By Deone R. Sutherland
Synopsis: Lillian and her friend Patricia are very much interested in the affairs of Pat’s three unmarried aunts: Agnes, Margaret, and Karen. The two older sisters are schoolteachers, and Karen is preparing to follow the same profession. However, Margaret and Dr. Turner, a widower, who lives across the street, have renewed an earlier friendship, and it appears that John Alder, the new director of the summer theater in Green Willows, is trying to persuade Karen that there are already enough schoolteachers in her family.
The next three weeks passed all too slowly. We found out the name of the play that would be out at the summer theater the week end we would be spending at Margaret Diffendorf’s. It was Charley’s Aunt. “How innocuous,” I said, but our parents were overjoyed that that was to be the play we were to see. I had hoped for something just off Broadway. “We’ll love it; you’ll see,” Pat said.
“Oh, I’m excited about it all,” I said.
We saw Dr. Turner take Pat’s Aunt Agnes and Aunt Margaret home from our first summer Mutual party. He sat by them in Church on Sunday, too.
We went over to talk to Phil after Sunday School. We asked him what he thought about getting up a wiener roast maybe that Friday night.
“I can’t,” he said. “Margaret’s going to let Daddy and me go fishing up by their cabin. She’s going to come up for a day.”
“I didn’t know Aunt Margaret ever went fishing,” said Pat.
When we mentioned it to Pat’s mother, she said it was very kind of Agnes and Margaret to let them use the cabin. Why, everybody in the ward was being good to Phil because, after all, he was a motherless boy and needed someone besides his invalid grandmother and Essie Arks to look after him, though it was nice they were able to get Essie to come and help. She was a fine cook and a good scrubber.
“We’d like to be kind to Phil, too,” Pat said mournfully, “but we never get the chance.”
“Never mind,” said Pat’s mother, “another year or two and he’ll be the one coaxing you girls to notice him.”
The second week end before we were to go to stay at Margaret’s contained a really wonderful event. Our ward outing up Slipper Canyon was held on Saturday. On Friday Pat called me up to see what I was going to wear.
“For silly,” Beany said. “You both know you’ll be wearing your denim skirts.”
“Mother won’t let me wear my cashmere sweater,” Pat said, “but I am going to wear my brown leather collar. I guess it’ll have to be an old sweater and my red jacket.”
“Mother has to use the phone,” I told Pat. “I’ll call you back.”
It was a wonderful day for the outing. It was hot in the valley, but crisp and cool when we got up in the mountains. Pat rode up with us because her mother and father were going to take the Diffendorf sisters, but both John Alder and Dr. Turner offered to take them also. Finally Pat’s mother and father just came alone in their car. At the last minute, Dr. Turner had a call and so they all rode with John Alder – Aunt Agnes, Margaret, Phil, and Karen.
“My dad will be along later,” we heard Phil tell everyone who asked him.
Agnes spread their picnic lunch on the table next to Pat’s food, and, of course, we were next to Pat’s folks on the other side because they’re our best friends.
Agnes said, “Margaret, you’ve miscounted. You have an extra plate here.”
“Oh,” said Margaret, tugging a little at the soft scarf she had tied around her throat. “I thought I’d set a place for Phil’s father in case he gets here in time.”
John Alder came back from gathering wood for the fire. “I seem to be constantly accepting your hospitality lately,” he said to Agnes. “I wish you had let me buy the lunch today and bring it.”
“Nonsense,” said Agnes. “Besides, I can’t stand the Central Hotel’s cooking. rather do it myself, certainly would.”
“How are they going to tell you from the students next year, Karen?” John Alder sat down by Karen on the bench at the table.
“That’s easy,” Karen said. “I’ll be taller than most, and I’ll look stern.”
I looked at Karen. She certainly hadn’t been looking stern lately. She always looked bright and laughing. She’s like a flower, I thought. And so is Margaret, sometimes. Only not now. Margaret kept looking through the woods toward the parking and listening. She had finished setting the table. She twined the ends of her scarf, smiling only a little when the others laughed at something. I hoped I’d look like that when I grew up, I thought. It was better to be thin like that and with grace.
“I think everyone’s getting ready to sit down and eat,” Agnes said.
“Not yet,” said Margaret; “it’s still so early.”
“Girls, run and find Phil and tell him we’re nearly ready to eat,” said Pat’s mother.
We ran off, looking for Phil. The men and boys had been playing basketball. They were coming back towards the tables now.
We’re going to eat now,” we yelled at Phil.
He pretended not to hear us, but he came to our table. He sat down by Margaret and began telling her about who had won and why. We couldn’t understand how Margaret could pretend to be so interested in such stuff. But then she was always nice to kids. Look at us. Only one week away, and we were going to a play with her and then come home and stay all night. I felt a pang of jealousy that Phil should have all her attention like that. I wished we had been sitting closer to her.
Just then Phil shouted, “Here comes Daddy!” We all turned to look.
“Did I make it? I was afraid I’d miss the food,” Dr. Turner greeted us.
We all tried to answer him while Margaret moved over and made room for him. In that moment she was looking as radiant as Karen. Phil had to begin all over telling about the ball game.
Our table grew very quiet so our bishop could ask the blessing. “Not only are we thankful for this food, but this joyous group of neighbors and friends whom we love …”
We were thankful for this joyous group. Suddenly I knew these were the moments I must remember, “this joyous group.” All the words in blessings were beautiful words, I thought.
Margaret cleared up the dishes, and Dr. Turner helped and so did Phil for a few minutes. Then he ran to join the games, and Dr. Turner and Margaret and Aunt Agnes walked over to watch and cheer for Phil. Pat and I watched, too.
“He gets more content and seems happier all the time,” Dr. Turner said to Margaret.
“I know I am happier,” said Margaret in a low voice.
Dr. Turner took her hand and held it in his.
“Come on,” I said to Pat, “let’s find the kids in our group.”
It was fun to run until it hurt to breathe. People began building the bonfire high. In a little while it would be dark, and then we’d all be sitting around the fire singing and having a program. Then, last of all, they’d get out the marshmallows for the red hot coals.
Beany and I sang a duet on the program. We had been practicing for it all week. When I sang a solo part in it, Beany held his ears, and everybody laughed. Not long ago I would have died if Beany had done that, but it didn’t bother me too much tonight, though I did feel like giving him a hard kick in the shins.
Pat and I went to get our marshmallows. After we’d eaten the last possible marshmallow we could hold, the outing came to a close. After the closing prayer, we helped load the things into the cars. I was beginning to feel very tired, and I’d eaten too much.
“Margaret’s riding down with Phil and me,” Dr. Turner said.
Phil was scrambling sleepily into Dr. Turner’s car, where he stretched out on the back seat.
“Then John’s car won’t be so crowded,” Margaret added.
“Well, I doubt if it’ll be very crowded,” Agnes said. “The girls loaded all our picnic things into Pat’s car, so I’m going to have to ride down with them so I can sort out our stuff when we get home. I guess Karen will be the only one riding back with John.”
“Pat had better come with us, too,” said Pat’s father.
So I said goodbye to her.
John said goodnight to everybody. “I’ll see that Karen gets home safely,” he said to Agnes.
“I know it,” Agnes said.
“Goodbye, Pat,” I yelled, and then jumped into our car.
As soon as it started moving, I promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake up until we were home, where I discovered Beany’s head on my shoulder. I ought to bop him now for that duet, I thought, but I was too sleepy.
Monday afternoon we rode our bikes up to see Margaret to make sure she had not forgotten that this was the Friday we were going to the play with her. We took our Kold-ayde along and made a few stops on the way to see if we could sell a few packages. We really didn’t sell enough to make the effort worthwhile. We decided we wouldn’t offer any to the Diffendorfs. We didn’t want to take advantage of them.
“Margaret’s not here,” said Agnes, “but I’m sure she’s not forgotten that you’re coming. She was at the summer theater all morning, and then this afternoon she and Phil went shopping for some summer clothes for him. Dr. Turner drove them.”
“Where’s Aunt Karen?” Pat asked.
“Well, she rode down with Margaret this morning. She was going to help paint sets or something. Margaret came back without her. Said John was going to drop her off when he came. Seems kind of out of his way, though,” she added drily.
I tucked my chin on my knee. “Miss Diffendorf, do you think they’ll go to Europe this summer?”
“Europe?” She looked at me in astonishment. “Good gracious me, whatever gave you that idea? Oh, yes, I remember. Margaret talked about it a month or so ago. No, the plans for the summer theater going through changed all that. Besides, Margaret’s not running away from anything this summer, I guess.”
“Could we have a drink of water before we start back, Aunt Agnes?” Pat asked.
“Of course, girls, anything you like.”
We went back through the long, cool house and drank delicious sips of cold well water. Pat opened the icebox, but there was no fudge. The picnic dishes were still waiting on the table unwashed. Usually Agnes was a fanatic about not letting a dish sit dirty a minute. We tiptoed back through the house.
“I’m sorry there are no treats today, girls. I’ve felt a little tired lately. I’ll probably be perking up and getting busy cooking before you’re due for your visit, so don’t worry.”
We protested that we didn’t expect her to go to any trouble for us. In a few minutes we picked up our bikes and rode home.
Beany was playing on top of father’s garage with Andy, a neighbor boy. Someone ought to tell Mother on him, I thought, but I sat down in the shade and rested by Pat instead.
“Jens Olesen isn’t married,” said Pat. He was the postmaster.
“I guess he’s about the only one in town who is anywhere near the right age. How old do you think he is?” I chewed on a piece of grass.
“I’ve got to go,” Pat said. “It’s almost time for Daddy to get home.”
At dinner I asked Father, “How much older is Jens Olesen than Agnes Diffendorf?”
“I don’t know. Ten or fifteen years at least.” Father went on talking to Mother.
That was quite a bit older. I started to think about exactly the things I’d need to take with me Friday night. Mother had already promised me the loan of her overnight bag.
On Friday, Margaret had promised to pick us up at our homes on her way from her house from the theater before dinner and the evening performance. Pat got so excited waiting that she brought her things over to wait with me. My place was the closest, so it would be likely that Margaret would stop here first. when she finally came, Dr. Turner was driving.
“I was on my way hone from the office when it occurred to me that I should save John Alder a trip home with Margaret, so I picked her up myself. Of course, John was none too pleased over that.”
“He didn’t mind in the least,” laughed Margaret, “except that it prevented him from seeing …” She turned around and smiled at us. “I see you’re both wearing your beset bib ‘n tucker for the play tonight.
“Oh, yes,” Pat said. “Mother said we ought to dress up, but we had planned to, anyway.”
We turned up the hill. Phil came running across the yard when he heard his father’s car.
“Did you go swimming today, Phil?” Margaret called.
“Yes, we did; it was swell. Water was wonderful.”
We got out at the gate, and Phil slid in the car beside his father.
“Around a quarter to eight?” Dr. Turner asked Margaret. “It’s a good half-hour drive.”
“Fine,” she said. “We’ll all be waiting.”
“Is Phil going, too?” asked Pat.
“Yes,” said Margaret. “I thought he’d enjoy it with us. Dr. Turner says the play’s an old favorite of his and he offered to drive us. I thought it would be fun to go together.”
Aunt Agnes waited for us on the front porch.
“You can take your things up to the guest room and wash your hands, girls. Don’t waste any time, but come down as soon as you’re ready because dinner’s almost on the table.”
“I wish you’d come with us, Agnes,” Margaret stood in the doorway.
“Oh, I can’t see them all,” said Agnes. “Since I’ve tickets for almost all the rest of them, I think I’d better plan on missing this one. You’ve got a carfull anyway.”
“We won’t be a minute,” we promised as we started up the stairs.
“I think I’ll skip dinner.” Margaret started for the stairs where we waited. “I need a while to get ready.”
“Nonsense,” said Agnes firmly. “You’re too thin now. You need dinner as well as the girls. I’ll help after you eat a bit if you need me.”
Margaret came down the stairs and put her arms around Agnes and kissed her on the forehead and on the cheek. They stood looking at each other for a moment, while Pat and I steadily examined Grandfather Diffendorf’s picture on the stairway wall.
“It’s all right, Margaret,” Agnes said softly. “Don’t you worry about a single thing. Everything’s going to be all right.” Margaret turned and ran up the stairs.
“Hurry up, girls,” Agnes turned toward the kitchen, but not before we saw the tears standing in her eyes.