Monday, March 12, 2012

AMELIA MERROW'S FOLDED HANDS; part 1 of 4; by Dorothy Donnell Calhoun; 1918

Amelia Merrows sat in the bay window, her hands folded in her ample lap. The little sitting room was full of gray shadows, stirring noiselessly in tune with the snowfall outside. An exquisite color breathed from the soft polish of old mahogany and the gleam of the brass andirons in the firelight. The red geraniums on the windowsill gave out a spicy breath.
“It's 'most time for them to be coming,” she murmured distressfully.

She pressed her face to the windowpane, peering out into the gray February dusk. Reassured she hurried into the kitchen and fumbled on the shelf for matches, striking three in her eagerness before the oil lamp on the table was lighted. Then holding it aloft she turned and looked with a silent farewell about the little room.

White scrubbed pine table, cheery yellow painted chairs, shiny tin pans met her gaze like the faces of old friends. She made a little pilgrimage among them, giving them tender pats and prods.

“We're going to miss each other,” she told them drearily. “It won't ever be the same again with a hired girl round. I'll have to sit in the other room and listen to her doing things wrong out here. My soul!”

Amelia drew a breath that was like a sob. “Forty-five years I've washed dishes and baked pies in this kitchen and now I've got to give up and fold my hands for the rest of my life because Abel thinks I'm too old to work any longer.”

Down the road sounded a flurry of sleigh bells. Hurriedly Amelia arranged her face in a smile of welcome. Its plump curves readily took on smiles. She had never lamented long over the inevitable. “Abel wanted me to have a girl because he thought the work was too hard,” she comforted herself as she hurried to throw open the kitchen door. “Men folks don't set so much store by fiddling round their chores as women do. Bless men folks!”

The hired girl was a tall, gaunt person with sallow cheek bones and a general drabness that matched her cheerless name, Lizzie Gray. Abel Merrows shook his grizzled head dubiously when he surrendered Lizzie to Amelia's care.

“One thing,” he consoled himself, “a girl as homely as she is won't have any beaux round coaxing her away. Ma'll get a chance to fold her hands. I guess she deserves folding after all these years!”

In spite of his brave assurance Abel was secretly appalled at the vision his words evoked. Would he be acquainted with this new Amelia of the unfamiliar hands? A queer panic seized him as he plodded across the drifty yard. It would be strange, at first, not to see Ma bustling around dishing up supper, setting out one of her chocolate cakes, light as a feather, with strawberry jam between the layers.

It was in the nature of a pleasant surprise to find Ma herself stirring a savory saucepan on the stove as tho no hired girl had happened. But being a man, indignation trod closely on the heels of Abel's relief.

“Where's that girl?” he demanded aggressively. “Why isn't she getting supper, I'd like to know?”