Chapter Eight

January 3rd, 1901

"Where we going?" I asked ya as we walked down that main street of the town. It was mid-morning with the sun beating down on us hard, and not that many people were out. An orange cat scampered by chasing a little fat bird and I thought 'bout following him.

"Visiting a friend," you answered, watching the chase as well. "Don't," you snapped the moment I started after 'em. "You're gonna behave yourself, you hear me? Don't play your childish games and keep still. You're uncle ain't here to stop me from whooping you 'cross the backside."

"Yes," I muttered back, quickly taking my place back to your side. I didn't like moving as slow as you, but that cane of yours scared me.

"Good. You're learning. I always knew you were smart enough to follow orders." You glanced down at me and a slight smile formed. "I'm gonna make sure you grow up smart from now on. Should've done the same for your cousin, but I don't much care for him."

"You mean Jessie?"

You nodded. "Henry's alright when he's not hollering up a storm, but he's just a little thing. I pray almost every night that he doesn't grow up as dumb as his father. Seth was always the smart one, even if he bad at raising ya. He knows when to punish his kin good; Levi just lets 'em boys run 'round screaming. It's that woman, I tell ya. Gets into a little fit whenever he hollers at 'em."

"I don't like Jessie either," I added, earning a wider grin from ya.

We stopped in front of a little wooden house, with a colorful garden in front. An old white dog sat on the porch, tongue hanging out, and he didn't seem to notice us as we walked towards the door. The wood creaked beneath us, and he stirred for just the quickest second.

"Don't mind him," you said, tapping the door with your cane. "He's blind, old, and he don't give a damn anymore. Only has 'bout three yellow teeth left, or was it two?" The door opened and a lady as old as you were greeted us.

"William," she smiled, stepping aside to allow him through. "What a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting you until the later of this week." I slipped in before the door closed and she looked mighty surprised to see me.

"And who is this?" she asked, taking your hat and placing it on a pretty little dresser. The inside of her house smelt real good, like fresh oranges, and her furniture was in good condition. Her bright white curtains blew through the hot breeze that crept in through the opened windows.

"This here is Alice," you said, pushing me towards the old lady. She smelt like oranges too. "Say 'hello,' Alice."

"Hello," I said.

"Hello," the woman said with a smile. "You're the granddaughter, are you not?"

I looked up at you. "He's my grandfather."

"Of course, you have his nose it would seem; however, those little brown eyes are from your mother's side. Nonetheless, it is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Alice. I'm Mary-Ellen." She turned to you. "Would you like something to drink? Water?"

"With some lemon?" you asked. Your eyes were rounder than usual, and you seemed to stand straighter.

"Yes," she smiled. "I'll get both of you a drink. Please, go sit in the parlor room; it's the coolest during the day." She quickly left and you led me through the house. Photographs of family and fancy looking paintings covered the walls, and a rug with some strange design lay on the floor.

You choose a wide couch with soft yellow pillows. I sat next to you, closer than normal 'cause I felt nervous in this new place. I eyed the brown monster looking box that hid in the corner, with yellowing white teeth.

"It's a piano," you whispered to me.

"It's big," I whispered back. "Big enough to eat a gator, I bet."

You laughed. "Ain't gonna eat nothing. It only makes music." When Mary-Ellen entered the room with a pitcher of water and glasses, you stood to take one. She poured you a cup, and then one for me. The lemon in the water must've made it taste mighty good 'cause I finished it in one go. She poured me another cup and I took my time with that one.

"I was telling Alice here 'bout that piano. I think this might be her first time seeing one, is that right, girl?"

I looked up at you and nodded.

Mary-Ellen tutted and said, "That's such an old and dusty piano; I have half a mind to go order a new one soon. It would be nice to own one where all the keys work, and I would love to start playing again." She placed her own glass down on the little table beside her chair. "You yourself can take up playing it again, couldn't you, William?"

"I only knew that one song," you answered.

Her brows lifted and her face brightened up a bit. "It was such a lovely song though. Do you remember what it was called? I may still have the score sheet you bought so many years ago."

"Oh Promise Me," you said slowly. "Don't bother looking for any sheets though; I'm too old to be playing any music now."

"Oh, but you sung it so beautifully." She smiled and folded her hands 'cross her lap. "You may not look like a graceful man, but your voice was always near perfect."

Your face was redder than usual. "Stop talking 'bout my singing voice; I ain't got one. And don't dare mention any of this to no one outside this house, you hear me? Same goes to you, Alice. I was drunk at the time and ain't nobody here in this old town need to know 'bout no songs and no singing." You took a large gulp of water and stayed quite.

Mary-Ellen laughed quietly. "May I ask why you've brought along your granddaughter today? You've never brought along any of your family during one of your visits. I almost believed you were ashamed of me."

"'em," you quickly corrected. "I was ashamed of 'em, never of you. You offered me your home when my Margret died and the boys were going through that time when they wanted nothing of me. They hated me for so long; Seth longer, of course. Levi was always the easier one to win over."

"That is no reason to feel ashamed of them," she commented.

"Yes, but they ain't graceful men. They'd just end up dirtying up your furniture or something. And those children!" Your tapped you cane and leaned forward. "You'd never have me over again if I brought any of those hollering monsters."

She raised one finger to silence him. "Yet, you've brought her here and she looks sweeter than any flower out in my garden."

That made me smile.

"She may be better behaved for the most part, but she get just as bad, even worst," you stated. "She's always running 'round getting in trouble. Likes to talk back too, but I gonna teach her good for now on, yes ma'am, I am."

I frowned to that.

"You will now?" Mary-Ellen asked. "And what exactly are you going to teach this child?"

"How to behave like she's supposed to and how to follow orders and how to respect her elders," you answered firmly with a quick nod afterwards. "Also want her to know how to read and maybe even write, but I ain't expecting no miracles."

The woman took another sip of water and eyed ya. "Are you going to teach her how to read and write yourself?"

"Perhaps," you answered slowly. "I was hoping that maybe somebody would help out a bit, since they used to be a tutor and all."

"That was a long time ago Mr. Anderson."

"Is you trying to say you'd deny helping out a dear friend by teaching his grandchild a few things, eh?"

"Not at all," she responded while glancing over at me. "If you do want my help, then leave that task completely to me. I don't want you influencing her in any way."

"What'd ya mean 'influencing her'? I teach my kin good!" You nodded your head and followed up with a cough.

"Her grammar for one is clearly picked up from you, or perhaps her father, who no less learned from you." She smiled when you frowned. "She is a lady, and if I am going to teach her how to write and read like a lady, she must talk like one."

"Never said anything 'bout being a lady. I just need her smart enough to make it outta this town. She don't need to learn anything 'bout any poetry or gardening, or whatever 'em ladies learn. Just reading and writing, and I'll pay you what I can."

"No," Mary-Ellen stated firmly. "There is no need for payment. I'm already settled comfortably as it is, and I know the hardships your family suffers from the lack of finances. I will teach your granddaughter if you truly want her better off than she is." She turned to me and smiled sweetly. "Is this what you want, Miss Alice?" she asked.

I didn't answer.

"Answer her," you muttered, brushing your knee against mine.

"I think," I said.

"I think is not a proper answer," the woman stated. "It is either yes or no. Do you want me to tutor you?"

"Of course she does, Mary," you said.

"I need her to say it, William," Mary-Ellen slowly responded. "She is a lady in the making now and she must learn to speak properly when asked a question." Her eyes were glued to me, and I felt my face heating up.

"Yes," I answer mighty slow and unsure.

"Ma'am," you added. "Always say ma'am or sir when addressing your elders."

"Yes, ma'am."