Sunday, June 13, 2021

Chapter Four

 

Janie carefully lifted the last hook from the limb of the now dying tree and held the glass ornament up to the light. It was a pretty red one, so clear she could see through it, a spray of holly painted on one side. She took the hook off and wrapped the ball in a piece of old newspaper and placed it atop the others in the cardboard box. She folded the corners of the box top together to fasten them, then left it there on the chair for Will to take it up to the spare bedroom closet when he got home from work.

Going into the kitchen she reached up into the cabinet, retrieved her favorite china cup and filled it with coffee, dashed some milk into the hot liquid and stirred until it was caramel color. She sniffed the aroma, letting the smell settle into her memories. The smell she always caught whiff of as she bounced down the staircase in their house in Pascagoula. It reminded her of the happy times she and Will had as they fell in love. Too, it brought such intense pain as the images of her losing Will had held her in it's grip for months on end. Finally she smiled. As she sat sipping the hot brown liquid, her mind wandered back to the recent day Will had come into the house calling for her, "Look what I found, Janie."  He carried in his arms an old dusty cardboard box, all the worse for wear.

"What is that?, " Janie asked, her curiosity peaked.

"I think it is full of Christmas ornaments. Least that's what I think they are. It was sitting on a shelf out in the garage".

He went to the pantry, came back with an old rag and wiped the box clean.

"Let's take a look" he said as he opened the lid to reveal an entire box of newspaper wrapped glass balls.

"Oh, Will," she exclaimed as she started unwrapping each one. "I remember this one... and this one. They would be hanging on Martha's tree when the family would come over for our Christmas time with them." She paused as each one was revealed, turning it about in her hand, holding it to the light. "We are going to have the prettiest Christmas tree ever", she exclaimed.

                                                               ***

Yes, their Christmas had been wonderful. Their first tree sitting in the corner of the living room almost completely covered with those delicate glass balls, red, gold, green and blue. The two of them had strung some red roping around and around the branches and Will had reached high to top it off with the star that her Mother had given her. It was the one that had topped the Jackson tree from as long as Janie could remember.

"But, Mama, what you will do for a topper?" she had asked.

"I'll buy a new one, Janie," Mary had said. "I want you to have this one".

On Christmas Eve Janie and Will had spent the day at home sitting in front of the fire, wrapping presents and drinking mugs of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream while familiar carols played on the old radio. The flames leaped high causing reflections in every ornament on the tree. Once the presents were all wrapped with pretty paper and tied with a bow, Janie had placed her present to Will under the tree. The others gifts she stacked on the dining room table for when they headed to their respective parents homes the next morning.

Yes, it had been a wonderful holiday. And, now, she was busy stowing everything away. She scanned the room, taking in every area that they had decorated. The holly had been taken from the mantle and thrown into the fire, sending sparks high up the chimney. The tree was now bare, the wreath removed from the front door. Janie decided to go ahead and take it out to the back porch. That would save Will the effort when he came home from work. She leaned on it, tipping the tree over and started tugging on it's trunk. It slid easily over the wooden floor leaving in it's wake a path of dead spruce needles. She backed up to the back door, pushed the screen open with her behind, and struggled, puffing and panting, to get the tree through the opening. Once it was on the back porch she left it there for Will to finish the job. At least it was out of the house now.

She collapsed onto the sofa, staring at the trail of mess she had left behind. It would just have to wait until she caught her breath. Then she would sweep it up.

                                                                ***

Weeks later Janie sat down in Martha's old chair by the living room window. It was just ten o'clock in the morning, breakfast dishes done, the bed made.  She was wondering what she would do to fill her day. Wintertime is a dreadful time to stay energized. There's something about the cold that just saps you. The wind had howled around the corner of the house all morning, dark clouds hanging low threatening to bring rain. She had the housework done, she had things arranged like she wanted them, she was tired of listening to the radio. What could she do? Will had taken the car to work so she was stuck. She could walk into town but with rain about to happen, that didn't sound like a great idea.

She got out of her chair and headed up the stairs trying to figure out what she was going to do once she reached the top. As she took the last step her eyes traveled over to the spare bedroom. It had been ages since she had been in that room and she had never organized that closet. Today was the perfect day for such a chore.

Janie took all the clothes off the rod and laid them on the bed. It was just her and Will's summer things that she had hastily hung there when the weather started to turn cooler last fall. Now she needed them out of her way so she could reach the shelving above. She took each box, bag, every item off the shelf and laid them on the bed with the other things. Then she sat down on the edge of the bed to begin going through them.

There was something wrapped in tissue paper. She carefully unfolded the paper and discovered one of Martha's hats. It was navy blue straw with a blue band around it, a white flower tucked into one side. Janie walked over to the mirror, placed the hat atop her head and twisted and turned, catching her image from every angle. She grinned. It didn't look bad. She wondered what Will would say if she came downstairs dressed for Sunday church services with Martha's hat on. He'd never seen her with anything on her head. He always commented on how beautiful her brown hair fell in soft curls down to her shoulders. She didn't think he would like it if she covered that up. She took it off, gently wrapped it back in the tissue and laid it aside. Maybe her mama would like to have it.

A large brown paper bag held three purses. There was a brown one, a black one and a navy one. Janie opened the gold colored clasp on the brown one. Nothing in there but an old wadded up handkerchief. She closed it and stowed it back in the bag. The black one had a tube of pale pink lipstick, mostly used up, a compact that looked new and a small book. That book was Martha's small testament that she had carried to church every Sunday. Janie snapped the closure shut and slid it back into the paper bag along with the brown one. The navy one looked like it went with the hat. After rummaging around in the interior she found nothing there. It was empty.  She'd put it aside to carry to her mama, as well.

Next Janie examined the contents of a shoe box. It wasn't filled with shoes but was full of pictures. She hastily scanned through those but did not find many of interest to her. A lot of just Martha and John taken over the years. Some of the other people she could not identify.

There were a few of her as a baby, one of her school pictures, one when she graduated. And, some of the other Jackson family as well. She wondered if her Mama had ever seen them. She put the lid back on and set it near the end of the bed. She'd take those downstairs to show her mama when she came to visit. She  would be able to tell Janie who all those people were, their faces just images on a piece of photo paper.

She had left the large rectangular box for last. Inside she found some small items of clothing. Two pairs of gloves, six handkerchiefs neatly ironed and folded, the embroidered corner face-up, a lavender nightgown that was too small for the Martha that Janie remembered. It was faded now and the lace around the neck was all squished and wrinkled. She guessed that it had some special meaning for Martha to have kept it. Maybe it was the nightgown she wore on her wedding night. Janie could just picture the young Martha and John as newlyweds. Or maybe the nightgown was Janie's mother's. Mary had lived with the older couple when she had moved to Magnolia after her folks died. Yes, maybe mama had left it behind and Martha did not have the heart to part with it.

From the bottom of the box she lifted up a soft, pink baby blanket. This must belong to the only child Martha and John had. She had died when she was just a baby. There had been no other babies. Maybe it was hers when was little. Janie had been born in this very room. But why would Martha have her blanket? Maybe she kept Janie some with she was little. It was a puzzle. Who was the baby whom Martha had loved so much that she had kept this blanket for all these years. Janie held the blanket up to her cheek. It was soft and smelled faintly of baby powder. Suddenly a feeling that Janie had never experienced before flowed deep inside her. A hunger for a baby of her own. She and Will had been married not quite a year so perhaps it was a bit early. Yet, the longing took hold and would not let go. She'd talk to Will about her desire to have a family. She knew that they both wanted kids, but was the time right. They were just newlyweds themselves. 

When Will arrived home from work, Janie had a scrumptious supper cooked. She had all Will's favorite food, hot coffee and a chocolate pie. She set the table and when Will had said the blessing they filled their plates and began to eat. 

"What's going on, girl? You sure are quiet."

Janie lifted her head, halting the fork midway to her mouth then laid it back down in the plate.

"I was just thinking."

Will laughed. "Okay, what you thinking about? What's the big mystery?"

"We talked about having kids," Janie started. "I just was wondering when we might start thinking about that."

"Oh I see", Tom replied. He sat holding his cup of coffee, took a sip, sat it down in it's saucer. Janie could see that he was sorting things out in his head. 

Finally he said, "We want a family. We've always known that. I mean, what with us both coming from such loving families it would be strange to not have kids. But, Janie, I've just started my job, we haven't been in this house long. I was sort of hoping we'd have a little more time to get adjusted to everything."

She gulped, "Oh, of course. I just thought... Oh, it will happen when it is supposed to happen, I suppose. We shouldn't rush things."

She finished her meal in silence. Will was noticing her quiet as he cut into his pie and took the first bite. Evidently children was very important to Janie and he would do nothing to make her unhappy, ever. So, he reached over and placed his hand on her arm. 

"I love you. And, I can't wait for us to have a cute little girl that looks just like you. You are so beautiful. Can you just imagine what our children will look like?"

"Or maybe they will look like you, Will. A handsome little boy. I can't even picture it.  Okay, what you say we just let God take over and let Him decided about when we are to have a family."

"Sounds like a plan to me", Tom said as he rose from his seat and went around to stand behind Janie, enveloping her in his arms. 

 


 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Chapter Three

                                                                 Chapter 3

The morning crept awake, the pale sun rising gently over the pecan tree, rays peeking into the bedroom where Will lay sleeping. It was his first holiday since starting his job at the bank. No alarm clock this morning. The ribbons of light danced and shimmered finally hitting him in the face.

"We better get up, Janie, don't you think?"

No answer.

"Janie," he murmured as he rolled over, "we have a lot to do before our folks get..."

He reached his hand out to awaken his wife only to find the spot next to him empty and cold to the touch.

"Well, I'll be," he exclaimed. "She's snuck out of bed already."

Will found Janie busy in the kitchen, her back bend over the kitchen table as she rolled out some dough, her hair pulled back with a ribbon to keep it out of her way. As she placed the dough in a pie tin, he walked up behind her, slipped his arms around her waist and snuggled his nose into her hair. It always smelled of honeysuckle or coconut or .. he couldn't figure out what it was but it was nice just the same. He lifted his finger and wiped a smear of flour off her cheek.

"Will, honey. I have to get these pies in the oven. Lunch is at one and I am running behind. Can you help me by fixing yourself some toast or something?"

"Sure," he replied. He extracted two slices of bread from the plastic wrapper and slid them into the toaster, pushed the button down and stood there watching as the unit heated and the bread started to turn brown.

It had been quite a struggle, preparing for their very first Thanksgiving as a married couple. Both sets of parents had wanted to host the dinner. Janie's mother  Mary had called three times to invite them. Dorothy Estes had called twice. What were they going to do? Two big meals in one day. Will loved to eat but that was too much! After discussing it with Will, Janie sat down at the phone and called each of their mothers. "We love the thought of having Thanksgiving at your house but it's our first holiday, our first Thanksgiving in our new home. Will and I want to have both families here" and so it was decided.

Janie had spent the week cleaning and straightening, going to Campbells grocery store multiple times just when she would think of one more thing that she needed. True she had never made her Mama's cornbread dressing but she'd watched enough times that she felt certain she could pull it off. The turkey had been thawing in the refrigerator for days and was now baking in the oven.

Just yesterday she had gone to Martha's old china cabinet, slowly opened the glass doors and lifted out seven plates. It was a pretty set of dishes, pink roses in the center of the plate with a silver rim around the edges. Martha had told her once that John had surprised her with them for their first anniversary, so many years ago. She had put the plates in the kitchen sink to wash and returned for the glassware. The table had been set last night after she had cleaned up her and Will's supper dishes.

She mashed her cooked sweet potatoes, the heat from the creamy mixture melting the butter creating little golden rivers in a sea of orange. She dashed in some cinnamon and allspice and spooned it into a casserole dish to put in the oven. She'd place the tiny white marshmallows on top and would brown them after the folks had arrived.

Will slathered his toast with butter and grape jelly and was hungrily munching away. He hadn't taken time to make coffee so he just washed it down with a glass of cold milk. When he finished eating, he swiped his crumby hands on his pants and stood watching Janie work. He wanted to help but soon saw that he just needed to get out of her way. He wandered into the living room where he sank down into the recliner. For what to him seemed like hours he listened as Janie bustled around, banging pots, scraping food, setting the pie out to cool. He grinned to himself. It sounded like home, his and Janie's home. 

After awhile Janie called from the kitchen. "Will, do we have enough wood to build a fire later on?"

"I think so, Shug. But, I'll get some more just in case."

He headed out the back door toward the shed where the firewood was stacked. Just last week he'd been down to his dad's farm on the east side of town and cut enough firewood for their winter use, hauling it back in his Pa's pickup truck.

Just as the grandfather clock in the hallway struck one, Janie heard Judson's car pull into the driveway. She peeked out the window to watch them all get out and head toward the house. She untied her apron, actually it was one of Martha's old ones, laid it across the corner of the table and went to the door to greet her guests.

The two women, Mary and Dorothy, both had their hands full of bowls. Even Faith had a gallon jug of tea in her hands. Janie's mouth dropped. She had prepared enough food for everyone with left-overs to boot. Instantly she felt like they didn't think she could do it. She couldn't help but feel like she was still a little girl, that she was inadequate, not grown up at all. Her heart sank to the pit of her stomach.

"Hi", she murmured, as she swung the door wide to let them in. "Just set that stuff in the kitchen".

She followed close on their heels and watched as her mother opened the refrigerator door. "Oh," Mary said. "There isn't room".

"Well, no, Mama. I cooked enough food. I can cook, you know." Her voice was testy. She hadn't meant for it to be but her disappointment crept into her words. She hadn't wanted to set a bad tone for such a wonderful day so she took a deep breath. Just 'company for the first time' jitters, she told herself. It would be alright. She'd make room on the table for it all, no sense in hurting everyone's feelings. But, hers was hurt just the same.  

"Oh my, something smells good," Tom announced as he walked into the kitchen, stopping long enough to kiss his daughter on her cheek. "Is that my favorite cornbread dressing?"

"I tried," Janie said. "Used Mama's recipe but I am sure it won't be as good as hers". Doubts about her ability to live up to her Mama's standards was etched on her face. "It's be great, Hon," Tom patted his daughter on her shoulder.

Once Will had piled the firewood to the side of the fireplace, the men went to wash up their hands. The women scurried about placing steaming dishes onto the table and they all sat down to eat.

"Papa, would you turn thanks?"

 Tom bowed his head.

"Lord, we come to you today with thankful hearts, thankful for this fine home our Janie and her Will now have, for the friendship we have with each other, for You looking over us each and every day. And, Lord, watch over us, guide us and keep us in your loving care. Thank you now for this food and all the hands that prepared it. In Jesus name, Amen."

As they lifted their heads from prayer, Tom shot Janie a knowing look. He smiled and she started to giggle. All the hands that had prepared the meal, yes, indeed Lord. All the hands.

As they filled their plates and began to eat, the room grew silent. Janie kept thinking about how she had felt seeing her mother and Will's mother with their arms full of food. True, she had been hurt by their actions but she wished now she had been more gracious with their gifts. After all, that's what families do.. it's all about sharing food and love and family. Her eyes were downcast as she slowly forked some sweet potatoes into her mouth. She needed to fix this. She had been rude and that was not like her.

"Mama", she turned in Mary's direction and then in turn faced Will's mother... "Mama Estes... I didn't mean to sound ungrateful about all the food you had prepared. I apologize. I am new at all this but I will get this housewife thing down one of these days".

They all started laughing.

"Oh shucks, Janie," Mrs. Estes said. "The same thing happened to me the first time we had company after me and Jordan set up housekeeping. His ma came in with enough food to feed an army and I was so upset. I should have remembered that. I am the one who needs to apologize, and I am sure your Mama feels the same way. We should have asked you if you needed anything. Forgiven?"

"Of course, and will you forgive me".

Tom passed the platter of turkey to his son-in-law. "Will, how's things going down at the bank?"

"Couldn't be better. My boss seems to think I have a real knack for money." He laughed, "I don't mind handling all that money all day long. Just wish I could bring a bunch of it home", and, again, they all joined in the laughter.

"And you, Mr. Jackson... I meant Pa Jackson," the red on Will's face crept slowly up his cheeks. "I've been meaning to ask you if you have an extra axe around the place. I need to cut those logs shorter so that they'll fit the fireplace better. Don't know what John did with his axe 'cause there is none to be found around here."

"Sure, I'll drop it off tomorrow, "Tom said. "I have to bring a bunch of eggs to Campbells for them to sell at the store for me. In fact, I'll drop it by the house here and that way you won't have to tote it home when you get off work. And, come to think of it, me walking into the bank with an axe might not be a good thing. Somebody might get the wrong idea and call Sheriff Holley." They all laughed again.

Even though the group around the table was laughing and talking and eating and having a grand time, it was so obvious that someone was missing. It was Janie's brother, Jimmy. He'd met a girl that lived near the base in South Carolina when he was stationed there, back during the war. They had fallen in love, so Jimmy had said in a phone call to his Mama. As soon as the war was over Jimmy and Carol had gotten married. It had been a quite a while since he had sat around a table with them. He was having Thanksgiving dinner with his new family and Janie was a bit hurt that he hadn't even called.

After dinner the men headed into the living room to catch up on some 'man talk' while the women did the dishes. Tom knelt down by the fireplace and crumpled up some newspaper, laid some kindling on top and then a log or two and set it all afire. The blaze was going good by the time the women joined them.

"Janie," her mama turned to her to get her attention. "Have you met Mamie Hall that lives across the street yet?"

"Yes, Mama, I have been over twice, when I first moved in. I wanted to introduce myself.  And, last week I heard she wasn't feeling well so I took her some soup. I will take some of the leftovers to her later this evening". She paused and then continued, "Oh, my, maybe we should have invited her over for dinner," Janie said. "She gets lonely. Her son seldom comes by and you know her daughter moved away. I will keep a better check on her".

The evening shadows began to dance across the window shades, the sun lowering itself toward nightfall. The guests knew they needed to be on their way but with their bellies still bulging and the fire making them drowsy no one wanted to move.

Dorothy finally stirred," We better get going, Jordan. You have the cows to tend to before dark. You folks ready?" She asked as she turned toward Mary. The women gathered up empty bowls and a pitcher to take back home. They donned their coats and headed toward the door.

"Thank you all so much", Janie exclaimed. She hugged each one, Will shaking the men's hands. Janie pulled Faith to her and held her close while she whispered into her ear, "It meant so much to Will and me for you to be here, Sis. You should come by more often." Faith slipped out of the embrace, gave her sister a kiss on the check and added that she would do just that. 

"You were magnificent, Shug. Everything, the food, the company, the way it turned out. You did a great job." Will gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Come, let's enjoy this fire before bedtime". So, they snuggled on the sofa, his arm encircling her shoulders, a comfy quilt pulled over their legs, while they watched the red and yellow flames flicker and leap and tiny sparks shoot up the chimney like miniature fireworks. They stayed there, eyes heavy with exhaustion, until the embers burned to ash, unwilling to let go of the moment.

 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Chapter Two

                                                                                 Chapter Two

The wind-up alarm clock jangled on the bedside table. Will sleepily reached over, found the button and pushed it down. He'd been lying there awake for several minutes already, not stirring so as to not disturb his wife and contemplating this next step in his life. His job at the bank started today.

"Janie, you awake"?

"Well, sort of", she replied. "Who could sleep through that dang clock ringing?", she growled as she struggled to open her eyes. "When I was little, Mama's rooster used to wake us. I don't know which I dislike most, the rooster or the clock." She rolled over, pulling the sheets up so as to shield her eyes from the sunlight dancing around the edge of the curtain.

"Do we have to get up?", she moaned.

"We have a few minutes before I go to work. Come here, woman," he said as he pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her. She snuggled down, warming instantly within his embrace, feeling his body pressed hard against her. He nestled his chin into her shoulder, breathing in the fragrance of her shampoo. It smelled faintly of roses. His emotions started to climb, feeling the softness of her hair against his cheek, the warmth of her body.  He began to nibble at her neck, gently rub her back. One hand began to wander up her arm, across her breast, edge into the silky folds of her nightgown.

"Will Estes, you stop that right now, you hear", she announced. "We've got to get you ready for your first day of work. No time for that this morning." She giggled as she slid out from under the covers. Her feelings were beginning to lead her along that same path as Will's but one of them had to be sensible. She reached for her robe that lay draped across the back of a nearby rocking chair. "I'll go make coffee while you shower."

As Will came down the stairs the aroma of hot, freshly perked coffee assailed his nose. Janie did make great coffee. He walked over to the stove, reached into the cabinet for a mug and poured it full of the steaming brown liquid. 

"Man, that smells good", he said as he wafted it beneath his nose. He pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and lowered his body into it. 

Janie bustled about the old electric stove, stirring the eggs, then dividing the scrambled eggs and bacon onto her plate and Will's. She set the plates on the table and joined him so they could eat breakfast together for the first time in their own home.

"What you think you'll be doing at the bank today?," she asked.

"Mr. Thomas said he was going to start my training. That sort of scares me. I never was a good student at school, rather go fishing back then so I have a lot to learn."

"I remember", she said. "All you could think about was that creek behind your house and all the fish you'd catch." She giggled at the memory of one of the few talks that she and Will had as they walked home from school together. 

"Well, while I was in the Navy I got to seeing how stupid I'd been not learning all I could in school. I started taking all the classes they had to offer and I found out I am pretty good with numbers." He paused, took a sip of coffee then continued.  "Who would have ever thought it? Might come in handy counting all them fish in the creek," he said with a smile.

"I always knew you were smart, Will. You just had your mind on that fishing hole." She paused then added, "Are you nervous about today? "

"Nah, after what I've been through, nothing makes me nervous." He then sheepishly added, " except our wedding day. Now, that was a day for nerves!"  

Will had never talked about his being captured by the Japanese and held by them until the end of the war. Men don't like to deal with thoughts of being less than men, of losing control of their minds and every aspect of their lives, of being tortured, letting the enemy become lord and master over them. So, they push it down deep inside. It's never gone but too painful to relive over and over again so they just bury it so deep so they don't have to think about it. They try to move on. For some the struggle is too much but for Will, so far he was managing just fine. At least he seemed to be. So, Janie never brought it up or asked questions. That time in her life had been way too painful to dredge to the surface of her heart again. They just let it wander in the back reaches of their subconciousness. It was always there, but then again it wasn't.

"You nervous?" Janie blurted out as she bent to give him a hug. "Oh my gosh, you were calm. I was the nervous one. I am surprised you didn't hear my knees shaking. I thought I'd just pass out before the preacher finally announced that we were man and wife. But, just look at us now." She beamed as the walk to the door with him, kissed him goodbye and sent him on his way. 

While Will was at the bank, Janie spent the morning tackling a house filled with someone else's belongings. Here would she start? What would she keep? What would she toss out? What would be the things she could not part with, that stirred memories of her childhood and the time she had spent with Martha and John? 

She started by doing the necessary chores, washing the dishes, dusting the living room and then she made her way up the stairs and into their bedroom. She straightened up the bed covers, tucked her bedroom slippers under the bed and then she opened the closet door. The clothes rod was about to snap into under the weight of so many clothes. When she and Will had moved in Janie had hastily pushed Martha and John's things aside to make room for their own clothes. She needed to start pulling those old clothes out and get rid of them. One by one she lifted each item from it's hanger, then inspected it. Was it good enough to pack up for a GoodWill run or should it be put in the trash?

Here was the dress of blue crepe with the flowing full skirt that was topped with the white lacy collar. She had seen Martha wear that to church on lots of Sundays. Reckon how old it was? It looked in good shape so it would go in the give-away pile. Oh, and here was John's dark brown Sunday suit. She briefly pressed it to her, to call John back to her memory, how kind he was, how much she loved him. The tangy smell of cigars lingered in the cloth. She rifled through the pockets, finding a five dollar bill in the pants and a clean handkerchief in the jacket breast pocket. The bill she laid on the dresser top, the handkerchief she threw into the laundry basket. John had somehow snagged a jagged hole in the arm of the jacket. She smiled as she wondered how in the world John had managed to do such damage to a otherwise perfectly good suit. It didn't look like it could be fixed so that would need to be thrown out. She took each piece of clothing into the guest bedroom, folding each article as she went and placed it on a growing pile on the bed. She tossed the too-worn items down the staircase to be picked up later to put in the garbage can out back.

The task took all morning. It was a slow process, her taking time to inspect each thing, taking moments when memories flooded her thoughts, tears coursing down her cheeks. More than physical labor it was an emotional journey, one she dreaded having to do but necessary nonetheless. She remembered her mama telling her about how Martha and John had taken her in when her own parents were gone. They had been like her own kin. Those two had always been a huge part of the Jackson family.

By lunchtime most of the things had been cleared out of the closet and disposed of. She hastily made herself a bologna sandwich and sank down exhausted at the kitchen table to eat, a glass of iced tea to wash it down. Then she picked up the things she'd tossed down the stairs and headed out to the trash can out back to get rid of them. 

Four o'clock already? Where had the day gone? Will would be home soon so she checked out the contents of the refrigerator. Choosing a couple of pork chops to fry, she set Martha's old well-seasoned black iron skillet on a burner and turned it on to heat. She retrieved three potatoes from the bin, peeled them and put them on the stove to boil. She opened the pantry door. Luckily for them, Martha had left it well-stocked. Scanning the shelves full of tin cans her eyes fell upon some green peas. Those would go nicely with the chops.

Supper was just finishing up when she heard the front door squeak open.

She made a mental note: oil that front door.  

"Will, that you?"

He came into the kitchen, a wide grin on his face.

"Well, how did it go?" she asked, reaching over to give him a peck on the cheek while she dished food onto their plates.

"Very good. Mr. Thomas said I was a quick learner, thinks I will be out of training very soon. And, I'll get a raise when I make teller". 

"That's great, Honey. Did you see anyone you knew today?"

"Ran into your Pa at Sunny's at lunchtime. We ate together. He asked if it's okay if he and your Mama drop by Sunday. You best call your Mama about that. And, yes, I saw Mrs. Campbell from the grocery store. She says tell you hello."

"Good, I'll call Mama. I've been so busy I just haven't talked to her in the last couple days.'

"So, you've been busy. What did you do today?"

So, Janie told him all about cleaning out their closet, about finding the five dollar bill, seeing all those clothes that filled her with memories that made her sad.

"I am so sorry, Janie. I know it's got to be hard. But, just think of how blessed you were to have had such loving people in your life." He paused briefly then added, " I'm starved."

While Janie washed and dried the supper dishes Will wandered into the living room and settled his lanky body down into John's old recliner. The cushion sagged a bit. They'd replace the chair one fine day when money was better but for now it would do just fine. He picked up the newspaper lying on the table. Scanning the headlines he discovered that it was months old. So, he folded it and laid it aside to toss into the garbage can later on. He pushed back in the chair resting his head, his chin fell upon his chest, his eyelids slowly closed and soon he was fast asleep.

Janie came in wiping her hands on the dish towel then laid it on the arm of the sofa. She turned the radio on. Dinah Shore was singing "The Anniversary Song". She and Will hadn't celebrated even the first anniversary yet. She wondered what they would do to mark that special day. Things couldn't be better, she thought, than it was right now. Life was turning out to be everything that Janie had ever dreamed it would be.

 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Chapter One

 

                                                                                  Chapter One

 

Will pulled their car up to the curb, braked and turned off the key. He slowly turned to look at his wife, her shoulder-length brown hair hanging about her downcast head, hiding her face from Will's view. He had heard a little gasp slip from her and saw that she quickly took a finger to wipe away a tear.

 

"Well, this is it," Will said.

 

"Yes, it is", she replied.


They both sat in silence, Will waiting for Janie to absorb the moment, arrange her memories, come to terms with how life in this house had been in the past and how it was going to be from now on. This old grey-shingled house that set back from the street was their new home, their very first home. When Janie's mother, Mary, fresh out of high school, had lost her parents with nowhere to live, John and Martha had opened their hearts and their home to the young woman. There were years of memories for Janie to arrange in her head. Will knew that, so he just sat still while she came to terms with it all.

 The look of neglect had already made it's mark. The porch ran all the way across the front of the house, the old rocking chair sat near the door, the swing hung by heavy chains on the south end. Inside the house, window drapes had been pulled tightly against the sunlight leaving the house to look as if it had been tossed aside, forgotten, abandoned. The glass window panes were covered with dust. Grass had grown knee high in the yard, a dark gray shutter swung from one window, an only screw holding it in place. One of the living room windows was cracked. This house had once had been a thing of pride, kept spic and span, the grass in the yard mowed evenly, the shrubbery trimmed, colorful flowers blooming along the porch's edge.

 It was only three months since Martha had gone to her heavenly reward. The ache in Janie's heart felt like a ton of bricks. She knew that Martha had probably done the best she could keeping things neat after her John died but she'd had no help and with her health the way it was, she did what she could. Janie was ashamed that she had not been of more use to the woman who was more like a grandmother than her own Grandma Jodie. Since her Jackson grandparents lived in Texas, Janie hadn't see them much. She'd seen Martha every Sunday at church. She should have come by to help out more. Well, what's done was done. No looking back now.

John Calhoun had been gone for more than five years now. He had always taken such pride in how things looked and loved to putter about their small yard in Magnolia. If you passed by on a Saturday morning you'd see John out weeding the flower bed, mowing the grass or picking vegetables out of the small garden in back of the house. When wintertime came he took to the little shop out back where he could putter around out of the bitter wind. He was always fixing first this thing or another. When he tired, he would wander back into the house to find Martha. She'd most likely be in the kitchen cooking up his favorite stew for supper or baking his favorite oatmeal and raisin cookies. Those were happy times but they both were gone now.

 This was Janie and Will's home now. Out of the goodness of Martha's heart, and perhaps because Martha and John had never had children of their own to leave things to, she had willed the house to the newly-weds. Will glanced once more at his wife. He could see the pain in Janie's eyes, coming back here, you know. It had to stir up emotions that he had no part of. But, that was alright. He was here for her. He always had been, always would be.

That was just the way it was between them. But it had not always been so. As much as the young Will idolized Janie, that sassy little kid he had walked home from school with each day would not give him the time of day. They'd trudge along the dirt road, Janie lagging some distance behind, tugging at her sweater, her face set in stone. When he tried to talk to her, she answered in as short a response as possible and then they'd walk on. It frustrated the heck out of him. It was plain for all to see that he wore his heart on his sleeve but she had paid him no mind. In fact, at times she could be down right mean to him. He could have been a frog hopping across the road in a boatload of traffic for all she cared.

Years had passed, school over for them both. World War II happened and, like most of the young men in Magnolia, Will had joined the Navy not long after Pearl Harbor had been bombed. He had felt deep down inside that it was his duty, his need that he must do his part to keep his family and his country safe. In turn Janie's daddy had closed down the farm, packed up the family and they headed down to Pascagula where Tom would go to work in the shipyard there.

It was in Pascagula on a muggy, warm summer night at the USO, the music blaring, young men wrapping their arms around their partners on the dance floor, their hearts lonely, trying to have a good time when things changed forever for the two kids from Magnolia.  Janie stood behind the counter, busy serving hot coffee and donuts to the guys far from home. When the need occurred she'd lend a sympathetic ear to the homesick ones. They were missing their girl, their mom, the way of life that seemed ancient history to them now.  She had filled a cup of coffee ready to hand it to the next guy and there Will was, standing in front of her. She held her breathe. He was no longer than gangly-looking kid annoying the heck out of her on the way home from school. He had grown tall, slender in his Navy blue uniform, his dark hair slipping across his forehead from underneath the round white hat sitting slightly askew on his head. Almost simultaneously they blurted out, "What are you doing here?" and then they both burst into laughter. She left her station behind the counter, found a table in an isolated corner for the two of them. They had talked until the place shut down.

Who would have thought it! The two of them meeting in a strange city, far away from home, both caught up in the war that engulfed the entire world. In the ensuing days, while Will waited for the repairs on his ship to be completed, he and Janie had spent their spare time wandering the beach, picking up seashells that she stored in her pocket, the two of them getting to know each other. He gave had given her her first kiss there, drew a heart in the sand with W and J marking the center, promised her he'd be back for her when this war was over. He had come to realize that Janie was no longer that little girl who at times could be meaner than a snake. She had turned into a beautiful young woman, kind, and sweet. The animosity she had shown him in her childhood had faded like a fog dissipates when the sun rises high in the sky on a summer's day. They fell in love.

Finally Will felt that he'd given Janie enough time. He unfolded his lanky body out of his side of the car and walked around to open the car door for his bride.

"Come on", he said. "Let's look the place over. Home sweet home, here we are."

She grabbed his hand more for emotional support than for physical help as they walked across the sidewalk, both of them being careful not to step on the tuffs of green dandelion sprouting from the tiny cracks in the concrete. They stopped at the rusty iron gate. My goodness how many times had Janie swung that gate open as she played in the yard, and then let it bang shut behind her. Will pushed it open then reached back for Janie's hand. He gave it a slight squeeze. She turned to him, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Regardless of the sadness in her heart, this was an important day in their lives. One neither of them would ever forget. God love Martha for being so generous.  

This home, their home now, was where Janie had been born under Martha's watchful eye. Janie had spent many happy hours there as a child, playing in the yard under the big, old pecan tree, picking up fallen nuts and toting them over to John in her little tin bucket. He'd crack one open with a light touch of a hammer and feed her the meat from inside. And, he'd do it as long as she would stand there with her mouth open. She had spent hours watching Martha make cookies in the kitchen, stirring chopped pecans into the dough, dipping her fingers in the bowl to steal a bit of the sweetness.

As they approached the front steps Janie stopped. Grabbing his arm she exclaimed,

"Oh look, Will. Martha's Shasta daisies are in bloom."

And, so they were. The white petaled flowers were all lined up alongside the edge of the porch, the yellow sunlight filtering through the petals which were bending with the late summer heat.  Janie had never known when they weren't there, marching like soldiers in a row, keeping watch over the house. A slight breeze ruffled the blossoms sending them to and fro. A bee lit on a round yellow center, sat for a second and then buzzed off in search of more pollen.

She slowly walked up the steps, pausing on each one to look about her. Will could not decided if  she was savoring each moment or dreading entering that empty house. He watched as she made her way across the porch to the swing. She lowered her body onto the seat and with one foot set it in motion. She could almost feel her papa and mama beside her. They would sit evenings in the swing, her mama had told her, when they were courting. Sometimes he'd play his harmonica just for her.

A train whistle split the air, it's plaintive tone echoing against the town buildings a few blocks away. It was a train that had brought Janie's papa to town in the first place, a traveling salesman, he was. Once he had set his eye on the pretty young lady carrying some dresses across her arm and walking down the sidewalk , he knew he would be back. He'd been here ever since.  

Janie slowly rose from the swing, straightened her dress of wrinkles and walked to the edge of the porch where there was shade dancing across the painted porch floor. Holding onto the post she peered toward the side yard.

"Oh, Will, the pecan tree," she said.  "Look, they have tons of pecans on them. I'll make us lots of pies and cookies. See the green ones hanging all over the tree. They'll ripen and fall soon."

"You know how to make a pie?", he teased.

It was true that the past five months Janie had little time or occasion to show off her cooking expertise. The newly-weds had spent that time with his parents, Judson and Dorothy until they could figure out what to do with their lives. Too, there was all the paperwork to do with at the lawyers office concerning the house. 

Will was newly back from the war. He'd been a prisoner, bless his heart. Janie had been there waiting with open arms when he returned. He said he would come back to her, and he did. While they were with his folks Will helped his Dad with the chores, Janie did what she could to help her mother-in-law with the housework but those newly-weds were anxious to be on their own.

Will reached above the doorframe and retrieved the key, slipped it into the lock, turned it and slowly pushed open the heavy wooden door. They stepped into the dark living room. No one had been in the house since right after Martha's funeral. The air was stale, musty, and even after five years, a hint of John's tobacco pipe still lingered mixed with the pungent order of old ashes in the fireplace. A layer of dust lay over the furniture like a light frost. Janie raked her finger over the end table, pulling it away to examine her fingertips. Will flipped on the switch and the room filled with light.

Janie slowly turned her head to take in the entire room, pulling up special memories as she did. There was the recliner that John had sat in for as long as she could remember. The back of the dark brown leather chair was cracked, a piece torn from the arm, a dark oil stain on the headrest where John had leaned his head while he dozed. 

Janie remembered the tear. She and John had been having a pillow fight when his wrist watch caught on a small snag and tore the leather a good two inches. She felt bad about it but John just fluffed it off. Things happen, he told her. Even though Martha begged to buy him a new one, John had insisted that there was no other chair anywhere that fit him like that one. So, even though it was torn, it was never replaced.

At the end of the old red velvet sofa, Martha's Bible lay on the mahogany end table, the tassle of a marker peeking from the pages, the lamp with the pink shade painted with red roses beside it. Ashes were still in the rock fireplace, the poker leaning against the stone. How long had they had been there? Surely Martha wasn't able to tend a fire, take out ashes or haul in heavy firewood. Once more Janie's guilt at not being a better friend swept over her. It was too late to help Martha but Janie stored that feeling for later use when a friend needed help. The fireplace would need to be cleaned out right away. After all, cold weather would be coming before they knew it. She wondered if there was firewood in the shed out back. She'd get Will to check on that.

Janie moved toward the kitchen. As she walked through the dining room she let her hand slide over the once polished mahogany dining table. A cut-glass bowl filled with faded, plastic fruit centered it, a crocheted doily underneath the bowl protecting the shiny surface of the table from scratches. She visualized her family gathered around that table on many a Sunday afternoon, plates full, laughter filling the air and John and Martha glowing from the feel of family. She vowed that it would once again seat family and friends while they enjoyed a big meal and fellowship. 

Janie walked on to the kitchen. She could see Martha standing over the stove, stirring a pot of turnip greens loaded with chunks of fatback, the green liquid swimming with droplets of grease. Or she would be keeping watch on the chicken dumplings, heavy on the chicken, light on the dumplings. John liked them that way. Janie could almost smell them now. Her stomach gave a little growl at the memory. Martha's red checkered apron was slung over the back of one of the ladderback chairs and a single coffee cup sat on the table, the last dregs of coffee in the bottom now dried to crisp brown flakes. Janie reached for it, turned and sat it in the sink. She took the apron and carefully folded it and put it on the counter.

"Janie, I am going upstairs", Will called from the hallway. She ran to join him and slowly they made their way up the uncarpeted steps. Janie reached for Will's hand as they reached the first bedroom. It was there in that room with the sky-blue walls where she had been born, her mom Mary lying on that very bed, Dr.Wynn in charge with Martha lending a hand. She took in everything. It had all remained the same, the chenille bedspread on the bed, the white organdy curtains at the window droopy now with dust and time. The wooden cradle that Martha and John's baby girl had occupied when she was newly born was nestled into the far corner of the room. The baby girl hadn't lived long, such a tragedy. Janie had also spent her first weeks in that cradle as well.

She turned and headed for the master bedroom, the one where Martha and John had always slept side by side all those years. The double bed was just as Martha had slept in it last, the covers rumpled, her fuzzy house slippers tucked neatly under the edge of the bed. She'd never had a chance to straighten things up before the heart attack took her life. Janie's eyes moistened, a tear threatening to slide down her cheek. She sank down on the bed and took the pillow to hug it to her breast. She could still feel Martha's loving hugs about her and the way she always made Janie feel special. This was Martha and John's bed. It wasn't right for anyone else to be in it. No. Not right at all.

"Will, I have one favor to ask."

 "Sure, Babe, what is it?"

"I don't want to sleep in this bed. Do we have money enough to buy a new one?"

"Sure. I think that we can swing a new bed. We can stop by the store on our way back to mama's and see what they have. If we find one we like maybe they can deliver it sometime tomorrow".

Janie smiled as she tugged on his arm. "Pull me up, please, Will." He reached out a hand and took hers and gave a hard tug. She landed against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her. "You did that on purpose", she said.

"You bet I did, "Will replied. "I've not gotten to hold my wife in our new home". Janie brushed her lips against his and pulled away.

"I want us to start our new life in a new bed. The rest of the things in the house are fine but I feel John and Martha's spirit in this room. I think it's the bed so the bed has to go".

At nine the next morning Will braked to a stop in front of their new home on Wilson Street. A big blue truck from Homeplace Furniture pulled to a stop right behind them. A large muscular man dressed in faded blue overalls and a blue and red plaid shirt got out from behind the wheel. He tilted the edge of the cap he wore on his straggly brown hair as he greeted Will. A young kid unfolded himself from the other side of the truck and stood quietly waiting, his thumbs hooked into his overall gallouses.

"You Will Estes?" the man inquired.

"You bet, sir. I'll run and open the door so you guys can bring our bed in. It goes upstairs in the back bedroom."

Janie hurried ahead of them but she did not go inside. Instead she sat down in the swing. She shoved with her foot to set it slowly into motion. It was a nippy morning, the chill not warmed up by the sun yet. She watched the men cart the headboard and footboard of their new mahogany poster bed across the yard and into the house. They soon returned to haul up the springs and mattress. She could hear their heavy footsteps on the stairs and some banging going on as they connected the pieces together. Once they were gone she entered the front door. Will was standing at the top of the stairs.

"Come look," he called.

The bed was perfect. They'd made their first purchase together. Now against the far wall was the bed where they would cuddle at night her head on his shoulder. Then they'd make love, later falling  asleep side by side. As Janie turned to exit the room she glanced at the dusty curtains that hung limply at the window. Those would be the next thing to go.