Whenever our family gets together and stories of old are swapped Cathy usually requests I tell this one. In writing the story it loses some of its’ flavor without the sounds and hand gestures necessary to convey the full impact. The setting was in my childhood home almost seventy years ago.
One of my best buddies and inseparable companions during our pre-teen and teenage years was Eric Richardson. We hunted, fished, camped out, water-skied, rode in his Model A Ford, worked on my motor bike and spent the best part of every summer day together. Eric’s grandfather and father owned and operated Richardson Oil Company, and they gave Eric and me our first jobs during the summer of 1955. Our job titles would probably be general handymen. We didn’t accomplish much meaningful work but sure had a great time while getting paid the whopping sum of 50 cents per hour. I still have the first check I ever received as an employee which of course is a cancelled check.
I have written about Brother Mose who worked for our family and just how much I loved him. I believe Eric loved Brother Mose almost as much. We enjoyed all his funny stories and songs, and we loved teasing him about his snaggle-tooth of which he took no offense. When we had a little extra money we would buy a cigarette or two from Brother Mose for a nickel or a dime. That was an exorbitant price to pay because a pack of cigarettes sold for twenty-five cents, but we dare not go to the store to buy a pack. We feared the store owner might tell our parents. We knew our secret stayed with Brother Mose, because it was profitable for him, and he didn’t want us to get into trouble.
During one brief period Pop had hired a cook and housekeeper named Ollie. I don’t know who recommended her, but she undoubtedly was very efficient and was also a pretty good cook. Ollie was slender in build, quick in her movements and short-tempered in nature especially with Brother Mose. She couldn’t seem to tolerate his slow but steady pace, and seemed to think he must either be lazy or not very bright. The songs he was always singing or humming must have added to her impression Brother Mose would try to get by with as little work as possible. If for no other reason than she didn’t like my friend Brother Mose I didn’t care much for Ollie. She usually didn’t have time to talk with me and would answer any questions I had with either a short yes or no. She was more interested in getting her work done than in having a relationship with me or with any of my friends. I suppose this was a good thing for Pop and Mom, but Ollie just wasn’t much fun to us.
One day when Eric was at our house and we were near the kitchen, we heard Ollie open the back door and with a loud voice call out to Brother Mose who was far away in the back yard, “Mose, get yo’ lazy self up here in this kitchen and sweep and mop it right now like Miz Mo’ has told you.” Mose responded in usual slow and polite manner, “Yes’um, I’ll be right there in jes’ a minute.” Eric and I couldn’t stand hearing her mean voice and seeing her attitude toward our pal. For some reason Eric said, “Ollie, did you know that Old Mose has epilepsy, and when someone yells at him and threatens him, he will have a seizure?” I picked up on his spontaneous (but untrue) story by saying, “When Mose has a seizure he doesn’t know what he is doing and turns violent by striking out at the one closest to him.” While speaking Eric spotted the meat cleaver which always hung on a rack by the kitchen sink and continued to enlarge on our concocted story. He said with a straight face, “Once when a housekeeper in this very kitchen yelled at Mose he had a seizure and grabbed this cleaver and buried it in her forehead right between her eyes! She died right where you are standing.” Ollie said she didn’t believe this story and asked, “If he killed the lady why didn’t he go to prison?” We said Pop loved Brother Mose, and when he arrived to check the lady he testified she died of a heart attack. He signed that on the death certificate, so there was never an investigation. Ollie said, “You two boys are telling a big story that ain’t true, and I ain’t got time to listen to no more of yo’ lies.” We said she had better listen and keep a close eye on Brother Mose. The trap had been set in her mind, but we needed to let Brother Mose in on the scheme.
Eric and I made our way to the back part of our large yard where Mose was raking leaves and asked if he would like to make an easy fifty cents? “I shore would. What are you two boys up to?” We told him all he had to do was when he went into the kitchen and Ollie started fussing and complaining, he needed to grab the meat cleaver and act like he was going to use it on her. He said he could do that, so Eric and I each gave him a quarter.
Within five minutes, Brother Mose made his way to the kitchen where Ollie was working at the sink with her back to the door. As soon as Mose entered the room, Ollie began her usual tirade, “I don’t know why you took so long getting here, and you ain’t done what Miz Mo’ told you. Where you been all this time? You know what you supposed to do.” As she turned around to face Mose, he had the cleaver in his hand and according to him, all he did then was show it to her and say, “Here’s what I’m gona’ do!” Mose said her reaction was instant as she squatted down with both hands in the air as if she was about to receive the deadly blow to her forehead. She screamed, “Ohhh Lawd Jesus, hep me.” She then burst out the back door in a dead run and ran half-way up our long driveway before she stopped. When Eric and I heard the commotion and came into the kitchen Brother Mose was doubled over in laughter. He said Ollie had “run off.” Eric and I went quickly up the driveway to tell Ollie it was a big joke, and Mose would never hurt her. It was safe for her to return to the kitchen and continue working. We were afraid she was going to report us to Pop or even worse to the police.
Ollie never fussed or complained again to Brother Mose following this incident, but I don’t think she ever fully trusted him. She kept her eyes on him not knowing whether he might really have epilepsy or some other strange malady. Within a month she turned in her resignation to Pop saying she had found another job. None of us were particularly sad she was gone, and I never told Pop this story. If I had told him I think he would have had a big laugh over it especially the part about the death certificate.