A Children’s Story.
Bee watched the chill gray ocean from the balcony of the big house. It was odd that yesterday had signaled the start of spring when winter’s old ice still clung to the rocky beach. As her mother would say, “Such is life in the North.”
Spring was cleaning time. Just last week, Mother had received the Call. The Greens would soon arrive for their summer vacation, and their home must be in picture perfect condition.
Each day, Mother and Bee rose to meet the glowing dawn. Mother scrambled up some sizzling sweet pepper omelets. Bee set the cottage’s crooked little table, straightened the flowered tablecloth and started the toast. While Bee waited for the bread to brown, she soaked up the kitchen’s warm delicious smells and sleepily daydreamed of June daisies. After a slow, pleasant breakfast, Mother and Bee bundled up in their thick winter coats. Hand in hand, they trudged out the door.
Mother smiled, the cobwebs of last night’s sleep still hanging about her thin face. “Next year,” she said, “you will be in school.” She fumbled with the key and unlocked the big house’s tiny back entrance. “You will be reading and learning with all sorts of wonderful people”
“But who will help you clean?” asked Bee. Mother’s eyes seemed to shine a bit more than usual and she blinked.
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll manage it alone” she said as she quickly dropped her gaze.
Summer eventually struggled into full bloom. The last patches of frost melted, and the sun dried out the boggy pools of springtime mud. The big house had undergone a similarly impressive transformation. Mother and Bee swept away dust and mouse droppings from the long winter. They covered the musty mattresses with crisp new sheets and freshly washed afghans. Bee overheard Mother mutter “The Lady says it makes the place feel rustic.” Looking up, she saw the useless rusty lantern that Mrs. Green had purchased at a local antique dealer.
Bee even helped Mr. Edwards, the local handyman, give the front door a bright new coat of paint the color of pine trees. When they finished, the big house looked just like the one in the postcards.
Every evening, Bee sat on her mother’s lap, in the big creaking rocking chair. Sometimes they perused the newspaper. Other nights they read books from the town’s tiny library. Bee liked the books called ‘history’ the best. They told of beautiful places and marvelous stories, but Mother said they were actually true.
Often Bee helped her mom sound out the big words. Mother seemed awfully proud and would always treat Mr. Edwards with tales of Bee’s latest reading materials. Mr. Edwards grinned and called Bee a ‘precocious child.’ She assumed this was a good thing.
One brilliant day, Bee was playing behind the shrubbery, when she heard the Green’s large white sedan pull into the big house’s driveway. Pale Mr. Green and orange-tan Mrs. Green creakily emerged, their bulging bodies cramped from the long drive. Their only son, Alexander, was sound asleep in the back. When awakened, he protested mightily, and was only calmed after being promised a cup of “Sally’s special ice cream and cocoa.”
Mother was planting new azaleas around the cottage when she heard Mr. Green calling her name. “Oh, Sally,” gushed Mrs. Green, “It is so good to see you again. Alex is just dying for one of your famous ice-cream concoctions.” Mother was rushed inside to tend the walking-wounded. By the time she returned to the cottage, the sun was sinking low and the roots of the baby azaleas had dried out. Mother sighed, saying they would plant just marigolds this year.
Alex Green was two weeks, five days, and twenty-seven hours older than Bee, or so he claimed. He was never around very often because Mr. and Mrs. Green always had some big event planned. Between hosting cookouts and visiting friends, the Greens had to squeeze in the beach on Mondays, picnics on Saturday, and jetskiing on Sunday. Mr. Green was fond of looking up in the air and exclaiming, “There just isn’t enough time in the summer to make this vacation worthwhile!”
Mrs. Green set aside every Thursday so Alex could, “play with the local children.” Mr. and Mrs. Green spent such days at the new golf course, which did not allow small boys for fear dangerous golf balls would bonk them on the head. Bee never quite understood why the golf course was ‘new,’ because it had been there as long as she could remember. However, Mr. Edwards said it was “brand spanking new,” and he generally knew what he was talking about.
Even when Alex was there, Bee did not like playing with him very much. Bee showed up promptly every Thursday at 9 AM and Alex always was deeply engrossed in his family’s giant television. One day, Bee spotted a chipmunk eating under the oak tree. She asked Alex to hurry so they could see where it hid its acorns. Alex didn’t understand what the rush was all about and insisted on watching the last few minutes of his fifth most favorite show. The chipmunk was gone when they finally made it outside.
“Let’s play make believe,” said Alex. Bee was still thinking about the chipmunk and did not answer immediately. Alex continued, “I want a big castle full of gun-tot’n beavers. Um, and you can be like Sally and feed my beavers when they are hungry.” For some reason Bee suddenly felt very angry. Bee turn stiffly towards Alex and said coldly, “I don’t feel like playing any more today. I think I will go read. Goodbye.” And with that, she turned sharply and stomped into the cottage, leaving Alex standing there quite at a loss for words.
When Mother returned from cooking the Green’s evening meal later that evening, she found Bee sitting in the kitchen with a large pile of books spread all around here. “Will you read to me, mother?” asked Bee. Her eyes were red and puffy. Mother gave Bee a big hug. She deftly made Bee a sandwich and a glass of warm milk. Together they sat in the big rocking chair and read.
They read about Indian gods with a thousand arms and local fishermen. They read about how Roman roads were built and how plants grow toward the sun. And finally they read an article on the American Civil war. The kitchen had grown warm and Bee was very sleepy. She nestled down close to her mother and whispered, ‘Mother? Are we slaves too?”
Mother was quiet for a very long time. She held Bee more tightly and softly answered, “You are not a slave. There is a giant wonderful world waiting for you outside this little cottage. All you need to do is dream hard enough.” Bee wanted to ask something else, but she was so tired. The slow rocking and gentle rhythm of her mother’s steady breathing lulled Bee off to a peaceful sleep.
The rest of the summer passed by in a blur. The Greens returned to the south and the big house was once again sealed and bolted. Mother stored the cooking aprons and cleaning supplies for next spring.
Mother started her off-season job in town and returned home much later in the evening. Bee always had a hot cup of mint tea waiting. While Mother wiggled her sore toes and sipped the tea, Bee read her poetry.
The next fall Bee started school. Just before the bus drove up, Bee reached out to touch her mother’s hand. “Mother,” said Bee as she cocked her head to one side, “I think I’m going to make my own history.” Mother scooped Bee up and hugged her with such vigor they spun around in a circle. “You will, Bee,” said Mother, as tears rolled down her cheeks past her smile. “You will.”