Thursday, January 8, 2015

Letters to Lewis

Postcards and letters from that era

When word went out from the Post Office about the letter, the town’s curiosity raised more than just an eyebrow.  No one received actual letters in Lewis and Marie’s town.  Bills were natural and expected, but a true letter?  Postcards which were passed from hand to hand before reaching the addressed house were common.  But a letter with a stamp and postmark?

The town women flocked to the post office, cackling all the way with speculation.

When Postman Harold Sims swung the bag over saddle back and then mounted, he turned to the brood.  “Y’all old hens go on about your business.  If’n I see one of yous, I’ll tattle to the preacher aboutcha.”  Then Sims clicked to the horse who began the memorized mail route.

Grumbling and clucking, women dispersed to their own cozy coops.  We’ve never gotten a letter…Why’d they get a letter?...speculation lingered unanswered.

Marie swept dust off the porch, watched Minerva and Rosemary with a sense on contentment.  My children!  Our babies!  She placed a gentle hand on the rounding belly, anticipating a January birth.  It was a chilly November now with Lewis and other farmers bringing in the corn and bean crops.  A smile of joy lit her face.

Sims rode and stopped at her home, with Marie ambling to meet him. Her smile dropped like a bushel of rocks as he handed her the letter addressed to Lewis.  The postmark and two-cent stamp brought a shiver across her.  Minnesota?  October 30, 1927?  Lewis Cardiff?

Marie shushed the girls inside, with the letter in her deepest apron pocket.  What to do?  What to do?  Marie carried the letter and shoved it into an old show box way back in the closet.  I’ll think about it later.

Breakfasts, dinners, and supers passed over the kitchen table day after day.  January came, and with it a little girl.  Lewis attempted to hold back his disappointment about it not being a boy, but Marie knew with all her heart that the girl she held in her arms was another child who would not replace Bobbie.  They named her Irma after Marie’s best friend, loving the girl each day.

Marie Cardiff on the farm
In March during planting time, when Lewis would work sunrise to sunset, Hal Martin’s wagon from the train station drew up in front of the porch, with an unknown woman and her son descending.  Marie peered through her starched lace curtains as the two walked hand in hand to knock on the door.

Marie cautiously and slowly opened the door.

“Miz Cardiff?  My name is Norma Swenson and this here boy is my son Billy.  He’s only twelve, and a might shy.”  She shoved Billy forward where Marie could view him.  Brown hair…tall…and blue eyes just like Lewis…

Norma Swenson rambled on about Billy being Lewis Cardiff’s son and could Lewis take Billy for a bit as she was getting work down in St. Louis through the summer and---

Marie saw red, blood red as she grabbed her broom and batted the two off the porch, shouting words she didn’t think she knew.  “If you EVER come back, I will shoot you myself!  You and your bastard son.  You go to St. Louis and do what do best… lying on your back with your legs in the air!”

She hit them with all the force a strong woman could.  Hal Martin tipped his hat to Marie, whispering, “Them whores! They picked up soldiers like yer Lewis just as gold pieces back then. Don’t you worry about this’n.  You’re a good woman.  No one won’t hear a word about ‘er.”  Hal and his wagon of huffing lady and confused boy disappeared.
Lewis, on his way to The Front

Marie hurried to retrieve the shoe box and its hidden secret.  When Lewis came in the kitchen the door, Marie shoved the letter into his face, shouting for him to read it, read it right now.  His face turned ashen white and then crimson as he read.  All the stuttering excuses did not save him as Marie swatted him as if he were a blue bottle fly.  Lewis stumbled backwards, sprawling on the dusty ground.

Marie volleyed his dinner at his face.  Then she shut and locked the door.  Lewis would eat pig slop for the next week all the while wondering if there were any more bastards up north.  What will I do?  What will Marie do? Those questions would linger for some time.