A "Prize" from Tooka

My older brother, Louis Augustus Yandell, Tooka, as the family called him was much older than I.   He was16 years old when I was born and already in his second year at Western Kentucky State Teachers College in Bowling Green, Kentucky.    He was so proud of his baby sister, he insisted that Mama name me, Mildred, to honor the girl he was dating at the time.  From the time I was two years old, he and Willie, my older sister,  took me everywhere with them, even on dates.     I became a pet for them and their friends.  For some reason Tooka and Willie didn't take my other brother and sister, John and Jennie, with them.   They were probably afraid they would tell their secrets or maybe they just didn't want to go.   But, I did want to go and when they started towards the car I cried to go with them.  If, for some reason, they didn't want to take me they would bribe me to quit crying by promising to bring me a surprise when they came home.    When they returned home, the first thing I said, was "Where's my prize"?

When Willie married, and came home for visits, she always brought a prize for me.   When Tooka came home from school or when he returned home after a summer tour with the Red Path Chautauqua he, without fail, brought me a prize.   It was never a big item, a candy bar, pack of chewing gum or a little folding fan.   It wasn't the actual present, but it was the mystery and anticipation of receiving the gift that made it so much fun.   He always said,  "I believe I just might have a little something in here for you," then he slowly opened his suitcase, making a big production of it.  The prize was always on top of everything else, so it would be the first thing I saw when he opened the suitcase.  Unveiling my prize, was such an exciting moment,

When Chautauqua was in Hartsville, South Carolina Tooka met Leno Woodruff.   They became engaged and the next year they married in her hometown on August 16, 1932.  At that time, we were living in Mexico, Kentucky at the Haffaw Mine.  They were coming by our house, while on their honeymoon, to spend a few days before going to Lexington, where Tooka had accepted a teaching position at Picadome High School.

I was ten years old and I remember Mama working feverishly to get the house all cleaned and polished.  All the while, she was coaching us about our manners and what to say or not to say.   She really wanted us to impress the new bride.   Leno was raised in the true southern fashion and was the closest thing to a "Southern Belle", as we would ever see.   Mama was so afraid we would say or do something to embarrass her.   We really resented having to clean up our act and felt that we shouldn't have to change our lives around just because the new bride was so prissy.  Mama never should have said anything!    We secretly decided to make it our goal to indoctrinate her into our culture.    The funny thing, was the incident, which sent everybody over the edge happened quite, by accident and it remained unbeknownst to me until many years later.

The newlyweds arrived with much ado and believe it or not, we were all quite well behaved.    Every thing went well. The newly polished chandelier twinkled and shone over the beautiful dinner table.  We even impressed ourselves with our witty dinner conversation, maybe all this manners stuff wouldn't be as bad as we had thought.   After dinner, Mama, Papa, Tooka, and Leno went to the parlor to play "Pitch" (a popular card game of the time).  Of course, Jennie and I had to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen.   Every one was having a lovely time when it occurred to me that Tooka had forgotten to give me my prize.   Since Mama had been coaching us, I knew that interrupting them would be rude, so I decided the most mannerly thing to do, as I knew exactly where my prize was, would be to go get it myself.              

The suitcase wasn't locked so I opened it.   There was my prize right on top as usual, three balloons, not just one or two, but three balloons.    I was so exited!  Of course I blew them up right away.  They were really unusual balloons, because when I blew them up they were clear.   I also knew, due to Mama's coaching, that it would be impolite not to thank someone when they gave me a gift.   I ran into the parlor with the balloons, hugged Tooka's neck and said, "Oh Tooka, thank you for my prize!"   Then a most unusual thing happened. He jumped up from his chair, ran to their bedroom and slammed the suitcase shut.   At first Papa's mouth flew open, but when he closed it, I thought I saw a slight grin on his face and a little twinkle in his eye.   Leno just sat there with her hands, with manicured fingernails, over her heart.  She had a look of horror on her face and her pale, unblemished complexion was as red as a fire truck.  I got a feeling that, as usual, I had done something terribly wrong, but couldn't for the life of me figure out what.   Mama really fussed at me for snooping in someone else's belongings, but I tried to explain that I was only trying to do what she had coached me to do.   I didn't intend to do anything that would break up their card game.

Years later, Jennie asked me, "Mun, do you remember the time you got the condoms out of Tooka's suitcase?"   That's when it all made sense to me.   After all those years I, finally, figured out what I had done to break up the card game.

Millie Wilson