Friday, April 30, 2010

EBENEZER FINDS A HOME! by Henriette Forester; April 1935; part 7

When they reached the station Eben said, "Say, where's the package and the basket?"

"Oh, Eben! I couldn't bring home that basket empty. Besides it belonged to Ebenezer and so did the clothes. I told the directress to give them to him."

They entered the tall station and passed the black wicket once more. As they started down the wide marble steps for the train shed a man went just ahead of them, carrying a basket.

Myrtle caught her breath in a choked sob, "Look Eben! There's our basket now...Do you suppose that could be the baby and his father going home?"

Eben looked at the man's back. He saw a good blue suit, shiny behind, yet stiff with unusedness and the calloused hand gripping the basket looked familiar. But how straight the man walked...much straighter than the man Eben had met in the Home Cooking restaurant that morning and asked to go into business with him...No doubt about the basket, though.

The man looked about for the people he had come to meet. He saw Mr. Paulson with his wife beside him, both of them staring at the basket in open-mouthed amazement.

"Mr. Paulson?"

A broad smile began at both corners of Eben Paulson's mouth and stretched across his face, "So you brought the baby."

"Why yes...you said...that is," The new hired man had time for no more. Myrtle reached both hands for the basket.

"Let me see him!" If the baby's eyes were closed she would still know him by the blessed curve of his lips and his dark tuft of hair.

Gingerly the new hired man slipped the handle of the basket from his arm. "You take him Ma'am. I'm not onto this fancy rigging. Maybe you know how it works."

"I know," said Myrtle. With deft fingers she unwound the silk coverlet she had made. Inside his basket Ebenezer slept.

"Pretty neat basket," said the hired man. "Looks as if somebody put a heap of work into that."

"I guess they did," roared Eben with a helpless guffaw.

"Sh!" scolded Myrtle. "Can't you see he's sleeping?"

"He's an awful poor traveler," confided the baby's father.

Myrtle tucked the silk coverlet over the baby's middle, hugging the basket within the crescent of her arm as though she would never let it go. "He'll sleep tonight in a lower berth with sheets and curtains and electric lights."

"We'd better git aboard," said Eben softly. "This train won't wait, not even for Ebenezer."

Monday, April 26, 2010

EBENEZER FINDS A HOME! by Henriette Forester; April 1935; part 6

"Say Mister, I can't offer you cash right away, but if you'd go in with me on a profit sharin' basis...with wheat goin' up and hogs high as they be...I'll give you your board and three meals a day and plenty of work...well, Mister, how about it?" His voice died away before the joy leaping in the stranger's eyes.

"Are you sure it will be all right with your wife...Mr...."

"Paulson's my name."

"Mr. Paulson. If you don't think she'd mind undertaking a ..."

Eben didn't let him finish. "All right. Sure it's all right. Meet us at the Union Station in time for the seven ten on the Northwestern.

Why, when he told Myrtle about the man's losin' his wife and givin' up his farm...and what was it happened to his kid...Well anyway when he told her he'd say, "Myrt, that Home's goin' to send out a visitor to see how their precious baby's gettin' along and when they see we have a hired man, they'll know we aren't a goin' to let him work 'til he's big enough." Probably Myrtle would be so excited with that baby of hers she wouldn't care about another thing. With leaping strides Eben Paulson started for the park where he expected to meet his wife.

He found the park opposite the Child Placing Society empty, except for a poor creature sitting on a bench holding her head in both hands. Poor woman! She'd just given up her baby probably...Eben skirted around the far side in a miserable heap...He mustn't act curious, but he couldn't help seeing the ribbon on her hat, down between the poor woman's hands. Why that hat...that was the hat that had entered the city on Myrtle's head so spiritedly...only this morning.

"Myrt!" cried Eben. "Myrt, what's the matter?

Right there on the park bench she flung herself on his shoulder..."Eben," she cried..."Eben, it's about Ebenezer, I saw him. He's right there across the street, but I can't have him."

"Why not?" cried Eben furiously. "I'd like to know why not?"

"The directress thought it was all right, but she had to notify his family first and then when I telephoned at one-thirty she told me his...his other family found they could keep him...Oh, Eben, I saw him take his bath and he knew me and laughed...and he liked my hat."

"It's a fine hat," said Eben trying to be a comforter.

"That was my baby, Eben...and now I'll never see him again."

Friday, April 23, 2010

EBENEZER FINDS A HOME! by Henriette Forester; April 1935; part 5

Eben strode out the door of the Child Placing Society and jammed his hat down on his damp brow at the fiercest angle. He had to get away from this women's world into a world he knew. Women and kids certainly could make a man look foolish. He felt empty. The fried egg sandwich from the five and dime store was a poor substitute for Myrtle's breakfasts. He'd keep going on the same street until he came to a place to eat.

"Home cooking," said a sign in a small store window. Eben looked in. He saw a table with blue and white checked oilcloth, and a man sitting there, with a toothpick in his mouth and a yellow cob pipe beside him. His hands were calloused and no city man could have such a sunburn in May...nor wore his city clothes with such a Sunday look. He looked sort of lonesome and forsaken, sitting there alone.

Eben sat down near him and picked up a menu that wasn't any too clean. "Nice day," he said.

The man smiled, but his mouth had a tragic twisted look.

"Is it sure enough home cooking," Eben asked.

"That's what they call it," said the man. "But not so you'd notice, I'd say. The beans aren't bad though...just canned beans...Kinda hard to hurt canned beans."

Eben grinned back. Over the beans they fell to talking about crops. There was no doubt but things were getting better, only it came slow...They agreed on what soil and fertilizer suited potatoes best and what was best for wheat and that the way some fellows left their straw outside all winter, when they could just as well blow it into the barn loft at threshing time, was terrible wasteful.

"Where's your place?" asked Eben.

"I couldn't keep it," said the stranger, that sad, lost look growing in his eyes. "My wife died after our kid was born and the bills for the doctors and medicine...anyhow I couldn't take care of the kid alone in the country...no jobs for a farmer in the city either it looks like..."

"Say that's tough," said Eben. "Mighty tough all right. But I'll tell you what's purty near as tough...that's to have a wife like mine that's taught school and wants kids and hasn't any..." He was horrified after he said it...blurting out a thing like that to a stranger! He stiffened and said formally. "I gotta be goin'."

"I better mosey along, too," said the stranger and trailed off listlessly down the street, the discouraged droop of his shoulders telling plainly enough, that he didn't have any place to go.

It made Eben feel bad just to watch him...a good farmer like that who wanted to farm. And all of a sudden it came to him, "Why couldn't I go shares? Suppose him and me take over the forty acres that's for rent across the road. He can board with us and share if there's any profit"...Here was something two men could settle between themselves. He started after the stranger with long scissor strides.

Monday, April 19, 2010

EBENEZER FINDS A HOME! by Henriette Forester; April 1935; part 4

The directress smiled. "Before I hear your story, I must tell you our method of placing babies. The parents or guardian who bring them to us have ten days in which to take them back, if during that time they change their minds or find they can care for their little ones themselves. Toward the end of that ten days we get in touch with foster parents who may want this or that particular child. You understand we try not to keep the babies here a day longer than necessary. And at the end of the ten days if the babies are unclaimed the foster parents adopt them. This is the tenth day we have had that little boy, but I must call what family he has before I can give him away...Now will you tell me a little about yourself?

"My grandmother came out West in an oxcart in the '50s. Her husband was a sergeant in the Civil War. My father still farms in the county where Eben and I live. Before I married I taught in the rural school there."

The directress nodded, with a wise deep-seeing look in her eyes. "And your husband's people?"

"His grandfather hired out to my grandmother during the War,--for fifty dollars a year and his board. He learned English with a book in front of him while he was cutting wood. He saved enough to buy his own farm...and that's our farm now."

"This baby's mother and father came from your state," said the directress. "Naturally we do not give out all the details that make it impossible for parents to keep their baby, but I can tell you that much. Now if it turns out that this little boy is not for adoption, there is a dear baby girl a month old who is ready to go." The directress rose and Myrtle knew the important interview was ended.

But there was one thing she must say before she went. Slowly she pulled on her gloves. She must say this exactly right; she must show the directress that this baby boy upstairs was for her and for no one else. "I wouldn't feel safe in tryin' to take care of a wee one...Besides we've given Ebenezer his name already."

"We'll hope for the best," smiled the directress. "Don't forget your belongings." She nodded at the hooded basket and the little bundle of clothes.

"May I just leave them 'til this afternoon?" asked Myrtle. "I'll go find my husband and tell him about our baby."

"You'd better call me at one-thirty to get a positive answer," said the directress. "But we'll take care of your cunning basket for you."

Myrtle walked with winged feet down the steps of the Child Placing Society and down the street. She felt too excited to eat a meal. Surely nothing could come between her and Baby Ebenezer now. She'd just sip a soda in the drugstore opposite the park where she could see Eben if he came looking for her. At one-thirty sharp she would telephone the directress.

Friday, April 16, 2010

EBENEZER FINDS A HOME! by Henriette Forester; April 1935; part 3

A starched white nurse opened to them. "The directress is busy," she chirped in her light empty voice. "Would you like to see the nursery while you wait?"

There were ten tiny babies in three different rooms, each separated from the other by a glass partition. Each room and bed looked mechanically perfect. The tiny bodies hardly showed under the white spreads. Why, those mites were no bigger than chicks in an incubator. Myrtle's heart grew heavier and heavier, as she passed from one spotless, mechanically perfect room to the next...Where was the husky boy she had dreamed of, who would be old enough to travel and big enough to wear the knitted shorts she had made him?

"Are these all?" she asked with a sinking heart.

"A few of our babies are having sun baths now before they go in the tub. Would you like to see how we bathe them?"

Eben sighed aloud. He was looking more wretched every minute, and crushing and smoothing his good hat between red, sweaty hands, until Myrtle just couldn't bear it. Seeing him so nervous made her more nervous still.

"Go along, Eben. Get some lunch and take a bus ride. You can meet me in that park we passed after lunch. There's no sense in two of us staying here all day."

You're right about that, agreed Eben promptly, and made for the door.

"The men take it hard," said the nurse with her silly laugh. Myrtle loathed her for laughing. But anyway the young thing wouldn't have said that unless you looked perfectly calm, she encouraged herself.

She watched two tiny babies whisked in and out of a rubber tub, rubbed with this ointment or that, powdered and dressed and returned to their cribs.

"This is our oldest baby," the young nurse said, as a sturdy boy in a blue bathrobe sailed in on his nurse's shoulder. Another nurse ran water into a small tub, just his size. And Myrtle, peering over the white starched shoulder, saw Ebenezer! His stocky legs, his laughing eyes, his dark crest of hair. He splashed in his tub and crowed like a baby rooster.

"Oh, you darling! cried Myrtle.

"He likes the ribbon in your hat," laughed the nurse.

Myrtle bent her head and he grabbed for her hat with small, strong fingers.

Only the ringing telephone bell saved Myrtle's hat.

"The directress will see Mrs. Paulson now," said the nurse who answered.

The directress didn't wear stiff white. She wore oyster colored pongee, cool and gentle as a soft gray cloud. Thought Myrtle, "I'll bet the babies are just crazy about her."

Looking at the directress Myrtle forgot her hat and her legs quivering under the blue serge skirt, forgot everything except Ebenezer waiting upstairs for her to take him home.

"I liked your letter, Mrs. Paulson," said the directress in her rich gentle voice. "And I wrote you to come because I thought the little boy upstairs might be the baby for you."

"That's my little boy, Ma'am. He's the one I've been getting ready for for two years."

Monday, April 12, 2010

EBENEZER FINDS A HOME! by Henriette Forester; April 1935; part 2

"Maybe we better adopt a hired man instead," joked Eben.

"Well, if things keep on picking up you can hire a man, dear." Eben would need help now that she couldn't take the place of a man in a pinch.

"Union Station in twenty minutes!" bawled the brakeman.

Myrtle looked out at the battered backs of tenements: gray lines of washing that hung out all night, heavy-eyed youngsters leaning over the zigzag of flimsy railings. No grass, no trees, no green--the train clicked on past mile after of mile of it. "Think of keeping a nursery full of babies in this dirty city all summer. My land! It's the time of year to take Ebenezer if ever..."

"If ever," echoed Eben. "But just remember we can't give him private schooling and college and his own car...You do wrong to set your heart on him, Myrt.

"It's set," said Myrtle and so were her lips, as the two climbed off the train and into the dingy train sheds, and out through the black wicket, and saw Chicago. She carried the baby's traveling basket and Eben carried the baby's little outfit.

She watched Eben eat a fried egg sandwich off the bleak whiteness of the five and dime store lunch counter, while she pretended to swallow a piece of toast. He drank three cups of coffee.

"He always drinks lots of coffee when he's trying to keep up his nerve," she thought, twirling restlessly on the stool. Between twirls she studied her costume in the glass. Did her hat she had fixed over look homemade? Her blue serge would pass, although it was two years old. She had turned, lengthened, sponged and pressed it and copied the pique collar and cuffs from a spring magazine.

She didn't notice Eben looking at her sideways. There was something in her set lips and the way she sat up straight that made Myrtle look like a soldier starting off to war, he thought.

"Would you like to ride around awhile and see the city?" she asked, a little hesitant, as they stood on the corner.

Just as though he didn't know she was busting to get there! "Guess we better head straight for the address on your letter," he said.

"All right," agreed Myrtle, with a great burst of relief.

The Baby Home Placing Society was a square, formidable building. Eben stopped dead on the steps. "This don't look like a home. It don't look like a home at all."

"Well, it's really a hospital, you know, Eben. The babies lie in their cribs all day and there are nurses and doctors looking after them."

"We won't have nurses and we're twenty miles from a doctor, Myrt."

Down the steps of the formidable building came an elegant couple. The lady wore some filmy summer stuff and the man wore a suit of pale gray, and a panama hat and white shoes. He carried a baby dressed like a princess. Her coat was like rose petals, her bonnet was silk and lace, peaked about her face like a sweet pea; two yellow ringlets curled down one side, two down the other side, and one down the middle of her forehead. Her white kid slippers and silk socks stuck straight out, for the elegant man carried her with awkward unfamiliarity. The chauffeur waiting in front jumped down, opened the door and stood motionless while the couple entered.

"What did I say, Myrt." whispered Eben.

Myrtle bit her lips to a pale line of determination and plunged her finger into the bell. "Didn't look like a baby. Looked like a dressed-up doll," she muttered grimly.

Eben stood abashed beside her temerity.

Friday, April 9, 2010

EBENEZER FINDS A HOME! by Henriette Forester; April 1935; part 1

Night in the day coach passed quickly enough after Myrtle stopped trying to sleep. Instead she looked around at the other mothers on the car. How that redheaded woman yanked her baby's arm! She wouldn't treat her boy like that, nor sleep snoringly like that fat lump in the seat ahead, while her little one whimpered and tossed and finally closed his lips on his own shoe for comfort. One mother made a nest of coats and sweaters in her seat, covering all rough edges and closing the gap on the aisle with her own body...so that if the baby woke she would know at once.

Myrtle whispered to her husband, sitting beside her, stiff and miserable in his city clothes. "That's the way I'll ride with Baby coming home."

"That letter didn't promise anything," Eben whispered tensely back. "Haven't you lived on a farm long enough not to start counting chicks at this stage of the game? Anyhow I reserved a lower for you coming back...just in case...

Think of it! To sleep with your baby between white sheets behind the privacy of curtains, with an electric light to turn on in case he woke! Ever since she decided to name Baby Ebenezer, after her husband, Eben had done his best to help. It seemed as though giving Baby that name made Eben feel more like he shared him. But as to planning beforehand--why even a mother hen planned for her chicks before they came! Myrtle had saved from her egg money for a whole year before she spoke to Eben.

Time and time again, while he was in the fields she said, looking about her big, bright kitchen, "It isn't a rich home, of course, but the country's the best place for a baby." As she scrubbed the figured linoleum that cost twice as much because of its pretty pattern, she saw her baby creeping across it. "These are our nursery and sun porch linoleums," the clerk had said. "Well, it'll be just as good on the kitchen floor, won't it?" Myrtle demanded. The kitchen would be Ebenezer's nursery and sun porch all winter. "And the older he grows the more fun he'll have," she said, when she hunted the cows that had broken through the fence and discovered them eating ferns beside the dark swiftness of the stream. And as she stood there a moment she saw Ebenezer beside her, in overalls and with a fishing-pole.

"The Society never promised you a kid in so many words, Myrt," Eben said again, seeing her peeping in the market-basket he had fixed to be baby's bed. Bent willow wands made a hood at one end to keep the sun from the baby's eyes and Myrtle had made a coverlet from a piece of silk too fine to use until now.

"Well, the letter said they never could really promise, Eben. You see I asked for a six-months-old boy and they wrote most all their babies were placed by the time they were six weeks old. But I'd be scared to make such a long trip with a tiny baby, and if he's older he'll be able to help you lots sooner, Eben. I won't be able to do much outside now; I'll have to stay and look after him."