I tried my best to stay still. But so much fussin’ invited me to fidget. I had never been as clean as I was on that day. I thought that the pine tar soap would do, but Bella insisted on usin’ the last bit of rose soap that she’d been savin’ for a special occasion. I told her to save it for herself, but she said that me meetin’ my aunt was more important than anything else she could have anticipated.
Silas brought me a pair of fine breeches and a shirt as good as new. When Bella held a piece of a lookin’ glass before me, my cheeks caught fire. There was no place in the tree for a boy as fancy as the one who looked back at me.
“You’re such a fine young man,” Bella said.
“Wouldn’t Abigail be proud?” Nettie asked as if she might faint away.
“She’d like me the other way better,” I said.
“Oh, Samuel,” Bella said, “let’s get some gruel before you go. I think that Polly saved some warmed bones. Are they not one of your favorites?”
Lost somewhere in the bits and pieces of what I used to know, I nodded. The voices around me had become nothin’ more than the busy cluckin’ of layin’ hens first thing in the mornin’. Why did Polly save the bones for me? Had she gone mad?
I got to thinkin’ that all the commotion was but a dream, and I’d wake up in my sack down in lock-up, away from the women. And with my monocle curl in place, I’d look up at the high shelf where the fiddle waited for after the chores and when I came down from the tree. Yet, even that had become a dream. Or, maybe there was some sort of secret or trick, and everyone knew ‘cept me.
The voices of the curious ones rumbled, while the eyes of the silent ones looked beyond me. My cheeks burst into flames. Agnes. Where is Agnes? Right then, nothin’ else mattered. I needed to see her. Somehow, I had lost her along the way. She couldn’t be lost. It wasn’t allowed. Just as my breaths started to quicken, I remembered that I would be back. I exhaled. Yes, I was excited to meet Aunt Sarah, but who knew what would happen next?
When we got to the dinin’ room, I stopped, wantin’ to hide from the many eyes upon me. It was worse than the curious looks and whispers after Mamma lost her battle with Death. Only, I preferred that to an uproar.
“Come on, Samuel,” Bella said. “You mustn’t be late. The train is always on time.”
It’s not that I hadn’t been in it before—the all-out ruckus—but it usually wasn’t about me. It was always about someone else, when they got to leave, or if they died, like Dolly May. It happened when they wanted to string up someone like Elam, or when George got all liquored up and fired his gun.
This time they were wrong. I wasn’t the boy they wanted me to become. I was still me, one of them.
Of course, I didn’t expect folks to be forever rooted in a sad condition or fearful state, but I liked things as they were. Even Blind Dorothy laughed as she looked my way with her unseein’ eyes. My longin’ for a typical day was oddly met by the smug faces of the head shakers as they remained true to their sourness.
Even though I had moved in on the men’s side, I still ate at the same table as I did before. Everyone stared at the warmed bones on my plate. I would have stared too if they were on someone else’s plate.
“Aren’t you going to eat? Of course, you know you should,” Bella said.
I looked over my shoulder where Mr. Russell—who saw no point in eatin’ with utensils— was eatin’ his gruel with his fingers. I got up from my seat, went over to him, and set my plate down before him.
A hush fell over the room as all eager eyes fell upon us. Mr. Russell slowly licked his fingers before pushin’ his gruel aside. Curlin’ his arm around the plate of warmed bones, he hunched over and devoured them in what seemed like one bite.
Samuel J. Hodgdon II ~ July 26, 1878 ~ County Poor Farm
Excerpt: Down from the Tree
Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series - Book Three