A Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young
On a rainy November day, Pittsburgh was as miserable and grey as a misanthrope could ever want.
On days like today, Scott Sherwood usually thought about Nantucket and his teenage years, the golden summers spent at Aunt Agatha's. His "running buddy" Todd had his own catboat and they spent the sunny days sailing and the rainy ones gambling with the summer tourists; the catboat was Todd's due to a particularly bullheaded mainland college swell who thought he could get the better of a Sherwood and his poker pal.
Of course off season Nantucket was a different place, but the seashore had a certain austere beauty, even on cold winter days: the dash and swirl of the pewter waves, the rattling sea oats, the damp, dark dunes and sharp rocks, the crying seabirds swooping and diving for fish, the sharp odor of brine and salt. Pittsburgh had a grey quality even on clear days, due to the steel mills belching smoke from the Lend-
Lease contracts with Great Britain. On a rainy day it was simply unbearable, even for Scott, who'd always been able to shrug off depression with some type of new scheme.
Maybe he was just getting old.
It was a particularly revolting thought.
As he rounded the corner to Isabella Street, he saw a bright yellow taxicab waiting in front of the radio store downstairs from WENN. In a moment, a tall figure, his trenchcoat flying, had emerged from the building and had clambered into the taxi, which then took off down the street.
Scott smiled suddenly. Maybe the day was getting brighter after all.
He entered the front door briskly, whistling something nondescript, to be rewarded by Gertie's glare from under her headset as she listened to someone on the phone. As he passed Studio A he could see Jeff and Hilary glowering at each other as they performed The Hands of Time. He glanced at his watch; he still had five minutes before he had to be back on, and he planned to use that time profitably.
He excused himself to Mr. Eldridge, who was methodically sweeping the hall in front of the office, and went striding around the corner, past the Men's Lounge, and directly to the writer's room, where he rapped sharply on the door and then just walked in.
"BettyBettyBetty-" he began.
He'd learned to observe a situation quickly during his chequered career
it had saved his life more than once. And now he immediately took in several things the neat pile of Betty's smart hat, dark gloves, and good purse sitting under the chalkboard, which meant she had already planned to go out with Victor tonight, and the expression on Betty's face, which was not kind.
There were more and more times like these during the past two months that Scott wished he could put time in reverse. His miscalculation was again going to cost him.
"What is it you need, Scott?" Betty asked coolly. She had risen from her usual seat at the typewriter and was sorting script pages into several piles, each sheet snapping down with a deft movement that alone should have told Scott he had come at a bad time.
"Just looking for my script for Hope Springs Eternal," Scott amended quickly, still in the doorway with his hand on the knob. "Kinda wanted to look it over before I went on the air."
Betty replied sharply, "Why not say what you intended, Scott? What you meant to say was 'I was planning to ask you to dinner since I saw Victor leaving for Washington again.' Wasn't that it, Scott?" He swallowed, not answering. "I'm not interested." She thrust the script at him. "Goodbye."
And with that she put her hand on the inner knob and pushed the door shut with him behind it, leaving him in the hallway taking deep breaths and berating himself for his stupidity.
She stood on the other side of the door with her back pressed against it, her hand still on the knob, fighting tears. She'd been unpardonably rude
she could hear her mother clucking at her now but didn't care. Mother had never had to cope with Scott Sherwood. And Mother had never had the man she cared about forever walking out on her.
That isn't fair! she told herself fiercely. Victor's doing important work. It's right of him to be so preoccupied with it.
The same way he was always preoccupied with something.
"...and here you are, all alone again on a Friday night," her memory taunted her.
When you love someone you have to make sacrifices, she argued to herself. Victor's made his and now I have to make mine. After all, he is back, at least. It's all like it was before.
No, it wasn't. Tears filled her eyes. If he'd only say something.
Memory whispered again, but in a male voice this time. "Hey, Betty...
I love you."
He lied to me! she said to herself angrily, knowing she wasn't referring to that pathetic fib Scott had told a few minutes ago, but the falsehood that had hurt, the one about knowing Victor.
And yet he could have left WENN any number of times, taking the money eventually earmarked for the Victor Comstock Memorial Fund. He'd saved them from financial ruin, fought Rollie Pruitt, stopped Kurt Holstrom. When his deception was found out, he could have turned tail and run, but he hadn't. And when Hilary's heart had been trampled by Pavla's treachery and Jeff's secret, it was Scott who had filled in some kind of void.
How much did one have to do to make up for a lie?
Her head was throbbing. She reached into her purse for some aspirin, then cautiously stepped out into the hallway. Mr. Eldridge had finished sweeping and she walked up the hall unmolested to get a drink from the water cooler, swallowing the aspirin with one gulp of the tepid water.
As she lowered the cup, her eyes flickered toward the interior of Studio A. From Hilary's preening stance, it looked as if she were doing the opening piece of dialog from Hope Springs Eternal. Scott was standing next to her, waiting for his cue. Usually, he liked to rag Hilary most of the time during her series, making faces as she read or doing something odd to his dialog that would throw her off balance. Today he just looked weary.
"Did I do what I think I just did?" "Yeah...
I think you did."
Scripts did not get written by standing around doing nothing.
* * * * *By the time his dinner hour came, Scott was in a better mood. He signed off from the news with a flourish, leaving Jeff, Eugenia, and Gus Kahana to The Six O'Clock Circus, and made a brief stop in the Men's Lounge.
As he came out he collided abruptly with Betty.
"Hey, watch it!" he protested before seeing who it was, then backed up a step, swallowing. "I...
uh... sorry, Betty. I wasn't looking where I was going."
She had on her coat and the perky little blue hat he had noticed earlier, carrying the delicate beaded purse. Victor or no Victor, she had decided somewhere in the midst of typing The Crimson Blade, she was going out to dinner somewhere besides the Buttery. Perhaps even somewhere a little expensive.
"I guess neither of us were," she said lightly, taking a few steps away. Then she turned, facing him. "Scott, I was rude to you earlier and I apologize. There was no reason for me to take out my bad mood on you. So I was wondering...
was there really something you needed to ask me when you came in the writer's room?"
He emitted a short, snorting laugh. "Heck, just what you expected, Betty Roberts. I was going to ask you out to dinner because I saw Victor leave for Washington."
"I see." Her voice was expressionless.
He tried to salvage the situation by explaining, "It's a new place that I tried this afternoon. Good food, reasonable prices. If you're ever interested
well, I'd recommend it. Anyway have a good supper, Betty."
He started up the corridor, and for a moment he was surprised that Betty followed; then he kicked himself mentally
they both had to go out the same way to leave the building. He held the door for her and this time it was his turn to glare at Gertie when she gave him a smug smile.
Something kept him from taking the stairs, and as he leaned against the wall waiting for the elevator, he was startled to hear Betty ask casually, "So what sort of restaurant is it?"
new Chinese place, Ming Garden. Down on Sandusky."
"Better than Chow Lo's?"
Scott laughed, thinking of the Chinese place over which the Aldwych Academy of Drama was located. "Only if you don't like greasy egg rolls and overcooked chop suey."
The elevator opened and the elevator boy drew aside the gate to let them enter. Neither of them said a word as the elevator descended, but as they emerged into the street, both turned to the right.
After a few moments, Scott joked lightly, "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were following me."
"I thought I might take your advice
as unlikely as that sounds," Betty answered to his astonishment. "I feel like having something... different." She paused and asked in an almost teasing manner, "And what's your excuse, Mr. Sherwood?"
"Guess I like Chinese and...
I just thought I'd go back." Hell, what was it about her that turned him into a driveling idiot sometimes? A few seconds later, he added, almost too casually, "Say...mind if I walk with you?"
"Not at all, " she said briskly, in a tone that warned him not to press his luck. He didn't.
He liked walking with her. She didn't mince like a lot of the women he had gone out with, but had a firm decisive stride despite her high heels. The rain had stopped and it was merely chilly, and as they turned the corner on to Sandusky Street, he began to feel a little better.
"There," he said presently, indicating a building across the street and still yet further down the road that had an elaborately gold-
fringed red awning around the ground story entrance. "That's it."
Betty followed his gaze, then her eyes drifted further to the left to where another fresh awning was just being rolled in, a green and black one with book emblems decorating it. "Well, that shows you how long I haven't been this way
I didn't realize they'd opened another bookstore here. There was a Scribner's there when I first arrived in Pittsburgh, but it moved a few months later."
"This one's just a used bookstore," Scott said offhandedly.
"Even better," she smiled, glancing at him briefly, and his throat contracted. "I love old books."
They were almost abreast of the restaurant and by now Scott would have crossed the street. Instead, he said impulsively, "We could stop and go inside if you like."
Betty gave him a wary look at the "we," but discovered she wasn't actually angry at his use of the plural. "That's all right, Scott. I'm sure you're hungry."
He silently begged his already rolling stomach not to growl aloud. "No problem, Betty. C'mon, take a look."
The wide wooden door with its glass painted with another book emblem and the big front window scattered with an assortment of fat and thin volumes were too much of a temptation for her. "Well
but only for a minute or two."
He opened the door for her, then held back as she immediately wandered into the aisles of close shelves. The store had been open only a month and was already filled with the pleasant yet musty odor of books kept too long in people's attics and closets. The shelves were chock full and even overflowing in places.
He itched to follow her, feeling lost in this ocean of books, but remembered Maple's advice in time and began describing a circuit around the store, keeping his distance. At one point the clerk stocking one last shelf in the back of the store looked at him curiously, and he realized he was facing shelves full of Victorian love stories in their floridly gold-marked bindings. He immediately edged away and found Western stories more to his taste.
Then he heard Betty exclaim, "Oh, my gosh!"
He found her standing in the aisle with a red-bound volume in her hands, smiling and turning the pages slowly. "Whatcha got there, Betty?"
"St. Nicholas," she said brightly, as she looked through the book.
"Little early for Christmas books, isn't it?" he said with a grin, knowing Betty's love of that holiday.
"It's not a..." Betty's eyes met his with astonishment. "Scott Sherwood, do you mean to tell me you never read St. Nicholas as a child?"
He looked blank. "No. Mostly read my dad's stuff. Fishing books, junk like that."
She explained, "It was a children's magazine started back in the 1870s. It stopped publication about the time I moved here to Pittsburgh. I used to get it when I was a little girl, and I had my dad's bound copies from when he and my uncle Rick were boys." He still looked perplexed, so she added, "Bound copies like this," and held the book up. "If you sent back six months worth of copies back to the publisher with a small fee they would have them bound for you."
Scott cocked his head. "Okay, but what for?"
"So you could read them over again." Betty rolled her eyes in exasperation. "They were full of profiles of foreign lands and fantasy stories and travelogues and poetry and the most wonderful serial stories and..." He still looked a bit perplexed, so she finished with a sigh,
"...never mind." As she closed the book, Scott could see the cover was decorated with gold and black, stamped with the year "1915." She ran longing fingers over the edge of the covers, then began to reshelve it. "That was one between my dad's issues and mine. I've never read it."
Scott took the volume from her, checked inside the front cover. "Only thirty-five cents, Betty
why not buy it?"
"Oh, Scott..." But her eyes flickered down at the book, the temptation evident.
"Aw, go ahead," he urged, still not understanding what was so special, but knowing it had made her happier than he'd seen her in weeks.
"Then I will!" she said decidedly, plucking the book from his hands and taking it up to the young clerk behind the counter. She fished in her purse for the amount in nickels and dimes, handed it to him.
we have dinner now?" Scott asked a little plaintively, his stomach now having forgotten its promise.
Betty shook her head, trying not to laugh. "I think that would be okay."
They crossed the street against a rising wind and entered Ming Garden, and for a moment basked in the warmth of steam heat and the red and gold interior. A smiling Chinese man in a black robe and soft slippers showed them to a quiet table for two in a far corner of the restaurant. Betty pursed her lips as she saw the intimate location, but Scott threw up his hands. "Scout's honor, I didn't bribe him!"
"I thought they threw you out of the Scouts," she responded drily, but her heart wasn't in it.
"Table no good?" asked the headwaiter, uncomprehending, and to Betty's surprise Scott spoke a few words in Chinese to him and the man bowed and smiled and left them alone.
"You speak Chinese?" she asked, one eyebrow raised.
He shrugged. "Enough to order dinner and find the men's room."
In a few minutes a waiter had returned and served them water, leaving menus on the table.
"Anything you'd recommend?" Betty asked casually, turning the parchment pages.
"I had kung pau chicken this afternoon
but I wouldn't try it unless you like spicy..."
The conversation remained on that comfort level as the minutes passed and Betty glanced around at the rice-paper paintings that decorated the crimson-and-gold wallpaper. Finally their waiter returned and she ordered something safe and relatively inexpensive
chicken with vegetables while Scott dared another spicy dish, this time with beef.
When the waiter had left again, Scott tapped the St. Nicholas that Betty had set next to her. "Mind if I take a look?"
"Go ahead," she said, and he opened the volume in the center of the table, so she could read it upside down.
"Not bad," he said after a few minutes of thumbing through the pages of fine print decorated with occasional black and white engravings. "I thought it would be full of pictures...
when you said it was a kid's book..."
"Oh, maybe the last few were like that," she said, shrugging. "The older ones were always the best anyway."
He continued to look through it and Betty smiled suddenly, tapping her finger on a page. "That was my favorite part."
Scott read the ornate Victorian header at the top. "'The St. Nicholas League.'"
"Reader contributions. They offered prizes
sometimes even in cash. But what you really wanted was a gold or silver badge. It was something you could show off to friends." She lifted her chin and said primly, "I'll have you know I had a silver badge at age twelve."
Scott arched his eyebrows and teased offhandedly, "I'm surprised at you, Betty. I would have thought you would have had a gold badge as well."
"I didn't have time to compete for badges any longer. By then I was-" Then Betty stopped, looking apologetic. "Just old family history. Never mind."
Scott said quietly, "I don't mind."
It had to be a lie. But if it was, it was a good lie
his eyes were as earnest as his voice, and he had crossed his arms in front of him, leaning forward as if eager to hear a good story.
She began to talk and he fell into her world, a sun-drenched summer world like his memories of Nantucket...
* * * * *"Betty? Betty!"
Betty sighed, shoulders sagging, her head tilted back in exasperation. She thought she'd escaped.
It was a broiling summer's day and, having risen early to clean George's room
he was supposed to clean his own and she was supposed to weed part of the vegetable garden, but George hated tidying and liked to work outside, so they'd traded and finish her own chores, she had finally retreated to the haymow where, with the doors open at either end to catch whatever breeze came from the woods, it was relatively cool. The old barn was deserted, as Susan, their one milk cow, was placidly grazing with Mr. Hall's herd, and George was out God knew where on his pony, Snap he did, too with Edgar the collie galloping at their heels. Sometimes Betty still missed the team of horses they'd had when she was small, but Dad thought it was silly for a man who was renting out most of his land to other farmers to keep horses, and had astonished their rural Elkhart neighbors by selling Daisy and Clover to his brother and buying a brand spanking new red 1925 Chevrolet with a rag top.
"That David Roberts...
he's such a quiet one... imagine him getting a machine... 'still waters run deep,'" the neighbors had gossiped.
Betty, had she not been such a "sweet, polite girl" might had told them a bit snippily that still waters didn't run at all. They went on so about it, for weeks! Well, why shouldn't Dad buy a car? The Bugle was doing great back then
and still was! plus Dad was getting a good income from Mr. Hall renting the Roberts' farmland.
She sighed. So here it was summer
school was over and she'd come home with her usual straight A's and a diploma from grammar school, knowing she'd be going on to Elkhart High next year and that schoolwork was gratefully done with for another month and a half and so warm that perspiration was gathering on her bare legs under her middy dress and all she wanted to do was relax in the dimness of the haymow reading one of her dad's old St. Nicholas volumes, and here was Mother calling her.
Maybe Mother would think she'd gone to Rachel's house. She might have, too, had Rachel not gone so silly over boys in the past six months. Betty had many boys she had gone through school with, and she liked a lot of them, but
not that way! Jimmy Conway was someone she played catch with at recess, not someone to think about in terms of well, dating. She shuddered a little.
She scrunched closer in the lee of one of the haymow doors, and began reading again. She'd found a volume from 1902 and was right in the middle of a new Charlotte Sedgewick story...
"Elizabeth Ann Roberts!" Her mother's voice was directly below the haymow door. "Your sister told me she saw you come in here! Now, come down this minute."
Betty slapped the book closed. She'd "get" Patty later.
And that was a promise.
Grumbling under her breath, she tucked the volume under her arm and rose, brushing off the hay and straightening out her hair and dress; for some reason, even in her "play" clothes Mother expected her to be tidy. Then she sidled around the door and presented herself at the opening of the haymow.
"Hi, Mother!" she said, forcing a smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you call. Did you need me?"
"Are you up there reading again?" her mother demanded. She had her hand on her aproned hips and did not look angry, just slightly exasperated.
"Mother, I thought that you wanted me to be well-educated," Betty responded, inwardly cringing. It was always the same old story.
"Well, of course, dear. But all you seem to do is read. You need fresh air, and you need to have some social contact, not always have your nose stuck in a book."
"That's why I came to read outside," Betty explained. "The fresh air."
"Why not go visit your friends?"
"They're busy." Betty didn't want to explain Rachel to her mother. Mother would only think that it was a good thing that a girl of her age to start being interested in boys in a different way (as long as she listened to the obligatory hour-long lecture about the things you must not allow a boy to do!).
"Well, why not help Patty and Lenora, then?" Clare Roberts didn't understand her daughter. She was so talented at so many things, but there were things she should have been interested in and simply wasn't. She was a competent seamstress, but really didn't like to sew; could cook but didn't like it; adored babies but wasn't a bit maternal.
Betty couldn't help making a face
and then hoped her mother hadn't noticed. In 85 degree heat Patty and her best friend were sitting in the parlor under the big ceiling fan, working on quilts for their hope chests! She'd prefer going to Rachel's house and listen to her talk about what a handsome guy Moogie ooops, Morton Hall was to sitting sewing in this weather.
Clare had seen the face. "Well, never mind." Betty relaxed. "I have an errand I'd like you to run for me. I need you to go to Mrs. Conway's house and pick up a receipt."
Not Elmira Conway! Mrs. Conway would want to talk her ear off while she went rummaging for the recipe in the capacious cigar box she used to keep the scribbled bits of paper and newspaper clippings in.
But Betty sighed and said dutifully, "Okay, Mother," and then carefully climbed down the ladder
she didn't want to drop the book!
"Could you put this inside for me, Mother?" she asked, holding out the St. Nicholas. "I promise I'll put it away when I get back. And I'll head straight for Mrs. Conway's
what recipe is it?"
She made sure to repeat "recipe" rather than "receipt," hoping someday to break Mother of using that hopelessly old-fashioned term, but Clare only stared at her in horror.
"My goodness, you can put it up yourself when you come inside to put some shoes and stockings on and wash your face and hands and feet. I'm not having Elmira think I let you run around like a wild Indian. Going visiting barefoot at your age! Betty, really..."
So it was that she set out ten minutes later, glowering, her face
which had not been dirty freshly washed and her feet encased in hot cotton stockings and her school Oxfords. She supposed she was lucky to have made it out without having to fix her hair again as well. "At your age" indeed! If going off to high school meant you had to swelter in the summer, it wasn't such an honor after all.
She'd figuratively, at least, cooled off a little by the time she reached the Conways' house, which was at the edge of Main Street. She opened the gate and went under the arbor of tea roses, which looked as wilted as she felt, to the back door and knocked.
Her schoolmate Sally lived here, but she didn't expect Sally to answer the door; she was staying with her cousins in Indianapolis for the entire month of July. Betty felt envious. Certainly there were fun things that could be done in Indianapolis in the summer: visits to the museum, or trips to the picture show, not tramping the hot streets of Elkhart in the middle of a heat wave!
She was surprised when old Mr. Conway answered the door
this was Sally's grandfather and she didn't know much about him. But he said hello to her nicely enough, and she explained who she was and what her mother wanted to borrow and found out Mrs. Conway was at a church meeting.
"That's all right," he said pleasantly. "That raisin cake is Elmira's favorite, I'm sure I can find the receipt. But I'm not sure she'll want it to leave the house
it's her only copy. Would you mind sitting here at the kitchen table and copying it out?"
Betty, still feeling a bit rebellious, wanted to say she did, but answered politely, "Oh, no sir."
"Well, then you sit down right here and cool off," he instructed, waving her to a seat at the large kitchen table, swathed in red-and-white checked oilcloth, where an electric fan made an ineffective effort against the heat, "and I'll find the receipt and some paper and a pencil. Shouldn't take but a minute to copy. My word, hon, why did you go and wear shoes and stockings on a day like today? In my day young folks like you went barefoot all summer."
Betty said, with feeling, "My mother made me," and the elderly man laughed.
"Oh, I still remember how that was, young lady. Say, drinking glasses are in that cupboard over there." He pointed across the kitchen to one of the glass-fronted cabinets. "You go fetch a glass and help yourself to some lemonade from the icebox. Just mind you close the door tight. The ice is melting fast enough as it is!"
"Yes, sir!" Betty said a little more happily, and in a few minutes she was sipping cold lemonade while copying out Elmira Conway's famous receipt
maybe the old-fashioned name wasn't so bad after all for raisin cake.
She was cheerful enough when she left the Conway house, having found out that old Mr. Conway was a veteran of the Civil War and knew some of the most wonderful stories, and upon leaving the yard, she made two decisions. One, since she wasn't "visiting" any longer, she'd take off her shoes and stockings, and second, since she was already in town and her mother probably wouldn't make the cake until tonight when it was cooler, she would go see her dad.
Main Street was busy, so she kept to the sidewalk, which was cooler anyway, covered most of the route by the huge multicolor striped awnings the various stores used to keep the sun from their windows. Swinging her shoes by the laces as she walked, she peeked in most of the windows. There were fresh grapes
in by railroad all the way from Wisconsin, the sign said at the grocery and some new type of chicken feed at the grain store, the "remarkable new StaTite" roller skates at the five and dime, a shiny Remington typewriter at the stationer's. She wished for the latter more than anything she could see in any of the clothing stores although she had to admit that smart little red-and-white shirtwaist in Bond's Dress Shop was very prettyand looked longingly at the bright dustjackets of the books in the sundries' store window, then finally padded across the street and entered the big central room of the Elkhart Bugle.
The Bugle was only a small newspaper, and you could tell that right away. Against one wall was the linotype machine Dad had gone out on a limb to buy, and Rob Danner was busy setting type right now, his back to her. In the back was the big electric press and to the right was storage, more typecases, paper out in big rolls.
Four desks sat in the middle of the room, all scattered with copy; her dad had an office in the back, but he preferred to work at one of the desks out here. One desk was for Danny Kowalski, who was the Bugle's one and only official reporter
as usual, he was out working and another was for Horace Malvern, the advertising manager and assistant editor. The fourth desk belonged to Martha Haywood, who reported anything Danny didn't, mainly the "women's news": church and club news, charity work, food columns and receipes, neighborhood news, plus a little advice column that was mostly cribbed from the larger papers. Betty liked Martha, and when Dad was busy, she could usually count on Martha for a little conversation.
To her surprise, Martha wasn't at her desk
something highly unusual and Dad was rushing around to it to look for something, scattering papers in his wake. He had the receiver of the telephone in his hand, the cord stretched to the breaking point, and he was saying in a pained voice, "I understand completely, Martha, but I just wish it hadn't been today..."
Betty stood very quietly in back of the railing that separated the work area from where the public could come in, buy papers, order advertising, or pay for a handbill to be printed, as the Bugle still offered that old-fashioned service. She supposed she should leave.
Then Dad said, "It's all right, Martha. I'll take care of everything, and I'll see you next week. Good-bye."
When David Roberts looked up, she waved at him. "Hi, Dad. I was just on an errand and wanted to say hi."
"I'd ask you to come on back, but I've got a bit of a problem."
"Is Miss Haywood okay?"
"She's fine, but her sister Eunice fell and broke her ankle. She wants to stay on with her until Sunday and make sure she's doing well in a cast. Meanwhile..." and he spread his arms in exasperation, "I have a paper to get out and now it looks like I'm going to have to write Martha's stories as well as my own."
"I guess that means you'll be home late," Betty said wistfully, and the note in her voice was such that he stopped turning back to the chaos on his desk.
"What's your problem, chickadee?"
Betty shook her head. Dad looked tired and hot already, his sleeves rolled up, perspiration glistening on his forehead despite the ceiling fans moving at top speed. "It's okay. You're busy."
He walked forward until he met her at the other side of the rail. "Never that busy. What's wrong?"
She held her breath, trying to control what she would say, then it all burst out. "It's summer vacation. Isn't it okay if I spend it the way I want as long as I do my chores first? Maybe I don't want to listen to Rachel talk about boys or help Patty with her quilt. Maybe I just want to sit in the haymow and read!"
He bit off a smile, knowing immediately what was going on, and repeated the father's litany: "Your mother only wants what's best for you."
"How does she know?" Betty couldn't believe her own voice. She sounded so resentful and churlish. "She's not me."
One rather ink-spotted hand reached out to stroke her hair. "Betty..."
This time her voice came out small. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I don't mean to sound like a baby. Mother works terribly hard, and I know she loves me. But sometimes it's so hard to be patient when I just don't care about the things she wants me to do. I know sewing and baking and keeping a garden are useful, and when she asks me to do things like that, I do my best at them. I'd just rather be reading. Or at least writing."
He smoothed his beard, gazing into space for a moment, then turned to thoughtfully regard Martha Haywood's desk. "Chickadee...
how'd you like to help me out?" * * * * *The unobtrusive waiter in his black robe and little cap returned, carrying two steaming plates on the flat of one of his arms. He set one down before Betty, the second before Scott, then, watching Betty's consternation as she turned over a set of chopsticks set before her, vanished for a moment, then returned with a fork. Scott just took up the chopsticks and skillfully picked up a piece of meat.
"So?" he asked, after finishing it, "what happened? I take it you pinch hit for Miss Hayward?"
Betty had just picked up her fork. "Yes, exactly. Eunice
Miss Hayward's sister had a terrible time adjusting to a cast and crutches. Then the poor woman developed an infection from the broken bone, and Martha was away for three weeks. It was exciting for me, though, even though the stories almost literally wrote themselves: at first Dad put examples out and for a week or so I pretty much copied them, just changing the names. We'd get reports from the church committees and the flower club and the 4H. All I had to do was turn their information into news."
Scott arched his eyebrows. "And what did your mother think?"
Betty laughed in recollection. "That day she phoned about three hours later in a panic, telling Dad she'd sent me to the Conways' and I hadn't come back. Dad apologized to her
said he knew she wouldn't be baking that raisin cake until later and told her he'd given me some 'chores' to do. I remember him adding, 'It's all right, Clare. I'm seeing that she gets a good dose of fresh air.'" She giggled. "He opened the window a little wider to make sure."
"Why, Betty Roberts..." and Scott laughed, too. "So what happened after she came back?"
"You mean Martha Haywood?" Betty blinked at him, lowering her full fork back to her plate. "Well...she turned sixty that year, and didn't get around as well as she used to. So when the county fair rolled around in September, she took advantage of my job training. She asked Dad if I could help her and he said yes. So I got to report on all the items of feminine interest: the jam and jelly contest, the quilting bee, things like that. It wasn't much, but it's how I started writing professionally. I'm not sure Mother liked it, but she usually didn't contradict Dad's decisions."
Her eyes darkened and she concentrated on her dinner for several minutes. Then she finished, "Turned out my learning what to do was a good thing. Next month...
well, it was October of '29. Dad was pretty well grounded financially, but he couldn't afford to keep Martha or Rob after the Crash. She went home to her sister; I don't know what happened to Rob. I did what was left of the church bulletins and women's news after school and on Saturdays, Dad set type himself. We worked pretty hard. I remember Mother and Patty always working in the garden Mother doubled the size of it to make sure we at least had vegetables to eat. George helped them, and did errands for a couple of the stores in town." She swallowed, as if one of the memories was painful. "But we didn't lose anything like some of our friends did." Then she lifted her chin and smiled. "In any case, that's why I never got my gold badge from St. Nicholas. I was too busy writing for a living."
Scott tried to remember where he was in 1929. He was maybe 27 or 28 then, running scams when he could manage them, working hard when he couldn't, but not taking much seriously. The Depression hadn't made much of an impact on his perapatetic life. But at thirteen he'd been footloose and fancy free, not helping support the family.
Just when he thought he knew every facet of Betty Roberts, something else came up.
But he merely asked, offhand, "And what happened to the car everyone made such a fuss about?"
"Oh, good heavens, we had it for years, until Dad got his Packard in '37. By that time the roof leaked and the mechanic had it held together with spit and bailing wire, or so he said." She cocked her head at him and smiled. "Scott Sherwood, I can't believe you sat here and enjoyed that long-winded story. I would have thought the only person who'd listen to that would be a member of the family."
Scott would have liked to say that someday he wanted to be a part of Betty's family, the formidable Clare Roberts notwithstanding.
But he merely grinned. "Hey, Betty, you've had a long writing career. Let's face it, in the storytelling department, you're aces."
She blushed, smiling and lowering her eyes to the food, returning to her dinner. "Thanks."
Unobtrusively, he lifted the chopsticks in silent salute to the St. Nicholas still open on the table, offered his own silent thanks, and returned to his meal.
About St. Nicholas
Return to Linda's Remember WENN Fanfiction Page