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