderment, blinked slowly at the sighted light. The first visible figure was his sight giver, his eye opener if you will. The second visible figure was his mother.
The young mother in gratitude lifted the young surgeons fingers reverently to her face, her lips, then to her eyes moistening the fingertips with tears of thanksgiving.
He spoke nary a word. Now that I think back on it, I had never heard him utter one word. To be perfectly frank with you Addie, I have no evidence that the young doctor would speak.
He freed his hand gently from the young mother’s hand and placed it in the pocket of his white medical jacket pocket. He had yet not shown one sign of emotion, but as he turned to leave the room, I saw the thinnest film of water glistening in those seemingly cold steel slate grey eyes.” Big Ezzy could talk on and on without end.”
I could hear Big Ezzy giving a heavy sigh.
“Yes, Addie, babies come in all colors. Three or four times, I done delivered babies that done come out colored blue- blue, cold and not breathing. I done had to take these fat lips of mine and place them over their little noses and mouths, so that their first breath of life turned out to be not their own breath, but mine.
I done seen babies, Addie. Let me tell you. And I know all about ‘em. Let me share a fact with you that I know about babies and most folks don’t know or don’t seem to know or maybe don’t care to know about ‘em. And that fact is that babies come into this world with operating senses and feelings. I done seen some that as soon as they heads exit the womb, they eyes is wide open with the questions in ‘em. Questions what asks “What’s going on?’ and what and where is this?’
They of course, ain’t learned to express it yet, but you can tell that they know that they ain’t where they was all the time.
I ain’t too altogether certain that their sensitivity ain’t developed in the womb before they once show up in the world. It stands to reason that if a Big Ezzy done at a short done et a short while before the baby is delivered and if her labor time is short, the baby is gonna come here nourished, full, and satisfied.
Some folks like to keep prodding in trying to force them to nurse when they be already full. But the babies, having more sense that the grown folks simply remain contentedly asleep until that feeling has serviced and passed out of the baby’s body.
Then, trust me he’ll let you know when he needs to eat again, he will let you know all about it in loud without a doubt tones and terms.
At that time, somebody had better come up with a nipple leading to a breast full of milk or a rubber nipple leading to a bottle full of something.
Once they suck till they get full and they know when they do, they simply drop contentedly back off to sleep. That along with a good belch and a dry deflated tittie will satisfy a baby for a while. Babies ain’t that hard to please, yet, then.
Some of ‘em require more frequent diddie changes than others because they skins is more susceptibly sensitive to irritative created rashes.
The same as grown up folks. Some grown folks can wear the same pair of underwear for two or three weeks, while other folk will develop serious infection if they fail to change their undies everyday.
I tell you something else, Addie that I don’t completely agree with the so-called experts about.
Yeah, Addie, that’s the point I was getting around to. You ask what should you do with a baby if he or be it a she, keep on crying when they be full and dry. If they want to be picked up and cuddled and loved and hugged and kissed and played with for a little, I ask these questions from the experts ‘Why not? What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with responding to the baby’s request of “I need affection?’
As old as I am, I long for a hug myself once in a while. Don’t you, Addie? Just because I don’t cry out for a hug sometime don’t mean that I don’t feel like it sometime. At my age, hollering for hugs just ain’t appropriate. But for a baby, sometimes food especially from a propped up bottle just ain’t enough. A baby need to feel some love some times. Me, too.
In fact, come to think of it, I can get cranky myself when too much time done lapsed between my getting some hugs and kisses. Let me tell you, I can throw out some real stank crank. You too, Addie? I know that’s right.” On and on she talked
I could hear Big Ezzy rearranging the pots on the stove probably getting something from the icebox and adjusting the fire under the pots.
It smelt like she was cooking chicken and dumplings – her own special recipe and one of Miz Koonce’s favorites.
Big Ezzy missed Miz Koonce. They shared a special friendship bond even though we had lived down here where we live and Miz Koonce had lived up there where she lived.
Miz Koonce had asked Big Ezzy on several occasions if she would consider moving out to where the Koonces now after the three of us was grown up. They was even willing to buy her own house.
Big Ezzy never did give her a solid answer, but Miz Koonce and Big Ezzy both knew that that decision was just a source of conversation. They both knowed that Big Ezzy wasn’t about to go nowhere but where she is and always been, not now, not in the future, not ever.
The two of they had shared some special moments though.
They was about the same size, just built up a little different. Big Ezzy’s behind was full and round, and hers was wide and a little flat.
Big Ezzy had nice sized legs, Miz Koonce legs was nice, too, and bigger that Big Ezzy’s.
Big Ezzy had a outstanding wardrobe, thanks to Miz Koonce. Just about everything that she bought for herself, she bought in a different color for Big Ezzy. She said that she had only had a brother so buying for Big Ezzy was like share buying for the sister that she had never had. The stuff that she bought wasn’t no cheap stuff. It was all name brand and came from the top shops in town.
Other than when Big Ezzy went up to cook and wash those few hours a week, they hardly ever even saw one another as often as they had when they and we were younger.