The first two stories I published in this journal were daily posts on June 15, 2013:
The Lean Years
When Friends Are True Friends
(You can use the Blog search to locate them.)
(You can use the Blog search to locate them.)
STORIES OR STORY LINKS ON THIS PAGE:
The White Jacket
Be Still and Know
Do You Know What I Wish?
The Good Old Days
His Mysterious Ways
The Harvest Is Plenteous
Long Day, Dark Night
His Mysterious Ways
The Harvest Is Plenteous
Long Day, Dark Night
(Some of them take up a lot of room,
so letting you know how far to scroll
to reach the end of the page.)
Even though I was unable to use the entire set here,
many thanks to Silver for this lovely graphic!
The White Jacket
"I'm Jenny; I'm Jennifer Adele Maronne! I feel all bubbly and excited, and everything around me is so pretty!"
The trip had been a long one, but Jenny hadn't tired. She'd watched the world around her change from a foggy, dull gray to a bright pink haze, then finally into the crystal clear beauty of an early spring morning. She liked sitting there alone in the back seat of the shabby old black Model T, thinking her own special thoughts. Tom drove so well, and she was sure her sister Agatha must feel quite proud sitting up there beside him. Only just at that moment she noticed Agatha's shoulders begin to shake slightly.
"Please try not to do that now, honey," Tom spoke softly to Agatha, and Jenny knew Sister had started to cry again. Sister had cried so many times during the past week, when she thought Jenny wasn't noticing. She really shouldn't cry, though, for after all Jenny was just going for a short visit, but then they were all very sentimental about each other. Maybe she should have said she just wouldn't go at all, but Sister herself had said she must; said her old friend from school had such a lovely place to visit, so restful, and very clean. Everyone knew how much cleanliness meant to Jenny.
After a little while Sister seemed to have gotten over her crying; she sat up straighter and started pointing out signs and making comments as they passed through the sleepy little countryside. Things were so still this early in the morning though, it seemed to Jenny that even Agatha's kind voice should be hushed, lest she wake the sleeping buildings. And just then Sister started complaining mildly about the wheezing sounds the old car had commenced to make.
Something about the crops not doing well had kept Tom from getting the new car they'd wanted. It had been so dry all the time when the cotton should have been growing, then raining all the time when Tom needed to harvest what did make -- well, lately all Jenny had heard when they needed anything was that there just wasn't enough money. This made Jenny a little angry, for Tom and Sister Agatha were so good, she couldn't bear to see them not getting the nice things they'd always been accustomed to.
It also made Jenny think about Papa, and how he used to seem so pleased to buy the things they wanted at home. But then there had been the time they began to call the Depression -- whatever that meant -- and poor Papa just sort of wilted when she or her sisters asked him to buy any pretty dresses or shoes for them. She didn't quite understand, but he'd just say he's lost all of his money. Where on earth would he have lost it, and why couldn't he just get some more, the way he'd always done before?
But for now Jenny did wish Sister wouldn't start talking about the car, or anything else for that matter, while she was trying so hard to think, trying to recapture that happy feeling. Jenny wouldn't let Agatha know, but her talking made her quite angry. So much had happened and she needed to try to arrange her thoughts. It was getting more and more difficult to keep things straight in her mind anyway, and people didn't understand her as they should. Jenny began to feel more fretful.
"Sister, I'm beginning to get a little hungry," Jenny spoke quite cheerfully, she thought, especially since no one seemed to notice she'd not had a bite to eat since a thin slice of toast with her orange juice before 6:00 o'clock.
"We'll be there soon, dear, and I'm sure your breakfast will be right on time. There aren't any restaurants open just yet along here. We've only got to stop up ahead for a few minutes, then we'll go right on."
Again Agatha's eyes took on that misty look, and she looked even more unhappy as they took a winding drive up to a big house set quite far back, and Tom stopped the car. A serious-looking older man came out, introduced himself as John Slack, and asked them to get out for a few minutes, just to sort of stretch their legs, he said. He had no right to do that, what with Agatha looking more and more upset, and Jenny had all she could do to keep from shouting out at him and telling him so. In fact, before she knew what she was doing, she had jumped from the car and started with a rush to where the man was standing, for she knew that she alone understood her sister's feelings, and he must be made to know he shouldn't intrude on their time like that.
But Tom moved quickly, and he and Sister each slipped a restraining arm through Jenny's arms, and she stepped back only when Sister assured her this man was indeed a friend. Still she could only stare hostilely at him for a few seconds as he and Tom stood off to one side talking in low tones while Agatha stood with one arm held close around Jenny's waist.
Jenny heard Tom say something like "...probably not really that hard to handle...," and the other man mumble something which sounded like "...a rule in these cases," and she wondered whatever they could be talking about, but then decided it really didn't matter, for it was no concern of hers whatever. She decided to try to make Sister smile, so pointed out the sweet white blossoms of the jasmine vines entwined in the high iron fence where they'd just driven through the gate. Sister did love flowers.
Just then though Tom and Mr. Slack finished their talk, and walked back over to where Jenny and Agatha were standing. The man had something hanging over his arm -- something nice and white, just as well laundered and starched-looking as the short white coat he was wearing.
"Jenny," Tom said as he came over to stand quite near her. "Jenny, Mr. Slack has a nice, clean jacket here with him, dear, and he is going to let you wear it."
"Yes," Agatha spoke up very quickly, "it is chilly, and you might be getting a little cool."
Well, she wasn't really, but that didn't matter, for she wanted to please dear Agatha and Tom, especially when Tom seemed seldom to have time to really notice her; and the jacket was so clean looking. Jenny slipped into the garment -- funny it had to be pulled so tightly over her head that way -- and immediately disliked the unusual styling. Still she wouldn't complain.
Then she was being helped back into the car by Mr. Slack, while the others were saying their good-byes, only this time Sister had said she'd rather Jenny sit up front between her and Tom, and soon they were backing out, and turning to follow the long, tree-lined drive in a wide circle. Would they never get there, and would she like Sister's Miss Bridger as much as they'd told her she would? She didn't really like strangers as much as she pretended; they frightened her a bit at first. Oh well, she should soon know, and she knew how to change things if she didn't like them.
The car did stop then, quite abruptly, and Jenny roused herself from her thoughts. She looked out on a substantial-looking house of deep red brick.
"Quite a large house, if Miss Bridger lives here alone," she said to the others, "but then, perhaps she likes nice, big rooms."
Neither Agatha nor Tom answered her, and Jenny hoped she hadn't said the wrong thing. After all Sister had told her Miss Bridger was a special friend of hers. But how could she get to know anything about her for herself if she didn't ask questions? And she was beginning to feel very cramped and uncomfortable, and sort of wished she was back home with Mother. Oh, no, she'd forgotten again.
Slender iron bars running the length of the wide windows gave the place a look of security, and Jenny did like that. Not like the tiny, narrow windows in her and Mother's house, the only thing Jenny had always disliked about their home. Here, too, the neighboring houses weren't too close, though they all appeared quite similar.
"There's Miss Bridger now, Jenny, dear," Agatha said as she started to climb down from the car. A tall, full-bosomed woman with deeply graying hair had reached the side of the car and had helped Sister almost lift Jennifer bodily to the ground, even before Tom could get around to them. She greeted Agatha very warmly and they mentioned the meeting where they'd last seen each other, then their conversation seemed to sort of die out rather quickly. Strange, Jenny thought, if they were such good friends.
Tom and Agatha started toward the walk up to the house, but Miss Bridger urged them to hurry right on to the early meeting Sister had told Jenny they had to attend in that town, saying she'd take good care of Jenny. They hesitated, then Sister thanked Miss Bridger, pulled Jennifer close for a brief instant, and Tom took Sister's arm and hurried her back into the car. Jenny was left alone with the friendly-looking older woman as the old car rattled off down the graveled driveway.
Miss Bridger slipped an arm about the slender shoulders as, with long professional practice, she made quick, mental notes.
Looks like she should be wrapped in tissue paper, and handled as a fragile blown glass object; all soft, and creamy white. And that lovely hair the color of pulled taffy, swirling across her thin, child-like face, showing only bits of pale blue eyes playing an involuntary game of peek-a-boo. Why she looks hardly more than half her twenty-nine years.
"Come, Jenny," Miss Bridger steadied her as she turned very slowly at first, then started to walk more briskly. Jenny moved with short, bouncy steps, a shimmery coiled spring never quite completing its unwinding cycle, then suddenly twisted herself free of the older woman's touch as they reached the porch, and slid into a low rocker nearby. A little tinkling laughter began to bubble from her throat. She thought is she could keep laughing, they'd not know about the fuzzy little lump swelling out in her throat. Something inside told her Miss Bridger might understand anyway.
Then suddenly Jenny became very quiet as she noticed her shadow skittering to and fro across the smooth green concrete porch, and she began to nod her head first one way, they the other, enjoying the fact she could exercise remote control over the fleeting, shadowy movements. She smiled, a secretive kind of smile.
"I like it here; I like it here, Miss Bridger," she said aloud, though she seemed to be speaking more to herself. "It's lonely now at home with Mother gone, and Sister Agatha seems always to be so busy since I've been staying with her, and all the servants are gone. A visit here with you will indeed be pleasant."
She wondered just where Agatha had met Miss Bridger -- in high school, or away that year at business school -- and if Miss Bridger had many servants for her big house, but she decided the questions weren't worth the effort of asking.
Some days Jenny couldn't remember just how long Mother had been gone, and it was even difficult for her to make herself believe for sure she wouldn't come back. What did dying mean? Oh, well, she'd only stay a short time here with Miss Bridger, so it was best she didn't try to think about so many things right now.
"I can't stay here long, though, you know," she addressed her companion again. "There are the petunia beds at home to be weeded, and probably already the new leaves are putting out on the hedges, and we'll have to see that they get pruned."
Looking out over the yard, Jenny noticed the beds of pansies in their vari-colored brightness.
"Oh, Miss Bridger, did you plan all those lovely pansies yourself, or do you have a yard boy? At home we always have the Hanover boy come in and help with the heavy spading."
Jenny tilted her well-shaped head slightly back so that her light blue eyes met the deep brown ones of Miss Bridger, who was leaning against a post near the steps, watching the girl intently.
"No, Jenny. No, the yard attendants work them, but I do select a new shape for the beds each autumn, and supervise very carefully the laying them out."
Jenny had forgotten to listen attentively, for now she had become conscious of a chilly feeling about her feet and legs, and realized she couldn't spread the jacket to cover even her knees. She shivered a little as another light breeze swept across the open porch, and she wondered why Miss Bridger didn't suggest going inside for some breakfast, or at least a cup of hot chocolate.
A little flood of resentment threatened to push to the surface, and she knew the anger wouldn't be far behind. She did so want to be a considerate guest, but it did seem a trifle thoughtless of Miss Bridger to keep her waiting this long on the exposed porch; Sister must not have known how late the meal would be served here. Oh, yes, Miss Bridger had mentioned right away there'd be someone else coming along shortly, and Jenny mustn't fret, so she carefully arranged a cheerful expression on her face, and turned to the older woman once more.
"This is a nice jacket that man at the big house loaned me, but it isn't at all the style of those Papa used to buy for me. I've never had one before which confined my hands so closely; the styles do change so, don't they? Such a nice white, though," and she bent slightly to look closer at the smooth-pressed surface of the clean, coarsely-woven fabric. "I'll have to be extra careful not to spill tea on it when..."
It was a bit snug, too, Jenny though; in fact, much too snug, but she guessed that she'd accept that for now. It did make it a little more cozy in this fresh air.
Miss Bridger nodded at Jenny, then turned back toward the yard. She pointed out the purple clover in the far corner of the yard and asked Jenny if that particular type of clover grew in her section of the state. But Jenny only smiled vaguely at her, for now she was back in Lafayette, going over some of the events of her life as she remembered them. There was always so much to think about.
Long ago, they'd told her at home, there'd been just Mama and Papa, then soon the babies had started coming: first Sister Agatha, then Mildred, Jean and Aletha followed at fairly close intervals. Finally there was Jenny herself. That was all long, long before the TERRIBLE SICKNESS had come upon her dear family.
Jenny winced when she recalled the older sisters at home, all seeming so close to each other and enjoying such good times together, and how she'd always wanted to be a real part of the closely-knit group. Still she supposed it wasn't their fault she was so delicate. Being seven years younger than Aletha, Jenny was treated like a fragile doll, one to be loved and cherished, but always too little to be taken into their lively activities, especially after the SICKNESS.
"I always wanted to help in our big sunny kitchen, or just stand at the great old square enamel sink and wash the breakfast dishes." Jenny sighed wistfully and she spoke dreamily. Eleanor Bridger listened very attentively.
"A few times Mama let me wash some of the silver, but she didn't think I should take the time to line up the knives like tall, straight soldiers, and have the delicately curved forks curtsy before them like fashionable mid-Victorian ladies. Mama was always so kind, but she just didn't quite understand about all those people being a part of my life and I couldn't..."
Jenny's voice trailed off then, for she didn't want to think about how Mama had scolded and sent her to her room to stay for a whole hour when she'd gotten angry and flung all the family silver into the open hearth where flames were leaping high in the newly-stirred fire. Jenny never meant to do things like that, but something inside her couldn't bear disapproval of any kind, and she had to amend things in her own way.
So Jenny remembered how she used to sit and think, and create for herself make-believe friends. The little girls her own age were always much too dull for Jenny; they never seemed to understand the gaiety of soul, or the special music which existed inside the real person Jenny.
There was, for instance, Susan Birch. Susan had beautiful red hair, and lovely deep, almost green eyes, and she and Jenny could have been best of friends. But instead of letting her hair fly loose in brilliant curls about her slender shoulders, and accentuating her unusual eyes with imaginative colors in dresses, Susan bound the long tresses in braids, and wore dull blues and grays over to Jenny's house every single visit. Jenny had only meant to do Susan a favor when she'd tried to pull the tightly plaited hair loose, and tore at her straight, simple dress. She'd intended putting one of her own lovely green print dresses on Susan, but they didn't give her a chance.
And none of the other girls did much better for themselves than Susan, Miss Bridger, so you see I had to stay to myself and enjoy my bright, imaginary friends." Jenny spoke aloud when she thought Miss Bridger might feel left out if she didn't share her thoughts with her.
"I remember when I was just ten..." the intense voice seemed to chose off; memory was once more difficult to accept. That was the year of the TERRIBLE SICKNESS, and everything in Jenny's carefully sheltered life had changed. Already poor Jean had died some years before of some dreadful disease -- Jenny had been only four at the time, and she didn't really remember much about Jean.
Aletha, Mildred and Jenny had been struck down one after another with a bad fever which their doctor had called malaria, but the nurses and neighboring ladies shook their heads and said it had to be something much worse. Finally another doctor had come out from the city and told Papa how awful it really was -- something called typhoid. All the girls had run high fever for many long days and nights. Jenny had seemed to be the sickest, maintaining a temperature of 105˚ and above for long days at a time, they'd said.
"Mama came down with the fever, Miss Bridger, and they put her in a room across the hall from me, but she wasn't there when I finally was allowed up and could walk about."
But here Jenny abruptly stopped talking again. She refused to let herself think of her beloved and beautiful Mama, for if she did, it only caused the cold, hard ball of anger to cram hard in her chest.
Sister Agatha had married before that sickness, so Jenny turned to tenderhearted Mildred for comfort and affection after they got well. But soon Mildred too found a husband for herself -- lively, happy-go-lucky Jim -- just a few months after Mama went away. And a year later Papa brought home a brand new wife, and Jenny was told this was to be her new mother.
Mother was warm and kind, always careful of the delicate young Jenny, and it was nice to have her there to take care of her, especially when Aletha married that nice Burt Ayers from up north, and they moved far across town from home. If Jenny wasn't always able to completely forget her own perfect Mama, she found the memory renewed the deep surge of anger and resentment, so she would push the thoughts from her mind.
Then Papa had died quite suddenly the year Jenny was seventeen, and she had only Mother.
These thoughts made Jenny feel sort of detached from her present surroundings, so she stole a shy glance at the placid features of Miss Bridger to see if she'd noticed. She saw that that lady had deposited her ample figure on the top step, and was engrossed in pulling some bright green knitting thread from a large bag. Yet is wasn't quite mannerly of her not to include her hostess in her reminiscing.
"Mildred must be getting her ... Mildred lives two doors down from Mother and me. She must be getting her children ready for the school bus about now."
Oh, dear, everything seemed to worry Jenny now. She cringed inwardly and tried to make the little unpleasant thoughts of Mildred and her children go away. She really hadn't meant to pull seven-year-old Greta's hair that day they'd come over to see her and Mother, and kicking her in the shin had been the last thing in her mind, but really the child could be insufferable when she put herself to it.
"My bed spread was a new one, and I told the children not to muss it up, but Greta had deliberately brushed against it with her soiled slacks, then said she didn't get it dirty! Why I had every right to be indignant! Maybe it didn't seem so important to the others, but I knew mother would have to launder the heavy spread in the bathtub, and I do dislike having Mother do heavy work!"
"No, Mother was already sick then," she remembered, "but someone had to do the washing, and they should all be more thoughtful."
Jenny glanced at Miss Bridger again then, and started to mention that she and Mother usually had their breakfast before this time every morning, but decided that wouldn't seem quite polite, with her a visitor. Anyway, Miss Bridger seemed quite intent on her knitting, so she wouldn't make her drop a stitch. The knitting disturbed her slightly, though, as it made her think of another unhappy event. And now her day, which had begun so brightly, was beginning to become quite worrisome to her order-loving mind.
Sister Aletha and her Jane had brought Jane's baby in to see her last week, and Jenny had admired the soft, buttery yellow sweater and booties Aletha had knitted for the new baby. Little Tony was almost two months old, and this was the first time they'd brought him to see Jenny.
At first Jenny had been afraid to hold the tiny, wriggling bundle, but after they'd slipped the blankets off him so she could really get hold of the soft, warm body, she'd welcomed the moment of cuddling the little boy. She'd had on her new pink print dress, the last one Mother had made for her, and she'd placed him carefully in her arms so as not to wrinkle the soft material.
Aletha should have told her, or Jane should have, but no one let her know the baby wasn't properly attired for being taken off the lap pad, and the sudden spreading of the large wet circle on her beautiful dress had been just too much for Jenny. She had jumped up and shoved the baby away more abruptly than she'd meant to.
"Jenny, watch out!" Jane had screamed, but Aletha was standing near and caught the baby. No harm was done, not to him certainly, yet they didn't seem at all concerned about her problem.
"I didn't want him to do that," Jenny had sobbed. "He was cuddly and sweet, but that was mean, just plain mean. My dress, my beautiful dress..." She'd looked down and seen the ugly, splotchy spots on her lovely dress, and felt she couldn't stand it even for one minute. That was why she'd jerked it off right there on the porch and slapped it over in the baby's face.
Aletha had no right to grab at her so, and Jane had almost shoved her through the door; they knew she simply could not abide being handled in that way. She'd had a right to pull Jane's baby away and see that he got hurt too, the way they were hurting her. Or what was she supposed to do?Oh, it was all so confusing, she just wanted to tell Mother about it.
"Here's Dr. Lemmons now, Jenny."
Miss Bridger's voice startled her, and Jenny looked up quickly to see a tall, clean-cut young man taking long strides up the walk toward them. Miss Bridger had gotten up to introduce him as he took the steps two at a time and stood near Jenny's chair.
"Oh, then you're the other guest we're waiting for. I'll call Mother; oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. But Sister Agatha will be back soon."
Jenny creased her face into her prettiest smile as she tried to cover her confusion and attempted to rise from the chair. Surely they'd be having breakfast soon now, she thought, as Dr. Lemmons helped her from the chair and steadied her for an instant with a strong, firm grip.
"Come on in," Miss Bridger said, as she once more slipped her arm lightly around Jenny, and walked with her through the wide doorway. The young man stood politely to one side as they entered the living room.
At least, Jenny supposed it was the living room, for there were several comfortable-looking leather chairs sitting about, and a large, brown couch with plump toss pillows over near the big fireplace. She was a little surprised to see a massive oak desk near the center of the room, however. Surely there was a separate library or study nearby. A few well-spaced paintings and a small framed paper of some kind hung on the pale green walls.
"Dr. Lemmons will talk with you here for a few minutes while I see about our breakfast trays and check on your room." Miss Bridger led Jenny to one of the chairs nearest the desk. The man took some papers from a drawer and placed them on the desk before him.
Jenny tried to smile as she slipped into the oversized chair, and watched Miss Bridger leave the room. She did wish, however, that she wouldn't leave her alone here with this stranger, this now unsmiling man; he looked so busy. but she supposed it must be all right, for Miss Bridger had said she'd take good care of Jenny.
But then Jenny's features began to take on a strained look. She started to shiver as she stared over to where the fire had burned very low in the fireplace, and no one was making a move to see it got kindled up again. And the jacket was beginning to bind her arms now when she wished to move them, and it certainly wasn't doing much to keep her warm. And she did wish the styling was more like those she usually wore!
Jenny's gay mood of the early morning had changed completely. Miss Bridger wasn't treating her fairly. She really needed that hot cocoa now, and where had that woman gone? And what was that young man asking her? Things were becoming very muddled in her mind; no one had a right to confuse her this way. Nice as they were to have loaned her this clean jacket, she found it terribly inconvenient since she'd moved about some. Having the sleeves fastened in back this way, she'd have to ask someone to release the catches for her, if she ever did get to have her food.
And her arms; Jenny's arms and hands were beginning to ache terribly as she strained against the confinement.
The familiar surge of intense anger quickened and began to engulf Jenny, as it pulsed through her entire being. She half rose from the chair and looked quickly about for something on which to vent her feelings, something or someone she could hurt badly, as she was being hurt.
"Jenny, Jennifer..." Jenny thought she heard the man speak firmly, quite near her now, but that didn't mean he was going to help her. They all pretended they wanted to help her -- always had -- but they didn't care when they hurt her. Whatever could she do until Mama -- her beautiful, kind Mama -- came back? Oh, if she could only get to that long, black fire poker over there!
But then there was the jacket.
This photo is of a female patient in a restraining jacket,
exactly like the one in Mother's story.
This was taken in 1938 at the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center
in Brentwood, New York.
Found this on Pinterest.
Comments underneath it said that center
is now nothing but overgrown ruins.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 41:10)
DO YOU KNOW WHAT I WISH?
Mavis B. Howard
My dear brother,
Do you remember how, as your pesky little sister trotting around at your heels, I'd wheedle and beg, "Please, please ride me in the wheelbarrow, please?" I've never understood why, as a fairly sensible child otherwise, this scenario was such a regular event in life for me, but almost without fail the results would go about like this.
"All right, get in." This only after several minutes of your more or less ignoring me.
"Are you going to turn me over?" A definite whine in the meek little voice.
"Did you asked me to ride you, or not? Get in this wheelbarrow!" Anger would begin to creep into your words.
"You won't throw me out, will you?" The whine turned into a pitiful plea.
"Do you want me to ride you, or don't you? Get in here now!"
I knew the time had come to either give up, or climb aboard and face my fate. It began to sound a little more scary, but the little joy ride always tempted beyond reason, so into the wheelbarrow I'd scramble, cling tightly to both sides, and off you'd go. We'd start kind of slow for a little bit, then building speed, you'd start to sway the old wheelbarrow from side to side, aim for a sudden turn at the edge of the sandy roadbed, and grin as I'd plead for mercy.
"Please! Please don't turn me over, please don't..."
A shrill scream, half of fear, half of tingly delight, and out I'd fly into the deepest sand-pile you could find in the old country road running alongside our little frame house, the wheelbarrow ride ending as it always did. Some part of that childish mind would cherish a tiny hope that maybe next time you wouldn't dump me out, although I'm quite sure that would have been a big disappointment, and not half the thrill of the usual spill. Besides, one more time I'd managed to get the undivided attention of my adored big brother, even if for a short time and a big tumble in the dirt.
Do you know what I wish? I wish we could go back for just one afternoon of wheelbarrow rides on that part sandy, part grassy lawn area in front of that little country house we loved to call home. Oh, it wouldn't be all wheelbarrow rides, no. There were the old worn out tires from our 1925 Model "T" Ford sedan, to be gleefully raced along the road, or off down the neighbor's long curved driveway. (How did you ever get up the courage to curl your nine-year-old body into that hoop of black rubber and let me roll you off the sloping shoulder of the road, to bounce along the shallow ruts until it came to a teetering halt when the shoving power ran out?)
And do you remember the little iron hoops we'd push along some hardened surfaces after spring rains had stopped and the sand and soil had become smooth, much-used play roads in some areas? What did we call that arm-length narrow board with a shorter piece nailed across the bottom, to form a sort of cross-shaped whatchamacallit to roll those hoops with? I wish we could go back just for a few hours to what we did not then think of as memories being made, and linger over those precious, carefree times when a skinny five-year-old little girl tagged at the heels of her hero, the brother nearest to her in age when we came along as the finales of Mother's eight noisy youngsters.
Mother! My idol, my life, my universe, wrapped in the short figure of a quiet dignified lady of all ladies to me, before that sad hour in a hot July day when her brief illness so unexpectedly terminated her life with us, about the middle of my tenth year of living and loving her beyond all understanding. I wish I could go back to one of those long, lazy summer afternoons when I'd be dogging her every step, begging to be allowed to walk the scant half-mile or so, to play with a special friend.
"Can I go, Mother, can I?"
11/29/2009 - It's okay, Mother, you are with her now, and you're happy again. And Daddy misses you every day and says he just wants to go home. I expect that he'll be joining you before too much longer, and your circle will be complete. We didn't want to give you up, but you left us slowly as your mind became childlike -- then you became disabled, and then you just left us all of a sudden. We knew the day would come, but we didn't want to let you go. And now we want to keep Daddy for as long as we can, but he is so unhappy without you in the house with him. So, when he decides to go on home, I will let him go....
...and now, after three years without her, Daddy has since joined Mother, too. I miss them both.
Since Mother isn't here for me to ask, I don't know exactly what her intentions were with this story. "The Lean Years" was my first post (6/15/2013) of her writing, and it is very similar to what is here. She called this "condensed", but "The Lean Years" is even shorter. Her notes said she submitted this to Reader's Digest magazine, but it was rejected.
The Good Old Days
Nostalgia tends to make former times and events appear in a somewhat more rosy than real light. In other words, the frequently referred to "good ole days" weren't always just that good. Without any nit-picking over who's old enough to remember what, we'll just skip over the age part, and reminisce in general, and maybe have a little fun in the process.
Every once in awhile I hear someone make a statement like this, "I remember when cloth was ten cents a yard," to which the rejoinder usually goes along the lines of, "Yes, and you could get some of the best beef on the market for twelve-and-a-half cents a pound. Those were the good old days."
I'll go along with those two remarks all the way as a matter of truth, but they're just a part of the facts. What we generally don't hear added is, "...and the average income back then was about $1.50 per day." Now that, or less, was the income for day laborers in my neck of the woods, and of course the only ones I can mention with accurate knowledge.
Another reality frequently buried under euphemistic expressions is the almost complete lack of any kind of gainful employment in some areas of the country part of the time. The most common means of making a living in Winn Parish and surrounding parishes (state of Louisiana - northern sector) was the forest products business, and farming. My father was experienced in both of these means of making a living, along with being a "country preacher" usually pastoring one of more churches on a quarter or half time basis. And that opens up a whole new train of thought about the "good ol' days".
Now the country preacher in those days wasn't called to a church on an indefinite time basis as many are today. He was called for one year, and if the member of the church felt so led, he was recalled the following year for a like period of time, or he was let out of the church pastorate there to be called by another church.
My brother, a staunch Baptist, had as his two constant companions in the Navy a Catholic and Jewish sailor. One day the other two boys reached the Beer Garden in Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, and when he arrived a few minutes later, the ship's Chaplain was sitting and drinking beer with the two men. Completely unaccustomed to seeing a minister of any faith drink beer, my brother apparently stood in open-mouthed astonishment.
"Well, sailor," the Chaplain grinned, "it's plain to tell by the expression on your face that you're not a Catholic."
My brother recovered his calm and retorted, "And it's plain to tell by that beer in your hand you're not a Baptist."
The Good Old Days
Mavis B. Howard
Nostalgia is that offspring of emotions which makes recollections of former times, places and events, seem decidedly attractive, and usually creates within us a deep yearning. Such is especially true of childhood memories after responsibilities of adult life have begun to weigh heavily on our minds. As the daughter of a country preacher who was also a "sharecropper" in the Deep South, my life has been exceptionally endowed with many such memories. these times we now most frequently refer to as "the good old days."
In this case, let me share with you some of the blessings of life in the good old days. A good place to begin would quite naturally be our home. Unpainted and weather-scarred, the old farmhouse looked as if it had grown right up out of the gray sandy soil around it.
Bare floors of wide, smooth boards showed large cracks here and there, where cold air whistled through in the wintertime. The big, soot-smudged fireplace in the main room would emit the pungent smell of burning pine knots, along with the heavier odor of the ever-present "backlog". However roaring the fire here, though, no warmth ever penetrated the heater-less bedrooms on the other side of the single-plank walls. These rooms bore marks deeply imprinted in the floors where each bed, made heavy with quilts, accommodated two of the six children in our family housed there.
In the kitchen area, I can dredge from memory scenes of sleepy children gulping breakfasts of coarse food and hot milk as they hovered near the wood-burning stove hulking in the corner. The little room tacked onto the kitchen and dignified with the flattering designation of dining room contained a sturdy homemade table with long benches built onto each side; this was reserved for warm weather eating.
Warmer seasons, the wide veranda running the length of the front of the house was the evening "sitting room". There we'd inhale the haunting fragrance of white jasmines, mixed with the clean smell of freshly-plowed warm earth, and listen to pleasant night sounds. Later on, inside, the small kerosene lamps emphasized the great, gaping holes that were screenless windows, with crude shutters thrown open to capture cooling night breezes.
And oh, the coldness of winters! Work days always began early on the farm, but one morning in the dead of winter, as my daddy always called it, I recall we had to get up especially early to get the cows milked and prepare for a long trip into a neighboring town. This had to be the coldest day we'd ever experienced here in the South. The very mercury in the thermometer seemed frozen as it set solid against eleven degrees below zero. Fresh water had to be fetched from the well, as that brought in the night before was frozen solid in the bucket, and the tin dipper was useless, planted in the hard, clear mass.
I stumbled across sharp mounds of earth, forced myself to grasp the heavy coils of stiff, frosted rope, then worked quickly to bring the warm, sweet water from deep in the ground's innards. With growing difficulty, I propelled my stiff body back through the bitter cold, and into the comparative warmth of the house. A smoldering fire, banked in the fireplace the night before, was being coaxed into stronger flames by my dad. The odor of burning paper was heavy and offensive; but then there was the fuller smell of oak logs flaming up. I glanced over toward the black square where Daddy had thrown open a shutter to gauge the weather, and shivered convulsively. Yard-long icicles from the low roof above jabbed silvery paths through the brittle darkness.
Soon Daddy and I were headed for the big barn, under a dull, starless sky, our steps a rhythmic crunch-scritch over the sharp ruts.
"Too cold to snow," Daddy said, thinking I'd be hankering for wild romps in a heavy snowfall. But that day I felt the little edge of maturity slipping upon me as I longed for the early spring breezes which would nudge away the bitter cold of early morning rounds.
And remembering, for those of us who weathered out the depression years, must indeed, to be complete, include some of the times during the early 'thirties. We received government-issued commodities every fourth Tuesday, or thereabout, and occasionally were given thin parcels of clothing, but we weren't labeled among the "community needy" as people in this category are today. In 1933, entire communities were desperately needy. The country was struggling to come up out of the stranglehold of a deep depression, and there was a hard pull for most of us.
Meals for most folks in our community -- farmers generally -- were made up entirely of unimaginative government-distributed foods, and that which was grown in small gardens and in the few acres of cultivated land which could be given over to foodstuffs. A lean, poorly-fed young steer, woods-fed hogs and a small flock of chickens, furnished the inadequate meat supplies. Some merchants around the country were willing to advance food credit, with the promise of payment in the fall when meager crops were sold; but few of them could afford the long wait. We ate three meals a day, but the fist and last ones frequently were thickened brown gravy, served over heavy biscuits or cornbread.
Clothing was critical. I remember one family who planned a summer visit with relatives, but there wasn't enough underwear for the children to wear away from home. (And this meant the necessities, not the frills and ruffles we think of now on the occasion of overnight stays away from home.) The problem was solved by taking a couple of sheets from the already-short linen supply, and cutting and sewing them into the needed garments, with a hope of replacing the sheets after fall harvest.
Cardboard patches we frequently wore inside worn shoe soles; a few pairs of thin socks, many times worn long past the mending stage, completed our footwear.
Abject poverty was an unfamiliar term to us in those years, but the meaning was surely there for many, many people.
Yes, I remember the good old days, and of course being accustomed as we were to the conditions of the time, we were satisfied and even happy with our lot. But today, as I sit in air-conditioned comfort where the flick of a switch brings soothing, centralized heat to my home when the weather grows colder, plan hearty and appetizing meals from my food freezer well stocked with foods from the supermarkets (meals cooked on a modern range heated by the turning of a tiny knob), or call a cheery greeting to the man who delivers fresh milk to our door as I go out to drive our well-dressed children to an equally-comfortable school, I am caused to stop short for a few minutes, very frequently, and be thankful -- never boastful, but deeply grateful -- for that which has been allowed us in earthly comforts. And I'm glad, glad that I can remember, and that the good old days are, for me at least, just a memory.
This was an ad from our hometown newspaper, October 10, 1931,
published around the time of this story's lifestyle recount.
Poor was truly poor when you couldn't afford these prices!
Mavis B. Howard
"Grampa! Grampa!" Katie's dark eyes danced excitedly in her deeply tanned face, and her short mop of nearly-black hair jiggled and bounced as she jumped up and down. "I can go, I can go; Mommy says I don't have to take a nap, and I can go." Happiness and enthusiasm knew no bounds in a five-year-old who'd just been told she might accompany her beloved grandfather on his first fishing trip of the season.
A butter-yellow sun added warm, shimmery sparkles to the dazzling blue dress of the cloudless April day. A fat red hen clucked scoldingly at her brood of fluffy orange chicks in the yard nearby.
"Well, now, just simmer down there a minute 'till I get this dratted string undone, and we'll be thinkin' about some bait for this venture." The old man shifted to a comfortable position in the porch swing, and worked with time-practiced patience over the fishing twine. Already one "perch hook", knotted securely to a new nylon cord, hung lightly hooked in the bib of his much-scrubbed denim overalls, and a deft tug on the stubborn knot was quickly freeing another hook for use.
Under a shock of thinning, gray hair, Grampa's faded blue eyes revealed the profound affection he held for the slender child at his knee.
"Why do we have to get bait, Grampa? Where do we get bait? What is bait? Can I get get the bait?" Katie took several steps toward the screen door of the kitchen, hesitated, then turned back quickly as Grampa got up from the swing.
"Don't reckon I c'n answer all o' them questions at once, but you come on along now, and we'll see about that bait."
Katie bounded back across the wide, weather-whitened boards of the porch and took hold of Grampa's outstretched hand. The old man ambled across the back yard, the child stretching her nimble legs to match the longer strides of her grandfather. They walked out through a wide wire gate, and on to a small building behind the house.
"Now, Katie, we'll lift this old board, and see if we can find our bait." Grampa moved a heavy board from under the edge of the potato shed, and pushed aside the layer of damp, dark soil.
"What is it, Grampa, what you doin'?" Then Katie squealed and jumped back, dark eyes wide in momentary fright. "Those squiggly old worms, they'll get all the bait, Grampa!"
"Guess it's 'bout time you did get started fishin', little Brownie." Crinkly little lines around the corners of Grampa's eyes deepened with merriment. "These squiggly worms are the bait, and don't you be doubtin' those perch are rarin' to get at 'em. A dinner of fat, red worms is just what they're waitin' for."
From anyone else Katie would've simply said this wasn't true. Not even a funny old fish could like worms to eat, she thought, but if Grampa said it, that was the way it was. Grampa knew. He knew all about fish, and 'coons, and 'possums, and baby birds, and -- well, she couldn't think of anything Grampa didn't know. She guessed she couldn't object to helping put them in the can if he said they wouldn't hurt her.
Katie giggled. "They tickle, Grampa. Put 'em in your hand like this and they tickle." The bait gathering had become a game now, as the slippery creatures, reluctant to be pulled from their cool habitat, wriggled in the tiny hands.
"That's enough; we'll go now." Grampa had worked steadily and had the can filled, and was ready to replace the board. He picked up the small hamper he'd placed just inside the gate. "Never can tell when fishermen'll get thirsty or need a bit to eat, can we, Brownie?"
"Mommy said the cookies 'n milk was for me, and you'd like the coffee with yours. But Grampa?"
"Yes, Katie, you'll help me drink the coffee, too. Sure, it must be a mite more'n I c'n drink in that Thermos, anyway." Grampa always seemed to know just what she wanted.
The walk through the bright green of early spring grass and the darker green of the remnants of a winter cover crop seemed longer than Katie remembered it. Almost she asked Grampa to stop and rest awhile under the big wild cherry tree, or under the knurled old mulberry with new leaves out just enough to offer an enticing bit of sun-speckled shade. But then she thought of getting to sit on the edge of the creek, dipping her toes in and listening to the whispery secrets the water almost told as it gurgled along over stones and broken driftwood that was half buried in the white sandy creek bottom, and she trudged on.
Grampa set the hamper down near the water and cut two shiny green poles from the dense cane growth in the bend of the creek. Katie eyed the smaller pole with flagging interest. It did feel so good just to sit here and watch the clear, sparkling water.
"Grampa, could I sorta just sit here and watch -- while -- you -- fish?"
"Grampa?" The dark eyes were glazed over now, and heavy lids were drooping sleepily. "Grampa, will you save my coffee?"
"I'll do that, and wait to have mine with you, Brownie. Guess naps are more fun on a pallet of grass under a big old weeping willow."
The old man settled comfortably on the sloping bank and dropped a baited hook in the water. He sighed contentedly. Grampa also knew about little girls getting tired and sleepy after exciting plans, and long, pleasant walks. Yes, Grampa knows.
-- End --
Submitted to "Progressive Farmer" magazine
HIS MYSTERIOUS WAYS
by Mavis Boyd Howard
No one in our family ever claimed any psychic powers or even thought about premonitions back in 1940 when I was in my late teens, even though my daddy would mention occasionally that whenever he dreamed of new lumber, we would always seem to soon hear of the death of a very close friend or of a relative.
As a farmer, Daddy worked part time winters in a small country store for a friend of his, but the work he liked and most often expressed a preference for, was to run what was called the cut-off saw at the little sawmill the same friend operated nearby. This saw was tied back behind the area where newly cut boards would be conveyed to be measured and marked, then the operator would pull it forward and smoothly trim the lumber. The cut off ends and bits would fall into a pile below, to be moved aside when it grew too high, and the saw would be released so weights attached to the ropes behind it would pull it back into place.
One November morning when Daddy got up to get ready for work, he told my step-mother that he felt we'd soon hear of a death, and likely it would be someone very close in the family, for he'd dreamed of stacks and stacks of new lumber the night before. I'd already left earlier for the business school I attended several miles from home, but probably would have thought little, as I usually did, about his remarks of that type. About mid-morning, deeply engrossed in a bookkeeping theory I was studying, I didn't notice the appearance of one of our neighbors from near home,until the instructor called me over to the door where he'd been talking in low tones with this lady. It was obviously difficult for him to form words, but finally he was able to give me her message.
"Miss Boyd," he said, "I'm so sorry to have to tell you, but your father was killed instantly soon after going to his job this morning. The weights behind his saw broke, allowing the blade to swing free, and it cut through his back as he leaned over to pick up the ends and pieces he'd trimmed."
Dreams? New lumber? Premonitions? God is on His throne, and His plan for our lives -- and deaths -- moves along.
THE HARVEST IS PLENTEOUS
Read John 4:35-36
(Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.)
While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, and summer and winter and day and night shall not cease.
Genesis 8:22 (KJV)
One of the more pleasant memories of my childhood, growing up on a small farm during the depression years, is that of a close friendship with Owen, the son of our nearest neighbor, a youngish man, and his constant kindness to me. I particularly recall one of the most enchanting stories he told me as we sat around the fireplace one evening with my family.
He began to tell me about how there were hundreds of pennies (he knew this was the only denomination of money my childish mind could comprehend) buried out in the fields; how they were hidden in the cotton and corn fields, in the watermelon patch, and among the peas and beans. He smiled as my eyes must have grown wider, imagining going out to dig all those shiny coins from the ground around the plants.
"Do you know how to get all those pennies?" He had my undivided attention. "Your daddy and I go out there to plow the ground, make it into long rows, and plant lots of seeds. We put fertilizer around them, they come up and grow, we hoe out all the grass and weeds, and tend the crops until they are all ready to be harvested."
"First we use what we need around here for eating and canning, and feeding the farm animals. Then we take the rest to market. The cotton we take to the gin to have the seeds cleaned out and ground up for feed for animals, too. The fluffy white cotton is pressed into big bales and men come to the gin to buy them. Other merchants at stores buy the corn and things we had left over, and they all give us all those pennies for them. Of course, we have to take the pennies to the bank and trade them for dollars, to buy other foods and clothes for all of us."
Owen then added a second most important lesson. "You know," he said, "we can look out there and see our white cotton, but God also told us to help Him in His harvest of people's souls. He said, "Come to enter the fields white unto harvest,' and that means tell other people about Him and how He can save them."
PRAYER: Lord, give us wisdom to daily teach others by example of our lives in Thy service.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
God can use you and me to sow His Word and He will bring the harvest.
Condensed and submitted to
"The Upper Room"
Note: Mother did have one article accepted and published in this magazine. It was probably this one.
Long Day, Dark Night
"Bill, slow down a little, okay?" Linda Stillette laid a soft hand on Bill's arm, but the steely glints in his usually clear grey-blue eyes caused her to force back more pleas. She knew instinctively he'd never hear her now, so she pressed her slight body tightly against the cool dark leather of the car seat, and prayed silently this would turn out to be a horrible dream from which she'd soon awaken.
Bill Ainsworth pressed his foot down hard on the gas pedal, too hard for the “Double-S” curve coming up a few hundred yards ahead on the Airline Highway. The “Double-S” was a winding section of the highway from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, marked by three bridges, the center one being directly in the deepest curve. The marshy swamp here had defied man's best engineering efforts at allowing a good margin of safety in straightening the road.
The dull glow from the dash lights showed a semblance of Bill's broad grin struggle for an instant to spread itself across his still features, but somehow the grin didn't quite match the frozen, trapped look in his eyes, and appeared more as a startling, crooked slash in the deeply-tanned face.
The red-tipped needle arched steadily upward -- 85, 90, 85; the tense young man stared ahead in hypnotic fascination as his late-model car gulped great chunks of darkness.
"Bill, stop it, stop!" Lindi's voice rose to a frightened shriek, but the words were snatched from her mouth and flunk through the open window, unheard by her companion.
Suddenly tears started to well up in Bill's eyes, and then it was as though great springs in his head were suddenly released and set the water gushing down his cheeks. His thoughts raced about, seeking a stable anchor in his troubled mind, but mixed emotions cast steel walls against rationale. Lindi heard a steady jumble of tortuous sounds pouring from his stiff lips -- "Mother," "Tod," and, she was sure, her own name, more than once, formed in the mutterings. And his foot rested heavily on the floorboard as they crossed the first bridge, and the second loomed like a solid silver streak ahead.
A lonely hobo shuffled along at an uncertain gait on the roadside ahead; almost a hunchback, or perhaps it only appeared so as the headlights picked out the bent figure on which hung a ragged mass of loose clothing. The old man saw the bright lights exploding the warm darkness about him, and heard the roar of the onrushing car, and he scrambled quickly down the embankment.
Bill had spent the first twelve years of his life under such undesirable home conditions that he and his sisters were placed, by court order, in the care of foster parents --Bill in New Orleans with Bert and Lena Bailey, a couple nearing retirement age, and the little girls with another family in a nearby suburb. His mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute, who had tended to lean on Bill, the oldest of five children, for moral support, and indeed for much of the family's physical support through small odd jobs.
His father, many years older than his mother, had long since given up his sporadic attempts at holding their home together, and had settled his part of the matter by simply walking out.
Finishing high school this spring, Bill was now faced with making a decision as to "what next" in his life. The choices, it seemed, were an immediate selection of possible lifetime career, and plans for college, or maybe the Air Force or Navy. He'd been much disturbed all this school-year, and especially so during the past semester; still the answer hadn't come.
There was Todd Beeson, his best friend, wanting Bill to enter LSU in Baton Rouge with him that summer, but at the same time urging Bill to do what he wanted to do. They could share cars and drive home on weekends Todd had pointed out. And it would be a good arrangement, if Bill could only know what he did want.
The afternoon before, Bill and Todd had been playing tennis over at Todd's house. Bill was athletic and took part in most sports, but tennis was his favorite and he liked to play a hard, fast game. Todd, on the other hand, was a steady, slower-moving boy, friendly and well-adjusted, and completely unspoiled -- unusual traits in an only child of middle-aged parents.
"Say, Todd," Bill had said when the game ended and the two boys were sprawled in sagging old green lawn chairs and gulping cokes; "I think I'll try to get in at the University and take that Ag course after all."
"Gee, that's great, Bill!" But the enthusiasm in Todd's words wasn't very real, for something in Bill's voice didn't quite ring true, and Todd couldn't believe he had made up his mind.
"Are you sure this is what you want, and not just a decision as such to get all of us off your back? Do you really know what you do want; are you ready to get out on your own?"
The words tumbled out before Todd realized how much of his real concern he was revealing, and he saw the familiar darkening in his friend's eyes, the rapid blinking, symptoms which told him he'd stepped across that invisible barrier, and the other boy was angry and fighting for inner control. He almost wished that for once Bill would lose that carefully-measured control, and would allow himself the luxury of "blowing his stack," thus ridding himself of the terrible inner pressures Todd knew were there all too often.
You'd better believe I know what I want, I'd like to take one big flying leap into nowhere, and get the whole lot of you self-sufficient people out of my life. You can't possibly know what it's like not to have a for-real family, no one to really care. What does it matter what I do? Go out on my own, ha! Self-control returned after a full minute, though, and Bill masked his emotions behind expressionless features as he turned to his friend.
"Might as well, Todd, might as well," was his only reply. His voice trailed off on a heavy sigh as he got up to go home. No use being angry at Todd; he meant well, just as all the others did.
Earlier the same day, Stuart Roark, Bill's science teacher, had pushed Bill a little about making a definite decision about his future, and his admirations for the brisk-speaking man with flaming-red hair and piercing black-brown eyes caused him to feel he was letting Mr. Roark down by not having a definite goal fixed in his mind. The teacher's suggestion that Bill would be a natural in social work had had some appeal -- it was true Bill did have a special way with youngsters -- but still he just wasn't sure.
And then Aunt Lena and Uncle Bert had to be considered. They'd been wonderful to him, and Bill disliked intensely the thought of having to make a decision which would cut him from the stable ties of this home, the only security he'd ever known.
"We're not going to try to run your life for you, son," Uncle Bert had said a few evenings ago, and Bill knew he was genuinely interested. "You know this is your home as long as you want us."
Aunt Lena had laid a hand on Bill's shoulder then when Uncle Bert said this, the way she'd done that first day.
"It's just that if you are going on to the University this summer, you'll have to register right away. Might even be too late now, if applications have been heavy." This was an unusually long speech for Uncle Bert, and he folded his hands behind his head and leaned back in the old chaise on the porch.
They'd all sat quietly for awhile as they often did, and inhaled the sweet fragrance of the velvety red roses on the low iron fence. An odd sense of peace enveloped the three of them there, and Bill's only answer to Uncle Bert's judicious discourse had been an almost meek, "Yes, sir."
And added to all this was still another decision to be made. What about Lindi? He and Lindi had been a regular twosome during all the past year, and Bill knew Lindi expected some sort of special arrangement before she left for the all-girls college she planned to attend in Mississippi during the summer. Above all he didn't want to hurt her.
So now it was the big night; Commencement Exercises and the dance at the Town House for Teens afterward, and Bill's frustrations mounted. He and Lindi left the dance a little early, and since Lindi's parents had allowed her an extra hour after her usual eleven-thirty curfew that night, they'd gone for a drive.
The ride started out pleasantly enough, with a sliver of new moon showing over the tops of distant, moss-draped live oaks. The spring air was fresh and crisp, and unusually light for the time of year in that part of the country. Through the open car windows drifted sounds of tree frogs calling hoarsely to each other. Heavy rains the night before had filled the ditches and bayous along the highway to almost overflow capacity, causing the two of them to feel isolated on their own island of road.
"Bill?" Lindi's tone was urgent, even while she tried to hold back the intense feeling from her voice.
"Yeah, Kitten," Bill used the affectionate term lightly, even while he felt the familiar tightening in the pit of his stomach. He wished he didn't have to talk to Lindi then because he knew what she was going to say, and he simply didn't have the right answer.
"Have you thought any more about what we were talking about last night?" Lindi leaned her head over onto his muscular arm. She felt she couldn't bear going away for the summer without having Bill say it, say she was his girl. She knew he really liked her, and frankly she was puzzled as to why he hadn't already asked her to go steady.
Bill wanted to bury his face in the soft, dark hair swirling about Lindi's white shoulders, to search her velvety black eyes for the tenderness her voice carried. Instead he half-turned his head away from her, and stared out over the hazy swamp where another day had put itself to bed for a humming, restless sleep. He rubbed at the tiny white scar on his right cheek, a habitual gesture. Finally he spoke.
"You're just a baby, Kitten, and you don't want to be tied down to one guy like me. Think of all the handsome fellows you might be meeting in Mississippi."
Bill's reply came out a little gruffly, but he hadn't intended it that way.
"Handsome fellows, Ha! Don't you know they'll be swarming around in that school full of girls? Anyway, Bill, it's you I want, for my steady, not any other 'swarm of boys'." Her voice softened with the return of her usual shyness. "There, I've said it! But, really, Bill..." Lindi's voice trailed off, closing the door on any alternate course Bill might have chosen.
"Okay, Lindi, if that's what it takes to make you happy, okay, but there's one thing. If you do meet any other fellow you think you'd like to go with, you'll have to go ahead. You're too young -- we both are -- and a pretty girl like you shouldn't be tied down with one clod like me."
They'd both laughed then over Lindi's trying to keep Bill's class ring on her middle finger by wrapping it round with several layers of her thin scarf, and Bill not able to force her ring onto his smallest finger. If Lindi noticed that Bill's laughter was a bit strained, or that he almost immediately started to withdraw somewhat within himself, she never allowed herself to think about it. A short time later, though, Bill had become unusually quiet, and then almost seemed to forget that Lindi was there beside him. His thoughts were back on the dizzy merry-go-round of his life's problems. It was a subconscious reflex action when he had slammed the accelerator down suddenly, jerking the light sedan forward to begin the senseless speeding.
In a briefly-lucid moment, Bill looked up to realize he was in the treacherous curves, but his awareness came too late. There, less than two cars' lengths ahead, loomed the second bridge. Bill clung with sweating palms to the hard rubber of the steering wheel, trying vainly to steady the swaying vehicle. He gave a sharp jerk to the left; there was a sickening grinding noise and sparks flew as metal clashed on metal. The car was flung like a windup toy gone berserk, back to the right, where it plowed through the guardrail near the end, then hurdled through black space. A door burst open and Lindi miraculously was thrown to safety on the grassy slope of the opposite bank.
The cold waters of the swollen bayou below the bridge parted with an explosive SWOOSH as the crumpled car fell heavily, then slid rapidly back together as the intruder settled to the slimy floor. A blanket of muddy bubbles covered the surface for a time, and there was a dull gurgling sound, then deadly quiet.
The old tramp hurried away, leaving the ominous tragedy for others to find. Lindi lay stunned for long minutes, then struggled to her feet and walked as one in a frightening nightmare. She searched for strength to accept, to believe, to know...What must she do?
But for the other one there was no hurrying away, no more wondering. Bill Ainsworth had no more decisions to make.
This is the last of the finished materials I have found in my Mother's files. There are a few more partially-written items. A few things remain that need to be sorted through and transcribed. There was even one story she gave to me many years ago, after she accepted that time was running out for her and she would never finish it, telling me that perhaps I could finish it for her. Today, I remember her handing me that yellowed set of papers, but now that I have all of her files I can't remember exactly which story that would have been! Perhaps it will surface one day from among my own yellowing notes...perhaps it will indeed be a story I will one day complete! Who knows...maybe I will make a game of her incomplete notes and let you write the endings or fill in the blanks...one day....