Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chapters 9 & 10

Chapter 9

            I think that Libby’s hypnotism never wore off. I continued having the strangest dreams, and random sights and sounds kept popping up in my head after that night. It got so bad that I could hardly sleep some nights. Flashes of a churning stream. A wide field. A broad forest, its floor teeming with berry bushes. These images just keep flashing through my dreams, and then just like that, they’d be gone, giving way to another. There was nothing tangible, nowhere to step through and explore, just a split second image to taunt me. But one thing that kept repeating itself was the image of Mama’s face in the door of that little log cabin. Her face was ravaged with pain, red and puffy from crying, and her hair was a mess. Her hair was never a mess now. And then something new, that emerged in a vivid dream: the name James.

            If I was braver – or stupider – I may have asked Mama about him. James, I mean. But her face in my dreams was one I did not want to bring to reality. So I said nothing.

            I asked Ellie about these things – after all, she recognized that song, but that seemed to be the only memory on her part. She was just as confused and intrigued in all these things as I was, but I guess a year made a big difference, because she had no memories of before like I did. 

            So you can guess what I did to retreat from these haunting dreams. I returned to the television, the computer and loud music. I had to drown out the fiddle, the crying, the tune of Wayfaring Stranger, even my sisters’ laughter.

            Mama and Papa noticed the change in me, but neither of them really said anything. Every once in a while Mama would ask if I was okay, but I always said I was. How could I confide in them? I couldn’t bear to have that worried look cross their face again.

            Dr. Wolf kept coming around every once in a while. He’d bring the latest movies and even video games to our doorstep. Mama again sent her disapproval by her look, but my sisters rushed to the door whenever he came around. It was almost as if he wanted to remove us from our past, or the way of life Mama would have us live in her home. She looked defeated each time he came, too. Defeated, and sad. These were the times I wanted to return again to the old days, but every time I thought about them, the flashbacks and tinges of pain returned. So I escaped to this new world of contrived happiness. But the moment I unplugged, it returned. All I wanted to do was try to forget this big mystery of where we came from, but it always had its ways of resurfacing again. There really was no escape.

            As I went through high school, I found myself dealing with terrible mixed emotions at the prospect of leaving home for college. Part of me wanted to get away and be my own person, away from the reminders of the past. Still part of me wished to stay here and forever be Mama’s little girl, even with all the mystery and feelings of wonder and pain – it was comfortable at home. There was one time every year where I could feel little and carefree again. That was Christmas. And so the Christmas of my senior year was very much awaited, though bittersweet, as I knew it would be my last year at home. 

            The day turned out to be near perfect. We’d gone to a beautiful, peaceful candlelit Christmas Eve service at our church the night before, and woke up to several inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground in the morning. Mama had long since decreed that there was to be no technology on Christmas day, and this one rule had remained steadfast in our family.

            It was a tradition in our house that we were not allowed to go downstairs until we heard Papa play his fiddle. And once the melody of O Come all ye Faithful came drifting up the stairs, all of our doors flung open and we stampeded out in our pajamas.

            We rounded the corner into the kitchen, where Papa winked at us and continued his playing. Mama turned round from the griddle, where she was flipping pancakes.

            “Good morning, lovelies,” she said sweetly.

            “There come my chickens!” hollered Papa, setting his fiddle down at the end of the song. We all ran up and gave him big bear hugs. A flashback of all of us about two and a half feet shorter popped into my head, and I smiled. Christmas always had a way of bringing out the best in us.

            “Bacon’s on the counter, and I am taking orders for eggs now!” called Mama. “Make your mark!” She set out a little notepad with all different types of eggs listed for us to tally up our orders. “One catch – you gotta help cook them!”

            A half groan came out from each of us, but we soon stopped. We all helped on Christmas. 

            “Play another song, Papa,” begged Jackie. “Pleeeeease.”

            Papa nodded and thought for a minute. Then he picked up his fiddle and started playing Away in a Manger, and eyeing Mama. That was her favorite Christmas song. I glanced at her. She was smiling a kind of smile I hadn’t seen in a long while.

            The day passed without event, just a simple, old-fashioned Christmas, as Papa called it. We opened presents at the foot of our enormous tree, ate our dinner, and then feasted on the pumpkin and sweet potato pies Mama had made. Later, the Ameses came over to play card games and we had a jolly old time. It was truly one of the best times I can remember having with my family.

            But even though we all realized that we had the most fun when we were just spending time together and helping out around the house, the TVs and computers were all switched on again the next day.
Chapter 10
            Before I knew it, it was time to head off to college. The hardest part was leaving my sisters – especially Ellie, even though I knew it’d only be another year before she joined me. Libby stayed at home, going to a school in Indianapolis. As for me, I was off to Indiana University in southern Indiana. It was a brand new world for me.
            Olive Yancey was my roommate. If my parents weren’t already shaken at moving me down to college, they were shaken after having met Olive.
            First of all, it took us a while to even find my dorm building. But once we did, we had to lug all of my things up three flights of stairs and down a long hall before finally reaching my room. Then we walked in to Olive. She had her back turned when we approached the door way, and all we saw was her standing on a chair posting old black-and-white photos to the wall. My father looked like he was about to have a spell.
            “Oh, hello!” Her voice certainly matched her appearance, small and rather high – almost squeaky. She hopped down from her chair and approached us.
            “How do you do,” mumbled Papa, still eyeing the photos on the wall. There were handwritten family trees extending over the photos, many of which were edged in the old tintype frames.
“You must excuse me, sir,” said the freckled blonde. “I’ve only just begun in genealogy, but I find it completely fascinating. Of course, I’ve only researched my mother’s side. But I’m about to begin on my father’s.” Her eyes and smile widened with each excited word.
Papa looked at her incredulously, not saying a word.
“Oh, dear. I’m very sorry. My name is Olive Yancey.” She extended her hand.
Mama’s face turned suddenly pale, her jaw dropping.
“Mr. Fox,” Papa only said idly, shaking her hand. But his wife’s face suddenly caught his attention and he started. “I’m sorry. D-did you say Yancey?” His voice sounded shaky.
My face must have taken quite a turn at that. What was this about? We hadn’t even moved from the doorway and already there was a mystery. Again.
“Yes, sir. But I haven’t a clue about that family. You see, my father died when I was very young. I only know they’re from the area – haven’t much more of a clue on them.” She suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, no. I’ve done it again. I’m sorry.”
Mama’s face lightened up. “Oh, it’s alright, dear,” she said, smiling. “I’m Evelyn, and this is our daughter, Maddie. She’s your roommate.”
“Well, hi.” Olive extended her hand again, and shook mine heartily. “It’s nice to meet you. I haven’t chosen a bed, and we can move these around if you want. I don’t care.” Her voice had a hint of a southern accent.
There was a lot to be done. We needed to unpack things, set up things, and move around things. But Mama, strangely, was continuously drawn to the photos on the wall, which drew Olive over to tell her about them, Papa to complaining that there was still much to do, and me to want to curl up in a ball in the corner. I was relieved when they finally left, even after bidding Mama a tearful goodbye.
Olive flopped down on her bed, which was now the bottom bunk, and mine the top. It was quite a haul to get up there, but I preferred it. It had a nice view out our window, which looked out upon the beautiful rolling hills of southern Indiana. I lay there gazing out the window until Olive’s head popped out from underneath me.
“So. I hardly know yew.” Definitely a southern accent. “Where are ya from?”
That’s a loaded question, I thought to myself. “I grew up in Noblesville,” I replied. “Just north of Indianapolis.”
“Oh, sure. I know where Noblesville is. I think I have some family up there.”
“Where are you from?”
Olive laughed. “That’s a loaded question.”
I chuckled. “Funny. I thought the same thing when you asked me.”
Olive suddenly slid out of her bed and into her bean bag chair on the floor. “You did? Kay, I want to hear more about your family, then.”
“You didn’t tell me about yours!”
“Oh, I didn’t, did I?” She laughed silently. “Well, I was born up here, in Bloomington, but my dad died when I was only two. So my mom took me and moved down to a little town in Kentucky to live with her parents. That’s where I grew up.”
“What town?”
“A little town called Middlesboro. It’s right near the Cumberland Gap. Beautiful area.”
“Oh, definitely,” I said. “Why’d you want to come up here, then?”
“I just wanted to go to where my dad was from,” she said, shrugging. “He left me lots of letters and journals and things – since he knew he was going to die. He had cancer. So I just wanted to go somewhere where I’d be near to him.” 
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like to lose Papa.
“It’s alright. Another reason I came up here is because I know his grandma still lives around here somewhere. I’d like to meet her.”
“Well, maybe we can work on findin’ her,” I said. “I’ve got some family research to do in my time down here too.”
“Oh, do ya? Yeah, tell me more about yours.”
Well, I told her everything. I’m not sure why I felt I could open up just like that to her, but it was almost as if I’d found another long lost sister. Olive sat there on her bean bag chair motionless, wide-eyed, listening to every detail. When I could think of nothing more to say, I took a deep breath and flopped back onto my pillow.
“So, yeah. That’s – that’s it.” I chuckled. “Told ya it was a loaded question.”
“Well, first of all, your family sounds pretty cool,” Olive said, grinning, her green eyes sparkling. “I want to go see your mom’s garden. Second of all – do you think the Yancey family may play some part in this whole drama of yours?”
I thought for a moment. Drama was a great word to describe my “mystery.” But the way my parents reacted when they heard the name Yancey, and the way Mama kept looking at the pictures certainly lent themselves to that possibility.
            “Yes,” I replied. “I think you may be onto something.”
            “What are we? Nancy Drew?”
            I thought for a moment again. Then: “Yes. I think you may be onto something,” I repeated, and we had a pretty good laugh.

Feedback? I edited a bunch out of the first two chapters about the food and whatnot, should I edit more out of the backstory or does it progress okay as it is? The meat of the story is about to begin. Thoughts?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7

            I’d never remembered Mama and Papa ever fighting before that night. But after that, there was a lot of strife in our house. Especially since Papa kept coming home with new games and movies that Dr. Wolf had given him. All sorts of old TV show classics on DVD, the Disney princess movies that “all little girls must see,” and computer games galore. I wanted to stay true to Mama, but these were all too tempting. And finally, Papa had had enough of her protesting, and one night he popped some popcorn, invited all his girls into the living room, threw some sleeping bags and pillows on the floor, and put in Beauty and the Beast. We were hooked from the start.

            About midway through the movie, I caught sight of Mama in the kitchen. She was flipping through a catalog, but it seemed she wanted to join us. It was a sweet story, beautiful music, funny….nothing evil about it. Papa had chosen wisely. Over the course of about the next fifteen minutes, she hovered around the kitchen, inconspicuously calling out to Papa with a small question here and there, and eventually made her way permanently into the living room with us. By the end of the movie, she was crying. 

            Thus began our weekly family movie night. Over a period of time, we were allowed a certain amount of TV time after our homework was done, and then we eventually started watching certain TV shows together as a family. Before we knew it, the TV was on nearly all the time.

            There wasn’t really a problem at first. It started slowly, so slowly that we didn’t notice it. But we all knew at one point or another that the TV had become the most important thing in the house. We’d cheat or put off altogether our chores, occasionally dinner was eaten in front of it, and sometimes we girls would lie about our homework being done so that we could watch a certain show. The biggest problem came, though, when we began to fight over it. We had ceased to be our family. 

            One night about a year after we’d gotten the TV came the biggest blow-up yet. All five of us girls wanted to watch something different, and it ended in a red-faced screaming match with us pulling hair and pushing each other to the floor. It was the epitome of a catfight. Papa tried to come in the middle of it, attempting to hold us at bay, then looked up to Mama for help. She just shrugged and said quietly, “See?”

            This set Papa off, because his solution was to go out and buy more TVs to eliminate the fighting. Before we knew it, we had five TVs in the house, four computers, and a radio in nearly every room. My mother’s convictions remained firm, but her authority over five rebellious, mischievous young daughters was waning, especially with a father who sided with them, and enabled them. It wasn’t long before we stopped playing altogether. Maybe we just forgot how. And of course we were no longer interested in things of the family mysteries. There were just too many other distractions.

            Mama did put her foot down in one last remaining aspect of our family’s life. There was to be absolutely no electronics on Sunday. Sunday was a day of rest. It was on one Sunday afternoon, perhaps I was in seventh or eighth grade, that I happened upon my long lost mystery once again. Papa was rocking in his old wooden rocking chair on the front porch with a dog lying across his feet. His eyes were closed; he had his fiddle in his lap, and was humming an old familiar tune. About midway through the song, his humming gave way to a low, soft singing:

                                    I’m goin’ home to see my mother

                                    I’m goin’ home no more to roam

                                    I am just goin’ over Jordan

                                    I am just goin’ over home

Oh, how I knew that song. It sank into my mind right next to the wood smoke smell, that aching, distant feeling. It was like something that’s on the tip of your tongue that is absolutely impossible to place. Something in my past that I couldn’t retrieve.

            As I stood there trying to decide if I should ask Papa about the song, he opened his eyes and saw me.

            “Maddie,” he said, surprised. “I didn’t hear you come out here.”

            I said nothing for a moment, but then approached him. “Papa? What was that song?”

            The worried look. I hadn’t seen that since before we’d gotten the television. But to my surprise, he answered my question.

            “That was Wayfaring Stranger. An old, old folk song. One of my favorites.”

            “But you’ve never sang it for us. Not for a long time, at least.”

            His eyes flashed a panicked look. “You remember that song?”

            I nodded. “Yeah. Will you play it on your fiddle?”

            “No, honey. I can’t.”

            “Why not?”

            “It’s a painful song for your mother to hear. But I sing it when I can. It’s comforting to me.”

            I looked into his face. It looked weathered and worn. My deep desire to know what he knew was back. It was a hollow feeling, one that I was almost certain I could never fix. He must’ve seen the look of pain cross my face.

            “Why don’t you go in and watch TV, Maddie?”

            But I’d realized at that point that ever since we’d gotten TV that my sisters and I had ceased to really live. Mama had been right about them. I could trace it almost to the day we got our first one. I’d lost my sense of wonder; I’d lost interest in so many other things. And not only I, but all of us. And Papa was the one who made me realize it.

            I hesitantly turned towards the door, casting one more sidelong glance at Papa. He tipped his hat over his eyes and resumed his humming. So I walked inside. Ellie was sitting there typing on the laptop. Jackie and Carrie were lying on the floor, watching some cartoon. And Lottie was just lying on the couch behind the twins, her feet propped up, arm dangled off the side, paying halfhearted attention to the television. And then I saw Mama in the kitchen. She was seated at the table, hunched over an open Bible, her head in her hands. As I got a closer look, I saw her eyes were closed. Then I remembered that it was Sunday. The TV was not to be on on Sundays, and yet there it was, with a mindless cartoon blasting from it in the next room. I realized then that she had resigned her post, and given up her fight. I stood there torn between the two rooms and saw one small tear drop silently onto her Bible. And my heart ached for how our family used to be.
Chapter 8
            I could hardly even remember how we used to be. Happy, singing on the porch, cooking together, doing our chores together, then playing and running out in the yard…. These were just fleeting memories now. I thought of Lottie. She was only six. Her childhood had practically been spent in front of the television. I decided I wasn’t having it anymore. I didn’t want to waste any more time. That night I volunteered to help Mama with supper. I don’t think I’d ever seen her more surprised. Her eyes lit up, and she stammered, “R-really?” Then she sent me out to the garden to pick some tomatoes and garlic cloves. It was spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce that night. It was the best dinner I’d had in a long time.
            But it was sure a struggle to get out of the habit of always sitting in front of the TV. I’d gotten accustomed to rushing through my other chores and homework, especially on the nights my favorite shows were on. The other girls weren’t as sold out as I was either, so they weren’t really making as much of an effort. But the more the TV was on, the louder it seemed to get, especially if there was more than one blasting from different rooms. One winter day I even got so fed up that I put ear muffs on as I went around the house dusting. But then the silence was uncomfortable. So I decided to make my own noise. I started singing some of our old songs. Sometimes only half of a song would come back, so I’d just switch up songs in the middle, or switch to just humming it the rest of the way through. But even then I reminded myself of characters I’d seen on the television… whistle while you work, or Cinderella singing while she scrubs the floors…. But I just kept going until Mama stopped me, her eyes wide. My stomach did a flip. It was a scary look she was giving me.
            “What was that song you were just singing?”
            “I don’t know.” (I really didn’t. I think I’d forgotten, or just couldn’t even hear myself at that point.)
            “Yes, yes, you do. What was it, Maddie?”
            I took off my ear muffs, and saw Ellie watching us with a strange look on her face too. I shrugged.
            “I really don’t know. Sing me part of it.”
            Mama took a step back. “I-I can’t.” Then she walked back into the other room. I looked at Ellie.
            “What was it?” I hissed.
            “I – I kind of recognize it, too. Something about a poor, wayfaring stranger.”
            I slapped my hand to my forehead. Oh, no.
            Mama walked back into the room just then. “You recognize it, too, Ellie?”
            Ellie looked like she was in deep trouble. “Um, yes’m.”
            Mama took a deep breath. “I see. Has-has your father been singing it?”
            “No,” Ellie answered before I could say anything.
            “Maddie,” Mama turned to me. “Sing to me as much as you remember.”
            I thought for a moment. Did I want to be difficult? Yes. “Why?”
            “What do you mean, why? I don’t have to answer that. Sing me what you remember.”
            “Umm, no. Not without an explanation.”
            Her jaw dropped open. “Go to your room. I will not have this defiance.”
            I threw my dust rag on the floor and marched up the stairs to my room. I sat there stewing for a good while before my door opened. It was Papa.
            I mumbled a reluctant hello. It wasn’t him I was mad at, but I was mad nonetheless.
            “Maddie, why did you sing that song around your mother? I told you-“
            “I don’t know, Papa! I didn’t even know I was singing it.”
            “You- what? You didn’t even know you were singing it?”
            “How can that be?”
            “I don’t know.”
            He sighed, and sat slowly on my bed next to me. “I’d like you to sing what you remember. Please.”
            I glared at him. “I don’t know why I have to do that.”
            “I just want to know what you remember. It’s like a little memory test.”
            My glare continued, but I thought hard for a minute, trying to remember the words. Got it.
            I am a poor wayfaring stranger
            Travelin’ through this world of woe
            There is no sickness, toil, nor danger
            In that bright land to which I go.” 
            “Stop.” That was Mama’s voice. She stood just outside my door.
            “How long has she been there?” I snapped.
            “I just walked up,” she said, then looked at Papa. “She remembers much. I heard her singing a different part in the hall. You sure you have not sung this song around her?”
            I looked between the two of them. “What are you talking about?”
            “Not that part. For certain.” He looked at me. “Maddie, what kind of voice do you hear when you hear that song in your head?”
            This was a little too much for me. I felt drilled, like a criminal. “No voice. Just a melody.”
            Mama nodded, gave Papa a look, then walked away. Papa patted my knee and invited me down for supper. I was hardly hungry anymore. The strained feeling was back between all of us, and this mystery just kept getting more and more complicated and less and less likely to reach a solution.
            After supper that night, I slipped out quietly and headed for Libby’s house down the road. There was barely any snow on the ground but it was awfully cold. The sidewalks ended once I left our neighborhood so I had to walk carefully along the icy road until I came to their little farmhouse glowing in the middle of the fields ahead. By the time I hit their doorstep, my feet were nearly frozen.
            Mrs. Ames gasped at the sight of me. “Maddie! Look at your red cheeks. Come in, come in. Did you walk here?” Before I could answer she was bustling to the other side of the room to take a kettle of tea off their old iron stove. “Have some tea.”
            “Oh, thank you,” I gasped. Mrs. Ames was always a ready hostess.
            “Hi, Maddie,” Libby’s cheerful voice rang out from the next room. “Whatcha doin’ over here?”
            “I dunno,” I shrugged. “Just wanted to get out of the house.”
            “Well, come on in,” she said, and we went and plopped down at the table in the parlor. “I was just doing a little bit of scrapbooking.”
            I peered across the table. “Can I see?”
            “Sure,” she said, and slid it over to me. “Not quite done with this one, but I like it.”
            Black-and-white faces peered up at me from the photos. It was a family history scrapbook. My discontent must have shown on my face because Libby commented on it.
            “What’s wrong?”
            I didn’t know whether to lie and say nothing, or to subject her to the tumultuous emotions I was dealing with then. I settled on the latter. It was Libby, after all.
            “So, let me get this straight,” she said slowly, after I’d spilt my story. “You are having flashbacks, and your parents won’t tell you anything about where you came from.”
            “Yeah,” I gulped. “I mean, it’s nothing new. They never wanted to tell me anything for years, but the flashbacks are starting to get worse.”
            Libby sat in silence for a minute. Then she blurted out, “You need a hypnotist.”
            “What? No.” I shook my head. “No. Mama would kill me. Your mom would kill you.”
            She sighed. “Well, let me try.”
            “Why not? What can it hurt?”
            I took a deep breath. “This is ridiculous.”
            “Well, do you have a better suggestion? The only people who know where you came from are closed-mouthed, and your flashbacks aren’t telling you anything.”
            As I sat there trying to come up with a better objection, she got up, closed the French doors, and dimmed the light.
            “Alright, go lay down on the couch and close your eyes. I’m gonna sit over here in this chair.”
            “Just do it.”
            Exhaling loudly in protest, I dragged my feet over and plopped down on the couch.
            “Kay. I want you to relax. Take a deep breath. Now think back to when you first moved into your house now. Think about what that was like – building the play set, starting the garden-“
            “I don’t remember that-“
            I grunted at her, then repeated, “I don’t remember that at all.”
            She went on, more calmly, “If you don’t remember that, imagine what it was like. Your mom and dad just moving in with all you little girls, getting settled in a new, strange town.”
            I thought about this. My first memory was maybe around kindergarten. Then I thought – I don’t even know how old I was when they moved to that house.
            “Okay, now I want you to think about where you think you may have come from. Put those flashbacks together – the wood smoke, the song – and all the peculiar things about your mom – the garden, the preserving – what can those clues tell you?”
            The first thought to come to my head was to wonder why we couldn’t just have this conversation like normal, but I pushed my cynicism aside and let my mind stew on this. All these things would equal a little setting way out in the wilderness. But why that would have to be a dangerous secret is what I couldn’t wrap my head around. I lay there and made to enter this imaginary wooden scene – the wood smoke, and a garden just like ours, a fiddle sawing merrily away – but then there was something new that had just appeared. A little log cabin materialized, and there was Mama standing there. She had a dress on, and – another woman beside her, someone older. They were crying. And on the edge of the scene is Papa. The fiddle music is gone. He is carrying something small, his body bent over. Mama drops to the ground, inconsolable. The older woman leans to comfort Mama, then covers her own face, shaking her head. Papa walks slowly around the cabin and disappears. The older woman stands and walks quickly over to me and picks me up. And the memory fades away.
            I shot up. Libby froze.
            “What did you see?”
            I couldn’t say anything. 
            “Maddie, what did you see? Your face is as white as a sheet.”
            I slowly sat back down again. “I – I think I saw where we came from,” I whispered.
            Libby harrumphed smugly. “Told ya it would work,” then, “I mean – tell me about what you saw….”
            I recounted the scene for her. Her eyes grew as wide as mine had been with every word. Then she unfroze and scrambled for a piece of paper.
            “We have to write this down before you forget it.”
            “No. What if someone sees it? Libby, I don’t think I can forget this.”
            “You’d be surprised. Promise, no one will see this.”
            At the top of the paper she wrote the word scene. “Now, tell me. What season was it?”
            I closed my eyes. “Fall.”
            She wrote down fall. “And the log cabin – how big was it?”
            “N-not big. Um, looked like just one room, and a chimney.”
            She looked at me. “Could you smell the wood smoke?”
            I thought back. “Yes.”
             Libby sighed. “Maddie, where do you think this is all from?”
            “I don’t know! I mean it looked like a scene outta freaking Conner Prairie.” And then another memory from long ago popped in my head. “Libby. My mom told me once that her mom’s maiden name was Ames.”
            “Interesting,” she said, a confused look crossing her face.
            “Maybe you might have some clue in your family stuff. Maybe we’re related to you somehow.”
She hesitated, then dragged the big scrapbook across the table. 
 “The Ames family tree is right there.”
            I pulled the book towards me.
            “I remember her saying her mother’s name was Caroline, like my sister,” I said out loud, more to myself than to Libby. I flipped through the pages. Much to my disappointment, it was a direct tree, with no information on brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles. I turned the pages until the last known ancestor. No mention of a Caroline.
            I closed the book for a second, and then the last few words I’d read registered in my mind. Holston, Virginia.
            “Wait a minute –“ I cried, and tore the book back open. “Holston, Virginia?”
            “That’s where Mama said she was born.”
            Libby gasped.
            “When did your family first come to Indiana?”
            “Well, hold on.” She flipped back through the scrapbook. “Here. Charles Ames, born 1778, settled in Kentucky in 1800, then moved to Indiana in 1805.”
            I frowned. “Well, obviously that’s not it. But maybe there is something to this Holston, Virginia connection.”
            Libby sat there looking at me. “Maybe it was some crazy cult in Virginia that they had to run away from. Or – or you guys are in a witness protection program.”
            Libby was always coming up with crazy ideas.
            “I’m sure it’s not as exciting as either of those,” I said, but silently I was afraid it was more exciting than I could have imagined, and much more terrifying.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5

            So, you know of course I just couldn’t approach Mama and ask her directly about this exact replica of her kitchen and garden. We’d tried that before to no avail. No, I had to go about in a way that would tell them without words that I was starting to piece together what all the secrecy and the worried looks were about, in a way that hopefully might lead to them telling us themselves.

            So I decided I’d take them to Conner Prairie myself. It was almost the end of October, which was when they closed for the year, so I had to hurry up and get them there. I just told them all that it was a really neat place, since they were always looking for new places to take the family, they agreed.

             The day before Halloween we went. I made sure to watch their faces when we got out of the car to see if they had any reaction to the smell of the smoke like I’d had. I noticed Papa’s face first. He had been saying something to Mama as he got out of our van, and he just stopped. Mama turned to look at him, her eyes suddenly wide. And then, like I’ve seen them do so often, they shook their heads, shaking away the looks, and continued their conversation, although a little more hesitantly. 

            We went through the big building first and bought our tickets. I was in such a hurry to get my parents to Prairie Town that I almost knocked Lottie’s stroller over in my haste. I told them all that there really wasn’t much to see inside, that outside was the coolest part. Mama and Papa didn’t seem as eager, and grabbed a hold of the stroller and steered it into the museum.

            They took their sweet old time strolling through the inside part, Mama commenting on some things and asking me if I’d learned about it in school. All I would answer was “uh huh, yeah I sure did, but mostly what we learned about was outside.” I thought I’d never, ever get them out when finally the inside part just ended. There was nowhere to go but out. And as soon as we opened the doors, the sunlight streamed in our eyes and the smoke smell hit our noses. I heard Mama sigh. 

            Mama stayed quiet for some time. We wound our way through the little town, stopping to let my younger sisters pet the animals and to talk to some of the townspeople in costume. Papa seemed hesitant, but engaged in conversation with them when they asked politely what business he had in town. I smiled inside when he laughed lightly, and said, “Just passin’ on through, prolly headin’ up toward Strawtown or whereabouts.” Mama gave him a stern look at that point, and Papa nodded his head to the man, and we continued on. And that’s when I dragged my family into the house with the garden.  

            As soon as we entered the tiny cabin Mama gasped.

            “Mama! This looks just like our house!” cried Ellie. She said a quick hello to the woman there, the same woman who had been there on our field trip, then dashed outside to see the garden.

            “Why, hello again,” said the woman to me. All of a sudden I felt a twinge of guilt. “Did you bring your mother to help me out?” She beamed at Mama. “I hear you are quite adept at preparin’ your food for the winter.”

            “Oh… did my daughter tell you that?” she asked, casting a sidelong glance my way. “Well, you know how bad winters can be around here,” said Mama smiling hesitantly at her. “Seems you hafta start earlier ever’ year.”

            I swung my head around at her. Papa was staring at her too. That was the same accent Papa had used a few minutes ago. And it was funny, I thought, that whenever the two of them got excited or awful angry, a hint of that accent would come out. Mama caught herself and made to follow Ellie outside, but the woman went on.

            “How did you learn to preserve your vegetables?” she asked.

            I watched Mama stop and slowly turn around. “My aunts taught me.”

            The woman nodded. “Well, take a look around my garden. If you have any tips for my herbs this winter, I’ll gladly take them.” 

            Mama nodded, thanked the woman, then grabbed my hand and dragged me outside. She took me all the way out to the smokehouse at the very back of the garden before she stopped and turned to me.

            “Who do you think you are?” Her eyes seemed to bore a hole into mine.

            “I – uh, I –“

            “What are you doing?” she continued. “You tryin’ to figure me out? Is that why you brought me here? You tryin’ to figure out how I know all this?”

            There was nowhere to go but the truth. “Well – yeah! Yes, I am trying to figure that out.”

            Her hand went straight to her forehead and the worried look surfaced.

            “Alright, Mama, I’ll save you the pain. I already know how you know all this.”

            The worried look was quickly replaced by a completely horrified one. “Oh, do you?”

            I lifted my chin in defiance, then nodded.

            “We’re leaving,” Mama said suddenly.

             “What? We just got here!”

            “I have been here long enough. Levi, let’s go!”

            Papa raised his head. “Go?”

            “Yes. We are going.” She held fast to my hand and marched right out the gate, up the road, through the building, and back out to the van, leaving Papa to try his hardest to corral the rest of the girls behind us.

            The ride home was horrible. Ever heard that line, “If Mother ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?  Well, that was certainly true in my family. Papa and my sisters sensed that something was terribly wrong, even though Mama and I were the only ones who knew exactly what.

            When we got home, everyone quickly dispersed. Papa headed out to the garage, and Ellie took the rest of the girls outside to play. And it was almost like something akin to a shootout in an old Western when Mama confronted me. 

            She stood across the kitchen from me and looked me up and down, her eyes piercing through me, even though I was shrinking away from her glare. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I just stood there and waited for the eruption. I didn’t have to wait long.

            “So, Miss Maddox, tell me what you know.” The voice was level and cold, her eyes maintaining the glare.

            I gulped. “I – I know that wherever we come from is somewhere you don’t want us to know about,” I jumped right in.

            Mama lifted her chin. “Ah. Alright.”

            “I just don’t know why.”

            Mama seemed taken aback at that statement. “You don’t know why?”

            I shook my head. “No! I don’t know where we came from, I don’t know why we left, and I don’t know why you and Papa won’t tell us. I was tired of asking you questions and getting these worried looks and silly excuses, so I thought I’d take you to where the memory came back for me, and hope that it’d come back for you, too.”

            “The memory? What – what do you mean by ‘the memory’?”

            My hands went up in exasperation. “I – I don’t know. I couldn’t place it, but - at Conner Prairie, I smelled this wood smoke smell. It seemed familiar, and I realized that wherever we came from, it had that same smell. And there were so many things at Conner Prairie that you do at home too, so I thought that might be a clue….”

            “I see. But you don’t know where we came from?”
            No, Mama. I told you I don’t. But I really would like to know.”

            My mother sat down at the table and brought her hand to her forehead, and I watched as the worried look surfaced once again. She rubbed her forehead, shook her head, then looked up at me, her face wrinkled with sadness.

            “I can’t tell you, Maddie. It’s too dangerous. I’m sorry.”

            And with that she stood up and left the room, leaving my head spinning with more questions than I’d begun with, and not a single answer.

Chapter 6
            Dr. Wolf was Papa’s boss. He’d come around every once in a while for a visit or to have dinner with us. And I noticed that every time he came Mama was on edge. Well, he stopped by that weekend. But this time he brought a bunch of gifts with him. He called it an early Christmas. My sisters and I stood on the stairs overlooking our entry way as box after box was carted through the door, holding the dogs back from jumping on the intruders. Then we watched as Dr. Wolf and Papa opened them up. Mama sat disapprovingly in the corner, trying to focus on her knitting while we all sat on the couch and watched them intently.
            The first box was a television. I could hardly believe it. It was much bigger than the one we had in school, and even bigger than the one Rachel had. Dr. Wolf set it up in our family room, right smack dab in the middle across from our big couch, moving our bookshelves to the sides of the room.
            Next was a big radio. This he and Papa set up in the kitchen. He turned it on, and the music took over the entire downstairs of the house.
            The next box was a computer. He said Papa would need this for work, but we girls could play lots of fun games on it, too. He set it up on Papa’s big desk in the basement, after he’d shoved all his papers to the sides. Then he called the cable company and set up an appointment for them to come to our house to hook up cable TV and Internet.
            And then, even after Mama cordially invited him to stay for supper, he was off. He left our heads spinning, wondering what in the world made him do all this, and wondering what in the world we were to do with all the new things. We girls watched Mama cautiously, saw that she was heading into the kitchen to start supper, and went about our business as usual. Ellie and I started helping her, and the other girls went into the living room to play. The first thing Mama did was turn off the radio.
            Dinner that evening was strained. Mama was not her usual cheery self, and Papa seemed to cower in his seat. I noticed every once in a while he’d steal a glance at her, then look away real fast. Then Ellie asked if we could watch TV after dinner.
            Mama’s fork slammed down on her plate and she looked up at her. “You most certainly may not. That thing is nothing but a waste of time, and we have too much to do to be idle in front of it. No. We will not be watching TV.”
            “Ever?” asked Ellie.
            “Now, Evelyn, you can’t say that- “
            “Yes! Yes, I can. How dare he come in here and bring all those things to upset our way of living-“
            “He’s trying to enhance our way of living!”
            “You and I both know that is not true.” Mama’s tone of voice was so cool and level that Papa sat back in his chair, then looked at all of us staring at him.
            “We can continue this conversation later, dear,” he said quickly, and gave us a look that said to return quietly to our meals. Mama exhaled, dissatisfied, and we finished our meal in a terrible silence.
            We girls were sent to bed early that night. No more did we finish our chores than Mama shooed us upstairs to brush our teeth and change into our pajamas. Then she brushed and braided our hair while Papa read us our Bible story. Then it was off to bed, lights out.
            But of course we didn’t go to sleep. Not when just down the stairs Mama and
Papa were speaking in very hushed tones, their voices growing more tense and strained with every word.
            Ellie and I were the first ones to the edge of the stairs, so we of course sent the other girls marching pouting right back into their rooms. Carrie slammed her door in protest, which caused Mama and Papa to stop and come rushing up the stairs. Ellie and I just made it into our beds without getting caught. I squinted my eyes open from just beneath the covers to see Mama’s silhouette on my ceiling, and then it slowly receded as she made her way back out into the hallway. When I heard Papa’s heavy feet hit the hardwood floor of the hall downstairs, I bolted back out of my bed and inched back down the hall. Carrie caused me to nearly have a heart attack when she hissed from her room, “Tell me what you hear!” I nodded and waved frantically for her to go back to bed as I crept back to the stairs. Ellie soon joined me.
            “I should be able to raise my daughters the way I see fit, Levi,” came Mama’s hushed voice.
            “I understand that, Evelyn, but your way is not the way of things nowadays. We can’t live in the past. Our girls need to be familiar with the world as it is now.” 
            “The world now is evil.”
            “No more evil than it’s ever been,” came Papa’s quick retort.
            It’s a hundred times more evil. And all that evil has found its way into our home today, and I will not have it. I will not have it.”
            “What are you going to do when they leave this home, Evelyn? You can’t control them forever. They’ll be completely lost if they know nothing of the world when they leave for college.”
            “That’s why I have them going to public school now. They will be acclimated quite enough from their experiences there.” Her voice broke and I heard Papa sigh. Then he gently said, “We can’t keep this secret from them forever, Evie.”
            I heard Mama’s chair push back suddenly. “Yes, we can, Levi, and you know very well we must.”
            “And for that very reason Wolf brought all these things to us this weekend.”
            “Be in the world, not of it,” Mama said, quoting Scripture. Papa sighed, and I heard footsteps coming quickly toward the stairway. Ellie and I scrambled back to bed, our hearts pounding. I heard Mama go into their room and close the door. Papa was still downstairs, and I heard him turn on the TV. I couldn’t get to sleep for hours.