My granny was a multi-tasking kind of woman. She took in ironing for people, baby-sat kids, and kept up with her own grandkids and family.
Granny's last babysitting job was the Leotard kids. No, that wasn't their real name, but close enough. Somebody has to protect the mean and ignorant.
I was five years old the last time she kept them. I can remember the last day just like it was yesterday. I hated it when the Leotards came over. When these kids showed up, cats would run and hide and the chickens would go get in the goose pen so the goose would protect them. Yes, they were that bad.
There were five of them, a couple of girls 6-8 years older than me, a boy about my age, another girl just younger, and a baby. The oldest girls were bullies and just plain mean. Their favorite past-time was holding down a younger kid and pummeling the crap out of them. I got more bloody noses and deep bruises from the Leotards than I've ever had in the rest of my life. I also had my first and only drug overdose at the tender age of 4, compliments of the Leotards, but that story is for another day.
On that last day, Granny had spent the morning washing quilts and had them hung out on the line to dry. The Leotards came and Granny immediately sent them outside to play.
Somewhere along the way, the oldest two girls got the idea to play with one of the quilts hanging on the line. Now everybody knows, you don't mess with Granny's laundry hanging on the line. Line hung laundry is close to sacred.
Not the Leotards. Everything was fair game. Granny caught them the first time and scolded them, but they weren't deterred. They just moved down the line to the other side of the lilac bushes, where the heaviest quilts were hanging and where Granny couldn't see them.
The girls took one of the heaviest quilt off the line, still wet from washing, and spread it out on the ground close to the goose pen. They got a bucket full of chicken feed and poured it in the middle of the quilt and waited. Eventually, the chickens decided it was okay to check out and descended on the feed. While the chickens were busy pecking, the Leotard girls rolled them up in the quilt. Twenty-two laying hens, rolled up in a wet quilt. I still can't believe how fast it happened and how they managed to get all of the hens in there.
I wanted to tell my granny so badly what was going on, but I'd already been pinched hard enough to leave a bruise, just for being alive. What would they do to me if I actually tattled on them?
Granny called all of us kids in for lunch and the chickens were promptly forgotten.
After lunch we went back out to play and I tried to keep from getting beaten up. We climbed the old apricot tree, swung on the rusty swing-set, and played hide-and-seek. Chickens forgotten.
About three o'clock that afternoon Granny called us to help her get the quilts off the line. I loved this part of wash day. I got to hold the pin bucket she kept her clothespins in and when she'd hand me a pin, I got to put it in the little bucket. I thought I was in high cotton.
One by one the quilts came off the line and were folded. Each child was given a folded quilt to take into the house and put on the cot in the kitchen until Granny decided where they belonged.
We finally got to the other side of the lilac bushes and my granny had the only conniption fit I've ever known her to have. She wanted to know who took the quilt off the line and why was it laying on the ground. I think she had an idea who did it, but wanted to see if they would confess.
Well, the Leotards, being the kids they were, pointed right to me. Yep, they stood there hand on hip, pointing their fingers straight at me and telling my grandma I did it. I was scared! I knew I didn't do it, but right then I would have admitted nearly anything.
Granny sent me to sit under the tree until she was finished and then she'd deal with me. I knew one of two things was going to happen. I'd either get switched or she'd make me go in the house to think about what I'd done and then I'd get switched. Personally, the thinking about it made the switching that much worse.
I can still hear what came next. The absolute terror-filled, blood-curdling scream that came from my granny as she unrolled that quilt to find twenty-two steamed, suffocated, very dead, laying hens.
In the 19 years I knew my granny, I never ever knew her to sit on the ground, except that day. She fell to her knees and sobbed. I don't know what hurt her more, the loss of her chickens, or the fact that kids would do something like that. Probably the latter.
She sent all of us kids in the house and called my grandpa to come home. I'd never seen Grandpa looking quite as grim as he did when he walked through the front door.
I don't know what came of the chickens or the quilt, but I know she never ever kept the Leotard kids again.