Press "Enter" to skip to content

Polliwog Eggs and a Duck

“Just before light… darkness, impenetrable.” So Aunt Mae would say, always placing the adjective at the tail end.

I stayed with Aunt Mae and Uncle Carl when my sister was sick in the head. I'd wake often at that time of night in their house. Sometimes Mae would already be at the kitchen stove. Carl worked the green chain at the mill, sorting lumber. He left in the night or came home in the wee hours, I can't remember which.

The sick in the head sister was a week full of years older than me, but she could out-clever the devil when she chose to. Mae and Carl and Mae's girl, Leesie, camped at our place. By a tiny bend in the river where you used to drive across, late spring through fall, into the mouth of Allen's Gulch. Everyone called it Carl's Camp, though Mae and Leesie pretty much used it as a summer escape while Carl worked. He only showed on weekends, riding up and down the river road with Dad in his pickup during August, looking for bucks to kill.

Leesie must've been 'bout half way between me and the sister in age. Scrawny as a street pole at ten or eleven, Leesie picked mussels lickety-split off the rocks on the coast. But the sister fool tricked her many a time along the river; convinced her polliwog eggs, from the puddles in the road, would ward off many an affliction. 

They set out upriver on the road one day with Leesie scooping up handfuls wherever possible. Reckon that delicacy didn't fend off bellyaches 'cause she come down with a ferocious one around midnight, retching off an' on 'til just before light.

I expect the darkness there by the bend in the stream may have felt impenetrable to little Leesie about then. It was a Saturday night and Carl didn't enjoy having his day-off sleep broken by a barfin' girl.

Carl didn't sleep well. Mother said it was on account of the war. He had seen action in North Africa all the way up Italy. Fragged a young officer with a grenade in the foxhole when he kept sending the men into machine gun crossfire in one of those impossible campaigns. Of course, I didn't find that out until decades later when I drove Carl to the hospitals after he caught the cancer. 

By then Aunt Mae had left him, moved out of state. However, there were times before that, though, when I visited them in town. I was grown, Carl's right arm had been mangled, and their relationship stared right down the barrel of poetic:

Just Barely Literate
Aunt Mae likes to say
'bout Uncle Carl

And she means it
He can write his name
Standing skinny with his good left arm
Strangling the pencil in that fist
Bends his bones o'er the table
Stabs her with a brown-eyed gaze
Curls a full C on the page
She snuffles her grand nostrils
As he pins a shaky tail on the “a”

Aunt Mae, impatient on one foot
Leans against a chair,
Eyes searching out the clock
Carl struggles to round the top of the “r”
Then slashes the lonely “l,” leaning
A tad askew

Just Barely Literate
Aunt Mae likes to say
Carl straightens his skinny bones
Slaps the screen door open
With his good left hand
And lets the frame slam

She stomps to the sink
Washing her hands
He plays out there
With his pet duck
Once in a while he glances back at the house
Mutters a word which rhymes with buck

At times like these she shakes her head
Aunt Mae does
Shakes her head and says
Just Barely Literate

He picks up the fowl
And pets it slick
She sees through the window
And grins
He don't like me
But he loves that duck

(Ducks prevail at

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *