“You and your children live here alone? Keep the farm up and everything?”
“We do the best we can. We don’t grow crops since Alfred left, just our garden, the chickens, a cow, and the hay fields, but we hold on all right. I get a neighbor to bring us wood . . . or coal, if we can afford it.
“It’s hard for everyone now,” she goes on. “At least we have a place to live and we have the girls. We are rich in girls!”
“Just girls? No boys?”
The woman looks over at me and takes another long drag on her cigarette. “Yes, but Alfred keeps trying to get him a son, says every man needs a namesake.”
There’s laughter on the porch and I see that the pebble game has escalated into a teasing song with the children circling the doctor. “All around the mulberry bush. The monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought it was all a joke. Pop goes the weasel!” The “pop” is shouted right into the doctor’s face, but he doesn’t blink and the girls think that’s hilarious.
Mrs. Hucknell slams through the wooden screen door. “For shame on you, Sally, and you a big girl! You leave Dr. Blum be! He’s the one that delivered you right in this house ten years ago.”
The mother turns to me as I stand in the doorway. “For the twins, Sunny and Sue, who’re five, I had Patience, the new midwife. The last one, Sonya, I birthed myself. She’s four.” She plunks down next to her children and commands their attention. “We must be kind to those who help us in this troubled world, even if they turn funny later on,” she instructs, nodding at the doctor.
Sally hangs her golden head. The little ones move in close to their mother and she strokes their flaxen hair. For a minute, I’m sad I don’t have children. How nice it would be to have their small, soft warm bodies against me.
But that’s not all there is to mothering, I remind myself. There’s feeding and bathing, mending their clothing, teaching them right from wrong, and keeping them out of danger until they have enough sense not to be a danger to themselves.
Anyway, I have Dr. Blum to care for. . . . I smile to myself (not without bitterness) and drink up my last bit of coffee.
The next week my deliveries go without mishap and because I can park close to the homes, I don’t need Dr. Blum’s help; I just roll down the windows and leave him sitting in the car.
There’s the Indian family, the Hummingbirds, who live in a large log house on Dark Hollow, then Charley Roote, an old veteran of the Spanish-American War who lives on the next farm, and finally, a widow, Mrs. Stone.
The tiny lady, about five feet tall, using a cane with a silver lion’s head for a handle, meets me on the side porch of her two-story brick farmhouse. In the back is a barn with a wire fence around it and about two dozen goats of all colors and breeds, some little, some big, some with horns and some with droopy ears.
“Oh, sweetie, thank you so much. I didn’t know the Bittmans were using a delivery girl.” The tiny white-haired woman ushers me into her kitchen where my eyes go wide. The room is a blaze of white; white walls, white cupboards, a white-and-yellow-checked linoleum floor. On one open cupboard, displayed on flowered shelf paper, are dozens of white ceramic cookie jars, decorated with red, yellow, and blue flowers, each one different, an amazing collection. On the other shelves are seashells of all sizes and shapes and a few carved wooden sculptures, the kind you might get in Africa or India.
Mrs. Stone pulls open the door of the shiny white fridge and takes out a jar of brown liquid. “Can I give you a cup of ice tea? Won’t take a minute. I need one myself. I’m just a mess today.” She has a high voice, almost like a little girl, and she indicates a round oak table covered with papers.
“What did you say your name is? I’m Mrs. Stone, but you can call me Sparky.” I decide to let Isaac sit in the car another few minutes, while I take in the pleasant surroundings. Mrs. Stone interests me.
“My name is Becky Myers. Have you lived here long?”
She answers, standing with her back to me, so I can’t see her face. “Just a year. I’ve lived overseas most of my life. I’m originally from Connecticut, but my husband was in the Foreign Service. This was his mother’s homeplace. He died on Christmas, right after the crash.”
“That must have been terrible, losing your husband around Christmas.” I have a feeling she’s leaving a lot of heartache out of the story. “Was it a long illness?”
“No. He jumped. Jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge.” My head jerks up and I almost choke on my tea. “He didn’t even leave a note or say good-bye. Just went off to work in the city like it was any other day. I suffered, of course, floated like a lost soul, but then I came back to myself and moved here. . . . What else can you do? Life goes on.”
She sits down across from me and offers the sugar bowl, decorated with flowers like the rest of the collection. Her hands are small and dotted with brown age spots, but they look strong.
“I’m so sorry. Was it money, like you hear about? All those suicides at the beginning of the Depression, twenty thousand around the world, I read somewhere.”
“I guess, but if it was debt he didn’t tell me. That’s the worst part, not knowing. It was months later the lawyers brought me in and told me we’d lost everything.” Here she runs her veined hands over the piles of correspondence on the table.
“Paperwork! That’s why I’m in such a frazzle. More tea?” I place my palm over my glass to indicate I’m good.
“My stomach is just in knots.” She stares at the stacks of folded and wrinkled documents in front of her. “I hate this sort of thing; can’t find what I’m looking for, but I know it must be here.
“When we inherited this farm in ’25, my husband remarked specifically that the deed said mineral rights included. I didn’t understand why that was important. In Connecticut we never heard of such things.
“Later, he told me the history, how the farmers in Appalachia, back in the 1800s, were tricked into giving up their mineral rights for a few measly bucks and then the oil and coal barons came in and tore up their land. He said his grandpap was wise to refuse to sell, a stubborn old coot! He just wouldn’t sign.
“Now, yesterday, this young man, wearing a suit and tie, just a whippersnapper from Pennsylvania Oil and Gas, comes by saying they own the mineral rights and want to bring in a crew to drill for oil. I may be over the hill, but I’m not senile. How dumb does he think I am?”
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