Cut Grass Smells Like Hunger

Edith Fox Morris

Edith and Willie Fox, Grand Rapids Michigan about 1925

I could hear the whir of several lawn mowers. Men were cutting the grass. Over all was the scent of new-cut grass. I buried my face in the cool, tickling green stuff. Underneath was damp, brown soil. I felt very sick. There hadn’t been much to eat.

Willie, Maurine and I had walked to the park. It was twelve blocks. Twelve endless blocks. Willie had gone immediately to the swings. Maurine had seated herself cross-legged before a bed of flowers. Her blue eyes drank in the color. I had flopped on the grass near her.

Willie was my brother and Maurine was my friend. Maurine lived two doors from us and was rich and beautiful. Her father was a fireman and earned $75 a month. Her mother let her play with me.

Lying on the grass, resting, I told Maurine, “There is some stuff I read about in the Comfort Magazine. You send 50 cents. It makes your hair curly. You put it on at night and in the morning…”. I stopped speaking as visions of golden, curling hair, my hair, floated before my gaze. I could see myself waking, my golden curls spread artistically on the pillow, Better yet I thought, have Aunt Vida come in and see me. There I would be. My face would be white. My lashes, long, (maybe they would grow) would lie on my cheeks. All around that lovely face, mine, would be billows and swirls of pale gold, curly hair. Maurine had moved away to inspect another flowerbed. I finished my daydream.

After I had rested awhile I played too. We swung. We explored the silent, deserted amusement part where the merry-go-round was, staring at the painted eyes of the horses, quiet now.

Willie was drawn to the lake and we followed him. It was a “made” lake and it was always muddy, but it was wet. Willie went wading. Maurine and I took off our shoes and stockings and waded too. We had black “babydoll” slippers. I had black ribbed stockings. Maurine had white socks.

Inside the pavilion two young ladies and two young men were playing the piano and dancing. Maurine and I watched for a long time. One of the young ladies was lovely and had on a lovely summer dress. It was made of flowered voile with lace and rows of insertion. It came to her instep, and the skirt was a modified hobble. She and her escort practiced the “hesitation.” The other young man played the piano. “Beautiful lady,” he played. “Beautiful lady”, the piano said. To me the lovely girl dancing was the Beautiful Lady.

We played around the muddy lake. The shadows started to lengthen and we started the endless twelve blocks home. It was so far, I wished we had not come. But at last we were at home again.

The next morning Willie and I went to the Sittons’ home before eleven o’clock. We did not mention it, but we both knew that our intention was to be there at dinnertime. Mama worked as housekeeper for the Sittons. We knew that our presence there would embarrass her. Mr. Sitton paid her wages. There was no reason why he should feed her children also, but like friendly puppies, or hungry children, we pushed ourselves in, even while we knew in our hearts that we were in the wrong place.

As soon as we arrived I could see that this was a drinking Sunday. The Sittons were an ill-starred family. Since we had known them, (a little over a year) three of their members had died. Within months Mr. Sitton was to die and two of his cousins. Of his immediate family, when last we heard of them, (a little over a year later) only the children, Al and Lucy, still lived, Of his cousins’ family, only the old grandmother still survived. They died of various things. Accident and illness, but the pervading cause seemed to us to be their erratic way of life.

Ed Selig, a cousin, was already very drunk. Mr. Sitton had had too much. Ed Ryan was dumb with liquor. The one Lucy called “Aunt Lucille” sat at the piano. Her fingers meandered drunkenly, but still musically, on the keys. Mama was getting dinner. Mama, of course, did not drink. Al did not drink. Lucy was too young to drink.

Mama did not scold today. She even allowed us to sit at the table with the rest, probably because the family was not alert enough to complain. The dinner was very good, but Willie and I were the only ones who perceived its goodness. We ate as much as possible. It was wonderful not to be hungry.

After dinner I stood a long time by the piano listening to Aunt Lucille play. She could play any tune mentioned by any one without any music in front of her. I asked for several pieces. One was Pink Lady of Yesterday. The one about the beautiful lady. She played the pieces I asked for, but she had been drinking entirely too much. She was in a weepy mood and her tears kept the piano keys wet. As much as I loved music, I was repulsed by Aunt Lucille. There was something so unwholesome about her. I looked at her with loathing and wanted to get away from her.

Mr. Sitton asked for, “Tipperary.” It must have just come out, because Aunt Lucille did not know It. Mr. Sitton was Insistent. He must hear “Tipperary.” He would pay 50 cent to any one who could sing “Tipperary” to him right now. I thought frantically, “Did Willie and I know it?” 1 knew that we did not. I knew, “It’s a long way to Tipperrary,” and I knew the melody, but I did not know any more of the words, Could I make up some which would do? Willie and I tried. We should be given credit for trying. We started bravely, “It’s a long way to Tipperary, mm mum mumble, de de.” I tried to throw in an appropriate word here and there, but Mr. Sitton was not drunk enough.”You don’t know it,” he said.

I wandered out to the kitchen. The dishes were finished.”Let’s get out of here, Mama,” I said. I was angry at Mama because she did not seem to feel the disgust which I felt for these people. She agreed however, to go to the show with me. Willie had disappeared with his friend, Bee Hubert. He would not be back till night.

At the show things were better. There was a very satisfying chapter in What Happened to Helen. Herbert Rawlinson was at his dashing best, and thrilled my young heart. In the feature, a girl, who was not Mary Pickford but who resembled her, suffered untold agonies, but at the end she was enfolded in the embrace of the hero, while Mama and Papa held their hands in blessing over her head. The stage darkened and the spotlight came on. In its glare, blinking, stood a dark, slender boy of about twelve. He was beautifully dressed in a Norfolk knicker suit and black button shoes. He sang:

“Don’t you remimber
California in Septimber,
When we stood, ‘neath the wood,
‘Neath the beautiful sky.
I made you cry when I whispered, “Goodbye.”
My Deeeerie,
Don’t you remimber
How you promised you’d be true.
So expect a choo choo
That’s bringing me back
To California, and you.”

His voice was unforgettable and his pronunciation regrettable. I have never forgotten him. I have no idea who he was.

A young man hopped from the floor to the stage. I perceived a large cardboard box in the dim shadows.

“We will now have the drawing. We are going to give away three boxes of Lemuel’s Sweet Milk Chocolates to the lucky ticket holders.”

He scanned the audience near stage anxiously. Unerringly he picked the prettiest little girl. He lifted her the stage. The spotlight picked her up. She was a dream of beauty.

“This little girl will now saw the lucky number.” With pretty gestures she drew the tickets from the box and handed them to the young man. Soon the three boxes of candy were disposed of. We didn’t win one.

I was not interested that phase of it. A wonderful dream had captured my fancy. How wonderful, how grand, it would be to be the girl who took the tickets from the box! I longed for the honor so much that it seemed that if I was down there close to the front, it was certain that I would be the one who was chosen.

The young man would say, “You are the one.” He would lift me up. There I would stand with the spotlight on me. My face would be lily-white and delicate. My eyes would be large and blue. My hair… my hair? Why, I would look just like the girl on the cover of Valse June. My hair would be red-gold, and amazingly profuse, and very curly Thus would I look, and the people would gasp at my beauty. What I longed for would be experienced to the fullest on one wonderful moment.

The young man said the next drawing would be Wednesday. I began making plans at once. I carefully hid my real motives behind other reasonable ones. I managed to arrange it. On Wednesday evening Maurine and I went to the show. We sat on the front row, center aisle. The young man looked anxiously for a little girl to pick out the tickets. Unerringly he picked the prettiest one. It was Maurine.