Ridgerunner's Requital

by Jennifer Loraine


Now you boys make yourselves comfortable and I'll tell you'all bout it. This is the story of my brother Shane and what happened after he got a mite too friendly with a neighbor girl....But I'm gettin' ahead of myself. Ma always said I should begin a story in the beginin' and not in the middle, like I always do. Ma always was a stickler for details like that.

I guess I should start this story by tellin' you'all bout my Ma, since the story begins with her. She was born in the mountains above the Toccoa Valley in Georgia and went to Pulliam Elementary School when she was a youn'un and quit school after she finished sixth grade. You see, my grandparents didn't have no money to let her board in town to go to High School and they was too far away for her to travel to town every day. Anyways, she never got more schoolin' other than the sixth grade. But she did alright for herself. She never wanted for roof or loaf since the moment she left home. She married a horse trader who traveled all over the South, buyin' and sellin' horses. She moved down to a little town north of Atlanta and had two children by my Pa; my older brother, Shane, and me. Now, like I said, my Pa was a travelin' man, and got home seldom. He made good money at it and Ma didn't want him to quit. So she stayed home and raised us kids all alone.

Don't get it in your minds that she was lonely though, my Ma was a Herb Doctor. Folks from all round used to come to her for cures for what ailed them. She had prenticed to a wise woman when she was a child and knew purty near everythin' there is to know bout the herbs hereabouts. Some folks said she was a Hoodoo Woman too, but I don't know nothin' bout that. If she knew bout it, she never told me and she taught me a powerful lot bout plants and herbs and such. I can say that folks hereabouts were scared to cross her though, but I spect they just didn' t want to make the only Herb Doctor in town mad at them. Not that she'd do anythin' to anyone. She was just as sweet as sweet could be. Cept if you did somethin' bad that the law couldn't get you on. Then she could be as mean as a grizzly in a snit - if you get my meanin'. My Ma always said you don't have to be a Bible thumper to know what's right. And right is right, she 'd tell me when I was a young'un. My Ma wasn't much of a church goer as you can guess. She only went into a church twice after she left home; once when she was married and the last time when we buried her. Anyways, this is a story bout my brother Shane and not bout my Ma, so I'd best be gettin' to tellin' you'all bout him.

Shane was born ten years ahead of me and Pa was dead by the time this story takes place. Pa had got himself kicked in the head three years before and died while he was on the road. Ma had the body shipped home and buried him right on the property. The Baptist church wouldn't have him in their churchyard since he wasn't a church goin' man and since Ma didn't much care for the Baptists anyway, she decided to bury him at home. After he died, she used to say she saw more of him now that he was dead than when he was alive. Leastwise, he couldn't move round none and she always knew where he was. My brother was eighteen when Pa died and had a hankerin' to get out on his own. He stayed round for bout a year, but after he saw that Ma didn't need him to take care of her, he left home.

Shane went up north and tried to get a job in the steel mills, but he didn't have no pull with the Union so he gave up and came back to Georgia. He knocked round and did odd jobs but just couldn't find anythin' to suit him, so he came home. Ma let him stay in his old room and never got on him bout not havin' a steady job. She used to say a man' s got to find his proper place in the world and Shane just hadn't found his. I figured he was just plain lazy. I was ten at the time and didn't like havin' to do all the chores by myself. Not that I had to draw water from the well or anythin' like that. Pa had a lot of insurance on him when he died and we had a nice house on a small horse ranch. But it rankled me that he'd just sit round eatin' our food and not do a lick of work. He talked Ma into gettin' a television set and he'd sit all day watchin' tv while Ma was out with her patients and I was in school. When I got home, he'd skeddadle off with his friends to drink beer and chase girls all night. That was what got him in trouble with Ma.

You see, I'd had a small accident out in the yard and purty near burned down the chicken coop. I was ten then and wanted to see if I could build a fire and make pinetar like people in olden times used to do. I know you young folk don't know much bout pinetar, so I'll tell you how it was made. First you take a big iron pot and pack it full with knots of fat pine. That's knots that's full of resin for those of you who don't know. Then you take the pot and turn it up side down on a big flat rock with a piece of tin underneath so's the tar will collect on the tin and run out. Then you'd get some clay and mix it with water so's it was good and stiff and pack it round the bottom of the pot to keep the fire from gettin' into the pine. When that was all done, you'd take wood and pile it on top of the pot to make a bonfire. After the bonfire was lit, the heat'd make the tar run right of the pine knots without burnin'. You'd collect the tar as it ran off in another pot or coffee can or somethin'.

Anyway, bein' a child at the time, I liked to watch bonfires and thought it'd be nice to make some pinetar to give Ma for her doctorin'. It has all kinds of uses round a farm, people'd take it and put it on the cow's scrapes and cuts, they'd force it down into the tear ducts of the sheep when they got "head rot" to open their head's up, and they'd put it on horse's hooves when they got sore feet. They even used it to grease the axles of the olden wooden wagons. Ma used it to doctor the livestock of course, but she also used it to doctor humans too. She'd put it on blisters and sores and even poison ivy if it blistered up like it does when you get into a lot of it. She made a cough syrup from sulfur, molasses, and pinetar that was good for the ague. If your chest was tight from a bad cold, she'd rub pinetar right on your chest. So you can see how useful it was. People who didn't have any money to give Ma for doctorin' would make pinetar to barter for doctorin' so's they wouldn't be too beholdin' to Ma. Anyway, I thought it'd please Ma if I made some and gave it to her.

The only big flat rock we had sat right next to the chicken coop. I reckoned that it'd be safe enough if I watched the fire careful and set it up. The bonfire was burnin' fine and the tar had just started to flow when a big spurt of fire came out from neath the pot and shot across the yard. I guess some of the mud I had chinked the pot with had come free and let the fire get to the hot pine knots. That fire hit the side of the chicken coop and started burnin' it immediate like. I throwed a bucket of water on it, but it didn't do no good. The side of the chicken coop was fair burnin' when Ma came home and saw what was happenin'. She put out the fire quick and then took me behind the kitchen to the woodshed and blistered my bottom with a hickory switch for settin' fire to the chicken coop. She was mad! And not just at me either, she figured if Shane wasn't goin' to work regular, then the least he could do was stay at home and watch his younger sister.

When he came home that night, she was waitin' for him on her chair on the porch. Ma caught him by the arm and tripped him up, makin' him fall right on her lap. She held him down on her lap and told him what I had done. She told him she had had enough of his foolishness and that if he was goin' to act like a child she'd treat him like one. Then she began switchin' on his bottom with the same piece of hickory. I was peekin' out the window of my room and saw the whole thing. She hit him hard! I can still hear the whooshin' sounds that green hickory stick made just before it hit! He started a screamin' for her to stop, that he'd be good, but she just kept hittin' him. She ignored him and kept hittin' and hittin' him until he started to cry like a little boy. After a while, he was so out of breath from cryin' that he stopped cryin' and just whimpered like a baby. She stopped and told him it was the last time she'd put up with him actin' bad while he lived under her roof. She asked him if he wanted to leave and he said no, so she told him that he'd be stayin' home from now on. As far as she was concerned, he was a young'un and would be treated like one. Then she got up and dumped him right on the porch in front of her. She made him go to bed without his supper and for the next two months, he went round the house doin' chores and actin' hangdog like.

He found a job after that with the farmer down the road helpin' pull stumps from some creek bottom the farmer had bought from a neighbor's widow. Ma was unhappy bout me bein' at home alone after I had set fire to the coop, but didn't want him to give up his job. She hired the widow's daughter, Mary Joe, to come and look after me in the day while he was at work. Since she had told him it was his job to look after me, she made him pay Mary Joe. Shane didn't argue. First of all, his was scared of Ma after the switchin' and second, he had taken a shine to Mary Joe. He' d come home early from the job, tellin' the farmer that he was feelin' sick or some such and hang round talkin' to Mary Joe. He kept invitin' her out to go with him to town, but she was a good church goin' girl and wanted nothin' to do with him. He'd follow behind her and bump into her accidental like and steady himself by grabbin' onto her bottom. She finally told him he was no good and she didn't want him hangin' round her while she was workin'. He got mad and went to town to get drunk.

That night, when Ma got home and heard what happened, she got mad. She was mad enough to chew horseshoes and spit out nails! She got out the hickory stick and started practicin' with it for when he came home. She told me that she'd had enough. If he was goin' to act like this, she'd show him how bad boys got punished. I'd never seen her so mad! She told me that she'd have her patients come to her for the next month while she stayed home and took care of Shane and me. He'd spend the entire time locked in his room like a little boy and she'd only let him out for meals and to use the bathroom. Just then we heard some faint screams in the distance. Ma ran out of the house and up the path with me followin' right behind. We got close to the screams and burst into a openin' in the woods. There stood Shane standin' over Mary Joe with a piece of her blouse in his hand. He had laid for her in the woods next to the path to her momma's house and jumped her when she walked by. Ma was furious. She stalked right up to Shane and punched him in the jaw. She hit him so hard she knocked him right off his feet. He landed with a thud, then shook his head and started to get up. Ma just stepped up to him and swung an uppercut up from her hip. You could heard the crack of her fist hittin' his jaw clear down the path. She laid him out cold, right on the ground. Then she when over to Mary Joe and apologized to her for what Shane had done. She checked Mary Joe to make sure she was okay and gave her some money for her dress. Ma offered to testify in court for Mary Joe agin Shane but Mary Joe wouldn't hear of it. She told Ma that it wasn't right that a mother should side with the law aginst her son and that she reckoned that Ma would take care of the problem. Ma looked grim and told her that she'd fix Shane so he'd never hurt anyone agin. Mary Joe said that she didn't want Shane to be hurt, that it wasn't Christian to wish anybody hurt. Ma laughed and said that she'd be a poor kind of Herb doctor if she couldn't do somethin' bout Shane without hurtin' him. She patted Mary Joe on the arm and told her not to worry, Shane would be fine and she spected he'd even learn to like what she planned to do with him. Ma sent me to the barn after one of the horses and we hauled Shane home over the horse's back like a sack of flour.

The next mornin' Ma was waitin' for Shane when he slept off the booze. He looked awful; he had big purple bruises all over his jaw where Ma hit him that ran right up to his left eye. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked kind of greenish round the gills. Ma didn't say anythin' to him, she just put a cup of medicinal herb tea in front of him and told him to drink it. Shane didn't say a word, he just picked up the cup with both hands like a child learnin' to drink from a cup and drank it right down. Ma asked him how he felt and he told her that he felt awful. He swore to her he'd never drink agin. Ma just smiled, patted him on the shoulder and agreed with him. She asked him if he remembered what had happened last night and he shook his head. She told him it was alright what was done was done and everythin' would be alright.

He sat quietly at the table nursin' his wounds when all of a sudden he jumped up and began to curse. Ma was at his side before you could say Jack Robbinson and slapped him hard across the face. He looked at her with a poleaxed expression and began to cry. I guessed her slap had hurt purty bad for him to cry like that. He stood in front of her shiverin' like a newborn colt with tears runnin' down his face. I sat at the table eatin' my breakfast quiet like and watchin' the commotion when the reason for his cursin' hit me. He had peed and pooped in his pants like a baby! You could smell it clear across the kitchen! Ma hauled him off to the bathroom to clean him up and all I could hear was the sound of him blubberin' like a baby over the noise of the bathwater. After she cleaned him up, she frog- walked him naked to his bedroom and that was the last I saw of Shane that day.

Ma spent the next mornin' bringin' in my old baby furniture from the shed and cleanin' it up in the kitchen. Then she hauled it into the hall next to Shane's room. Towards afternoon she went into his room and I could hear her tellin' him in a loud voice that she didn't want him leavin' his room until she got back. She locked his door behind her, told me she' d be back directly and took the truck into Atlanta. Ma returned two hours later with a truckful of packages she had bought and had me help her bring them into the house. She took them into Shane's room, closin' the door behind her. I was mighty curious what she had done to Shane, but I didn't want to get on her bad side when she was in a mood, so I just stayed in my room and played quietly. Later on, she ca me and got me to help her move furniture. My baby furniture was gone from the hall and Shane's bedroom stuff was sittin' there instead. I helped her move his bed and dresser out to the storage shed and went back to my room and played when we were finished. Towards evenin' I started hearin' some strange noises comin' from Shane's room. They was too low to hear exact, but it sounded like Ma had a squallin' baby in there.

Ma came out of his room, took me into the kitchen and sat me down next to the stove to talk. She told me she had given Shane some herbs to fix him. She splained that if Mary Joe had gone to the law, the sheriff would have come out and arrested him for attemptin' rape! That sobered me some, I'll tell you! There weren't a crime worse than rape, cept maybe murder. People might understand bout murder if it was a fair fight or somethin' like that, but they'd never forgive him if he tried to rape some poor girl. Even if Mary Joe didn't want to go to the law, her mama would and then it'd be all over for Shane. It wouldn't do no good for Mary Joe to lie to her mama bout what happened either. There weren't no excuse for her torn blouse and Mary Joe's mama would just keep askin' until the truth came out. Ma told me that it'd go hard on Shane in jail. The other prisoners had mamas and baby sisters and didn't hold with anyone who raped women. They'd beat Shane up while he was in with them to teach him a lesson. If the beatin' was bad enough, he might get killed! She told me they used to execute people for rape and some folks still thought that was the best way to punish it. She told me the punishment now was life in prison. If Shane got arrested and found guilty (and Ma was near certain that they'd find him guiltier than a fox with a hen in his teeth!) he'd never get out of jail. She asked me if I understood all that and I said, "Yes, ma, I understand. Shane's been real bad and if he goes to jail, he might die. Leastwise, if he goes, he ain't never gettin' out."

Ma told me that she had fixed it so Shane wouldn't have to go to jail. She reckoned that if Mary Joe's mama see'd what Ma'd done to Shane, then she'd reckon justice been done and wouldn't go to the law. I told Ma I heard all the cryin' in Shane's room and asked Ma if she had gelded him like a calf, but she told me to hush up. It wasn't proper for a little girl to talk that way. She told me she had somethin' else in mind that was be just as good and wouldn't hurt him. She made me promise I wouldn't make a fuss and carryon when I saw him. Then she went back into Shane's bedroom to get him. When I saw what she had done to Shane, my jaw dropped so low that you could have used it for a feedin' trough. She had turned him into a baby agin! She held him in her arms just as natural as anythin'. He couldn't have been more than eleven, twelve months old! She had him all decked out in diapers covered with those white plastic baby panties. His bruises were all gone and he looked just as healthy as could be. He looked down at me all confused like he didn't know what was hapenin'. Ma asked me, "Would you like to hold your baby brother?"

"Is that Shane, Ma?!!", I asked, not wantin' to appear foolish in front of Ma.

She nodded and repeated her question, "Do you want to hold Shane, Honeychild? He can't hurt you. He's only a baby. You've held babies before."

I took him in my arms and held him to my chest. "Now be careful, child. Don't drop him! He's not as sturdy as he used to be!", she cautioned me.

I couldn't get over how Ma had changed him. He was as light as anythin' and his fingers and toes were all short and fat just like a real baby's. He even smelt like a baby! I was pattin' him on the back and tellin' him how sweet he looked when all of a sudden my back started feelin' wet. I yelled at Ma to see what was the matter and turned round so's she could see. She laughed and said, "Why Honeychild, that's just baby slobber. You got to spect that if you hold a baby! Here, you give him back to me and I'll hold him while you go and get a cloth to wipe it off."

I gave him back and was surprised agin when I felt somethin' wet on my stomach too. I looked down and saw the front of my shirt was wet where Shane's plastic panties had been. Shane had peed on me! Ma saw what he had done and said, "Go change your shirt, child, and then we'll change his diaper. You gotta know how to change diapers if you're goin' to be his big sister!"

When I came in Shane's room they was waitin' for me in the rockin' chair. Ma had moved all my old baby furniture into his room and fixed it up as a nursery. It looked beautiful! The furniture looked like Ma had just bought it. Ma always said that Pa done right by me when he bought handmade Georgia Oak baby furniture when she was pregnant with me. She told me that good furniture like that could be handed down to my grandchildren. It still looked as solid as the day it had been made. She got up and carried him over to the changin' table and told me to stand by her and watch as she changed him. Ma laid him down on the table top and shinnied the plastic pants down his legs and off his little feet. She told me to go to the bathroom and get the spare bar of soap and a wet washcloth and bring it to her. I ran to go get it and when I got back she had unpinned one side and was undoin' the other. She stuck the pins in the bar of soap splainin' that they'd stay sharper and wouldn't rust if they was put in soap that way. Ma lifted the diaper off his tummy and picked up his feet in one hand. The sight just fascinated me, there was my twenty-two year old brother a layin' in a wet diaper and Ma holdin' up his legs with one hand so high, his bottom hung in the air. She pulled out the wet diaper with one hand and and put it aside, then took a clean one and scooted it neath him, so's when she put him down, his wet bottom wouldn't touch the table. Ma wiped him down real good both front and back with the washcloth, where he was a wearin' the diaper. She picked up the bottle of baby powder, sprinkled it all over his private parts and rubbed it in. It was his private parts that I thought were interestin'. Before Pa died, I'd seen him several times down by the creek skinny dippin' and he never looked like that! They was all shiveled up and tiny like a baby's, even accountin' for his size they looked like an itty-bitty baby's private parts. I pointed them out to Ma and asked her how they got so small. She said, "Of course they're small, Honey. That's what a baby's privates look like," she chuckled and continued, "Cept a baby's privates ain't exactly private, what with everybody always puttin' their fingers in a baby's diapers to feel if they're wet and changin' them in front of family and company."

I asked her how long it'd take for Shane to grow up agin and she looked sad and said, "He ain't, Honey. He's gonna stay like this the rest of his life."

I asked her why and she said, "Honey, Shane was turnin' into a ridgerunner. You saw what he did to Mary Joe. Well, if I let him get away with it, he was only gonna get worse. Sooner or later, someone woulda shot him. I don't know for sure if he woulda gotten off from the law, but I wasn't gonna allow for the possibility. No son of mine is gonna be a no- good, low-down, woman molestin' ridgerunner! I'd rather see him in a coffin first! That's why I turned him into a baby! Least thisways, he can't hurt nobody. And nobody's gonna wanta hurt him too! He'll be our sweet little Shane forever!"

She finished diaperin' him and asked me to get some clean panties from the baby dresser. When I opened the drawer, I saw it was filled with plastic panties and baby clothes. I knew then that Ma wasn't kiddin' me, she'd never spend that kind of money if she wasn't dead serious. I brought back the panties and gave them to Ma so's she could dress him complete. After he wet my shirt, I knew why babies wear plastic panties and I didn't want him on me without somethin' to keep him from wettin' me. He gurgled and spouted gibberish the whole time like he was tryin' to tell us somethin', but Ma never paid him no mind. She just kept on dressin' him like he was a baby.

When she was finished, Ma picked him up and settled him on her hip, the way you see young mamas do with their babies. She carried him into the kitchen and sat him down in my old high chair. He fussed a bit, but it didn't do no good cause he was strapped in tight. Ma tied a bib round his neck and put a pot of water on to boil. The next thing I knew, she was sittin' in front of him with a jar of baby food in hand. She took off the top and started shovelin' it in as fast as he could swallow, maybe a little faster. Food dribbled down his chin and fell onto his bib, but Ma didn't seem to care. She just kept shovelin' it in. He spit up some of the food up like babies do, but she just spooned it up off the bib and ladled it back in. I could tell he didn't like the baby food cause of the bad faces he was makin', but it made no difference to Ma. I spect it was cause she was feedin' him mashed vegetables. I couldn't tell what was in it, but it was all green like it was mainly mashed peas. He'd hated vegetables all the time I knowed him, Shane bein' strictly a meat and potatoes man. I guessed he was gonna have to eat different now that he was a bitty baby agin. I hoped Ma would let him get used to it gradual like. Ma stopped feedin' him for a time while she went to the icebox and took out a baby bottle full of milk to warm in the pot on the stove. I asked her if there was somethin' else we could feed him, but she told me, "It don't make no difference what a baby likes or don 't like. He'll eat what I feed him! If he doesn't, I'll pull down his diapers and spank him right here in the kitchen!"

She went back to feedin' him and he seemed to perk up after that and try to eat faster. I couldn't understand it at the time. He was only a baby! How could he understand what Ma had said to me? When she finished feedin' him, she gave him his bottle. When he got the bottle in his hands, he got the strangest expression on his face. Like he didn't know what to do with it. Ma warmed some leftovers for our dinner and made plates for the both of us. She sat down in the chair next to Shane and started eatin'. When she had eaten half her plate, she turned to Shane and said, "Drink your formula, Shane, like a good baby. Doesn't Shane remember how to drink his ba-ba? Come on baby! Put the nipple in your mouth!"

Shane sat in the high chair with the bottle in his hands starin' at the nipple. If he hadn't been just a baby, I'da sworn on a stack of Bibles that high that he was embarrassed to suck at it. Ma finally lost patence, took the bottle from his hands and stuck the nipple in his mouth. He struggled with her for a minute, then Ma leaned over and whispered somethin' in his ear that made all the fight go out of him. He just went kind of limp all over. The next thing I knew, Shane was suckin' on that bottle to beat the band. Ma went back to her supper and he finished that bottle in record time.

We washed the dishes after supper, then Ma burped him and carried him into the livin' room. She let him sit on the sofa with us while we watched tv. Bout eight o'clock Ma carried him into his nursery and tucked him in his crib. That was the end of Shane's first day of bein' a baby agin. The days after that were purty much what you'd spect with a baby; mostly feedin's, changin's, and bathin'. Ma got real perky toward the end of the week, she started cooin' and coddlin' Shane like he was a real baby. She seemed to forget why she had changed him and acted like she was happy to have a baby agin. I kinda got used to Shane bein' a baby. It was fun bein ' an big sister instead of bein' the baby of the family all the time. Shane wasn't a happy baby in those days, he'd just mope round in his crib lookin' unhappy and embarrassed whenever he peed or pooped in his diaper. He stopped jabberin' and tryin' to talk at us too, he just cried and whimpered whenever he needed to be changed. Guess he realized that it don't do no good to gush and blather if nobody understands you. You could tell he positively hated eatin' baby food or drinkin' his formula. He'd sit there in his high chair and refuse to eat until Ma would whisper in his ear. Then he'd eat real slow and reluctant like a hound dog bein' fed stale cornmeal.

Bout a week later, Mary Joe's mama came to visit. She said she had somethin' important to talk to Ma bout. I went to my room pretendin' to go and play but I was really tryin' to listen to what Mary Joe's mama had to say. I left my door open so's I could hear, but I couldn't make it out. She and Ma was talkin' real quiet in the sittin' room when Shane started cryin' in his crib. Ma got up and said she had to see bout Shane. She spected he'd messed his diaper or somethin' and it wasn't good to let babies bawl like that without seein' what's wrong. Mary Joe's mama acted real surprised and asked if Shane had had an accident. Ma said no, it weren't no accident. Why don't you come and see him for yourself. When Mary Joe's mama came out of the room she looked as white as a ghost. Somethin' Ma had said had shocked her silly. She told Ma to forget bout what she had said earlier bout gettin' the law on Shane. She shook her head and said it weren't necessary now. Shane couldn't hurt a fly the way he was now. Ma told her that she'd be pleased if Mary Joe could see her way clear to come over and talk to her. She still needed someone to look after me when she was out and she'd like to talk to her bout baby sittin' Shane too.

Mary Joe came over the next week and had a long talk with Ma. By the time they was finished, she and Mary Joe was laughin' and carryin' on like they was old friends. Ma asked Mary Joe if she could watch us while she saw to some patients of hers and Mary Joe agreed to spend the afternoon at our house. After Ma left Mary Joe asked me to show her Shane. We tiptoed into Shane's room so's not to wake him, but he was lyin' awake in his crib. When he saw Mary Joe comin' he let out a yell like his diaper was on fire. Mary Joe just walked over to his crib and stood there, smilin' and lookin ' down her nose at him. I tugged on Mary Joe's sleeve and said, "He won' t hurt you Mary Joe. He's only a baby. I'll bet he doesn't even know who you are."

Mary Joe shook her head and told me, "Shane knows who I am, child. And he remembers what he tried to do to me. Did you see the way he yelled when I came into the room? He's scared of me and what I'll do to him now that I'm bigger than he is. And I'll have my revenge too! Just the way your Ma told me I could!"

I looked at her like she had gone daft and said, "Just what you talkin' bout Mary Joe? Any fool can see he's just a baby! And why'd you want revenge on a baby? He can't remember what he done. Ma would have told me!"

"Spect she didn't want to fret you none, Honey," Mary Joe told me with a grin. "But your Ma told me that Shane knows everthin' that's goin' on. It's just his body that was turned into a baby, not his mind. Look in his eyes, child. A baby's eyes don't look at things the way yours and mine do. They just light on anythin' that they find pleasin' with no sense at all behind them. Now look at Shane's eyes, see how wide and scared they look? Look at the pleadin' way he's lookin' at you. Like he spects you to save him from me. But you won't help him, I know. You'll let me get my revenge on him and there won't be a thing he can do bout it cept cry."

I got between the crib and her and stood my ground, sayin', "I ain't gonna let you hurt my baby brother! He done some bad things when he was a man, but I ain't gonna let you hurt him! You hear!"

She just smiled and said, "Honeychild, I ain't gonna hurt him. Leastways not by takin' a switch to him or anythin'. I told you child, I'm gonna do what your Ma told me to. That's revenge enough for me."

I didn't move, she scared me talkin' like this. I demanded, "And what'd you think Ma wants you to do?"

"Why child, take care of him like he was a baby! Your Ma wants me to change his dirty diapers, feed him, wind him and put him in his crib when it's time for his nap. I'll fuss over him and give him all the attention he needs. That's all. That's my revenge."

I didn't understand and told her so. She came back sayin', "Honey, how'd you like it if I did that to you? Wouldn't you get angry? How'd you like to be treated like a little baby? Would you like the girl you had taken a shine to treatin' you that way? He'll get to be in my arms alright, but only as a baby! He'll understand everthin' I say and do to him. Maybe I'll take the two of you in town to see everybody and make him suck his thumb in front of all the girls in the stores. Then I'd take him to visit his no good friends and show them God's judgement on women molesters. I spect he be so mortified, he'd probably pee his diaper right in front of them. I plan to coddle and baby him til he plumb weeps to be forgiven. When he cries, I'll tickle his tummy and bounce him on my knee until he stops. When he pees and messes in his diaper, I'll ask him who changed his diaper when he was out drinkin' with his friends. I'll play with his privates and tease him bout how small they are. And when I get tired of him, I'll put a pacifier in his mouth and put him down in his crib. If he gives me any trouble I'll just whisper in his ear and tell him the same thing your Ma tells him if he won 't drink from his bottle!"

I looked at her in wonderment and asked her, "Mary Joe, Ma never did tell me how she gets him to suck on his ba-ba. Would you tell me?"

"Why sure child. It ain't much of nothin'. She only tells him that a baby who won't drink from his bottle ain't ready for it yet. That gets him to suckin' right quick," she told me.

I was more confused than before she told me, I couldn't figure how that'd make him start sucking all sudden like and I told her so. She came right back at me and said, "Honey, a baby that ain't ready for bottle feedin' ain't ready to be weaned. Fact is, that baby's gonna have to be breast fed until he is ready for a bottle."

"But who's gonna breast feed him, Ma ain't nursin' no baby?" I asked her.

"Honey, If your Ma could turn a grow'd man into a little baby overnight, do you think a little thing like nursin' would slow her down any? No, she'd be feedin' him that night, I spect. Shane knows that if he makes his Ma mad at him he'll be a suckin' at his Ma's tit before the day is out. It'd be a long time before he'd get to eat solid food agin. If he make me mad it'd be the same, I'd tell your Ma and he'd be punished just the same. And if your Ma had to cart him round regular to breast feed him, I'd bet my bottom dollar that she'd make him even younger to lighten the load. Five, six months is bout weanin' age round here. He wouldn't even be able to crawl. The best he could manage then would be to creep on his belly. Imagine spendin' your life creepin' long the floor on your belly to get somewheres. Your Ma would probably make him sleep in a cradle stead of his crib. He'd be in a purty fix then! He'd have to lie on his back all helpless like cause he couldn't turn over or get out less someone came and helped him. Look at him! He understands what I'm sayin' and he knows I'll do just what I say! By the time I'm finished with him, I'll have him cooin' and suckin' his thumb at the sight of me! Child, just look at his face, the poor thing is weepin', he knows I mean it!"

I looked at Shane and sure enough, tears were a rollin' down his face and he looked like he was plain mortified. I giggled in spite of myself and said, "Mary Joe, I don't think he likes that idea much. But, since Ma told you to do it, I guess I'll have to let you. Don't you think it's time for his supper? Ma left some mashed carrots and peas in the icebox for him. Why don't you feed him now. You can give him his formula after you feed him his supper!"

"Why Honeychild," she said to me with a big old grin across her face, "what a wonderful idea! After he finishes his formula, we'll let him play on the rug. I'm just dyin' to see him crawl at my feet!"


And that's the story of Shane, the would-be ridgerunner of the family. He died bout two years ago from the ague. Ma died bout a year later of a broken heart. She never did tire of takin' care of Shane and Mary Joe turned out to be right bout Shane in the end. After a year of bein' treated like a baby, Shane seemed to start likin' it. He'd laugh when we played pattycake and peek-a-boo just like a baby. He stopped bein' afraid of Mary Joe, he'd smile and coo at her whenever she came over. Mary Joe fell in love with him too, she used to say he was the sweetest baby she ever took care of, barrin' her own.

So you boys remember, in the end Shane got just what he wanted. He could lie round sleepin' all day with his bottle in hand without havin' to worry bout gettin' up to do any chores. He had women fawnin' over him and runnin' to take care of his every need; bathin' him, feedin' him, dressin' him and cleanin' his dirty bottom. His life was as easy as easy could be. So if any of you'all start thinkin' how nice it'd be to lay back, take it easy and let someone else do the work, I want you to think of Shane.

Remember, I told you my Ma taught me everythin' she knew and I don't have no more patience with no-good, layabout ridgerunners than my Ma did. You'all have mamas and sisters who'd be happy to have a new baby in the family. Now you'all get back to work, there are chores to do!

Finis coronat infans

Copyright 1998 by Jennifer Loraine. All rights reserved.