FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid Drage, widow of Tom Drage, killed in a factory accident, feels a little strange in the small town where she is going to teach. She takes her small daughter to school the first day and feels a certain resentment on the part of the teacher. She is sure, later, that the teacher is not being fair with her child. She writes her a letter, then decides to pray about the matter.
The next morning, Enid opened her eyes to see the beautiful September sunlight streaming through the small east window. She yawned and stretched herself, feeling that it was good to be alive. The heartache of the night before was like dew that had disappeared in warmth and light. She slipped out of bed, picked up the envelope, and tore it into small pieces, letting them fall into the wastepaper basket.
Three days later she was sitting at her desk, just as she had been that first day, when she saw Sharon coming through the door. Only now her face was alight, her eyes shining. “Mommie,” she called gaily, coming into the room, running toward her mother, “Mommie!”
“What is it, darling?” Enid asked her, her own heart filling with joy at the sight of her.
Sharon was near her now and she cried, “What do you think? Miss Hare came up to me today and put her arms around me and said, ‘You lovely little girl.’”
Enid choked. Now, there was no need to hold back the tears. Tears of joy, even tears of grief, were a purification. When she had let them fall profusely, she dried he eyes again and managed to say, “You see, I told you. She only needed to know you.” She didn’t add that prayer had helped. But someday she would tell her daughter.
Everything seemed right, and the days passed swiftly. Winter came and passed. Soon more years had gone. Incredible as it seemed, Sharon was first in junior high … and then in high school.
Miss Nobbitt’s health was failing, and the doctor told her she would have to be careful of her heart. Enid tried to watch over her as much as possible, but she was a hard patient to wait on.
One cold winter night, Enid stood in her landlady’s kitchen, making her some chicken soup. Miss Nobbitt insisted upon coming out every few minutes to see how it was going. Finally, Enid said, “Now, listen here, young woman. You go in and rest. I can cook almost as well as you can. And if I can’t, well, all the more reason why I need the practice.”
“Pshaw,” grunted the other woman, “you just want to make me out an ailing invalid, and I won’t have it.”
“I should say you won’t That’s what I’m trying to avoid. Please do be careful, just for a little while. Then you’ll be perky as ever.”
“Oh, you with your pleading, pretty eyes. I still don’t see how you’ve managed to escape the men these many years.”
Enid brushed a curl from her forehead, said laughing, “Well, for your information, Mr. Fletcher has asked me several times to go out with him.”
“Mr. Fletcher, the banker! hmm. And what excuse did you give for not going?”
“Oh, I’m good on excuses. I always have so much to do!”
“Taking care of me, I suppose.”
The younger woman turned toward her quickly. “Oh, no. Of course not. That is one of the pleasantest things I do. I just don’t care to go …”
Miss Nobbitt was thoughtful as she said, “You could do worse. He’d give you a good life … that beautiful house on the corner …”
Enid put the chicken onto the waiting platter, as she answered, “I like this house.”
“The corner you have of it isn’t much, I’d say. If you’d swallow your pride and move in here, we’d both be better.”
“No. We wouldn’t; I’d feel I was taking advantage of you. It’s better this way.”
As the other woman turned, wearily, to go into her own room, she made one parting remark. “It might make a difference in Sharon’s life …”
Enid paused a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. Sharon understood. She wouldn’t want to take something that wasn’t hers any more than her mother would. She was a level-headed child, and very wise for fifteen.
Enid was just putting the dishes on the table (since Manda insisted they eat there), when Sharon came in, her long bob falling about her shoulders, her cheeks pink and glowing from the cold. “Hi, Mom,” she greeted her mother. “How’s Aunt Manda?” She looked into the other room as she spoke, and Miss Nobbitt answered, “I’m just fine. Or will be when you come here and kiss me.”
The girl laughed and proceeded to kiss the older woman, affectionately. Then, she said, “I’ve got to hurry. I’m invited to a party and it’s going to be a ritzy affair. Up at the Arnolds’.”
Her mother’s eyes widened. “You mean Sally Arnold’s place?”
“I mean no other.”
“Well, you are rather getting into high society. How did that happen?”
“Oh, Sally’s always been nice to me, but today some of the other girls who weren’t invited were talking about her, saying she was a snob and stuff. They asked if I was invited and I said ‘No,’ but I still thought she was a nice girl and had nothing against her. I guess it got back to her because out of a clear sky she asked me to come.”
“Well, hurry then, child, hurry,” Miss Nobbitt told her, “and you’d better wear that new blue taffeta dress. It brings out your eyes.”
Enid hurriedly put things on the table. She didn’t say anything, but she was well aware of the unusual excitement in her daughter’s face, the happiness that hadn’t been there before. Enid supposed she had always know that was the set Sharon had wanted to be in, should have been in, but Enid hadn’t fully realized how much it had meant to Sharon.
Instead of sitting down with them to eat, Enid first went into her own small rooms to take Sharon’s blue taffeta dress from the closet, to make sure it was pressed and in order. As she carried it back with her, she held it against her heart lovingly.
She assisted Sharon with her hair, pressing the soft, natural waves into the gleaming bob. She zipped the dress up the side so that it emphasized the slim, girlish waist. When Sharon was ready, she whirled around, laughing, letting the full, billowing skirt go out like a bright balloon.
“Do I look pretty enough?” she asked, stopping suddenly, her eyes serious. “Do I look as nice as the other girls will?”
“If you weren’t prettier than any of them in the first place,” Miss Nobbitt said dryly, “I might say I don’t know, but since you are, and since I’m sure none of them has a prettier dress, I guess there is only one answer.”
“Oh, you spoil her out of all reason,” Enid protested, smilingly.
And Miss Nobbit nodded. “Yes, I know. As if you didn’t.”
“It hasn’t hurt her so far,” the girl’s mother answered, looking at her daughter. “And it just hadn’t better, either.”
The two women talked seriously about it when the girl had left, wondering how much love and affection could be showered upon a child without turning her head.
“It’s frost, not sun, that kills a flower,” Miss Nobbit insisted, “and it’s not love, but lack of it, that spoils a child.”
“I don’t know,” Enid said hesitantly, “I don’t want her to be selfish … or arrogant.”
“Oh, don’t even give it a thought. Sharon was born wise and sweet. She’ll always be that.”
“I do so hope she will.” Enid’s words were fervent, almost like a prayer as she began getting ready to go to her own apartment.
She was awake when Sharon came home about eleven. She heard the laughter of young voices outside, heard the gay “goodnights” and she felt happy deep within her. She knew there were mothers whose own happiness seemed to come before their children’s, but she was not one of them. If Sharon was happy, she was happy.
She switched on the light as she heard the step at the door, sat up in bed, waiting to see the light in the girl’s face, eager to hear the details of the party.
The door opened and Sharon stepped in. Her face was bright, but only for a moment. She looked about her, and she seemed suddenly to droop.
“What is it?” Enid asked her. “What is the matter? Didn’t you have a good time? I heard you all laughing … I thought …”
“Oh, yes, yes, of course I had a good time,” Sharon said quickly, a note of irritation in her voice. “A wonderful time. It was the nicest home I’ve ever seen. They had beautiful dishes on the table, like those Miss Nobbit keeps in her china cupboard. They had a big fire in the fireplace.” She stopped, and there were swift, gleaming tears in her eyes.
“But what is it, darling?” Enid asked her again, climbing out of bed, going toward her.
But Sharon did not come to her to explain whatever was bothering her. In fact, she seemed to draw into herself, to hold herself more aloof. She replied simply, “It’s nothing. I – I just wonder sometimes – We can’t ever have friends here. I can’t ever entertain. And it won’t ever be any different …”
Enid caught a note of bitterness in the young voice.
She felt as if something had struck her heavily. There was nothing she could say. She could only change the subject, pretend that she hadn’t heard.
Yet, long after the young girl had undressed and crawled into bed, the words kept burning themselves over and over in Enid’s brain: “And it won’t ever be any different.”
She put her hand on the warm, soft flesh of the young girl’s arm. Tears were in her own eyes now as she whispered to herself: “It just might be different. It might be.”