That evening, showered, shaved, and dressed in his going to town clothes, Kelly gazed at his wife as she finished the last touches to her makeup, and wished he could entice her back up to the hayloft. “Well, I guess I will go down and make sure the old truck is going to start.”
“Kelly Archie, don’t you do anything to make it not start. You won’t fool me. I know you just took it to the garage to be overhauled,” Genevieve called out, as she heard her husband’s footsteps receding on the stairs.
Genevieve looked into the mirror and checked to make sure her belt was buckled just tight enough to show off her slim waste, but not so tight as to cause the rich material of the dress to pucker unattractively. She picked up a can of hair spray and gave her hair an extra spray, to make sure that the upswept tresses stayed in place, glad that her long hair was so easy to dress in the latest styles. She often watched other women at the beauty shop having their shorter hair ratted and teased into the same styles, and thought it looked rather painful.
Slipping on her less sensible heels, she stood up and draped a small fur stole around her shoulders, fastening it with a snap of the spring levered clasp. She walked down the hall, and into the nursery where her child was fast asleep. She stood looking down, wanting to touch the baby’s soft cheek, just to make sure she was real, but restrained herself. Alexis was clenching and relaxing her tiny fists and pursing and relaxing her rose bud lips. Genevieve spent a few moments watching the baby dream and wondering what such a new mind could contain to dream about. She imagined that the dream must be about her mother’s breasts from the action of the lips. Leaving the door propped open so that Eileen could hear should Alexis wake up, she proceeded downstairs.
“You look like a clipper-ship in full sail,” Bennie said, with admiration as he came out of the kitchen, with a piece of Eileen’s fresh cornbread in each hand, and a smear of butter on his smooth cheek.
“I hope you meant that as a compliment!” Genevieve laughed. “As you can see you have the night off. Kelly and I are going to subject ourselves to Brother Milstead tonight. Don’t be around when I come home from my mother-in-law’s or you might find yourself at work again.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have to wake me. You could do another sleeping farm-boy canvas of me,” he said smiling impishly, and took another bite of the cornbread, trying to catch the crumbs in his other hand, despite it being occupied. He was unsuccessful and was glad at Genevieve’s habitual inattention to housekeeping matters.
“That is an idea. Just make sure you sleep with a profound look on your face,” she responded, thinking, not for the first time that she was very lucky to have found this magical boy, who was not only her muse, but fit into their family so well, almost as if he were the son she never had.
“Oh, by the way, could you guys give me a ride into town?” he asked, finishing the cornbread and licking the crumbs and butter from his fingers, before starting on the second piece. “The Vikings is showing tonight, it is the first showing. I want to see how Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis handle their roles.”
“Of course, wash your hands, get your jacket, and pick up those crumbs before Eileen sees them,” Genevieve said, thinking that the boy would be the only teen at the movie that night, who was more invested in the acting than the story.
“Thanks Boss,” Bennie said with a smile.
“You will have to ride in the back. The center seat is being taken up by a gift for Louise. Eileen made her a cake,” Genevieve said, smiling, knowing full well that Eileen made the cake for Kelly’s mother, not to be nice but to show Louise that Eileen Giffin still made the better cakes no matter what the judges at the county fair said last year.
Bennie bent down to pick up the crumbs, astounded that Genevieve noticed them, and wondering if Eileen was rubbing off on the bohemian artist. He had to admit that tonight his boss looked more like a local lady, than the stylish artist he met three years before, on that hot summer day, in New York.
Kelly wasn’t surprised to see his wife glide out of the front door followed by her model and muse. Bennie rarely passed up a chance to go into town. His movie-star good looks made him quite popular with the town’s young ladies, who one day would brag that they once dated Bennie Laplaca, when he was a nobody. Each girl would brag that she was the woman who broke his heart and turned his life upside down, though none of them would ever be privy to the young man’s real story of how he became a very real part of the Archie family. Bennie possessed the talent for listening, rather than talking, which was the second reason he was so popular.
Once in town Bennie hopped out of the truck bed in front of the town’s only movie house, next door to Massey’s drug store, where the soda fountain was a magnet for the youth of the town. He gave the couple a quick wave before joining a group of teens already lining up for the evening showing of a movie that premiered on the West Coast months before but was having its first night’s showing in Misty.
Kelly and Genevieve continued on to the quiet tree shaded street where Louise Archie lived with her troop of regal cats. As the truck passed the high fence, which Kelly’s uncle erected against the town’s ordinances, shielding his sister’s eyes against seeing the neighbor’s lovely daughter sunning in what the pastor considered an indecently small bathing suit, Kelly and his wife suddenly saw what Louise was so excited about over the phone. There … sitting in the middle of her previously unoccupied driveway was a brand-new jade green Edsel.
“Oh, my god, your mother bought an Edsel!” Genevieve gasped, inadvertently raising her hand to the collar of her stole, in shock.
“She sure did,” Kelly deadpanned. “What do you bet that my uncle had something to do with this purchase?”
“No bet, it’s a given,” Genevieve said, suspecting that Carol, the pastor’s wife stopped him from ordering one of the trendy cars.
“You can always trust my uncle to jump on the bandwagon for anything that is new and foolish,” Kelly said, musing to himself that even as a boy he felt he possessed better judgment than his uncle, except that day he jumped on the train out of town.
Parking on the street, Kelly commented, “I have never seen Momma park a car any where but in her garage.”
“I know what you mean. She always makes comments about other people parking their cars outside to show them off but isn’t this your mother’s first new car?” Genevieve responded, touched by how her mother-in-law must be feeling about the purchase.
“That is true. Da was a big one for always buying used cars. He said, he liked them broken in, and all the bugs shaken out,” Kelly said, with a sad fond smile of remembrance.
The couple knew that Louise must be watching them through her lace curtains, so they walked around the car seemingly admiring it while they spoke in hushed voices.
“What do you think ever possessed your mom to buy such an ugly thing, even with Milstead’s input?” Genevieve asked, “It looks like it is screaming.”
“Well, I expect mother’s friend Betty Sue had something to do with it too. You know her, anything that is unusual and expensive, she will be the first in line, with an elbow in my uncle’s ribs,” Kelly said, looking at the massive chrome bumper, cantilevered in front of the car.
“My goodness, it looks worse in person, than it does in the print ads,” Genevieve remarked, sweeping her arm to take in the car and smiling for her mother-in-law’s benefit. “That thing in front looks like a proboscis.”
“Yes, it does seem like a bug that is missing its wings. I really don’t like the rear end. They have made it look like someone crushed the fins flat and it left a nasty fold on the rear sides,” Kelly said, as he continued to stare. “There is just something about it that is ultimately graceless, like an ugly old woman dressed like an ingénue.”
“Well, I guess we have looked at it enough for your momma to be happy. Let’s go in and act like we sincerely like it. I really don’t want to hurt her feelings. Also, I have a feeling that if we dared to say what we thought about it, she would repeat it to your uncle and he would make our lives unbearable in a way we couldn’t understand right now,” Genevieve said, with resignation in her voice.
“I completely agree,” Kelly said, taking his wife by the elbow and escorting her up the wooden steps to the front door of his mother’s home.
“Come in, come in!” Louise called out, opening the door to their knocking. “Well, how do you like it?”
“It is such an interesting green,” Genevieve said, to have something to say, as she pretended to find a speck of lint on her sleeve, to avoid looking in her mother-in-law’s eyes, afraid that the intuitive older woman would see the truth in them.
“I have never seen anything like it!” Kelly remarked aloud, thinking, “I hope to never see anything like it again.” Placing the cake box, he was carrying by the string with one hand, down on the hall table, he gave his mother a warm hug and a peck on her lightly powdered cheek.
Kelly and Genevieve, following Louise, walked into the living room of the old house where Kelly was born weeks prematurely, setting his lifetime habit of showing up early for appointments and events. His mother was fond of regaling her visitors with stories of how Kelly was kept alive that first night, by being set on the open door of the oven in a small baking pan, while his three-year-old sister, Dana Marie, was carefully watched that she didn’t try to take off with the dolly. When Kelly started dating as a teen, his mother’s joy in regaling his dates with the story of his first night on earth, ended many a relationship on the first date.
Besides the almost new radio, Kelly didn’t see anything in the living room that hadn’t been there since before he could remember. Of course, the cats were new, but in general size, shape, color, and number, they could have been the same cats that once graced the room when Kelly was a boy, bursting into the house demanding an after school snack.
Genevieve remembered the cake, and returning with it from the hall, gave it to Louise. “Mother Louise, Eileen sent you a cake,” she said, waiting for the older woman’s reaction.
“Oh, bless her heart. That Eileen Giffin is the most Christian of women,” Louise said, with a sweetly insincere smile, and swept the box into the kitchen never to be seen again, as Kelly returned to the hall to open the front door for his uncle and his aunt who were driven up in the minister’s flashy black car, not long after Kelly and his wife entered Louise’s house.
“Gen, Kelly, good to see you!” the minister boomed, mindless of the fact that Genevieve didn’t like pet names.
From the kitchen, his sister called out, “Your weekday voice please, Darrell. It is not Sunday.”
Milstead called back to his sister, “Sorry dear!” and turning to his nephew said, “My lovely wife almost didn’t make it tonight. Toby has a bad tummy, and was quite fretful, but at the last minute the dear boy insisted that his momma come and have a good time.”
Genevieve enjoyed a smile behind the minister’s back with her mother-in-law, who came from the kitchen, drying her hands on a delicately patterned tea towel that she only used when she entertained guests. The two women knew that Carol most likely had a hard time getting a baby-sitter who would put up with their spoiled child, Genevieve was thankful that her Alexis was such a calm, well behaved baby, and hoped that she would continue to be so pleasant as she got older.
Making her way across the living room, Louise called the group to follow her into the dining room, where they were seated at the large old fashion dining table, which was set for dinner while the food was loaded up on the sideboard. Kelly glanced at the head of the table where a place was set for his long-gone father, Napoleon Frans Archie, for whom he was named. This sight always made him sad, but also made him feel nearer to his father.
“Well, don’t be shy! Help yourselves. Genevieve, I am sure my down-home cooking isn’t up to what you were used to in the big city, but you need to eat to put some meat on your bones,” Louise said, as she always did, as if it were the first time Genevieve graced her table.
“Oh, Mother Louise, your cooking is far better than anything I have ever experienced in either of the big city’s I lived in. But don’t expect me to gain weight. Your son married a skinny woman, and I mean to stay that way for him,” Genevieve said, in a laughing tone, the words that always made her mother-in-law smile, each time making Louise feel a little better about her son’s choice of wife.
“Oh, Momma, this all looks so good. I just don’t know how to start. I think I will skip vegetables and go right for the roast beef,” Kelly said, smiling at his mother, awaiting her well-worn response.
“Kelly Archie! You will eat a balance meal. You take a little of everything. If you don’t like something you don’t have to eat it, but you have to try,” Louise said, as if he were still a small boy.
Kelly beamed at his mother feeling very warm and loved and proceeded to load one of his mother’s delicate china plates with; succulent roast beef, glazed carrots, buttery mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and macaroni salad. As he served himself, he also, put smaller portions on his wife’s plate as she followed close to him.
With her husband taking care of her food selections, Genevieve’s attention was focused on the Milstead’s plates. She noted that Darrell skipped the green beans and carrots, taking large portions of meat and potatoes, while his wife put minuscule dabs of green beans and carrots on her plate, leaving large spaces between them and a tiny sliver of beef. It always amazed Genevieve that Carol always seemed to be just a little too plump, though she seemed to only smoke cigarettes and drink sodas.
Louise, satisfied that her guests were well provisioned, filled her own plate with hardy portions. Carrying the loaded plate, she took her place at the foot of the table, opposite the ghostly place setting, motioning to her brother and sister-in-law to sit to her left and her son and daughter-in-law to sit at her right.
As they ate, conversation kept a steady pace, as the minister, shared the community news, and spoke about plans for a new baptistery at the church-hall. Kelly talked about projects he was involved with around his farm. The women talked about Alexis and Toby, the two younger women sure that their child was superior to the other’s child. Louise from time to time interjected a remark or two into the conversation, but in her mind, she was imagining what things her late husband would be saying from the other end of the table. She was sure he would have doted on Kelly’s wife and child, though she was sure he wouldn’t have liked her brother marrying such a younger woman.
From time to time, Genevieve caught her husband’s eye with a look that said, “See I told you it wouldn’t be as bad as you feared.” His answering look would convey, ‘It is nice.’
After dinner was served and well enjoyed, Genevieve followed Louise into the kitchen and returned carrying the cake, which Louise made that morning for her guests, out to the dining room, while Louise followed with the coffee service.
“Kelly, would you be a dear and get the dessert plates and forks from the hutch?” Louise asked. Though she thought it wasn’t fitting for a man to serve food, she thought having them help with the setup was okay.
“What kind of cake did you make today, Mama?” Kelly asked, though he knew what her answer would be.
“Well, I forgot to get eggs yesterday, so it is my eggless chocolate cake, with Hershey bar, sour cream frosting,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, as if she didn’t always make her son’s favorite cake, when he came to visit. “I will make you something different next time.”
“Don’t you dare, Mama! You know it’s my favorite cake,” said Kelly, as always.
“Well, I don’t care if it’s no one’s favorite but yours. I will always make it when you come to dinner,” Louise said warmly.
“It is my favorite cake too, Mother Louise!” Genevieve remarked, hurt lurking at the edges of her voice, because Louise hadn’t included her with Kelly.
“Of course, it is, dear,” Louise said, and started fixing a cup of coffee for her daughter-in-law, with a drop of cream and two cubes of sugar, just as Genevieve always took her coffee. Genevieve looked a little sheepish as she took the token of affection from her mother-in-law, took a tentative sip, before setting it down, freeing her hands, to help with the serving cake.
While her mother-in-law handed around the coffee, Genevieve carefully cut generous slices of cake and placed them on her mother-in-law’s fine china, admiring again the delicate tracery, of the red pinwheel of the Zephyr pattern, in the center of each dessert plate. She always thought it a shame that the center pattern was matched with heavy green bands at the rim. To Genevieve, it was as if two discordant patterns, one formal and one informal were accidentally added to the same china set. Once she covered each pinwheel with a slice of the rich cake, her sense of aesthetics was assuaged, and she was able to enjoy the cake.
Small talk lagged as each of the guests took their time enjoying the delicious cake and the robust coffee. Kelly ate faster than his uncle for once and took a large second piece before becoming satisfied. He couldn’t help but notice that his wife was fidgeting with her plate and coffee cup while trying not to look like she was checking her watch. Kelly realized that Alexis was the only thing on his wife’s mind at the moment. Finishing the last bite and draining his coffee cup with an air of finality, Kelly said, “Well, this has been just wonderful Mama, but Genevieve and I really need to be getting home. The sun seems to rise earlier on the farm, for some reason.”
“Oh, Kelly, we can’t be going just yet. Carol and I need to help your mother clean up,” said Genevieve, pointedly not looking at Carol who was shooting her a withering glance.
“Come with me Kelly, we need to talk before you go,” the minister said, around the last bite of cake. Heaving his massive body out of the creaking chair, he gained his balance using the edge of the dining table and led Kelly into the front room, as the women began to clear the table and sideboard.
“Well, Uncle, what is so pressing,” Kelly said, disappointed that what had been such a nice evening seemed to be turning out as he feared it would.
“Kelly I have been hearing some distressing rumors about your wife,” Brother Milstead said, in a voice that seemed to demand that Kelly crumble and confess all his sins.
Suddenly worried, Kelly was afraid that Milstead somehow learned about Genevieve’s secret life she led when she was in New York. As soon as he realized that the social climbing Milstead wouldn’t be upset to find out about Genevieve’s fame under her maiden name, he became worried that Milstead would learn about who Genevieve’s mother was, or even worse, if he found out that Bennie wasn’t Genevieve’s nephew and drew the worst conclusions. Hoping that his face revealed none of his concerns, Kelly asked, “What ever could that be?”
“It has been relayed to me that your wife attended church with that Giffin woman. That she actually attended the Methodist church!” Milstead spouted, indignantly.
“Oh, my goodness,” Kelly exclaimed, realizing that if his wife’s attendance at the rival church got his uncle so riled up that they should make sure they kept a very good lid on Genevieve’s childhood.
“Yes, I was quite shocked too. The Milsteads have been Baptist since before the founding of this town,” he said with great pride.
“Good grief! Uncle, how many times do I have to remind you? I am not a Milstead. I am an Archie. My father never became a Baptist when he married your sister. Or don’t you remember that? My father was non-denominational and attended all the churches in turn. Why, I ask you, should my wife be any different from him? What surprises me is that she occasionally attends services at your church,” Kelly finished, hotly.
“Now Kelly, don’t get so angry. I am just worried that she might want to raise little Alexis as a Methodist,” Milstead responded defensively.
“Uncle, we will raise Alexis as we see fit. You tend to your own son,” Kelly snapped, angry with himself that he let his uncle drive him to such a state of emotion.
Hearing the raised voices from the front room, though not being able to make out what was being said, Genevieve saw that it was time to get her husband and his uncle apart. She called out as if she was unaware of the conflict. “Kelly! We must be going. Eileen has been too good to watch Alexis. We mustn’t keep her up too late.”
“Coming dear! Uncle, I will not have you or Carol bothering Genevieve about her religious practices. If I find out that either of you have, I will disown you, no matter what mother says!” Kelly hissed, and turned on his heels.
Kelly was still feeling quite upset as he stood with his arm around his wife, on his mother’s front porch, watching his uncle and aunt being driven away in the El Dorado. “Somehow a minister having a driver doesn’t seem right,” Kelly whispered to Genevieve so that his mother who was standing just inside the doorway would not hear him.
“Reminds you too much of someone you once knew?” Genevieve chided him, aware that he often forgot how bad her mother was before she changed her lifestyle.
“Sorry, Dear, I shouldn’t have said that,” Kelly responded, sheepishly.
“It is okay, dear,” Genevieve said, and turning to her mother-in-law said, “Mother Louise, we should be going.”
“Drive safely you two,” Louise said, but remained in the doorway where she would stand for quite some time admiring her new car, before closing the door and locking up.
As Kelly guided the old pickup along the less than improved road out to the farm, Genevieve debated with herself as to whether or not she should ask him about his disagreement with his uncle. Finally, no longer able to remain quiet she asked, “Kelly what was that with Darrell?”
“Oh, he was just sticking his nose into our business as usual. He seems to think that since he is the oldest male left in our family that he has some control over me. It is like he thinks I am still 13-years-old, rather than thirty-five!” Kelly fumed.
“Well, he is a rather pushy man,” Genevieve said, waiting for Kelly to get to the meat of the problem.
“He seems to think that we are honor bound to raise Alexis as a Baptist! He heard about your attending church with Eileen and is sure you are going to make Alexis into a Methodist,” Kelly said, waiting for his wife to join him in his anger.
“Well, … Well,” Genevieve said, with unusual calmness. “I really don’t think that would do either. I think we should raise Alexis as a free thinker. When she grows up, she can make her choices in spiritual matters.”
“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” Kelly asked, putting his arm across the back of the bench seat and dragging her close to his side. Genevieve leaned her head on his shoulder, her hair, stiffened by hair spray, brushing against his cheek, while his hand was touching the soft fur of her stole. Driving with one hand on the wheel and an arm around his girl, Kelly felt like a teenager again, though he was looking forward to getting home and checking on his little girl, rather than heading for Lover’s Lookout.