A rose never really loses its potency. Even the most brittle red rose, disintegrating into dust with age, its petals blustering away in the least wind, is distinguished by the love with which it has been given. A perfumed rose given out of love is sweet thereafter. My love Robert gave me such a rose.
The summer I turned seventeen was hot in Kansas. I remember the afternoon I spent in my yellow calico dress, seated in my room with the rose on one knee and my diary on the other. The wind rippled across our sea of golden wheat outside my window. Some of that wind swept into my room, so I set aside my possessions and rose to close it.
Outside, two men were striding toward the house after another day of the wheat harvest: my father Sam was dark and lean with a dense moustache. The second man was sandy-haired Roy. We shared crops and livestock, as he and my sister lived on the parcel of land beside us.
Suddenly, their two daughters rushed into my room and announced "Aunt Eliza! Mama wants your help in the kitchen!"
"All right," I said and reached for each of their hands. "Let's go."
When we arrived in the kitchen, Mama and my sister Alyson were chopping vegetables at the counter. Papa was seated at the round wooden table with a cigarette in his mouth, and Roy was stomping his boots at the porch as he came in by the screen door.
"Mama, we got Aunt Eliza!" Rita stated proudly.
"Thank you, sweetheart," Alyson smiled at her and dried her hands on a dish towel. "You and Lydia go wash up for supper. Eliza, can you come help slice these tomatoes? Lucy and Hazel should be back with some more any second now."
The girls scampered away. Alyson smiled when I met her beside the sink. She was lovely. She pulled back the sides of her dark hair and curled the ends so they rested above her shoulders. She had beautiful brown eyes with arched brows and freckles across her nose. She wore a bold maroon lipstick and a cream calico dress. She was sure she gave the impression of a naïve country girl. I was sure she gave the impression of a model.
"I have a book you can read after dinner," she promised me.
"Thank goodness," I murmured back as I accepted a knife and started on the first tomato. "I have read every one in this place."
"You got that from me," she smiled.
"What do you think about the wheat crop, Sam?" Mama asked over her shoulder as she started to rinse some dandelion leaves. "Summer has been a hot and dry one. Must be about to fry the wheat."
"We should get it all harvested before anything happens," Papa assured her. "'To everything there is a season.' Say a prayer for rain, and the Lord will provide."
"I am concerned, Sam, because I have not been able to find work and we're barely able to make ends meet. If we have a damaged crop, there will be trouble on the horizon."
Papa opened his mouth to answer, but the screen door banged open and Lucy and Hazel came in the house with a basketful of dandelion leaves and a couple more tomatoes. Tears streaked Lucy's freckled cheeks, and she said "Sorry we took so long. One of the hens died, so I buried her before we came in."
"Do you know what happened to her?" Mama asked.
"No, I'm not sure."
"Wash up. Then you and Hazel can slice the bread and get the butter."
I twisted around. It was pathetic to watch Lucy go, strawberry head bent forward with two short forlorn braids over her shoulders. She always had a heart for anyone who suffered, people or animals.
Supper was rather strained that evening. I sensed that Mama was worried about the crop, but Papa seemed to rest assured that all would be well. It was true that we were scarcely able to make ends meet. Same with Alyson and her household. She was a gifted seamstress and was able to contribute by selling dresses she made. I asked myself what I could do to contribute in my household.
Mama had cooked the dandelion leaves and placed them between bread slices with some tomato and a pinch of salt and pepper. Papa loved tomatoes, so there were extras in his sandwich. He met my eyes and smiled at one point, and that was when I realized that we could make it through any challenge as a family. Meanwhile, Lydia and Rita prattled on about animals and school with Lucy and Hazel, and Papa discussed tomorrow's harvest with Roy. Aly presented me the book she promised to lend me: a novel entitled Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather. But Mama ate in silence.
My mind was rambling that night, so I read some of that book downstairs by the lamp while Virginia Rea sang "Giannina Mia" and some other songs quietly on the radio. Eventually, I went upstairs to get ready for bed. My sisters had kept the windows open in our room, and the sultry summer air and the chirping crickets made me appreciate our lives on this farm. Because of the moonlight, I could see both my younger sisters from my bed, and my heart swelled with love.
No matter how stretched our money was, I prayed that we would always share this life as a family.
Sam Andrews – father of the Andrews girls. Tall, lean, angular features, and dark hair and mustache. Often wears a dirty white tee shirt and jeans.
Dorothy Andrews – mother of the Andrews girls. Strawberry blonde hair in a curled halo around her face, hazel eyes, and freckled. Small stature. Hazel eyes.
Alyson Andrews-Mathers – twenty-two years old. Dark hair pulled back at the side and finger curled at the ends. Sets on her shoulders. Brown eyes, arched eyebrows, and freckles across her nose. Often wears maroon lipstick.
Eliza Andrews – seventeen years old. Dark hair reaches well past shoulders. Pulled back and curled at the ends. Brown eyes.
Lucy Andrews – twelve years old. Two short strawberry blonde braids, freckles, brown eyes.
Hazel Andrews – ten years old. Dark hair almost to her shoulders, hazel eyes.
… … …
Roy Mathers– husband to Alyson. Twenty-three years old. Slender. Sandy hair. Blue eyes.
Lydia Mathers– daughter of Roy and Alyson. Four years old. Golden curls to her shoulders, blue eyes.
Rita Mathers – daughter of Roy and Alyson. Four years old. Brown curls past shoulders, brown eyes.
… … …
Robert – boyfriend of Eliza. Eighteen years old. Short dark hair and eyes.