Articles

I LIVE WITH SIX WOMEN

He always wanted a daughter. He got five and spent his best years with pins and patterns, tripping over dolls, reading dress ads and fitting dirndls. He has even forgotten what it's like to blush

CLIF GREER February 1 1951
Articles

I LIVE WITH SIX WOMEN

He always wanted a daughter. He got five and spent his best years with pins and patterns, tripping over dolls, reading dress ads and fitting dirndls. He has even forgotten what it's like to blush

CLIF GREER February 1 1951

I LIVE WITH SIX WOMEN

He always wanted a daughter. He got five and spent his best years with pins and patterns, tripping over dolls, reading dress ads and fitting dirndls. He has even forgotten what it's like to blush

CLIF GREER

I WAS DELIGHTED when our first baby was a girl. I’d always wanted a girl around the house and here was Jolyn, a little beauty. I hoped the second would be a girl to keep the first company. It was. We called her Lorna. I took to making little jokes about having a bevy of beautiful daughters.

When the third baby was in the offing I changed my mind. I’m a schoolteacher, and a teacher’s life is not designed for riotous living but for penury and punishment. I wanted a boy who would get a job and kick in with some expenses. Loath as I am to relate it now, when red-headed Norah was bom I went on a fishing trip with the boys and tried to drown my troubles in sarsaparilla.

I know this is getting monotonous, but my wife decided there was another on the way. I began to carry a rabbit’s foot. This one had to be a boy, by all the laws of averages and humanity. It was another girl, blond Patsy. When my wife announced there might be a fifth I just didn’t give a damn what it was. I knew there was no hope, and when chipper little Gail came to us, I realized that the Lord had granted my early wish. I had my bevy of beautiful daughters.

In the meantime I’d somehow picked up a female dog, a female cat, two female goldfish and my second brother had sired three daughters. My youngest brother eventually produced another one, making a perfect score of nine grand-daughters for Grandpop, who wanted grandsons. Unless other branches of the family are doing better, the name “Greer” will soon be traceable only through finance companies. I remember my father’s stricken look and desolation of spirit at the birth of the ninth grand-daughter, a calamity he associated in some mysterious way with the fact his three sons had become schoolteachers.

But I had no time to worry about my father’s troubles. I had enough of my own: the fights

that started when red-headed 17-year-old Norah supplemented her high-school wardrobe by pilfering from her long-suffering 18-year-old sister, Lorna; the agony of catching 10-year-old Gail dressing the collie in a suit of my best underwear; the shock of watching nature-loving Patsy, 11, happily produce five live snakes from her pockets.

My troubles are a special kind. For instance,

I can’t enjoy a normal introduction. Somebody says: “Mr. Greer, like you to meet Mr. Matthews.” We shake hands and make appropriate sounds. I wait. Then it comes.

“Mr. Greer is the father of five daughters,” he adds with a snicker.

Matthews then lets me have it. “Just like Eddie Cantor, eh?”

There’s nothing left for me to do but give my old battle cry: “Yeah, but Cantor gets paid for

jokes about his girls. I suffer the laughs without the money. I’m a schoolteacher.”

Any desire for further discussion has left me. I wander off to look for the punch bowl.

I’m a lone male among six females and it’s doing things to me that shouldn’t happen to a bill collector. I’m out of step with men, and the women can’t stand me. Any ordinary guy, fresh from an average amount of male company, is slightly embarrassed when surrounded by females. He’s liable to blush, which the girls find rather quaint and charming. They want to mother him. But I’ve spent the biggest part of my life in an atmosphere of pins, patterns, curlers and girdles. I’ve seen women in every state of nerves, temperament, occupation and dress. I’ve fitted dirndls, soldered hose supports, groped through wet nylons and broken up fights over garter belts by hovering around like an old coon dog, slapping my shrieking females in strategic places to make them let go.

I try to look embarrassed but I soon find myself chuckling away with the girls. Other women think I’m too cool a customer with women to be decent and edge away from me. Yet I’m so out of touch with the masculine world that when the boys gather to repeat what they’ve heard their sons say about jets, jeeps and high-school hockey scores all I can think of saying is: “Simpson’s is clearing the cutest little suits today for $13.98.”

Another thing, a man needs to meet with a certain amount of healthful moral and physical resistance of the sort he’d get from a solidly built son. It’s like a dog needing an occasional dry bone. The only resistance I get is a peculiar shifty female variety that lets me fall flat on my face. The minute I step into a fight, everyone chooses up sides: me on one side, six women on the other. It frequently happens at mealtimes.

Before marriage I had the idea that girls spent mealtimes sitting with their hands folded demurely in their lap, nibbling now and then on angel cake. Our gargantuan repasts were a dreadful revelation. My five daughters storm the table in curlers, slips and what-nots, howling like famished wolverines. I can’t serve fast enough. By the time my turn comes it’s time to start serving all over again. The only reason I tried to train my daughters to chew their food was to give me time to eat. The session usually ends in a five-way brawl for the choice cuts and biggest servings.

In the midst of the melee I rise like Neptune coming out of the sea, slap the table with my carving knife and roar for silence. I get it. Six women sit looking at me as I stand there glassy-eyed and out of control. A sob breaks the silence, and one of my daughters runs from the table biting her knuckles. My wife looks at me coldly and says: “Will you

never learn that girls are sensitive? You don’t just scream at them as if they were—boys!”

Trains Didn’t Tempt Them

I often hear a father of sons say: “They keep

me from forgetting the time when I was a kid.” The only way five daughters could remind a man of when he was a kid would be for him to have spent his boyhood playing with wet-ums dolls. I haven’t had boxing gloves or an air rifle since I got married. All I have is dolls -babies, little girls, teddies, and what-notsbought in wholesale quantities at retail prices. Dark stairways and halls are littered with them. Whenever I crash down in one of these booby traps there’s always great commiseration—for the dolls.

Early in married life I tried to get them a toy train. One Christmas I sneaked in with an American Flyer. My heart still throbs as I recall the joy with which I set up that engine, 10 cars, bridges, signals, a station, and yards of track. Now,

I thought, the kids will give up that ! doll

business. My wife regarded the project coldly.

“They won’t like it,” she said.

“What do you mean, won’t like it?” I yelped. “I know what kids like. My brothers and I—”

“You’ll see,” my wife announced sweetly.

I saw. I arose in the unholy dark to watch the children come upon the breath-taking sight.

There were five new dolls under the tree, of course; but the main thing was the train. There it was, a mighty glittering ensemble taking up so much room that it just couldn’t be missed. But my girls missed it, somehow. They leaped over cars, scurried between signals, jumped switches and clutched those five damnable dolls to their tender little bosoms with shrieks of ecstasy. They stripped them, bathed them, changed, dried and dressed them, fondled them, dandled them, mothered them and cooed to them, and every time they came to the train they kicked it aside.

I came out from behind the tree where I’d been crouching talking to myself and made maddened attempts to lure them into playing with it. I set it back on the tracks, ran it, backed it and did everything but ride in it. They showed momentary interest when I gave a baby doll a ride on a flat car, but when the doll fell off they kicked it aside again. It was all I could do to keep from getting kicked under the tree myself.

Girls Are So Helpless

There’s a charming and phony legend that’s been around for years that women are quick to sympathize with an injured male and to bandage his slightest wound. This may be—if there’s a son or two around to point out that the old man’s bleeding. A man surrounded by six females is liable to bleed to death before they start asking where he is. He’s regarded as something shaggy and indestructible.

Occasionally I come in handy. I’m fond of painting and frequently have exhibitions of my work, so my daughters are forced to concede that maybe I’m capable of passing an opinion on the color of a new hat. Apart from that I rate with a comfortable old chair that, in spite of creaks and groans, is still capable of supporting a burden.

The father of sons can show them how to hunt, fish, tie a reef knot or pitch a tent, and build himself up as quite a hero. But daughters know there’s no point in doing any of these things: a

man will turn up in time to do it for them. This left-handed logic always works somehow.

I remember one time my daughters went on an overnight camping trip. They took two canoes, their spaniel Betty, and paddled off with my injunction from the dock: “Be sure to get your

tents up, beds made and supper cooked before dark.” They’d no sooner rounded the first bend when I started to worry. By sunset I’d begun to stew; and when the quiet northern darkness descended on the river, and all the familiar landmarks became submerged in mystery and reflection, I knew I had to see that those kids were safe or be roped to a tree. 1 jumped into my outboard and started after them.

Mile after mile I dodged down the j dark river, shaving deadheads and buoys, and coming dangerously close j to rocks (the girls had taken my ! only flashlights). Occasionally I would I cut the motor and shout their names, i only to have the echoes reverberate ! back in breathless shivers. “Mydaughi Iers!” I sobbed to the night. “My five beautiful daughters drowned!”

At last, far away in an island -j studded bay, I saw a fire reflected iYi i the dark still water. I made for it I likt; an Indian who has just remem! bered where he cached the firewater.

I found my girls eating hot-dogs.

I Lorna waved as if we’d just run into one another at the corner drugstore.

I “Hi!” she called between bites.

“Aren’t you surprised to see me?”

I asked, trembling with relief.

“Why should we he?” Nora munched. “We knew you’d come.”

“How did you know?”

“We knew you’d be worried,” Jolyn said.

“Where are your tents?”

“We haven’t put them up yet.”

“Why?”

“We knew you’d be here,” Lorna answered, wrapping up another wiener in a bun.

! Eight Cats—And He Was Allergic

Boys and men are the real hero j worshippers. To a girl a hero is apt I to be simply someone who puts the ¡ ashes out. A friend of mine holds his ] three sons starry-eyed for hours telling j them how he used to score goals hack I in the days when he played college ' hockey. It’s pure tripe, but it goes I over. I decided I’d show my daughters I how I used to do it. I’d even teach I them to play.

1 bought hockey sticks, outfits, and ! made a rink in the back yard. It gave the girls a wonderful idea—to sit on the end of the sticks while I dragged them around.

Being the father of five daughters can bring complications that can only be appreciated by the father of five daughters. For instance, there’s the matter of sex education.

The best way to teach them the facts of life, 1 decided, was to have pets. So we had dogs, cats, rabbits, white rats, white mice, birds, fish and two geese named Honker and Bonker. They were to mate and have babies, which they did, the rats especially. They numbered about 120 at peak breeding time which always seemed at its peak. In a grim fight for survival we put them in the garage and kept the car outside. They overflowed to the yard, sometimes to the street. I’ve crawled after them along the sidewalk in early morning past the legs of squealing commuters.

The only thing we cut down on was cats. One time when we had eight it was discovered I was allergic to cat fur. We got rid of four so that I could go around only half sick.

Actually the boy - meets - daughter situation was less painful than I’d anticipated. Maybe it was because it was so sudden. One morning during the war I awoke to the sound of hoarse shouts and laughter and discovered that a vacant building next door, formerly a girls’ school, had been taken over by the RCAF.

In an incredibly short time the boys had discovered my five daughters. Then they were crowding into our old-fashioned kitchen in platoons, calling me “Sir” whenever I worked my

way out of the corner but otherwise getting along fine without me. Nevertheless, I got attached to those boys

Dandy, a trumpeter, who used to bring his horn and who nearly beat his feet through the kitchen linoleum; Bill, a lad so big he made my formerly impressive six-foot-three seem so insignificant that my daughters started telling me I needed vitamins; Shorty, a sawed-off guy who always felt “awful” yet who always won all the track meets. And there was Walter, a slender, lonesome, pathetic chap who had ineffable longing in his eyes.

Soon after this we moved to a newer part of town and the girls began being followed home by large numbers of young men from high school. 1 recall counting 11 of them milling about in front of the house one evening. 1 couldn’t take it. 1 bellowed to them either to come in or beat it. 'They all came in.

Another time when my car was being fixed a young man who stood with me waiting for the morning bus pointed to my own house and said: “See that house there. It’s full of girls.”

1 showed appropriate middle-aged interest. He went on: “My God, you should see them. There’s one in there gets on the bus just about now. What a babe!”

Just then Lorna came running out of the house and crossed toward us. “There she is now,” the young man said. “See what I mean?”

Lorna had reached us. “Hey, Dad,” she said. “Haven’t you gone yet?”

The young fellow flushed painfully and buried his face in his paper. He didn’t get on the bus with us. I’ve seen him since but he always avoids me.

There are other complications to the boy-meets-daughter situation. One time on a fishing trip I struck up a friendship with a young chap named Bob. We found that we’d both fished the same lakes and got to swapping stories that had nothing to do with fishing. We howled with laughter.

Two days later Bob visited me at my cottage. As we sat on the porch Jolyn walked by in shorts. My girls in shorts have always made strong youths tremble.

“Who is that?” Bob exclaimed.

“Nice, isn’t she?” I murmured, almost strangling with parental pride. “That’s Jo, one of my kids.”

There was a silence, growing cooler by the second. I could see an imaginethat - lovely - thing - being - daughter -of-this-dirty-old-man look come into Bob’s eyes and soon he bade me a stiff “Good night” and went home. He contrived to meet Jo, of course, but whenever he called on her he addressed me as “Sir,” with a slight sneer. Soon he switched to “Mr. Greer,” and finally married Jo and stopped calling me anything—out loud.

Recently Jo and Bob broke the Greer tradition by having a boy, a cute, curly-headed little tyke. I went down to a little furnished hole behind the furnac« where I do my painting and dug up that American Flyer. It was underneath a carton of old dolls. I began to feel a bit sad as I put the dolls aside and began to set up the train. It was the first time since my marriage that a new baby hadn’t been a girl.

I began thinking of all the good times we’d had together, of the way my girls could split wood, toss a plug, paddle a canoe, ride a horse and swim better than most men; of the way they’d mothered snakes, frogs, crickets, toads and everything that flew, jumped or crawled; of the beautiful drawings of animal life and landscapes they’d done.

And I finally found myself playing with those damnable dolls! I guess I forgot to mention—I like girls, ie