Monday, March 19, 2012
Let it Snow
Oscar was the first to wake up in the cabin that cold January day. The unusually warm weather was forgotten as he piled logs on the fire. One by one the men all came down the stairs wearing their warm woolen sweaters and trousers. They were happy their womenfolk had prepared for a change in the weather and thought to pack the heavier clothes. Alma warned Melvin that he might need some warm clothes and he was happy he listened to her.
Chris made one pot of coffee and was getting ready to pump more water for a second pot when the women all came down the cedar stairs bundled to their chins in blankets. The fire was starting to warm the downstairs much to the relief of Nettie who was beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea to plan this little excursion in the middle of January.
“Good morning ladies” called out Oscar “Good thing you brought as much food as you did. It looks like we may be here for another day or two.”
“Thank heaven for indoor plumbing” cried Nettie
Ethel was glad she thought of bringing fresh eggs and ham with her just in case they had to stay the night. She started cooking those while Priscilla and Alma prepared the biscuits. Nettie squeezed the oranges for juice and Anna shredded and fried the potatoes.
After the hardy breakfast everyone pitched in to clear the table and clean up the kitchen. The men ventured outside to clear the walk to and from the wood pile. The woman set up folding tables to put together a couple of jigsaw puzzles the former owners left behind.
“Ethel, tell the others the story of how you and Jonas got together.” said Nettie as the fellows were walking in carrying the logs.
“Don't start without us” Chis said “We want to hear it too.”
Once everyone was seated around the tables and turning puzzle pieces upright, Ethel began.
“My mother gave piano lessons to the neighborhood children. She loved playing and since her daughter was completely lacking in musical ability, she decided she would teach other children to play. I can remember the sound of the scales in my head. Thank goodness she only taught three days a week. I had seen Jonas at school of course, but he sat in the back of the room during school and was always playing ball or climbing trees with the other boys while the girls played hopscotch and jacks on the opposite side of the building.
On a Wednesday in May, Mama mentioned she was going to have a new student, his name was Jonas Fulbright and he was in my class. I groaned thinking how often Mama had the new students practice the scales. Since it was a nice spring day, I would just go outside and maybe finish my school work later that evening. Jonas knocked on the door and I answered it. He had a scowl on his face. He grumbled hello. Mama knew right away that piano lessons were not what this boy wanted. She was sure it was his Mama's idea and not his. Further down the street I could hear the other boys taunting Jonas saying the piano was for girls. I found myself feeling sorry for this boy who so obviously wanted to be anywhere but in my family's parlor learning to play the piano. I marched down the street and in the harshest voice I could muster told the boys to be quiet. There were more famous men who played the piano than there were ladies. Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart were all I could think of at that moment. My disapproval fell on deaf ears and the boys just continued to make fun of Jonas until they heard the music coming from our parlor. We all walked toward the house and couldn't believe our ears. Jonas was playing America the Beautiful. I could hear mother asking where he had learned to play like that. He told her there was a piano at his grandmother's house and she showed him how to play but he couldn't learn the notes. He just liked to play the piano. He didn't want to learn how. Mama said he was playing by ear and that was a special talent but he would be able to play more music if he would learn to read the notes. It was always hard for anyone to say no to Mama and Jonas was no exception.
The boys didn't tease Jonas so much after that. In fact they use to hang around our parlor window on Wednesday afternoons waiting for Jonas to play a song or two. Jonas eventually did learn to read music but he still depends on his ears for most of his playing.
Except for those Wednesday afternoons Jonas pretty much ignored me. I was developing a crush on him and was rather impatient waiting for him to look in my direction. I remember Mama telling me that it sometimes took a little longer for boys to be attracted to young ladies. I also remember the day that Jonas finally took notice of a female. It was the day the Mayor's niece rode into town in the fanciest carriage I had ever seen. Miss Hattie Mae Worthington stepped from that carriage with her red hair flowing. She looked like a princess. I glanced at Jonas and his chums and they were all staring at this beauty with their mouths hanging open. My daydreams of walking hand in hand with Jonas were shattered. I looked down at my scuffed shoes and my hand me down dress that even I had outgrown. I put my hand to my mousy brown pigtails and knew I looked as frumpy as I felt.”
Jonas chuckled “Yes, that Hattie Mae was a fine looking young lady. I don't think my mouth was hanging open though Ethel and if it was it was because of the fancy carriage she arrived in.” He winked at his cronies. “You have to realize, this was Greensboro in the 1840s. I was just a farm boy who spent most of his summer days milking cows and tending crops. We didn't have many visitors to Greensboro and none that looked like Miss Hattie Mae Worthington. Ethel tells you I ignored her that summer. That wasn't true. I thought she was a pretty little thing but I couldn't get myself to talk to her. I was much more comfortable playing the piano and she didn't know it but I hated those lessons every Wednesday and only agreed to sit through them because I knew Ethel would be sitting at the parlor window. Hattie Mae's Grandpappy asked me to accompany her on the piano at a fancy dinner he was giving for some of the other mayors in the county. He arranged for his tailor to make me a suit as the one I wore to church on Sunday wasn't up to snuff as he put it. Ethel's Mama taught me enough about reading notes that I was able to learn the songs with the sheet music Hattie Mae brought with her. I hadn't practiced with Hattie Mae until the afternoon of the dinner. I was in for quite the surprise. Hattie Mae's voice was like a wounded cat caught in a prickly pine tree. Even the Mayor was holding his hands over his ears. Hattie Mae was a very beautiful young lady until her grandfather told her she couldn't sing at the dinner that evening. I had never seen a female with such strength. She started picking up glasses that had just been placed on the tables and throwing them against the wall. She was screaming at the top of her lungs until two of the Mayor's aides carried her out of the room kicking and bellowing. The dinner went on as planned except I was the only musical accompaniment. It was my first and last public appearance. From that moment on I only played for pleasure.”
Alma said “We all know you eventually revealed your true feelings to each other because otherwise you wouldn't be here with us now. How did that all happen.
Ethel spoke up. “Thanks to Nettie we finally were forced to open our hearts to each other. It was the first week of school. We were all sitting around the lunch table when Nettie asked Jonas if he had asked me to go to the harvest dance with him. I was so embarrassed I was tempted to hide under the table. Jonas looked dumfounded and finally said he didn't know if I would go with him if he did ask. Nettie said she was pretty sure I would. Come to think of it, I'm not sure he ever did ask me but we did go to the dance together. After that he came to the house after his chores every morning to walk me to school. I don't know when we got over being shy with each other but eventually we did.”
Nettie said “I wonder what ever happened to Hattie Mae? I don't remember ever seeing her again in Greensboro.”
Melvin spoke up. “I believe she married one of the Professors at the University. I do remember going to a soiree given by this fellow and his wife Hattie Mae. She was the entertainment and your description of her singing was accurate. I remember Professor Danforth smiled through the performance. I later learned the man is hard of hearing and he'd turned his hearing device off. After that experience, anytime I received an invitation to any gathering at the Danforth residence, I always regretfully declined.
“Now it's your turn Priscilla and Chris. Tell us the story of your meeting and marriage.”
Priscilla answered “There really isn't much to tell. Christopher was the only child of Nicholas and Belle Pringle and my folks were Noel and Eve Claus. As you can imagine by the sound of their names, our families loved Christmas and that love was passed down to us. I don't remember a time when I didn't love Chris. He was always so jolly no matter what was happening around him. We never thought twice about getting married it seemed the natural thing to do.”
“Priscilla is correct. There was never anyone else for me either. Our only regret is that we were never blessed with children of our own.”
Alma said “Oh you two are loved by all of the children of Camden Corners. I know they love visiting your Christmas shop even in the heat of the summer. Our boys, Butch and Billy cherish the ornaments you made for them this year, Priscilla. This was their first Christmas with a family and those ornaments made it even more special for them. I know Butch keeps his on the nightstand by his bed. I have seen Billy admiring his ornament when he thinks no one is looking.”
Nettie said “I know what you mean about not being blessed with children of your own. I was lucky enough to teach school for many years and my students were always very special to me. I loved it when they had grown and brought their own children into my classroom. Of course, there is Polly. Even though she had only been with us for a short time she quickly became a daughter to me.”
“How are Polly's brothers and sisters, have you heard Nettie? It was so good to see them sitting so proudly at Polly's wedding. The Prestons did a wonderful thing by making sure Polly's family was represented on such an important day for her.”
“Yes, they are doing very well living with Arthur and Gladys. Arthur has already begun building an addition to the house to allow for extra bedrooms for their expanded family. Oscar was there just the other day checking on Alice Cooper and the children. Alice is still insisting Marlin needs her to be near him. She never even asks about her children. I know she has been told they are not in the old house any longer but she doesn't seem to care. I'm afraid she will never be the same. Marlin was taken to the hospital last week. The doctors aren't sure what is wrong with him but he is a very sick man. I think the hospital has taken pity on Alice and she is allowed to sit with Marlin for a few hours a day. It's a rather tricky situation. Nobody wants to take the children away from Alice but she is incapable of caring for them now and they are living a normal life with the Prestons. While I was there, Danny Mackenzie was calling on Gretchen.
The men ventured outside and thought the roads looked clear enough to travel. They thought it might be best to start for Camden Corners in case the weather took a turn for the worse.
Everything was packed up, the fire in the fire place was out and everything shut down until the next visit.
The Crowley's and their friends were sorry to see their visit to the cabin come to an end. Everyone had enjoyed their get together. There was a knock on the door. Oscar opened it and saw Greensboro's Sheriff Eb Daniels standing there.
“Eb, what are you doing in these parts?”
“I'm sorry Oscar. I'm doing my duty as Sheriff of Greensboro. At times I really don't like this job and this is one of those times. Oscar Crowley, you are under arrest for the murder of Marlin Cooper.”