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Fat and Sassy: Alvin’s Pet Rat

Summer 1955

Alvin walked proudly all the way home, the paper sack he carried rustling and wiggling with every step. It was his, all his. He’d wanted one of these for a long time. It took several weekends of mowing yards for the neighbors and doing odd chores, but he’d finally collected the fifty cents he needed. He felt all grown up when he’d handed the money over, a nickel and a dime at a time.

Getting closer to the house, he had second thoughts. Maybe his mother wouldn’t be nearly as excited about his new pet as he was. He peeked in the door. Whew! She wasn’t at her usual spot behind the ironing board. He stepped in cautiously and moved slowly through the front room. Clanks and scrapes from the kitchen gave away his mother’s location. He tip-toed quietly back towards his room.

pet ratThe old rusty cage he’d found out in the alley a few weeks back, discarded by the neighbors and set out with the trash, had cleaned up quite a bit. He pulled it out from under the bed and sat it on the orange crate that doubled as a chair, or nightstand, whatever it was needed for. After a few twists back and forth on the latch, the cage door sprang open, ready for its new occupant. Alvin gently unrolled the top of the brown paper sack and tipped the opened bag into the cage. The little white rat tumbled out and sat for a moment, temporarily dazed. “There, there, Buster, it’s all right,” Alvin consoled the confused creature. “I’ll go sneak you a piece of Mama’s bread in a little bit.”

He wandered through the kitchen, where Bea stood stirring a pot of beans. He tried to look casual. “Can I have a piece of bread Mama?”

“It’s too close to dinner, you’ll spoil your appetite.”

“Just one Mama? Please. I’m awful hungry, after walking all the way downtown and back.”

“All right Bubby, just one. Hep yourself, it’s over there.” Bea pointed to the counter, where a loaf of bread lay almost hidden behind stacks of breakfast dishes still needing washed. “You want some pear honey with it?”

“No Mama. I believe I’ll just have a plain slice of bread today.” Taking a piece from the bag, he took a bite, then shoved the rest in his pocket as he strolled out the back door to the tiny, cluttered yard.

The area around the clothesline was clear, excepting a pair of Papa’s overalls hanging next to a pair of sheets. Piles and stacks filled the rest of the yard. Old bottles, boxes, pieces of furniture that needed repairs, hangers, bicycle tires, more orange crates, a wagon missing a wheel, old skillets. It was a mish mash collection of everything imaginable. One of the side effects common to many of the people that had lived through the Depression. After years of being poor and not having anything, the survivors tended to hoard anything that was useful or may be needed in the future.

junkAlvin didn’t think too much about it. He didn’t remember the years when everything the family owned could be packed up in the car and moved across the country with hardly a thought. Now that they’d been settled in one spot for almost ten years, the ‘useful objects’ had slowly accumulated and was just there. Which made it handy for a nine year old boy in search of a water bowl for his new pet rat.

With the bread distributed to the rat and a small dish filled with water, Alvin went on about his business, playing and running around on the corner lot with neighborhood boys. He was so busy that he’d almost forgotten about his newly acquired pet until a screech sounded from behind the screened door at the front of the house. “Alvin Dale Jones!”

He went running. He knew that tone of his mother’s voice. He also knew it was never a good thing to be called by all three names. This was big trouble.

Bea stood behind the door as he entered. “What in tarnation is that in your room?” The whole neighborhood probably heard Bea and knew that she was not happy.

“That’s Buster. My pet rat.”

“You are NOT keeping a pet rat. I won’t tolerate it. You go let him go this instant.”

“But Mama …”

“Don’t But Mama me. No sassing back. Jist go do it. Now.”

“All right Mama.” Alvin hung his head and dragged his feet towards his room. He muttered under his breath, “But it’s my pet rat. I saved up the money and spent fifty cents of my own money. I should be able to keep it.”

“Alvin Dale … I can hear you.”

He bit his tongue and didn’t talk back anymore. But that didn’t erase the thoughts running around through his head. He’d worked hard for that money. It was his money. He should be able to keep what he spent his money on. Well, there was no way he was going to let this sweet little thing loose in the outside where a cat would probably find it and eat it. It was his rat, by golly, and he was going to keep it close. He’d let it loose all right. He walked up to the cage and reached for the cage door. He opened it and stood back. “C’mon Buster. You’ve got to go.” He stood back and waited. “C’mon little guy. After all, Mama didn’t say I had to let you go OUTSIDE.”

Buster scampered out, now quite sure what to think of his new found freedom. It didn’t take him long to figure it out. He flew away as fast as his little feet could take him. For quite a while afterwards, Alvin spotted him here and there and knew he was still around. He never did find out if his mother knew that he’d let Buster loose in the house or not.

Fat and Sassy: Los Angeles County Arboretum

It’s Tuesday Tales time. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘savage’.

I think I know the direction some of our romance writers will take with this, but in Fat and Sassy, we’re going down another path. We’re moving into 1951 now, the year we need to be in for this historical tidbit about the Arboretum to be true.

Return to TUESDAY TALES for more snippets.


tarzanA car pulled to a stop in front of the house. Bea pulled back the curtain and peered outside. “Mrs. Finkbiner’s come for her wash,” she said out loud, although Alvin – home from kindergarten – was the only one around to hear her. She eased up from the sofa and headed to the door.

“Howdy,” Bea said, holding the screen door open.

“Afternoon Bea,” Mrs. Finkbiner said, entering the front room, intact with pocketbook and gloves. “How are you today?”

“Oh, just fat and sassy,” Bea answered. “You have time for a cup of coffee before you run off?”

“I could sit for a few and visit, but I’ll pass on the coffee. I’m headed home from the meeting at the Women’s Club and we had coffee there right before I left.” She sat her pocketbook on the floor and settled down on the sofa. “Joe’s going to be at the market till late tonight. Something about a delayed delivery. I declare, that man’s going to work himself to an early grave.”

Bea sat in the rocker across the room and turned towards Mrs. Finkbiner. “So how was yore meeting at the woman’s club?”

“It was the usual. You know how it is when a group a women get together.”

No, Bea didn’t really know how it was when a group of women got together. Other than the socializing at church, she didn’t have time to get together to just chat and drink coffee. She had her family. She had her ironing business. She had her church. She wasn’t really in the community women’s group social circle.

“Bertha, one of the members, did have some exciting news,” their visitor added. “They’ve planted 1,000 trees at the Arboretum, and they expect to open it to the public within the next five years.”

A puzzled look flashed across Bea’s face. “The Arboretum? What’s that?”

“Why, the Arboretum is the site in Arcadia that the state and county purchased from the Lucky Baldwin estate. It’s over a hundred acres and will be planted with all types of trees, shrubs and botanical wonders. It will be a delightful place to visit. I can’t wait until they’re done with all they have planned for it.”

“I guess being an Arkie gal, and all the woods and hollers I had in my own backyard, I plumb don’t understand why people have to make a place like that on purpose.”

“Why, Bea dear, that may be so back in the hills where you lived before, but here in California we don’t have the delightful acreage that you’re so familiar with. Why, most of this area was an arid desert for years until they brought irrigation here.”

“I reckon that’s so,” Bea agreed. Not that she really agreed with her guest. But in an effort to be polite, after all, she was one of her best customers, and her husband was an influential person in the community. Even though they attend a different church, Bea thought silently.

“The part I’m most excited about,” Mrs. Finkbiner continued, “is that the acreage included in the sale to the Arboretum will have the site where the Tarzan movies were filmed.”

“The Tarzan movies?” Bea questioned.  Now she was really feeling behind the times, not having a clue about what her guest was talking about.

Mrs. Finkbiner held her hand to her chest in astonishment. “Back in thirties, didn’t you see any of the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller? The ‘noble savage’?” She fanned her face to mimic heat rising.

“No. I was either back in the hills with no electricity and no running water. Or else, I was getting married and we were back and forth trying to make a living, and starting a family. I don’t reckon there was much time or money for going to the movie theater.”

Mrs. Finkbiner chatted for a few more minutes, then picked up her pocketbook and opened it. “How much do I owe you, dear?”

“That would be two dollars today.” Bea stood & gathered the dress shirts and dresses hanging neatly on the hangers on the laundry stand in the corner.

Watching her visitor pull away, Bea had a momentary lapse where she began to wonder what else she’d missed in life, besides the Tarzan movies, and the urge to visit planned, planted acres. A tug at her skirt got her attention and she glanced down to Alvin standing quietly beside her. “Hey Bubby-boy,” she said, patting his head. No, I’m not missing a thing. I don’t need no high-falutin’ life. I’ve got everything I need right here.

Fat and Sassy: Glendora Citrus

Welcome to Tuesday Tales. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘lemon’.

In Fat and Sassy we’re back to the late 1940’s, after our brief foray into 1958 last week. (Isn’t writing fun? It’s like time travel, without the hassle of a space convertor – or whatever one would use for time travel.)

Return to TUESDAY TALES here for more snippets using lemon.


smudge potsCasey opened the front door. No one was in the front room. “I’m home,” he called. He sat the small brown sack on the end table and went in search of the family.

Bea was standing at the kitchen table, running left over roast through the meat grinder. A small bowl of pickles sat on the table waiting its turn through the grinder, spreading its fragrant sweetness through the room.  “You ready for a sandwich? The fixins’ll be ready in a few.”

Children ringed the table, watching Bea work, anxious to taste the results. Mae was in position at the sink, washing plates.

“Shore thing. Looks mighty tasty.” Pulling out a chair, Casey sat and reached for the bag of Bar-B-Que chips. “Guess who I ran into at the hardware store?”

“No telling. The mayor? Brother Cline?”

“No. Bill Stoddard.”

Mae turned, holding the soapy rag up, “The man from the packing house that gave me my dolls?”

“Yes’m. He’s the one. He asked about all you chillin’s. I told him you still treasure those dolls.”

“How’s he doing?” Bea asked. “He shore was kind to us when we lived behind the packing house.”

Casey paused as he bit into a chip before answering. “He’s doing well. Said he had an offer to go with Upland Lemon Growers. But he doesn’t think he’ll take it. He said it’s more money, but that it’s almost not worth driving over the hill to Upland every day. He said he’s been with Glendora Citrus Association for so long that it would feel like leaving family.”

“We’ve shore met some nice people with all our moves back and forth across the country.” Bea picked up the pickles and started running them through the grinder. “I miss back home. But I shore like the winters better here. Sure beats shoveling snow and being chilled to the bone.”

“I like all the orange groves here,” Ida piped up. “I like the smell when the trees have all the flowers all over them.”

“Me too,” Helen agreed. “I walk by the groves on the way to school and take deep breaths of the orange blossoms.”

“All the orange trees are nice here,” Bea said. “But I shorely wish they didn’t have to use those dad-gum, nasty smudge pots.”

“Now, Mother,” Casey said, “you know they need those to save the citrus crops. Those pots are a blessing to the industry. Without the citrus in the area, we’d all be a lot worse off than we are. There’s a lot of jobs going to those groves and packing houses.”

“That’s a fact. But yore not the one who has to clean up all the black smoky mess that fills the house on the nights they fire up those pots. That smudge creeps in through every surface and covers everything in its path. I’ve even rolled towels and laid in the windowsills to try to help keep it out and it doesn’t help much.”

“Least ways they don’t need to fire up the pots every night. Only when it gets cold enough.”

Bea picked up a large spoon and mixed the ground roast and pickles. “Hand me that loaf of bread, Prissy.”

Ida handed the bag across the table to her mother. “I’m ready for a sandwich.”

“Yore Daddy first. Then you chillin’s get yore sandwich.”

Fat and Sassy: Patsy arrives

Welcome to Tuesday Tales! This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘hug’.

For this scene in Fat and Sassy, we’re jumping ahead about ten years, but this is the scene where I wanted to use hug. Next week we’ll return to the 1940’s.

Return to TUESDAY TALES for more great story snippets using hug.



Newborn Patsy

The years passed. Mae and Luther got married, proving the sisters and all their teasing right. Mae worked at Monrovia Nursery to pay for the wedding, since the family didn’t have funds to provide for one. Over fifty years later, when Patsy, the first daughter was working at a nursery in Arizona, she would remember her mother’s Monrovia Nursery stories every time they received a shipment from the same nursery.

Bill was stationed in Germany. Helen was getting ready to graduate from high school. Tom and Ida were right behind, still in school but not in need of mothering. Alvin was twelve, technically the ‘baby’ of the house, still Bea’s Bubby-boy, yet he wasn’t a baby any longer either. Life was easier for Bea now, without a house full of little ones. She missed little ones, though. Her arms ached to hold babies. Babies; they were her favorite. She’d get a baby in her arms and she’d start rocking. She didn’t even need a rocking chair. But if she were in one, she the baby and the chair would all be moving, keeping time with the lullaby crooning from her lips.

She couldn’t wait to be a grandmother. Mae was trying her best, now that she and Luther were married.  She was trying again for a little one. Two still born babies later, she and the rest of the family were nervous about how this pregnancy would turn out.

Priscilla Elaine Cline, the first grandchild on each side, was still born on Christmas Day, 1955. A little over a year later, on January 30, 1957, Patrick Elvin Cline joined his sister (and their uncle Evan Lee) at Oakdale Cemetery in Glendora.

The two young babies, who never drew a breath, brought back horrid memories of Evan Lee dying at such a young age. Bea remembered the pain of losing a baby. Mae had her own nightmares about Evan Lee that would plague her for years. And now she’d lost two babies. Bea and Mae had something in common. They had something in common that no mother ever wants to share.

Dr. Hightower, who had delivered Patrick and Priscilla, along with Evan Lee fourteen years earlier, and Luther and Gerald Cline years earlier than that, advised Mae not to try to have any more babies for at least five years. “Your body has to rest,” she said.

Mae’s new doctor, Dr. Bostwick, advised the same. “You’ll never have a normal baby,” he said.

Against medical advice from both doctors, one more was on the way. The old adage ‘third times a charm’ often came to mind. But most didn’t want to say it and bring bad luck with its utterance.

Patsy_and grandma J

Patsy and Grandma Jones

The morning of June 20th dawned with Mae in the midst of delivery. The physical pain was nothing compared to the pain of the possibility that she knew from two previous pregnancies. Would the doctors be right? Would this child die too? Was she doomed to the proclamation that she’d never deliver a normal baby? Hours later the doctor’s claims would be shot down. Patricia Faith Cline drew her first breath … and kept on breathing. Faith, her middle name, held Mae and Luther strong through the pregnancy. Faith held them together and the baby would carry the namesake with her for her whole life.

Bea and Casey were quick to arrive at the hospital once Casey got home from work that Friday afternoon. They were grandparents now. They stood and looked through the glass sentry, keeping them away from the fragile newborns camped out in the hospital bassinets. Bea stood, gazing at her granddaughter with pride. “I can’t wait until the baby comes home and I can wrap her up in a great big hug!”

Fat and Sassy: Riding the Red Car

It’s TUESDAY TALES. This week, we’re writing to a picture prompt. 300 words only, so the scenes will be short. Return to TUESDAY TALES for more great snippets, in a variety of genres.

TT_ornate mirrorThis scene is from my WIP, Fat and Sassy. This scene is based a true slice of life (story compliments of my mother as a girl). She and her friend Francie did occasionally ride the electric car, The Red Car, into Monrovia to visit Francie’s mother at work at JC Penny’s. The Pacific Electric Railway never turned around. When it got to its final destination in LA, it simply reversed direction and headed back to Glendora. Service on the Pasadena and Monrovia/Glendora lines was terminated in 1951, due to new freeway construction in the area. The conversation the two girls had — pure fiction on my part. My dad jokes that my memory of events that happened before I was born is phenomenal.


“C’mon, we’re gonna be late.” Mae tugged at Francie’s hand. “If we miss the Red Car, I’ll be late for dinner and my Mama won’t be happy.”glendora rail car - color

“Just a minute,” Francie said, turning her head for once last glance in the ornate mirror behind the JC Penny’s counter. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear “She’d understand, though, wouldn’t she? After all, it’s not like we ride the street car into Monrovia very often.”

“No, we don’t. But I don’t think that matters to Mama. I’m lucky she even let me come with you. Usually I have to be home on Saturdays doing the dishes or watching Alvin Dale.”

“I sure am lucky I don’t have any younger brothers or sisters. It seems like you’re always watching him. You have to take Alvin everywhere with you. I’m surprised you didn’t have to bring him with us today.”

“That’s only because Mama didn’t want to have to pay an extra dime for him to ride the street car. Plus, she knew we were coming in to see your mom at work and she probably knew it would be more fuss for your mother if we had him with us.”

The girls headed out the door to stand by the rail car station, waiting to board for the return trip to Glendora.

“It is too bad, though,” Mae said. “He would have liked to see how the cup and pulley system takes the money and the order upstairs, then they send the change back down to the counter in the same contraption. That’s kind of neat. They don’t have anything fancy like that in the stores in downtown Glendora.”

glendora old pulley cash system

Fat and Sassy: Jones and Clines at church

Welcome to TUESDAY TALES. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘nudge’. Return to TUESDAY TALES for more fun stories using this unusual prompt.

This WIP, Fat and Sassy, continues with the Jones family on their way to the stone church in Glendora. Living only two blocks from the church, the family walked. It was easier than trying to get the family of eight loaded in the car for a two block drive.

stone churchThe Jones family filed out the front door. Bea and Casey led the way, followed by a line of little chicklings. Mae was next in line, right behind her parents, her two sisters following behind her, laughing and pointing. Tom and Bill brought up the rear, lagging further behind with each block.

“See,” Helen said, giggling. She pointed to Mae’s behind. “See that swing Mae’s got.” She started swinging her hips from side to side, in an exaggerated manner.

Ida laughed. “Mae’s got a wiggle, Mae’s got a wiggle,” she called in a sing-song voice.

Mae stopped and turned to her sisters, her hand poised on her hip. “Stop it you two!”

Helen kept it up, singing her own little ditty, “Mae’s got a swing in her seat.”

Mae frowned at her sisters. “Ugh! I am so glad we’re in different Sunday School classes. You two can be so annoying.”

“Annoying? We’re annoying to Miss Hoity Toity,” Helen continued with her pestering.

“Girls,” Bea turned and called to the girls now far behind her. “That’s enough. Get yore bottoms up here and stop yore fighting.”

The lagging children scurried to catch up with their parents.

At the end of the block the gray stone church stood imposing on the corner of Glendora Avenue and Whitcomb Avenue. The boys broke into a run, across the green lawn Casey had just mowed the afternoon before. “I’m climbing on the wall first,” Tom called out.

“No you’re not. I am,” Bill called out as he moved into faster gear, taking over the lead. The girls scampered after them.

“At least they’ll git some energy out before church,” Bea said to Casey. She shifted Alvin to her other hip.

The family split into different directions. The children headed towards their different Sunday School rooms. Bea headed to the nursery to deposit Alvin for safekeeping. Casey headed towards the suited men standing in the foyer outside the main worship room.

“Brother Casey,” the pastor said, meeting him with hand outstretched.

“Morning Reverend Cline. How are you?”

The men continued their Sunday morning social ritual, much like the women gathering in their seats, catching up on the happenings in their lives and comparing notes with each other.

The individual classes came to a close and families started to gather in the main church for services. The Jones children joined their family in their usual pew, one by one, as Mildred, the pastor’s wife, softly played ‘In the Garden’, her favorite hymn.

The three girls sat next to each other. Helen nudged Mae and pointed to pew where the three Cline boys sat. “See, Luther is watching you. I told you he always watches you. He likes you.”

“He does not,” Mae insisted. “He’s looking at all of us.”

“Nope. He’s watching you,” Helen repeated.

As Mildred started playing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, Cecil rose and headed towards the pulpit.

“Girls,” Bea hissed, “Hush!” Her hand reached down the pew towards the closest ear, which happened to be Ida’s, although she saw it coming and ducked out of reach before her ear got the familiar Sunday morning twist for misbehavior.

Cecil stepped behind the pulpit, hymnal in hand. “Good morning. Please turn to page 33 in your hymnal and join us in song.”

Fat and Sassy: Gettin’ ready for church

Welcome to TUESDAY TALES. This week we’re writing to the prompt ‘end’. Return to TUESDAY TALES for more great story snippets.

My WIP, Fat and Sassy, continues as the Jones Family heads to the stone church in Glendora.

green beansThe next morning Bea roused all the children from their slumber. “Rise and Shine!”

“I wanna sleep,” Bill whined.

“Me took,” Ida chimed in from her bed.

“Don’t give me no sass,” Bea hollered down the hall. “Up and at em! Come eat yore breakfast so we can get cleaned up and head to church.

Tom, the ornery little stinker that he was, was already up and playing, rifling through Bill’s things.

Bill woke up enough to finally realize what Tom was looking through. “Get outta my stuff!” he yelled. With all the commotion, Alvin woke up and started crying.

“Mae, git a bottle for your brother,” Bea yelled.

Helen stood in the bathroom, brushing her hair, oblivious to the confusion.

Everyone finally made their way to the kitchen. As the children sat, eating their oatmeal, Bea was busy in front of the stove, snapping green beans to fill up the Dutch oven. She added a large spoon full of bacon grease into the pot, stirred it in, and placed the cast iron lid on top.

“Dad,” she said to her father, who sat sipping coffee from his saucer. “I’m gonna leave the beans cooking on low while we’re at church. Can you check on it now and then, and make sure it doesn’t boil dry.”

“Shore nuff,” Papa replied. “I reckon I can handle that chore.”

Somehow, all the children ended up in clean clothes, with clean faces and slicked down hair. “Tom, c’mere,” Bea said. He walked over and in a flash, before he knew what happened, she licked her thumb and wiped a smudge off his cheek. “There, that’s the end of that.”

Bea picked up her purse and slid it down to the crook of her elbow. “Casey, carry my Bible,” she commanded, handing her worn leather bound Bible to her husband. She lifted little Evan up to her hip. “C’mon children,” she called. “We need to git on the road iffn’ we’re gonna get to Sunday School on time.”

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