In the previous chapters of this book, which I have posted, I took the time to edit out some of the errors I noticed since it was published. I have been reading a lot of books by other people lately and have seen that they too have mistakes. I decided to stop making the corrections. I will just try to do a better job of editing the next novel. Also, in the original of this novel I carefully conformed to the standard of writing “said Joe” rather than “Joe said”. I really don’t like the sound of “said Joe” so I have dropped it from my later books. In this serialization of The Accidental Texan I was changing to the “Joe said,” but now I am stopping. I just don’t have the time to re-edit an old book when there is a new one in the works. I hope you are enjoying this book.
Many blissful months had passed since Genevieve’s twin returned to Hong Kong. At least in Kelly’s eyes they were blissful. If there were a way to have sent his uncle to live with Madeleine and her mysterious Heinrich, Kelly’s life would have been perfect. All and all, he was happy enough when his mother called to ask him to come visit. She said she wanted him to spend the whole day on Sunday to keep her company. It surprised him that his mother made a point to mention that his uncle wouldn’t be there, and for him to come alone, not even bringing her granddaughter, whom Louise normally insisted he bring on his visits.
Though it was an unusual request from his mother, who was normally not prone to being clingy, he went cheerfully, thinking it was the least he could do for her, after all the things she did for him. He was looking for an excuse not to work on his most recent writing project, though the editor of the magazine, he was writing an article for, was leaving more and more insistent messages. Genevieve was completely distracted with a new canvas and was glad to have him out from under her feet. He thought that it would be fun to sit with his mother in quiet companionship, reading and occasionally reminiscing over old times. It seemed like a nice way to spend a long summer Sunday.
“Hi sweetie, I am off to my mother’s house,” said Kelly when he looked into his wife’s upstairs studio. Bennie stood holding a set of reins, which led to a bridle hanging on a wall hook that was standing in for the horse, which already occupied one half of the canvas in vivid realism. Genevieve painted the horse while she waited for Bennie to come back to the farm from a trip to New York to audition for a play. She was very happy to hear that Bennie didn’t get the role, but she put on a good face pretending to be sorry for the young man when he resumed his place on her model stand.
“Okay, Kelly, see you when you get back,” said Genevieve, distracted, as she leaned close to the canvass to see if the brush stroke she just made was contrasting as much as she wanted it to, making the light on Bennie’s face look like evening sun just before the orb passes below the horizon.
“Do you know where Alexis is? I want to kiss her goodbye before I go,” said Kelly, grinning at Bennie who was taking advantage of Genevieve looking down to break his pose and pantomiming that Kelly’s wife was a slave driver.
When Genevieve looked up again, she saw her husband, making faces at her model who seconds before resumed his perfect stance. “Kelly stop that!” she said, “Stop trying to make Bennie lose his pose! No, I don’t know where Alexis is, maybe Eileen knows.”
“Okay, see you later, dear,” said Kelly before making his escape downstairs.
He looked into the kitchen and found that Eileen was gone, though her bike was still leaning up against the house and decided that the woman and child must be off for a walk somewhere. Eileen had taken an interest in walking in the nearby woods looking for eatable plants as of late. Kelly looked at his watch and realizing that he didn’t have time to go looking for them, headed out to his truck.
As Kelly’s truck rolled down the driveway to the Farm Road, Alexis watched in dismay from the pecan orchard, her game with the tomcat forgotten. Forgotten by Alexis, but not by the tom who was crouched down digging his hind feet into the grass causing his hindquarters to wiggle, waiting for the child to chase him again, as she had all morning. Anticipating his next escape up one of the trees, which had bark that made it very easy to almost walk up when your feet were equipped with hooks. Looking over his shoulder he was disappointed to see the child running down the drive after the receding truck, calling out pitifully. To show his disdain the tom took a thorough bath before sauntering off to the barn in hopes of finding something to play with that he could afterwards eat.
“Kelly, I am going to need your help with your Aunt Carol” said Louise Archie, drawing her son’s attention away from the journal he was reading, as he sat in the old leather Queen Anne styled rocker, where his father once sat reading, all those many years ago, before the tornado took him away, along with the church.
“How is that Mama?” he asked, concerned, assuming that she was having trouble again with her sister-in-law. Kelly laid the journal on the table next to his father’s char, which sprouted a reading lamp from its middle as if it couldn’t decide whether to be a lamp or a table. Taking his feet off the ottoman he gave his full attention to his mother, wondering what Carol could have come up with to discomfort his mother so much that she would seek his help.
“Well, it will take a little explaining, so bear with me,” Louise paused, and caught her breath before continuing, causing her son to start noticing her somewhat labored breathing, with concern, “My friend Betty Sue Pitts has moved to Fort Walton Beach, Florida.”
“Is that so?” asked Kelly, “How many does that make? It seems like your whole church is moving there.” He looked up as his mother arose and stood beyond the scope of the reading light. Sentiment, or perhaps his light dazzled eyes, made the years drop away, and his mother’s face looked suddenly line-free and young. Looking at her he once more felt like a little boy. “This is what she looked like to my father, when he was my age,” he thought to himself, and running his hand over his bald pate, continued with the thought, “and I must look like him, sitting here.”
“Well, it has been all my friends, or I should say my remaining friends. I look around this old house and I see a lot of ghosts,” she sighed, sitting down on the plump ottoman in front of Kelly. She leaned toward her son, into the light, becoming old again. “I just don’t want to set a place at the table for your father anymore. It is like I am just waiting to die,” she said, resting her gnarled hand on Kelly’s jean clad knee.
“Oh, Momma, don’t talk that way. You’ve got years of life left in you, good years,” exclaimed Kelly, patting her blue veined hand, not believing what he said because of his relative youth, but wanting to solace his mother.
Louise stood, and taking her son’s hand drew him up out of the chair, “Yes, I do, and I don’t want to spend them getting dusty in this old house, watching Misty drift slowly by,” said Louise, as she led her son, out on to the porch of her house.
“Just look around Kelly, so many of the old folks, who made this town what it was, are gone. Not many of the young come back like you did. And think about how it was when you lived in New York. You rarely came home. The others are no different from you,” she said sadly.
“But Mom, there are more people living here in Misty, than when I was growing up. Look at the other side of town. So many new homes are going up that builders are asking the Lions Club to suggest names for the streets, because they have run out of relatives’ names to hang on them,” he pointed out, trying to make her see good in the changes to the town.
“It isn’t the same, son. The town has become a bedroom community. Oh, we aren’t close enough to a city to be a suburb, but most of these new folks are the families of traveling men, offshore oil workers, like that Vern Valentine, who lives across the street in Betty Sue’s old place, and those long-haul truck drivers that live in them new places on the other side of town. They have no roots,” she said.
“You mean like me?” asked Kelly, reminding his mother that he too was a traveling man.
“Son, you have roots here, though you travel. The rest, well, they are just here because it is a lot cheaper than living elsewhere, and their jobs let them live where they like. That Vern is from Waco!” she said, with a tone of finality that cued her son, to drop his objections.
As they stood looking out at her little part of the world, her mind dwelt on the letters from her friends in Florida, so many of who once lived on this very tree-lined street. The letters caused her to sit at her breakfast table looking out on the bare trees and brown grass, during the course of the past Texas winter. She spent innumerable mornings gazing out while her mind was filled with images, of beaches and golf courses, as clear as if her friends sent her Kodaks illustrating their stories of their lives in paradise. The pages of the letters, which were carefully stored in a shoebox on top of the refrigerator, were well thumbed with her rereading in front of her winter fires.
“It sounds to me like you have an idea,” remarked Kelly, giving his mother his full attention, as he realized that she was asking him his permission for something, as a surrogate for his father who had always told her what to do, and when to do it.
“I am going to go visit Betty Sue and see if Fort Walton Beach is a place I would like to live. Don’t get upset son, I know you haven’t been home long, but I need to be with people of my own age, people I know who remember when we were all young,” explained Louise, knowing that if her son, said NO, she would not go, and hoping that he wouldn’t object.
“I understand mom,” he said gazing down the old tree shaded road that he drove with his father, while learning to drive, and looking about the yard around the house populating it with images from his childhood. He finished the flow of memories with the day he sat on this porch with his parents and explained why he must move away to be happy. He remembered how his father said NO, in such a tone that Kelly dropped the dream of the big city, until the day the church fell on his father and took him away.
Kelly was glad that he hadn’t left Misty when he first wanted to go. He was glad of the last few years he spent with his father, but he was also glad that he did leave when he did. “I want you to be happy,” he said to his mother, echoing what she once said when she, on this same spot, hugged him goodbye and saying, “Son, go and be happy.” He now realized how brave his mother was to let him go, just a year after his father’s death. Closing his eyes, he thought about his life, and realized that all he was, and all he had, was because his mother let him go.
“Of course, I will expect you to bring Alexis and visit a lot,” she said with joy at his approval. “Think how nice it will be for you all to come down to Florida, when the winters here in Misty get to be so cold.”
“It will be nice mom,” said Kelly, realizing how much it must have broken her heart to plaster a smile on her face and let him go off into the greater world. He realized that an occasional visit for dinner to his mother’s house by his family couldn’t make up for the friends she was missing.
“I take it you are worried that Carol will cut up a stink when you tell her,” remarked Kelly, guessing that his mother hadn’t told her sister-in-law about the plan to go to Florida.
“Yes,” she said shortly, nervously twisting her hands within one-another. Louise had been great friends with her brother’s first wife, Hazel, who was carried away in childbirth along with her long-anticipated child. When her brother finally remarried, she was dismayed at the woman he brought home. The flashy real-estate agent from Terrell, really never fit in with the locals, though she acted like her family founded the town. She made this claim based on her family lore that a great-great grandfather once lived in Misty before moving his family to Terrell.
“Don’t worry Mom, we can tell her together. I will make her understand that it is best for you. And if that fails, I will just point out that it is not any of her, or my uncle’s, business,” vowed Kelly, knowing that though it would be Carol who objected, his uncle Darrell would be behind any objections. He assured himself that he would override his uncle this time.
While her father was enjoying his day with his mother, Alexis was walking, walking down one road after another, each one of them looking familiar to her. She knew her father had headed out to visit her Nana. She remained sure she knew the way to her grandmother’s house, as she walked farther and farther away from town into the empty Texas countryside. She got distracted by a blackberry patch on her way and was wandering around the back of the patch away from the road, when the car of one of their neighbors drove past. If the neighbor had seen Alexis, he would have stopped and taken her back home, but she was too small to be seen. She sat, carefully avoiding touching the brambles, eating the sweet berries that were warm from the morning sun. Alexis ate so many berries that she became very thirsty and seeing the glint of a small creek at the bottom of the hill she wondered away from the road to get a drink, and spent the next hour chasing tadpoles in the shallow water. Without realizing what she was doing, Alexis was traveling farther and farther from the road, following the creek.
When she was through playing in the water, she found that her boots were uncomfortably wet. Sitting on a large flat rock at the edge of the pool, Alexis pulled off her small boots and little socks and laid them out in the sun to dry, as she had seen her father do once. The rock was warm, the sun felt good, and the little girl was very tired from her walking and playing; She slept.
Kelly left his mother happily writing to Betty Sue to arrange the visit and drove his old truck slowly back out of town toward the farm. As he drove, he wished that his father could be there, in that little breakfast room, helping write that letter and planning to take up golf with his old friends in Florida. The old truck seemed to drive itself not back to the farm but detouring to the lonely hillside where his father’s battered body had been so lovingly returned to the soil.
Kelly parked outside the gate of the small cemetery. He waited a few moments remembering the day of the funeral before getting out and making his way over to the headstone that marked his father’s grave. Next to the grave was a post oak tree, its branches twisted by the nearly constant winds, which reached over his father’s grave as if seeking to shelter it from the sight of God. Kelly dropped down onto the ground to sit next to the headstone, like he did so many times before, and leaned back against the rough bark of the old tree.
Kelly knew that what was once his father must have leaked out of the cheap coffin and become incorporated into the tree. The thought of this always made him feel close to his father when he touched the tree’s rough bark. More than once he found himself hugging the tree, when life had him terribly worried, feeling as if his father was supporting him.
“Da, Mamma, is moving away,” said Kelly, thinking of the fact that it seemed just to be old women moving away. So few of the hard working small town men lived to accompany their wives on their trips to the state of perennial sunshine. As Kelly sat in silent communion with his long-deceased father, he thought about Titus Post, whose farm he now called his own. Mrs. Post was one of the first of his mother’s set to head to the sunshine state. It seemed now that it was a part of the grieving process; to pack up and head out, once the husband was safely ensconced in the churchyard, and the children were launched out into the adult world.
“All her friends are gone down to Florida, Da. I guess what is surprising is that it has taken her so long. Maybe she just couldn’t keep hoping to follow you quickly? Maybe she realizes that God isn’t going to call her yet. Maybe she was waiting, for me to be safely back in Misty, and being here to visit you from time to time, before leaving,” said Kelly, gazing out over the countryside enjoying the beauty that so few people in the small town ever stopped to appreciate.
“It worries me Da that she is going to miss out on Alexis’ growing up. Oh, I know we will go visit as much as we can, but it isn’t the same as seeing her all the time. Ma thinks that the traveling will make the visits more special for Alexis. Maybe she is right. Oh, Da, I wish you were here too, watching Alexis grow up. You would have loved my little blonde-haired girl,” Kelly finished with the thing he said the most to his long gone father.
Kelly sat for a long time with one hand tracing the deeply carved lines of the headstone, his mind occupied with memories of growing up as the son of such a strong willed, but loving father. Finally, he arose, and giving the weathered stone a pat, as if he were patting his father’s shoulder said, “Until next time Da.”
Kelly slowly got out of the truck, stiff from having sat on the ground at the cemetery for so long and was surprised that Alexis didn’t come bounding out of the house and stand on the front porch to welcome him home, calling “Daddy, Daddy,” in her bird like voice.
Instead Kelly bounded up the steep path to the porch, and up the steps, expecting to be intercepted and have to lean down to sweep his laughing little girl up in his arms and spin twice or three times before setting down in the bentwood chair and holding her in his lap. But still there was no Alexis. No Alexis, announcing to the world at large, “Daddy, home!”
Instead Kelly was calling out “Alexis, daddy’s home, yes, daddy’s home, baby,” Kelly walked into the house realizing that he rarely nowadays entered that door without hugging Alexis tight to his thin chest, as he walked.
“Not baby, Me big girl!” said Alexis emphatically, when he called her baby. But where was she?
Kelly was standing looking perplexed when Genevieve came down the broad staircase, stretching her back, trying to ease out the kinks that developed while she worked so intently. “Where is Alexis?” she asked, “I was just fixing to give her a bath and put her to bed, until I remembered she wasn’t in her room,” his wife said smiling fondly at her husband, as she looked around and behind him for the child.
“That is what I was going to ask you,” said Kelly, fear beginning to take over his mind.
“But didn’t she go with you to Louise’s?” asked Genevieve, with a tone of accusation in her voice. “You were looking for her just before you left. I thought you had her.”
“I couldn’t find her, so I thought she was out picking berries with Eileen again,” stammered Kelly. “Besides, I told you that I was looking for her to say goodbye.”
“No, you didn’t. I know she wasn’t with Eileen. Eileen told me that when she went out to pick berries, Alexis didn’t go because she was playing with one of the cats in the pecan orchard. She said that she didn’t see Alexis there after you left and thought you took her with you,” cried Genevieve, panic rising in her chest. “Oh, God! Kelly where is she!”
Sometime before her parents discovered that neither of them had her, Alexis woke up feeling stiff and cold on the rock that no longer held the heat of the sun, since the sun was working its way to the horizon. Alexis had some difficulty pulling on her still damp socks and couldn’t manage to get her wet boots on at all.
“Mommy! Daddy!” she cried out, standing in her stocking feet on the smooth rock, hoping that her voice would carry to the farm and they would come get her. She kept calling out over and over again, leading Luke Harper toward her. It was Luke’s dog that actually heard Alexis and dashed off in curiosity. Getting close enough to see the crying child the dog doubled back to his owner, and excitedly barked and alerted in the direction of the child. Luke, on horseback, was not out hunting. He was out riding his fence line making notes of where repairs needed to be made.
“You mangy no good cur!” he said with a lot more affection than the words would indicate, “You know we are not hunting. Shoot, the only gun I’ve got with me is this little peashooter for snakes,” Patting his old colt in its well-worn belt holster, he made to follow his fool dog to find out what it found that was so interesting.
“Well, I’ll be damned! It is Kelly’s little girl, out here all by herself,” he exclaimed, as he dug his heels into the young bay’s flanks to remind him to go over the fence and not through it. Coming to a stop he jumped down and throwing his reins to the dog to hold for him, a trick his friends always found very entertaining, he went and swooped Alexis up.
“Oh, there, there, Baby!” He said, trying to comfort her.
Alexis pulled back from him and gazed into his eyes with a very serious expression and said, “Me big girl, not a baby!”
“No, I guess you would have to be a big girl to have gotten all this way by yourself,” said Luke said, as he sat her back down and helped her put the boots on again before heading toward the Old Post place, with the smiling child on the saddle in front of him, followed by the old dog that pranced along proudly seeming to know that he performed very well.
As they rode, he sang along with Alexis, as she sang Itsy Bitsy Spider, while she walked her fingers up and down the arms that cradled her. When he got close enough to the farmhouse to see it well, he saw the new deputy, Hoss Tagart’s, car out front of the house.
“Well, little one, it looks like your parents have noticed that you are missing,” he said, anticipating the joy of returning the little girl, but anticipating the rant he would have to endure from his wife, Emma, when he got home about how those Hippies let their little girl go missing all day without noticing.
“Oh, Kelly, Oh, Genevieve, Oh Hoss! I think I have what you are looking for,” called out Luke, as he rode down the drive.
The people, he called out to, were standing on the porch planning how to get a search party together and what areas would be the best to search first. The areas that would most attract a young child. The three stood in astonishment as the horse approached and they saw a grubby but smiling Alexis perched in front of the rider. Luke, not wanting to make the worried parents wait an extra minute to get their little girl back in their arms, rode the nimble horse right up the steep path to the edge of the veranda, and handed Alexis straight off the saddle into Kelly’s arms.
Eileen wouldn’t let Hoss and Luke leave before they sat down for coffee and her heavenly blueberry cobbler, by way of personal thanks for their help. Once she saw them off and made sure that the family didn’t need her she slowly pedaled her bike home, less worried about navigating the darkened roads than wondering if there was anything, she could have done to prevent Alexis wandering off.
“I guess I had better take Alexis up for a bath. I know she is tired, but she is very grubby,” said Genevieve, making as to take Alexis from Kelly who hadn’t let her out of his arms since she was returned.
“You go on up and get the bath ready I will follow with her in a little while,” said Kelly, looking into his daughter’s smudged face and realizing that she had a whole life in front of her that he couldn’t even imagine. Now that the panic of her being lost subsided, Kelly’s mind drifted back to his visit with his mother. He was bothered that she asked him for permission to move to Florida as if he were a surrogate for his long-gone father.
After he heard Genevieve’s steps disappear on the stairs, he whispered in his daughter’s perfect ear, “Alexis, you will never have to ask a man permission to do what you want to do. Things are going to be different for you. You will be independent, like you showed us today, and free to make your own choices. I promise you! Promise me that you will always be your own woman.”
“Promise daddy,” said Alexis, joyful, without comprehension. Giving her one more hug, Kelly stood to take her upstairs to turn her over to her mother. Kelly normally went down to his office to work when it was Alexis’ bath time, but this time he stood and watched as Genevieve bathed her. When the bath was finished Kelly left them to have mother and daughter time, and went down to work in his office, finding that he was too wound up to attempt sleep.
After having read Peter Pan until Alexis was asleep, Genevieve found Kelly sitting at his desk typing industriously at his machine, and sat down in the comfortable armchair in front of his desk, asking, “What are you working on?”
“Oh, I am just answering some letters. You know my policy: Unanswered letters must be kept answered,” he said, enjoying the normality of the conversation, with their little girl safe in her bed.
“Was it Napoleon Hill or Dale Carnegie, who wrote that?” she asked, taking her hair down from the bun she twisted it in, while dealing with splashing water.
“Why it was Napoleon Hill of course!” He said with a smile, pleased that she remembered that he got it from one of the men that most influenced his life by their writings. “I looked at your canvas earlier. It looks like you did some really good work while I was out,” he commented, returning the compliment of her being interested in his work.
“Yes, I am pleased, working from the sketches I made last time Bennie was here, wasn’t enough. I am so glad that he is back,” she said.
“I guess he was pretty bummed out about not getting that role. Didn’t the original actor quit?” he asked.
“Well, from what I have heard, Bennie’s try-outs were great, but it was lucky he didn’t get the role, since the play is getting a universal pan. The director will be free from it soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if he asked Bennie to come read for the next one. I know it is only a matter of time before Bennie does make it big, and then I will have to find another muse,” said Genevieve wistfully.
“Well, when your sister went off to model in Europe, you thought you would never find another muse, and you found Bennie. Don’t worry there will always be another one,” he assured her.
“I am sure you are right as always,” she said, sure he was wrong, knowing that Bennie was a magical boy, “How did your visit with your mother go?”
“Oh, it was nice, without Uncle Darrell there. It was quiet” he said.
“Was your aunt there?” she asked.
“No, it was just me and Mama, but I was right, she really just wanted to talk something over with me, and it took her quite a while to broach the subject.”
“Oh, what is it?” asked Genevieve, thinking,” I hope she doesn’t want to move in with us!”
“Now dear, what is that face for … Tell me!” demanded Kelly.
“Oh, please tell me that she doesn’t want to move in with us. I love your mother, but you know what they say about two women under one roof…” said Genevieve, wishing that she were better able to keep Kelly from reading her thoughts so often.
“Far from it, Mama is going down to Florida to look for a place to live,” said Kelly, knowing that no matter what, this news would make Genevieve very happy, since it would practically free her from having to socialize with Darrell and his family. Carol would not be able to guilt Genevieve into any socializing she didn’t want to do, like the sweet Louise was able to.
“How do you feel about that?” asked Genevieve, thinking that life might be easier if she didn’t have to explain herself constantly to her somewhat conservative mother-in-law.
“I feel guilty, because, my first thoughts are that it would be easier on me not to have to put up with my uncle all the time if mother wasn’t around to insist on it. Then I think about how much Alexis will miss her grandmother and I feel guiltier,” he responded.
“Alexis is young. In no time, going to visit her grandmother in Florida will be a quite normal thing. It will be good to expand her horizons. We don’t want her to spend her whole life here in Misty, as nice as it is. When she gets to be a teen we can send her on unaccompanied trips so that when she goes off to college she will have developed independence,” said Genevieve, not feeling guilty at all, and wishing that the minister would make the move as well.
“Oh, please don’t make her grow up so fast,” groaned Kelly, not wanting the child upstairs to pass from their lives too soon, to be replaced by an unknown teenager.
Letters passed between friends, in Fort Walton Beach and Misty, until the day all the plans were set and Louise Archie, took her first plane ride. As soon as she arrived in Fort Walton Beach, Betty Sue showed her the house down the street from her own that was being offered for rent with an option to buy. Having placed a deposit on the house, the two women spent the rest of the visit driving around in Betty Sue’s huge sedan, the top of Betty Sue’s blued hair just barely visible over the steering wheel, to visit all their old friends who congregated in the same area, making it seem like they were in Misty, Texas-East.
During her stay in Florida, after there was time for the mail service to catch up, Kelly was glad to find daily postcards in his mailbox, all addressed to Alexis, but actually giving her parents updates on the visit. Kelly and Genevieve made up a scrapbook of the postcards knowing that someday Alexis would appreciate her grandmother’s words.
On returning home to Misty, Louise was bubbling with enthusiasm, at the prospect of moving to Florida. But she was saddened that she would have to tell her beloved granddaughter that she was moving. Kelly offered to explain things to Alexis, but his mother insisted that it was one thing she must take care of herself.
At nearly three years old, Alexis was a surprisingly self-reliant child, so Kelly wasn’t worried about leaving her alone at her Nana’s house for the day. Genevieve was worried, but she always worried about her only child, especially after Alexis wondered off not so long before.
After Louise fed Alexis her lunch, she explained to her little granddaughter that she was going to go away and live in a magical place where the sun shown every day, and it was warm all the time. Alexis seemed to take it well, until she realized that she wasn’t going with Nana to this magical place.
“Alexis, now I don’t want you to be crying,” said Louise, as she spotted tears creeping into Alexis’ eyes. Louise placed the cool tips of her still graceful fingers under the edge of Alexis’ chin and lifted as her other hand and brushed the beginnings of the tears away, before turning back to her packing. Alexis was sitting on the end of her grandmother’s neatly made bed, her legs not reaching beyond the edge of the quilt that Louise pieced together as a young bride.
“Yes’um,” mumbled Alexis, fighting her tears, and returned her gaze down to the toes of her shiny Sunday shoes that flashed in a sunbeam that made its way through the bedroom curtains to mark the arc of her kicking feet.
Louise continued talking happily to the sulking child as she packed the suitcase for her trip to New York, which she would be taking with her granddaughter and daughter-in-law, while her son and brother stayed behind to supervise the packing of her household into the truck.
“Don’t you worry about a thing. You are going to help me move. I am going to need your help a lot. First thing we are going to do is go to New York with your Mommy. I have never been there, though I always wanted to visit your Daddy when he lived there. It is just going to be the three of us. Your Great Aunt Carol isn’t coming with us, and your great uncle and your Daddy are going to go on to Florida and will be there when you take me to my new home,” finished Louise, glad to see that the prospect of a trip with the women banished Alexis’ tears.
While Louise was having the time of her life in New York, Kelly was tasked with driving the moving van to Florida, and Darrell’s driver would be driving Louise’s bright green Edsel. Darrell was flying down to meet the other men in Fort Walton Beach, not feeling physically up to a long car trip. The three men planned to have everything unpacked and in place before Louise ended her trip.
Though Louise knew she would miss her son’s and brother’s families, she suspected that she would see more of her grandchild once she settled in Florida. She knew that in Misty, with living so close together, it was especially easy the younger family to put off visiting. They could rationalize that they would come the next day or the next weekend; continually putting visits off. She saw the trip to New York as the first benefit of her move. Such a trip had been talked of since her son brought his bride to Misty. Louise was sure it would have never taken place without the shadow of her move looming over the family.
The next day Kelly took copious notes on what his mother wanted sent to Florida, what she wanted given away, and how she wanted it all packed and what rooms she wanted each box placed in her new home. After going over the list one more time with his mother, he drove the women and his daughter to the airport for the flight to New York. One the trio was safely in the air, he drove back to Misty, trying not to worry so much about Alexis’ first flight.
Returning to his mother’s old home he put the co-opted church ladies to work, under the direction of Eileen, packing his mother’s life into corrugated boxes. The church ladies worked very hard and made short work of the job, since they had no desire to rummage through her books, white-goods, and kitchen ware. They were very disappointed that Eileen and Louise had already packed up Louise’s more personal belongings.
During the flight to the big city Louise was feeling like an old hand at flying, since she was now on her third flight, having flown back and forth to visit Betty Sue, to find her new home. She enjoyed explaining everything about the experience to her granddaughter, who was sitting next to her. On the other side of the aisle, her lap and tray table strewn with travel guides, Genevieve was occupied with planning the stay in New York.
Louise found that she loved flying and was particularly impressed with the stewardesses. She wondered how they could stay so neat through what was to Louise a long flight. She approved of their stylish suits, tasteful makeup, and their becomingly coifed hair. She looked up to see the pilot strolling around talking to passengers and generally making himself personable. She smiled to herself about how surprised she was on her first flight, when the captain came back into the cabin. She was so worried until he explained to her that there were two pilots. She was surprised again, when this pilot stopped next to Genevieve and said, “Well, Miss Davies, it is good to see you again.”
“Oh, no, I am not Madeleine, I am her twin sister,” said Genevieve, quite used to the mistake.
“Of course, Miss Davies, whatever you say madam,” he said, thinking he was playing along with the supermodel’s game.
“I am Mrs. Kelly Archie, and this is my mother-in-law, Mrs. Napoleon Archie, and my daughter Miss Alexis Archie,” said Genevieve, hoping that the introductions would convince him that she wasn’t Madeleine trying to travel incognito.
“Well, I am very pleased to meet Miss Davies’ sister. We haven’t seen her on the Dallas flight for along time. She used to make it quite often,” he said, wistfully.
“My sister has been living in Hong Kong for a while now. I am hoping she comes home soon,” said Genevieve.
“I am sure you miss her, as does all New York,” said the pilot, and turning to Louise and Alexis, asked, “Well, Alexis how would you like to fly the plane?” Winking broadly at the two women, he led the child to the cockpit to sit on his lap and play with controls that were definitely not flying the plane.
Once at the Anderson Field Airport, which Genevieve told her was called Idlewild, Louise was very glad that her daughter-in-law was so familiar with air travel, seeing them safely through the crowded terminal, and even remembering to make a stop at the lady’s room, before collecting their baggage. As they proceeded through the terminal, Alexis insisted on walking, since only babies were carried. Louise kept a tight grip on Alexis’ hand, being shorter than her daughter-in-law it was easier for Alexis to walk along side her grandmother, without having to be carried.
Alexis was feeling quite grown up as she looked down at the small pair of wings the pilot pinned on her coat, as she left the plane, calling her his favorite co-pilot. She smiled at every uniformed pilot she saw and dreamed of the day when she was all grown up and could fly a plane herself.
They reconnected with their baggage and made their way out to the curb where the taxis waited in a long line for the deplaning passengers. Though it was Alexis’ first air-flight, she had visited the city many times, traveling by train, and was quite accustomed to taxi cabs. She surprised her Grandmother in the roomy backseat of the yellow cab, while they waited for the skycap to load their luggage into the trunk under Genevieve’s supervision, by taking her hand and saying, “There, there Nana, everything will be okay,” echoing her grandmother’s assurances when the airplane shimmied during takeoff.
“Driver, would you please not drive directly to the hotel? It is going to be a while before we can check into our suite. Let’s take a route that will take us past some of the major attractions. I would like my mother-in-law to see some of the city, from the comfort of the cab, before we start our touring tomorrow,” said Genevieve, as she joined Louise and Alexis in the back seat of the taxi.
“No problem at all Ma’am,” said the cabbie, with a slight smile at a fare asking to be driven around and about, something he tended to do with obvious tourist anyway. This bunch was obvious; dressed in their Sunday best, they were certainly tourist, though the younger woman seemed to know her way around.
Alexis was accustomed to how her mother changed when her father was not with them. She knew that her mother somehow became bigger and more definite when she was alone, especially in the city. Alexis leaned over the seat and said, “Hello, I am Alexis, and this is my grandmother, Nana, and my mother, Mommy!”
“I am very please to meet you Alexis, and you Nana, and you Mommy,” said the driver, turning around and shaking hands with the three, awkwardly over the back of the seat. “Well, we are off to see the city.”
Alexis looked constantly out the window enjoying watching the cars that passed so close and noticed that at every close encounter her grandmother gripped her hand a little tighter. As the taxi glided past Grand Central Station Alexis announced, “Look Nana! Look Mommy! That’s the train place!”
“Yes, Alexis that is right” said Genevieve, looking over Alexis, toward her mother-in-law, raising her eyebrows to indicate her surprise that Alexis could recognize the station from the outside.
“The train stops there! It stops a lot of other places, but there is where we get off. You have to be careful not to get off where you aren’t supposed to get off. It is a long way to walk to find the taxi! At the taxi place is a man selling hotdogs! He has … has … Mommy what is that rollie thing?” asked Alexis excitedly.
“It is a hotdog stand, a special cart that he can move around selling hotdogs around the city,” said Genevieve, distracted, her mind on the business issues she needed to attend to before she could enjoy their vacation.
“Nana, he has big hotdogs, and little hot dogs, hundreds, no thousands of hotdogs. He has all sorts of things that you can put on the hotdogs, onions, pickles, and sauerkraut. Mommy lifts me up to see them. I point at the ones I like. The man puts lots on the hotdog. He is a nice man. I don’t like sauerkraut. I like mustard. Mommy let’s take Nana to a hotdog place, one with a pretty umbrella, blue and gold, no pink and green! Can we please?” asked Alexis in a rush.
“Oh yes, honey, the hotdog carts are something that every visitor to the city has to experience,” said Genevieve, glad that the quiet spell Alexis had gone through since finding out that her grandmother was moving away was broken, and Alexis was back to her talkative self.
As the taxi rolled through the congested city, with the three in the back seat chattering away, the driver found himself listening in with enjoyment. He joined the conversation from time to time pointing things out and commenting on how smart the little girl was. Of course, he always complimented his client’s children, as he knew it was a good way to up his tip, but this time he was being honest. He was quite taken by the little chatterbox bouncing up and down between her mother and grandmother.
When the tour was over and the cab pulled up in front of the hotel, the cabbie was sorry to see the happy little family disappear from his rearview mirror as he pulled away, leaving them in charge of the bellhop. He hoped he could remember some of the funny things the child had said, to tell his wife when he got off work that night.
When the bellhop finished loading the baggage cart, Alexis climbed on with the luggage, before Louise could stop her, and settled in for the ride. “Alexis, now you get down from there,” exclaimed Louise, looking around to make sure that no one was staring at her granddaughter’s misbehavior.
“Oh lord, Ma’am it is quite okay. It is done all the time,” said the bellhop, to assure Louise that it was routine for children to hitch rides on the baggage carts to their rooms.
“Oh, well, if you are sure it is okay,” said Louise, not feeling very sure, but relaxing seeing Genevieve smiled and nodded in agreement with the bellhop.
As the trip was a treat for Genevieve’s mother-in-law, she booked them into the Plaza Hotel, rather than a smaller hotel that she normally stayed with Alexis, which was closer to Greenwich Village. As they followed the bellhop into the lobby, Louise was suitably impressed with its size, which she was sure would have accommodated her whole church building in Misty, with room to spare.
Once in their suite, Genevieve said to Louise, “Mother Louise, I hope you don’t mind that I have to do some business while we are here? If you like you could stay here and rest this afternoon, while I go to Zach’s, my agent’s office, and then we could go out to dinner at the Four Seasons when I get back.”
“Why of course dear, I would like to rest up after that flight, and I am sure Alexis could do with a nap too,” said Louise, wondering in the back of her mind, if she had been brought on the trip to babysit Alexis, since Bennie was so busy. She soon realized that she shouldn’t have worried. Most of Genevieve’s business events seemed to be parties. Louise enjoyed attending the parties, and how much respect she got for being G.R. Davies’ mother-in-law. Little Alexis seemed to be quite at home at the parties, running around the adults’ feet and charming everyone. As the days passed, Louise was impressed with the ease, which Genevieve change herself to fit every function she attended, while being able turn around to be a housewife from Texas, when the three of them were touring the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building. Louise wasn’t left alone while Genevieve went to a meeting at Zachary Barone’s office again until their last day in the city.
On the flight from New York to Florida, Louise found herself thinking, as her grandchild dozed on her lap, that her daughter-in-law was a very special person, not just a mother who dabbled at painting. She was surprised at how respected Genevieve was among the people at the studios and galleries they visited. The highlight of the trip was going to see Bennie’s play. Louise felt quite the sophisticate to be led back to Bennie’s dressing room to share Champaign after the final curtain. She felt more than a little pride of ownership of Bennie, since she scolded him when he was still a teen, though she didn’t like the play at all.
Kelly wanted his mother to walk into her new house, and feel at home, and not be overwhelmed by a daunting stack of boxes waiting for her attention. He knew that his mother was just expecting the men to put the various boxes in the rooms they were marked for, but Kelly was determined to get it all unpacked with the help of Betty Sue, who he enlisted into his plan. He was worried that he wouldn’t get everything arranged right for his mother’s taste. He was relieved when Betty Sue’s car pulled up and a crew of little old ladies in tennis shoes tumbled out like a circus act to take the job away from the men. Relieved of their duties, Kelly, Darrell, and Jack, made their way to Louise’s new back porch, and sat drinking sweet iced-tea, while watching the water birds going about the daily business of being birds around the lake, which formed the linchpin of the neighborhood.
After two weeks in New York and another week of settling into her new home, Louise found herself sitting on her new front porch, having tea with her daughter-in-law, as Kelly loaded their suitcases into the car, he hired to take them to the airport. Louise was sad to see them go and was surprised to find that she felt a little fearful of starting her new life.
Genevieve, noticing her mother-in-law’s mood, reached over and patted Louise on the arm and spoke, “Don’t worry Mother Louise, you will settle in here really fast. Remember when I first came to Misty, how out of place I was?”
“Oh, yes, it was so sweet seeing how hard you tried to make Kelly think you loved the farm. I could see that you just wanted to get on the train back to New York,” said Louise, laughing at the memory.
“Well, you sure do read me like a book. I remember that when we got back from looking at the farm that first time, you had pecan pie and ice cream waiting. Right then and there, there was nothing in the world I wanted more than pecan pie and ice cream. I was so amazed,” said Genevieve, thinking back to the resounding kicks Alexis made in her belly, which convinced Kelly that not only was the baby fond of pecan pie and ice cream, HE was going to be a football star.
“Oh, dear, there was no mystery to it. When Kelly was with the man from the telephone company installing the phone, the test call he made was to me. He asked me to make the pie and ice cream for you. Then he kept you away long enough, so I could make them,” said Louise, smugly, enjoying Genevieve’s look of surprise.
Kelly bounded onto the porch and swept his little girl up in his arms. “Come on girls it is time to be getting home.”
Soon Louise found herself extracting promises of visits as she waved her son and his family goodbye. Watching the car rocket down the street, Louise felt very lonely. All her family was gone now. Her brother Darrell was already gone, his wife having flown in from Texas, timing her arrival to miss all the actual work of the move. Darrell and Carol Milstead took the opportunity to continue their trip and headed down to Key West for a second honeymoon, driven by the ever-present Jack Salter.
Sadness overwhelmed her. She felt very old. Tears were burning the edges of her eyes as she fought hard not to let them out, when she saw a familiar face appear over the edge of the fence, which divided her yard from the one next door. “Are they gone? Good, I thought they would never go away. It’s so funny, when you live close to them, it is like pulling teeth to get them to visit, but once you move down here, it is hard to get them to leave,” said Betty Sue, smiling as two more blue haired heads popped over the fence, smiling at her with varying quality of dentures. “Well, what are you waiting for, come on over, we need you to make up our four for canasta! And if they left you any booze bring it!”
Louise dashed spryly back into the house, wondering why she never thought to wear Ked’s sneakers for everyday shoes before, as she filled her arms with the leftover bottles, before dashing down the front walk past the newly painted mail box, reading Louise A. Archie, and rounding the fence to join the other women.
Kelly and Genevieve, quite exhausted, flew home with their little girl asleep across their laps, finding themselves quite happy to have seen Louise settled into her new home. They were glad that Brother Milstead remained in Florida when they headed back. They were able to hire a car to drive them the many miles from Dallas Love Field, rather than having to make the drive with him and his impossible chauffeur. Having to share Louise’s big adventure with the ever-present Jack was enough for the two of them, though Alexis seemed to like playing with Jack, as he wasn’t embarrassed to sing along with her when she belted out her children’s songs.
When the family finally arrived at the farm, the car driver carried the bags up the path to the porch, while Kelly carried Alexis. Genevieve found the money to cover the fare, in her purse, in spite of being too tired to think. Thanking the driver, they offered to have him in for coffee before his long drive back. Seeing how tired the little family was, he declined their invitation. They stood waving to him as he drove back down to the main road, before they turned to go into the house.