Fear and trust pass from one generation to the next.
January 27, 2015
A VG Serial: Where It Ended
Chapter 14 – 2
Miss Katie was at the stove making breakfast as Lily Claire, her eyes still soft with sleep, came into the room, walked over to her, and wrapped an arm around Katie’s thighs, snuggling tight against her. Her hair addressed several of the cardinal points and she yawned so cavernously, Katie teased her that she saw all the way to the gulf coast through the opening. She giggled a little girl’s giggle, and Katie couldn’t help but smile.
“Heh, buttercup, you slept late this morning. Jelly Roll and Whimper are outside waiting on you, thumping their tails in the dust, hoping you’d hear them so you’d get up.”
Katie ran her hands through Lily Claire’s downy hair, settling it into two directions and sweeping it out of her eyes. It had become a regular outing over the last year that Lily Claire would spend her weekends on the farm, and they both looked forward to it.
She’d been asleep in his arms when Seth brought her this time. He’d gotten held up at work and looked quite tired. But he had promised she’d wake this Saturday morning at the farm, and if there was one thing Seth Maddox was, it was a man of his word. So he had gotten her out of bed, probably to the yelling and fussing of Martha Faye, and brought her here about ten o’clock last evening. He knew Katie be up as she’d always been a nighthawk.
Today’s plan was for Lily Claire to go to the Co-op with Katie and get some chicks to raise over the summer months. She had explained that these chickens would end up on their dinner plate, and that had given Lily Claire great pause. But then she said the strangest thing from a place of such innocence that a shudder went through Katie. “Everything just circles, Mamaw. They won’t mind.”
She stood collecting herself after that bit of wisdom, then asked her, “You’re Daddy brought you out late last night. Do you remember?
“I thought I’d dreamed that I came here late at night. Daddy brought me then?”
“He sure did. Your daddy, he is one fine man.” She smiled in agreement and climbed up onto the chair at the spot where Katie just set down a plate of pancakes.
“These all for me?”
“They are. We’re going walk your legs off today. So I thought maybe if you ate enough breakfast, you’ll lose only an inch or so.”
Her head snapped up to check if Katie was kidding. So Katie said nonchalantly, “You’re a tall child. An inch or so won’t make much difference.”
She’d been clever from the get go, and she played right along.
“But my pants will drag in the dirt. Then you’ll have to wash them. How come you don’t have help here? How come you do all the cooking and cleaning? Then changing to a soft, caring little voice, she added, “Are you poor? I have money my daddy gives me as allowance. I can give it to you.”
She couldn’t help herself. She walked round the table, bent over Lily’s head, and whispered in her ear. “You are the dearest soul, next to Miss Imogene, that I’ve ever known. We’re fine. I’m not poor.”
She left it at that and went back round the table and sat across from the child. Lily raised her head and looked at Katie like a hound dog getting a true take on what it was sensing. It was clear that answer hadn’t been complete enough, and with a mouthful of pancake, she asked further, “Then why?”
Katie sat in what looked like a defining moment, her expression soft but questioning. Here was the chance for her decide how she was going to relate to this child, through stories that skirted the truth or straight from truth itself. Lily Claire held her in her stare, waiting.
Katie began haltingly. “Many years ago, I was very unhappy, and I wasn’t nice to people. I yelled at them and made it so unpleasant that the lady who worked in my house, Miss Imogene’s daughter, Margaret, left.”
“Did you yell at her?” she asked with eyes as big as an owl’s.
“Sometimes, but who I was fighting with most was my daughter, your mama. I wasn’t kind to her.”
“Why would you fight with her. She was just a kid.”
“Yes she was, and I was very wrong in what I was doing. A great deal had happened in my life as a young child that resulted in how I behaved at that time. When you are older, you’ll be more capable of understanding the whole story. But if you would, trust me now to know that it is not yet time.”
She stared at the little girl questioningly, and Lily nodded.
“Will you always tell me the truth, Mamaw. It’s so hard when people don’t tell you the truth.”
“My dear little child, how well I know what you’re saying. And I will make you a promise to always tell you the truth, if you’ll trust me to know when I can tell it. It’s not lying to tell part of a story as long as the listener knows that’s what’s happening. So I will always let you know that.”
With a quick nod of her head and a maple-syrupy smile, she agreed.
When they got back from buying the chicks, they spent the rest of the day making a pen for them. They filled large bottle lids with chick food and set them on the pen floor. They sprinkled the pen floor with fine grit and set up watering bottles. Then they hung a heat lamp in the center of the pen to serve as a surrogate mother hen. They sat for quite a while, both of them mesmerized by the seemingly mindless running and pecking that was the life of a chick, until the buttery yellow fluffs all gathered under the heat lamp to nap.
“I really like it here, Mamaw. My mama sometimes is not very nice either. I don’t want to grow up to be like that. Is there something the matter with our family that we’re not very nice to each other?”
She looked up at Katie, who though seeing her out of the corner of her eye, continued to stare at the clutch of chicks all snugged together. She sat still, as if caught in images within her head, likely the past zinging by, baffling in its unfathomable rancor. Finally, she turned to Lily Claire and spoke words that came from someplace even she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“I’m not sure I have the whole answer to that question. Not yet anyway. I think most families have problems of some sort. Troubles arise when any bunch of people spend a lot of time together. And I don’t think the problems are the real trouble; it’s how they are addressed that makes for all the yelling and fighting. Our family had some especially big problems, some families do, and yet no one was inclined to address them at all. To a child, watching adults handle problems in that manner suggests that problems are bigger than they are, that perhaps they can’t be solved. There begins a child’s fear and distrust of the life in front of them, and on it goes into the next generation.”
Katie stopped there, swept Lily up in her arms and smiled reassuringly. She twirled in a big circle, Lily stretching out away from her to feel the entire thrill of spinning. When Katie was sure she hadn’t frightened Lily Claire, she offered one thing more. “You, however, have come into this world with three people who can help you learn a better way—your daddy, Miss Imogene, and finally me. So don’t you worry child. You brought light and love with you, and they aren’t ever going to abandon you, nor will we.”
Lily smiled, her eyes dancing, her nose crinkled up in happiness. Then she shrugged the way a delighted little child should be able to and chuckled. Katie leaned sideways, put her arm around her shoulder and pulled her close so she could kiss the top of her head.
“Why don’t we go make ourselves a bite to eat while these little creatures sleep. We can check back later to make sure they are good for the night.”
They walked hand-in-hand to the house with Lily Claire humming a tune from Winnie the Pooh and Katie realizing she too was finally safe.
Episodes of Where It Ended by Christina Carson will be published every Tuesday.