“You guys better let the baby alone.” Thelma whispered her threat, brandished the broom handle and shoved the bristle-end toward her four brothers clustered around the crib. “Ma, they’ve eaten breakfast. Make them go outside so Freddie can sleep.”
“When he wakes up, he’ll be hungry.” Liz didn’t scold the boys. “Don’t forget to skim off some of the cream from his milk and add a teaspoon of syrup after you warm it.” She opened the medicine cabinet above the kitchen sink, moved a shaving mug and held a bottle of Watkins hair oil up to the light from the window. She put it back, grabbed a same-size bottle half-full of a brown liquid and mumbled, “Martha will probably need this.” She turned back toward Thelma. “His little tummy can’t handle much food yet.”
“What about these guys?” Thelma glared at them and with a swish of her broom, knocked all their caps onto the floor.
“Take off his diaper soon as he poops.” Liz lifted the metal plate from the top of the cook-stove and stoked the fire. Sparks flew and flames briefly surged. “The boys won’t hang around when that happens.”
“You hear?” Thelma hooked George’s cap with the broom handle and pinned it to the ceiling. “When Freddie poops, you guys gotta leave.”
“Keep his diaper off for a while so he don’t get a rash.” Liz pointed toward the sink. “Be sure Iggy dumps the slop pail and not right outside the porch.” She opened the refrigerator door, peered in and closed it. “Make the guys sandwiches for lunch and heat up leftovers for supper. If you need me, send George because Henry hasn’t got a phone.” She glanced toward their telephone, a wooden box attached to the wall above Svez’s desk, shook her head and removed the shawl draped over it.
“George put it there.” Thelma stuck out her tongue at her oldest brother. “Made it look like Father Reinhardt’s sister, Stella.”
“She holds her nose up like the mouth piece, and she don’t blink just like them two bells,” George said as he grabbed for his cap and missed.
Herman and Ralph scooped theirs from the floor and held them to their chests as if they were in church, but Thelma stomped on Iggy’s as he grabbed for it. She felt a surge of anger as her mother walked out and closed the door.
George grabbed his cap off the broom-handle, hooked it to the back of his head and pulled the visor low over his brow. “Heard Freddie peed all over you yesterday when you took off his diaper.” He squinted down at his sister. “I’m gonna hang ’round to watch.” He stuck his face into the crib.
“Freddie peed on Thelma. Freddie peed on Thelma.” Iggy danced around her.
“Good grief. Act your age.” His age gave her an idea. “Okay, let’s set some rules.” She raised her index finger. “Only one of Freddie’s brothers at a time can be in the house.” She referred to Freddie as a member of their family. “George is oldest so he gets to be first.” She started sweeping the floor, each swipe a step closer to her brothers as they backed away. “The rest of you, scat.”
“How long ’fore I can come back in?” Herman peered at her through a screen of black hair. “I’m next oldest.”
“Twenty one minutes ’cause that’s how old George is.” Thelma set down the broom and picked up a pencil and a Co-op weight-slip from her father’s desk. “I’ll mark it down on this scrap of paper.” She pointed the pencil toward Herman. “Then, you can have twenty minutes, and Ralph gets nineteen minutes.”
“Not fair.” Iggy counted on his fingers. “George gets four more minutes than me just ’cause he’s oldest.” He pursed his lips. “You’re the youngest, but you get to stay with Freddie all the time.”
“Look at Iggy.” Ralph faced his older brothers and winked. “His mouth puckers like a hen’s ass after she’s laid an egg.”
“Eggs don’t come out from a chicken’s ass,” Iggy said as he covered his mouth with his hand.
The door opened and a crispy oak leaf whisked across the kitchen floor. “I’m the oldest in case no one around here noticed.” Svez nearly filled the doorway as he walked into the kitchen and plopped onto his chair at the head of the table. “I’ll give you guys sixty minutes to get your first load of cornstalks back from the field, chopped and into the silo.” He gestured toward the stove with his cup.
“You ain’t sixty, Pa.” Thelma grabbed Iggy’s cap from the floor, tucked it under her apron and poured her father’s coffee.
“No, but that’s how long I ’spect to take for breakfast.” He splashed the black liquid into a saucer, raised it to his lips and slurped. “Get out there and harness up two teams. Arnie’s probably got his wagon half loaded already.”
Only Iggy hesitated. He stared back into the crib, wiped his nose with his sleeve and moved closer to Thelma.
“Well, whatcha waiting for?” Svez demanded.
“Thelma’s got my cap.”
She pulled it from under her apron and ran around the table. Svez kicked out a chair and Iggy ran into it. He began to pant but with his lips clamped tight, his breath gurgled and whistled through his nose. Thelma mussed his hair and stuck his cap on his head, visor facing back. He frowned, then grinned and finally laughed with Pa and Thelma until Freddie stirred.
“Let Iggy get the baby. Soon’s you get my breakfast, me and him can follow the boys with the second team.”
“But, Pa, you said sixty minutes.” Iggy turned his cap forward without lifting it. “A whole hour.” He faced the clock and backed into Freddie’s crib.
“You only get seventeen minutes.” Thelma took the paper from her apron pocket and scratched off George’s name.
“We ain’t going by age no more.” He reached into the crib and hesitated. “Which end do I pick up first?”
“Go sit at the table.” Thelma pointed and he obeyed. “I’ll bring him to you soon as I get Pa’s bacon into the pan. She lifted Freddie, sniffed and set him back down. She took off his diaper, wiped his bottom with a wet cloth and laid him on a towel in front of her brother.
“He’s a boy baby just like Podue’s a boy dog.” He pointed to Freddie’s tiny penis.
“Podue?” Svez asked.
Iggy rolled his eyes up toward Thelma.
“Yesterday, Harry Gross said he found a puppy in our mail box.” Thelma returned to the stove and cracked four eggs into the sizzling skillet. “He brought it to the house and claimed that there was postage due, so me and Iggy named him Podue.” She set the pan with eggs still bubbling in bacon grease in front of her father and pushed Iggy’s hand away from Freddie’s penis. “I think Larry Collins put him in there as a prank, but Iggy wants to keep him.”
Svez grabbed the pan by its handle and scraped bacon and half-cooked eggs onto his plate with his fork. “I ’spose we can use another dog around here.”
Thelma and Iggy jerked back as a small stream arched from between Freddie’s legs. Thelma ran to the sink, Iggy put his hand in his pocket and Pa laughed.