Snail Silk: The Story of Nora

If you didnít see Chapters One , Two and Three of this serialised and previously-unpublished book, you can visit them here before you read Chapter Four. ďEds

Bette Bottger Simons

Chapter 4



This place is many hotels big
I have my own bed now

Jewel sleeps in the dormitory too
My bed has white arms

Over my head
At my feet
They are cold

Grossmutti left us here
Grossvatti is gone

Gone to a Temple I think

I wet my bed
The big girls come in the morning

They pull my ear
Itís hot
I am bad
I wet my bed
Maxine was nice to me
I love Maxine forever

The neighbor lady and man
From Maywood

They came to see us
Mr. and Mrs. Dunkley
Mr. Dunkley looks like Clark Gable
They will let us visit them

By the time my sister and I reached the Masonic Home for children we had lost three sets of ďfather and motherĒ, so it was a surprise to gain foster parents of a sort when Florence and Craig Dunkley, former neighbors of ours in Maywood, started to visit us in the institution. Children were allowed to ďgo home for the weekendĒ every 6 weeks. The Dunkleys, whose only son lived with his grandparents due to family quarreling, said we filled ďa hole in their livesĒ, so we began to be picked up for weekend visits in their home.

Florence said of our grandparents, ďYour grandfather always had such nice manners. If he would see me in the yard he would bow and say ďGood morningĒ, or if Craig went to trim the hedge between our houses, he would always get his clippers quickly and help. Your grandmother was very tight.Ē

Dear Mutti,

I came back here. Itís the Maywood house. We lived here before Grossvatti died. I am in the vacant lot. The grass wets my socks. I donít have to go to school here anymore. I am in the Home now. The grass here makes me happy. So much of it. Wet and limp, like hair, mutti. I play market. Here is my weigher. Rough. Under my knees. Itís for gas pipes maybe. Little white glass window. Three little clocks. I am weighing vegetables. I pull bunches of grass out. My vegetables. Iím strong. Thereís more and more. I am the market lady here. The sun smiles at my Greenstar market. Grass wets my pants. Not me.
I go back to the Maywood house now. Where is Mrs. Dunkley who brought me for this visit? I donít know. But I did not wet my pants. The grass did it.
Mutti here is the little house grossfatti made in the backyard. See Jewelís side of the garden? Your Eleonoreís side? Itís all grown up, over our little white fence. Three steps and Iím in the house. It smells like the inside of our trunks. Elfriede put our clothes in those drawers in the trunk. I could fit in the other big trunk. She could send me to California in the trunk, with the clothes you made, mutti. They got small now. Its dark.
Itís dark here, in our little house. I see Jewelís side. Her doll is here. She is not here to say ďdonít !Ē I hug her doll. Itís crackly. Oh mutti! The head came off. My heart goes fast, Jewel will be so mad, I donít know where she is. I should tell her. Sunday school tell her. I broke-Itís too hard . My heart is running. I will find Mrs. Dunkley. She will take me back to the Home. My bed is there now. It crackles. Is there straw in there? I wet the bed. Mrs. Gradler pulls my ear. She says ďNasty, nasty.Ē More heart running in mine chest. Then my ear is hot a long time.
But Mrs. Gradler forgets and we get candy time. I choose the red ones, Mutti. Red as a pomegranate, those wooden apples. Bumpy and black jam is inside. I donít live in Maywood anymore. I live in the Home. My name is Betty Eleonore. I think you couldnít find me anymore.

Truly yours,
Betty Eleonore

Once the Dunkleys took me to their home for the weekend and I played on a vacant lot and visited the house where I had lived with my grandfather and his wife, Clara. For a while, I had been my step-grandmotherís doll. She had always wanted a girl named Betty, so she called me that. The school in Maywood accommodated her and I was called Betty Eleonore.
Once Clara made us girls dotted swiss dresses with layers and layers of ruffles. A pink one for me and a peach one for Jewel. We got party shoes again. Jewel tore her homemade dresses and got scolded, but I was transformed into a princess.
After our grandfatherís death, Clara sent us to the Masonic Home for children. She signed her rare letters ďmotherĒ, and I started to sort out who I was, Nora or Eleonore, Betty Eleonore or Betty. When I was in high school my take-charge sister thought spelling my name ďBetteĒ was a good idea. And thatís one way I came to be who I am.

Dear Mutti,

I would not tell anyone this dream. Only you. It is bad. I breath fast when I think about this. Mutti I have no clothes on. That is bad. I know. I am in a red wagon. We have such a wagon. Itís on the playground here. At the Home. In the wagon I sit. My bare bottom touches the rough wagon bottom. My heart goes fast. There are snails in the wagon. Slow, slippery, they move to me. There are worms too. I will never tell anyone about this bad dream. I will always keep my clothes on.

Your good Nora

At the Masonic Home for children, no one ever touched us. Once the little girlís housemother, Mrs Gradler, hit me on the back for not moving fast enough. I never forgot it or forgave her.

At night, this imperious English woman, childless but for us fifteen girls, said prayers with us in the dormitory. Seated on the one of the beds with the white iron half moon bedsteads, she might allow us to kiss her goodnight. It was then that we could briefly touch our housemother.

She would urge us to say our prayers. For a time I said mine in German, until I forgot what they meant or how to say them.

*      *      * 

Dear Mutti

Waiting at the closet
Last in line I want my green tea set.
Jewel plays with me maybe, not Elizabeth.
Itís our toy, not Elizabethís

Olive wants her mamma made dress
Yellow moon hair girl

Mrs. Gradler mad
Watch her skin bead on eye nose there
Thump thump my heart where God can see
Watch out

Belinda dog taps on her four high heels
licks my knee scabs
Kiss, kiss, kiss wet nose I love you

Scabs chin sting
knee sore
But oh, what a spin!
Big girls never made it so fast before
Straight out I flew
Ouch and iodine

Closetís so full of Mrs. Gradler
I peek
Candies maybe.
Birthday presents
My green tea set
Sister my Jewel play with me
Grossmutti said so but sheís gone

Ache my belly bottom
Squeezing tears again
Mine little green
suck candy cups and plates
IĖll be the mommy

*      *      *

For some reason we did not question, toys and things we had brought from our lives outside the Home, were stored in the walk-in closet outside Mrs. Gradlerís room at the end of hall. A child named Olive, had a mother who had sewn her a bunch of pretty dresses before leaving her and her three brothers to be cared for by the Masons. Olive never got to wear one, but knew they were in the closet. They were denied her so that none of the rest of us would be jealous. Olive who now calls herself something else, has never forgotten it.

On Sundays, we could choose one of our special toys to play with. I remember wanting to play with my sister with a tea set that we owned together. It was a child's version of green depression glass. I donít know where we got the toy, but I know that Elizabeth claimed my sister. Elizabeth and Jewel were two mischievous girls who giggled and schemed to keep out of Mrs. Gradlerís way. I felt wounded by their friendship.

Once I had played on the metal merry-go round on our playground and slipped off of the bar I was hanging on to. We loved doing this as it was going to fast that our bodies flew out almost horizontal to the ground. I flew out and skinned both knees, both elbows and the bottom of my chin.

In the corner of Mrs. Gradlers eye, next to her nose, was a skin colored lump of flesh the size of a pea. If she were to scold us, she would say, ďLook at me!Ē fiercely, we thought. It took courage to seek that lump under her gold rimmed glasses. But for a time, Mrs. Gradlerís dog was my only friend.

My grossmutti, the woman who was my grandfatherís second wife rarely saw us anymore. I missed her sorely. She had put me in ruffles and bows and hugged me. With her trilling voice she told me I was pretty and loveable. She had a shape like a pear, having almost no shoulders. Her small nose was like a strawberry. I must describe her with food symbols because she nurtured me for a time. I remember eating boiled potatoes and herring in the family she helped create for us. We sat in a breakfast nook with high backed wooden benches, squeezed in where my grandfather could insist on our cleaning our plates. I spent a lot of time in my childhood eating to be good, not to feel good--caught between a fish and a potato. My strict grandfather would buy us walnut ice cream after we came home from Christian Science Sunday School. I didnít like walnut ice cream, but I liked the idea of having ice cream.

Once Clara came to visit us at the Masonic Home with her old husband. She was married to him before she married my grandfather. and had returned to him.

During that visit I forced myself to smile and smile, standing uncomfortably with my sister in the bright Covina sun, next to a car with seaweed green sun visors. My headache was unbearable. I smiled and smiled. They left each of us with a heavy chocolate bar in our hands. I think Mrs. Gradler put it in her closet.

Dear Mutti,

I am in the Junior Girlís library. We sit on hard chairs. We are making paper dolls. The big girl thought of it Katherine Parberry. Now I draw a girl. Then I draw clothes for her. I make tabs like real paper dolls. Pretty underpants. An undershirt with a pink ribbon. Now a pretty petticoat. It has a lace ruffle and a little ribbon too. But these are just the things that will go under the dress. I will draw lots of dresses. I am good at this. Mutti, I have such a petticoat. It is in Mrs. Gradlerís big closet in the hall--the one where she keeps all our things we canít use, and maybe presents too. Once she took out this petticoat and showed me my name letters there on it. Did you make those for me Mutti? Mrs. Gradler looked at me with the big eye look. I though she was mad at me again. My heart thumped, but she said, ďThis shows you were once loved very much.Ē Now I am crying a little Mutti, but I donít know why. I am so happy making these paper dolls, here where the books are behind glass windows of the book shelves. Mrs. Gradler is in her room. Lots of us are drawing. I love Katherine Parberry. She says I draw good.

Soon we will wash up. Mutti I have a white towel and white wash rag. They hang in in one of the many little metal house in the bathroom. All the girls have this. Such a big room, this bathroom. Four toilets with black seats and up near the ceiling, a big noisy waterbox. I pull the handle on a chain and go out fast. Maybe that water could fall on me. These toilets all have their own doors. My towels have a BX on them. That is what all my clothes say now Mutti, BX. But what did you put on my petticoat in Mrs. Gradlerís closet? You had a name for me. Eleonore. That is my real name. But Grossmutti called me Betty. Then at school they called me Betty Eleonore. Now here at the Home I am just Betty, but my towels say BX. Thatís all for now. I am busy, I canít send this to heaven anyway.


*      *      *

Dear Mutti,

It stays like daytime outside, even though we will go to bed soon. The others are on the playground throwing that ugly Raggedy Ann doll in the air. They tied a scarf around her neck. They laugh and jump.

I put these dolls to bed. See, I found the cribs in our big playroom down here and put them all here between the two chest of drawers. I have a drawer in one. It is for my toys. But now most of my toys are gone, so I get the dolls no one cares about and I put them to bed now. I find little blankets. That doll I had when I was with you, the Patsy Ann doll? Itís little rubber fingers got sticky. I donít know where it is. I feel mad-sad. Did someone take her. Maybe I did not take good care of her. My head aches with this.

It stays cool in this big big room. Itís the basement. See the floor. It has lines cut in it, like a big sheet of cake that we can get sometimes. Itís cold. We have a rug under those wooden tables with the chairs. Thereís that blackboard. But we donít have chalk. In school we have chalk. Charter Oak school.

Mutti, that hurts that doll they donít like out there. Cec, and Katherine, and your Jewel. They are wild. Katherine, yesterday she pumped me on the swing, I got to go really high. She put her feet on each side of my legs and stood on the wooden seat. Her dress got in my face, but I went so high! Sometimes these big girls are nice like this. If Iím not careful they get mad.
Iím looking at this poor Raggedy Ann flying in the air. The scarf trails from her. Mrs. Gradler yodels from upstairs in our dormitory. This building looks like our block set with those little pillars and square windows. It is a brick building. The girls run inside and I can get the doll. But the knot. I have to get this knot. Mrs. Gradler gets mad if I am late. My face is red with it. Ah! It is out. I put her in bed with the others. Guten natch kinder. Thatís how we said it in German. Did I say it right? I run up the stairs fast. They are dark.


*      *      *

Muttie, today I am writing to a president

Dear George Washington,

You have a funny haircut. Itís like the sphinxís a little. You are so sad looking. Are you mad? You have to be the father of our country. But everyone knows about your birthday. We donít come to school because of it. Hooray!

I had a birthday. They told me about it. I just got to the home. They said the cook forgot about it. First I was happy because I didnít know it was my birthday and it was a nice surprise. Then I was sad because the cook forgot to make me a fancy cake like she does for all the kids. They went to town and bought me one. We went to the playroom in the basement. The cake was a square chocolate one. It had two metal wires to hold the paper up off of the frosting. I think I got a piece. I tried not to cry.
Mine father was a baker and made me cakes once. He put on sweet frosting flowers and wrote ďOur Eleonore, four years old.Ē

Now I am seven. I have come to the home and there are dressers along the walls in the big playroom. Toys are in the drawers. And there are some doll beds here. I use cribs for the dolls. No one cares about them. The kids play outside on the swings. IĖll put the dolls to bed every night. First IĖll make them sand cakes.

George Washington is so sad and no one ever forgets his birthday. Maybe he didnít get a fancy cake either.

Betty Eleonore Bottger

*      *      *

Dear Mutti,

We are going to have the Valentineís party stuff here at school soon. A mother has made cookies for us. I see paper cups too, but I have to hurry. I have to draw some hearts and make these cards really fast. Bobby Hopkins gave me a Valentineís card and I didnít give him one. Ralph Betchel did too, and Wallie Netzle. Iím out of breath but Iím just sitting in my seat in Miss Perryís room, in the third seat from the end. My row is next to the windows. We put hearts and doilies on the windows. They look nice. Homemade cookies are here in the 3rd and 4th grade room.

I didnít think I would get so many valentines. I thought it would be like when they choose sides for going out to recess. I wait, leaning on the chalk rail. My cheeks get so hot. There are only three of us left. Wally and Ralph look at us slowly. I donít look at them, I look at those tiny holes punched in the toe part of my brown shoes.

When I am grown I will wear shoes like Ginger Rogers. They will be skinny like a champaign glass handle. I wonít even fall down. Once I dreamt that we kids in Miss Perryís room were on a big ship and all dressed up. We girls had on long shiny dresses that touched the floor. We were at a party and Wally and Ralph werenít like they are now, mean, they were in little tuxedos. But I have to hurry.

IĖll make the dove holding the heart like I usually do. I write ďPlease be my ValentineĒ. Ralph hardly got any cards. He looked so sad. I thought he didnít like me. He makes farts and laughs. We all have to smell it. I got so many valentines. My pen sticks in the paper when I try to go fast. It trips, like high heels on a carpet. I hardly have any ink left. Old Notty, the janitor and bus driver didnít come in and fill ink wells this week. His hands are fat like bearís paws. No fingers. Just thumbs, but he squeezes the fat rubber ball and squirts out black ink into the little penny-sized hole here.

I have a dead fly in there somewhere. I can find a fly in the bathroom on the window. I hold it in my hand, buzzing. I bring it into the room and put it in my trap. Nobody knows this. I hate flies. Theyíre so ugly. There, I made three cards. I donít look at Wally when I put it on his desk. I go down the aisle, like Iím in a train like in the movies, because our desks are all stuck together on these long skis. I donít look at Bobby, either. How did he get a valentine to give me, when heís a home kid like me? Our housemother let us make Valentines instead of storytime last night. That big big thick book of paper samples that was a donation from Masons to us home kids. I use the see through paper over the red, like Jewel did. I even found a little piece of that gold paper you can lick on the back and it will stick. My bird has wings. The kids like that. I can draw good. I look at Ralph. He still looks sad. Not like he looks when he is giggling and mean. Once Miss Perry had to chase him all over the room. He is so bad. Once he left me a note on my desk. I donít like to think about it. ďI saw UP on a boxcarĒ it said. IĖll never forget it. I threw it away so fast. Now he looks sad.

But I got so many Valentines. Thereís a black dot on the writing bump hill on my finger. I made so many. Oh, look! Now those cookies someoneís mother made. Even napkins, and those little chalk hearts you can read. I got so many valentines!



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