By Karen Brode
Effie felt that she was going to die soon. She couldn’t explain this feeling – it was just something she knew deep in her soul. She didn’t know why they wouldn’t listen to her.
Effie’s daughter, Winnie, drove all over the countryside teaching school and shopping and going to meetings. The issue on the table now was a quick trip to Kilgore to see the new baby, Effie’s first granddaughter. It was a small favor that would take half a day, but they were arguing.
“Momma, it might be better if we waited until the baby is a little older” Winnie said, and Effie’s husband, John, added, “Those folks are probably worn out, Effie. That baby is only two weeks old! I know that it’s 1951 and there’s been lots of medical advances since our babies were born, but I think it’s just to soon to go for a visit.”
Effie hung her head, and delivered her coup de grace. “I don’t know how much longer I have.”
With this pronouncement she stared down at her empty plate. There wasn’t anything for her to live for if she couldn’t see that new baby. Couldn’t they see how important this was to her?
Winnie and her Father looked at each other with worry. Effie’s mortality had become an oft-mentioned subject. They both knew that Effie’s health truly was failing, but because it had been failing for so long, they didn’t pay as much attention as they might have if her illness had been more acute. And no one – including Effie – knew exactly what was wrong with her. There were vague pains around her heart, and her ankles swelled if she was on her feet a lot, but she was 62! Most women that age had similar problems.
They got on the road about 8 AM the next morning. The early morning air had been so refreshing to all of them, and as Winnie backed the car out of the car-shed, they felt as if a great adventure awaited them. John sat in the front passenger seat so that he could read the road map and help Winnie make all the right turns. Effie sat in the backseat where she was less likely to get carsick.
Winnie had packed a picnic lunch and Effie’s mouth watered when she smelled the chicken Winnie had fried yesterday. There was potato salad and homemade rolls, and a thermos of lemonade. Effie loved Winnie’s fried chicken. There was an air of celebration and festivity in the car. Effie felt lighter and happier than she had in quite awhile.
So far, she had seen only one Burma- Shave advertisement. The signs were on the side of the road, and made a complete thought in a succession of signs placed approximately 500 feet apart.
“Don’t stick your arm” was printed on the first sign
“Out too far…..” came next
“Or it might go home”
“In another car!”
And then, the signature end sign said Burma-Shave
John read all the signs as they drove along as if the rest of them couldn’t read for themselves. Sometimes, John got on her nerves. Sometimes, she wished he would shut up. And what really made her mad was that everyone liked John so much! There was no one in three counties who didn’t know him, like him, and want to be his friend. He could stand and talk about nothing all day with a stranger. She didn’t understand.
Winnie never drove faster than 45 mph. Effie wanted to get there quickly so she would have more time with the baby. It was all she could do not to tell Winnie to drive faster. At this rate it would take them most of the morning to get to Kilgore.
Effie held the little pink sweater she had crocheted for the new baby girl up to admire it’s perfection one more time. Each stitch was perfect. It was Effie’s best work, and she feared it was her last work. But at least she had rallied and crocheted this sweater. It took a lot of time and energy, but it would be worth it to see it on the new baby girl.
Effie smiled to herself at the thought of her dear son, Travis, having a daughter. Oh, how she loved him. He was her crowning glory. He was the son she had dreamed of. He was everything she had ever wanted in a child. She had known Travis would be her last child, and she had tried to hold onto him as long as possible. She had carried him in her arms until he started school, and she simply refused to let him play outside. She wanted Travis to stay inside where she could watch out for him. She wanted to protect him from all the hurt and pain of the world.
Effie had secretly been hoping her son, Travis, and his wife, Jane, might name the little girl after her. Well, maybe not Effie because that name wasn’t really in fashion anymore, but her middle name was May. Couldn’t they have named her Kathy May? Travis had probably wanted to name her Kathy May, but Jane might not have wanted to. Jane didn’t like Effie, and Effie could never understand how anyone could not like her. She tried so hard to be a good Mother. Effie had felt a cold distance from Jane ever since Travis introduced them. Effie didn’t know what to do. It seemed the harder she tried, the less Jane liked her. And what made it all hurt so much worse was that Travis and Jane both adored John.
They drove into the town of Kilgore about 11:30 AM that brisk cool November Sunday morning. “Let’s see” John said as he unfolded the directions Travis had given him. “You turn left at Main St. until you come to Maple, and then you go a few more blocks.” Winnie navigated the turns easily, and they drove up in front of Travis and Jane’s house.
Winnie went to the door while John opened the back door of the car to help Effie out. “John, I can probably get out by myself.” but John stood there giving her something to hold to as she climbed out of the car. Effie didn’t want Jane to see her needing help to get out of the car. She wasn’t sure why.
Maybe this visit would be different. Effie was now the grandmother of their little girl. Surely, that would soften them and make them see that she was an important figure in their lives as well as the little girl’s life.
Effie couldn’t walk very fast, and it angered her at herself. She saw Travis standing in the doorway in his pajamas, and she wanted to run. She wanted to throw her arms around him and tell him how much she loved him. Then, she wanted to hold that baby and cuddle her in her arms. Effie was so excited inside herself and so unable to make her body do what her heart wanted.
It seemed to take forever for Effie to get across the yard as John clutched her arm. She didn’t want John to hold onto her as if she were an invalid, but if she jerked her arm away, it would set the wrong tone for the entire visit. John was studying the flowers and bushes. Everyone loved John, and did he crochet a sweater for the baby? Did he beg them all to come and see the new baby? Was he excited beyond what he could stand? No. He was ambling along the way he always did.
When they got to the porch, Effie scaled the steps quicker than usual partly because of her excitement, and partly because she didn’t want Jane to see how hard it was for her and how out of breath she was. John let go of her hand, and Travis grabbed John. Travis hung onto John and for a minute, it seemed Travis would cry. John patted Travis on the back, and said, “Son…”
Then Effie grabbed Travis, and even though Travis returned her hug, she could feel his body stiffen and pull away.
“Hello Jane” Effie said when she entered the living room. She was afraid to hug Jane because she didn’t want to hurt her. Effie was certain that Jane must still be very sore. “Congratulations on your new daughter! – I just can’t wait to see her.”
Jane said, “We just put the baby down to sleep.”
Effie stared at Jane silently….. Effie didn’t understand what this meant exactly. Did it mean that she couldn’t even look at her new granddaughter?
Effie sat down in the first chair she came to which was a rocking chair by the window. The others went into the kitchen to eat some chicken. Who could think about food at a time like this? Here Effie was in the house with her new granddaughter, and she wasn’t sure what was going to happen. She bit her fingernail as she stared out at the yard.
Jane peeked around the corner, and asked Effie if she would like some lemonade? “No…not right now. I’m just going to sit here and rest a bit.” answered Effie. Effie was very much out of breath. She couldn’t tell if it was the excitement of thinking she might see the baby or if something was wrong with her heart. Maybe both. She listened to all of them in the kitchen – laughing, talking, enjoying themselves. No one cared that she wasn’t getting to see that baby. She just didn’t understand. If Travis loved her at all, he would have brought the baby and placed her in his Mother’s lap. A tear rolled down her face as she fingered the little pink sweater she had worked on for so long.
She could hear Travis talking animatedly with John. He so clearly loved John, and that was evident to everyone. But when she tried to talk to Travis, he had very little to say. All of it made her so sad, and the longer she sat in the rocking chair, the sadder she got. They had obviously forgotten that she was even there. Winnie and John had forgotten why they came to Kilgore because they were laughing so hard at Travis’s stories. It was clear to Effie that not one of them would miss her a bit if she were to drop dead this very moment.
Effie remembered when Travis had brought Jane home to meet them. Effie had tried so hard to impress Jane with her cooking. She had made smothered steak and John had brought in so many garden vegetables that the table was laden with food. And Winnie had made skillet cornbread. They had sat at the table for almost an hour after they finished eating. Travis was such an entertainer. Jane hung on Travis’s every word, and Effie knew then that they would get married.
Effie wanted Jane to like her, but Jane was an educated woman, a college woman, a professional woman. And Effie was afraid that Jane looked at her and saw a provincial, small-minded woman. Well, she wasn’t, but she didn’t know how to show Jane that she wasn’t. People who took the time to know her realized that she was very quick-witted. Her children were all brilliant – that should prove something. She wanted to tell Jane there was a difference between being educated and being smart. Effie tried to think of things to talk about with Jane, but they really had so little in common….. mainly just Travis.
Effie thought of her recipe books, her dress patterns…. Jane wouldn’t care about these things. Effie thought of her Mother’s china that sat in the buffet. Maybe she would show that to Jane. She just wasn’t sure what to do.
Everyone had disappeared and Effie cleared the table. Jane had offered to help, but Effie shooed the kids off to go enjoy themselves. Effie pumped water at the kitchen pump into the metal dishpan. Then, she poured the hot water that had been sitting in a pan on the stove. She began to do the dishes, and when she looked out the window she caught sight of John sitting on the glider with Travis. Jane was leaning on the tree nearby. They were all laughing. John was smoking his pipe, and looked so content and at ease. He didn’t have to worry about what to say. Effie sighed as she continued to do the dishes.
Effie continued to sit in the rocking chair in Travis’s living room wondering if they would even let her see her new granddaughter. They just didn’t understand how important this was to her.
Just then, Winnie came back into the living room with excitement in her eyes. “Travis said we can go in and look at the baby, but be careful not to wake her because she was up most of the night.” Effie’s eyes brightened, and she started trying to get up out of the rocker. Winnie helped her up and they started down the hall toward the nursery.
Effie clung to the sweater as Winnie held her elbow and steered her toward the room. Effie almost ran to the crib and looked at the tiny beautiful girl lying there asleep. Effie could not help herself. She couldn’t have stopped herself from picking up the baby. Her arms reached out and brought the baby to her bosom and stared down into the angelic face. Her granddaughter. “Why, Winnie, she’s cold! Her little legs are just as cold as they can be!” Effie said in a whisper. There was only one flannel blanket in the crib with her. “She needs more cover!” Effie said.
Winnie glanced around nervously and said, “Maybe we should just put her back in the crib.” Effie looked around the room and saw a knitted blanket over the chair. Effie laid the baby back in the crib and put both blankets snugly around her. “Poor little thing!” Effie said as she stared down at her. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked at Winnie and Effie. They all stared silently at each other for a few seconds, and then the baby screamed louder than either of them would have thought such a young baby could scream.
Travis and Jane came running into the room. “Mother, what are you doing?” asked Travis. “She was cold, Travis….I put an extra blanket on her.” Travis took the crying baby and handed her to Jane and asked Jane to try to quiet the baby down in their bedroom.
Effie sat at the table with the rest of them. She ate one chicken drumstick just to be sociable, but she wasn’t hungry anymore. She hadn’t meant to wake the baby. Couldn’t they see that she only wanted to help? She was trying to keep their baby warm. Surely they could appreciate that. But instead they had taken offense. Now Effie was ready to throw up her arms.
Soon, they had said their goodbyes and were on their way back home. In the backseat, Effie began to cry softly. She knew that she would probably not ever see that baby again. And she was so beautiful. And she was HER granddaughter. Didn’t they understand this? She had a right to love and hold this baby. But this situation was like everything else in her life. Unfair. Effie had never felt so misunderstood, so unjustly reviled. It seemed to her that Travis and Jane were determined to make her a villain, and Winnie and John certainly weren’t standing up for her. No one cared what happened to her.
She laid over in the backseat and buried her face in her arm and wept. She didn’t think Winnie and John could hear her, but if they could, that was okay, too.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.