By Deone R. Sutherland
I wrote Pat almost every day while she had the mumps, but her mother said she wasn’t very cheerful. I tried to tell her how surprised everybody in town was about Karen’s engagement, and how really surprised everyone was when, just a few days later, Dr. Turner bought an engagement ring for Margaret. They might have a double reception after being married in the temple, people said, but Dr. Turner didn’t want to wait until spring to marry Pat’s Aunt Margaret. He thought they should be married at Christmas time. That would give the school board plenty of time to find another teacher for the last half year unless Margaret really insisted on finishing the year. Then the next summer they were going to take a real honeymoon to Europe. They were going to take Phil, too. Phil was crazy about Margaret. Everybody was, including me.
I wrote Pat how dumb people were to be surprised. We knew all about it long ago. Or we thought we knew some things anyway.
Pat had to stay in the house over two weeks. One side went down, and then she came down, or rather swelled up, on the other side. “She’s missing half the summer,” I complained to Mother.
It was almost three weeks before we were able to get out on our bikes again and sell Kold-ayde. The July heat was really going to be terrible for us to ride in we decided; but it was awfully good for selling our product. We encouraged parents to buy Kold-ayde in order to make their own popsicles for the children at home. We did very well for a change.
One package makes a terrific number of popsicles, everyone had to agree. It was very late in the afternoon when we approached the hill that led to the Diffendorf home.
“We really don’t have to go up there today,” I told Pat. “We’ve made quite a profit already. We’ve only a few packages of raspberry left in the basket.”
“I know,” Pat said, “but it might be that they’d want some drinks. I’d like to stop in anyway.” I looked at her in disbelief about their wanting any, but we got off our bikes and pushed them up the hill.
“Anyway, the road’s stopped shimmering,” I said. “If we don’t hurry, we’re going to be late getting home to dinner.”
“We’ll only stop a minute,” Pat said. “Dr. Turner brought Aunt Margaret to see me last night, so Mama says I’ve seen them enough this week. We’ll hurry.”
“Somebody’s car is parked in front,” I said to Pat.
We climbed the hill slowly with our eyes on the car. We were almost to it before we recognized it to be Jens Oleson’s, the postmaster’s car. We stopped to rest and looked at the car and then at each other.
“Another telegram?” Pat suggested.
“Maybe,” I said, “but the post office must be closed by now.”
Margaret was digging in the garden in front of the house. “Well, Pat and Lillian, hello.” She stood up, brushing the dirt from her gloves and shaking her hair back a little. She wore a dark skirt and a thin yellow blouse. “Are you selling on this hot day? How’s business?”
“So good,” I said, “that we really don’t have to sell you anything today unless you really want it.”
“Oh,” laughed Margaret, “I think Agnes will probably need at least one package. I’ll get my purse in just a moment.”
She sat back on her heels and looked at the garden where she’d been digging. She laid her gloves on the grass, and I saw the diamond Dr. Turner had given her sparkle in the sun. It looked very bright and light against her brown, thin hand. Pat and I lay down on the grass beside her.
“Did Mr. Oleson bring a telegram?” Pat asked.
“No,” said Margaret. “At least I don’t think so. He’s around in the kitchen talking to Agnes. She’s making cream puffs.”
We hadn’t realized how hungry we were.
Margaret stood up, stretching. “She must be finished with them by now. Let’s walk around, and you can have one to eat on the way home.” She looked over the few remaining packages in our basket. “I suppose I’ll have to take raspberry, but it isn’t my favorite.”
We walked around the house. “I’ll run right up and get my purse,” Margaret said. “You girls go on into the kitchen for a cream puff.”
Jens Oleson was standing in the kitchen doorway. We hesitated in the hall. Pat’s Aunt Agnes’ voice was saying, “I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Jens, but I assure you with my whole heart that I’m quite content with my life the way it is and never have the slightest intention of changing it …”
“Yah, I know, Agnes,” Jens said. “You were determined even as a little girl. I had no business to bother you, but I thought maybe you’d mellowed with the years. I won’t mention this again ever, so there’ll be no strain on you.” Jens back through the kitchen doorway.
“Oh, there’ll be no strain,” Agnes said. “My word, I have to go on using the post office the rest of my life, I imagine. Here, take a cream puff with you. You’ve been eyeing them hungrily ever since you came in.”
“Thanks, Agnes – Miss Diffendorf. You’re a wonderful cook and no mistake. Yes, I’ll take one more for my supper. Goodbye for now.” He turned to go into the hall and saw us. “Ah, the girls are here, is it? I’ll just go out the back door; no sense going through the whole house.”
He opened the back door with his elbow, holding the cream puffs warily.
We went into the kitchen. Aunt Agnes greeted us absent-mindedly. “Take two,” she said, nodding at the cream puffs. But we could only manage one on a bike, we explained.
Margaret came into the room with her purse.
“Margaret,” Agnes asked, “are you buying the juice powder today?”
“We only need one package,” Margaret said. “Business has been very good for them all day. It’s the hot weather, I expect.”
“That’s what we tell the people,” Pat said.
Margaret searched in her coin purse for a nickel.
“I’m sorry we’ve nothing left but raspberry,” I said.
“Oh, that’s all right,” Agnes said.
“Did Jens go?” Margaret asked. “Is something wrong at the post office?”
Agnes looked at Margaret and snorted. “You and Karen getting engaged has turned the town upside down, I guess. Or at least it gave our postmaster ideas.”
Margaret looked at Agnes; then she said slowly, “Well, why not? Jens is a fine man. A little old …”
Agnes stood up, “That’s enough, Margaret. I don’t intend to quit teaching, and I don’t intend to take in a boarder. I expect it will be all over town, unless these girls can hold their tongues.”
“Yes, we can,” Pat said.
I nodded my head.
“Jens is a good man, Margaret’s right, and there’s no need to hurt him. It’s just the rumors going around, I expect, that made him lose his head for a minute. I’m happy the way things are. Margaret will be just across the street. Karen will be up near the university in Orchard City. My cousin Harriet, who was widowed only a year ago, would be happy to move in should I ever feel the slightest tinge of loneliness. I love teaching. My life is already patterned. Some people are meant for some things, and some for others. It’s a wise person who knows when he’s well off.”
“Why, look how settled we were before …” Margaret began.
“Settled,” said Agnes, “but not really happy. Karen was too busy at the university and too young to know, but you had already begun to be an unhappy person. Look at the way you dashed around to keep busy every summer before this one. Those two years following Gwennie’s death bothered you terribly when you thought people might think you were thinking of Mark again … It wasn’t happy for me to see, Margaret.”
“You’re right, of course, Agnes …”
Agnes interrupted Margaret again. “But me, Margaret, I’ve always been happy the way I am. I’m not restless, and I’m not looking for anything. I’m content. I like reading papers, and looking at the children in the fall, feeling I’m about to discover them all over again for a wonderful year. My mistake was that I tried to impress that contentment onto you two girls. I wanted you to know what I’d found. But all of us are different. Some want more than others.”
Margaret said slowly, “But, Agnes, those years were hard ones after Mother died. She’d spent almost everything Father had left. You took over and sacrificed for all of us …”
“Sacrificed!” Agnes exclaimed. “I loved it. I loved teaching and being able to help my family. I never did anything with the thought that any of you should someday feel that you should sacrifice any happiness in your own lives in order to repay me in any way.”
“I know that,” Margaret said, “but all the same …”
“I’ve enacted the role of kin – of a sister, and that is all,” Agnes said shortly. “Let’s drop it there. How could any of us be happier with what we have? Margaret, take this tray of cream puffs and put them in the icebox, will you?” Margaret held out her hand. Agnes held the tray for a moment, looking intently at the pastry. “That was funny about Jens, though, wasn’t it?” she murmured.
We hurried down the hill on our bikes. We went so fast that the wind tugged our hair and our feet couldn’t keep up with the pedals. We held our feet straight out at her sides. Tonight we were really going to be late to dinner.
“We’ll catch it,” we yelled at each other.
Green Willows whirled by on each side as we cascaded down on our bikes. Suppose all our days when we are young here, go by that fast, I thought. My heart almost stopped with fear that they might. I wanted to yell the words out to Pat, but I couldn’t find the right ones. I looked at her quickly and saw that her smooth brown face looked as young as mine must be. These days will never end, I thought. They’ll go on forever, or at least such a long time that I don’t have to worry about it now. Besides, all of a sudden we were only a few blocks from home, and we had to quit coasting and start pedaling. We stood up on our bikes to pedal because that was faster. We could smell dinners cooking in the houses. All of Green Willows was getting ready for dinner. I could hardly wait to get home.