Saturday, November 22, 2014

Arlissa - Day 136-143

As Helen Tunstall took the jacket off of Benny, she was remembering seeing the gravestone of Eleanor Hinton as she passed by. Next to it, there was a smaller grave, for an infant girl. The date on both markers was the same year, 1942. Then, where did...?

He had always told her the mother didn't want the baby, but she never had believed him. She had always suspected the baby was Eleanor's. But if Eleanor's baby was buried beside her, then where had their baby come from?

And, who...how...where had Arlissa come from? Had Mrs. Hinton had more than one daughter who had given birth to a child out of wedlock? Or was Arlissa actually Mrs. Hinton's daughter? Maybe belonging to Zeb's grandfather?

"Have I been wrong all these years about our Rosie?" she said aloud.

"What, what about Rosie?" Jake asked as he came in from parking the truck.

"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking out loud. I was remembering the funeral. It was a lovely service, wasn't it?"

"I'm hungwy, Gwamma," stated Benny.

"Sure, would you like a glass of milk and a cookie? We have lots of cookies right now."

"Yes, Gwamma, I'd wike dat! Can I go out to pway?

"No, not today, dear. Didn't Miss Hawkes let you go outside for awhile?"

"Yes, but she not hab no kitt'ns, wike you does."

"Let's do some coloring on your coloring book instead, okay?"

"Otay."

They went into his room and sat at the little table in the corner and she took out his crayons and coloring book. 

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Arlissa had left for awhile and Granny sat slightly elevated in her hospital bed, reminiscing...

The woman had come for her in the middle of the night, with news that Eleanor had just given birth to a baby girl, and most likely would not make it another day...

Carla Sanderson knew she could never, should never, make such important decisions about someone's  home without at least consulting them, so she decided to go visit the hospital and talk to at least Arlissa first.

So she went to the hospital and inquired about Mrs. Hinton and her granddaughter. She was sent to the sunroom where she found Arlissa sitting, watching the drizzling raindrops and feeling as though the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders.

"Hey, there, little girl! You look as though you just lost your last friend," Carla gushed, then realized how that sounded since Arlissa's best friend was just buried that day. "Oh, my! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to say..."

"That's okay, Mz. Sanderson. I understand. I was feeling kinda blue, settin' here, lookin' out at that Fall rain drippin' down the winders. What are you doin' here? Visitin' somebody?"

"No, actually, I came looking for you. I got something I want to talk to you about. You know how, every so often, Miss Hetty takes it into her head to be helping somebody?"

"Ye-e-e-s? And?"

"Well, she decided to make cleaning up your all's farmhouse a thing for our lady's group to take care of, so...they're all out there working on it and it's my job to pick out the paint to repaint the walls. But I didn't want to do it without talking to you first."

"Ah...I see. We're her next project, then?" Arlissa sat back in her chair and felt her mood darken a little bit more. She and Granny had never been the object of anybody's project or charity. She didn't know how Granny was going to react. Granny took great pride in being self-sufficient. 

"Please, I know it's hard to have people doing for you, but their hearts are in the right place. You know, if somebody wants to do for you, it gives them a blessing. We like to do for others because it makes us feel good inside. You know? When you don't let others do for you, you're robbing them of that feeling. Believe it or not, you can get a blessing just by being one."

"Well...when you put it that way...it does make sense. I jist hope I can convince Granny of it. I'll jist use the same words you used with me, I reckon."

"I was wondering, could you maybe come with me to Harvey's Hardware and pick out the colors you would like to see in the house and what rooms to put the colors in? Then, you're gonna have to do a mighty good acting job when you come out and see the house. Would you do that for me, please?"

"We won't be gone long, will we?" Arlissa was anxious about leaving the hospital for a long period of time with Granny so sick. 

"Oh, no! I promised I'd be back in a couple of hours, so we don't have long. We'll have to swear Harvey to keep mum about you being there."

The two stopped off at the nurses' station and left word that Arlissa would be back very soon; that she was going to the Hardware store, if they needed to reach her.

The team of women moved throughout the house, working steadily. They came to Granny's room, which didn't seem to have suffered as much damage as the rest of the house. Hetty noticed the drawers had been removed from the dresser, so she got busy picking up the clothing scattered over the floor. 

Con had apparently not cut Granny's clothing up as he did Arlissa's. Hetty had one of the other ladies hanging up the few dresses the old lady had that were lying all over as she picked them up.  Then, as she went on to the contents of the drawers, she noticed the rosewood box and picked it up. 

Curiously, she inspected it. She remembered her Aunt had owned one very much like it. Her dad had brought it back from some of his travels and her Aunt Lula had expressed an interest in having it. 

Hetty sat down on the edge of the bed, holding the box and remembering....

"Now, Hetty! You know you are not to play with my new rosewood box! I have told you, time and again!"

"But Auntie Loolie! I just want to look in it and hold it awhile," she had pled. "I promise, I won't hurt it any."

The memory was so very clear...she had dropped the box and had dented the corner of it. Her punishment was a trip to the woodshed. She could still feel the belt welts on her buttocks that her father had inflicted on her tender seven-year old skin.

Tears ran down her face and she quickly wiped them away and hid them, along with the memories. 

Now she gazed down at the box - she really wanted to look inside - but didn't know if she should. What kind of secrets could it hold? What juicy item would be at her disposal to share with others? 

Her conscience had never kept her from delving out nuggets  of titillating facts to use. 

Hmmm. Just as she was lifting the lid, Harvey's wife came in and asked if Hetty wanted to help in the kitchen. They were getting ready to tackle the icebox. 

Laying the box to one side, she got up and headed with Betty into the kitchen to clean in there. She looked back longingly at the box, and promised herself that it would not go unopened. 



After Arlissa had made her choices of paint, Harvey's wife took her back to the hospital. 

"Thank you so much for letting me choose the paint colors, Miz. Sanderson! I really appreciate what you ladies are doin' for us. Don't know how my Granny's gonna take it, but I'll explain to her what you told me about blessin's and all. I hope I can do it justice the way you told me. Like I said, she don't take too kindly to bein' a charity case. It was good of you to come get me, too."

Arlissa reached up and kissed Carla on the cheek ever so gently, then turned and headed for Granny's hospital room. 

"Hey, Granny! I see you're settin' up a little! You feelin' better, then?"

Granny picked up the ever present chalk board and wrote, "Where you been?"

"I went out a little while to get outdoors some."

"In this rain?" were the words that appeared next on the board.

"Oh, it ain't too bad, Granny. I needed some fresh air. I'll take you out when the rain clears up, so's you can get outta this buildin' some, too."

Arlissa had already decided not to broach the questions about her origins to Granny again. She would find out what she ached to know in some other way. The young woman didn't want to bring on another spell with Granny's heart. 

Little did she know that Granny didn't have all the answers. Only the woman who had been seen by Mildred, the Sheriff's secretary, talking to Alberto Donelli knew all the answers. 


The women finished cleaning the kitchen; there had been stuff splattered everywhere and they were tired. The painting was left to do, since Carla had only recently returned from town with it. It was way past lunchtime, so they decided to head back into town to the diner where Mildred had seen Donelli and the woman talking. 

The five women piled into the car driven by Hetty, since it was a Cadillac and would comfortably hold all of them. They put little Jan Hankins into the middle of the back seat. 

The ladies began chattering about what all they had gotten done during the morning. Hetty's mind, however, was on the rosewood box. She knew that quite often they were used to hold important papers and keep them away from prying eyes. Her curiosity was going to keep pinging away at her until she got a look at them. There had always been some kind of secret about the girl's parentage. She just bet herself that she could find out something from inside that box. 

Hmmm. Perhaps that Douglas boy had already looked inside it. She wanted to be the only one who knew whatever it held, other than Ms. Hinton, of course. 

She knew she was obsessing over that box, but she really needed to know what was in it. Perhaps she could look while the others were painting the walls. It would only take a minute or two. She had always had her suspicions about who the girl's father was. It was evident, wasn't it? Of course, there was a whole bunch of that family's boys and a couple of girls.

They all left the farm at an early age; couldn't get along with the old man, from what she heard. He beat them everytime they turned around, was the word in the town. Hmmm. Wonder if it was the old man? Nah...couldn't be.

As Granny lay there, waiting for Arlissa to return to the hospital, her mind drifted back to the night she was awakened by someone knocking at the door. 

Her husband was sound asleep, but she had been lying there thinking about her daughter, Ellie. 

Where was she? What was she doing? Would she ever see her again?

Quickly, she arose from their bed and went to answer the door. It was raining and very cool. She had heard the old clock on the mantel strike two as she went through the house.

Opening the door a crack, she felt the breeze blowing through her flannel gown and shivered. 

"Yes? Who is it? Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"I come to get you. Yore daughter sent me. She needs you. Come quick! She said to hurry."

"Jist a minute. I gotta get my shoes on and a coat and a scarf for my head. I'm hurryin'!"

The woman stepped inside to wait; her red hair glistening with raindrops hung in clipped ringlets.

Granny remembered the long drive to the little house the woman had taken her to. It was difficult to see through the rain on the dark mountain roads. Fortunately, she could follow the tail lights of the woman's car. 

She hadn't seen her Ellie since they had the big argument over Ellie's wanton behavior with that fella she'd been seeing all those months before. Then she heard he'd up and joined the army, leavin' Ellie high and dry.

It had been at least seven or eight months since she'd heard from the girl. Now, her daughter wanted to see her.

When they finally arrived, they found another woman in attendance to Eleanor. It was a local midwife, sitting near the bed where Eleanor lay, with a tiny baby wrapped in a clean blanket lying next to her.

The midwife looked at Mrs. Hinton and shook her head in a negative manner. 

"Ma. This here is Arlissa, yore granddaughter. I want you and Pa to raise her for me, please. I ain't gonna make it. Ma, I want you to promise me you won't never tell her who her father is, or that she had a twin, who only lived a few minutes. You gotta promise me, or I'll never have rest."

"Where is the twin? Was it a boy or a girl?" Granny remembered asking the midwife.

"It was deformed and so I buried it yesterday afternoon, out under an old oak tree." The woman who had come to get her had told her that.

The midwife had then told Granny that Ellie had begun to hemorrhage and she didn't think Ellie was going to make it. 

"She is so small that the effort just took too much and she's not been eatin' good, I reckon. The babies took all the good outta the food she ate, left none for her. I don't hold out much hope for her to get outta bed, even."

"Ma..." Ellie's voice was weak. "He was a good man. He loved me, I know. He just said it wasn't gonna work out; his ma didn't like me none, and he was his Mama's boy. He didn't know about me goin' to have the baby. We ain't spoke in over six months and I heard he got married soon after we parted. We argued over his love of alcohol. He just said he couldn't see no problem in drinkin' a little. When he hit me, it was just the last straw."

"Oh, my Ellie! What am I ever gonna tell her when she begins askin' about her mama and daddy?"

"You can't never tell her who her pa is. She'd be so shamed. Jist don't tell her nothin'. You gotta promise me! If you love me, please? Don't tell her neither about havin' a twin birthed just before her. It'd just make her sad. One more thing, when you bury me, put up a marker for my other baby next to me."

"Well, Ellie, what if she figures it out on her own?"

"Do whatever you can to keep her from it, but if that happens, then you can tell her. You promise, Ma?"

"Yes, Ellie, God help me, I promise." 

Granny remembered then how her daughter's hand slipped from hers and with a wan smile, Eleanor Hinton drifted away into the long sleep. 

Granny had looked at the baby being held out to her and quietly took Arlissa Hinton into her arms and drew her close, tears dripping down onto the baby's face.

Granny wiped the tears from her eyes, remembering.

That was how Arlissa found her when she returned to the room. 

"What's wrong, Granny? Are you okay?"

The old lady nodded, giving her the twisted smile that was now so familiar to her.

"Somethin' has upset you!"

Granny just shook her head in denial. How could she ever explain to her granddaughter what had taken place... How she had been so deceived by her Granny. 

Granny picked up her slate and wrote, "Thinking about Gramps." 

Only Gramps had been told what Granny knew, and it had gone to the grave with him so many years ago. He, too, had felt great shame in what his daughter had done, but he loved Arlissa with a deep and fierce protective love.

He gave the girl the protection that a father would during the years he lived past her birth. He took her fishing with him. Granny complained he was turning her into a tomboy, but he just laughed at his wife and said, "A gal needs to learn to do these things jist like a boy does. After all, she ain't got no brothers."

Arlissa thought about Gramps as she sat quietly with her Granny, both of them remembering...

Arlissa had learned to climb trees, and shoot marbles, and fish, even whittle a stick. Gramps and she had some wonderful times. Sometimes when they were fishing, she would ask him about her Ma. He would talk for awhile about how he had taught her ma the same things she was learning, but when she would ask what he knew about her Pa, he would say something like, "You know, if we keep talkin', the fish are gonna hear us and listen instead of bitin'."

She would say, "Oh, Gramps, you're talkin' silly, now."

Remembering brought Granny and Arlissa together in a sweet reverie. 

The ladies headed back to the Hinton farm, talking and laughing merrily; all but Hetty McReynolds - her mind was on the box and her lack of knowledge concerning the contents.  She intended to change that, however.

"Hetty, you're awful quiet. What's wrong?"

"I'm just keepin' my eyes on the road! You don't want us to go off it, do you?"

"Well, it's just that you're usually talking a mile a minute, 'n' nobody can get in a word edgeways."

"Ah, she's a plottin' somethin', is all!" One of the ladies joked and the others all laughed. Seems they really knew the woman. "Lookin' fer some kinda somethin' to gossip on."

"Myrtle, why don't you mind your own business. I reckon you know your husband sure likes lookin' at the young girls he keeps workin' around his office, runnin' errands fer him."

"Well! Since when did you have the right to criticize anybody's husband? I happen to know..." Myrtle stopped mid-sentence, not daring to continue. Being on the receiving end of Hetty's vitriolic gossip was not an enviable place. 

Carla piped up and said, "Say, have you all seen that new movie out at the Rialto? It is absolutely a thriller!"

They began chattering about the actors in the movie and the uneasiness left the automobile, but Hetty was not going to forget the stinging remarks made at her expense. They would pay! She would see to that. She knew her husband was not perfect, but he was basically a good man; he certainly helped a lot of people....

When they arrived  back at the farm, Hetty put on the smock she had been wearing earlier, and suggested they begin on Arlissa's room since it had been worst.

"Goodness! I just remembered! I forgot to finish picking up Granny's stuff and putting it away. I'll go do that right now, while you all get started on the painting." 


(To be continued)

2 comments:

Delores said...

So many questions.....how did things get so messed up?

Grammy said...

My computer went crazy?