From the Relief Society Magazine, 1955 –
By Deone R. Sutherland
Green Willows is the name of our town. People say it came by its name logically long ago when pioneers, searching for settlements, came across our valley ribboned down the center by what became at once Willow River. Along the water grew wild, soft-green willows, with lush meadows fanning both sides to the hills. People have lived here ever since. Once I stayed with my Aunt Carolyn up in Orchard City, and it was like a toothache or a hurt in the heart until I could get back home again.
I was sitting on Pat Diffendorf’s back stoop in Green Willows waiting for my friend Pat to pump up her bicycle tires. While most people had only one bicycle tire that leaked at a time, my best friend Pat had two. We always carried a bicycle pump with us when we went riding as a necessary part of our equipment – the same as the nickels in change tied in our handkerchiefs on our belts.
Pat stopped pumping for a minute to rest. It was very hot, and Pat was not as skinny as she used to be.
“You eat too much fudge,” I told her.
“It is not the fudge,” Pat said, simpering in a most revolting way. “This is the way we are supposed to start looking.”
I held my mouth to keep from gagging and hooted derisively. From the back you couldn’t tell me from my brother Beany or a board slat from a fence, and I was proud of it.
“Okay, Patty,” I said, “but I think it’s the fudge.”
“Don’t call me Patty; you know how I hate that name.” Pat picked up her pump again.
“Patty!” Pat’s mother came from inside the house. “If you girls are going selling your powdered drinks today, you had better get started. And don’t go to Aunt Agnes’ until the very last, do you hear? Not until you’ve been everywhere else. They buy far more than they should, and it’s an imposition … My word!” Mrs. Diffendorf paused a moment. “Your father’s barn is on fire!”
It wasn’t really; men were burning weeds along the ditchbank, and the smoke was blowing over. But there was one thing about it; it was very exciting to be around the Diffendorfs.
We sat on the stoop to get our breath after running to see the barn on fire before we started. Then we loaded the packages of Kold-ayde in our baskets. Each package made ten delicious glasses of drinks on hot summer days and all for one nickel. We didn’t like the taste of it ourselves, we had drunk so much of it after long trips on our bikes, but we sold enough to keep us well supplied with ice-cream cones, and to create a certain amount of respect among our friends.
“I wonder why it always seems up hill no matter where we go,” Pat said, puffing hard.
“If we didn’t have to stop so often to pump up tires, we could make better time,” I pointed out. Where the houses were close together in the town, we did pretty well, but as the distances lengthened, we began to talk about giving it up for the day. “We haven’t really made too much yet,” Pat sighed. She tied up our money in her handkerchief again.
“Well, there’s still your Aunt Agnes that we haven’t been to,” I suggested.
“I hate to go up the hill,” Pat began, then nodded resignedly. “We are going there last just as Mother said, “because we’re all through for the day except maybe up there.”
We stopped at the bottom of the hill to pump up Pat’s tires. One of mine was a little low, so I put air in that, too. We stopped at a couple of houses on the way up, but no one answered the doors. Being on a hillside that way, people could see at a distance who was coming, and you couldn’t surprise them into answering the door. Right at the last it was too hard to pump, so we got off and pushed our bikes the rest of the way.
Pat’s aunts were named Diffendorf too. There were three of them, and Agnes was the oldest, then Margaret, and then Karen who was just graduating from college this very spring. I had heard Mother say she’d already signed to teach at Valley High, just like Agnes and Margaret.
“Where everybody else has no more than one old maid to a family, the Diffendorfs are different, as usual, and have three,” I heard Mr. Olesen at the post office say one day. But everybody liked Agnes and the Diffendorfs. They were really nice to us anyway. “Bought enough drinks from these kids to float their house,” my father said. We always just figured they liked to drink Kold-ayde.
Pat’s Aunt Agnes sat at a table up on the big front porch. She was correcting papers. She always did that on Saturdays – inside in the winter and outside in the fall and spring. Soon it would be summer, and then when we came, she’d be digging in the garden with gloves on up to her elbows and a big hat to keep from freckling, and wearing a chin strap to fight the wrinkles. She was the oldest in the Diffendorf family. When her parents had both died, she had helped Pat’s father get started in his business; then she had put Margaret though college and now Karen. We looked longingly at the bench swing under the big elm in the yard, but we pushed on up the path to the porch.
“Well, what a pleasant surprise,” Aunt Agnes said with a smile. “I’ll take ten; I don’t dare take any more or your mother will call me and give me the dickens.”
“Which flavors?” Pat asked, sorting the packages.
“We’ve only got orange and grape left,” I said.
“Well, that’s a lot of orange, but I guess I’ll take five of each.” Aunt Agnes put down her pencil and stood up. “Here, sit down on the porch, girls; you’re both red as beets. I’ll go get my purse.”
We sat down on the steps and fanned ourselves with packages of drinks. In a moment Pat’s Aunt Margaret came out on the porch and sat down on the steps beside us. She was thin, with soft hair that blew a little when she walked. She was a wonderful dramatics teacher at Valley High. Everybody wanted to be in her plays. Pat and I pulled our legs together and sat up. How did you impress a dramatics teacher so she noticed you when you tried out for parts? Mother said, “You’ve got plenty of years before you have to worry about that,” but now it was only a couple of years away. Pat was sure she’d be noticed because, after all, the coach was her aunt, but Pat had no stage presence at all. She giggled and noticed the audience. I tried hard to think of something dramatic to do each time we came, but it was usually warm, and we were tired from the hill. Besides, Pat’s Aunt Margaret didn’t act as if she were very easily impressed.
“Would you like to pick some iris for your mother, Pat? You may also, Lillian, if you like.” Margaret stood up and brushed at her hair and then smoothed her tweed skirt. She sat in Aunt Agnes’ chair and fumbled with a pencil.
“They remind me of funerals,” I said.
“It’s too hot,” said Pat. “They’d be wilted before we got home.”
“You’re probably right,” said Aunt Margaret. “I like less lonely flowers myself – flowers that are smaller and friendlier …”
But she wasn’t looking at the flower garden, but off across the valley. Pat’s Aunt Agnes came out with her purse. It was a big, old-fashioned purse with a long chain across the top to prevent losing anything.
“Your Aunt Margaret gets restless the end of every school year. You might mention to your mother, Pat, that she’s talking of going to Europe this summer,” Aunt Agnes explained.
“Well, why not?” Margaret closed her hands nervously. “I don’t have to go to summer school. There’s nothing to stop me. You could go, too, if you weren’t so stubborn.”
“I don’t think so, this year at least,” said Aunt Agnes, dumping her change out on the table. “You talk nonsense because you think you have to do something every minute to keep from enjoying life.”
Margaret stood up and walked down the steps. “It is possible that I’ll go, and I may take Karen with me, if you won’t go.” She fumbled with the bench swing a moment, and then walked around the house quickly beyond our view.
Just then a car stopped in front and Karen got out. “Thanks so much for the ride home. Bye …”
She came up the walk with her music under her arm. “We had a wonderful choir practice today. They’re going to start on the Messiah month after next – imagine! Christmas is ages away yet. Hi, Pat. Hi, Lillian.”
“Here you go, girls. Fifty cents. You can count it for yourselves.”
Pat’s Aunt Agnes always made us count the money twice to be sure we had the exact amount. When there was change, we always had to count it into her hand, or rather Pat did. Pat’s mother said Pat was short in arithmetic, so her Aunt Agnes was always trying to help her.
“Sit down, Karen,” Agnes said. “Margaret’s out somewhere. Nobody’s inside. You can study later. Karen’s graduating in less than a month, girls. She’s the last of us to finish college. Nobody can say that I didn’t do well by my mother’s family.” Karen leaned over and gave Agnes a hug. Then she sat down by us.
“Are you going to teach school at Valley High, Karen?” Pat asked.
Karen paused a moment, and then she smiled at Pat. “I guess I am,” she said.
“Now, there’s no better high school within a hundred miles or more of here, Karen. It would be silly to go someplace else to teach when you can live at home with us and go into teaching at the same school.”
“I know,” said Karen. She gave Agnes another half hug and stood up. “I think I’ll go find Margaret.”
Agnes sat down at her table and picked up her pencil. “Well, girls, we’ll see you again next Saturday, I expect. There’s fudge in the icebox, if you’d like some for your trip home.”
We went back through the dark, cool rooms to the kitchen and drank cool well water from the tap. Then we each took a piece of rich dark fudge with walnuts thick in it. We nibbled on it a little and let the creamy taste melt on our tongues. Then we had another drink and decided we must really get started back. We lingered a moment in the parlor looking at the photographs in the Diffendorf album that lay on a marble-topped table.
“Don’t brush against any of the fern in there,” Pat’s Aunt Agnes called.
We hastily closed the album, but not before I’d caught a glimpse of a loose photograph of a younger Margaret, hand in hand with a boy poised with one foot on a fence.
“Why, who is that?” I asked Pat.
“You goose; that’s over to Turners, across the street. Aunt Margaret and Dr. Turner, only he wasn’t a doctor then. Don’t you recognize our own doctor? That was about their first year in college. Mama said he’d have married Aunt Margaret, but she thought she ought to teach a while to pay back Aunt Agnes for everything. Then Karen had to go to school, too, someday. Daddy had us, and he couldn’t help out at all. He got married before he ever finished school.”
“Well, Dr. Turner’s not married now,” I said. “Why don’t they just get together again?”
Pat looked at me. “Aren’t you even the slightest romantic? People just don’t get together because it’s convenient. Aunt Margaret teaches in the winter or goes to school or on vacations in the summer, so everybody in the town won’t say she’s after him the way they do about Myra Johnson. It would be worse for Aunt Margaret because they liked each other once.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to marry a widower with a big boy almost our age, anyway,” I said.
We shut the parlor door behind us and went down the front hall to the porch where we said goodbye. We looked for Margaret and Karen when we wheeled our bikes down the front path, but we didn’t see them.
We stopped at the service station and got our tires filled with air. Then we went on down to Anastopolis’ grocery store for ice-cream cones. It was friendlier buying them there than at the service station. People were always shopping there on Saturday for the week. We stood outside eating our cones.
“How much do you figure we made?” Pat asked.
“Well, after expenses, I think about forty cents. That’s twenty for you and twenty for me.”
“We made a penny on every package.”
“We just spent a dime of it for refreshments,” Pat reminded me.”
“True,” I said.
We wheeled our bikes slowly out to the street and started pedaling home.
“It’s your turn to spend Sunday at my place,” Pat said.
“I’ll have to check with Mother to make sure,” I said.
“Well, it is your turn. I was at your place last Sunday.”
We took turns going home with each other after Sunday School, stayed to dinner, spent the afternoon, and then went to Church where we met our own folks.
I turned down our driveway. Pat rode on, waving with the stub of her cone.
“How much did you make?” my father asked me at dinner.
“Twenty cents,” I said.
“Minus five cents for your ice-cream cone – fifteen cents for a day’s work. You could make more money baby sitting.”
“This is more fun for her,” Mother said, “and it keeps her out in the fresh air. How many packages did Pat’s aunts buy?”
“Just five from each of us.”
“Ten! Oh, Lillian, you shouldn’t impose on them like that.” Mother laid down her fork and looked at me.
“Say,” said Father, “did you hear Dr. Mark Turner’s bringing Philip back from his mother-in-law’s for good soon as school is out. They need a good housekeeper since Mark’s mother isn’t too well.”
Mother sighed. “Poor Mark. I don’t know how he’ll manage he’s so busy. Gwennie’s been gone over two years; you’d think …” Mother looked at Beany and me and stopped.
“The boy must be about Lillian’s age,” Father said. “He can take care of himself.”
“My age?” I looked up with interest. “Coming here to live for good!” I wondered if Pat knew about it. I guessed not or she would have told me immediately. I’d have something to tell her tomorrow. Life was so exciting in Green Willows.
Lillian’s going to sleep in her mashed potatoes,” said Father, “like the dormouse in his teapot.”
I sat up straight. “Why didn’t Dr. Turner marry Margaret Diffendorf?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” Mother said shortly. She was never one to gossip. “Now hurry up. You have to help with the dishes and get your bath.”
I hardly glanced at the reddening western sky through our dining room windows as I finished my dinner. I hoped I’d be the first to tell Pat about Philip. She was getting so silly about boys. I helped clear the table.
“Boy,” said Beany, “girls are dumb – always thinking about boys.” He carried his dishes into the kitchen.
I didn’t bother answering him. I didn’t feel too well. it was painful to swallow, but I didn’t mention it. Everything would be all right tomorrow, I was sure.