FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid Drage, young, attractive widow of Tom Drage, is teaching in the small town where she and her daughter Sharon live in Miss Nobbit’s small apartment. Sharon complains of their lack of a home and Enid considers marrying the town banker who has tried to court her. Miss Nobbit dies suddenly and leaves her property to Enid.
Though it had been hard, at first, to handle the other woman’s things and to live in her house, as the days and weeks passed, Enid found herself singing while she polished windows, furniture, silver, as she added a touch here and there to take the formal coldness from the house and make it more livable. Sharon helped her, touching the things with a little awe, saying, “I wonder where she got this ornate vase?” or, “How long do you suppose she has had these darling cups and saucers?”
One day Sharon looked up with lovely, surprised eyes as her mother asked, “Do you know why we are cleaning everything so well?”
“Yes. so it will seem more like our own.”
“Well, not exactly. I’m going to have a party for you. What kind would you like?”
Sharon paused a moment, looked about the large dining room and at the pretty dishes in the china cupboard. “I’d like a dinner party. I’ve always wanted one. Can we ask some boys, too?”
“Don’t you think you’re a little young?”
“Don’t say that,” Sharon begged. “Sixteen is not young any more.”
“But you’re not quite sixteen yet.”
“Soon will be.”
“Yes. But you’re entitled to be fifteen until your birthday.”
“I don’t want to wait that long.”
They both laughed, and Enid, graciously conceded. “All right. There will be boys. Which ones … and what shall we eat?”
“The eating will be your department. Which boys … well, Ray Millersberg for one … Donald Weber …”
“You rather like Ray, don’t you?” Enid had been wanting to ask that for the past year, ever since she had noticed that he occasionally carried her books home and loitered by the gate. He was a nice boy; he had good, upright parents. She had never broached the subject before, because, somehow, she wanted to put off the day, as long as possible, when Sharon would be going out, would be interested in boys. Yet, she wanted that part of life for her daughter, just as she wanted every normal, good experience for her, every happy, wonderful phase of living. And the unhappy moments, too, if they would make her a better woman, a more understanding and unselfish wife.
Sharon had taken her time to answer. Now she said, simply, “Yes. I like Ray. He’s simply swell.”
“Come now, isn’t there a better word for it than that? You wouldn’t suppose your mother had ever taught school.”
“I shouldn’t want anyone to suppose it, if it meant I had to talk different from the rest of the crowd.”
Enid sighed,. She hated to preach, though sometimes she wondered about this “crowd” thing. Young people seemed almost to have been turned out in a mold – one after another, the same words, the same clothes, the same possessions. She supposed it had been so when she was in school, though it seemed much more evident now with all the “jive” talk, the sloppy joe sweaters, and the saddle oxfords that were imperative to a girl’s enjoyment of school.
She began carefully, “Why do you suppose it is, honey, that you have to be so much like the crowd?”
Sharon answered it simply and quickly. And quite satisfactorily. “Why, it’s important because then we feel that we belong, that we’re not a fifth wheel on the social station wagon.”
Enid laughed again, using a popular slang term herself as she told her daughter, “You’re sharp. And undoubtedly right. It would be too bad if we felt ourselves too let out of the parade. Even so, remember that really fine people have the courage of their convictions, they dare to be different, to grow slowly and surely …”
“I know, Mom,” Sharon answered. “Now, why don’t you rest a few moments and figure out a super menu?”
The menu was good, and the dinner a fine success. All the young people seemed to have an amazing amount of fun. She had fun being with them, watching them. When it was time for them to leave, Sharon asked her mother, quietly, “Mom, Ray wants to know if I can go over to Springdale to their prom next week. He wants to know tonight.”
There had to be a first time, sooner or later. Enid knew her daughter would be sixteen in two weeks. She felt she had done pretty well to keep Sharon home at nights this long, when she saw the twelve and thirteen-year-old girls in their high heels and make-up, going out at nights when they should still be in bed getting long hours of sleep.
She gave her consent. Later, she saw the smile on the boy’s face as Sharon told him. She remembered Tom’s smile with a sudden shaking vividness. Quietly, she went to bed.
The night Sharon went to the dance, Enid walked from one empty room to another. The house seemed unearthly quiet, except for the ticking of the grandfather’s clock which stood in one corner of the living room. It seemed to be ticking the moments off grudgingly. It seemed to say, “You’ll have to get used to this. She’ll be gone many nights; you’ll be alone. Someday, she’ll marry … then … you … will … be … alone.”
She tried to read, to embroider, listened to the radio. Yet, in the end, she settled down in a large chair to dream of the past and just wait.
The past seemed so close. Perhaps that was why it was hard to feel she was being an adequate mother … she seemed so young herself. Perhaps people never really felt old within themselves, never thought of themselves as changing much with the passing of time. That seemed proof of the spirit’s immortality.
She stirred quickly as the clock struck twelve. Sharon had promised to be home at midnight. She wanted her to come, wanted to see her, touch her, help her out of her pretty dress into the clean, soft bed. She would give her some warm milk so she would be certain to relax and sleep, for well she remembered her first dance and how she had re-lived every moment for hours after.
But there was no sudden opening of the door, no smiling, radiant girl coming in. The world was still. The clock ticked on.
It was twelve-thirty, and when one o’clock came, her anger was replaced by apprehension. Something must have happened, something awful. She was tempted to call the marshal. Yet, she couldn’t do that. If anything had happened she would have been notified; practically everyone knew Sharon, knew to whom she belonged.
She walked out on the front porch, sat down on the railing looking toward the east, waiting. There was nothing to be seen.
Then she saw the lights of a car, peering like a cat’s eyes through the darkness as it came around the corner. She could hear it was making a strange noise, saw it slow down as it neared her house. She slipped, unseen, into the hall, saying to herself that she wouldn’t be the kind of mother who embarrassed her daughter before her friends. She wouldn’t make a scene. She wouldn’t!
Still, as Sharon came through the door, she couldn’t help asking sharply, “Where have you been?”
Sharon started to speak, then Enid noticed that Ray was with her. His clothes were dusty, there was a smear of grease on his cheek.
He said, quickly, “I’d like to explain to you, Mrs. Drage. I’m awfully sorry about keeping her out. We left the dance at eleven-thirty and thought we would have plenty of time. Then we had a flat. I didn’t have a spare.”
Sharon spoke now, telling her, “We tried to hail a car and get a lift but we couldn’t. Finally the boys took the tire off and we came in on the run.”
She looked so round-eyed and sweet, and the boy looked so frightened and earnest, that Enid wanted to laugh, wanted to tell them of a similar experience she had had when she was young, but she wasn’t sure that would be wise, so instead she told them, “Well, let’s try to see it doesn’t happen again.”
Ray assured her, “It won’t, Mrs. Drage. I promise you.”
He turned to leave, and she asked quietly, “Wouldn’t you like to have a cup of warm milk and a cookie with Sharon?”
He flushed, looked at Sharon. “Why, certainly. I’d like it very much.”
When they had finished their snack in the kitchen and he had left, Sharon, a little disheveled now, and sleepy, went into her mother’s arms.
“It was such fun,” she told her, “even the tire. We laughed and laughed … that is, until I began worrying about you.” After a moment, she added, wistfully, “My first dance.”
“The first of many,” Enid assured her. “And now into bed with you.”