Monday, July 22, 2013

Zebulon - Days 90 - 95 - Historical Fiction

I neglected to mention that times were especially tough economically in the late 1950's, because of where we lived in the small steel mill town. Many people were out of work, and my Da had been lucky to have his job. They had been getting ready to go out on strike when he was killed. Now, all the mills were on strike, and no one had much money to spend. 

Mr. Hopkins kept Ma working, anyway, because people had to eat; he supplied the groceries. 

That morning, two days before my birthday, I went to Rosie's room. She was fourteen now, almost fifteen. She was sitting at her dresser, putting on lipstick, and primping at her hair, fussing because it didn't look the way she wanted it to. She could see my reflection in her mirror. Her annoyance was quite obvious. 

"What do you want? Haven't you brought enough trouble on us? Why don't you get out and leave me alone?!!"

She was changing right in front of my eyes. My big sister had never spoken to me in that manner. My eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with anguish; I returned her anger in kind.

"What are you doing? Where are you getting ready to go? The kitchen is still dirty, are you going to leave it that way? Ma will climb your frame! You look like a hussy!" 

"Mind  your own business! If you want the kitchen cleaned, do it yourself. I'm going out to have some fun with my friends; goodness knows, there is no fun left in this house! Get out of my way, now! I'll be back when I'm good and ready! Move!"

My family was falling apart in front of my very eyes. What could I do to change things? I needed to do some kind of detective work and find my brother and little sister. But what? Where? 

Returning to the kitchen, I decided to have a bowl of cereal, and plan my strategy for finding my siblings. Then I would begin the hunt anew. 

I started thinking about my Grandma O'Hanlon. Had she taken Marie and Les? How could I find out? She lived two states away from us and it would take some doing to see if she had. I had a little money saved for Christmas gifts - not enough to travel by train, though. 

The police had called her; in fact, Sgt. Finley had talked to her and she assured him that she would not soil her hands with the little heathens; they were past redemption as far as she was concerned. Somehow, I didn't trust her words.

Just then I heard Rosie's door slam and saw her walking hurriedly through the kitchen to the front door; her carroty red curls were bouncing as she flounced out the door.  

"Don't look for me until you see me coming," she shouted. "I'm going out with my friends today."

"Just wait till Ma gets hold of you!" I shouted. "You won't act so high and mighty, then!"

The changes in my life were coming so fast, I was blindsided by the next one that came.

Going to the sink, I decided to do the dishes for my Ma. After all, she was working hard to provide for us, and this was the least I could do for her (even though it was woman's work). I thought about Rosie and her behavior as I stood there with the suds up on my arms, squishing the water through my hands, mindlessly. 

Rosie was just reacting in the only way she knew how, I supposed, but it didn't make it any easier for those of us around her. After all, we were hurting, too. I thought then about Marie and Lester; where were they? Were they hungry? Were they safe? Who had them? Did anyone? Were they maybe... I couldn't finish that thought. I couldn't believe anyone would really hurt them. People didn't do that, did they?

What about my Grandma O'Hanlon... had she come back and taken them? I had to find out if she had, and there was only one way to do that. I had to travel there without telling anyone. If anyone was going to save my family, it had to be me, I thought. But how? How could I get there and when?

It would bear some smart planning on my part. The next day, however, a most upsetting thing took place.

My Ma had come home from work on Saturday night, and had fixed a light supper for us, then went to bed. Rosie had gotten home just minutes before Ma, with a worried and sheepish look on her face. I just knew she had been in some kind of trouble, but she didn't confide in me.

The next morning, we got up and Ma was rushing us around to get ready for Sunday School and church, almost before we finished our breakfast. I knew something was up, but didn't know what. Ma took a roast out of the refrigerator and put it into a dutch oven. She browned it, and then added some vegetables to it, and put it into the oven for our dinner. Uh - oh!  Company was coming, and I thought I knew who it was.

Well, I found out after church that I had been right. Yep! Mr. William Hopkins came up to the door and rang the bell just as Ma was putting the food on the table. He smiled at the three of us, and removing is hat, gave it to me to put on the hall tree. 

Rubbing his stomach, he said, "Good afternoon, folks. Ah, Ellen! Dinner certainly does smell great! Thank you so much for inviting me to share it with you all!"

I wondered if this dinner was going to turn out anything like the last one did. It was barely over, when Mr. Hopkins turned to a surly looking Rosie and me and asked if we could take a walk with him down to the park. It was a sunny but cool afternoon, and kids were out playing.

We looked over at Ma with a questioning look on our faces... she nodded her assent, and we left with Mr. Hopkins. We had not a clue as to what he could be wanting, but apparently she trusted him. So we got our coats and left with him, one of us on either side of him. Rosie was about as tall as he was and she was nervously biting her fingernails, a habit she had picked up lately. 

As we walked along, I took a closer look at Mr. Hopkins. He had a kind face, and it bore many lines of what looked like a road map. Thinking back on it later, I realized those lines had been made from caring for others. His hair was beginning to gray around the temples, and his blue eyes sparkled with interest as he looked down at me. The mouth was topped by a mustache that was graying as well. 

As we neared the park, he suggested we sit on the park bench in the sunlight. He brushed the seat off with his handkerchief so that we could have a clean dry place to be seated. 

"You like baseball games, don't you, Zebulon?" 

I quietly nodded my assent, not quite knowing how to talk to him. 

"Rosa, I'll bet you love to shop with your friends?," he inquired innocently of my sister, where upon her face turned a scarlet red, and she looked at him suspiciously. 

Then she whispered, "Yes."

I looked at her. It was not like her to behave in such a manner. She never was embarrassed at anything. What was going on with her?

Mr. Hopkins told us that he and his wife had not been blessed with any children, but that they had both wanted them. He then told us how his wife had developed cancer. He had spent three years taking care of her in her illness before she passed away last year. 

"Uh 0h!" I said to myself... "where is this conversation headed?"  I didn't like the sound of it.

Mr. Hopkins went on, observing us closely as he spoke. 

" I have been acquainted with Ellen, er, your mother for many years, since she shops at my grocery. I've watched you all growing up through the years, and I know that you are good children, and good to your mother. I've seen the bruises on her arms and said nothing, yet sensed her feelings of shame."

I knew he was talking about the beatings my Da used to inflict on her, and I felt shame that he knew. I waited to see where this one-sided conversation was heading, and looked down at my hands. Would I be that kind of man? I vowed then and there that I would not be, even if it meant never to marry. I would never subject a woman to that kind of treatment.

Mr. Hopkins continued, speaking gently to the two of us. 

"Rosa, Zebulon, I would like to ask your mother to marry me, but I would like to have your permission first."

There were the words I was fearful of hearing, yet sure that they were coming. My first inner reaction was to jump up and shout "No, no!", but instead I asked, "does she know you want to?"

He nodded in silent assent. We both looked at Rosie, but she just sat there, with the tears rolling down her face, as it crumpled and twisted. "I hate you both! My life is ruined! My Da 
Is gone,; Zeb lost my Marie and Les, and now you want to take away our Ma!"

"No, it's not like that! I've hired a detective to try and find Marie and Les. He's out there searching right now. Your mother knows how I feel about her, but won't marry me unless you both agree. Please say you both will think about it. Rosa, I'm sorry about your father, and won't speak of him again. We need to get back now."

I knew we had a lot to think about. I wondered why they would want to get married anyway. They were both old. They were both at least forty.

 

(To be continued)

2 comments:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Now the last time he tried detective work the good Sgt. convinced him to leave things alone.....has that lesson gone by the boards?

Grammy said...

Ah, it would seem so. After all, you can't keep a good man down. Ha.