By: Christina J. Johns
My mother played the part of the 1950's wife, but she also had a job and an office. Her job at the Red Cross was perfect in some ways. She was her own boss, worked from 9 until 12, and had no employees. But, there was one BIG downside. She was on call most of the time.
At any moment, the telephone could ring and all family plans were put on hold. We waited while my mother worked with families trying to get their fathers, brothers, or husbands home from the service for one emergency or another.
So, growing up, I was used to phone calls in the middle of the night.
I don't know what was different about this one phone call, but something about my mother's tone made me creep from my bed and sit down on the hardwood floor in the hallway that led from my room to my parents', to listen.
I heard only one side of the conversation, but I was later filled in on the other.
"Hello." My mother had said.
The voice at the other end was a woman's voice, a frightened woman's voice, but this was nothing unusual. A lot of the people who phoned the Red Cross were frightened or traumatized.
"I's callin' for Miss Sarah Ward McPherson."
"Yes," my mother had said. "This is she."
"Miss McPherson, this Lottie." There was a pause. "I's a friend of Lucy May, work for you."
"Oh, yes." My mother said. "What is it?"
"Miss McPherson, I hates to bother you, and I ain't never phoned nobody in the middle of the night in my whole life, but Lucy Mae, she say you gots to come down here."
"What's the matter?" My mother asked already reaching for her bathrobe.
"I's the baby, Miss McPherson, something wrong with the baby."
"Oh, my God, Lottie. What's wrong?"
"I don know Miss McPherson, but Lucy Mae been screaming all afternoon and all night, and that baby won't come. Somethin's wrong, bad wrong."
"I'm coming Lottie, but you need to phone a doctor right now."
"We done phoned a doctor, Miss McPherson. Ole' Doctor Calhoun"
"And is he comin'?"
"Well what did he say, Lottie. Does he think she needs to go to the hospital?"
"He don't say nothing, Miss McPherson, he won't even come in the house."
"He say he gots to have twenty-five dollars fore he step one step inside this house, and Lucy Mae upstairs hollerin' like she dying. She gon' die, and he standin' on that front porch like God hisself put him down there and turned him into stone."
[Hissing] "You put him on the phone." My mother hissed.
"Put him on the phone Lottie."
Lottie left and came back. "Miss McPherson, he say he ain't coming in the house without twenty-five dollars in cash."
"Did you tell him who it was Lottie?"
"Yes ‘em I tol' him."
My mother's voice was low and controlled, but it was the voice that sent everybody in my family (including my father) scurrying. It meant a damn was about to break and you did not want to be standing in the way.
"Lottie, I'm on my way, with the money. But, you go outside and tell that morphine-soaked son-of-a-bitch that if anything happens to Lucy Mae or that baby before I get there, I will scratch his eyeballs out and put them in his hands and then so help me god I'll kill him right there on that porch."
"Miss McPherson, I can't tell him that."
"You tell him, Lottie, you tell him I said that."
Lucy Mae and the baby were fine in the end, but when mother arrived, Dr. Calhoun, truly morphine soaked to the gills, was still standing outside on the porch as big as you please. Mother would never tell me what happened on that porch, but I bet Dr. Calhoun was sorry he'd ever been born.
A few months later, ole' Doctor Calhoun had his license taken away. Somebody reported him for getting the wrong rich old lady hooked on morphine. I always wondered if mother had anything to do with it, but if she did, she still won't admit it.