Friday, November 2, 2012
Bobby Warren might have enjoyed his first automobile ride if he hadn't been feeling like a failure. He wanted to jump out and take every one of his brothers and sisters with him. They would have been fine sleeping in the park tonight. It wouldn't be the worst place they'd ever spent the night. He had been assured he'd receive pay tomorrow evening for his work during the day and he planned to buy a tent he'd seen at the general store.
Leo noticed the other children were quiet and polite but obviously were delighted riding in the auto.
“What's your name, young man?” Leo asked Bobby.
“My name is Bobby Warren.”
The little boy sitting on his lap spoke up, “I'm Ralphie and these are my brothers and sisters. There's Teddy and Stevie and Willa and Callie.”
“You forgot me cried a tiny voice from the back seat. Lucille is my name but everybody calls me Lulu.”
“It's nice to meet you all. I think you are going to like Miss Millie's house. There are big comfortable beds with big fluffy comforters on them. My wife, Miss Addie, is the best cook in the world. She'll make sure you aren't hungry.”
“Mister I can take care of my family just fine. I'm going to start work tomorrow at the Hightower Winery. I told Mr. Rossi I would be there at 4:00 and now you are driving us far away from there. I'll have to leave at two in the morning to be able to get there on time.”
“Nonsense Bobby. I'll drive you there myself. I like to get up early to watch the sunrise.”
“We will all leave together in the morning. We are used to walking wherever we go. Thank you anyway sir.”
Leo was silent the rest of the way. He knew Millie would never let these children fend for themselves again. Bobby was in for a rude awakening if he thought life was going to continue the way it had been for this family.
“This is a mansion,” shouted Stevie from the back seat. “Is this where we are going to stay tonight?”
Bobby raised his voice to be heard of the excited voices. “Get your blankets and be quiet. We won't be here for long so don't start getting any fancy ideas.”
“Go ahead, Bobby, catch up with them. I'll bring the blankets.” Leo wasn't sure what he would do with the worn, thin blankets but he knew Millie would never let these children use them tonight.
The horse and buggy arrived a few minutes later. Harvey could see the silhouette of the seven children standing before this huge house. The sight pulled on his heartstrings.
“Come children, let's get in the warm house. Mr. Neville and Mr. Leo will find some clean clothes for you at the Mackenzie's. They have children of every size and will be willing to share until we can get you some new things.” Millie said
“We can't take your handouts ma'am. Warrens always fend for themselves. Our ma never took charity even after our pa died and we aren't going to either.”
Millie ignored his words and ushered the children upstairs into the living quarters. She was grateful that her deceased husband, Mr. Stout insisted on adding several bathrooms to the house. She couldn't imagine why they would need more than one but he was thinking ahead to the future. He imagined one day the home would be used as a boarding house and wanted to be sure there were plenty of bathrooms so that no one would be forced to use an outhouse again.
The women filled tubs for each of the smaller children. Bobby couldn't resist the bathtub when he saw it. Maybe just this once. It had been so long since he had soaked in a tub and never in a tub this luxurious. His Ma use to fill up the old metal wash tub on Saturday nights and scrub his back with lye soap. He would dry himself off with a scratchy towel. Miss Millie's towel felt like velvet next to his skin.
It wasn't long before his brothers and sisters were clean and decked out in new clothes, their hair slicked into place. Miss Addie had a place set for each one of them at the big table. The adults all had their tea or brandy.
Without prompting the children held hands and said a prayer before they ate. They were trying their best not to shovel food into their mouths but it was obvious this had been the first real meal they'd had in a very long time.
After dinner they all sat in the parlor as Miss Helene read them stories from a fairy tale book. These were the same stories she read to James when he was a youngster. It didn't take long before the younger children started drifting off. One by one they were carried into beds and tucked in. Margaret sat by their bedsides singing lullabies until they fell back to sleep.
Harvey sat with Bobby. “I know how hard it has been for you to accept what you consider charity, son. I think you will find as you grow older that it isn't charity but a friend offering a helping hand. Miss Millie saw you could use a bit of help tonight and offered her hand to you and the other children. You have done what you have to do to keep your family together. You even agreed to come here tonight so that we wouldn't call the sheriff. You knew if he got involved you would be forced to separate the children and that will never be an option for you. I'd like to hear what happened to your parents if you would like to tell me about it.”
Bobby liked this old man. He seemed to be able to read his mind. In fact, in spite of himself he liked all these old people. Ever since he and the children had been on their own they experienced the darker side of humans. They were forced to travel the undesirable areas of New York City and were chased away from most establishments. Sometimes a passerby would toss them a coin or two. Bobby felt the need to unburden himself and Harvey seemed the perfect one to listen to his story.
“Our pa worked on the big buildings in New York City. He was on scaffolding one day when the rope broke. He fell ten floors down. That was almost a year ago. My ma and sisters took in laundry and I worked delivering groceries for Mr. Ellis' General Store. We always had enough money to pay the rent and buy food. Ma said Pa wouldn't like it if we took charity so we didn't have any extras but except for missing Pa, we were doing fine. Then one day Ma started to cough. She got really sick and Willa went to get the doctor. He said she had Rheumatic fever and it did something to her heart. She was so weak she couldn't get out of bed. She kept getting sicker until one morning she didn't wake up. Willa tried to keep up with the laundry but she wasn't as good at it as Ma was and people stopped paying her do it. I still had my job at the store but there just wasn't very much money. I guess I should have paid the rent and not bought so much food because we got behind in the rent. When the landlord found out our Ma wasn't there and we were just children, he called the police. The policeman was very nice but he said we would have to go to orphanages. I knew that would mean we wouldn't ever be together again. After he left we took what we could carry in our arms and left the apartment. We have been on our own ever since.
Two days ago we were down by the railroad station and saw a boxcar with an open door. Without thinking I told the children to get on that boxcar and we would leave the city. By the time we arrived in Camden Corners, the children were getting tired. We got off the train without anyone seeing us. I spotted a handbill that said the Hightower Winery was looking for grape pickers. The children waited in the park while I went to see if they would hire me. I talked to Mr. Rossi and he said I could start in the morning. He said it was hard work but I know I can do it. Willa and Teddy will look for work in one of the shops. Callie is old enough to stay with the younger children while we work.”
“How old is Callie, son?”
“She turned 9 on her last birthday.”
“Son, you have an early day tomorrow. Maybe you'd better get to bed. I am staying at the boarding house down the road but I will be here tomorrow to check on your family. I know you will do a fine job picking grapes. Mr. Rossi is a very nice man. He will be a good boss too. Don't worry about the children. They will do just fine and together we will figure out a solution to your living arrangements.”
Harvey sat by himself in the parlor sipping his brandy. Margaret walked into the room.
“Are you having a hard time sleeping too? I can't stop thinking about those children and what is to happen to them,” said Margaret.
“I've been thinking of nothing but them. Tell me if you think this is a terrible idea. You remember I told you Reggie Blackburn is building a house for me by the lake. There are only four bedrooms but I don't think it's too late for Reggie to add a couple more. I'm thinking of adopting the children. Am I too old to do such a thing? I've never been married and never had a child of my own, do you think they would just laugh at me?”
“Harvey, I think it's a wonderful idea. I was thinking of adopting them myself. I have a big house in Albany and I know I would have enough room for all of them. I don't think either of us are too old to adopt but we may be too single. I understand they prefer placing children in two parent homes.”
“That would be a bonus if you would marry me Margaret. I was planning to court you in style before I asked you but under the circumstances, maybe we could do our courting after we are married.”
“Harvey, we barely know each other. It would be scandalous if we were married after such a short time. Who would have thought at my age I'd be involved in a scandal?” Margaret laughed.
“We both have a lot to think about. Maybe tomorrow we can meet with Oscar Crowley. I'd better get back to the boarding house. May I give you a kiss goodnight?” he asked
“Since we are contemplating a future together with our seven children, I think it would be very appropriate and also very welcome.”
Harvey took her in his arms and kissed her. He had forgotten how nice a woman felt against him. He wondered why he had wasted most of his life being an old curmudgeon. He had a good feeling that he would never be alone again and he was looking forward to sharing the future with the woman he loved.
Helene was saying goodnight to Neville when she noticed Margaret and Harvey walking hand in hand toward the porch. He kissed her again and they heard him say, “I love you Mama.”
“What in the world are you saying? Don't tell me Margaret is in the family way already,” Neville laughed.
“We are both thinking of being in the family way. The ready made type family,” said Harvey.
“Oh that would be wonderful. Neville and I were talking about that just now. We want those children to stay together and that would mean you would be staying in Camden Corners, Margaret.”
“I'd say there is a very good possibility of that happening.”
The two men walked down the hill together. “Neville, be honest with me. Do you think I'm crazy taking on a family of seven? I can't tell you why I feel the need to be a father at my age. I have fallen in love with a woman and seven children in just the last few days.”
“I'd say it was about time old chap. You are long overdue.”