Charley’s Tale Part 33

Needless to say, Charles was apprehensive about Ellen’s entertaining, but was reassured to know Geneva would be there to help out. ¬†Cora would be serving with Birdie’s assistance. ¬†Cora assured him everything was perfect on his way out to visit the girls at Geneva’s house as he did every morning. ¬†Geneva promised she’d be there way early in case Ellen needed anything. ¬†Ellen had hosted dozens of teas over the years, so Charles felt this would go well. ¬†He had no idea she’d invited twelve instead of just her syncophant friend, Sarah. ¬†Sarah had loyally endured Ellen’s barbs and snide behavior for the dubious benefit of her company for years.

Cora had laid a lovely tea with Ellen’s wedding service. ¬†Dainty cucumber sandwiches and chicken salad sandwich fingers rested on a bed of lettuce on the bottom tier of a serving dish, scones on the middle, and luscious petit fours on the top tier. ¬†More waited in the kitchen.

The parlor and dining room was full of ladies in their finest. ¬†Anticipation was high as no one had seen Ellen for months or really knew the nature of her illness. ¬†At two ten, conversation was buzzing when Cora rang a little silver bell and announced, “The new Mrs. Charles Evans.” ¬†Ellen swept confidently down the stairs into the room. Her short flaming red hair clashed with the bright yellow of the silk dress, her brows and lips heavily made up. ¬†She easily weighed twenty pounds more than when they’d last seen her. ¬†A titter was heard, then nervous laughter. ¬†Sarah quickly glanced around, and sensing disaster, starting clapping as if in congratulation.

Geneva joined in gratefully, then took her daughter’s arm. ¬†Sarah rushed to embrace Ellen, “Oh, Ellen! ¬†You look stunning! ¬†I hardly knew you.” ¬†Truer words were never spoken. ¬†Ellen’s garish red hair and clashing yellow dress were a shocking combination. ¬†Conversation resumed, and Ellen was gratified to be the center of attention. ¬†To hear her tell it, she’d barely been snatched from the jaws of death, and was just now making a brave recovery. ¬†The group was fascinated to hear the tale of little Ginny’s unexpected arrival, and to learn of Ellen’s recent bereavement and the vast inheritance she was soon to receive.

Ellen had little idea of the impression she’d made and felt her return to society was a great success. ¬†Geneva felt sick, knowing her daughter had set tongues to wagging.

Charley’s Tale Part 32

With the question of the funeral settled, Ellen gave her full attention to her Thursday Tea. ¬†On Wednesday, Rosalee came by to tint her hair red. ¬†It looked far too pale to Ellen, so she made Rosalee redo it a deep auburn shade, quite a starling change. ¬†Naturally, her lipstick and eyebrow pencil no longer matched, so Ellen sent her out for new shades. ¬†Rosalee was worried about the vibrantly colored hair, lips, and brows, but Ellen was thrilled at the change. ¬†“I hope Dr. Evans is ready for a big surprise!”

” I want to really dazzle my friends at my tea, tomorrow. ¬†This is my first time to see them since I was sick and I want to look young and full of life.” ¬†Ellen stated.

“That new color looks mighty lively! ¬†Are you sure you don’t want me to tone it down? ¬†I don’t want to put Dr. Evans’s nose out of joint.” ¬†Rosalee was worried.

“It’s perfect. ¬†Don’t you worry about the doctor. ¬†He’ll be charmed!” Ellen was delighted with her new look. ¬†She already planned to claim a headache and avoid him that evening. ¬†It would be after eight before he got home since he would be going by Geneva’s to have dinner with the girls on the way home

Ellen strolled into the kitchen the next morning, startling Cora with her brilliant hair and brows. “Sweet Jesus! ¬†I thought somebody done broke in!” ¬†Cora exclaimed, fanning herself.

Ellen took her shocked reaction as a compliment. ¬†“Yes, I am a new woman. ¬†I wanted a new look for my tea. ¬†What do you think?” She asked.

“I sho think you got you a new look! ¬†Yes ma’am! ¬†It ’bout took my breath.” Cora replied, truthfully.

Ellen was delighted. ¬†” Now here’s what I want you to do. ¬†When my friends get here, I’m going to make a late entry. ¬†Wait at the bottom of the stairs. ¬†When I am on the top step ready to come down, announce, ‘the new Mrs. Charles Evans.” ¬†Then I’ll make my entry. ¬†They will be stunned!” ¬†Ellen giggled like a girl.

“They sho will.” ¬†Cora concurred glumly.

Charley’s Tale Part 31

Ellen chose not to attend the funeral once she learned it would be a simple service at the village church fifty miles away, a great relief to her husband and mother. In the 1940’s a trip of that length on winding, rutted roads was no small endeavor. ¬†Naturally, in the absence of air conditioning, most trips in the sunny south might invest over a steamy ride with the windows down, dust fogging in the windows. ¬†It would not do for a pampered lady like Ellen to arrive sweaty and dishelved with wnd-blown hair. Ellen reasoned she didn’t know Cousin Jean’s friends and could grieve in the comfort of her own home. ¬†Charles and his boys escorted Geneva while the girls were left at home with Birdie and Josie. ¬†Josie was devastated to miss the trip, since she’d hoped to see her sweetheart, Bobby.

A group of true friends gathered to honor Cousin Jean’s life. ¬†Due to her oddness and departure from the accepted role for women, she never been plagued with foolish friendships. ¬†She’d farmed, hunted, fished and shared her life with those she loved in the face of scorn, criticism, and family estrangement. ¬†She gave generously of herself, especially in her love for her orphaned niece, Geneva. ¬†It was a life well-lived.

Returning to to farmhouse, they received friends.  The table, counters, and refrigerator groaned under the weight of casseroles, fried, chicken, potato salad, cakes, pies.  Robert, Bessie, Bobby, and their young son Freddy attended the service and joined them at the meal.  Robert had grown up on the farm and brought Bessie there as a bride.  Cousin Jean had attended the birth of both children, along with a midwife.  They had spent more hours with Jean than anyone else these past years and deeply grieved her passing.  They assumed Geneva would have inherit, but should she sell, they could be out of a home and job.

Geneva assured them they’d continue as before, but would get back to them as soon as the will was read, which did provide them some ease.

 

 

 

Charley’s Tale Part 30

Cousin Jean had never had a large social circle.  She was friendly with the nearby farmers and a few villagers and tradespeople, so Geneva decided to hold a simple service at the tiny village service.  She was to be buried in her favorite clothes, the ones she puttered about the farm in.

This did not suit Ellen at all since it was not proper, so in a snit, she decided not to attend, just what Geneva and Charles hoped. ¬†Nonetheless, as promised, Viola dropped by Monday afternoon with the black dress. With Viola’s work, it fit perfectly, but Ellen wanted a few changes.

“You need to lower the neck and back. ¬†I want to show off my neck and my grandmother’s ruby pendant. ¬†This black is too severe and needs some kind of trim at the neck. ¬†I wouldn’t wear it like this to a dogfight!” Ellen snapped.

Viola snapped right back. ¬†“You had me fix this for a funeral. ¬†Ain’t no way you could wear it to a funeral like that, and I ain’t got time to get it done and back by tomorrow, no how!”

“Viola, you need to learn your place! ¬†I’ve decided to use it for evening, not a funeral, if it’s any of your business, so take it back and get it right or you won’t get any more of my business. ¬†Don’t you think my girls will be needing wedding dresses in a few years?” Ellen had miscalculated this time. ¬†Viola worked for herself, not Jessie, as Ellen assumed.

“I can get by just fine without your kind of business. Besides, Old Cora ain’t planning on too many more years. ¬†I have more work than I can keep up with now. ¬†If you still want it, I can probably get to this in ’bout a month, But I ain’t promisin’ nothing. ¬†It will run you ’bout twenty dollars for altering.” ¬†Viola folded the dress back into the box.

“Viola, wait! ¬†I want to order some custom dresses for my girls.” ¬†Ellen told her.

“Miss Ellen. ¬†I have orders for wedding and debutante dress lined up for eighteen months. ¬†They ain’t no way I can take on no regular sewing. ¬†Besides, I b’lieve you too hard to work for. ¬†I’m gonna have a cup of coffee with Cora and be on my way.” ¬†She took the dress and called down the stairs ahead of her. ¬†“Yoo hoo! Cora! ¬†You got any coffee left?

Ellen slammed the door behind her. ¬†“That uppity bitch!” But she wanted that black dress.

 

 

 

Charley’s Tale Part 29

“Cora, I don’t want to talk to my mother. ¬†Call her and tell her to send that gal over with my girls. ¬†I want to see how these outfits look. Tell her I don’t have all day.”

“Yes, ma’am.” ¬†Cora ambled on downstairs. ¬†They ain’t no way she’s gittin’ her claws in them babies. ¬†She dialed directly into Charles’s office. ¬†“Miss Ellen told me to have Josie bring the babies over right away.”

“Thanks for calling, Cora. ¬†I’ll take care of it” Charles answered.

In about ten minutes Charles called Ellen. “Ellen¬†Dear, Miss Geneva called me to check on the baby this morning. ¬†I just ran by. ¬†Ginny has a fever and may have chicken pox. ¬†They can’t go out, but I can pick you up to visit them if you want.”

“No! ¬†I don’t want to get exposed to chicken pox. ¬†My face might scar, besides, I’m not speaking to Mother. ¬†Do you think the baby’s face will scar?”

“Young children don’t usually scar. ¬†It’s adults who have to worry. ¬†Your mother didn’t know if you’d had chicken pox. ¬†Do you remember?” ¬†He had certainly struck the right chord with her.

“No, and I don’t want it. ¬†The dresses will have to wait a few days,” ¬†she told him.

“Whatever you think, Dear. ¬†I’ll be home around six.” ¬†Charles had scared her off for now.

After the call from Charles, Cora overheard Ellen calling her friend Sarah Marshall. ¬†Of course, Cora couldn’t hear Sarah’s replies, but it was clear Ellen made opportunities to point out all the ways she felt superior to Sarah.

“Sarah, I’ve decided to invite a few more friends to tea. There’s no point in going to all that trouble for just you. ¬†I’m feeling great. I have a new hairdo I’m dying to show off. ¬†I never realized how smart I’d look with short hair. ¬†If you didn’t have such a round face, you might want to try it. ¬†Of course, my hair curls naturally. ¬†You’d have to get a permanent wave, and those just fry hair. ¬†That certainly wouldn’t make you look any better. ¬†I guess I’m just one of those lucky women who doesn’t show her age. ¬†Charles still thinks I am a bride. ¬†If we didn’t sleep in separate rooms, I’d never get any rest.

You know my Cousin Jean died. ¬†I was always her favorite. ¬†I’ll be inheriting her farm and her family home in Jasper. ¬†She was from a prominent and very wealthy. ¬†She rarely used her lake home in Jasper, but kept it in lovely condition. ¬†I’ll be sure to invite you when we have a country weekend. ¬†Got to go. ¬†I have a lot more calls to make.”

Ellen had never spoken directly to Cora about the tea, but clearly expected her to be ready.¬† ¬†I am so glad I ain’t got no friend like her. ¬†Woo, Lordy, that’d be rough!

 

 

 

Charley’s Tale Part 28

Ellen was ecstatic at the mountain of boxes Jessie brought. ¬†Dresses for both girls, smocked, taffeta, bright gingham prints, sailor dresses, petticoats, panties and gowns with shoes and hats to match worked her into a frenzy. ¬†Ellen ripped in, pulling out garment after garment, exclaiming joyously at some, tossing others over her shoulder in rejection. ¬†Soon every surface in the room was covered. ¬†“0h, I had one just like this when I was little! ¬†Mother has the picture on her piano. Have you seen it? ¬†It looks just like Ginny! ¬† This little smocked dress is darling! ¬†Can you shorten it like ShirleyTemple’s?” Suddenly, her eyes smoldered. “I wouldn’t put this sailor suit on a dog! ¬†Get rid of it! ¬†No, don’t take it back! ¬†I said get rid of it! ¬†I hate it!” ¬†In a fury, she ripped the collar off and threw it on the floor an ground it with her slipper. ¬†“Now I won’t have to look at it! ¬†Don’t you ever bring any more trash like that around here!”

Jessie scurried to pick the things up. ¬†She wouldn’t be able to sell damaged goods. ¬†Subtly, she slid the damaged sailor suit in her bag. ¬†I’m not about to throw away a perfectly good outfit just because of you. ¬†I’ll be charging you plenty for that little fit,¬†she thought.¬†Jessie had dealt with Ellen so many years she knew what to expect, so she made up for Ellen’s meanness in her billing. ¬†Dr. Evans must have understood, since he always paid promptly without question.

“You never should have brought that hideous thing! ¬†Charge me what you want. ¬†I am not going to poor mouth about the price of a pathetic dress. ¬†I can’t stand sniveling and poor mouthing. ¬†It’s in such bad taste.” Ellen spouted at Jessie.

Jessie turned her back and seethed as she gathered up Ellen’s choices. ¬†She’d spent a good portion of her life sniveling and poor-mouthing since her husband died young and left her with four small children. ¬†Without Ellen’s trade, she’d be right back there. ¬†It was galling to be dependent on hateful rich clients like Ellen. ¬†Most of her clients were gentile, a number difficult, but Ellen was the worst she’d ever had to deal with.

” What else did you bring me? ¬†I told you to have Viola rework that black satin for the funeral. ¬†I’ll try it now.” ¬†Her manner was emperious.

“Miss Ellen, you just asked for it last night! ¬†The Sanderson wedding is Saturday and the funeral is Tuesday at two. ¬†I checked. ¬†Viola get it to you by closing Monday. ¬†I’ll send her over with it.” ¬†Clearly, Jessie had had enough.

“I don’t see what’s so important about Minnie Sanderson’s wedding, anyhow. ¬†Minnie’s got that crossed-eye. ¬†As soon as the veil is raised that’s the first thing anybody’s going to see. ¬†It’s lucky that Jones boy wants her. ¬†Nobody else would have ever wanted the poor thing. ¬†Did his brother ever get out of jail?” ¬†Since she wasn’t going to get what she wanted, being cruel would have to do. Ellen unwound a bit. ¬†“I’m so sorry. ¬†I forgot it’s your nephew Minnie is marrying.”

Jessie gathered the rejected dresses. ¬†“Minnie is a very sweet girl. ¬†I hope she and Johnny will be very happy and he doesn’t have a brother, only a sister. ¬†I guess you just heard some nasty gossip.”

Pointedly ignoring her response, Ellen snapped at her. ¬†“On your way out, tell Cora I need her!”

As Jessie left the kitchen, she gave Cora the message. ¬†“Your boss-lady wants you.”

Cora stopped her work and dried her hands. ¬†“Sweet Jesus, help me.”

 

 

 

 

Charley’s Tale Part 27

The ornate Victorian-style house held court in the center of the block, its lush lawns and tasteful landscaping beckoning passersby to take ease on its plush lawn or deep porches.  Under its peaceful exterior, a tiger crouched.

After a night of raging against those who loved her most, Ellen lay in a drugged sleep until nearly noon. ¬†She awoke dry-mouthed and groggy, remembering only that she had been treated unjustly by her mother and husband. ¬†She seethed with anger, particularly at that “hateful brat.” ¬†That little beast wasn’t going to get the best of her. ¬†And if her witch of a mother thought she could separate her from her baby, she’d find out who she was dealing with soon enough! ¬†Charles had always been a fool, but easily handled, a whiff of perfume and a twitch of her behind always brought him around.

Cora brought her lunch tray up around noon, only to find her coffee tray untouched.  Ellen was cold and high-handed most days.  Cora expected a storm of before the day was over.  Miss Jessie showed up around one, staggering under a mountain of boxes.

“I don’t know if Miss Ellen’s gonna see you. ¬†She didn’t feel good last night.” Cora warned her.

“Would you please tell her I’m here with a load of precious things for her little girls ? ¬†She made me promise to bring them today.” ¬†Miss Jessie asked.

“I’ll tell her, but I ain’t promisin’ nothin’.” ¬† Cora warned.

“I’ve been bringing things by to Miss Ellen for years.” ¬†Miss Jessie laughed. ¬†“I’ll be fine.”

They were interrupted by Ellen calling down the stairs. “Did Jessie finally get here? ¬†I’ve been waiting for hours!”

Charley’s Tale Part 26

Geneva joined them at an early dinner, their first as a family. ¬†Since Ginny was so thoroughly bonded, it was easier to let Geneva feed her. ¬†“Tomorrow we’re going to throw away those ragged overalls away and get you some decent clothes.” ¬†Ellen told Charley. ¬†“”We can’t have you running around looking like a little ragamuffin, can we?”

“No! Don’t throw my ragamuffin overalls away! ¬†My overalls are good! Bessie gave ’em to me! ¬†I don’t want decent clothes!” Charley protested.

“”Don’t dispute me, young lady. ¬†Those overalls are going in the trash after your bath, tonight!” ¬†Ellen announced coldly. ¬†“Mother, I can’t believe you let my daughter wear hand-me-downs from Cousin Jean’s maid. ¬†That’s humiliating. ¬†I hope no one saw her! ¬†What were you thinking? ¬†Don’t you care about my feelings at all?” ¬†Ellen was shouting at her mother now. ¬†This was the mother Charley remembered and feared. ¬† ¬†She burst out crying and ran to her grandmother.

“Ellen, I will not be spoken to this way. ¬†I have cared for you children when you weren’t able to. ¬†There is no shame in hand-me-downs. ¬†Bessie was kind enough to share with us for which I am grateful. ¬†I won’t have you treating Charley this way!” ¬†Geneva was clearly furious as she tried to calm the crying children.

“Ellen, control yourself. ¬†Miss Geneva has been a Godsend caring for the children these last months. You should be down on your knees thanking her for all she’s done! ¬†You will NOT burn Charley’s overalls!” ¬†He turned to Geneva.

“Miss Geneva, could I impose on you to keep the children? ¬†I know I have already asked far to much, but Ellen and I have things to talk about.” ¬†His wife’s eyes burned with rage at her husband’s words.

“That crazy bitch is not taking my baby, anywhere! ¬†Give her to me! ¬†You’re not stealing my baby again.” ¬†She rushed at her mother, shoving Charley to the floor and scratching her mother’s face in the process. ¬†“Give her to me! Give her to me!” Ellen was screaming now, trying to wrestle the terrified baby from Geneva. ¬†Charles restrained his furious wife while Cora and Josie helped Geneva.

“Geneva, I am so ashamed and sorry.” He turned to his oldest son George. “George, please drive your grandmother and the girls home. ¬†Michael, I need you to help me get your mother to her room. ¬†Josie, Cora. ¬†My apologies to you for my wife’s appalling behavior ¬†She wouldn’t want you to see her like this if she were herself.”

Charles and his son Michael carried Ellen screaming to her room, where Charles sedated her. ¬†He was devastated at the disaster his and Ellen’s lives had become.

 

 

Charley’s Tale Part 25

As they entered the kitchen, Charley threw herself in Cora’s open arms like she’d never let her go. ¬†In contrast, Charley and Ellen were reserved at their reunion, especially when Ellen saw her overalls. ¬†“Oh my, Charlotte! ¬†Pretty little girls don’t wear overalls. ¬†We have to get you some dresses!” ¬†Geneva cringed. ¬†With the confusion surrounding Cousin Jean’s death, she’d forgotten how Ellen would react to ¬†tattered overalls. ¬†At the criticism, Charley was shy and held herself straight as a stick when her mother hugged her. ¬†“Don’t you even have a hug for me?” She demanded. ¬†Ellen had never been an understanding mother at best. ¬†Eight¬†months is a lifetime to a five-year-old. ¬†At seeing Baby Ginny for the first time in memory, Ellen was enchanted with her reddish curls and bright blue eyes. ¬†“”Oh, you little angel! ¬†Look at those precious pink cheeks!” ¬†Though Ginny was bashful, she ducked her head to her father’s shoulder and flirted with her mother. ¬†Ellen couldn’t have been more pleased.

“She looks just like you, doesn’t she, My Love?” said Charles. ¬†“She’s the image of Charley at that age, and she and Charley just dote on each other! ¬†They are so sweet together.” Charles tried to redirect the conversation to the wide-eyed little girl.

“Oh yes, no mother could ask for a prettier baby, but I don’t think she looks a bit like Charlotte. ¬†Don’t you remember Charlotte looked like a fat bald-headed man till her hair finally came in.?” ¬†Charley’s lip quivered.

“Boys, maybe Charley would like to go out back. ¬†I seem to remember a big surprise waiting for her next to the birdbath.” ¬†Charles tried to protect her feelings with a distraction.

“Hey, Charley! ¬†I’ll race you. ¬†First one there gets the surprise!” ¬†Thrilled, Charley sped out the back door.” She’d never gotten enough of her brothers.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Charles spoke. ¬†“Ellen, Charley didn’t need to hear you praise Ginny and say ugly things about her. ¬†Don’t forget her tender little feelings. ¬†I’m surprised at you!” ¬†Cora stood with her back to them, her face stiff with fury.

“Of course, Dear. ¬†How thoughtless of me.” ¬†Ellen answered, but her eyes were black with fury at his reproach.