“Hello honey, how was your trip? What did you get Alexis for her birthday?” asked Genevieve, laying down her brush and lacing her fingers together, flexing her palms away from her body, producing a series of sharp cracks from her knuckles, which didn’t sound quite in unison, as her husband came into the studio.
“The trip was great, but how did you guess? I mean; guess that I was going to get Alexis a present while I was in Dallas?” asked Kelly.
“Well, Mae Cooper called and said that she was just talking to Emma Harper, who heard from Gene Elbert’s wife that her cousin saw you going into that cute Little Miss store, down the road from the bookstore you go to in Dallas. She recognized you from her visit here at Easter. She said to tell you that she would have stopped to say hello, but she was running late for a meeting of her garden club,” said Genevieve, enjoying having participated in such a fine example of a small town grapevine.
“Well, it’s quite a surveillance system you have. Remind me never to get a girlfriend. You would know I got one before I knew,” said Kelly jestingly, receiving a smile back from his wife who knew that her husband seemed to be immune to the attraction of other women.
“Well, of course, I bought her some books from Mr. Burham, but I went over to that little shop and got her a new hat,” said Kelly, worried that his wife might not approve of the present.
“A hat? Really? May I see it?” asked Genevieve, worried as to what sort of hat Kelly might have picked out since the only hats he bought for their daughter in the past were of the cowgirl type.
“Yes, it is in my office. Come with me,” said Kelly, leading his wife into the office closing the door behind them. He went to the office window and pulled the shade. Seeing his wife looking at him with a bemused look, he asked defensively, “What? You don’t want Alexis looking through the window and seeing it, do you?”
“Of course not, dear,” said Genevieve, wiping the smile off her face and taking on a serious demeanor to match her husband’s air of intrigue.
Kelly went to the closet and took a hatbox down from the shelf. Sitting it on the desk with great ceremony he opened it and folding back the tissue inside, he reached in and extracted a fashionable red and white polka-dotted hat.
“Oh, Kelly it is beautiful. I wouldn’t mind having one like it myself,” said Genevieve, looking at the creation, which was a scaled down version of a woman’s hat, admiring the craftsmanship. “It is like you have seen the dress I got her for her birthday. Of course I bought her some toys too, but I asked a friend in New York to ship a dress, which is going to look wonderful with this little thing.”
“You don’t think it is too grown up for her? The lady at the store said that four-years-old was a good time to transition between bonnets and proper hats. I was worried about the color too,” said Kelly, suddenly unsure of himself about fashion.
“Oh, I think it is just right. The dress I got her is black velvet, this will add just the right amount of color to her outfit to keep it from looking too funereal,” said Genevieve. “Come up to our room and I will show you the dress.”
Eileen saw her two employers running up the stairs giggling, and discreetly turned back to polishing the living room tables, assuming that their dash to the upper floor was of a matrimonial nature. A little while later when she saw Alexis heading for the stairs she called the child back and led her to the kitchen for milk and cookies, to give the couple their privacy.
While unbeknownst to them that Eileen was running interference downstairs, Genevieve was down on her hands and knees fishing two large flat boxes out from under their bed. Kelly took the boxes from her and laid them out on the coverlet. “Would you like me to do the honors?” He asked in a mock courtly voice.
“Why yes, dear sir!” responded Genevieve, with equal humor, and watched as her husband unboxed the dress. “I hope she likes it. All the magazines say that black velvet is the hottest style this year. I was thinking about getting a black velvet dress to wear in New York. I think it might be a little too stylish for M… me,” she said, cutting off the remark. She was trying not to say so many negative things about Misty. She recently realized that this was Alexis’ home, and always would be no matter how far she roamed, and the child shouldn’t develop a bad attitude about it, just because her mother longed for the city.
Kelly shook the dress out and holding it up turned it this way and that. “Oh, I think it is just right. It looks a lot longer than the dresses she has been wearing. I think she will like that, since it looks more mature. What is that other box?” asked Kelly.
“I am afraid I couldn’t resist,” said Genevieve, opening the box and removing the velvet cape, “When my friend told me about the matching cape I asked her to get it too. Look how it is accented with satin at the collar.”
“Very nice, I like these closures. They look like Gordian knots. I hope they aren’t that hard to open,” he said, gravely.
“No, silly, knots are just like buttons. You just slip them in and out of the loops on the other sid… “Genevieve trailed off when she realized Kelly was laughing. “Oh you are such a turkey!”
“Gobble, Gobble! Let’s get these things put away before Alexis catches us,” he said, smiling at how easy it was to tease his very serious wife.
“Kelly, put the box with the cape up in the top of the closet, I am not going to give it to Alexis now. She will want to wear it, and this weather is just too hot. I will surprise her with it when the weather gets cold,” said Genevieve, hoping that the dress wouldn’t prove to be too hot for Alexis to wear at her party.
By the time the morning of Alexis’ birthday rolled around, the boxes were wrapped in festive paper and done up in fancy ribbons. Eileen came to the house early to make Alexis’ special breakfast and to give her a small present, before getting down to the serious work of baking the birthday cake. Kelly was already in the kitchen drinking coffee when Eileen hustled in and deposited a container into the freezer compartment of the bright yellow Frigidaire refrigerator.
“Good morning Eileen, what is that you brought?” asked Kelly looking over the top edge of his newspaper, which his long morning walk to the box at the end of the drive gained him.
“Good morning, Mr. Archie!” said Eileen brightly, as she took off her coat and hung it up before putting on her calico over-blouse apron, which reminded Kelly more of a smock than an apron. “Well, it’s the ice cream for Alexis’ birthday party. I am going to make the cake after breakfast, and then I am going to have to head home. I have a lot of jam-making and other canning to get done today.”
“Oh, you won’t be here for the party? That’s too bad, but I understand, the need to get the produce taken care of when it is good and fresh. Alexis will miss you. What kind of ice cream did you make this time?” asked Kelly, glad to see Eileen was starting the process of making biscuits and gravy, which was not only Alexis’ favorite breakfast, but his as well.
“Well, I made peppermint ice cream this time. I figured that would go real fine with the chocolate cake. Is it okay if Alexis opens her present from me this morning before I go, and not wait for the party?” asked Eileen, as she cut the chilled Crisco into the dry ingredients for the biscuits.
“Oh, it’s okay, Eileen. We are going to give Alexis her new outfit before the party so she can wear it, but the presents from us she can open after the party. We don’t want them overshadowing the small presents the other children will bring. During this round of birthday parties, the mothers have set a limit of one dollar for a present. I must say, it is surprising how much you can get for a dollar at the Bargain Barn,” said Kelly, remembering how much fun Alexis experienced when going there to shop for presents for the other children’s parties.
“Well, it sounds like it will all work out just fine,” said Eileen, as she slowly worked the cold buttermilk into the flower / fat mixture. “Happy birthday sweetie!”
“I am four!” announced Alexis as she ducked under the saloon doors and made her way to climb up on her father’s lap. “I am almost grown up!”
“That is true. Before long you are going to have to open those doors rather than ducking under them,” remarked Kelly, watching as his daughter eyed the louvered doors thoughtfully, realizing that he planted the seed for a new behavior. “Where is your Mommy?”
“Mommy’s coming; I told her that she was to put her brush down and come eat. I told her that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and she shouldn’t be playing with her painting until she has a good breakfast to fuel her!” said Alexis, nearly quoting what her mother said to her when she found Alexis playing in her room with stuffed toys, giving them a tea party that morning. Alexis expressed the opinion that the tea party was more important, just before her mother swatted her behind and shooed her down to breakfast.
Genevieve came into the kitchen, smiling, having caught the end of her daughter’s proclamation. “You are very wise, Alexis!” she said, exchanging an arched eyebrow with her husband. “I see we are having the Alexis special for breakfast today.”
“It is my birthday, Mommy!” announced Alexis.
“Well, is it now? Well, fancy that. How old are you young lady?” asked Genevieve, enjoying how this form of address made her daughter preen.
“I am four years old!” proclaimed Alexis.
“My goodness, you are old. Isn’t that very old, Eileen?” asked Genevieve, as she watched Eileen sliding the pan of biscuits into the oven. “I wish I could cook like you, Eileen.”
“Thank you Mrs. Archie. I can teach you,” said Eileen, knowing that there was no risk of the lady of the house taking her up on the offer. “Yes, our young lady is getting quite old. I think I will make a chocolate cake to celebrate the day. How about that Alexis? When you finish your breakfast do you want to help me?”
“Yes, Ma’am!” answered Alexis, not seeing anything strange about baking herself a birthday cake, but focusing on the promise of beaters and bowls to lick clean of sweet chocolate batter.
Later with the cake in the pie safe, Eileen gave Alexis her present that the farm woman economically wrapped in the Sunday comics. Ti was tied with a ribbon that came off a Christmas present, and wasn’t the normal red and green, so did nicely for a little girl’s birthday.
“Oh, Mrs. Giffin, what is it?” asked Alexis, holding the box on her lap.
“Now, silly, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, now would it!” teased Eileen. “Open it up and you will see.” Watching as the child ripped into the packaging, causing the frugal woman to cringe, Eileen hoped that Alexis would like the present.
“Oh, it is beautiful!” exclaimed Alexis, wrapping the soft knitted shawl around her shoulders, looking like a little old lady for a moment.
“I am glad you like it. Now remember, it is not for outside, or the hayloft. Just use it in your room to keep warm when you are looking at your comic books and it is too cold in your room,” said Eileen.
“Can I sleep with it?” asked Alexis, stroking the soft weave.
“Yes, of course,” said Eileen, wishing that she knitted a baby blanket for Alexis when she was born. She saw so many of the children in her family very attached to their baby blankets, but to Alexis, a blanket was a blanket.
“Mommy, look! Look what Mrs. Giffin gave me for my birthday!” said Alexis when her mother came into the kitchen to refill her coffee cup.
“Eileen, it’s lovely! Did you make it yourself?” asked Genevieve, and seeing the other woman nod, continued with complete sincerity. “I wish I was as talented as you.”
“Why thank you, Mrs. Archie!” said Eileen, thinking how strange it was for such a talented artist to envy the skills that Eileen learned from her mother. The stern widow still ran her farm with an iron fist, and thought it a shame that Eileen’s husband couldn’t provide for his family, causing Eileen to go work for the Archies. Her mother didn’t understand Eileen’s love for her second family.
“Alexis, you better go outside and find your father. It might be your birthday, but you still have your chores to take care of, and that pony is going to be wanting her exercise,” said Genevieve, before passing out of the kitchen again.
Alexis went to the mudroom and put on her cowgirl boots, which Eileen had cleaned that morning, before heading out in search of her father. Genevieve and Eileen worked together to arrange for the arrival of the other children who were invited to Alexis’ birthday party that afternoon.
When Kelly returned to the house, with Alexis in tow, he found that everything was ready for him to preside as cook for the gathering. The folding trestle tables, which the hands brought from the storage shed, were set up by the two women under an oak tree, not too far from the truck garden, and right next to the bare spot in the yard where Kelly set up his barbecue that morning.
“Mr. Archie, I have made up the beef patties. You will find them in the Frigidaire, with the frankfurters, and all the fixings. The mustard, relish, and the like are in a box that you can carry out and sit on that smaller table. Don’t let the children dress their own burgers and hotdogs. Those sorts of things are too much fun to play with. The lettuce, tomatoes, and onions are in the Frigidaire too,” said Eileen, as she buttoned up her coat and loaded the basket of her bike.
“Onions?” asked Kelly, “For children?”
“Mr. Archie, when it comes to hotdogs and hamburgers, children love their onions, even when they won’t touch them otherwise,” said Eileen wisely as she pedaled off, down the drive.
“Well, Alexis, it looks like everything is ready for your party. You better go upstairs with your Mommy and get washed up and dressed for the party,” said Kelly, as he checked the barbecue to make sure it was loaded right before he lit it off.
“I don’t want to get dressed up,” stated Alexis.
“Dear, you are the birthday girl, and you have to dress up. It is how it is done,” said Genevieve, quoting the often-heard statement, her husband used when explaining to her why she must conform to small town norms.
“Honey, you can change out of your dress when we start giving your little friends pony rides,” said Kelly, hoping that the lure of getting out of her dress, would help Alexis overlook the idea of other children riding her Cheyenne. It seemed to work, as Alexis docilely followed her mother into the house.
“Oh, Mommy, it is a real grown up dress!” said Alexis in wonderment, examining the soft black velvet, standing in the remnants of the wrapping paper. “No lacys, and no frillies!”
“That’s right pumpkin. You are four now, so you will be dressing like a big girl for the party,” said Genevieve, and instructing her daughter to set the dress box down, handed her a smaller package containing several small sets of white dress gloves and white socks without the dreaded lace.
Alexis was dressed in her new clothes by the time Kelly came from down the hall, showered and dressed, in clothes nice enough for a party, but not too nice to be barbecuing in, to Alexis’ room. “My goodness, my girl is all grown up! Turn around and let me look at you sweetie!” He said, seeing his daughter standing in the middle of the room bouncing up and down in her new shoes.
After Alexis spun slowly around for her father to admire the new outfit including the white blouse, black shoes and plain white socks, Kelly handed her a funny shaped box.
“This looks like one of your band boxes Mommy,” said Alexis, using the term her mother used for hatboxes.
“It sure does honey. Go ahead and open it,” said Genevieve, and watched as Alexis untied the ribbon and lifted the lid. Alexis sat holding the red hat in her hands not speaking.
“Don’t you like it dear?” asked Kelly very worried, afraid that his present wouldn’t stand up to the new outfit in Alexis’ esteem.
“Daddy it is wonderful, a real hat. No more bonnets?” asked Alexis, being liberated from the childish headgear was her greatest desire of the moment.
“Well, of course! You are four years old,” said Kelly with a laugh, and placed the hat on her daughter’s head, drawing her long hair back over her shoulders, for her mother to tie with a black velvet ribbon. “Show us how it looks with the hat sweetie.”
Genevieve and Kelly looked on filled with pride as Alexis twirled in front of them, the full skirt spinning away from her in a circle. Dressed all in back and white with the exception of her chic red hat, she looked quite grown up. Her sleeveless V-necked velvet dress had a closely fitted bodice, which was accented at the waist with a broad grosgrain ribbon, was worn over a silky white shirt with full sleeves that were gathered at her elbows. As they sat in amazement at how the baby they brought into the world was growing up, they were shaken from their reverie by the hooting of a car horn outside.
“Well, there is the first guest. Let’s go down to greet them,” said Genevieve, smiling at her husband before stopping to use Alexis’ mirror to check her own outfit before heading down to welcome the first comers.