Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Millie Paddock's Baby

The Paddocks lived across the street from us in Prunewhip. They were low on the social register, and furthermore they were weird. Mrs. Paddock and her daughter Gladiola went to chiropractors, who were universally considered to be quacks. They had no grass on their front yard and Mrs. Paddock was an indifferent housekeeper. They didn’t know how to manage money and were always going to the Lady’s Aid Society at the First Baptist Church for a bailout. The ladies refused to give them money - you don’t give money to people who are going to run over to Bennington and spend it on a chiropractor. But they would buy them a bag of groceries here and there, because it was the Christian thing to do.
Worst of all, well - I wrote a poem about this:


Old Man Paddock - 1953

Old Man Paddock was a vegetarian and he wrote poetry.
Twice a year he’d get drunk and terrorize the neighborhood,
going from house to house roaring rhymed couplets about
God, Jesus, and beauties of nature.
We’d all lock our doors, pull down the curtains and
huddle inside waiting for it to be over.
It was the next best thing to funerals,
where everyone cried and there was lots of
fried chicken and potato salad
.

No-one was surprised when the Paddock’s youngest child, Millie, got pregnant at age 16. But here was the shame of it - every once in awhile a young lady of Prunewhip found herself with child out of wedlock. There was a procedure for this. Her parents would take her out of school, early on, because she had to go to Ohio and take care of her ailing grandmother. Then they would spirit her off to the Florence Crittendon Home of Redeeming Love in Burlington. She would stay there until the baby was born, give it up for adoption, and return to life in Prunewhip. These trips fooled no one, but they served to preserve the veil of propriety shrouding all activities that could not be done in the middle of the street in broad daylight. Millie Paddock, however, decided to spend her entire pregnancy at home and keep the baby. Furthermore, her slack-jawed, trifling parents supported her in this decision. They weren’t even ashamed. They sashayed around town going to the store and the post office and the June strawberry festival like they didn’t have a care in the world. This was so scandalous, people walked across the street if they saw Millie Paddock coming in the opposite direction.

At this point my Aunt Cynthia kicked in. She was a rebel, also, in her own way. She smoked cigarettes and never went to church. Nor did she make excuses for not going to church. She never claimed that she had a bad back and sitting in the hard wooden pews gave her blinding pain. She never said that she worshiped God as He is manifested in the grandeur of the natural world. She just stayed home smoking and sewing. She was the town seamstress. Her sewing skills were legendary. She could see a fancy dress hanging in the window of Drysdale’s Department Store in Bennington, go home, cut a pattern out of old newspapers, and make an exact replica of the dress. She could make three-piece suits that fit like a glove, and wedding dresses fit for royalty.

Cynthia was also the magic maker of doll clothes. She saved her scraps and turned them into incredible doll clothes complete with pockets, with little handkerchiefs sticking out of them, with a flower embroidered on the handkerchief. She could make felt hats and red rubber boots for dolls. All year she made these doll clothes and on Christmas eve she’d sneak around town leaving packets of them on little girls’ front doors. She hated thank yous.

Aunt Cynthia also hated gossip. If anyone tried to gossip in her presence she’d cut them off in mid-sentence, saying that none of us were any better than we should be. She did not like what was going on with Millie Paddock. A month or two into the situation she announced to one and all that she was making a layette for Millie Paddock’s baby. Then she went to work on it. I don’t think the Prince of Wales had a better layette than Millie’s baby. She lined a basket with satin and covered the edges with a lace ruffle embroidered with yellow rambler roses. She made a tiny mattress and pillow covered with fine cotton sheets and a pillow case edged with lace. She filled the layette with sacks and shirts and diapers and shawls and all manner of finery such as no one had ever seen before. As the months wore on, people took to stopping by Cynthia’s house just to see the latest addition to this fabulous layette.

When the layette was done she made another general announcement (you only had to announce something to one person in Prunewhip and everyone would know within an hour), as to the day and time when she would deliver this layette to the Paddock household. Sure enough, a small crowd gathered to watch her grand promenade up the Paddock’s front walk, across their creaky porch and through the front door, carrying the magnificent layette.

My Aunt Cynthia enjoyed a great deal of respect in Prunewhip, despite her peculiarities. You could not continue shunning someone Cynthia singled out for such a gift. Millie had a boy, whom she named Ernie. They took their places in the life of the town with no more disapproval than that reserved for any other member of the Paddock clan.

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