B.K. enters the room, sits on the edge of the bed with his hand on Lilly’s leg, and joins the conversation. “We couldn’t pay much, only gas, two bits for a delivery and maybe your groceries at a discount. We were thinking of a man, but you’d do this for us?”
“I’m a good driver. I got us all the way here from Virginia . . .” I’m almost on my knees, though I still sit on the bed.
“Well, let’s try it. I’ll call you the first of the week and you can get started.”
That puts the damper on things. “I’m sorry, we don’t have a phone.”
“Oh,” Lilly says, dropping her head in disappointment, but then jerking it up, the red hair flaming around her pink face. “But that’s okay. We’ll just tell people that deliveries are only on Mondays and Thursdays now.”
“It’s set then?” Can you stay for our midday meal?” B.K. asks.
“No, I have to go. The doctor’s in the car, but I’ll see you Monday. There will be deliveries for sure, then?”
“Yes, I already know of three. Yes, for sure. I’ll memorize the directions so that you can write them down.” Lilly is like a new woman and I am too.
“Damn!” I curse, as I turn around for the third time and reverse my course on County Road 92. “We’ve been up and down this stretch two times and I still haven’t seen a swinging bridge.”
Finally, I spot it, almost obscured by the tall grass. I pull up in the gravel, find the boxes of groceries Mr. Bittman has prepared, and motion Dr. Blum to help me. When he doesn’t respond, I open the passenger door and haul him out.
“Here!” I yank out his arms so I can set the box in them. “Follow.”
I take the smaller carton and wind my way down a narrow path that leads to the wood-and-cable contraption that spans the creek. Dr. Blum is right behind me and I don’t know if it’s safe for the two of us to cross at the same time, but I guess I’ll find out.
With each step, I hold my breath as the swinging bridge bounces and sways. Don’t think about the water and rocks below, I tell myself. Just keep your eyes on the white house on the other side.
Across the field, four blond barefoot girls sit on the porch and they can’t stop giggling. I suppose my fear must be hilarious to people who travel the bridge a few times a day. Finally, a woman comes out, wearing a blue housedress with tattered lace down the front. Her golden hair is pulled back in a bun.
“Sally,” she yells. “Go down to the bridge and help that lady. Those are our groceries and I don’t want her dropping them in the creek.”
The oldest girl saunters over with the other ones following.
“Ma’am,” she says with a curtsy, when I reach dry land. “I’m Sally. Can I take the parcel for you?”
It’s not heavy, but I’m shaking so bad, I give it over gladly, happy to have the solid earth under my feet. “Nice to meet you, Sally. How old are you?”
“Almost ten.” She’s such a pretty, well-mannered child.
“Fifth grade then. Where do you go to school? Does the school bus come all the way out here?”
“It still passes by, but I don’t go. My shoes were too small and Ma says it would be shameful to go to school barefoot.” This takes me aback. I hadn’t really thought about the impact of the Great Depression on children, except maybe for the lack of nutritious food. Moments later, the sound of honking interrupts my thoughts as four huge geese come running from the barn, their necks outstretched and their vicious yellow bills open and ready to bite.
I jump up on a hay wagon and pull Dr. Blum with me.
“Girls!” the mother shrieks. “Get those birds away!” She comes off the porch flapping her apron and the troop of little blondes, laughing their heads off, drives the flock out of the yard. The biggest goose circles around behind the barn, a mean one with a black head and red eyes, and comes back, but Sally chases him all the way down to the creek. Embarrassed, I climb down from the wagon. Blum jumps down too.
“So sorry,” the woman of the house apologizes. “The geese aren’t used to strangers and they’re as fierce as guard dogs. That big one bit the Fuller Brush salesman in the butt. . . . My name’s Willa Hucknell.”
“I’m Rebecca Myers from Bittman’s Grocery. I guess you figured that out.”
“Lilly told me there’d be a new delivery person but I pictured a man. Would you like to rest a spell after that torment? I’ve just made some coffee.”
“Okay, but just a minute,” I respond, knowing it would seem rude to refuse. “We have three other deliveries to make.”
I follow Willa into the neat kitchen dominated by a long wooden table and surrounded by nine wooden chairs. There’s a sink with a pump, a white cookstove, and a pie safe in the corner. The pine floor is shiny and clean.
Willa gets out two blue chipped mugs and pours coffee into them and I notice then that she’s pregnant. “How far along are you?” I ask, wondering why the heck, in times like these, the Hucknells need more children. Then I remember, not every pregnancy is planned and birth control is hard to afford.
“Just four months; I’m showing earlier every time.” She rolls a cigarette, lights it with a wooden match, and sits down at the table, blowing smoke out the side of her mouth. “So what’s wrong with the sawbones?” she asks boldly.
“No one’s sure. He’s not dangerous or anything. I just have to lead him around.”
“It’s a shame,” Willa responds. “I wasn’t crazy about him when he doctored here. Kind of a cold fish, but he was a good physician. We don’t have one now.”
I take a sip of the black coffee and keep my eye on Blum through the kitchen window. He’s still standing in the grass in the front yard and when one of the small girls picks up a stone and throws it at his shoe he doesn’t flinch.
“This coffee is good,” I tell my hostess, “but I can’t stay long. The groceries are three dollars. It’s twenty-five cents for the delivery.” Mrs. Hucknell turns toward the pie safe and rattles around in a money jar while I try not to look.
“My husband, Alfred, is employed by the PWA, the public works thing, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Bald Knob and he needs the truck for his job. That’s why I have to have groceries delivered. The girls miss their daddy, but we were getting so far behind, the bank threatened foreclosure. Him going away to work is the only way we could keep the farm, and he only gets home once a month to see the little ones.”
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