Something to Write About

Helene was a willful child.

“Why can’t you be more like your sister?”

She would hear that statement often from her mother. She was a beautiful woman with dark hair worn in the Gibson style flattering her perfectly chiseled face. Her heavy arms deep in the tub of the new washing machine.

In the morning Helene would jump up, scraping her toes on the brick that now lay cooled wrapped in the bed clothes that gathered at the end of the bed. A new day to explore the farm and meet the cousins across the way.

Her older sister, Gertie would be settled, reading or writing a school assignment when not doing chores. Her brothers would be outside already helping their father work the farm. Bud was handsome and tall like his father, Arn was Helene’s favorite always teasing and helping her get out of the many scrapes she would find herself in, his smile was infectious.

George and Winnie had persevered, the depression and war touched their lives. Religion was a sword that ruined the harmony of this otherwise peaceful household.

“Where is that child?” Winnie was exasperated.

She stepped out onto the landing and peered across the acres of corn and dusty land between the fertile field and the barn. Her hand shielding her eyes from the setting sun, she fetched Arn to go out to find her.

Helene was hanging from her favorite tree out in the orchard, smelling the nectar of the apples and dreaming of far off lands. Arn crept up and scared the daylights out of her. Her knees buckled almost dropping her from the limb. Arn was quick to grab her as she frantically tried to kick him in frustration.

“You are a big tease!”

“Mother would tan your hide if she saw you hanging by your knees in all your glory. That is not how a young woman behaves.”

“You wouldn’t tell her would you?”

“What do I get in return?”

“You already have the nickel I earned from Mrs. Bieller.”

“Yes, that was when I helped you retrieve the chickens you let loose feeling sorry for them when mother was fetching them for dinner.”

“I don’t have anything else, except the book mother brought home from town last week.”

“I know, you can do my chores, one day next week.”

“I’ll tell pa.”

“Then I will tell mother.”

“All right, I give. I’ll do your chores — for one day.”

After dinner Winnie called Helene into her bedroom and presented her with a new dress and pants set she had made from an old set of curtains.

“I will make another set, but you must wear this if you continue to hang upside down. If you insist on being a monkey, you’ll have to wear the pants.”

“He told you, Arn spilled the beans?”

“No, Mrs. Phelps told me, and a few other things you have been doing around the yard.”

“Do I still have to do the chores for Arn?”

Arn got a talking to by their father for trying to get out of his chores, he blamed Helene for squealing and mouthed to her that she was going to pay. Bud’s stern dark gaze confirmed the threat.

All was righted when Arn crawled in through her bedroom window late at night and needed her confidence. She stared at him and he put his finger to his mouth while Gertie only stirred, she watched him with big eyes as he padded through her room and out the door into the hallway.

Pa’s family had immigrated from Canada before he was born, that was only a temporary residence they were originally from Scotland. A rather large family, they settled in Western Massachusetts and built homes on rented farmland within earshot of each other.

Pa was a stoic Scot and a strict Congregationalist. A very hard worker who insisted his sons follow in his footsteps. Winnie was a Catholic, occasionally a war of religion broke out in the house.

“If you hate Catholic’s so much, then why did you marry one?”

Winnie had secretly smuggled every one of her children out to be baptized, she believed they needed the sacrament to be safe from damnation. Helene would run from the house when these arguments escalated, covering her ears she would run until the silence of the distant farmland took over and she could remove her hands from her ears and relish the quiet.

One of these times she found Arn sitting by Mrs. Phelps barn, smoking a corn cob pipe. He had positioned himself perfectly so the snoop couldn’t see him from her window. However, she saw Helene and knew she was talking to someone. Although she was only eight, her mother received the report of her colluding with boys behind her barn.

“I wasn’t mother, I was play-acting, I don’t like boys … they stink.”

Helene was an honest child if nothing else, Winnie put her money on Helene instead of the prying neighbor, about the flirting. However, Helene was restricted to the confines of their farm, no more fodder for Mrs. Phelps, who could ruin the reputation of her fun-loving child of fantasy. Any word of Arn’s smoking would mean a brutal beating, so she took the blame on herself.

One day the family packed up to visit the woodlot, pa had purchased with his brothers about twenty miles away. Helene begged to stay home, it was a painful memory for her. She was left behind on their last visit. They had brought two other families with them and in the confusion she was left behind. When she returned to the spot where they had set up the picnic there was no one there. She called out and cried for hours, when she collapsed to the ground from exhaustion, she could hear Arn’s voice calling out to her. He remembered the exact spot they had picnicked, whereas the others combed the nearby woods unsuccessfully.

“Helene, there you are!” Her mother called out as Arn stepped out to the main road where the wagons were.

She hugged her and apologized by the lantern that shed the only light, it was a dark night and the sounds imaginary or otherwise had her panicked. The ride home was spent clutched in her mothers arms, fearing that she would wake alone and in the dark.

Several weeks passed, Helene had stayed near her home and her mother. She helped with chores, which surprised her mother. She even offered to help Gertie who shooed her away.

“Go outside, you’re in the way!”

The timing was right, Helene was feeling secure enough to get back to her normal routine without worrying she would return to an empty house. She spotted the large black umbrella leaning up against the chicken shed and looked over to the pile of manure recently shoveled to be cleared away. The flight of fantasy took over and she thought she would fly over the pile and even further if it all worked out. She took the leap of faith and landed up to her thighs in the muck. Arn scolded her and laughed till he made his point, before he and Bud pulled her out. The boys presented her to their mother who screamed and ordered her to stay put, while she got some rags and ordered her to the stream.

Mother glanced at the ruined umbrella she had used the night before. “My new umbrella, at least you could have waited until I got one more use out of it.”

Helene could see the smile her mother tried to cover up.

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