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Authors: Melody Carlson

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BOOK: Hidden History
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She washed her hands and began making coffee. Being a dyed-in-the-wool tea drinker, Alice had not developed a taste for coffee, but her sisters both enjoyed a cup or two in the morning. Naturally Jane bought only the best whole beans to be ground daily. Alice had to admit that she appreciated the aroma of the freshly ground coffee and even sampled the dark bitter stuff from time to time, when she was feeling adventuresome, but it simply was not her “cup of tea.”

“Ah,” said Louise from behind her, “that smells lovely, Alice.”

“Good morning,” said Alice brightly. “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”

Louise looked curiously at Alice. “Have you forgotten what day it is?”

Alice smiled. “You mean Father?”

Louise’s brow lifted slightly. “Yes. Are you all right?”

Alice nodded. “I was just thinking about him. I know I was broken up last year about losing him, but now when I think of him it’s only with happy memories and thankfulness.”

Louise looked relieved. “Oh, I am so glad. I did not want this to be a day of grief.” She poured herself a cup of steaming coffee. “You know, on the one-year anniversary of Eliot’s death, I was not nearly as composed as you are today. To be perfectly honest I was a bit of a wreck that day.”

“Well, that was different.” Alice poured hot water from the teakettle into her favorite porcelain teapot and replaced the lid. “Eliot was younger than Father, and you two had hoped to enjoy your golden years together.”

“Yes, that is true. Even though Eliot was quite a bit older than I, I had expected him to live to be an old man. I felt cheated to lose him so soon.”

Alice poured tea into her cup and joined Louise at the table. “I’m sure it was difficult for you, Louise, but you seemed so strong. I guess I had no idea it hit you so hard. I’m sorry.”

Louise smiled. “Oh, I wanted people to think I was strong. I wanted my sorrow to be private. In retrospect I realize that I made a mistake trying to appear so in control.” Louise sighed, then smiled and asked, “Now, what shall we fix for breakfast?”

They had just sat down to hearty bowls of oatmeal with cinnamon and currants when Jane came in the back door. She was still puffing and red-cheeked from her run. “Anything left?” she asked slightly breathlessly as she refilled her water bottle from the sink faucet, wiped her brow and enjoyed a long swig.

“Yes, we made plenty,” said Louise. “We felt like celebrating September with a pot of oatmeal. We used your special recipe.”

“Good for you,” said Jane. “I think I’ll grab a quick shower first and reheat it when I’m done.”

“I’ll freshen the linens in the bathrooms upstairs,” offered Alice. “Louise said the beds are already made up.”

“I’ve got a fresh batch of chocolates in the pantry,” said Jane, “if you want to take some of them up while you’re at it.”

After breakfast was finished, Alice went from room to room, happily arranging fresh towels as she admired the welcoming look of the four unique rooms. Who would not be comfortable here? She carefully set one of Jane’s homemade chocolates wrapped in gold foil in the center of each downy soft pillow. The small gesture was something their guests really appreciated. She and her sisters had decided early on that Grace Chapel Inn would be known for small,
loving details, like fresh flowers in every room, sheets of the finest percale (line-dried in the summer) and the crystal bowl in the dining room that was always filled with fresh fruit for the guests to enjoy. Then, of course, there were Louise’s impromptu piano concerts, the occasional special tea and Jane’s fabulous breakfasts. The sisters believed that it would only be a matter of time before they had a waiting list a year in advance.

Alice plumped the tapestry pillow in the easy chair as she gave the last room, her parents’ old room, a final inspection. As usual, everything looked absolutely perfect. Sometimes she wondered if her parents could look down from heaven and see what their three daughters had accomplished together in their family home. Did they like what had been done to their old bedroom? Surely, her mother would appreciate the garden theme, and her father had always been fond of green. She hoped that it made them as happy as it had made their daughters. She adjusted a slightly crooked picture on the wall, and then satisfied that all was in order, Alice left to go back downstairs.

“We just had a cancellation,” announced Louise from the little office tucked beneath the staircase.

“That’s too bad. Did they say why?”

“It was the Mosleys from Lancaster. Mrs. Mosley explained to me that their oldest daughter just went into
labor this morning. She is three weeks early and they feel they cannot possibly leave now.”

“Well, that’s understandable. Will we refund their deposit?”

Louise frowned. “You know our policy, Alice.”

“But isn’t this a medical emergency?” protested Alice. “Don’t we have an exception for that?”

“Well, it is not their own medical emergency.” Louise turned back to the computer with straight shoulders.

“But it’s their daughter, Louise. Imagine if it were Cynthia.”

Louise shook her head, then turned back around. “Yes, I suppose you are right.” A slightly exasperated smile crossed her lips. “Oh, you are so much like Father, Alice Christine.”

“Well, I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“All done upstairs?”

“Everything is set.”

Louise glanced at her watch. “And with time to spare. What do you plan to do today?”

Alice shrugged. “Actually, I don’t have any firm plans. Is there anything I could help with around here?”

“Well, Jane did say that we need to clear out the laundry room. We have been using those shelves in there as a catchall, and it is starting to look rather shabby.”

“Shall I begin sorting through it?”

“Oh, would you mind?”

“It’s not my favorite kind of chore, but it does need doing.”

“And you are so good at organizing, Alice.”

Alice laughed. “That’s because I’m the only one of the three of us who doesn’t mind throwing things away.”

“Indeed!” Louise’s eyebrows shot up.

“Don’t worry. I promise to set aside anything that I’m uncertain about so that you and Jane can both check it out. Okay?”

“That’s perfect. Now I need to get back to these e-mails. It is so handy the way Jane has got us hooked up to that bed-and-breakfast Web site now, but I keep forgetting to check the messages, and they can pile up fairly quickly. I am sure that it has been at least three days since I last looked.”

Alice went out to the laundry room. It was a small, enclosed space that had once been part of the back porch, but it had been used as a laundry for as long as Alice could remember. She even remembered the original washing machine—well, original to her. It was a big white and aqua tub with an agitator and a wringer consisting of what resembled a pair of giant wooden rolling pins. When the clothing had been washed and rinsed, her mother would
carefully load the clothing, piece by piece, into the jaws of the wringer.

“Never put your fingers in here,” her mother had warned Alice on more than one occasion as she had stood by to watch the fascinating process. “Your fingers would get squashed flatter than pancakes.” Then Alice would beg to hear, once again, about the time her mother had gotten her long brown braid caught in a diaper that was going through this intimidating machine.

“Well, it was shortly after Louise was born,” her mother would tell her. “I was still quite new at being a mommy and a housewife. One morning I realized that all of Louise’s diapers were dirty, so I ran downstairs in my nightgown thinking I would quickly wash a load of diapers before the baby woke up.” This is where Alice would laugh: How funny it was to think of her big sister Louise wearing diapers. Then she would quiet down and wait for the rest of the story.

“Naturally I had not had a chance to put my hair up, and as I was putting the clean diapers through the wringer, I somehow got the tip of my long braid mixed in with the diapers. I suppose I was putting them through rather fast. Well …” Her big eyes would always grow bigger at this part. “The next thing I knew my hair was being pulled right into that ornery wringer. I cried out for help but knew there was
no time to waste. I could not reach the off switch and my head was getting closer and closer to the wringer. And it just kept pulling. So, holding onto my braid, I stretched as far as I could with my right foot,” at this point, she would pause to illustrate how this could actually be done, “and I kicked wildly, trying to knock that cord out of the wall. I am sure that I was praying too. I had no desire to be scalped by this stubborn washing machine, not to mention being discovered down here in my nightgown. Thankfully I was able to get the electrical cord loose and I managed to escape with my hair intact. Father and I had a good laugh about it afterwards. And from that day on, I have always made certain that my hair is safely pinned up and I am fully dressed before I attempt to do the laundry.”

Alice smiled at the memory. The wringer washer was long gone, and in its place were a modern washer and dryer. But as Alice looked around the room she could see Jane’s point. The room was overdue for some serious organization. So she gathered boxes and trash bags and began to dig in.

“What’s going on in here?” demanded a shrill voice that Alice knew belonged to Ethel.

“Hi, Aunt Ethel,” she said as she peered up from behind a stack of boxes.

What an awful mess,” said Ethel. “What on earth are you trying to do here?”

Alice looked around the chaos she had created and sighed. “Well, sometimes you have to make a mess before you can bring something back to order.”

“Yes, that’s true, but it looks perfectly awful now.”

“I was just thinking about how Mother would be out here using the old wringer,” Alice said, changing the subject.

“Yes, when you and Louise were little ones, that wringer got a lot of use,” said Ethel. “I can still remember I was visiting when Daniel enclosed the laundry for Madeleine. I was only a girl, but I thought it was a bit pretentious to have an
laundry room.” She laughed. “I thought my brother was probably turning into a snob.”

“Really?” said Alice.

“Naturally, I was wrong. Dear Daniel didn’t have a snooty bone in his body. But having grown up without such luxuries as enclosed laundry rooms or electric refrigerators on our little farm in Englishtown, I wasn’t too sure about these highfalutin ways. Of course, I knew that Madeleine had been raised in a well-to-do family and I guessed that she expected Daniel to continue along that same line.”

“Are you saying my mother was pretentious?” asked Alice with a slight arch to her brows. It was not often that Alice felt defensive, but she could bristle if anyone criticized her parents.

Ethel looked up at the ceiling. She seemed to be carefully considering her answer—a very unusual act for the older woman. Finally she spoke. “I would never say that Madeleine was pretentious,” she said slowly. “She was a generous and kindhearted woman.” She paused, somewhat dramatically, before she continued. “But, she did have a certain way about her that could have easily been mistaken for, well, how should I say it? Perhaps
putting on airs
would best describe it.”

Alice felt her jaw tighten. “I only had the privilege of knowing Mother for twelve years, Aunt Ethel, but I never saw her do anything that slightly resembled ‘putting on airs.’” Alice forced a smile. “But maybe I understand what you’re talking about. Mother had a certain panache. She was a beautiful woman with the kind of style that turned heads. Even as a girl I could see that. In fact, I think Jane has the same thing, but I would never in a million years call that sort of style ‘putting on airs’ anymore than I would call a beautiful rose proud or pretentious.”

Ethel seemed to consider this. “Perhaps you’re right, Alice.” She ran her finger over the dusty windowsill and frowned. “And perhaps you’re right about this room needing a thorough cleaning, too. I suppose I simply hadn’t noticed. Now, don’t let me keep you. I only stopped by to see if Jane would sell me a box of her wonderful bonbons.
Lloyd was just saying how much he adores them. And Wilhelm’s shop was completely out this morning.”

“She just made a fresh batch of chocolate truffles yesterday,” said Alice.

“Oh goody.” Ethel clapped her hands together like a little girl, and Alice turned back to her sorting. Alice suspected that Lloyd Tynan would not be the only one to be enjoying Jane’s chocolate truffles before the day was over.

By noon Alice had managed to clear out the shelves and fill a number of boxes, some for the trash and others for the attic. One box she set aside for further investigation. It was an old hatbox that Fred Humbert had discovered while renovating the rectory several months earlier. The work had been done to make a home for their new pastor, but Pastor Thompson had surprised everyone by offering it to the assistant pastor, Henry Ley, and his wife Patsy, after they lost their own home in a storm. Alice still smiled to herself every time she thought of it. That was probably the first day when she fully accepted the pastor as the man who might one day fill her father’s shoes. Certainly he was young and did things differently from the way her father would have done them, but she sensed that the two men had the same sort of heart.

BOOK: Hidden History
11.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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