From the Relief Society Magazine, January 1958 –
The Day We All Went to Rainbow Springs
by Deone R. Sutherland
My brothers Winslow and Charles sat out in back of the carriage house making small explosions by mixing sodium bicarbonate with acetic acid. Papa said it wouldn’t be long before they would be bright enough to blow us all off the face of the earth. Mrs. Cherry who was new (Mama was always getting new hired girls to help, because the old ones would get married or quit because of all the work six boys and one girl made), said she thought Winslow and Charles would end up just one big grease spot.
It was a very dull, hot summer day for me. I sat and watched the ants crawl up and down in their holes. I almost wished Papa would come home and assign me a job. Usually Arthur or Teddy was around to play with, but they had been put to bed right after they had fallen off the barn. Russell had gone with Papa to buy a new pane of glass to replace the one in the top of the front door. Papa was teaching Russell to be responsible, and since he had thrown the discus higher than good judgment would indicate (it had come straight through the window in the door, making Mrs. Cherry call out, “it’s the last days for sure!”), Papa was spending Russell’s money for the glass and allowing him to do all the work replacing it. Papa just went along to be sure the job was done right. That left only Lenora, and since she was the oldest, she never played with us anymore, especially since Edgar Jackson kept coming evenings and Sunday afternoons to our house more and more.
All of us boys really liked Edgar Jackson, only we couldn’t see why he wanted to come see Lenora. We thought he had better sense than the other fellows, but he was as silly over her as any of them, we had to admit. We thought Edgar was special, because he and his father had been the first ones in town to buy an automobile. There are others now, but none had as many extra things as the Jacksons had bought for their Oldsmobile. Edgar had bought fenders, a front bumper, and a top and a windshield and installed them all himself. Naturally, we thought he was pretty smart, especially Winslow and Charles who were older and knew about such things. Papa said the automobile would never prove practical. Besides, the way it scared the livestock and the women and children, it was probably just another vulgar machination of the devil.
“Alexander, the chickens are in your Mama’s garden!”
I almost fell off the porch when Mrs. Cherry yelled like that so close behind me. I trotted over to the garden, and sure enough, there were Papa’s prize Black Minorca roosters that Papa had bought for breeding purposes. He had only been able to afford a pair, and I could imagine his remarks if he had heard Mrs. Cherry’s disrespectful way of referring to them as “chickens.”
It took made quite a while to get them out of the garden so as not to ruffle their feathers too much. They were most aggravating about Mama’s garden. Mrs. Cherry had shouted steadily at them since she had started working for us, and Mama came out and shooed ineffectually with her apron, but the roosters had minds of their own. The two hens were better behaved. I finally got the better of the roosters and shooed them far down behind the house away from the garden and back into their pen.
Papa said we would have to raise the wire on the run, though the little damage they did was well worth it in the long run, if Papa was able to raise some fine purebred chickens. I thought of telling Mrs. Cherry how special the two roosters were, but decided against it. It took a lot of courage to broach Mrs. Cherry about the most general subject, let alone the roosters.
When I sneaked up the back stairs to see for myself how Arthur and Teddy were, I heard Mama and Lenora talking in Lenora’s room. Since the door was wide open, I couldn’t get by without them seeing me. I sat on the top step to wait. Right away I knew something was up, because they were talking a lot different than they usually did when they turned a feather tick.
“But for Papa to tell Edgar and his father, right out and tell them, that he wouldn’t be caught dead riding to Rainbow Springs in an automobile …” Lenora’s voice wailed into silence.
Mama’s voice was breathy from turning the tick. I’d have gone in to help, but I knew they’d stop talking if I did. “There wouldn’t have been room for all of us anyway, Lenora.”
“That’s just it. Papa knew Edgar’s Uncle Willy was going to take some of us in his Studebaker. Papa doesn’t realize how important it is to please the Jacksons when they’ve asked us especially to be their guests on account of me.” Lenora sounded as if she’d buried her face under the feather tick, but that didn’t seem likely. I felt uncomfortable.
“Now, now, Lenora, we’ll all have just a lovely time. We’ll go on the train, like Papa told Mr. and Mrs. Jackson we would, and we’ll meet them at Rainbow Springs and have a perfectly lovely day together.”
“Maybe Arthur and Teddy will still be too shaken up to go Saturday,” Lenora said hopefully.
“Oh, they’re not hurt one bit,” Mama said reassuringly. “Papa thought keeping them in bed would serve as a punishment, too.”
If they were being punished, I’d never get to see them, at least not until tonight. I crept back downstairs, watching out for Mrs. Cherry. I had some news maybe I could sell to Winslow and Charlie. It sounded as if we were all going to get to go. News like that ought to be worth at least an envelope of copper sulphate.
I went around the corner of the shed just as Mrs. Cherry came around the other side. “Take one of my best pots, will you, for your vile smelling brews!” She topped the pot upside down on the ground.
I was halfway up the hill when Winslow and Charlie passed me. We lay in the hollow most of the afternoon studying cloud pictures and discussing the end Mrs. Cherry most likely would meet. Later we walked down to the canal and then home.
Nobody was ever late, with Papa sitting down to eat right on the dot. Winslow and Charlie cheered up a lot when I told them about the Jacksons and Lenora and Rainbow Springs.
Long before Saturday, Mama began instructing us on how well we were all to behave on the outing. Lenora kept looking for signs of measles or chicken pox or something to keep us boys home, but nobody had caught anything, when Saturday, with more blue sky and sunshine than it knew what to do with, finally came. The only thing that spoiled everything was the way we had to dress up, just because we were guests of the old Jacksons. Papa walked up and down inspecting us, and he kept saying, “I wouldn’t have known they were mine. aren’t they a handsome lot when they’re shined and dressed up?”
Mama laughed the way she always does when she thinks Papa is teasing, but Lenora was jittery as a hot teakettle. She had a new dress with a hobble skirt.
“There isn’t a yard around the bottom of that skirt,” Mrs. Cherry said indignantly. “If you walk fast, you’ll fall down and break your neck.”
“A lady doesn’t walk fast,” Lenora answered loftily. It was a pretty blue color like Lenora’s eyes, but I liked Mama’s fuller skirt at the bottom a little better. Mama and Lenora both wore their hair in high puffy “pompadours,” they called them, and it took some balancing to get their great big feathered and flowered hats on top of all that hair. But in no time they were pinned down and ready to go.
Mama stopped and looked at Lenora. “I believe that boned collar is going to make red marks,” but Lenora said she could stand it all right.
It was something to see the little tiny steps she had to take to get anywhere at all. We rode in the carriage with the youngest ones in the middle for safety’s sake, as Papa said.
We left the carriage a short distance from where we caught the train. Papa decided we were early for once, and it wouldn’t hurt to walk around the block to the station.
“Come on, now, keep up, don’t dawdle.”
But the excitement of many things to look at was too much for Arthur. He slipped and fell, sprawling in the muddy gutter at the edge of the walk. Papa fished him out, but even we boys felt Arthur had gone too far. We could never take him on a train in the condition he was in.
Papa prided himself on his great self control, even though it often made his face go almost purple. Mama rubbed at Arthur’s face and hands with her handkerchief, more to comfort him than to actually repair the damage.
Lenora was the one we all stared at. Her eyes filled with tears, and her shoulders began to shake. Papa looked very worried when he saw Lenora.
“There, there,” He patted her on the shoulder. “We’ll fix this up in a jiffy,” indicating Arthur, held gingerly at arm’s length, “and we can still catch that train.”
Waddops Mercantile sprang to attention for Papa when he explained our haste, though there were still many curious stares for all of us to ignore. Arthur’s shoes were wiped off and saved, but most of his other clothes were wrapped up in a big brown bundle, and Arthur appeared shining and spic and span in all the new clothes Papa bought. Mama worried about the expense, but Papa said we couldn’t have the day spoiled. We had a terrible time making it back to the train in time. Lenora’s skirt was an abomination, Papa declared, and he threatened to pick her up and carry her, but we finally got there in time.
The train ride was a great lark, and not a single thing happened except Teddy threw up, and in the excitement we almost went right past Rainbow Springs. Lenora declared that everyone smelled oddly, though Mama said not a bit had got on anyone.
“Anyway,” Papa said, “the fresh air will blow the odor away.”
Rainbow Springs was the most exciting place to go in the whole country. The swimming was the best part, but you could buy stuff, and there were concessions and sideshows that Mama said not to waste our money on. But they turned out to be very disappointing, mostly tricks, though there was a real midget.
After swimming, we were all to go back to the Bowery for a big picnic lunch. Teddy got lost, and Papa went to hunt for him, so we were really hungry by the time we finally got to eat. Especially after Mr. Jackson went to find Papa, and then we all had to wait ages for him, which Papa said was very unfortunate.
Mrs. Jackson piled our plates with the most delicious fried chicken I had ever eaten. Everything would have been wonderful except Lenora kept acting so silly, and Edgar was almost as bad. They sat by each other, and each time Edgar got her anything she would blush and giggle, and then Mr. Jackson would say something, and she would blush some more.
I thought Papa would surely straighten her out when we got home, but he just gave her an occasional sad kind of look. Pretty soon, though, he cheered up, and Mrs. Jackson got out the biggest cake you ever saw all decorated up like Valentine’s Day only Valentine’s Day is ages away. At the sight of the cake, Lenora just buried her face in her hands and wouldn’t look at anyone, though her cheeks were as rosy as anything where you could see them. Even Edgar looked sillier than I’ve ever seen him.
Papa cleared his throat and said a little explanation ought to be forthcoming for the benefit of the boys, and Mama said, “Yes, dear, but it isn’t going to happen for a long time yet. They have permission just to be engaged, but there’s no thought of marrying yet.”
“I’ll make the announcement,” Papa said firmly, but it was too late.
We stared dumbfounded at Edgar. Was he really crazy enough to want to marry Lenora? She was pretty, all right, but what did he want with a wife? He had a real automobile with all those parts.
Teddy ran over had jumped in Lenora’s lap, sandy shoes and all, and began to cry.
“Wish her happiness, boys,” Papa hissed at us, and we mumbled the “I wish you happiness” as best we could, while Lenora explained to Teddy that she was going to live at home for ages yet. She was just engaged. Teddy made us all feel kind of funny. It was getting late in the afternoon, so Papa and Mama and the Jacksons hustled us into getting ready to go home.
Edgar thought, under the circumstances, Lenora ought to ride home with him. After all, both his parents would be sitting right there with them. Mrs. Jackson tied one of her veils around Lenora because of the dust, and Mama took off her scarf and tied down Lenora’s hat with it. We all watched enviously. When it was time to get in the car, Lenora’s foot wouldn’t go high enough because of her skirt. For a moment we thought Lenora might not get to ride in the automobile after all, but Edgar boosted her up. (Papa was going to, but Edgar beat him to it.) And then we were all off for home.
I don’t remember much about the train ride home, except it seemed funny without Lenora. I wondered if the others felt as mixed up as I did. Maybe our whole family would just melt away the way Lenora was doing. The day hadn’t ended exactly right. I began to get a lump in my throat, so I went to sleep.
There isn’t anything else to tell except when we got home, Mrs. Cherry had a hot dinner all ready. Papa woke us up and made us eat, though we were getting tired of fried chicken. Papa told Mrs. Cherry the chicken was excellent, though somewhat scrawny. Not much meat.
It was my turn to help at the table. Just as I was going into the pantry, I heard Mama say, “Mrs. Cherry, where did you get those chickens you cooked?”
“Out of your garden, that’s where,” said Mrs. Cherry proudly. “I caught those two prancing, ugly roosters that’s pestered us to pieces and cooked their goose, if you know what I mean.”
Mama looked faint. “We won’t mention this to Papa, at least not until morning. There’s no sense in spoiling his sleep tonight.”
I went back to the table, and I was surprised to find I wasn’t nearly so sleepy anymore even though it had been a real long important day, going to Rainbow Springs and all.