It was one of those wonderful evenings that we always had when Daddy’s cousin Tom and his wife, Irene, would visit. After supper Daddy, Mother, Tom, Irene, Martha and I gathered in the front room. This room, in our three-room duplex, was also Mother and Daddy’s bedroom. There was plenty of room for entertaining guests and the huge open fireplace with the carved mantelpiece offered a cozy atmosphere.
Martha and I sat off to the side of the room reading or playing with our dolls. I cannot tell you just what we were doing, but know that we were mostly listening to the adult’s conversation. They were talking about our granddaddy Acree’s brother, the one who had moved to Texas. That of course would be Daddy’s uncle and our great-uncle. Daddy often talked about him and how when his father and two brothers had come over from Ireland, his father and one brother had settled in North Georgia while the other had traveled on to Texas.
Granddaddy Acree and his brother William had gone into the sawmill business. It seemed that the other brother, whose name I cannot remember, had started a cattle ranch in Texas. From the conversation, I gathered that the uncle in Texas was making money even in these depression years. At least the family thought it was so. Daddy would tell us that if things did not get better in Georgia, we would all just pick up and move to Texas. It sounded exciting to me as I was very young and had not started school yet. Martha was not so sure as she was in school and had many friends.
On this evening the discussion had turned to cattle ranching and how they branded the cattle with special marks to be sure they would not get lost. Somehow it twisted further into birthmarks. I seem to remember some talk earlier about a child that had been lost and the newspapers had something about a birthmark helping to find the child.
From there they talked about birthmarks in the family. They said everyone had one. Daddy had a brown mark on his shoulder; Mother had a mole on her chin and Martha had a red strawberry mark on the back of her neck. I did not have one. There was not one special mark on my body – no strawberry, no mole, nothing.
Martha became upset. “What will happen if Louise gets lost? Will we ever find her again?” she asked, tugging on Mother’s skirt.
“Don’t you worry child,” was Tom’s response. “If she got lost someone would bring her straight home. Don’t you worry your head about Louise.”
The adults all smiled and Tom winked at Daddy and Daddy winked back.
About that time they, the adults, all went into the kitchen for something. I believe they went to have a drink of Daddy’s peach brandy. Drinking in front of us girls was never allowed. But, both Daddy and Tom enjoyed the brandy.
“You girls behave now and we will have dessert very soon,” Mother told us as they all left the room.
As soon as the door closed, Martha put the poker into the fire. She held it there for a long time until the end was almost a white red. Her face was set in a determined way and I asked what she was doing.
“Never mind Louise, I’ll fix everything.” Martha said as she took the poker out of the fire. “Now turn around so I can brand you.”
“WHAT!” That was all that came out of my mouth. I started backing away from her, making sure I kept facing her.
Martha came after me with the poker outstretched saying, “Stand still, how can I do this if you won’t stand still.”
“NO, NO, NO!” I stuttered backing around chairs as I bumped into them. I tried to hide behind the bed but could not squeeze in there in time to stop her coming for me. I turned and ran.
Now I was in the far corner of the room. Martha, much stronger than I, pushed me against the wall with my body half turned around.
In those days we wore short little dresses with marching underpants. Daddy often told Mother that she made our dresses too short. Now I knew he was right.
Martha placed the still smoking poker against the back of my leg just at the edge of my panties.
I screamed. “NO! MAMA! DADDY,” as I dropped to the floor in agony.
The next thing I knew Daddy was lifting me in his arms carrying me to a chair by the fireplace. I squirmed about crying out and pushed myself off his lap to a standing position. I bent over to display the mark left by the hot poker. Strangely enough it had made a perfect ‘L’. That was the natural shape of the end of our poker.
“What happened here?” Daddy asked.
“I branded her.” Martha replied. “I did not want to lose her. See how perfect it is? Now we’ll never have to look for her.”
Upon investigation, the burn was discovered and Mother hurried to take care of me.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They were telling me how lucky I was to have a sister that cared so much for me.
Cared for me! I thought. I would rather she hated me and wished me gone. Martha was the star of the evening. To think her mind could be so quick to put the branding and birthmark together when she was only eight years old. I carried that scar for many years until my body grew to the point it just disappeared. When I would put on a bathing suit, there it was until I was well into my twenties. Perhaps the marks of motherhood from my four sons covered the scar of childhood. However, the agony of the moment has stayed with me as well as the disbelief that Martha was not punished for what she did to me. Go figure!