a guest Feb 19th, 2019 72 Never
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- “A World of Opportunity”
- “Hey, Chelsea.” Miranda looked up from her English book at her little sister who had just come into the room.
- “Hey.” Chelsea’s voice was low and toneless, her eyes cast downward.
- Miranda slid her book to one side of the bed and shifted herself to make room. “Hey, baby. Want to climb up?” She patted the quilt, one of their grandmother’s, and reached an arm out toward Chelsea.
- The little girl in blonde pigtails put her hand in her sister’s and climbed up on the bed. She didn’t look at Miranda, but snuggled close. A look at her face told Miranda she was holding back tears. Stroking her hair, she asked quietly, “What’s the matter, pumpkin?”
- Chelsea sniffled and buried her head in the quilt, shaking her head. Miranda kept quiet, moving her hand to rub Chelsea’s back. While the little girl sobbed, Miranda focused on the bright pinwheels in the quilt, sewn decades ago, by hand, next to the fire in a two-room house. She never tired of imagining all the hours the tiny stitches took, all the conversations about the farm, or the war—things she knew only through her history books. No television, maybe a radio. A world away.
- Suddenly, the little girl next to her raised her head. She spoke with venom. “I’m never going back to school! My teacher said she’s going to give us a multiplication test every day from now on! Every day! And I already flunked the first one! And Sally said that Kathy is her best friend now, not me, and I don’t know what I ever did to her. And now Joanie won’t talk to me because she’s Sally’s friend, too. It’s so unfair!”
- Miranda pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. She didn’t want to trivialize Chelsea’s problems, but neither could she take them too seriously. Chelsea was in no mood for a lecture, anyway. Miranda jumped off the bed.
- “C’mon.” She dug through her closet for a pair of shoes.
- “What? Where?” She’d caught Chelsea’s attention just enough, distracted her from her misery. The little girl sat up.
- “Let’s go see Grandma.”
- Chelsea just looked at her.
- “C’mon. We’re going.” It was the big-sister voice, and Miranda walked out of the bedroom.
- “Mom, I’m taking the car.” She was so glad to be 17! “We’re going to see Grandma.”
- “Call me if you stay for dinner,” her mother called from the kitchen.
- Miranda turned to Chelsea, who’d wiped her tears, face still red but eyes bright. “Ready?”
- “Ready—no, wait!” She ran back down the hall. Sounds of paper rustling and things hitting the floor followed, and then Chelsea reappeared, breathing heavily. She held up an old rag doll. “I have decided to give this back to Grandma.”
- Miranda’s brow furrowed in a question.
- “I think she needs it, now that Grandpa’s gone.”
- Miranda hugged her. “You’re sweet. Let’s go.”
- * * *
- “Grandma!” Chelsea shrieked like only a little girl can and ran full-tilt toward the porch and into her grandmother’s arms. Miranda walked more slowly, allowing herself to soak up the environment she so loved.
- The cracked sidewalk leading to their grandmother’s house from the street looked like broken dishes buried in the ground. Both sides were bordered by big flowers—hollyhocks, lavender, and overgrown rose bushes waved slightly in the breeze. One of the few houses on the block that had not been gentrified in the last 10 years, it was a glimpse into the past. The yard was alive, for one thing—it was still mostly gardens that, though tumbled-looking, lent it an air of sanctuary. Why anyone would want a front yard full of gravel was beyond Miranda’s understanding, let alone perfectly groomed hedges in tight spheres that looked like something dropped in from outer space. This was also the only house that had not had its warm, brown, painted and re-painted wooden siding replaced by aluminum or stucco, and the front porch remained, as well, even as those on neighboring houses disappeared, making them look half-dressed, Miranda thought, vulnerable somehow. She shivered at the thought of the same thing happening to this place, of not having a Wonderland to visit from time to time.
- “Miranda, dear. You look more and more like your mother every time I see you—you’re just beautiful!” Her grandmother held out a gnarled hand and Miranda took it, leaning in to kiss the rose-petal cheek.
- “Thanks, Grandma.” She settled into one of the cushioned wicker chairs that crowded the little wooden porch. Chelsea was still in Grandma’s lap, looking intently at the doll she had brought. She hugged it tight to her chest, and Miranda knew she might change her mind about giving it up.
- “So tell me, girls, what are you doing in school these days?”
- A cloud crossed Chelsea’s face, but before she could speak, Miranda jumped in.
- “They’re making us read Jane Austen, for Pete’s sake. And Shakespeare, who I can barely understand. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but really it’s just stupid. People running around a forest half the night, looking for some god. The only class I like is my computer science class. It’s really like learning another language, but one that is logical and straight-forward, so unlike English. In—" she hesitated, conscious of her grandmother’s age—“the computer languages, there are strict rules that always apply. You don’t have to guess. I like that.”
- Her grandmother shook her head. “My, my, but you girls are lucky. Did I ever tell you why I never got to finish high school?”
- Miranda felt her eyes widen. Her grandmother, not even a high school graduate? But she was so smart, and she read constantly! The few times she’d overheard her grandparents talking about politics, she thought Grandma must have studied history and public speaking. She sounded so much more on top of things than Grandpa.
- “It was during the war, of course. I mean World War II.” She glanced down at Chelsea. “Now, you don’t know what that is yet, but I tell you, it was something none of us who lived through it could ever forget. Even though the battles were half a world away, all our daily lives were changed. For some of us, changed forever.”
- She grew silent for a moment, and Miranda watched her bright brown eyes peer deep into the past. A shiver went through Miranda, and she became very alert. Real, living history was so much more fascinating than schoolbooks.
- Her grandmother shook her head. “Anyway, I was just thirteen when it started, but you know I had four older brothers and every one of them was still living at home. Your Great Uncle James was courting—you would say ‘dating’—a girl from town, and building a little house on the other side of the farm to live in when he married her. He was the oldest. The others stuck around to help Daddy on the farm. Back then, just out of the Depression, no one took anything for granted, so everyone worked very hard to make sure the family was taken care of, even if it meant you didn’t go off to a fancy college. It was just the way it was.”
- “I remember big rows when the war broke out, about the boys signing up to be soldiers. Daddy didn’t try to stop them, but Mama was dead set against any of them leaving. The boys wanted to be heroes, and, I think, to see something new. Mama said she couldn’t manage without them.”
- “Well, up until then, I didn’t have too many chores to do, what with four brothers around—I just took care of my two lambs, Peaches and Cream. One of my brothers, Andrew usually, would walk me into town each day for school, then help me with my homework at night. I wanted to be a teacher.” Her voice rose and a half-smile appeared on her lips as she remembered the long-gone ambition. Then her voice got very serious.
- “But I remember the day that all changed—December 7, 1941.”
- Miranda piped up. “Pearl Harbor, right?”
- Grandma nodded. “Yes, dear. Pearl Harbor. After that, there was no argument. Within a week, Andrew, Ben, and Matthew had signed up. James stuck around for another year to help Daddy, until he was drafted. Our house was suddenly empty, and school wasn’t even an option for me. There was too much work to do.”
- Miranda thought for a moment. “But couldn’t you go back once the war was over?”
- Her grandmother smiled and shook her head. “Back in those days, there was no ‘going back to school’ like there is now. No, by that time, I was 17—pretty much a grown woman.” She laughed as Miranda’s eyes grew wide. “It was a different time, honey. Your grandpa came back from the war, and within a year I was married. My school days were over. I think I might have been a good teacher, and sometimes I wonder, if I had finished school, what else I might have done.”
- She hugged Chelsea tight to her chest. “That’s why I say you girls are lucky. You enjoy school, and you focus on learning everything you can. You have wonderful opportunities these days—don’t ever forget it.”
- Miranda watched her sister. How much of the story had made sense to her? Chelsea was staring intently at the doll again. She smoothed back its yarn hair and planted a kiss on the embroidered mouth, then wiggled to release herself from her grandmother’s arms.
- Sitting up straight, she turned to the old woman. “Grandma, I brought you Annie back.”
- “Why, dear, I gave her to you.”
- “I know, Grandma, but I think she wants you back. I think she misses you.”
- “Okay.” There was confusion in the word. “What’s this about, Chelsea?’
- The little girl placed Annie against her grandmother’s chest. “Annie can keep you company. I’m getting too grown up now. I’m in third grade, you know.”
- “Third grade! My Lord. And what are they teaching third-graders these days?”
- “Multiplication, Grandma! It’s hard, but I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to try really hard.” Chelsea’s tone was determined.
- As Chelsea continued chatting happily about school, Miranda leaned back in her chair and smiled to herself.
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