It was a good day. Dad picked up his new bi-focals and could finally read without getting a headache, mom finished sewing my sister Gloria’s dress, which she had been working on for at least two weeks and I picked up my brand new cornet and would be taking my first lesson next week. Meanwhile, I had been instructed to practice “buzzing” my lips and trying to get a good tone from my new horn.
Dad was busy reading the newspaper and would periodically comment how wonderful it was to finally be able to read the small print of the Louisville Times. “Now I can read the whole paper, cover to cover and not end up with a nagging headache,” he said, smiling. Mom was bragging how beautiful my sister, Gloria’s new dress was and how well it fit her. “I have become quite the seamstress,” she proclaimed, “even if I must say so myself.” Meanwhile, Gloria was standing in front of our living room mirror admiring her dress, and herself. It was the only one of any size in our home and the entire family used it to straighten our clothing before leaving the house.
“Jimmy, I think you’ve got that lip buzzing thing down pretty well, son,” dad said sternly. He was obviously becoming irritated with the sound and I figured it was about time for me to get in bed anyway. I had a history test in my fifth grade class the next day and I wanted to be fresh when I took it. All those names and dates were a little difficult, but I was pretty sure I could ace it.
Suddenly, mom got a funny look on her face and said, “Shhh – listen! Was that a car door?” We all sat still, listening, as mom hurried to the front blinds and raised one slat slightly so she could peer outside. “Oh my Lord!,” she whispered. “It’s Lester James and Thelma! Quick, turn out all the lights and everyone go to bed! Hurry now; get going and don’t make any noise!”
We all knew what that meant and we moved briskly, turning out lights as we went. Lester and Thelma lived in Indiana and were no doubt on their way to Brownsville, their hometown. They had a bad habit of showing up without warning and it seemed to always be late in the evening. Louisville just happened to be about half way to their destination and since we were kin in some way, they always stopped so we could “catch up on each other’s lives.” Of course, we all knew the real reason they stopped. Lester was always looking for a free meal and a bed in which to sleep. He was a mooch of the worst kind, always looking to save a buck, with absolutely no concern for anyone else. Staying the evening was just one part of his deal. He also expected a hardy breakfast and he wasn’t shy about suggesting what he liked. Three or four eggs and a pretty big stack of pancakes and of course, grits. He had to have grits and a lot of them, along with numerous strips of bacon. The man had the appetite of the Male High school football team.
Both my father and mother were born in Brownsville, Kentucky, a small city near Mammoth Cave National Park, and somehow we were related to these people.
Lester was a very large man with a high forehead and the largest hands I had ever seen. He would always force me to shake hands and my eleven-year-old hand would disappear, clean up to my elbow. His stomach hung over his belt and he was in all ways, a very sloppy man. I Remember hoping he wouldn’t sleep in my twin bed, but he usually did. Thelma was a cheek tweaker of the worst kind. My face stayed red for hours from her pinches. She was also rather large and had a perpetual smile on her face, with thick lips liberally covered with red lipstick. I was always afraid she would kiss me and always happy when she didn’t. It was a toss up, but between the two, I still preferred she sleep in my bed.
Bam! Bam! Bam! They knocked loudly. We each stopped in our tracks and froze. Bam! Bam! Bam! They knocked again and called out, “We saw your lights,” they said. They had us. There was nothing to do but open the door.
“We saw your light and I’m so glad we caught you before you got in bed,” he said. “We haven’t seen you guys in a long time and thought this would be a good time to catch up on things. How have you been, Aubrey,” which was my father’s name. I didn’t hear it very often, because most folks called my dad by his surname, “Mr. Coles.”
Anyway, Interpreted very loosely, Lester was really saying, “We’re tired and need a place to stay tonight. How ’bout we just stay here?” I knew I would be sleeping on the sofa tonight. Drat! Why did I have twin beds, anyway? It always got worse. Lester and Thelma talked incessantly, well into the evening. It was a school day tomorrow and I had a big test. I needed my rest, but my bed for the evening, the sofa, was occupied by Lester and Thelma. I wanted to say, “Please shut up and take my room and my bed and let me have the sofa, which is my bed for the night. I need sleep!” But I didn’t, of course, because my parents taught me better.
I also knew not to question mom about her attempt to avoid opening the door for “our relatives,” although I never quite understood how we were related. She was pretty quick with those instructions; had I tried anything remotely similar, I have a feeling I would have had a lot of explaining to do.
We kept an eye out for Lester and Thelma after that, but they always managed to get us to open the door and then wrangle my bed. That may be the reason I refuse to give up my bed today; my wife and I have two guest rooms in our house just in case guests show up unexpectedly.