Living with the Veyettes

When my mother went through the change of life, she had a rough time of it. Her health was poor, and the changes in her body made her miserable.

She had multiple things wrong. The doctors gave her hormones, and I think that made it all worse. I remember at one family reunion, I went looking for her and found her curled in the fetal position in the back of someone’s car. Her doctor recommended that she go to Newberry State Hospital. She went twice. In the summer, it was no big deal. But when school started, I was sent off to stay with my grown Veyette cousins. My sister and brother could manage for themselves. But I was only seven.

I understand now why they sent me to the Veyettes who lived across town. But at that time, I felt punished. I felt singled out. I thought I must have done something wrong. Maybe it was my fault that Mom had to go way. The Veyette sisters were kind and loving. There were three of them living together at the time in a lovely old apartment by the Pullar Stadium. They cared for their aged father, Uncle John who was in his 90s.

I had to sleep with Geanne, and I started wetting the bed again. I was embarrassed when she had to wake me up in the night because the bed was wet. We would get up and change the sheets and go back to sleep.

On Saturday mornings, it was my job to dust the living room and dining room. The living room faced east and the morning sun poured into the room. As I dusted the piano desk, I watched the dust motes rise up into the air and re-settle on the surface. It was a kind of game I played with the dust. Swipe, watch, swipe again. There was a three piece bookcase that fit into one of the corners. That’s where they kept a little plastic tea set that I played with. They had other toys for all the children that visited. These were unmarried ladies, but they loved having children around. There were always fat, soft sugar cookies and molasses cookies for the little children—and the big children, too.

There was a piece of coral on the top of the bookshelf. I didn’t like looking at it because it was full of little holes. I didn’t know why I didn’t like it, but one of the sisters said it might be because there had once been living things growing inside the little holes. In the dining room, I was allowed to wind the Seth Thomas clock that stood on the buffet once a week with supervision. Another one of my jobs was to do dishes. I spent a lot of time playing with the soap suds in the sink.

Leona Veyette had polio as a child. She later had to use a wheelchair, but when I lived with them, she was able to get around with crutches and leg braces. In spite of her handicap, Leona could do just about anything. I don’t think she ever used deodorant, because Leona always had a sweaty smell when she hugged me. Geanne was Regina. She sailed on the Great Lakes during World War II and later worked at Crisp Laundry. Mary Jo was a nurse’s aide. She worked at the hospital until she retired.

I loved them all for their kindness to me. But I was so happy the day my family came in a taxi to take me home. My mother had come home, and I was going home, too.

Cris Roll


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