Excerpt from 'For Whom the Siren Rings'
“For Whom the Siren Rings” excerpt from In Preacher’s Creek
These paragraphs reveal more about the town of Preacher’s Creek, the Johnson family, and town secrets. Ellen Jo and Kent often visit old ladies who sit on their lonely porches and welcome visitors. The Carter children are in it for the cookies, mainly.
At that moment Ol’ Miz Thomas came out to sweep her porch. We liked her a lot. She waved at us, and we skipped over to her front porch. Cookies and lemonade would soon appear, and she would tell us stories.
Ol’ Miz Thomas would always start with, “Now, you children know that Preacher’s Creek was once called ‘Bow Creek Township’?” Every single time Miz Thomas would look at us through her half-glasses as we sipped our lemonade and squabbled over the last cookie.
I always answered “Yes’m” because I was the most polite when it came to Kent and me. Kent was the one who would answer when charm and an outright lie was needed. Once the yes’m had been delivered, Miz Thomas leaned back in her rock, and folded her gnarled hands in her apron, and began her stories.
“When I was a girl, jest a bit older than you, Ellen, why this town weren’t nothin’ like it is now. Oh, no. The roads were dirt roads, and there weren’t no street signs, either.” Then she pointed over to the school house, with its soldiers of churches on each cardinal side. “And, that there fine brick schoolhouse, ye see it?”
We gazed over to the edifice we had yet to conquer, where Ron spent the fall through spring months.
“Why that building weren’t nothin’ but Mr. Raymond Johnson’s pie-in-the-sky dreamin’, the old fool. We had a nice four room school house there, and I was one of the school teachers, only I was Miss Rachel then, and the other teacher was Miss Lillian. Well, we had our hands right busy, to be sure, but them kids learned what we taught’em, and we taught ‘em good.” She paused here, and laughed with her head thrown back and her false teeth clattering loose.
“Then the Great War ended, and the men came limping home, some of them, the lucky ones that is. My own dear brother, God rest his soul, Richard Harold Conner, is buried in some heathen Catholic cemetery in France. But, my beau came home, ‘least ways most of him came home. The important parts, that is.” Then she looked down at our blank kid faces, scattered with chocolate chips and crumb. “I guess you’uns too young for that. He lost his right foot, and I allus said, ‘Richard, you coulda lost your left foot too, so don’t be complaining about one less shoe to pay for’. Then he’d laugh and we’d do a slip jig around the kitchen. Shore do miss’m, my Richard.” Miz Thomas kept a stash of handkerchiefs in her bosom, and every now and then, she’d pulled one out from the depths of her breast, and wiped her face, blowed her nose. “Kent, you sure look a lot my old Richard. Same hair, same eyes. Same ornery look on your face.
“Well, I married Richard, and Miss Lillian married a boy from over in Cranston. That meant they needed new teachers, and that old sinner Ray Johnson said we were gonna need a larger school. Said there were new babies comin’ every day, and the school couldn’t handle ‘em all. Goodness knows, that old rounder was doin’ his best to increase the population—why, he had lady friends all over the county, and they’s…” and she looked down at our furrowed brows and confused eyes.
Miz Thomas got us another plate of cookies. These were my favorite—snickerdoodles. I didn’t know if I like them for their name, or their buttery sugar filled goodness. Hard to say. “Well, Ol’ Ray got his way, he usually did. His brother William Robert Johnson was the mayor, and most of the town council were his relatives. They got one of the Johnsons from over in Missouri to come and build up that fine brick structure, and it cost the town $4,500! Can you imagine that?!”
Miz Thomas dug down in her bosom for another hankie, and wiped her face, and cleaned out her sinuses with vigor.
I looked around for the first hankie but it was nowhere to be found. Kent had a glint in his eye, and I knew that snotty handkerchief had found its way into his pocket.
“That monstrosity was half empty for nigh on three years. Three years! My, goodness. And, then the board wouldn’t hire any of us married teachers. Noooo, they went and brought in these silly young women, barely outta school themselves. ‘Course, the girls didn’t know squat about teachin’. Then they’d meet some young man at church, go and get married. Then they’d bring in another.”
Well, I was ready to go, now that I’d licked the last snickerdoodle crumb from the plate, but Kent kept his eyes on Miz Thomas. That Kent, he knew there was something good coming out from her tortured heart. She looked down at Kent and her eyes flickered and blinked. Then they cleared and as she looked up at the porch, I could see the reflections of the clouds on her glasses, the misty clouds on her misty glasses.