By Christy <Attalanta@aol.com>
Submitted January 1999
Summary: In this first part of the author's three-part series, Martha tells the story of how she met Jonathan.
This started out as a simple explanation of something Martha said in Ides of Metropolis (that Jonathan was the first man she kissed, and would be the last). The story grew so much that I had to divide it into three parts. The Bible passage quoted is from I Corinthians, 13:9-12 of the King James version and the lyrics to Somewhere Over the Rainbow are from The Wizard of Oz. All feedback is appreciated.
The old woman dried her hands on the soft towel hanging next to the sink and, flipping the light switch off first, left the bathroom. She headed towards her bedroom, only to be distracted by the hint of a light from downstairs. She followed the soft path of light to the kitchen, where a lanky, dark-complected girl stood at the sink, gulping indelicately from a glass of water.
The girl jumped visibly, then turned around to face her grandmother.
"Nope," she admitted, rinsing the glass out before placing it on the drying rack next to the sink. Sighing, she said, "Nothing new there," and turned to go upstairs.
"How 'bout if I tell you a story? Just like when you were a little girl and afraid to go to sleep after a nightmare."
The girl smiled, joining her grandmother in recalling the frightening nightmares she'd had as a child, and how her father, or grandmother, if she was visiting her grandparents, would wake up and stay with her until she fell asleep again. It hadn't been rare for them to spend hours trying to get her back to sleep; singing, reading, counting sheep, they had tried it all, but to no avail. She had to wait to grow out of her nightmares and, hopefully, out of her insomnia as well.
"A story sounds great," the girl agreed, as she went into the family room and settled onto the couch. "What about how you and Grandpa met?"
The grandmother nodded. "I was thinking we could go upstairs. In case you fall asleep. Sleeping on this couch all night'll give you a stiff neck in the morning."
"'What if I fall asleep?'" the girl repeated, shaking her head in amusement. "I wish! It's a lot cooler down here, though."
"Well, then, what if *I* fall asleep?" the grandmother asked her with a mile.
"Then I'll carry you upstairs."
"You wouldn't be able to carry me upstairs!" the older woman exclaimed, amused at the idea.
"And why not?" The old woman looked at her granddaughter, her bare, gangly legs folded beneath her on the couch. Then she looked down at her own body, always small, now shrinking with age. Probably her granddaughter was right; she could carry her upstairs.
Then she remembered the girl's developing super-strength. Okay, *definitely* she could. The old woman smiled; her granddaughter would be happy that she'd forgotten about her Powers, even for a split second, so she told her and was rewarded with a pleased smile.
The grandmother relented, took a seat next to the girl, and the two found a comfortable position leaning against each other.
"Your grandpa and I were very lucky to have met."
The girl smiled, remembering the many times she'd heard this story before. There was more to the story every time her grandmother told it; the years had been kind to the grandmother's memory, and the girl guessed that, since she was a teenager, her grandmother felt more and more comfortable sharing the more, oh, *rebellious* parts of the story.
"Your grandfather grew up right here in Smallville, and I was born in a big city on the East Coast…"
"Now you be a good girl and don't give the Websters any trouble, Martha," my grandmother said as we waited for the airplane that would take me to Smallville, Kansas, to arrive. I was twelve years old, on the cusp of boardingschool, and complications with my father's poor health sent me to Kansas for the summer. My grandmother, my mother's mother, had decided that the best thing to do with me that summer would be to send me off to visit distant cousins in Kansas. Mother spent nearly all of her time taking care of my father, and this summer they were headed to some clinic in Sweden to try an experimental procedure that wasn't legal in the U.S. I didn't know Frances Webster, my mother's cousin, or her husband or children, but before I could object (not that anyone would have listened), I was on my way to spend three months with them.
I nodded at my grandmother's request and blinked back a tear. "Now you know you're very lucky to be flying in an airplane," my grandmother reminded me, as if that could take my mind off my sick father, too-busy-for-me mother, and the strangers with whom I'd be spending the summer. In a way, I suppose I was lucky — it was 1950 and, even though the Depression had been ushered out by new booming war-time industries, most people still didn't have enough money for luxuries like airplane rides. But I'd already been on an airplane, and, besides, I could think of better places to travel to. Like Sweden. Or better yet, back to Boston. But my grandmother, the uncompromising matriarch of the family, had "suggested" that I'd be better off in Kansas, so that's where I was headed.
"First call for flight 526 to Los Angeles with stops in Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City, and Denver," an official-sounding voice droned over the airport loudspeakers, and my grandmother nudged me.
"That's your flight, Martha," she reminded me with another nudge, making me think that she was a little too anxious to get rid of me. "Now stand up and let me smooth out the wrinkles in your skirt," she commanded. I stood, she smoothed, and I picked up my tapestry carry-on as my grandmother stood up and turned her fussing hands loose on my hair, smoothing the ribbon that held my long red hair from falling into my face.
Grandmother and I headed towards the plane and, although my suitcase-less hand reached for my grandmother's, both of her fisted hands swung sternly at her sides until we reached the stewardess who was checking tickets at the gate. My grandmother explained my situation to the uniformed woman — "my little granddaughter will be flying by herself to spend the summer with cousins in Kansas" — and I was allowed to board.
The blond-haired stewardess, who smiled at me and introduced herself as "Miss Jones," promised my grandmother that she would "look out for me special," but as soon as Grandmother turned to head back to the parking lot where Joseph, our driver, was waiting in a car for her, Miss Jones passed me on to an older woman wearing the same cotton uniform as she was. The older woman, whose name was Miss Peale, helped me find the seat designated on my ticket and placed my carry-on beneath the seat in front of me. She took the seat next to mine and, thinking it was my first flight, explained what would be happening in the next few hours, how the plane would take off, and where we would be landing first. Finally a man stopped next to Miss Peale's seat and waved his ticket in front of her. It looked as if she had been sitting in his seat, so she let the man take it and she got back to work.
I spent the beginning of the flight alternately staring out the window at passing clouds and watching the man next to me, who had fallen into a deep snoring sleep after about five minutes. His head swayed back and forth on his neck like the arm of a metronome while he slept, and every once in a while his snore would be so loud that it would wake him up. But after a few more head- bobbings, he would fall right back asleep. By the time we reached Cleveland I was bored and took out my newest book, The Land of Oz, which Father had gotten for me to read on the plane ride. Grandmother complained that it was "fantastical nonsense," but Father had secretly bought it for me after we saw The Wizard of Oz.
The man next to me got off in Chicago, leaving an empty seat where Miss Peale could rest whenever she wasn't needed up by the pilot or in the back readying and passing out meals. She asked me about my family and I told her that I lived with my parents and grandparents in Boston. She wondered whether I was lonely since I was an only child (she had grown up in a house with five brothers and sisters), but I explained that I usually played with Joseph's daughter, Sophie. Joseph and his wife, Nancy, lived with their eleven-year-old daughter in the servants' quarters off of the kitchen. Miss Peale told me about her family - she wasn't married and lived with her mother, who was old and often sick.
Soon the plane landed in Kansas City and Miss Peale took my hand and my bag and lead me out of the plane and into the airport proper. I explained to her that even though I'd seen old pictures of Mrs. Webster and her family I didn't think I would recognize them. So Miss Peale waited with me at the desk at the gate until a tall, brown-haired man wearing denim overalls and a plaid shirt approached us.
"She Martha Clark?" he asked Miss Peale gruffly, avoiding looking at me. Miss Peale nodded, sizing the man up, and handed him my bag.
"I'm Dorothy Peale, one of the stewardesses. You're Martha's cousin?"
The man nodded. "She's my wife Frances's relation."
"You can pick up the rest of her luggage in the baggage claim area," Miss Peale told the man after he introduced himself as Skip Webster.
Mr. Webster nodded again in thanks, looked at me and grunted, "Come on, child, time's a wastin'," and turned, obviously expecting me to follow. I did, quickly, pausing only to shout "thank you!" and smile and wave at Miss Peale, who smiled and waved back before returning to the airplane.
Mr. Webster didn't speak to me on our way to get my luggage, and only broke his silence to ask what my bags looked like. I pointed one of the leather bags out to him, and he didn't speak again. We recovered my bags, Mr. Webster nearly rolling his eyes at my surprise when he handed me a bag to carry. I couldn't understand why he wanted me to carry a bag, but I guessed that he didn't want to make multiple trips, like Joseph did at the Boston airport. So I lifted the bag tentatively, hoping it wouldn't be too heavy. I followed him out of the airport, through a parking lot to a beat-up pick-up truck. The truck door stuck and Mr. Webster let me struggle with it for a few minutes before coming around the vehicle to open it for me. Mr. Webster didn't speak during the two-hour-long ride to Smallville either, so I watched the scenery pass by through the mud-spotted window, not knowing that I would one day call this small farming area home.
The dirty blue pick-up drove through "downtown" Smallville, and I couldn't stop my mouth from falling open in surprise. Whoever had named the town was clearly not optimistic about its potential for growth. There were only a handful of stores, including an ice cream parlour with a striped awning, a dime store advertising a sale on radios, a half-farm-supply-half-grocery called Harley's Feed Store with fresh produce displayed in barrels in front of the store, and a gray clap-board church whose shiny gold cross presided over the center of town. We continued through the town, leaving dust in our wake as we sped over the flat landscape, traveling for what seemed like hours before pulling into the driveway of an old white farmhouse.
The truck roared to a stop and, again without a word, Mr. Webster got out and slammed the door. I waited for him to come around to my side and open my door for me but I realized that he wasn't going to. I struggled with the handle and pushed the heavy door open myself, then jumped down from the truck. Mr. Webster was gathering my bags from the back of the truck and I waited until he finished, fearful he would give me the heaviest bag, but he didn't. I followed him up onto the back porch, where we found a mixed-breed dog lazily guarding a squeaky screen door. The kitchen we entered was sunlit and warm, and smelled like baking.
The door lead to the farmhouse kitchen where there stood a woman who, if I used my imagination and squinted hard, just slightly resembled my mother. Her round build reminded me of a set of hollow wooden nesting dolls, complete with a mismatched handkerchief holding back her hair, and it was her familiar strawberry-blond hair that forced me to admit that she was indeed related to me.
Seeing us, she wiped her hands on the floury apron tied around her thick waistand grinned. "Martha! My, how big you've gotten!" she exclaimed. "I'm your Aunt Frances, dear," she explained before pulling me into a warm cinnamon- scented embrace.
I bit my lip, not sure whether I should put my arms around this unfamiliar woman or simply stand there and let her hold me; handshakes were the usual manner of greeting at home, and I couldn't remember the last time a family member, never mind a perfect stranger, had hugged me. Thankfully, she let go and held me at arms' length, studying me for a minute. "You look just like your mother!"
I half-smiled and nodded my head; that was something I'd heard many times before and I guessed that, since my mother was always complimented on her youthful good looks, I should feel honored to be told I resembled her.
Mrs. Webster directed her husband as to where he could leave my bags. She then took a big bowl off the kitchen table and patted a wooden chair, which I took as my cue to sit. So I did. She sat down across from me and patted at her face in an attempt at cleaning off the flour, but succeeded only in further decorating her face. "I hope your father's doing better, and that thoseforeign doctors'll be able to help him," she said gently.
This was another compliment I was used to receiving — well-wishes for my father, who had been sick for as long as I could remember. "Thank you. I'm sure they will." She set a glass of thick yellow-white liquid in front of me, then finally plopped herself ungracefully onto the seat next to mine. She smiled at my confusion.
"It's buttermilk, dear," Mrs. Webster told me, and I nodded, taking a small sip of the thick, sour liquid and trying to hide my grimace at its taste.
Mrs. Webster reassured me with a pat on the hand, then rose from the table. She grabbed a large copper bell from the counter and stepped outside. "Skippy, Ruth, Adie, Bobby!" she yelled, clanging the bell. The loud sound surprised me and I nearly spilled the glass of buttermilk I had been scooting around the gingham tablecloth.
Mrs. Webster waited for a minute, then closed the door and set the bell back on the counter. She smiled at me, unaware of the mess I had made while her back was turned since I had covered it up with a napkin. "Your cousins'll be in in a minute," she explained as four muddy children reached the screen door.
"Shoes!" Mrs. Webster yelled, and they removed their dirty sneakers before entering. This done, the four of them pointed at me and giggled, noticing me for the first time. I wondered what Grandmother would have said about them. Probably she would've recommended their immediate enrollment in Miss Mabel's School for Young Ladies, where I'd learned how to be "a lady" while Sophie had gotten to play outside and read.
"This here is Skip, Junior." Mrs. Webster placed a hand on the shoulder of the largest child, causing him to settle down. "He's thirteen, your age, right?" I nodded and surveyed the dirty boy who stood in front of me. He shared not only his father's name but his hair color and build, and I was sure that if I stood up he would've towered over me, which wasn't all that unusual since, as everyone liked to remind me, I was rather short for my age.
"And this is Ruth," Mrs. Webster said, placing her other hand on the shoulder of the child next to Skippy, a girl with long light brown braids capped off by mismatched ribbons and a dirt-smudged face; Ruth was ten.
"And Adie," she told me, gesturing to the next oldest child, an eight-year-old with darker hair that was clipped haphazardly short, barely skimming the nape of her neck. Adie smiled a shy missing-tooth grin.
"This is Bobby, who's five." The little boy, dressed in heavily patched overalls and little else, held up a hand displaying five dirty fingers. "Little Kenny is upstairs taking a nap — you can meet him later on." She paused for a breath. "Now, Skippy and Ruth, why don't you show Martha to her room?" Mrs. Webster suggested, gesturing upstairs with one hand.
"Aw, Ma," Skippy began, but his mother cut off his protests.
"Skip Terrence Webster, Junior, I don't want to hear any crabbin' from you today," Mrs. Webster reprimanded, wagging a finger at him. "You show Martha where she'll be staying and then you can take her outside and show her the rest of the farm."
Skippy hung his head for a moment, muttered "yes, ma'am…" and barely gestured at me to follow him as he headed out of the kitchen. I could see he and I were not going to get along, which I didn't consider too big a loss.
"Come on," he ordered me, so I followed Skippy and Ruth out of the kitchen while Adie and Bobby, happy not to have to baby-sit, scampered back outside.
Skippy led us through the small downstairs, which consisted only of the kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom, of which I only got a small peak through the slightly-open door. But I had a long look at the living room and I noticed that its furniture, like the kitchen table, was well-worn. The fabric of the two sun-bleached couches, whose backs were covered by crocheted blankets, didn't match. A threadbare oval rug and a slew of children's toys covered the living room floor, and drab-brown curtains hung at the windows. I was sad not to see a piano — I'd have to find somewhere else to practice if I was going to keep up with my music studies. We stepped around a pile of folded laundry at the base of the stairs, and the loose banister knob came off in my hand when I gripped it. I stuck it back on quickly.
When he reached the top of the stairs, Skippy pointed dutifully to one of the three bedrooms. "That's the girls' room," he mumbled before racing back downstairs.
Slowly I went into the room with Ruth behind me, noticing that my suitcases had already been placed on one of the three beds, the one without a worn,homemade doll perched on its pillow. It wasn't even a bed — more of a cot, really, shoved between a dresser and the far wall, and I'd have to sleep on it all summer.
"These are mine and Adie's beds," Ruth explained quietly, "and this here one's yours." I thought longingly of my bed at home, which was large, had a brass headboard, and was covered with dolls and stuffed animals. And in its own room.
I nodded and thanked Ruth, who stood there looking at me for another minute. I wanted to be alone, to get used to this new house and the unfamiliar people in it, but Ruth just stood there staring at me. Finally she said, "So you wanna come outside with me and I can show you 'round?"
"No, thank you. I'd like to get unpacked before lunch," I explained, trying to be polite. Ruth, seemingly happy to be free of me, quickly showed me which drawers I could use before retracing Skippy's path downstairs.
When Ruth left I closed the door and sat on the squeaky metal cot, fingering the soft hand-made quilt that fitted the bed and surveying the room. I turned around, taking in each wall and the beds and dressers, wondering how the three of us were going to share a room half the size of my room at home. Covering the walls were framed embroidered cross-stitch samplers of the alphabet, the numbers one through ten, and a rendition of an old building labeled as Smallville City Hall.
I opened my bags and concentrated on fitting the many things I'd brought into the few drawers I'd been allotted. After I finished as best I could, stowing the remainder of my belongings in my suitcases and sliding them beneath my bed, I plucked my delicate, porcelain-faced doll from where I'd set her on my pillow.
She had been a Christmas gift from my father when I was six, and, after comparing her to the smaller, cheaper cloth doll Sophie had received, I'd begged Father for another one, so that my best friend and I could play with them together. It hadn't taken much prodding for him to agree to send Joseph out to get another one, and to surprise Sophie with the belated Christmas gift. I held the doll tightly to my chest and snuggled into a ball on the bed, covering my eyes before the tears came.
"Martha, was dinner not to your liking? Martha? *Martha!*"
"Huh?" I looked up. I had been pushing my dinner around the yellow-edged plate in front of me, not paying any attention to the conversation until Mrs. Webster called out my name.
"Did you not like dinner?" she repeated, and now everyone sitting around the cramped table turned to look at me except for Kenny, who was poking his chubby little fingers into the mashed potatoes smeared across his high chair tray.
"Oh, uh, it was fine, Mrs. Webster," I told her, and managed a bite of fried chicken. But Skippy noticed that my potatoes were still untouched.
"You didn't eaten any potatoes," Skippy accused, and I poked at them with my fork. "Mother made them for you. She even made her good gravy, the kind that she only makes for special occasions."
"Um, well, I'm not very hungry." And I wasn't, but the real reason I wasn't eating was that the 'special gravy' that Mrs. Webster had poured generously over my potatoes was strange-tasting, and I didn't like it. Skippy narrowed his eyes at me, then turned and whispered something to Adie, who was sitting next to him.
Just to show Skippy that he was wrong about me not liking his mother's cooking, I refused dessert, a walnut brownie. I could've managed to choke down the brownie; it actually looked pretty good. But no, I decided. I didn't want Skippy to think that he was right, so I sat at the table while the Websters enjoyed their dessert.
At home in the evenings I usually watched a television program or two, and then maybe played with Sophie. I hadn't noticed a television in the Websters' living room, but I figured that one of the children would show me where it was before the good programming began for the night.
Grandfather and Daddy, when he wasn't napping, liked to watch "Meet the Press" with Lawrence Spivak, and Mother's favorites were the variety shows, like The Perry Como Show, and also Cavalcade of the Stars, with Art Carney and Jackie Gleason. Grandmother pretended not to like television, claiming that her women's club had heard that it could make you near-sighted, or even blind, but I noticed that she always happened to be in the room when Sophie and I were watching our favorite drama, I Remember Mama.
But no one mentioned television, and, as it got late, I began to wonder where it was.
"Where do you keep your television set?" I asked.
Skippy guffawed. That was the only word to describe it - guffaw. "What are you, crazy? We don't have a television set!" he said, as though the fact was obvious. "The only family I know who has a television are the Marshalls, in Danbury."
"You don't?" I couldn't believe it. All of my friends' families had televisions, and Sophie's family even had their own set in their living quarters, though Sophie often watched with me in our living room.
"No," Ruth said defensively. "At night we play outside, or read stories, or sing, or listen to radio programs."
"Radio programs?!" I felt like I'd traveled back in time to the 20s or something!
"Yeah, *radio* programs," Skippy repeated sternly, as if he were daring me to criticize.
Just then Mrs. Webster turned her head away from the sewing machine that sat near the window in the living room. "Have the radio programs started yet?" she asked. "I'd like to listen to 'My Favorite Husband.' That Lucille Ball is my favorite."
"It's not on tonight, Ma," Skippy told Mrs. Webster, and she promptly returned to her sewing. "'My Favorite Husband's' the only show she'll listen to, except for 'Blondie,' sometimes, but Pa doesn't like 'Blondie,' so we don't usually listen to it."
"Are you putting that gosh-darned 'Blondie' program on again?" Mr. Webster asked as if on cue, lowering the day's issue of the pathetically thin Smallville Press.
"No, Pa," Skippy said, rolling his eyes. "A detective program is on tonight. I'm not sure which one."
It turned out to be 'The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe,' whoever *he* was. After being used to television, radio programs were pretty boring. Adie and Ruth didn't like Nero Wolfe either, so the three of us went outside, and Ruth and Adie introduced me to the animals in the barn before it got dark and Mrs. Webster called us in for the night.
A few hours later Mrs. Webster called to us from the foot of the stairs. "Children, I'm putting Kenny to bed, so it's time for the story." She was heading into the boys' bedroom, a half-asleep Kenny in tow. The rest of the children raced upstairs behind her, and I followed dutifully.
"Ma reads us all a bedtime story before Kenny goes to bed. The rest of us don't have to be in bed yet, but she reads it early so we can all listen. Later Pa'll read from the Bible, for us older kids only, though," Ruth told me conspiratorially, as if I should be proud to be considered an 'older kid.'
All seven of us crowded on the two beds in the boys' room, and Mrs. Webster began that night's story, Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski, and since I'd already read it, I let my mind drift, thinking of the unfinished copy of The Land of Oz that I'd tucked in my suitcase. That night's selection wasn't very long, and when Mrs. Webster finished she closed the book quietly and slipped Kenny, who'd fallen asleep, into a wooden crib near the window.
The rest of us, besides Bobby, who was told to go wash up since his bedtime was next, went downstairs. Even though it was practically dark by then, a group of boys knocked on the door to ask whether Skippy could come out and play. He dashed off behind them. Ruth got out a cross-stitch sampler and bothered her mother to help her get out a rather large knot that she'd managed to work into the floss.
And I stood at the foot of the steps, unsure of what to do, until Adie came up to me and tugged gently on my hand. "Want to come upstairs and meet my dollies?" she offered generously, and, since I had nothing better to do, I followed her and was introduced to the dolls who lived in a miniature hand-carved crib beneath her bed. We played with the dolls for a bit, and Adie kindly let me play with her favorite, the one who occupied the place of honor on her bed, and who, strangely enough, was named Malaria.
We headed back downstairs just in time to see Mr. Webster rise slowly from his chair, put his paper on a small coffee table next to the chair, and head towards the kitchen. Minutes later his voice barked out the back door. "SKIPPY!"
Only one call was needed for Skippy to return inside, and Mrs. Webster warned Adie that her bedtime was next, so she better get upstairs. That seemed to beRuth's cue to retrieve the family's copy of the King James Bible from a well- stocked bookshelf in the corner of the room.
Indeed, after Adie was put to bed, the older Websters and I sat in a circle around Mr. Webster, who had taken his seat in the living room again. He took the thick, much-worn volume that Ruth offered him, and opened it to the bookmarked page.
That night was First Corinthians: "'For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall now even as also I am known.' What do you suppose that means, children?"
Skippy and Ruth shrugged their shoulders, and Mr. Webster turned to me. "Well, young lady, what do *you* think it means?"
His voice sounded a little harsh, like he was daring me to interpret the passage correctly, like the minister at my church at home did with young children. "Uh," I stalled. I hadn't been paying attention to the whole passage, rather, I'd been wondering what time I'd have to go to bed that night, and whether Mrs. Webster would come upstairs to tuck me in the way she had with her own children.
So I repeated the last portion of the passage in my head, trying to think what it meant, so that I could show Mr. Webster that I *did* know something, that I wasn't just some dumb kid. I really hated being called "young lady."
"I think," I began, "I think it means that when we're young we can only understand a little bit about things, like how the world works, and that when we grow up we'll understand more."
Mrs. Webster nodded her head and smiled proudly, and Skippy looked at me with jealous, narrowed eyes, but Mr. Webster still hadn't commented on my interpretation. I knew it was correct, or at least partly correct, because I remember our minister from home giving a sermon on that reading a few months back I knew I remembered at least a little of what he's said, even though I didn't like him very much and didn't always pay attention to his sermons.
"Close, young lady, close," Mr. Webster said, and I figured that "close" was all the praise he could muster. "What it means, children, is that you must listen to your parents. Always listen to your parents. That is what the reading meant when it said that you will put away childish things when you become a man; when you grow up, when you stop playing like a child, you will know more and will not have to listen to your parents anymore. Then you will be adults and be allowed to move out and have your own jobs and families," he announced matter-of-factly.
I knew he was wrong. Father John, our priest at home, hadn't said anything like that, not at all. And he'd been trained to be a priest. Mr. Webster hadn't. I was sure that Father John had been to priest school, or wherever priests were taught, and had learned what everything that was written in the Bible really meant. Otherwise how could he tell us what it meant every Sunday?
But Skippy, who had stopped making faces at me, nodded obediently at their father, and even Mrs. Webster, who'd seemed to agree with me, smiled softly at her husband before telling Ruth that she'd better get ready for bed.
That left me with Skippy, and Mr. and Mrs. Webster, so I announced that I was tired from the long flight that morning, and headed upstairs behind Ruth. She chattered away about the picnic that was being held after church the next day, and how I'd get to meet all the other kids and the Sunday School teacher, who, from Ruth's glowing recommendation, seemed to be nearly perfect. At least a disciple, if not God's right-hand man.
But Ruth stopped talking and pressed her forefinger over her lips in a "sh" gesture before we opened the door to the bedroom. "Adie's sleeping," she reminded me, and we went into the room. We couldn't turn on the light for fear of waking Adie, so we found our pajamas (Ruth wore a long flower-print nightgown and I had a pair of yellow baby doll pajamas), and dressed in the
"Oh, Adie - she can sleep through anything, even really loud thunderstorms. We won't wake her."
"But I thought you said…"
"Just because Ma would've gotten mad if she heard us talking. She's always afraid that I'll wake Adie, but I never have."
"Martha?" Ruth asked again.
"I just wanted to tell you that the reason Skippy was making faces at you was because *he's* always the one who understands what the Bible passages mean. But since he didn't know this one he was mad that you did. But don't let him bother you," she instructed me. "I think it was great that you understood what it meant, *especially* because Skippy didn't know."
Even though the room was dark I knew that Ruth was smiling at me from her bed. I smiled back. "Thanks, Ruth." Then I heard her turn over in her bed, and a moment later a high-pitched snore joined Adie's in chorus.
But I couldn't fall asleep. I kept hearing strange noises coming from out the window. All the familiar noises of home were gone, replaced by what were probably wild animals trying to climb up the side of the house and into the bedroom. It was a warm summer night, but I felt a shiver run through my body, and got up to close the window, even though a nice breeze had been blowing in and tickling my toes.
I turned my thoughts to the prayers that I had thought a few minutes ago. I had prayed for Mother and Daddy, that they'd get to Sweden safely and that Daddy's experimental treatment would finally make him better. Grudgingly, I'd also said a prayer for Grandmother and Grandfather. When I was younger I used to not pray for them, since Grandmother especially liked to be mean and boss me around, but I always felt guilty about it. So I'd rectified the situation in my mind by praying that Grandmother and Grandfather would be nice.
That night I'd added the Websters to my prayers, backwards and unsophisticated as they were. I had added my grandparents clause when I prayed for Skippy and Mr. Webster, that they be nice to me, but hadn't felt it to be necessary for any of the other Websters. Then I had thought about Sophie and what she and her parents were doing back in Boston. It was an hour later there, so probably she was in bed, too. I wondered what television program she'd watched that night (for I was pretty sure that she hadn't listened "The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe," as the Websters had), and what she was planning to do tomorrow after she went to services at the Catholic church across town that her family attended.
Finally I had thought, loudly, but only in my head so I wouldn't wake Adie even if she *was* a sound sleeper like Ruth claimed, to please let me go back home real soon.
"You about ready, Martha? Make sure you dress nicely. Remember, all of Smallville's going to be at the picnic." Mrs. Webster knocked softly on the open door of the bedroom I was sharing with Ruth and Adie. It was Sunday, my second day with the Websters, and I was dressing for church.
"I know, Mrs. Webster," I intoned dutifully, quickly gathering up belongings and placing them in my purse. I'd been in Smallville for less than a day by then, but had heard Mrs. Webster's reminder to "dress nicely" a million times already. I knew she was used to having to remind her heathen-like children to dress up — Skippy's whiny moans that accompanied Mrs. Webster's reminders made that obvious — but she didn't have to remind me. From the glimpses I got while Adie and Ruth were dressing earlier this morning, my everyday clothes were nicer than the Websters' dress-up ones anyway.
Before dinner last night Mrs. Webster had explained to me that today, besides usual church services and in lieu of Sunday School, which I would be attending next week, the church would be sponsoring a summer picnic. It would give me a good opportunity to meet other children my age, she said, and promised I would have a wonderful time. So I had dressed carefully, wearing my nicest summer clothes, an apple green dress with matching hair bows, and a new pair of white patent shoes.
I was still checking the contents of my purse when Mrs. Webster again reminded me to "hurry up, Martha." It seemed strange that she, and all of the Websters, were in such a hurry this morning. Their eagerness to get to the picnic seemed strange considering their limited preparations for the event. I knew that Skippy, despite playing outside the day before and making himself filthy, hadn't taken a bath. Ruth and Adie hadn't even combed their hair before sprinting downstairs to wait in the truck, and Adie was in such a hurry that she didn't even bother switching from sneakers to dress shoes.
I, on the other hand, took my time and made sure that my hair was combed and tied back neatly after my morning bath. Now I was trying to switch my things from my everyday purse to the special one that matched my favorite dress, and I snapped shut the clasp of my purse and joined Mrs. Webster at the doorway. She led me down the steps, through the house, and outside.
When we got outside I could see that the Webster children were crowded in the back of the same pick-up truck that their father had driven to the airport to pick me up the day before. Didn't they have another car? What happened when it rained or snowed? Didn't they all get cold and wet?
That morning everyone was dressed up (at least compared to the previous day) and they had to sit in a dusty pick-up all the way to church. Mr. and Mrs. Webster up front with little Kenny, keeping themselves clean, but the rest of the family was hanging out the back of the truck like a bunch of monkeys. Accompanied by a groan from Skippy due to my cautious movement, I climbed uneasily into the truck, careful not to let the skirt of my dress fly up in the dusty Kansas wind. When I finally sat myself down inside the truck I was glad that Mr. Webster had set a fresh, fairly clean-looking, blanket down on the hot metal floor of the truck, because otherwise my dress would have gotten dirty before we even pulled out of the Websters' driveway.
The ride to the church was bumpy in the back of the Websters' truck, which smelled just slightly like manure. Before yesterday I hadn't had any idea what manure smelled like, but since then I'd quickly become well-acquainted with the aroma. Though early June, the air was hot and dry, and I could taste the dust as we sped towards the "downtown" area. I wasn't impressed.
I tried to get a better look at this dusty small town as we drove through, but wasn't really able to since I had to dodge the red rubber ball that Skippy and Adie were throwing back and forth across the back of the truck. I did manage, however, to catch sight of several old farmhouses that, like the Websters' house, were in need of either a fresh coat of paint, a new roof, or the talents of a professional gardener. We passed several fields decorated with inches-high crops, and I was surprised not to see anything resembling the patchwork patterns of crops depicted in books.
As the truck approached the church I could hear organ music drifting through the air, and when we pulled into the church parking lot I saw that unless there were townspeople packed like sardines inside the church, "all of Smallville" wasn't very impressive.
I realized that Mrs. Webster meant that the whole town was the same religion, some denomination of Protestant, I remembered Mrs. Webster telling me last night. This struck me as odd; many of my friends from Boston practiced different religions and in addition I knew of others who, while Protestant, went to churches other than St. Matthew's, where gold placards labeled with both our last name and that of my grandparents adorned our pew.
The truck had hardly pulled to a stop before Skippy jumped out, running to join a group of boys who were gathered near the back entrance of the church. The rest of the Webster children followed him in quick succession, but I hesitated for a minute, trying to remember how I'd held my dress when I climbed into the truck so that I could do it again. Mrs. Webster noticed my delay, and I took the hand she offered to help me climb out of the truck.
Because she was the only one, besides baby Kenny, who hadn't run off, I had no choice but to follow Mrs. Webster to a group of women, each of whom was either holding the hand of, or was large-waisted with the expectations of, children.
"Frances!" one of the women exclaimed, "we were beginning to think that you all weren't coming!"
Mrs. Webster laughed, re-secured her grip on a wriggling Kenny, who seemed to want to take off after his older siblings, and greeted each of the women.
"Now this must be Martha," a woman Mrs. Webster had addressed as "Mrs. Lang" said in a smooth voice.
Her comment caught me off guard, and I carefully surveyed Mrs. Lang's face, seeing curiosity and… was that judgment? I had been prepared to play the part of the stranger, suffering through countless introductions during that day's church social and perhaps a few reminders during next week's Sunday School class.
But, as I scanned the gaggle of women, I realized it wasn't just Mrs. Lang - they *all* knew who I was. Each woman aimed her prying eyes at me, taking in my red hair and pale, freckled skin, my dress, and finally my shoes in their scan down my body.
I crossed my arms over my chest uncomfortably — what were they looking at? — I concentrated my gaze on each of them in turn, taking in graying housewife hair, well-sewn but out-of-style dresses, and small runny-nosed children attached by hip or hand.
"Yes, this is Martha Clark, my cousin Elizabeth's daughter. *You know,* the one from Boston," Mrs. Webster said with a knowing grin. I bit my lip to keep from screaming; I was used to downtown Boston, where you saw more strangers than friends, and where people walked busily down freshly-paved streets without acknowledging passersby. It was lonely sometimes, but at least I knew how to act. This was a whole new world and I was having a hard time deciding if these women were trying to be friendly or if their interest in me was just crude curiosity.
I surveyed the rest of the church-goers. Most of the children were off playing, but many of the adults and some older children's eyes were focused on the small group of women gathered around me. I was the only stranger here, I realized, and if all of these women already knew about my family and why I was here, probably all of their husbands and most of their children also knew. This put me at a distinct disadvantage, I realized, since the only people I knew, and those just barely, were the Websters. I didn't want strangers knowing the kind of intimate details of my life that Mrs. Webster had probably passed along. It was none of their business that my mother and my sick father had been forced to dump me with strange relatives for the summer. I wanted to share those details in my own time and in my own way or maybe not at all.
"How old are you, Martha?" one of the women asked me, smiling as though she was genuinely interested in me, and not just the gossip I was generating.
I smiled back; this woman, even though she was part of the group in front of me, wasn't scrutinizing me. No, this woman's eyes were kind and, even though she probably knew the answer, she'd asked my age anyway.
"I'm twelve, Mrs…" My voice trailed off since I hadn't been formally introduced to any of the women in front of me yet.
"Oh, I'm sorry, dear," Mrs. Webster said. "This is Mrs. Kent," she told me, and proceeded to introduce the rest of the women, but I tuned out after the fourth one, realizing that even if I did remember the names, I wouldn't be able to connect them with the correct prying faces.
Just after Mrs. Webster finished her introductions, the church bell clanged and the parishioners all hurried inside, taking their assigned seats in placard-less rows.
During the service I tried to concentrate on the minister's sermon and the readings and different traditions of the church, but the whole time all I could feel was the curious eyes of strangers drilling into me. After a while I just gave up trying to pay attention since I couldn't help wondering what Smallville had been told about me. They had to know more than the simple fact that I was coming to visit, I could tell that from the way Mrs. Webster had introduced me to her friends. Did they know how sick my father was? That my mother was always taking care of him?
After the services were over, I followed Mrs. Webster to a pew where one of the woman was quieting a crying baby. The rest of the women also gathered there and began whispering about Mrs. So-and-So's dress and Mrs. Someone Else's husband who had been seen with the schoolteacher last night. I felt bad for Mrs. So-and-So and Mrs. Someone Else, but at least they weren't talking about me. No, these women weren't rude enough to discuss me while I was there.
"We must be boring you to death, Martha!" Mrs. Webster said, interrupting the flow of the conversation. "Why don't you go find one of the children… There! Ruth, dear, why don't you take Martha and go play? Introduce her to some of the other children, maybe some who'll be in her Sunday School class next week," Mrs. Webster suggested when she saw her eldest daughter head towards the door out of the church.
"Sure, Ma," Ruth said and, taking my hand, led me away from the women. "I guess I can introduce you to my friends," Ruth told me as we headed out into the bright June sun, "but I don't know many girls your age. Skippy might, but good luck finding him. He and some other kids are exploring the creek behind the church," Ruth told me.
"Probably all the boys your age are there now, and the girls are most likely in the kitchen helping get the stuff ready for the picnic. But those girls are silly — all they ever do is talk about boys. We can go play with my friends, okay?" Ruth offered shyly, as if she were expecting me to spurn her friends just because they were younger than I was.
I smiled back at Ruth and nodded, following her to a group of ten and eleven year old girls. She introduced me and I was pleasantly surprised to see that most didn't seem to know who I was already. I introduced myself and said I was visiting for the summer, and that was enough for them. They looked at me in awe: I was older and came from a big city. For a while I joined the girls in sometimes-familiar games, and when the games weren't familiar, they took the time to teach me. We played jacks following different rules than I'd every used, and I looked forward to getting back to Boston to teach them to Sophie.
A little while later I excused myself, explaining that I needed to find a powder room. I had to explain what a "powder room" was before receiving directions from Ruth and funny stares from the other girls.
I headed back into the church following Ruth's directions and found not only the powder room but a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade when I passed by the table of refreshments watched over mostly by girls my age and a little older, supervised by one of the women I recognized from the group of Mrs. Webster's friends from earlier. I took the glass of lemonade they offered me and explored the rest of the church, eventually finding myself on a screened-in porch that seemed to be used for storage, even though I couldn't find a light switch to see the contents of the room very well. I turned to head out of the stopped when I heard voices mention my name.
"… name's Martha. She's related to Mrs. Webster, I think, and she's staying the summer with them. She *flew* here. In an actual airplane!"
"Wow - an airplane! I thought only people in the Army got to ride in those. I wonder what it's like to fly…" another voice marveled.
"Did you catch that get-up she had on? What would a rich girl like her be doin' spending the summer in Smallville with the Websters?"
"My mother said that Mrs. Johnson said that Mrs. Webster told her that she's *practically* an orphan. Her daddy and momma dumped her off with the Websters cuz her daddy is sick and is goin' all the way to Europe to see some doctor. I wonder how they got all their money, if the father's so sick," a girl's voice wondered.
"Maybe her whole family is rich and they passed the money down or somethin', like the Marshalls over in Danbury," a different voice said knowingly.
"Or maybe they stole the money!" another voice speculated. "Kinda like that radio program last week, with the rich family everyone liked until they found out the father was a thief!"
"Wow, maybe her family's in the mafia or somethin'!"
"No, the mafia's made up of Italians, stupid!" a boy corrected. "And she don't look Italian, not with her red hair and white skin. And her name isn't Italian, either."
"Yea, Pete, like you know lots of Italians," a voice joked.
"Did you hear the way she talks? 'I'm from 'Bah-stun.'' That's actually what she said! Could you believe it?" a voice snickered, and laughter erupted from the group of unseen strangers. I found myself blinking back tears, as though what they said mattered to me.
"Yea, and she called the bathroom the 'pah-dah room!'"
"You should hear what Skippy said about her. He said she brought all these new dresses in fancy matching luggage and there wasn't even enough room for all her things in the bedroom. He said she has this fancy-schmancy doll that looks like it has real human hair! I wonder where she got it from."
"Skippy told *me* that he's gonna have to teach her to do chores around the farm cuz she doesn't know anything," a different voice put in. "She didn't even know how to wash dishes or cook or *anything*, and she told Skippy it was because her family has a whole other family who lives in their house and cooks for them!"
"Wow! I wish we had a family to cook for us!"
They kept making fun of me, but I couldn't hear it anymore because my heart was pounding in my ears and I was trying to keep from being heard as I cried. I sunk down onto the floor, no longer caring about dirtying my apple green dress, and dug my fists into my eyes to stop the tears.
What did those stupid kids know? So what if my family had money? It's not like it made my life any better — my father was still sick and my mother had to spend all of her time taking care of him.
I sat there, wiping my eyes and runny nose with my hand because I had been so hurried getting ready I'd forgotten my handkerchief back at the Websters' house — darn that Mrs. Webster, anyway.
Suddenly I heard footsteps and an overhead light went on. I jumped to my feet and turned to face the intruder, expecting to see Ruth looking for me since I'd been gone so long, but instead a strange boy stood in the door frame. He was tall, with wavy dark hair. He looked older than me, maybe fourteen or so, and seemed embarrassed to have found a strange kid crying in the storage room.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked me after noticing the tear tracks that must have been running down my cheeks. I nodded, then sniffed and recovered my breath from my sobs so that I could answer him.
"I'm fine," I assured him, and tried to push my way past him through the door. But he didn't move to let me by so I looked at him with raised eyebrows, then eyed the door.
"Here," he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a handkerchief, which he handed to me. "You look like you could use this."
"Thanks," I sniffed and accepted his offering, using it to clean up. He turned away, picked up a box sitting just outside the door, and brought it into the storage room. He must have been in the process of moving the box in here when he found me.
"What happened?" he asked in a soft voice, and for some reason he gently set one hand on my shoulder and patted reassuringly. That was something my father did to comfort me, and the gesture nearly collapsed me into tears again.
As it was, I leaned into the unknown boy's shoulder, and he rubbed my back as my tears began to flow again. I explained, between sobs and pathetic hiccups, what had happened, starting with Mrs. Webster and the women this morning, and ending with what I'd just heard the group of kids say. When I finished I looked up at him, embarrassed and ready to apologize for telling so much without even knowing this boy's name, but something familiar and friendly in his face made me swallow my apology.
"It's okay," he reassured me. "Those kids are just stupid — they don't even know you. Probably most of them haven't even met you. What do they know about your life?"
I thought for a minute and realized he was probably right. But it didn't make their comments hurt any less, and I told him as much.
"You're right, I'm sure what they said did hurt, but kids aren't used to new faces. They're probably just scared — they don't know you and people are always afraid of what they don't know."
"But what about the adults?" I asked him. "Most of the women Mrs. Webster introduced me to were the same way," I lamented.
"I don't think those women were trying to be mean — I think they were trying to be friendly. If they were gossiping behind your back, well, that *would* be rude, but I think they were just trying to be nice." I looked at him through narrowed eyes. He hadn't been there. He didn't know.
Considering my skepticism, Jonathan thought for a minute before continuing. "Well, here in Smallville we don't see many strangers. When someone new comes into town it's always a big thing and everyone gets all nosy and gossipy. But we're usually okay once we get to know you," he added.
I attempted a smile and slowly moved away from him. I felt unexpectedly at ease being comforted by this boy, but my city-brain kept telling me that I didn't know him, that I should beware of the stranger in front of me no matter how nice he seemed.
Suddenly I realized, had the situation been reversed, I would have been as wary of myself as everyone here was. I wanted to be careful around this boy because I didn't know him, a cautious attitude I'd previously attributed to my being from a city, but these small town people were careful, too. The only difference was that they already knew about me; if I were at home I wouldn't have any foreknowledge about strangers.
"I guess I can understand why they'd be cautious," I admitted. "But I *still* don't like that they know everything about me and I don't even know their names."
The boy smiled and ushered me out of the storage room, leading me towards the building's back door. "Where are you taking me?" I asked with a curious smile.
"You'll see," he promised me as he led me away from the building and near a grove of trees.
"Why should I go with you?" I asked him cautiously. "I don't even know your name." And those trees over there look suspiciously like a dark alley, I added to myself. What was this boy up to? Probably he was in cahoots with the other kids, and his part in their plan was to get me over to those trees where they would knock me down and take my purse…
"Jonathan," he told me, cutting through my admittedly unlikely train of thought. "Jonathan Kent," he said as he stopped walking and turned to me, offering me a hand to shake.
I took it and, for some reason, my hand lingered in his for a minute. "And your name is," his voice trailed off.
I smiled; I knew he knew my name — everyone here knew my name and my mother's name and why I was here and… But I played along anyway. "I'm Martha Clark."
"Pleased to meet you, Martha," he said, not letting go of my hand as he led me towards the clump of trees. Once we reached them, he let go and gestured up towards one of the thicker-branched trees. I looked at him expectantly. "After you," he insisted, completely ignoring the fact that I had on one of my best dresses and a good pair of shoes, as well as new silk stockings and nice white gloves… But I found a toe-hold in the tree's trunk and, with his gentle hands giving me a boost, I settled onto a thick low branch of the tree. Climbing expertly, he followed behind me and sat next to me.
"What are we doing here?"
He grinned again and I couldn't help but grin back at him. "You said it bothers you that everyone here knows all about you but you don't know anything about them," he repeated, and I nodded. "Well, we have a bird's eye view here, and no one to overhear us, so I can tell you all about everyone in Smallville. I don't want you to be at a disadvantage," he said.
I couldn't tell whether he was teasing me or not, thinking that I had to have some sort of advantage over everyone. I didn't want an advantage. I was just upset that everyone here knew all about me — about my father's sickness and he and my mother sending me to Kansas since they couldn't take care of me. And I hadn't even had a chance to defend my life to them. These people know the worst things that have ever happened to me, and the most painful, but I don't even know their names. Whether my life was as good as these Smallvillians, or Smallvillains, I thought with a smile, thought, or whether it was as bad as I was feeling, surely wasn't any of their business.
But none of that was Jonathan's fault, and he'd tried his hardest to help me, a stranger, understand his town. I realized that those kids who had been making fun of me might have been friends of Jonathan's; was he betraying them by befriending me? I didn't know what to think about this town or the people in it, so I just listened as Jonathan "introduced" everyone to me from the safety of the tree.
The next day, a Monday, was my first day helping Mrs. Webster out with the meals. Before coming to Smallville, the only baking I'd ever done was making scones with my mother, and I'm sure scones were the only thing she'd ever baked as well. Mother made an exception in her no-cooking policy for the special raisin scone recipe that had been in her family for generations.
That first morning I showed the Websters how to make scones, and Mrs. Webster and Ruth helped me see that cooking wasn't so bad after all. But I'd been stunned when Mrs. Webster first gave me a list of weekly chores.
Sunday nights were when the Webster family, with the exception of Kenny, who was already upstairs in bed, met to plan their weekly chores. Even Bobby, who was only five, had responsibilities around the farm, Mrs. Webster had said at the start of the meeting, so *of course* I would be expected to help out, too. I couldn't believe I was being asked to do *chores*! I had never had to do chores at home! I opened my mouth to protest, but Mrs. Webster continued, explaining that she and the rest of the family would show me what to do.
I looked around the kitchen table where we were all gathered, and noticed that Skippy was making a face at me. Yea, I thought, it really looked like he was "happy" to help me out. But I hadn't been the only one who'd noticed Skippy's reaction; Mr. Webster frowned and sternly reprimanded his son. Skippy nodded grudgingly, and Ruth pointed out that my doing some of the chores would decrease the chores he'd have to do, and that made Skippy smile again.
Mrs. Webster was still looking at me, probably waiting for some sort of response to her "suggestion" that I take on some of the family chores. She probably thought I was going to complain. Well I'll show her, I thought, finding a bit of bravery; I won't argue or make a fuss. I nodded, and Mrs. Webster smiled and consulted the list lying on the table in front of her.
The first thing I needed to learn was how to cook. At first I was to join Mrs. Webster and Ruth in the kitchen, then soon Ruth and I would be allowed to cook meals on our own. I would also have to baby-sit the younger children if needed. And once in a while, Mrs. Webster explained, I would have to help with the outdoor chores usually done by Mr. Webster, Skippy, Adie, and Bobby.
I didn't dread helping Mrs. Webster in the kitchen as much as the prospect of having to help her husband. Most of the time Mr. Webster was quiet, only finding a voice when one of the kids did something wrong, so he could yell at us. He scared me, and I was sure I would enjoy my time with Mrs. Webster in the kitchen more.
After helping Mrs. Webster prepare beef stew, corn on the cob, and my raisin scones for lunch that first Monday, I planned out the menus for lunch and dinner, with a little help. When Skippy, Mr. Webster, and the rest of the family came inside after finishing the morning chores, I served lunch to the family as Mrs. Webster looked on with a proud grin. I suppose she thought she was preparing me for life as a farm wife, and, unbeknownst to me, she was right.
After Ruth and I cleared away and washed the dishes, I heard a light knock at the screen door and was surprised to see Jonathan Kent standing there. "Hi," I greeted him.
"How're you doing?" he asked me.
"I'm fine. Thanks for your help yesterday, by the way," I said. It was nice to know not everyone was gossiping behind my back.
"Are you busy?" he asked.
I shook my head; while making lunch, Mrs. Webster had said I could use the rest of the day, until dinner, as I wished. She suggested making sure I was all unpacked and taking a walk around the farm to familiarize myself with it, but spending the afternoon with Jonathan would probably be more pleasant. "So you wanna do something?"
"Sure, but I'm not sure what. I don't really know what's here to do."
He nodded and suggested that he show me "the sights" of Smallville, unless I'd already seen them. I told him, no, I hadn't, but I'd love to. Mrs. Webster had "suggested" Skippy show me around the "downtown" area the next day, but Skippy rolled his eyes at that idea. I had decided to ask Ruth to show me around instead, but Jonathan's offer was too good to pass up. He warned me that there wasn't much to see, but it beat tagging around after the Webster kids all day, so I went upstairs to change and ask Mrs. Webster's permission before leaving.
A short tour of Smallville later, Jonathan and I found ourselves in Maisie's Restaurant enjoying ice cream sodas. "So, do you have any brothers or sisters back in Boston?"
I shook my head. "I'm an only child," I explained, "and I'd be pretty lonely if I didn't have Sophie to play with." I was happily surprised that Jonathan, though I had only mentioned Sophie briefly the day before, seemed to remember her and nodded. "What about you, brothers and sisters?"
He nodded. "Two older brothers and a younger sister. Jerome's nineteen, Richard's eighteen, and Josie's ten."
"Josie — that's a pretty name." At this point, Maisie checked to see if we needed anything. I had discovered that she was the granddaughter of the Maisie who opened the restaurant and that she was only a little younger than Jonathan and me. At first I was surprised someone my age would be waiting tables, but, according to Jonathan, the restaurant was a family business and, like family farms, everyone pitched in.
Jonathan smiled at Maisie as she approached, as he had at nearly everyone we had passed on our bicycle ride around Smallville. His friendliness, so completely opposite what I was used to, surprised me.
"It's short for Josephine, but she hates that name so we call her Josie," he explained as he sipped the last of the ice cream from his frosty glass mug.
"Do Jerome and Richard still live at home and help out with the farm?" Like most of the other residents of Smallville, Jonathan's family ran a farm. And from the many chores Mrs. Webster had doled out last night, farming seemed to be hard work. No wonder farm families had more kids than families in Boston — they needed them to help out on the farm.
"No," Jonathan told me. "Jerome and Richard are in the Navy. They just finished their basic training. Now they're stationed in Japan, I think. We don't hear from them much, especially Richard. Jerome writes a lot but Richard doesn't really get along with my dad. Dad thought Rich was going to take over the farm — he always knew Jerome wanted to do something else, so he had his hopes set on Rich — but a few years back they had this big blow up over it, and they both joined. My mom's always worried that some fighting'll erupt over there, and she's been even more scared lately, with all of the trouble with North Korea being Communist and wanting to convert South Korea. But Jerome always says it's his 'duty.'"
"What do you think?" It was interesting that Jonathan, who had been a patient listener while I cried and complained yesterday, was now the one who needed a shoulder to lean on. It was nice that he trusted me enough to share his feelings, like I'd trusted him the day before.
"I guess it's fine for them to join, but I wouldn't want to. They don't know what's going on there, whether there's a real threat of war or not. They don't even know what they'd be fighting for. They just want excitement. They also don't know how tough it is on the rest of the family now that they're gone. My mother cries every time she hears about fighting anywhere near Japan, and I think Josie and Dad do, too, but they just hide it better," Jonathan said gruffly.
Now I thought I understood a little better — it was probably tough for him to have the role of oldest son in the house suddenly thrust upon him. It was up to him to bear the brunt of the worry, care-taking, and, probably, work.
"So what do you want to do?" I asked, hoping to change the subject to something less dreary than possibilities of war.
He grinned. "I wanna take over the farm when my parents retire. Jerome and Richard don't want it, so I guess I'm next in line, and I really like helping my dad with everything."
I licked the last of my chocolate soda off my spoon and grinned. "That's great. About farming and that you know what you want to do with your life even though you're only fourteen," I told him. "I don't know what I want with my life, or even where I want to live, but I'm only twelve. I guess I'll figure it out when the time comes."
Jonathan nodded and smiled. "Tell me about your father, Martha Clark," he said, staring at me.
I swallowed hard and looked back at him. I was surprised by the straightforwardness of his request, but I couldn't stop myself from answering him; there was something about Jonathan Kent that made me want to tell him everything about myself.
"He's an attorney," I began. "Well, he was before he was sick."
"How long as he been sick?"
"As far back as I can remember. Mother's always taking care of him, so Grandmother runs the house. She doesn't have much to do besides order everyone around, though. Sophie's parents do everything."
"What about your grandfather?"
"He was an attorney, too, but he's retired now. He introduced Mother and Daddy when Daddy joined Grandfather's law firm right out of law school. He must not have been sick then, my father, that is, because I've heard law school is really tough." Jonathan nodded and I continued.
"When I was little I used to get mad at Daddy because he couldn't play with me and because he takes up all Mother's time so *she* couldn't play with me either. So I play with Sophie and her mother, when she isn't busy around the house."
As I finished, Maisie, the older one this time, came and slid our bill over to Jonathan. He took seventy cents from his pocket and we rose, he paid the tab at the cash register near the door, and we continued our tour of Smallville.
"So what exactly is wrong with your father?"
"Viral cardiomyopathy," I sounded out carefully. I had grown used to hearing the medical jargon, but the words sometimes tripped over my tongue when I said them.
"Well, in my father's case, he caught a virus, sort of like the flu or a cold, but it attacked his heart. It's making his heart really weak, so he's tiredand dizzy all the time and has a hard time breathing. His heart's getting really big trying to make up for being weak, but it still doesn't seem to be strong enough."
Jonathan nodded but didn't ask any more questions.
"You know," I said to Jonathan as we passed a seedy-looking place called Morris's Garage near the outskirts of Smallville, "someday you have to come to Boston so I can show *you* around. There's so much to see: theaters, department stores, universities, you name it, we've got it."
He nodded, excited, and we strolled back to where we'd parked the bikes we'd ridden. Jonathan had his own bicycle and I was borrowing his sister's since, of the Websters, only Skippy had his own bike, and, despite it being sternly "recommended" by his mother, he wasn't willing to part with it for the afternoon.
We peddled back towards the Websters'. When we finally pulled into their long dirt driveway, I jumped off of Josie's bicycle and turned to Jonathan.
"Thank you. I had a really great time today — it's nice to know I have at least one friend here and that there's someone who actually wants to show me around Smallville. Someone who doesn't have to be forced to by their parents, that is."
Jonathan grinned and suggested we go for another bike ride later that week, but he'd have to check with his father to see when he'd be free from chores, and with Josie to make sure she wouldn't need her bicycle. I nodded happily and watched Jonathan walk both bikes back before I went inside.
I was on the last chapter of The Land of Oz on Wednesday night when Ruth called to me to come downstairs. "Phone call," she told me.
"Phone call? For me?"
She nodded and handed me the phone, along with a reminder to keep the call short. The Websters, like every other family in Smallville, got their phone service through a party line, which meant a whole bunch of farms shared the same phone line. I'd never heard of such a thing and even thought Adie was making it up when she explained it to me the day before. Why in the world a bunch of people would want to share one phone line was beyond me.
"Martha, how are you doing, darling?"
"Mother! I'm fine. How are you and Daddy?" Mother had told me that she and my father would call sometime the first week, but Mother's memory tended to be erratic at best. So even though I had been hoping for one, I hadn't really been expecting a call.
"Oh, we're just splendid, dear. We're in London now, and we're having a wonderful time."
"London?" They had left Boston on Sunday, and were supposed to be in Sweden already.
"Yes, dear, London. We decided that since we're already here, we'll just stop in London for a week. We really should bring you here, Martha. London's just gorgeous. We've seen Big Ben and Buckingham Palace and, oh, I've been shopping at Harrod's, too. I've gotten you the most adorable clothes. Wait until you see."
"So when do you leave for Sweden?"
"We've decided to stop off at a few other places before Sweden, darling. We leave for Paris on Saturday, and after that we're planning on hitting Brussels, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen before we get to Stockholm. I'll call you every week, darling, to let you know where we are and what we're doing."
"How's Daddy feeling? Can I talk to him?"
"Oh, he's asleep, dear. He's weak, and quite jet-lagged from the trip over. But he's seen a doctor here in London, just for a check-up, you know, and the doctor said he's doing just fine. The doctor was someone your Aunt Opal recommended, darling."
Aunt Opal, my mother's sister, was years younger than Mother and had a reputation for being the family jet-setter. She had left Boston for Oxford University and had never returned for more than a few weeks. But she always brought me interesting presents. She had been married once, for a few years, but it hadn't worked out and she was divorced. But she had two sons, Charles and James, who went everywhere with her. I envied their lives, traveling from place to place, living in a different country every few years.
"How do you like Nebraska so far?"
"It's Kansas, Mother."
"Oh, well, Nebraska, Kansas, what's the difference?" I could almost see my mother dismissing her mistake with a wave of her slender, braceleted wrist.
"I hate it, Mother, I absolutely hate it. All of the kids here, except for one, hate me, and they make fun of me because I'm not from this boring old farm town. And I have to help out with the cooking and cleaning and everything. And they don't even have a television so I'm going to miss 'I Remember Mama' the whole time I'm here."
"Well, I'm sure Sophie will fill you in on what happened," Mother assured me.
"But that's not all, Mother. This town is so small — there are practically no stores or anything — and they're all farmers who talk in funny accents. And they all hate me!"
"You said that already, dear, and I'm sure they don't hate you. You just have to get used to them. I wish we could've brought you with us, Martha, but this trip is no place for a child, gallivanting around Europe, spending the rest of the summer in a Swedish hospital…"
I am not a child! I wanted to shout at my mother, across the ocean. "But Charles and James have lived in Europe and they're even younger than I am!" I protested.
"Martha, you know if we could have taken you, we would have. It's better for everyone with you in Neb… er, Kansas. There's lots of green grass and open spaces for you to play; children need lots of room to play. I've always worried that you didn't play outside enough at home. Just give it a chance, dear."
I wanted to tell my mother I wasn't a child, I didn't need lots of room to play anymore. Besides, Sophie and I had always managed to play just fine back home in Boston; we didn't need green grass or smelly farm animals or mean old farm children.
"I've got to go, dear. Your father'll be up soon and I have to give him his pills. Have a marvelous time and remember that we love you. See you soon!" Mother said joyously, and hung up the phone without waiting for my reply.
"I love you, too," I answered quietly as I hung up the phone and headed back upstairs to finish my book.
"Took you long enough."
Skippy. I should've known.
"Well, I'm sorry I was on the phone too long! I'm sorry I only get to talk to my mother once a week, and I don't get to talk to my father at all because he needs his rest because he's sick! I'm sorry I have to stay on this stupid farm all summer in a town with a bunch of mean kids! I'm sorry, okay?!" By that time I was screaming at Skippy, who had a startled look on his face, like the deer we almost hit one night coming home from a symphony concert in Boston. And, like the deer, he ran off, through the screen door and outside. And I sped back upstairs ***
After church the next Sunday, the Websters had a barbecue and invited Mr. Webster's brother's family, who lived just across town. From the week I'd been in Smallville, I could already tell many of the residents of the small town were related, in some way or another, to each other. Sooner or later, I guessed, they'd have to ship in some warm bodies or else they'd be forced to inbreed.
Mr. Webster's brother's family had four children, so it was like a zoo with messy little kids shouting, crying, and running around. Actually, a zoo would have been more orderly, I thought, remembering when my fifth grade class went on a day trip to the zoo. All the animals *there* were caged. I had been safe at the Boston Zoo, but I wasn't too sure about the Webster Zoo.
Mr. Webster and his brother had to push together two picnic tables to fit everyone, and dinner was noisy and messy. We had hamburgers, and the two Mrs. Websters had set the food inside on the dining room table. I was one of the last in line and by the time I got there, the tomatoes were gone and the ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise were all mixed together from someone using the same spoon for all of them.
I was also one of the last to get a seat at the picnic tables, and I was almost pushed off the end of the bench when some of the Webster kids started pushing and fighting. And they fought a lot.
Bobby, who was five, had a cousin who was four, and Bobby kept trying to take the four-year old's corn on the cob since he'd finished his already. Eventually both Mrs. Websters ended up sitting between the two boys so they couldn't reach each other.
After dinner was finished (I think more food ended up in the mouth of Marlon, the Websters' slobbery dog, than in the mouth of any of the Websters) and the tables were reasonably clean, Mr. Webster suggested everyone play baseball.
I went in the house to get my new book, Caddie Woodlawn, which was about a girl living in pioneer times. I thought it might help me to get used to Smallville, which, in many ways, was like pioneer times, what with the Websters not having a television set and all. So far the book wasn't helping. When I came back outside, I took a seat next to Mrs. Webster at the freshly cleaned picnic table and cracked open my book.
I could hear Mr. Webster and his brother dividing their offspring into fair teams, and they were having a tough time of it. The two youngest kids (two- year old Kenny and the other Mr. Webster's newborn baby girl) were too young to play, so there was an odd number of people on each team.
"Hey, Martha!" I heard Mr. Webster yell over to me, and I braced myself for the worst. "Why don't you come over and play?"
"No thank you," I said, holding up my book to show him that I was busy.
"Oh, come on, you can read any old time," Skippy complained. "She's always reading," he told his oldest cousin, Rachel, who was ten.
Mr. Webster headed over to where I was sitting, and I knew then that I wouldn't be able to get out of playing baseball. "Come on, Martha, be a sport and join the game."
"I've never played baseball before," I said softly, more to my book than to Mr. Webster.
"I said, I've never played baseball before," I repeated, louder this time.
Mr. Webster looked stunned, as if I said I came from another planet or something. "Well, uh," he tried to recover from his surprise, "that's okay. I'm sure you've seen the game played. Boston's got a great team this year, after all."
I shook my head and Mr. Webster's eyes grew even wider with surprise. "Well, uh, okay, then, you'll just have to learn. Come on." He grabbed my hand, and I barely had time to put a bookmark in Caddie Woodlawn before he pulled me over to where the rest of the kids were waiting.
"Now, kids, Martha's never played baseball before and she doesn't know the rules, so we're going to have to teach her. Be nice," he warned the kids, who looked at me as if I were an alien.
Mr. Webster propelled me over to where Skippy, Bobby, and Adie were standing. "You'll be on this team," he explained. "And you four'll be up to bat first, so I can explain the rules to Martha."
Skippy nodded his head and smiled triumphantly, as if being up to bat first was the most important thing in the world. Or maybe it was, I didn't know. So Ruth and her cousins ran out to stand far away from Mr. Webster, who sat down and patted the grass next to him. "Come sit over here, Martha."
I sat and we watched Skippy grab a long piece of wood ("that's called a bat," Mr. Webster told me, like I was an idiot or something. Maybe I was from Boston, and maybe I hadn't ever played baseball before, but I knew what a bat was!).
He explained that his brother would be the pitcher for the other team, tossing Skippy the ball until he hit it. Then Skippy would run over to near where Rachel was standing, where a thick, hard-covered book sat on the grass.
So this was what the Websters did with the books they kept in their bookcase; they used them as first base! I had wondered why, except for the Bible and nightly story time, I hadn't seen any of them touch the enticing (to me) books in their living room.
Skippy hit the ball past Ruth, who was playing furthest from where Skippy was standing, and he got to run all the way to second base, which was marked by another book. Mr. Webster explained that you should run to as many bases as you could after hitting the ball, but that you didn't want to get tagged by a player from the other team who had the ball, and you didn't want the ball to reach the base before you did, either. There were four bases (all books), and the last, where the batter stood, was called home plate and you scored by touching home plate. Mr. Webster promised he would explain fielding to me once we got there; for now I should just watch Adie, who was up next.
Adie let her uncle toss the ball to her a few times before swinging, but once she did she hit the ball it went pretty far, though not as far as Skippy's had. She ended up at first base and Skippy ran all the way to third.
Bobby was up next, and he was so little that the bat was almost as big as he was. But he swung it at every pitch until finally hitting the fifth or sixth one. He ran towards first base but he had hit the ball right to Rachel, so he was out and had to come and sit back next to his father. Skippy ran to home plate, though, so our team got a run and the Mrs. Websters and Kenny, who were still sitting at the picnic table, cheered loudly.
Then it was my turn to bat. Mr. Webster got up with me and stood behind me, putting his arms around me to show me how to hold the bat. He asked if I wanted him to stay there and help me swing, and I nodded, so, when his brother threw the ball at me, Mr. Webster tried to make me swing the bat at it. But the ball was coming right at my head, so I ducked.
When I stood up again, Skippy was rolling in the grass and laughing. "What a dummy! You're supposed to *hit* the ball, dummy, not duck! That was a great pitch, too." But he was silenced by a look from his father.
"Let's try it again," Mr. Webster said calmly. "This time, don't duck. The ball is going to come near you, but it isn't going to hit you. Just let me help you swing the bat." So I did and, after a dozen or so pitches, the ball finally came into contact with the bat and rolled slowly towards Rachel. She snatched it up and touched first base, so I didn't even have to run.
That was the second out, and Mr. Webster explained that each team was allowed three outs per at-bat, so Skippy got to be up again. He smacked the ball hard, but it happened to end up right where Ruth was standing and she caught it. Skippy slammed the bat down on the grass and made a growling sound before running over to first base and grabbing up the mitt (I knew what those were, too) that Rachel had been using.
"Better stick Martha in the outfield!" Skippy advised his father with a nasty grin.
Mr. Webster took me over to where Ruth had been standing, and I picked up her mitt, fitting it awkwardly on my hand. The inside of the mitt was hot and sticky, but I kept it on my hand because I didn't want Skippy to laugh at me again.
Mr. Webster then took his place in front of home plate and threw the ball to Rachel, who was up at bat first. She hit the ball hard, but it landed pretty far from me (closer to Adie), so, happily, I didn't have to go get it and throw it back. But then Ruth was up, and she hit the ball high in the air, towards me. I watched it make an arc in the sky, then begin to fall fast, heading for my head.
I dropped my mitt where I was standing and ran from the ball. Teasing or no teasing, I didn't want to get hit in the head.
Unfortunately, there *was* teasing, and lots of it, when Skippy saw what I was doing. "Go get the ball!" he roared at me from first base. "She's gonna have a homerun if you don't get the ball and throw it back in, dummy!" But I just stood there and glared at Skippy, my arms folded crossly over my chest, and Bobby ran to get the ball and tossed it back to his father.
"Skippy, I told you there is no need for name-calling," his father disciplined yet again. "Martha is just learning this game. Imagine what it would be like to see that ball flying towards you if you'd never played baseball before."
But I guessed Skippy didn't have a good enough imagination for that, because he kept muttering "dummy" under his breath until Tommy, his four year old cousin, hit a slow-rolling ball to him and he had to tag first base to get the little boy out.
Next up at bat was Joey, who was seven. Joey was big enough that he could hit the ball far, I realized, and I was determined not to mess up like I had last time. Sure enough, the ball rolled slowly towards me, coming to a stop a few feet ahead of me. I was grateful it wasn't flying at my head, so I enthusiastically ran over to the ball and picked it up with my bare hand, my right hand.
"Use your glove!" Skippy yelled, but I ignored him and threw the ball at Skippy, hoping he wouldn't be able to catch it and it would hit him on the head. But it didn't. The ball left my hand and headed straight down at the grass. It landed not four feet in front of me, and I had to run after it and throw it again. I threw the ball six times before it got to Skippy, and by that time Joey had reached home plate and we were losing, 3-1.
After a stern look from his father, Skippy held his tongue but looked at me with dagger eyes. I was lucky for the rest of the other team's at-bat, because the ball didn't come near me again. Finally our team got three outs, earning another at-bat.
"How many at-bats does each team get?" I asked Mr. Webster as we jogged in.
"In a real game each team gets nine at-bats," he began. Nine?! We were going to be there all night! "But we usually play until someone gets tired and wants to quit." I smiled and opened my mouth, ready to put a stop to the game right then and there, but Mr. Webster shook his head.
"No, Martha, it doesn't count if it's your first time playing. You've got to give it a chance."
For my next at-bat, Mr. Webster told me I could try hitting by myself, without his help to hold the bat. It was heavier that way, I soon realized, but I held it up confidently. I had to make up for my earlier bad throws by getting a real, honest-to-goodness hit this time, I told myself.
When the ball came towards me, I resisted the urge to duck and instead swung the bat, and my entire body, around, missing the ball completely. Skippy began to laugh, but stopped when Mr. Webster walked over to him and give him a stern talking-to. Mr. Webster's brother threw me another ball, and another, and another, and I swung the bat at each one, but couldn't hit any.
"I think that's a strike-out!" Skippy shouted almost triumphantly, even though I was on his team and I was sure a strike-out wasn't good.
"Now, you know we don't play with strike-outs." This time it was Mr. Webster's brother warning Skippy. "Her at-bat lasts until she gets a hit."
But, several dozen pitches later I still hadn't hit the ball, and both Mr. Websters agreed that I had been walked, and would get to go to first base. I was pretty sure this wasn't the way the game was played, but I was tired of swinging that stupid bat, so I started towards first base.
Skippy complained that those weren't the rules, and that they didn't play with walks, either, but he shut up when he realized it meant he was the next one to bat.
Since I didn't have to worry about getting tagged out, I walked slowly to first base, getting there after Skippy had swung at and missed the first pitch. I generously resisted the urge to yell something back at him about how he played baseball all the time and still couldn't hit, so why should he expect me to. Then I noticed just what book was standing in for first base.
It was the L volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. We had that set of encyclopedias at home and it had always been my favorite. I loved to look up articles in it and even before I could read I loved looking at the encyclopedia's glossy pictures. Once, when our old set was outdated and we got a new one, Grandmother let me cut pictures and articles out of the old ones. I spent days decorating the walls of my bedroom with exotic pictures of aye-ayes, belugas (the ocean kind, not the kind Grandmother liked, the kind that came in little metal cans), and caracaras.
I picked up the volume and opened it, breathing in the familiar, musty smell of the book. I opened it to a random page and there stood a funny-looking horse-like animal. So I read the accompanying article on llamas. Suddenly I felt a jolt, and found myself knocked down, sitting on the grass.
"Run, dummy!" Skippy yelled at me as he raced around the bases, easily beating Joey's throw to home plate. But I was still sitting on the grass, clutching the L volume, and very confused. Skippy had hit the ball, but why had he run me over like a steam locomotive?
He came over to me to explain.
"You're supposed to run around the bases, dummy!" Skippy yelled, but Ruth, who had the baseball, beat him to me. She touched the ball to volume L of the Encyclopedia Britannica triumphantly, then touched it to Skippy, then me.
"You're both out," she announced. "Skippy because he isn't allowed to pass Martha on the base path and because he never touched first base, and Martha because I tagged her and because she didn't run."
I looked over at Mr. Webster, who nodded reluctantly. "I was reading about llamas…"
"She's *reading* first base!" he complained to his father, who was trying to smother a laugh. "You're such a dummy, Martha! You're twelve years old and you don't know how to play baseball. What kind of PE classes do they have in that snobby rich-kid school of yours anyway?"
Well, we spent most of our time in physical education classes riding horses, beautiful, long-haired, gentle horses, but I knew Skippy would just make fun if I told him. Once in a while we would play hopscotch, and we learned to ice skate, and we were given dancing lessons in the winter and swimming lessons in the summer.
Instead, I took off running, volume L under my arm, to the picnic tables, where I liberated Caddie Woodlawn, then raced inside the house, up the stairs, and into the girls' room, slamming the door behind me.
"So, you live in Boston, right, Martha?" Wayne asked me, and I nodded. "So, what do you usually do during your summer vacation? Just hang around the city?"
Jonathan and I were spending that day fishing with Henry Miller and Wayne Irig, Jonathan's two closest friends. It was a beautiful day, blue skies accented by puffy white clouds, and we were sitting in a tiny row boat that nearly didn't fit four passengers. Jonathan, Henry, and Wayne each had his own fishing rod, and I'd borrowed a rod that had belonged to one of Jonathan's brothers.
"Usually I go to summer sessions at Miss Mabel's School for Girls," I told him, and I saw Wayne and Henry exchange looks.
"What's that?" Henry asked.
"It's this boring place my grandmother makes me go to. They teach dumb things like ballroom-dancing, dinner etiquette, stuff like that."
"Do you ever get to travel?" Wayne asked.
"Sometimes," I told him as Henry pulled in the first fish of the afternoon. He high-fived Wayne and Jonathan, then, after a short pause, offered me his hand. I smiled and hit it back. I watched as Wayne held the fish down while Henry guided the hook out of the mouth of the still-flopping fish. He tossed the fish in a bucket sitting between Jonathan and Wayne, then placed a lid over it. I refrained from wriggling my nose in disgust, and instead thought about Wayne's question.
"One Christmas vacation I went to New York City with my parents. We saw the Nutcracker and the Christmas Carol, and we got to ride around Central Park in a hansom cab."
"What's a hansom cab?" Wayne wanted to know.
"It's like a horse-drawn carriage. There's a driver who sits up front by the horse, and the passengers sit in a black carriage in the back."
"Wow, that sounds like fun. Did you go to any museums there?" Henry asked.
"A few, but they got boring after a while. We have lots of museums in Boston. Mostly my mom went shopping and my dad went to see a doctor there."
"Have you gone anywhere besides New York City?" Wayne asked.
"Well, my grandparents own a house on this little island in North Carolina. We usually spend a month there every summer. It's a small island — no cars allowed — and the house is really big and old. It's been in my grandmother's family for generations."
"So are you going there this summer?" Wayne asked.
I paused. I hadn't thought about us not going to North Carolina, probably because of everything with my parents going to Europe and me going to Smallville. I'd miss our annual summer vacation. Usually we spend July at the house. Since my birthday was in the end of June, we had a birthday party for me at home before we left so I could invite my friends, and then we had another when we got to the island. Usually the island one was only my parents, my grandparents, and me going out for dinner at my grandmother's favorite seafood restaurant on the island, but it was fun because the waiters always sang Happy Birthday to me in French. And on the Fourth of July, the island always had a big parade…
"Martha?" Jonathan sounded concerned.
"Oh, sorry. No, I'll be here all summer… Hey, does Smallville have a Fourth of July parade? There's always a really great one on the island where we vacation."
"Yea, but it's pretty boring, just the Smallville High marching band, a couple of baton-twirling elementary school girls, and the mayor and some other town officials riding by in the back of pick-ups," Wayne told me.
"So, what are your parents like, Martha? You think they'll come visit sometime this summer?" Henry wanted to know.
My parents in Smallville? I tried not to laugh. "Probably not. My father has a heart problem and that's why my parents are in Europe, getting treatment for him."
"Do you miss them?" Jonathan asked as he pulled up an empty hook and rebaited it. When I first saw Jonathan, Wayne, and Henry bait their hooks, I wasn't sure I wanted any part in spearing a slimy, wriggling worm onto a hook. I'd asked Jonathan to bait my first hook but I was sure that when I needed to rebait my hook, I would be able to do it myself.
"Of course I miss them. Kind of like you miss your brothers, probably. Hey, have you heard from them lately? Are they okay?"
"Of course they're okay," Wayne answered. "Why wouldn't they be okay, Jon?"
Jonathan nodded. "We haven't heard anything from them so I guess that's good news." Jonathan reached over the side of the boat to wet his hand and drip the water over his sweaty brow. "I mean, they send telegrams if something bad happens, right?" He reached into the water again, this time to splash us. I shrieked and ducked but Wayne reached into the water, too, and splashed Jonathan back. I watched as Jonathan and Wayne got each other wet. Finally Henry joined in, but I just held my fishing rod patiently.
In a few minutes I felt a small tug on the rod. "Hey!" I yelled. "Jonathan, look! I caught something!"
Jonathan stopped splashing Wayne and Henry to scoot next to me in the row boat. "Good job, Martha! Now reel it in!"
I reeled the line in and tugged my fish into the boat. It was longer than Henry's fish, about a foot long, and was dark gray-colored. It flopped around on the bottom of the boat until Jonathan reached over and held it still.
"Wow, big fish!" Jonathan exclaimed. "Here, Martha, you hold onto the fish, then I'll let go and pull the hook out of its mouth."
I slid my hand over the fish. Its body was wet and slippery and I had to use two hands to hold it still while Jonathan reached into its mouth to find and remove the hook. He took the fish from me and, removing the cover of the bucket, tossed it in. I recovered the bucket and Jonathan, Henry, and Wayne each gave me a high-five.
"Somewhere over the rainbow," I sang out as I unpinned a tee-shirt from the clothesline in the Websters' backyard, folded it, and tossed it in the wicker basket at my feet. I dragged the basket to the next clothesline, where I unpinned a white dress shirt of Mr. Webster's and held onto the sleeve cuffs as I twirled around the metal poles supporting the clotheslines. I belted out the last lines of the song, then lead my shirt-partner into a bow.
"Bravo," a voice called out, accompanied by the clapping of a lone pair of hands. "Encore."
Embarrassed and expecting to see Skippy, I turned around slowly. Instead, there stood Jonathan, leaning on the screen door that lead to the Websters' kitchen. I blushed and turned back to the line of laundry. "Sorry," I mumbled.
"Oh, no, don't be sorry. You were good. Really."
"I glanced back at him. "Thanks."
"Are you busy? Do you want to do something?"
"I have to finish this." I gestured to the clothesline. "I may have to watch the younger kids too. I think Mrs. Webster's going into town later today."
"Well, can I help then?" Jonathan asked.
"Sure." So Jonathan and I unpinned overalls and tee-shirts, shirts and sheets, and folded them and placed them in the basket. We were folding sheets, stepping towards and away from each other, snapping the crisp white cotton in the morning sun.
"Do you know how to square dance?" Jonathan asked abruptly.
"Yea. I should teach you how if you don't know already."
I dropped the last folded sheet into the basket. I imagined men with spears of wheat hanging out of their mouth twirling women dressed in tacky, unmatching clothes around a smelly old barn. Square dance? Was he kidding? "No, I don't know how."
"Well, you should. There's always a band and square dance at the Smallville Summer Fair in July. I could teach you now so we can practice and be ready for the Fair. You wanna learn?"
"I don't know…" I wrinkled my nose in disgust.
"Oh, come on. It'll be fun." Jonathan smiled a sad, puppy-dog smile.
"Oh, okay. What do I do?"
"Okay. We can't do some things because there are only two of us. We don't have a full square — we'd need eight people for that."
I stepped towards Jonathan and held out my hand, ready to assume the formal pose I'd spent hours perfecting during the ballroom-dancing portion of my time at Miss Mabel's School for Young Ladies.
"No, we don't hold hands?"
"No. Here. The first thing we'll do is Promenade. Put your left hand in my left hand and your right hand in my right hand. Then we walk around the square like this. That's all there is to it." Jonathan paraded me around the square made by the four poles of the clotheslines.
"This is easy!" I exclaimed. Easier than dancing with Miss Mabel, at least.
"Not so fast. This is only Promenade. Here, we'll try Do-Si-Do. Fold your arms like this," and Jonathan folded his arms over his chest. "Now step like this." And Jonathan stepped around me.
I followed Jonathan's example and we Do-Si-Do-ed, making small boxes around each other. It was a little tougher than Promenade, but nowhere near ballroom dancing. Jonathan and I tried a few more steps, ones we could do without needing a complete square.
"See, it isn't so bad."
"No, but now I get to teach *you* ballroom dancing. We can start with the waltz — it's easy. Here, give me your hands." I set one of Jonathan's hands at my waist and took the other in my hand, then set my other hand on his shoulder.
"Okay, waltzes are in three-four time, so the bet is: one, two, three; one, two, three. Here's what you do with your feet: a big step, then two small steps: step, two, three; step, two, three. You make a box with your steps."
Jonathan tried an experimental couple of steps, then looked up from his feet. "This isn't too bad."
I giggled. "Now try it *without* looking at your feet," I suggested. So he looked at me and we hummed along with the one-two-three beat, the Blue Danube Waltz, which I knew because it was on one of the classical music records Daddy played while he was relaxing in bed. Jonathan and I waltzed around the yard until Mrs. Webster came out looking for her laundry.
I spent at least one day a week, Mondays usually, with Jonathan, if our chores permitted. When it rained we stayed inside, usually at his house but sometimes at the Websters', playing marathon games of checkers. Sometimes Josie or some of the Webster kids would want to play, too, so we'd switch to Monopoly. When the weather was nice, I borrowed Josie's or Skippy's bike and Jonathan and I rode through Smallville and the surrounding countryside, or went on long walks in the woods behind Jonathan's parents' farm, or went fishing with Jonathan's friends Henry and Wayne. And, even though Wayne and Henry were nice enough, I enjoyed our times alone more since I had learned Jonathan was more likely to open up when his friends weren't there.
On June 30th, my thirteenth birthday, Mrs. Webster encouraged me to go find Jonathan and do something with him in that morning, which made me think the Websters were maybe planning a party in the afternoon. Jonathan managed to escape unnoticed from his house; he usually had to help his father on Friday mornings, but I was excited since it was my birthday and didn't think to ask how he'd gotten away so we could go fishing.
"Have you had a chance to look at the paper the last few days?" Jonathan asked as he handed me a worm to bait my hook.
"No. Skippy delivers papers for the Press, but I've been helping Mrs. Webster with breakfast the last few mornings and haven't seen the paper. Why?"
"A few days ago Truman ordered some troops stationed in Japan to go to Korea," he said quietly.
"Oh, Jonathan, I'm sorry. Your brothers…?"
"Mom thinks they're somewhere in South Korea, near the fighting. We don't know where though since we haven't heard from them in a while. But my mother's worried anyway…" His voice trailed off.
We sat in silence for the rest of the morning, neither of us catching any fish, but that was how it usually was.
The mood for the rest of our morning was so somber and quiet that, by the time Jonathan and I had biked back to the Websters', I'd nearly forgotten it was my birthday. I only remembered when Jonathan followed me up the Websters' driveway instead of saying good-bye at the road like usual.
When we reached the house we were greeted by the entire Webster family, plus Mr. Webster's brother's family. I smiled politely at the crowd. I don't knowwhy I was disappointed; besides Jonathan, it wasn't like I'd made any friends the Websters could've invited. I was happy when Mrs. Webster asked Jonathan to stay for the celebration.
The Websters' picnic tables were decorated with signs and colorful paper chains, and Adie was wearing a beat-up party hat held in place by a piece of frayed elastic that pinched red marks into her chin. There was a modest pile of gifts on a small folding table set apart from everything.
Mrs. Webster led me towards the picnic tables, which were set for lunch. She served up heaping platefuls of fried chicken, green beans, fruit salad, and homemade bread. Mrs. Webster apologized that it was too early in the season for corn on the cob, but I was just glad to see that she hadn't made any ofthat icky gravy like she had for my first night in Smallville.
After lunch, during which all of the Webster children were moderately well- behaved, Mrs. Webster brought out a large cake with 'Happy Brithday, Martha!' written in white icing. After she set the cake, ablaze with thirteen candles, down in front of me, Skippy started laughing.
"Look what you wrote, Ruth!" he howled, pointing to the word 'birthday,' the end of which was smashed together to fit on the cake.
"You wrote 'brithday!' What does *that* mean?" he asked her, taking great pleasure at his sister's mistake. "'Brithday!'"
Next to me, Ruth's face reddened and she looked over apologetically. "I must've spelled it wrong. I'm sorry, Martha."
"It's okay," I assured her as everyone else started singing. When they finished I blew out the candles and Mrs. Webster handed me a knife and I cut the cake into squares. It was chocolate, my favorite, and still warm from the oven. Probably Mrs. Webster and maybe Ruth had baked it that morning, while I was out with Jonathan. The frosting was a little melted and it was delicious enough, but I kept thinking of the German chocolate cake Sophie's mother, Nancy, always made for birthdays.
After the cake disappeared, Bobby jumped from his seat, scratching a mosquito bite behind his ear and singing an impromptu tune about birthday presents and circus tents. He came around to where I was sitting and, taking my hand, pulled me towards the small table laden with gifts. I surveyed the presents as everyone else migrated over.
There were three gifts wrapped the same, in plain brown paper with crayoned-on balloons, birthday cakes, and bows. I opened the first gift to reveal a thick, hand-made quilt. I looked over at Mrs. Webster. "Something to remind you of your summer in Smallville. I was going to give it to you as a going-away gift, but I finished early, so happy birthday." I fingered the soft pink fabric before picking up the next present.
This package was larger, a box with more than one heavy object in it. I slid the wrapping paper off, mindful of what looked like Bobby and Adie's crayonings, to reveal a box, which I opened. Inside sat a pristine white baseball nestled in a leather glove. "So you'll have your own glove for our next game," Mr. Webster told me.
There was one more package wrapped in this same homemade paper, but attached to it was a store-bought card, signed by Mr. Webster's brother's family. I tore the paper off to uncover two brightly-covered books: Ozma of Oz and The Scarecrow of Oz.
The other Mrs. Webster smiled shyly at me. "Your aunt told us you were reading the second Oz book, so we thought you might enjoy some of the other books in the series."
I smiled and thanked the Websters, surprised that Mrs. Webster had even noticed what book I had been reading, never mind commented on it to her sister-in-law. Maybe there was more to these backwards farmers than I first thought.
Before I could pick up the next present, Mrs. Webster handed me a thin envelope which she announced had arrived earlier that week. I recognized the Boston return address and guessed it was from my grandparents. Yes, I confirmed after opening it and reading through the card's immaculate handwriting; just as they had every year, my grandparents had made a contribution to my trust fund for which they'd set up the day I was born. No big news there. Even the letter held little to be excited about — Grandmother wished me a happy birthday, expressed her regret that she and Grandfather weren't spending it with me, and told me that they'd see me at the end of the summer.
I put Grandmother's card down and took the second-to-the-last package from the pile. It was wrapped in pale blue tissue paper and a card was affixed to it. It was from Jonathan, and I smiled over at him. I tore through the tissue paper, revealing a glossy black and white photograph of the two of us, a pewter picture frame surrounding it. In the picture we were sitting in a small rowboat, dangling fishing rods into the placid pond below us. I remembered the day Jonathan borrowed his father's camera and he, Wayne, and I took goofy pictures of each other.
I turned to him with a grin on my face and thanked him.
"I made the frame myself," he added with a slow smile, and I fingered the heavy frame, engraved on the back with the message: 'To Martha. Always remember your Smallville summer. Your friend, Jonathan.'
Skippy interrupted my inspection of the picture frame. "Come on, Martha, open the big box," he urged. "Let's see what your parents sent you."
The 'big box' was indeed a large, brown, air-mail box with my name and an Amsterdam address. Something from my parents! I moved the other boxes aside and tore the brown packaging tape off. Brushing off the tissue paper, I unveiled several smaller, wrapped packages. I opened these and found my birthday presents: a silky nightgown, a small leather purse and matching wallet, hair ornaments, a flower-print dress, a pair of soft black shoes.
Finally I uncovered the last of the gifts, a small black velvet box. I flipped up the hinged lid and peered in. It was a jewelry box, but when I opened the box there was a folded piece of paper, which I removed. I recognized my father's stationary, thick off-white parchment with imprinted initials. 'Happy thirteenth birthday, Martha. I wish your mother and I could be with you to celebrate it. Love, Daddy.'
But you *could've* been there with me! Or I could've been there with you, I thought as I set the note aside. Inside the box lay a deep-red ruby dangling from a thin gold necklace. Ruby was my birthstone.
"Oh, wow!" Adie exclaimed, pressing her hip to mine so she could get close enough to see the necklace. "Lookit her necklace! It's so pretty!"
I removed the necklace from its velvety cushion and Adie fastened it around my neck.
The Websters politely oohed and aahed over the necklace. But getting all these beautiful things embarrassed me; the Websters could never afford them. Mrs. Webster didn't even wear an engagement ring, just a bare silver wedding band. A self-conscious, guilty feeling gnawed at the pit of my stomach.
But if Jonathan or the Websters noticed anything they didn't comment on it. Instead, the kids ran inside, fighting over teams for some game they wanted to play.
"Come on, Martha," Mrs. Webster urged, leading me inside. "The adults set up a treasure hunt for all the kids. It's a Webster birthday tradition. It's inside. "
A few weeks ago I would've argued that I wasn't a Webster, but now I knew that would get me nowhere. Besides, it was my birthday and I didn't want to seem like an ungrateful heel after the nice gifts I'd gotten. "Okay."
"If happy little bluebirds fly over the rainbow, why, then, oh, why can't I?" I sang out as I pedaled Skippy's bicycle past grassy green fields and rows of knee-high crops. It was Monday afternoon, the usual day Jonathan and I did something together. But Jonathan's grandparents, who lived in Kansas City, were in town visiting, and he was spending time with them, leaving me on my own.
I was off to "downtown" Smallville, to the church. During Sunday School the previous day I'd noticed an old, out-of-tune piano in one of the small basement rooms of the church. Since I didn't know of any Smallville families who had a piano, I figured this was my best chance to get some practice in before I went home and had to start up my lessons again.
I pedaled past a scarecrow, its hay-stuffed arms stuck out to its side. It was funny — before coming to Smallville, the only place I'd ever seen a scarecrow was in the movie theater, during The Wizard of Oz. Now they were commonplace: the Websters had a few in their fields, as did most other Smallville farmers.
Finally I rode up to the church and left Skippy's bike leaning against the gray building. Tentatively, I tried the back door. Jonathan told me it would be unlocked, but I hadn't believed him; if the church was left unlocked, surely someone would break in and steal something, not that there was anything much of value to be taken. The door swung open and I reminded myself that I wasn't in Boston anymore — I was in Smallville, land of open doors, dirt roads, and no TVs.
I crept downstairs to the piano, which was in its own little room in the church basement. It took up nearly one entire wall, even though the piano wasn't as big as the one I was accustomed to. I dusted off the bench and lifted the wooden keyboard cover. I hadn't brought any music with me, but I had enough pieces memorized to fill at least a half-hour of practice time.
I started with scales, working my way up from C major, forcing my hands to remember. After I finished with the scales I started a few fun, easy pieces. Ignoring the out-of-tune keys, I closed my eyes and pretended I was at home, practicing in our music room. Grandmother would start out sitting on the couch, listening to my clean scales, but she would end up standing behind me, forcing my hands into the correct positions when they became too relaxed.
I leaned my forehead against the wooden music shelf of the upright piano and felt the vibrations of the wood as I pounded on the keys. With a deep breath to calm myself, I started a new piece, a difficult one I had been just beginning to work on before leaving for Smallville. Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata. It was a slow piece, Adagio cantabile, but I was taking it still slower than it was supposed to go.
The piece made me homesick. I took advantage of a pause in the music to touch my new ruby necklace and think of home. Behind my closed eyelids I imagined our music room back in Boston: the shiny black Baby Grand; the red velvet sofas; life-size portraits of long-dead relatives of my mother's in large, gilded frames; my father's smell — soap, aftershave, his pipe — when he felt well enough to sit beside me on the bench and turn pages for me.
I swayed with the music, the lazy one-two-three beats calming me. The rhythm flowed through the piano, assuming control, slowing my heartbeat, gently closing my eyes. I imagined a surge of sea water tumbling over my body, spreading warmly over my toes, up my legs, onto my torso, over my neck, massaging my scalp, caressing me.
"They're all asleep," Mrs. Webster whispered, turning to face forward in the cab of the family's pick-up truck.
But we weren't all asleep. The rest of the children, all of the Websters minus Skippy, who was spending the night with a friend and Kenny, who was asleep in the front seat between Mr. and Mrs. Webster, *were* asleep in the back of the pick-up, but I was awake.
We were on our way back from Smallville's fourth of July fireworks display. Like Skippy, I'd wanted to watch the fireworks with a friend, with Jonathan. But Jonathan's grandparents were still in town visiting, and I'd seen Jonathan's family all together before the fireworks started. Earlier in the week, Jonathan invited me to come with them, but I'd declined. I was guessing that the reason his grandparents chose then to visit had to do with Truman sending troops to Korea, and Jonathan's brothers being part of those troops. I didn't want to intrude — it was enough that Jonathan had made time to attend the Fourth of July parade with me that morning. It had been boring, as predicted, but at least we were bored together.
"We'll have to wake them up when we get home. We won't be able to carry them all inside. Especially Martha and Ruth — they're too big to carry," Mr. Webster said.
"Speaking of Martha, how do you think she's been doing lately? I think she's been better than when she first got here."
"I guess so," Mr. Webster mumbled.
"Especially considering the circumstances," Mrs. Webster added. "I feel sorry for her, I mean, with her father being so sick and her parents dumping her here so they can travel all around Europe."
I wished I *was* asleep so I didn't have to hear any of this. My parents weren't vacationing in Europe; they were there so my father could get medical treatment. Boy, Mrs. Webster sure doesn't know anything!
"Sure, that's tough for a kid," Mr. Webster agreed, "but it doesn't excuse her parents' rudeness, assumin' we'd take her for the summer with not even two weeks' notice. Heck, you give two weeks' notice if you quit your job! You should give more than that if you dump your kid on strangers for three months! Thinkin' about that *still* makes me mad. Havin' to give up buyin' that horse!"
Two weeks' notice?! What was Mr. Webster talking about? Had my parents or, more likely, my grandparents, since probably Grandmother had made my travel arrangements, only asked the Websters whether I could stay with them two weeks before I arrived?
There was a pause in the conversation, as though Mrs. Webster turned to make sure her husband's voice hadn't awaken any of us. I kept my eyes clenched shut; I wanted to hear whatever else the Websters had to say about my parents.
"Skip, it's over and there's nothing you can do about it. Don't take it out on the girl."
"I'm not, I'm not, but I've a feeling little Skippy was. He was really coutin' on us buying that horse."
"Well, he'll just have to wait a year," Mrs. Webster said. "It would've been too much hassle taking care of the farm, gettin' Martha used to everything, *and* takin' care of a new colt all at the same time."
Ah, so that was why Skippy had been so mean to me — he wanted the Websters to buy a new horse and, because I was there visiting, they couldn't. What a baby, I thought. It was disappointing, to get a cousin instead of a horse, but he should've gotten over it by now. Even though it would've been fun to take care of a baby horse. I'd ridden horses at school and taken riding lessons, but I'd never seen a baby horse before.
"And I think Skippy's getting over it. Especially since we were able to celebrate his birthday before Martha got here. He was awfully upset when we thought we were gonna have to cancel his party. I'm sure that — "
A sound from Adie interrupted Mrs. Webster and caused her to look back at us. I held my breath when I heard the squeaking of the springs beneath her as she glanced over the sleeping children in the bed of the pick-up. I heard her turn and face forward again, but she must've figured it was better to be safe than sorry, because she and Mr. Webster stopped talking.
But what had they said? My family hadn't given them much advanced notice of my visit? Why not? Usually uninformed about Grandmother's plans for me, even *I* had known about this visit. Maybe Grandmother had sent a letter and it'd gotten lost in the mail or something. Or maybe the Websters were just wrong. But that didn't make sense either. Maybe Mother and Daddy had been planning on taking me with them but had to change their plans at the last minute. My parents wouldn't have just dumped me with the Websters so they could have a good time in Europe. They were going to a Swedish Clinic to get help for my father, I repeated before finding a comfortable position in bed and falling asleep.
Ruth and I were washing dishes when Adie came into the kitchen and plopped herself down at the kitchen table, setting her chin on the hard surface. She watched wordlessly as Ruth and I finished the dishes.
"What?" Ruth finally asked, setting down her towel. Adie just shrugged.
"Adie, what's wrong?" I asked, but she only shrugged again. Ruth walked over to her and placed a practiced hand on her sister's forehead.
Adie nodded her head and tilted her head so her cheek was lying on the cool surface of the table. I eyed her suspiciously. "Are you sick?"
"Yes," Ruth announced before calling upstairs. "Mother!"
Mrs. Webster came and bent down to feel her younger daughter's forehead. "Definitely a fever," she decided. "You, young lady, are to go upstairs, change into your pajamas, and get into bed. I'll be up with a thermometer in a few minutes." Without argument, Adie walked slowly towards the stairs.
"Does she have what Bobby has?" I asked. Bobby had been sick for a few days, probably just a cold, but the doctor was supposed to stop by later that night to make sure it wasn't anything more serious.
Mrs. Webster nodded. "Good thing Doc Ross'll be over soon." She went over to the cupboard where she kept the Syrup of Ipecac and other amber bottles of unknown content, and took out a thermometer. "Maybe we should change the sleeping arrangements so none of the rest of yous get sick," she said before heading upstairs.
Ruth and I took one look at each other and followed Mrs. Webster upstairs. Adie hadn't quite made it to the 'change into your pajamas' part of Mrs. Webster's orders; she was dressed, lying on top of her quilt, asleep.
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Webster exclaimed. She rushed over to Adie and stuck the thermometer in her mouth.
"You girls should probably stay away from her. You don't want to be getting sick, too. Bobby's been sniffling for days and this morning I noticed a rash on face."
Ruth and I made faces and quickly backed out of the room. We headed into the living room and took out the checkerboard. It was only the two of us tonight; Kenny was already asleep for the night, and Skippy and Mr. Webster were listening to a baseball game at Mr. Webster's brother's house.
Ruth and I had gotten through two games and were in the middle of our third when there was a knock at the door. Ruth sprinted off to answer it. I glanced down at the board for a minute, pondered replacing one of my black pieces Ruth had captured, and then jumped up to join Ruth at the door.
There stood Dr. Ross, Smallville's doctor and Jonathan's friend Pete Ross's father. It seemed like every adult here was somehow related to some kid I knew. That meant I had to watch my mouth. The second week I was here, Ruth and I had walked into town to pick up some groceries. Mr. Harley, a cranky old man whose eyes twitched when kids came into his store without their parents, followed Ruth and me through the aisles, hiding behind shelves as we crossed items off a list. As soon as we stepped out of the store I'd complained to Ruth about nasty old Mr. Harley, but she quickly stopped me, explaining that one of the women walking toward us was Mrs. Sutton, Mr. Harley's sister. Mrs. Sutton's husband was the mayor, her son worked in the dime store, and any one of them would've gone straight to Mr. Harley with my complaints had they heard them.
Ruth let Dr. Ross in, and he followed us upstairs, looking very official with a small black bag and a white jacket with his name embroidered over the left breast pocket, even though it was the middle of the summer.
"… And Bobby's been sick for a while, and now Adie's sick, too. Ma just thinks it's the flu or a cold, though. But she thought she'd call you over just in case."
"Thank you, young ladies." Dr. Ross reminded me of Grandfather and Daddy's stuffy old lawyer friends who came over for cocktails. Dr. Ross went into the boys' bedroom and, letting Mrs. Webster know that the doctor was here, Ruth and I headed back downstairs to quickly finish our game before returning upstairs. By that time, Dr. Ross was in with Adie, and we sat outside the closed bedroom door, taking turns trying to listen in on the conversation inside, until the door opened and Ruth jumped away.
Mrs. Webster scowled at her daughter, but didn't say anything as she followed Dr. Ross downstairs, with us closely behind. No one insisted Ruth and I leave, so the four of us sat down in the living room.
"So is it the flu?"
Dr. Ross shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Mrs. Webster. It looks more like the measles."
"The measles?! Is that going around?"
Dr. Ross nodded. "It is, but don't worry. It isn't terribly serious, but it is contagious. If I were you I'd keep Bobby and Adie together and watch the others for signs of sickness. You don't need six sick children in the house."
"Oh, dear. I remember having the measles; I was miserable!"
"No, it isn't a pleasant experience, I'm afraid, and it tends to make children mighty cross. Bobby's rash should last three to five days and you can expect Adie to develop one just like it. They'll continue to be contagious while they have the rash, so keep them separate from the other kids until it disappears. It'll take a few weeks. You'll have to watch them for a bit after that, too; it's possible for ear infections or pneumonia to develop after measles," Dr. Ross added.
"Yes, pneumonia's possible, but there shouldn't be a problem. Just keep close tabs on Adie and Bobby and let me know if a persistent cough or earache develops. Feel free to give me a ring if any of the other children get sick, or if Adie or Bobby's rashes last longer than a week. Or if you have any other questions."
"Thanks, Dr. Ross." Mrs. Webster led the doctor to the door and from the living room Ruth and I could still hear their voices.
"I feel fine," Ruth told me.
"Me, too, but I've never had the measles. I don't know what it feels like."
"Well, I'm not getting them," Ruth decided. "Next week's the Smallville Summer Fair, and I'm not gonna miss it."
"Me either." I didn't know what the Smallville Summer Fair *was*, but if it added some excitement to our dull-as-dry-toast days on the farm, I was all for it.
But I never made it to the Fair. A week later I developed a fever, then small itchy red splotches, and Dr. Ross diagnosed that, along with Ruth and Kenny, I had caught the measles. Five days later Skippy fell sick and the six of us missed the Smallville Summer Fair. We were all miserable and we drove poor Mrs. Webster crazy with our constant requests for hot tea, library books, chicken soup, and ice cream. Mrs. Webster assured us we could stage our own Webster Summer Fair when we all got better, but we were tired and it was easier to cry and complain than listen to reason.
The day my itchy pink rash started to disappear, Mrs. Webster came into the room and I felt her weight drop onto the corner of my bed. "Martha, dear?" I was resting, the only thing that didn't tire me out.
"What?" I opened my eyes.
"I called your grandmother when you first got sick," she began slowly.
"Of course she was worried about you. And I tried to convince her, dear, but I'm afraid she was quite insistent; she wants you to go home."
"Your grandmother wants you back in Boston, dear. She wanted you to fly back immediately but the airlines won't let you fly when you're contagious. I spoke to Dr. Ross and he said you'd be all set when your rash disappeared. So I called the airport and they have a flight leaving tomorrow."
Tomorrow? Be excited, I told myself. You're going back to Boston, you're going home. But I couldn't muster up the strength. "But I still feel sick."
She nodded. "You will, for a bit longer, but you can travel and your grandmother wanted you home as soon as possible. We can make sure a stewardess looks after you during the flight, dear."
Home. Mother and Daddy. "Has anyone called my parents?"
"Your grandmother said she'd get a hold of them."
I felt strange, guilty but a little pleased, and I wondered if this was enough to get Mother and Daddy back to Boston. Or maybe they'd take me to Sweden to be with them. "What did she say about them?"
"Not much, just that she'd get a hold of them. She's planning on calling later tonight; you can ask her yourself then." I nodded and turned my face to lay on my pillow. I wanted to go back to sleep.
After dinner that night, which, for me, consisted of vegetable soup and homemade bread that, according to Mrs. Webster, had been brought over by Jonathan, my grandmother called.
"Martha, I have spoken with your doctor myself, and he said you are no longer contagious and will be able to return home so your family can take proper care of you."
I sighed happily — that meant Mother and Daddy would be returning from Sweden to join me in Boston; Grandmother would never take care of me on her own.
"Have you talked to Mother and Daddy?"
"Yes. I spoke to them when Mrs. Webster first informed me of your illness."
"What did they say? When are they getting back to Boston?"
There was a pause from Grandmother's end of the line, and my hopes of seeing my parents dropped to the pit of my stomach.
"They're staying in Sweden, Martha. Your father is still receiving his treatments at the clinic there, and your mother couldn't possibly leave him."
Of *course* she couldn't. What was I thinking? Daddy's treatment wasn't finished yet — he couldn't just up and leave. And Mother would never leave him there, even though he was a grown adult and I was still a child, her child, alone in the wilds of Kansas, and sick, besides.
"You are a big girl, Martha, and you only have the measles. You do not need your mother there with you."
But I wanted her there, wanted her to take care of me like she'd always taken care of Daddy. I could even picture us: me in bed, in a new robe or nightgown Mother had brought over from Europe, Sophie or her mother, Nancy, bringing up my dinner tray, Mother fussing over me, washing my hair, reading me stories, Mother taking care of the sick child who needed her…
Grandmother explained that of course Mother had been concerned when she heard I was sick, and she was obviously relieved when Grandmother assured her I'd be fine. They hadn't even discussed Mother returning to Boston, with or without Daddy. Instead, Grandmother announced she had hired a private nurse to take care of me until I was better.
And, to top it all off, Grandmother was mad at the Websters. "You would never have gotten ill if you were here in Boston. All those dirty children and living so far from a civilized hospital. It's a wonder you aren't sicker!"
"I'm fine, Grandmother. My rash is just about gone. I just feel tired."
"Well, you can plan on frequent visits to your doctor here in Boston," she assured me. "That doctor there in Kansas, Dr. Ross, told me measles make you susceptible to ear infections and pneumonia."
"You mind your manners, young lady," she admonished me.
"Yes, ma'am," I chorused.
"You will have a complete check-up on Thursday and I will not have any back- talk from you. I know you are sick and therefore ill-tempered, but that does *not* excuse your disrespect. Has spending time with those country heathens completely obliterated your manners?"
"I'm sorry, Grandmother."
I tried to hide my disappointment and managed to finish the conversation with my grandmother in a civil enough tone. Before we hung up she reminded me my new flight would leave Kansas City the next afternoon. She hoped I had adequate time to say good-bye to all the 'little friends' I'd made in Smallville.
After a confused and groggy Tuesday, Wednesday was a flurry of activity. I had to get everything packed and ready, and it was quite a chore to pack up months of things. Mrs. Webster and Adie, who had, by that time, gotten much better, had to help me since I was still tired and just felt generally sick.
I had mixed feelings about leaving Smallville — I wouldn't really miss the Websters, although Mrs. Webster *had* gotten me to enjoy cooking. I wouldn't miss their rickety old farmhouse either, but I would miss Jonathan. We had begun spending more time together — as much as our respective chores would allow — especially because things had become tense at his house after official word came that his brothers were fighting in South Korea. Besides Mrs. Webster and Ruth, who had become much nicer to me in the past few weeks, Jonathan was still my only real friend in Smallville. So it would be nice to get back to Boston, back where I knew everyone.
I was resting on the living room couch when I heard a tap at the kitchen screen door. Mrs. Webster, who had been washing vegetables in the kitchen sink, must have answered it, because the next thing I knew Jonathan was standing there in front of me. And he was dressed up — I recognized the blue plaid shirt he was wearing from the church picnic where we met — and the usual farm dirt had been scrubbed from beneath his fingernails.
I put down the book I had been reading and stood to greet him as he brought one hand from behind his back, revealing a fistful of peonies. "I wanted to get you something as a going-away present, but I didn't know what, and I didn't have much money, but I remembered you saying something about liking peonies, so…"
"They're perfect," I announced, taking them from him and leading the way into the kitchen, where we hunted for a vase to put them in. Mrs. Webster said she'd get the flowers ready for me to take back, and we had time for a short walk if I felt up to it. I did and I led Jonathan into the Websters' backyard and headed to their woods.
It was the first time I'd been out of the house in almost a week and I tried to soak up every last detail. Everything looked green and healthy after heavy rains of the past few days. I concentrated on taking deep, slow breaths and smelling the fresh, clean air. I had been cooped up inside for too long, even for a city girl. I was so engrossed in my surroundings that I was surprised when Jonathan stopped and asked me if I was okay.
"Oh, I'm fine. Just enjoying being outside."
"Are you anxious to get back to Boston to see your family?" Jonathan asked me as we reached a log where we'd sat and talked several times since I'd arrived.
I nodded and sat down. "I guess so. It'll only be my grandparents, though, since my parents are still in Sweden. But I'm going to miss Smallville, too."
"You are?" He looked surprised.
"Of course. Well, I'll miss you, at least." I stopped for a deep breath before continuing. "Jonathan, I wanted to say thank you for everything you've done for me, you know, to make Smallville seem more like a home and less like a bad vacation. You're a really good friend — a best friend, really, since I've told you stuff I haven't even told Sophie," I admitted, looking down at the pattern I was tracing in the muddy dirt with my shoes.
"Oh, Martha, you're welcome. It's not like it was a sacrifice or anything. I mean, I've really enjoyed your company, too. I wish you could stay longer, but I know if I were you I'd be anxious to get back." Jonathan looked down at my feet, too.
Sitting there on the log felt strangely awkward, different than any of our other talks there. I kicked a stone and watched it skip over to the base of a nearby tree; after all, if we were both looking down at my feet, I might as well give us something to look *at.*
After a few minutes of silence I felt Jonathan's gaze shift to my face and I looked up at him. He scooted closer to me and my breath caught in my throat. Still watching his face, I moved my head closer to his and I could feel his breath on my face. I moved closer still, but then hesitated. He didn't, though, and our lips were within seconds of meeting. At the last minute I remembered to tilt my head so we wouldn't bump noses, like Sophie and I had read about in her mother's paperback romance novels.
The kiss was fast and sweet, and we both pulled back after a just a second. I opened my eyes — I hadn't even realized I'd closed them — and saw Jonathan doing the same. We grinned shyly at each other, and rose from the log to head back to the house. After a few steps, Jonathan reached over and took my hand. He squeezed it lightly, and I returned the gesture, and we held hands until we reached the Websters' house.
Mr. and Mrs. Webster took me to the airport later that afternoon. Saying good- bye to Smallville was a strange experience; there were people I'd miss, like Jonathan, Ruth, and maybe Mrs. Webster, but then there was Skippy, and most of the other Smallville kids my age, who'd never quite warmed up to me. I wanted to be home, but mostly I wanted to see my parents. If they weren't going to be in Boston, I might as well have been in Kansas.
The plane ride back was much improved over the ride there, since this time I knew where I was going and who would be meeting me there, though neither the destination nor the greeter were of my choosing. Having been instructed by Mrs. Webster prior to my boarding the plane, one of the stewardesses, a young flight. She brought me an extra dessert, a stack of pillows, and even made sure I was seated around relatively quiet passengers so I could rest.
I watched out the window as the clouds passed by and took a short nap before turning my attention to the flowers in my carry-on bag. I removed them, careful not to disturb the waxed paper and wet rag Mrs. Webster had used to keep the flowers moist. I gently touched the soft pink petals and brought the bouquet to my nose to smell their flowery-delicate scent. I smiled, thinking about Jonathan, and hoped I could see him again someday…
To be continued in part 2 of The Martha Chronicles: The Open Road.