Not Bread Alone
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
Linda’s firstborn was eight years old. Today was Eddie’s birthday and he was going to have a party. There were two other children now. Jenny Lind was five and Mark would soon be two. Linda and Henry still lived in Ike Lacy’s house. They had built on two more rooms, piped in the water, painted the house and fence, and planted lawns and flowers.
This morning while Linda was busy preparing for the birthday party, Ike had come to see her. He had written repeatedly to ask if they didn’t want to buy the place, but they had always told him they had no way of doing that, and besides they were not planning to remain in Cedar Basin.
Ike had looked over the place before coming into the house and Linda could see that he was greatly pleased.
“It’s some joke,” he said. “Me writin’ to ask you folks to buy my place. Why didn’t you write back and ask what I’d give you for your place? When I walked down the durned street, I thought I was lost. I couldn’t find that old house Cissy and me had built and lived in fur near twenty years; but here was this stylish looking house standin’ where ours ought to be.”
“You don’t mind our changing it, do you? You remember we wrote and told you we were fixing it up from time to time. We wanted to do that to pay for living in it – you charging so little rent.”
“Well, you’ve made some place out of it. If Cissy was with me I wouldn’t be surprised if she wouldn’t want to stay. It looks like you’ve been renovatin’ the whole town, too. It don’t look like Cedar Basin to me. When you come here they wasn’t a house in the whole burg had any paint on, was they?”
“Some of them had been painted,” Linda laughed. “That’s what gave us the idea of setting the fashion again.”
“Well, you’ve done wonders; I wouldn’t a thought it could be done. And it all started, I was just thinkin’ as I walked around, with your bringin’ that piano of yours here, and puttin’ it in the church and givin’ lessons free to the kids. We can’t ever thank you for what you done for Emmie. She’s gone right on with her music and is still doin’ fine, and they tell me that Phoebe Larson is in Boston playin’ in a church.”
“Yes,” said Linda, “we’re very proud of Phoebe.” She thought of the time when she herself had dreamed of studying in Boston or New York and becoming a great pianist or singer. That seemed ages ago. Yet she knew she loved music as much as if she had gone on. Now her dream was that some time one or more of her children would achieve the goals she had once set for herself.
“Is that the same piano?” Ike asked as he looked through the door leading to the next room.
“Yes, the very same. Perhaps you didn’t know that we got up some programs and had bazaars and a few other such things, and finally raised enough money to buy an organ for the church. After that, I brought the piano home because I couldn’t go away to give lessons after the babies began to come – and I couldn’t give up giving lessons.” Linda thought happily of all the little fingers she had guided over those ivory keys during her nine years in Cedar Basin.
“I just be you couldn’t” Ike laughed. “But didn’t I hear once that you sold the piano? What was it? To pay for a doctor to come out when someone was sick, wasn’t it? I know how awful Cissy and me felt when we heard it.”
“Oh, but didn’t you hear the lovely thing that happened afterwards, when we got it back? That’s why I keep giving music lessons free, Ike. I’m selfish. I get some enormous pay in the long run. You were the first one to start my dividends, and you’ll never know what it meant when you let us come here to live just because I’d given Emma a few lessons.”
“Well, we always felt guilty for chargin’ you anything, after all you’d done for her, and hearin’ how you was fixin’ the place up. Cissy and me has said a lot of times, ‘Well, we’ll just wait till they git ready to buy, then we’ll make it up to them,’ and if we can’t do it that way we’ll do it some other way. But what happened about your piano?”
“It was when Eddie was born that we sent for Dr. Grieg. We’d heard he wouldn’t come for less than five hundred dollars, and we thought the baby was dying. So we sold the piano to Jim Bancroft. He’d wanted it before on the mortgage he holds on the farm.”
“And that old skinflint would take it after all you’d done for the town.”
“I did hope that maybe he’d leave it in the church, or that I at least might rent it to keep on giving lessons. But before I was able to be around, Henry came home one night and said the Bancrofts were going to move and would take the piano.
“Well, I didn’t sleep at all that night. I’ve decided since that it’s wrong to let oneself become so attached to things, but it just seemed like that piano was a part of me. I learned another lesson, too, out of that experience. That it’s foolish to suffer over things before they happen.
“Here Henry and I were going about like two funerals while – what do you think was happening? The minister, Reverend Mr. Stone was visiting every home in town and getting people to sign a paper that they’d give so much to Jim Bancroft if he’d leave the piano. And the very day I thought it was going away without my ever seeing it again, here came a grand surprise party – the whole town with picnic and speeches and as a glorious climax, a paper signed by Jim Bancroft that the piano was ours again.”
Linda stopped rolling gingerbread and wiped her eyes. Recalling that scene always choked her.
“It was no more than they had ought to a done,” declared Ike blowing his nose. “All I wish is that Cissy and me had been here.”
“How’s Henry’s Ma?” he asked a moment later.
“About the same. She’s still troubled with rheumatism and doesn’t get around much. They still have more than their share of troubles. The farm doesn’t make enough to quite keep up the taxes and the interest on the mortgage, and every year a little more of the land has to be sold. Yet Mrs. Bowers and Melville always think it’s going to pay better next year and are not willing to give it up and all of us get out somewhere else and start over.”
“That’s what I had to do. This is a godforsaken part of the country.” Ike said. “It sure wasn’t meant for farmin’. No one has made a decent livin’ off the land since the place was settled over sixty years ago. I don’t blame you and Henry for not wantin’ to settle here permanent. Where do you expect to go?”
“Our plans never get that far. I sometimes feel that we’ll never get away. That’s why we’re trying to make the best of things as we go along – planting trees and flowers and buying a piece of good furniture or a picture once in a while – even when we can’t afford it. Henry doesn’t feel that he should leave when the others want to hold onto the land.”
“It’s a bad situation. I’m sorry, and I believe if Ed Bowers had a lived he’d a pulled out long ago. He was beginnin’ to see how hopeless it all was before he had his stroke. Course now, if somebody’d strike that oil we used to think was in the basin, things would be different. But I guess everybody’s purty much stopped talkin’ about it.”
“Why, I never heard that there was such talk,” said Linda, surprised.
“Oh, yes. that’s how the basin come to be settled. It was Jim Bancroft’s granddad that come out here first. He claimed that some expert had told him the country was rich with oil and he got different ones to come out. My father was one, and Hen’s grandpa. That’s what brought all the first settlers. They didn’t find oil, and they didn’t have money to go no place else; so they started to farm. And as I was sayin’, this place wasn’t meant for farmin’. Later folks thought maybe old Jake Bancroft had just started that oil story to get a bunch of suckers to pay him the filin’ fee he was supposed to be collectin’ for the government. Leastwise, the Bancrofts has always been the only one’s in town with any money.”
Ike stood up and apologized for staying so long.
Linda insisted on his having a glass of lemonade and a piece of gingerbread.
“Just a taste of Eddie’s party,” she explained.
While he was eating, her son called her to the other room where he and his little sister were making favors for the birthday guests. When Linda came back there was a frown of worry between her eyes.
“Ike,” she asked, “did you and your wife ever feel that you were at the end of your wits to know what to do with some of the problems you had with your children?”
“I reckon all parents who really care about their kids are feelin’ that way purty much of the time.” He held out his hand and said goodbye.
Linda stood looking out of the window, still undecided what to do about her problem. Since his infancy Eddie had shown a strain of selfishness or greed they had been unable to root out. She had worked hard to try to help him overcome it, for she realized that such a thing could warp his whole life. Last night she had made paper daisies and written nursery rhymes on the petals and pasted a brightly polished penny in the center of each. These were to be the favors. Eddie had seemed delighted, and was happy when his mother had showed him how to write the names of his friends on the flower stems.
When he had called to her, however, it was to show her that he had taken all the pennies from the flowers and that he and Jenny were painting yellow centers in with their crayons.
“See, Mommy,” he had cried, “I can have the pennies, and the flowers look all the prettier this way.”
Linda had looked at him for a moment in dismay. Her impulse had been to snatch the pennies from the grasping little hand and to punish him for his naughtiness. She had purposely devised the plan to give him the pleasure of giving. But she realized that she must not spoil his birthday, and that she must try to find a way to make him want the other children to have the pennies. So she had told him to finish painting the hearts in the flowers and that she would come back in a few moments.
What was she to do? In everything else he was so dear. But she must find some way to help him overcome that weakness.
The clock struck, twelve. She set the table for the children’s lunch. Henry had taken his to the field where they were harvesting.
Linda showed the children the gingerbread men she had been making and the plates of sandwiches all ready for the party. They knew, too, that there was a freezer of ice cream in the cellar, which Daddy had turned before going to the field. Eddie’s black eyes danced with happiness, and all the time he kept jingling the pennies in the pocket of his blouse.
Before they were through eating, the baby awoke from his morning nap, and while Linda was caring for him Thad’s young wife Kathie came. She had offered to help with the party. Linda had still thought of no solution for the problem of the pennies.
“How is everybody?” she asked Kathie.
“Oh, the old lady thinks she’s worse and Dicky is bad again. Effie said if you aren’t too tired after the party, she wishes you would come up. You are the only one who can make him forget his poor legs.”
“Of course I’ll go. I intended to run up last night, but I was so busy.”
“Linda, I just can’t stand staying there,” Kathie cried. “Won’t you and Hen let Thad and me come here and live with you? We could have a tent to sleep in and I could help you with the kids. Please, Linnie, say we can come. It’s just hell living there with the old lady and Mel. I’m afraid I’ll get to hating Thad too if we don’t get away.”
“Hush, Kathie. You mustn’t talk like that.” Linda looked significantly at the children. She felt terribly sorry for the girl, knowing only too well what she was going through. “I’ve been thinking of a plan I’ll talk to you about a little later. Now we must get busy with the party – mustn’t we, sonny?”
“Yes,” Eddie answered with importance. “There’ll be twenty-five of them, aunt Kathie, and I’ve got twenty-five pennies. See.” He drew the coins from his pocket.
“All that money besides the books and the harmonica and the pocket knife you showed us this morning? My goodness, Eddie, I wish I could have a birthday.”
“But the pennies are for the guests, Aunt Kathie,” Linda said evenly. “We’re going to wrap each one in a piece of paper and tie a string around it and hide it someplace out in the yard. Then we’ll give each boy or girl a string and let him find his penny.”
“But Mommy,” Eddie began, looking up at her in surprise. “It’s my birthday and I thought the pennies – ”
“Don’t you see, dear, that’s just why you want the others to have the pennies. It’s your birthday and you have all those nice presents. Now you want the others to know how it feels to be surprised as you were, and to be glad too that it is your birthday. Come on. Let’s fix the pennies and get them hidden before the children come.” Eddie, somewhat puzzled, followed her into the other room and emptied the coins onto the table.
That night as Henry and Linda lay talking after they had gone to bed, she told him how worried she was about Eddie. He felt that she was making too much of the child’s weakness, and could even smile over the episode of the pennies. But to Linda it was very serious. She felt that the early traits of a child indicated the trends of later years, and she wasn’t so sure as Henry that Eddie would outgrow his unnatural love of money and tendency to be selfish unless they did more to help him than seemed in their power just now.
“We can’t expect the children to be absolutely perfect,” Henry told her. “In fact, we wouldn’t want them to be. When we compare their chances for finding the real things in life with those of most children, with you right on the job as you are, I don’t see that we have much to worry about. Look at poor little Dicky. By the way, how is he tonight?”
“Henry, I don’t think he’ll be with us much longer. You talk of his handicap. It’s heart-breaking to see him suffer and to think of his twisted little limbs; but a twisted conscience would be much worse. Dicky has such a brave little soul. Isn’t it ironic the way he’s always wanting to fly high in the air, and how close, if he should live, he’ll always have to stay to the earth?”
“Did Kathie say anything to you about them wanting to come here and live with us? Thad says she hates staying there with mother.”
“Yes, she mentioned it. I told her I had another plan.”
“I don’t think they should come here,” Henry continued. “Mother and Mel have never got over our pulling out – making an added expense. With the children coming along, it was the only thing for us to do, but – ”
“Kathie and Thad will be having children, too,” Linda reminded him; “and they ought to be by themselves. What I wish could be done is to have the land divided – each of you work part of it and pay part of the expenses and upkeep. But each have what he could make on his share. It would give you more incentive to see what you could do. You could try it out for a year or so, and if it worked, you could make a permanent division. If not, nothing would have been lost by the experiment.”
“I’ve been thinking of that very plan myself,” Henry told her. “I was about to mention it to Mel today, but thought I would think out a few more details first.”
As Henry was dozing off, Linda said, “I forgot to tell you that Ike Lacy was here today. He thinks we’ve done wonders with the place. Say, I didn’t know before that they ever thought there was oil in this region.”
“Yes,” Henry yawned. “Jim Bancroft’s grandfather started that rumor years ago. I believe that’s how the place came to be settled.”