Authors: Gail Rock
A Dream for Addie
The Addie Mills Stories, Book Three
For Lisa Lucas, who is sometimes more like me than I am.
With acknowledgments to Alan Shayne, Paul Bogart and
Pat Ross for their creative friendship.
I'm an artist now, and I live and work in the city. With all the cement and noise and cars, the coming of spring seems to pass almost unnoticed. When I was growing up in Nebraska in the 1940s, the subtle signs of spring were one of the great pleasures of my life. It was always a contest at our house to see who could spot the first robin on the lawn, and we all watched eagerly for the morning when Grandma's daffodils would burst into bloom outside the kitchen door. To me, Easter always meant sewing a new Sunday dress and dyeing eggs until my fingers were stained like a rainbow. But the Easter I remember best was in 1948 when I was twelve years old.
Since it was Easter vacation time and I didn't have to go to school that morning, I didn't really have any reason to get up. But I got up anyway, because around our house if you didn't get up, there had to be some reason. Only sick or dying or slothful people stayed in bed late. Since neither Dad nor Grandma nor I would even think of committing the sin of sloth, staying in bed late at our house meant you were probably at death's door. Then you had to eat milk toast and get mentholatum up your nose and iodine down your throat and a thermometer under your tongue until you realized that getting up early was a terrific idea after all. That's why I always got up early even when I didn't have to.
Besides, I liked eating breakfast when Dad and Grandma were at the table too. My mother had died more than eleven years ago, just after I was born, and Grandma had come to live with Dad and me then. Grandma was in her seventies and short and wrinkled. Anybody who didn't know better might have thought to look at her that she was a frail old lady. Dad and I knew better. Grandma was a powerful, energetic little bundle. She was the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night, and she outworked a lot of my friends' mothers who were half her age. She had such strong hands she could put the lid on a pickle jar too tight for even my father to remove it.
Grandma didn't just keep house either. She had the biggest and best vegetable garden in the neighborhood and more flowers and fruit trees than anybody in town. She did more sewing and baking and canning than anyone else and still found time to sit and read for an hour or two every day. Her favorite books were her Bible and her dictionary, and she kept them right by her rocking chair in the living room so she could look things up at any time. She loved helping me with my vocabulary and spelling lessons, and we would always give each other the word tests in the
when the new issue arrived.
Grandma was reading at the table that morning and so was Dad, so there wasn't much conversation. It was Thursday, the day the little town paper, the
Clear River Clarion
came out, and they were both busy catching up on the local news. Actually there was never anything in the
that everybody in town hadn't already known for days, but somehow seeing it down in black and white made it seem more important.
While they read, I silently finished my oatmeal with raisins and apples cut up in it. Then I got some eggs out of the refrigerator. Using one of Grandma's hatpins, I poked holes in both ends of the eggshells and blew the raw egg out into a bowl. I had been doing this for weeks to get eggshells to decorate for Easter, and so we had been having a lot of scrambled eggs lately.
I never believed in doing one thing at a time because it seemed wasteful, so while I was huffing and puffing into the eggshells, I decided to read the back of Dad's section of the paper. It wasn't easy, with my glasses sliding down my nose and my pigtails swinging precariously close to the bowl of raw egg. I pushed the bowl of egg closer to Dad and gave a particularly hard puff. The egg slurped noisily out into the bowl as I leaned in closer to his paper. He suddenly whipped the paper up over his head and looked right into my face, which by that time was practically over his bowl of oatmeal.
“Will you get your face out of my lap, Addie?” he said, irritated. Then he looked down at the bowl of raw egg. “And don't do that mess at the table â¦ it's disgusting.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled. I seemed to have a talent for irritating Dad. I didn't intend to, but it usually worked out that way. I knew we liked each other, but he wasn't very good at showing it, and some of that seemed to rub off on me when he and I were together. Most of the time it was a friendly battle, though.
Dad was tall and slender, and his dark hair was just beginning to gray at the temples. He had a plain Midwestern face that always reminded me of those tight-lipped cowboys in the movies. Though he was easily annoyed by me, we had some good times together, and I was slowly learning how to hold my own with him.
I leaned in close to his paper again, and he looked over at me.
“I don't know what's so important in this rag of a paper that you can't wait till I'm finished,” he said.
“I wanna see if there's anything in it about our Easter Style Show contest.”
“What's that?” he asked.
“Oh, Dad! I told you about it a million times! All the sixth grade girls are designing original fashion creations for the 4-H Club.”
“Fashion creations!” he said, sounding disgusted. “I thought you were making dresses.”
“Oh, Dad! You know what I mean! And we're having a contest to see who does the best one. We're going to model them at the Women's Club luncheon next week, and they'll pick the winner.”
“Oh, well,” he said sarcastically. “Big news like that wouldn't be in the town paper â¦ that's probably on the front page of the
Omaha World Herald!
“Very funny!” I said, looking disgusted. The
Omaha World Herald
was Nebraska's biggest newspaper, and we read it every day, even though it never seemed to report anything about the people in Clear River.
“You going to school looking like that?” Dad asked, eyeing my old jeans.
I didn't care much for dressing up, but I was not allowed to wear jeans to school. “Dad!” I said. “It's Easter vacation! I don't have to go to school for two whole weeks!”
“Well, I'll be!” Grandma interrupted from behind her paper.
“What?” I asked.
“The paper says Constance Gunderson is back here from New York,” said Grandma. “Says she attended her mother's funeral in Omaha and is out here in Clear River to sell the family home.”
“Huh!” snorted Dad. “She'll never unload that white elephant. Must have twenty rooms in the joint. Nobody could afford to heat it in the winter.”
I figured I knew everybody in Clear River, but this was all new to me. “Is that the big house on Elm Street, the empty one? Who's Constance Gunderson? What does she do in New York?” I asked.
“What are you, the district attorney?” said Dad.
“Well, who is she?” I asked impatiently.
“She's Constance Payne, the actress,” said Grandma. “That's her stage name. I guess she didn't like Gunderson for acting.”
“I never saw her in any movies, did I?” I asked.
“She's never been in any,” said Dad.
“She's on the stage,” Grandma said. “She does those Broadway things.”
“You mean real, live theater stuff?” I asked, fascinated.
“Yeah,” said Dad, sounding unimpressed. “Probably Shakespeare and all that highbrow stuff. Don't know why anybody would want to sit through that after a hard day's work.”
I was about to go on with my cross-examination when my best friend Carla Mae knocked on the door. Carla Mae lived next door, and she was my age. She had a knack of showing up at our house just at mealtime. This amused my grandmother, who loved to feed everybody, but annoyed my father, who thought it was a conspiracy to cost him more moneyâthe thing he worried about most. The truth was that Carla Mae just liked to eat. She would have a meal at home and then drop over and have another one with us. She was beginning to look a bit on the chubby side.
I opened the door and yanked her inside in a hurry, so I wouldn't miss any of the talk about Constance Payne.
“Kid! Wait'll you hear what I just heard!” I hissed at her.
“Constance Payne, the Broadway actress, is coming to Clear River!”
“Who?” she asked, looking confused.
“Already had breakfast, Carla Mae?” Grandma interrupted.
“Yeah, but I could stand some oatmeal, I guess.”
“I thought so,” Grandma smiled. Dad gave an irritated little grunt from behind his paper.
I shoved Carla Mae into a chair, and Grandma plopped a bowl of oatmeal down in front of her.
“Who's Constance Payne?” Carla Mae asked, “I never heard of her.”
“That's what I'm trying to find out!” I said impatiently, and continued with my barrage of questions to Dad and Grandma.
We learned that the Gundersons had been one of the few wealthy families in Clear River and that they hadn't socialized much with other folks in town. Constance was only a couple of years younger than Dad, and they had attended high school together. Then she had gone East to an exclusive women's college and to England to study drama and had gone on the stage in New York.
She was beginning to sound very glamorous to me. Grandma said that Constance had come back to Clear River only once before, when her father had died some years ago. After that her mother had lived on alone in the old family house, a huge Victorian monstrosity that was on the edge of town. Then Mrs. Gunderson had taken ill and was moved to an Omaha nursing home where she had died a week ago. There had been no notice of her Omaha funeral in the paper, so nobody from Clear River had attended. Now it seemed that Constance Payne was in our town between engagements and would be selling the house, never to return.
“What was she like?” I asked Dad.
“Oh, she was always puttin' on airs,” he said, sounding uninterested.
“Do you think she has her name in lights? Is she really a big star?” I asked.
“I guess so,” said Grandma. “Her folks always said she was doin' real good.”
“What does she look like, Dad? Have you seen her since she became a star?”
“Oh, she's pretty, I guess. Dark-haired. When she came back for her father's funeral, she didn't stay around long enough to talk to anybody.”
Dad wasn't much on telling details, and at a time like this it was infuriating.
“Well did you ever go out with her?”
“Ha!” he snorted. “Are you kidding? She was too fancy for me!”
“Wow!” said Carla Mae, now finally caught up in the excitement. “I wish we could go to New York and see her!”
“Listen,” I said. “We can go see her right here!”
“I mean in a play,” she said.
“Yeah, but at least we could get her autograph. We'll just go over there and â¦”
“No!” said Dad. “I don't want you going over there and pestering her.”
“Oh, James,” said Grandma, giving Carla Mae and me a sympathetic look. “I can't see it would hurt anything.” Grandma was always more understanding of our brainstorms and projects than Dad was.
“I don't want her hanging around some â¦ actress!” He said it as though it were a dirty word.
“Gosh, Dad. All we want is her autograph. We're not going to move in with her!”