The Accidental Texan: Part 1, Chapter 9

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The Old Pecan Tree

With Kelly gone, Genevieve set her mind to getting as much work as she could done, having spent so many companionable hours with her husband, leaving the studio empty. The proposed date of her next show was looming, and she had promised her agent an even dozen canvasses in the new series. One day as she was lost in her work, she heard a light tapping on the door. Looking up she saw her Eileen standing just outside the door.

“Mrs. Archie, I have a favor to ask of you,” Eileen said, as she twisted a dishcloth distractedly in her hands. She hated to disturb Genevieve when she was working, but she felt she must find a solution to her problem.

“Of course, Eileen, what is it?” Genevieve asked, resting her hands in her lap and giving the other woman all her attention, glad that the setup of the new studio, prevented anyone from casually looking at her new canvases before she was ready for them to be seen.

“The Ladies’ auxiliary of the Lions Club is having a bake sale to benefit their fund for the blind. My husband promised that I would bake a bunch of pies for the sale. I was wondering if you would let me use the pecans from the tree in front for the house? Those pecans are the best around the whole county,” Eileen remarked, hoping that she wouldn’t have to ride her bike home then drive into town to buy pecans.

“Of course, I will help you gather them. I have been inside all day and really need to get out. It is the least I could do for a good cause, since I don’t cook,” Genevieve said, cleaning and putting her brush away, before hanging her smock on a peg behind her chair.

“Oh, it’s mighty nice of you. It will help a lot, saving me time, since I will have to get home and shell them before I can get any pies made,” Eileen said.

“Why don’t you shell the pecans here? You could use that fancy pecan cracker that Kelly bought. Come to think of it. Why don’t you cook the pies here too? The facilities and the ingredients could be our donation to the cause,” Genevieve proposed.

“Why, you are being just too nice, I will send word to my men that they will just have to make do with leftovers while I get this done. It serves my husband right since he didn’t tell me about it soon enough,” Eileen said, as she followed Genevieve down to the kitchen.

In the kitchen storeroom, Eileen found two of the large baskets, made of thin slats of wood woven, which were normally used to take the produce from the truck garden to the farmers’ market. She handed one to Genevieve who looked at it with surprise, and asked, “Do we need such large ones?”

“Well, we just might,” Eileen responded. “That old tree is really pulling out the stops this year. I hope that Mr. Archie’s plan to grow new trees from some of the nuts works out. It would be so nice if he could make a business of it.”

“That would be nice. It would make Kelly very happy,” Genevieve said, and then noticing the quietness in the house, asked, “Where is Alexis, I haven’t seen her all day?”

“Oh don’t you worry Mrs. Archie, she has been out side following the hands around as they do their chores. She is quite their mascot these days,” Eileen said, thinking how much Genevieve had changed from the days when she wouldn’t let the child out of her sight. It took her a while to realize that everyone on the place was looking after Alexis and let her have full run of the farm as her play yard.

As the two women moved around under the tree gathering the nuts, Alexis appeared, dirty and disheveled, holding a large, very patient, barn cat over her shoulder.

“Found Kitty!” she announced, patting the cat a little too hard on the back, as if expecting it to belch. The cat, who hadn’t considered itself lost when it was unceremoniously lifted out of the sunbeam on the floor of the barn, wiggled to get away, but carefully kept its claws sheathed.

“Oh, Alexis, let the kitty go. We are playing a fun game. Come play with us,” Genevieve said, and as the cat made its escape, began to sing slightly off key, “Picking up pecans and putting them into a basket,”

Alexis followed along side her mother and began to put rocks as well as pecans into the basket. “Oh, baby, not rocks. Just these things that look like tiny brown watermelons,” Genevieve corrected her, not noticing Eileen laughing under her breath at yet another of Genevieve’s colorful descriptions of the natural world.

“Pikin up watamelons and put in baskkit!” Alexis sang joyfully, putting the nuts in her mother’s basket, and tossing the rocks toward the tree, which her mother put and end to when she realized that Alexis was tossing the rocks trying to hit the squirrels that were taking chattering exception to the gathering of the nuts.

After that first day of gathering the pecans the two women shared the duty, storing most of the nuts in the cold cellar like busy squirrels. Eventually the picking season wound down to one last day, when the two women gathered the last of the nuts. The chill of the autumn day gave away to a pleasant sunny warmth by the time Eileen finished her morning chores and came out of the house carrying three baskets, too large and a small one for Alexis.

“Come on Mrs. Archie, we better be getting these pecans picked up. If you let them stay on the ground too long, they will get all wormy. They are the last we can expect to see before next year,” Eileen said as she handed a basket to Genevieve who was sitting on the veranda enjoying the Indian summer day. Eileen realized that she was going to miss gathering pecans with her boss. So many of the things Eileen enjoyed doing held no interest to Genevieve, so it was a rare treat to just spend time together as two women.

Kelly had been on the road since the end of June, and Genevieve was missing him terribly. Eileen hoped that gathering the pecans would get Genevieve out of the funk she had been in all that week. Eileen noticed that Genevieve took to sitting at the front window of her bedroom and spending hours looking down the farm road. Eileen knew that the lonely woman was looking for the old truck to come rattling down the road, and turn into the long driveway, raising a cloud of dust from the loose granite gravel.

As Genevieve picked up pecans, in a languid fashion, she watched as Eileen followed Alexis around showing the child how to tell the good nuts from the bad, and making sure they went into the basket and not tossed at the chattering squirrels. Genevieve’s actions got slower and slower as her mind drifted back to the first day she came to the farm with Kelly.

“Dear that tree stinks,” Genevieve said, when she first saw the tall tree, in front of the white-framed house. “Can we get rid of it? What if it were to fall on the house?”

“No, dear, it is venerable old tree, and it is not going to fall on the house. It is one of the reasons I bought this place. I like that old tree. It is a pecan tree, and yes, they stink,” Kelly said, “but think of the wonderful pies we can make.”

“Pies? Really?” Genevieve remarked, stroking her rounded belly, thinking how nice eating a lightly heated piece of pecan pie with a scoop of ice cream would be at that moment. “I hope you remember that I can’t cook.”

“Oh don’t worry about that dear. We will just pick the pecans and give them to a neighbor who does cook. Just you wait and see, they will cook lots of pies, and give us one or two every time, to thank us for the nuts.”

Genevieve smiled remembering that first day on the farm. She remembered how he talked about the cows that would be in the empty barn, and the pigs that would be happy in the mud of the dusty pen. He pointed at the pastures, which were wild and untended and talked about horses and harvesting hay. He spoke about how he would make a farm to provide fresh crops to restaurants in Dallas, and maybe even as far away as Houston.

She remembered leaving the farm and going back to her mother-in-law’s house for dinner, to find that Louise baked a pecan pie and churned some vanilla ice cream to serve with it. Of course, Louise’s pies didn’t hold a candle to Eileen’s, and Genevieve was never fond of ice cream made with vanilla extract, but she was touched at the effort Louise was making to welcome her new daughter.

Nowadays she didn’t even notice the smell of the tree, and her mind was filled with memories of the many pies Eileen made over the years for the family. Eileen’s pies were so much better than the ones that the local women brought in exchange for the loose pecans. Of course, Eileen won all the blue ribbons at the county fair, when she took her baked goods. Genevieve wasn’t sure what made the other women angrier, when Eileen participated and won all the first place spots, or when she refrained from competing to give other women a chance.

Once all the pecans were off the ground, the good ones in a basket to go into the house, Genevieve and Alexis left Eileen to her baking and gathered up the rejected nuts, to take down to a fallow field, which Kelly deemed too rough to be put under tillage. Though the nuts weren’t good enough to eat, Eileen assured her that there was enough life left in them that they could be planted in a hope that they could produce new trees.

Alexis enjoyed the game, of hiding the nuts under the ground, but Genevieve was unsure as to whether she understood what would happen. She harbored a suspicion that her little girl thought that butterflies would come out of the holes like they did from the cocoons they gathered and watched the spring before. Genevieve owned a handled spike that Gene Elbert made to Kelly’s specifications, which she used made holes in the hard ground. As soon as she made each hole, Alexis shoved one pecan in, before stomping the hole closed with one small shoe, and announcing to her mother, “Done, Mommy!” And Genevieve answering, “Well, Done!”

Back and forth across the field they went, the sound of “Done, Mommy,” ringing out to mark their progress. Hearing the faint cries through the open kitchen window, Eileen smiled at the sound, knowing that time with Alexis would be sure to break Genevieve’s depression better than any other activity.

Genevieve and Alexis were so engrossed in their project that they didn’t hear the old truck come up the drive and stop at the fence. In their defense, there was a reason, they didn’t hear anything. A month back Kelly had the motor overhauled in Kansas City, after the old truck gave up the ghost and left him stranded on the side of the road, causing it to lose its signature rumbling.

“Done, Mommy!” Alexis called out.

“Good job, baby girl!” Kelly answered.

Genevieve dropped the basket of nuts sending them scattering across the ground as she dashed into her husband’s arms, followed with amazing swiftness, in spite of her short legs, by Alexis, who almost made it to her father before she stopped and shyly looked up at him, perplexed by the mustache he had grown on his travels, thinking that it made him look his age and more sophisticated. Kelly dropped to one knee taking Genevieve down with him and gathered both of his girls into a hug, saying, “Oh, I missed you both so much.”

Categories: Books, Novels by S. L. Pirtle, The Accidental TexanTags: , , , , ,

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