A Meeting Of Need
Caught, I jumped up, toppling the basket of peas.
“How often have I told you,” said Mother, casting a quick glance over the struggling garden, “this is not ladies work…” .
I opened my mouth to explain but Mother interrupted.
“Ketty, I know some servants have run away but it does not mean all is lost. We still have Bella, Samuel, their children and Joshua.”
Lifting my chin, “They can manage. But you…have you thought at all about what you are teaching your sister?” Her eyes glancing over to where my sister Lacey was playing with little Joella.
Shaking my head, I knew silence was the best answer, we had been over this.
“ We are still Southerners and I want you to remember that…for Lacey’s sake or she may grow up…common” she finished quietly.
“But Mother we…”
“Ketty don’t…” rubbing her forehead. “No more excuses, why do you insist on being difficult?” Mother asked, “just…take Lacey and go…rehearse the names of the flowers in the garden with her…and Ketty…”
“Like a lady, understand?” taking a firm hold of my chin, “like…a lady.”
“Good.” She turned and walked away to the house, calling Samuel to accompany her.
I knew Mother tried real hard to pretend nothing was changing but everything had changed. Things just weren’t the same since Daddy left.
“Ketty,” asked Lacey, pulling on my sleeve “are we going?” drawing me from my gloomy thoughts.
“Yes, come on, though I’m sure we could even recite the Latin names of the flowers by now!”
“I can!” said Lacey, “come on, I’ll show you,” tugging me along in her eagerness.
“Oh sweetie.” I could feel good humour returning, “okay, I’ll race you.”
I was winning, till we got to the fence.
“Wait!” cried Lacey as she wiggled her way under the fence I had to climb over. Forgetting to be a lady I managed to get caught. Drat these dresses I fumed as I struggled to release my undergarment. Why can’t things like this change?
Lacey danced about me, “I beat you, I beat you.”
“Yes, yes you did,” I laughed finally pulling free “now, lets see if you really can recite those names in Latin.”
For a while, we played happily, making up games to see who could remember the most flowers. It was almost like the old days until we came to where the roses had been. I tried not to remember. The noise, the chaos of that horrible afternoon when Daddy had gone away with our southern soldiers. The memory came flooding back in a rush that took my breath away. In the confusion some of the the Union Soldiers had trampled the roses with their horses without a care for all the work that had gone into the little garden. Together with the roses, I felt like they had also trampled my heart.
Daddy tried to prepare us. Often he would have to remind us that sooner or later the South would call him for soldier duty. I knew they needed everybody but knowing didn’t stop the hurt or the fact that I, we needed him too.
Why did you have to go? my heart called. I still heard Daddy’s quiet and kindly voice asking, Darling, you know I’ll be back as soon as I can but right now the South needs me. Resting his deep blue eyes on me with so much intensity, Daddy knelt down. With his strong, smooth hands on my shoulders he asked, Ketty, Mother will need you, I need you. Can I depend on you to be strong? I still felt the sting of tears as I remembered the only answer I could give to my brave Daddy.
“Ketty, are you okay?” asked Lacey wrenching me back from the past.
“I’m sorry Lacey, yes, I‘m okay,” rubbing my eyes and turning away from the damaged roses and the memories.
“Tell you what, lets go to the creek.”
“Oh” she squealed, “will I see fish?”
“Well, if you look real hard...you might.”
I took heart at her beaming face and wondered at her innocence. Mother said she wanted to keep Lacey that way for as long as she could. Unexpectedly, a shiver ran straight through me. I felt old for twelve, old and useless. I couldn’t go back to innocence and Mother wouldn’t let me help, although so many servants had run away and the place was more run down everyday.
I watched as Lacey recklessly ran chasing a leaf rolling lazily down the creek. Care free. When was the last time I was… Suddenly I jumped up, eyes frantically scanning the distance. There on the bridge, seemingly floating between the river willows, a flag. Soldiers. Who? Daddy…The flag, the colors, what are the colors, my mind raced, Red, White… Stripes! The Union ! The enemy! my mind screamed, but my heart growled, not again .
“Lacey, come back here, quick. ” I called, laboring to stay calm. Already I could hear the horses, think fast, Ketty, think fast. Union soldiers meant nothing but trouble, already we had lost all our livestock to their last raid. We had tried to take precautions but…a horrid thought invaded, Mother, I have to warn Mother.
“Lacey,” I said taking her hand, walking as fast as I could back to the house, “soldiers are coming.” Fear lit her face, and I knew my face mirrored hers.
“It’ll be alright, Lacey…ya just have to do as I tell you.”
With big watery eyes, Lacey only nodded, her faced blanched of all color.
“I’m going to hide you…” Where? Where? Daddy where? In the garden shed!
“I want you to hide in the garden shed. It’ll be a little dark but you’ll be safe. Do you think you can do that?” Again, Lacey only nodded.
Quickly I settled her in a corner, under a shelf of old flowerpots and pushed some old wooden boxes in front of her.
“I’ll leave the door open a little… but Lacey… whatever you do, don’t come out…no matter what. Not until I come and get you. Okay?” Silence.
“Lacey, you hear?”
“Yes Ketty,” she whispered.
She is so scared, Daddy, what do I do? Then I remembered, the locket. Of course, the locket Daddy had given me for my birthday. Quickly I undid the locket from my neck,
“Here Lacey, hold this until I get back, okay? Remember this, it has Daddy‘s picture in it. It‘ll help you stay strong.” Lacey reached for it and smiled weakly at me.
“Good girl, now remember…no noise,” and leaving the door slightly opened, I listened.
Good, they’re still on the main road and picking up my skirt, I raced for the house. Seeing Bella still in the garden I yelled, “Bella, get the others, hide, quick…The Union is coming!” I didn’t even wait to find out if she heard. Racing up the front stairs, I continued to shout,
“Mother, soldiers are coming! Mother!”
“Ketty! What in the world…”
“Mother,” my breath coming in big gulps, “Union soldiers…Union soldiers are coming, I saw the flag…quick…” grabbing her hand, “we have to hide, I hid Lacey, Bella, the others hopefully are hiding,” I said turning for the kitchen when she abruptly stopped me. A strange look coming over her face.
“Ketty,” Mother said with unwavering firmness, “ Do as I tell you, hide in the pantry…where I showed you. Don’t come out at all until I call you.”
I had never seen Mother like this. My heart was racing but Mother stood strong and calm. She was afraid I knew that but there was something else…
“Mother, what about everything we heard…”
“I’ll be fine,” said Mother giving me a little push “Ketty please…go, I will handle this.”
We could hear the soldiers now in the yard. I went but stopped just inside the kitchen. Sinking to the floor I opened the door just a crack so I could see through to the front entry.
Mother deliberately opened the front door and stood by the steps, waiting. The green lawn seemed to be a sea of blue with all the soldiers milling about. One, who looked to be the leader, cautiously dismounted. Looking about he saw Mother. He guardedly came up the stairs. I strained to hear what was being said but the blood pounding in my ears deafened me.
Frowning, the tall soldier was pointing to the barns, raising his voice, I heard as he angrily said,
“You might as well tell me Ma‘am, I‘m gonna send some of my men anyway.”
Mother stood with her head high, I couldn‘t hear what she said, nor could I see her face. Bringing slightly shaky hands to the front, she gave indication for him to go ahead. Frustrated, the soldier looked towards his men, giving his head a quick nod. Instantly three of them headed for the barns in a cloud of dust. He turned about, his gaze came back to Mother. A cold smile crept across his face. Trying to look past Mother he asked,
All the rumours I had heard gossiped came flooding back to my mind. I shivered in the hot afternoon sun. I couldn’t hear Mother’s answer, but the soldier’s face came close to hers. I saw Mother take an involuntary step backwards and then he took her roughly by the arm.
“I don’t see anybody,” he said slyly as he tried to push her and step in but Mother stood firm.
Oh Daddy why aren’t you here. Suddenly I heard Daddy’s voice echoing in my ears, Ketty, Mother will need you... I knew then…I had to go to her. With shaking knees, I stood. Straightened out my skirt and without any more thought opened the door and went to her side. Not taking my eyes from the man’s face I took her free hand. Without a word Mother gripped mine. Her hand shaking. My sudden appearance startled the soldier so that he let go of Mother. He eyed us both suspiciously.
“This your mama?” he asked, in a voice slick as hog fat. With a shudder running down my back, I swallowed,
“Yes sir” trying to put the firmness in my voice I had heard in Mother’s.
At that moment the three soldiers came back, grinning. They had no livestock but lifted the basket of peas and other vegetables from the garden triumphantly. The soldier looked away from us and went down to his men. They had a few words which we couldn’t hear, but they were shaking their heads and holding up a handful of carrots. Sending them back to the others who had not disembarked, he returned, looking with deep curiosity at me. The feeling in my chest tightened, cold shivers ran across my too warm skin. I held tight to Mother’s hand.
“Where’s the rest?” he asked me.
I looked steadily into his eyes,
“There isn‘t any more.”
“Where’s your papa?”
The soldier looked steadily back.
“Ma’am,” he said tipping his cap, but continuing to look at me, “you have a real brave girl here, and I think…an honest one.”
Mother nodded slightly, “I trust you found I have told you the truth.”
“Yes Ma’am,” he said, finally looking towards Mother again, “like I said, we was just passin’ through and we was hungry…”
“Then…good day to you, sir. We would not want to keep you… from…your business.” said Mother, with no smile, her body held rigid and tight.
“Ma’am,” he said and turning slightly to me, his eyes only vaguely softening, the soldier said,
“You remind me of my daughter, Katelyn. I haven’t seen her in well over a year.” Backing away and heading down the stairs he suddenly turned,
“You do your mama proud girl…your papa too.” and he turned, walked to his mount and signaled for the men to move.
“Ketty,” said Mother, her eyes not leaving the soldiers as they rode out of the yard, leaving behind a torn up lawn and a desecrated garden.
“You didn’t go to the pantry like I told you?”
“No.” and after some silence, “I…I couldn’t leave you Mama, …I thought you needed me.” I said as the soldiers headed turned for the main road.
Kneeling down, Mother took my hands. Surprised, I saw tears in her eyes. Then she said something I hadn’t heard since Daddy left.
“Thank you, Ketty, I did need you. What you did was…terribly brave.”
I hugged her, suddenly realizing what a wonderfully strong mother I had and how much I needed her. How much we needed each other.
“Where is Lacey?” asked Mother suddenly, looking about with some concern.
“I hid her…”
“In the garden shed, under the potting shelf.”
Mother burst out laughing, “Ketty, you have your Daddy’s common sense.” giving me another hug, with the tears freely falling, “He would have been so proud of you Ketty, I know I am.” Understanding grew between us.
“Lets go get Lacey,” said Mother, and together we walked to the shed.
© Ulrike Grace (2006)