She didn’t mention the son who died or the sons who lived. Nelson & Cora. Chapter 1
February 24, 2013
MCGINNIS PLANTATION, 15 MILES OUTSIDE OF ALBERDEEN, KENTUCKY, 1866
Nelson McGinnis rocked back in the wooden chair. He knew too well from last time that slower was better. The chair tilted, a few creaks, but still doing fine. He didn’t let himself relax yet, but a small smile played at the corners of his mouth.
Last time this was as far as he got when the rocking chair collapsed. Nelson was trying not to rush. Finally, he had the chair leaned back all the way. Nelson relaxed his legs and let the chair swing forward. A few more creaks, but for the first time since he began building rocking chairs, this one didn’t break. Nelson’s smile was beaming now.
He rocked back again, less carefully. A few more times, and Nelson was rocking at full speed.
“George, come here,” Nelson yelled. “Come look at this, will you? It’s working,” Nelson said. George was buried in the chair in front of the fire in the sitting room. The calendar said March and springtime, but it was still cold and soggy outside. George folded the corner of the newspaper. He was reluctant to move, but Nelson yelled at him again.
“George! Get in here. I did it,” Nelson said.
George stood up and stepped over Apollo, Nelson’s dog, a giant Mastiff. The dog was sleeping on the rug in front of the fire, but when George moved, Apollo rolled onto his side, hoping George would scratch his belly.
“Not now, Apollo,” George said. “Sounds like big brother has pulled it off.”
George laughed when he saw his brother. Nelson rocked as fast as he could. His smile was a flash of white.
“Well?” Nelson asked without slowing down. “What do you think? What do you think about your big brother the furniture maker?” Nelson yelled. The rocking chair creaked loudly. Nelson continued to slap his feet on the floor, gathering speed.
“Impressive,” George said.
“What?” Nelson yelled.
“I said ‘impressive’,” George said. He stifled a laugh.
Their father, Randall McGinnis, opened the door of his office. “What’s all the noise?” he asked.
He didn’t need an answer. He stood in the doorway and watched Nelson picking up speed in the rocking chair.
“You finished it,” Randall said.
“What? I finished it, Father. I finished the rocking chair,” Nelson yelled.
Randall nodded. Nelson continued to rock, and the chair creaked louder.
Mattie opened the door from the kitchen. She carried out steaming platters of food, including the boys’ favorite, cornbread. If Nelson hadn’t been pre-occupied, he would have eaten half of it before they said the blessing.
“Mattie, Mattie, look at this! Look what I did,” Nelson said.
She was used to his activities and finished putting the platters on the table before she turned to watch him.
“This rocking chair, Mattie. From nothing, this rocking chair,” Nelson said.
Mattie nodded. She wiped her hands on her apron. She smiled at Nelson. She had raised him from the time he was born.
Nelson and George had never thought of her as a slave, even though she was one on their father’s plantation until three years ago. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Mattie went to Randall McGinnis and told him that she would like to stay with her boys.
Mattie had taken care of them through every scrape, every fever, every broken bone. She was the one who sat up with them all night when they were babies, and it was Mattie who held their hands when they had nightmares.
Mattie looked across the room at George. “Nelson did that himself?” she asked.
“Good for him,” she said. She was as proud of Nelson for his accomplishments as she was of George for his.
When Randall was out of the house on business, Nelson, George and Gertrude would sit in the kitchen at the small wooden table and eat dinner with Mattie. Analisa would only come down for dinner if Randall was home. The rest of the time, Analisa took her meals in her room. When they did eat in the kitchen, Nelson would make them all laugh with his impressions of the men he saw each time he went to market with Randall. He had always been good with voices, and sometimes Gertrude would get so tickled she would start to choke.
Randall watched his son until he saw the movement on the stairs. He checked his pocket watch, but he already knew the time. Analisa expected to be served dinner each evening at 6:30. She arrived at the dining room table promptly at that time each evening her husband was home. When he wasn’t there, she expected to be served dinner in her room at that time. Dinner was at 6:30, always. No exceptions.
Analisa ran her hand down the banister as she descended the stairs leading from her bedroom to the dining room. The noise from Nelson’s rocking chair was so loud that no one could hear anything else. Even if the house had been silent, Analisa’s approach would have been a quiet one. When she reached the final step, she lifted her hand and checked her fingers for dust. It was always the same routine.
Randall quickly crossed the dining room. He was careful to avoid Nelson, who was still gaining speed. Randall stood at bottom of the staircase and waited to take Analisa’s hand.
Mattie rushed back to the kitchen to get the matches for the candles. Time had snuck up on her when she stopped to watch Nelson.
If Randall McGinnis was home for the evening meal, Analisa insisted that the candles be lit in their candleholders and put in the same spot on the table each evening.
Mattie had never liked the large candleholders. They were too big and heavy. But, it was one of Analisa’s peculiarities. Mattie didn’t have any trouble remembering what happened the last time the candleholders weren’t on the table when Analisa came to dinner.
Mattie wiped her fingerprints from the candleholders. They’d been a wedding present from Analisa’s mother, but after the spell Analisa had when the baby died, Mattie had hoped Randall McGinnis would get rid of them. He didn’t.
When the baby died, Analisa picked up the candleholders, one right after the other, and threw them at the fireplace in the dining room. The candleholders were so heavy, and Analisa threw them with such force, that they cracked the edges off the bricks. Even after that, Analisa wanted the candleholders polished and on the table for every meal.
Mattie smiled at the sound of Nelson yelling at his mother as Mattie rushed around in the kitchen lighting the candles. Analisa never could abide loud noises.
“I made this. Mother,” Nelson screamed. Mattie pushed the door open and watched as Analisa picked up Randall’s pocket watch and checked the time.
Mattie quickened her pace. It took less and less to set Analisa off on one of her spells lately. She was getting worse. Mattie didn’t think it could be much worse than after the baby died, but it seemed like it was starting all over again.
When the baby had died, Mattie swore she had never even heard of anyone behaving like Analisa did. Mattie was glad that Nelson and George had been too young to remember it.
Randall McGinnis had three sons. Nelson was the oldest. Then, George was born two years later. Two years after that the baby came. He passed away right after he was born.
The name on the headstone in the family cemetery read “Baby McGinnis”, but that had been a long time ago. When people talked about Randall McGinnis now, they said he had two sons. Randall didn’t correct them. Analisa didn’t mention the son who died, but she didn’t mention the sons who lived either.
Chapters of the serial are published on Sunday.
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