Miracles still happen in Bright's Pond!
Read an Excerpt
Griselda Takes Flight
A Novel of Bright's Pond
By Joyce Magnin
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 Joyce Magnin
All rights reserved.
"Time does have a way of making hurts smaller. It's the distance. It's like being in the airplane and looking down at Bright's Pond with all that space between me and the town. Everything looks so small, even my troubles. From up there I had a sense that any problem could be solved.
It's about perspective, I think."
If you've seen one pumpkin, you've seen them all. Unless the pumpkin is named Bertha Ann. The gourd offspring of Nate and Stella Kincaid created quite a stir in Bright's Pond a few months back. Well, it wasn't all Bertha Ann's fault. As it turned out, Stella had some explaining to do. And Nate? Let's just say Nate had his own battle brewing to save Bertha Ann and not only control the mildew, a feared and dreaded malady to gourd growers everywhere, but his temper as well.
Nate and Stella Kincaid had been growing prize-winning pumpkins for going on ten years, ever since my sister Agnes Sparrow prayed, and Nate's pumpkin took first place in the 1967 Tri-County Pumpkin Festival in Shoops Borough with a whopper of a squash weighing an astounding one hundred and fifty-seven pounds.
That was back in the days when Agnes, who weighed just over seven hundred pounds, settled her massive girth onto our red velvet sofa and dedicated herself to a life of prayer. It had become nearly impossible for Agnes to venture outside any longer.
I will confess that when Agnes prayed, things happened: several healings that we know of, a few incidents of lost objects being located miles from where they were last seen, and several other more minor miracles such as car engines starting when there was no earthly reason.
Agnes lives over at the Greenbrier Nursing Home now, where she continues to pray, but no one has reported an actual bona fide miracle in at least eight months.
Some folks claim it's because the nursing home doctors put her on a strict diet to make her lose weight and this has somehow weakened her powers. Agnes told me she's decided to welcome the diet and follow her doctors' orders, but I still find Baby Ruth wrappers and crusts from lemon squares in her trashcan.
Folks can't help but feed her. I keep my eye out for ill-gotten food booty and confiscate what I can. Just a few days ago I found an entire rotisserie chicken in her closet.
But even I've let Agnes eat some sweets and brought her a meatloaf special from The Full Moon Café a couple of times. For those of you who don't know, that's a big hunk of meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes swimming in a pint of brown gravy with a small dish of green peas alongside for color. It's not about the veggies. It's about the gravy.
"Does my heart good, Griselda," Agnes had said as she poured extra gravy on her potatoes. "A body can only eat so much lettuce without worrying she's going to sprout a cottontail and long rabbit ears."
I remember I smiled that day because it made me see that it's the occasional sweet or savory indulgence that puts the curlicue on an otherwise plain existence.
* * *
Harvest Dance time—the town's annual celebration of cooler days and good friends— waited for us just around the corner of next month. I sat in a booth at The Full Moon along with the rest of the dance committee as we wracked our brains for this year's theme. That's when Stella rushed inside. She looked like she had seen a ghost. In a way she had.
Stella interrupted Ruth Knickerbocker as Ruth tried to convince Mildred Blessing that Bright's Pond was not ready for a murder mystery theme. Yes, I was on the committee that year. Studebaker Kowalski talked me into serving after Ruth begged him to snooker me into service. I hated committee work. I much preferred my life as a loner. But with Agnes safely tucked in at the nursing home I thought it might be kind of nice to stretch my social skills. Working on the Harvest Dance seemed a safe goal to reach.
"Griselda," Stella said. "I need to speak with Agnes."
All the ears in the diner perked up.
I grabbed Stella's hand that shook so much you'd think she was conducting the "Stars and Stripes Forever." "What's going on? Come on now, sit down here and tell us. You look terrible."
Stella squeezed into the booth next to Stu and Hazel. "I—I just can't come right out and say it in front of all these people. It's a personal matter, and Agnes is the only one who can help me sort it all out."
Zeb stopped by our booth with a pot of coffee. He refilled our cups and asked Stella if she'd like a drop. Zeb owned The Full Moon Café and prided himself on excellent customer service and good food.
"No, thanks. My stomach's churning something fierce."
"Something wrong with Bertha Ann?" Zeb asked.
Stu tried to contain a chuckle but was unsuccessful.
"No, she's coming along nicely," Stella said. "Nate managed to get the mildew under control, and we built a tent for her. Poor Nate. He's been camped out with her day and night, spraying for bugs, wiping her down with milk, and checking her vine positions. He says she'll grow to be more than five-hundred pounds."
"That amazes me right down to my kneecaps," Ruth said. "I hope Bertha Ann takes first place. Imagine that—a five-hundred-pound pumpkin. Why, Bertha Ann will weigh nearly as much as Agnes. We sure can grow 'em big in Bright's—"
She plopped her hand over her mouth like she had uttered the worst insult in the world. I touched her hand to let her know that I didn't take offense. Everybody knew my sister was big. At last weigh-in she was a quarter pound over 625, having lost thirty pounds since checking into the nursing home.
I sipped my coffee, and Zeb set a Full Moon pie—a luscious lemon meringue in an aluminum pie tin—on the table. "You all might as well split this," he said. "I plan on making quite a few for the dance. Think I'll add some orange food coloring to the meringue this year."
"Ooooo," Ruth said, "that'll give your pies a harvesty look."
Zeb smiled even though I could tell he was upset that his punch line had been hijacked. He would have said he was making Harvest Moon Pies.
I smiled and let my fingertips brush his arm. "That's a good idea, Zeb. Full Moon Harvest Pie sounds like a great idea."
He smiled back at me, and for a moment my heart sped and I felt my toes curl in my white Keds. Zebulon Sewickey was a handsome man, even if he was wearing a greasy white apron and paper hat.
"Anyhoo," Stella said, "I just have to talk to Agnes. Do you think it would be all right if I went over there this afternoon sometime?"
I sipped coffee and then let a breath escape through my nose. "I—I suppose so. Nate can drive you over around two o'clock—after lunchtime."
Stella leaned into me and whispered. "I can't do that. Nate doesn't know anything about my predicament, and I'm afraid to tell him what with all his stress over Bertha Ann and the contest and the rain and all."
I patted her hand. "Okay, okay, don't fret. I'll drive you over myself. I planned on going later anyway."
"Thanks, Griselda." She gave me a kiss on the cheek, hugged me, and then scampered out the door like a mouse. Stella was a little thing, only about five feet tall, with long brown hair she always kept in a ponytail that hung straight down her back. She had a preference for blue jeans and flannel shirts—usually green and red and gray.
Stella never learned to drive. She said it was too hard—too many things to be aware of all at the same time—so she often relied on me or her husband and sometimes Studebaker to get her where she needed to go. But Stella never seemed to want or need to go anywhere. She could walk to the Piggly Wiggly and to see Doc Flaherty, who treated her for a rash that erupted on the same day Nate switched to a new herbicide. Marlabeth Pilky at the Paradise Trailer Park had specially mixed it for him. She was known in these parts as an herbalist—a folk-healer—and Nate relied on her expertise for various pumpkin afflictions.
The committee table grew quiet for a few moments after Stella left. I figured everyone was debating whether to comment on Stella's interruption. But leave it to Ruth to get the ball rolling.
"What do you suppose that was all about? My goodness but she seemed all in a swivet. You don't suppose she's got the cancer now. Lot of that going around these days what with my Hubby Bubby and all."
Ruth's husband died from a malignant brain tumor nearly six years ago, but the event still resonated like a raw, freshly pumiced callous in her thoughts.
"Nah." Stu waved away Ruth's theory. "She doesn't look sick, and believe me I know."
He sipped coffee and pulled a piece of crust from the pie. Studebaker had been one of the first cancer healings in Bright's Pond. The doctors wrote him off as pretty much a goner until Agnes prayed for him. He said he felt as though a million fire ants were crawling all over his body. Claims he tingled for three days. It still gives me the willies when they give Agnes the credit. But that morning, Studebaker stopped short of singing Agnes's praises, and I was proud of him. After all, as Agnes always says, any miracles come express from God.
I sliced a piece of pie and licked lemon off my finger. "I can't imagine what the trouble is. Stella is usually so quiet, you know. Just sticks to her pumpkins and such."
"And for her not to tell Nate," Ruth said, "it must be something mighty troublesome."
"I suppose we'll find out sooner or later," Studebaker said. "Right now we have bigger fish to fry. We need to decide on a theme for the dance or it's going to be nothing short of a sock hop."
That was when Mildred, who had been silent through the whole Stella visit, finally added her two cents. Mildred Blessing was our Chief of Police and an odd combination of feminine brawn and schoolgirl curiosity.
"I can tell," she said. "I can always tell."
"Tell what?" Boris Lender asked. Boris was the Bright's Pond First Selectmen—kind of like a mayor, but a clause in the town charter prohibited the election of a mayor per se. And to tell the truth, the First Selectman had just the right amount of power—kind of like salt in a stew—with just enough to make all the components work together.
"That there is criminal activity afoot," Mildred said. "Stella Kincaid is acting suspicious. Her body language and facial expressions have all the earmarks of someone hiding a crime."
Ruth laughed and said, "You're crazier than a bedbug. Stella is not a criminal, Mildred, so just stuff that talk in your sack. My goodness. I can't imagine Stella Kincaid ever engaging in anything illegal or criminal, and you should be ashamed for even thinking such a thing."
I tapped Ruth's foot under the table. "Let's get back to committee business please, and let Stella worry about her own problems."
"Fine," Mildred said, "but mark my words. Something foul is afoot in Bright's Pond."CHAPTER 2
The committee meeting broke up about forty minutes later. We never did settle on a theme. Mildred had to go on duty, I needed to get to the library where I worked, and Stu had business up at the Paradise Trailer Park where his cousins Asa and Ed lived. Ruth just looked tired and perhaps a bit downcast because Mildred poo-pooed her suggestion to have an "Under the Sea" theme.
I'll admit that I sided with Mildred and inadvertently added to Ruth's dismay after laughing at the thought of mermaids in Bright's Pond. We gave her what was left of the Full Moon pie as consolation. The committee planned to meet at the library the next day, then we went our separate ways.
Before I left the café, though, I made sure to spend a minute with Zeb. He and I were an item—had been since high school. We had our share of break-ups over the years, but that summer we had found our way back together. I think it had a lot to do with Agnes moving to Greenbrier. Before then it seemed I never had time for him; Agnes had a way of coming between us.
"I like your harvest pie idea," I said.
He came out from the kitchen and leaned across the counter—spatula in hand. "And I like you. Will I see you later?"
I smiled. "I imagine so."
I wanted him to steal a quick kiss, but when Zeb looked around the café and saw all the people, he ducked his head. Zeb wasn't big on public displays of affection.
* * *
One-thirty rolled around pretty fast, so I headed over to the Kincaids to pick up Stella. It was the first sunny day in the last four, but a few gray clouds lurked in the distance. The Kincaids lived in one of the smaller houses in Bright's Pond, but they owned the most land—twenty or thirty acres.
I parked Old Bessie, my red pickup, on the street and climbed out. The air felt cool and crisp and definitely smelled of autumn, that musky brown smell that tasted like the first sip of apple cider with cinnamon. From the Kincaids' street I had a good view of the mountains. They stretched on forever that day, the blue-grey sky a dome that helped me see what Agnes saw when she said living in Bright's Pond was like living inside a snow globe. I lingered a moment and took it all in. For as long as I have lived in Bright's Pond, I've never tired of the view, although I will confess to a growing desire to take a little vacation, perhaps to see what was on the other side of those hills, outside of the glass confines of the snow globe.
I was about to knock on their front door when I heard voices coming from the back of the house. Sure enough, Nate and Stella were out in the pumpkin patch tending to Bertha Ann. A carpet of huge green leaves and vines covered the plot of land they affectionately called The Nursery. I saw two other large pumpkins, but Bertha Ann rested under a purple tent held up with thick poles. She was their princess.
"I said I already sprayed all around." I heard Stella say with a tinge of annoyance in her voice.
"Then how come she got so many dang blame beetles jumping around on her leaves, Stella? Huh? Tell me that."
"Maybe you got the wrong spray, Mr. Bug Buster. Ever think of that? Maybe you need to take a sample of them bugs over to the county agent and get an opinion."
"So now you're telling me how to raise Bertha Ann?"
"Well, she's my pumpkin too, you big goof. There ain't no crime in identifying the proper bug for the proper spray."
"I know what kind of bugs they are, Stella. Them dang rotten cucumber bugs."
"Then you better get the Diazinon, Nate."
I coughed, not that I really needed to. I wanted their attention and figured their pumpkin problems were none of my beeswax.
"Oh, Griselda," Stella called. She had turned with a start. "Is it one-thirty already?" She brushed dirt from her blue jeans.
"Why's she here?" asked Nate. "We got work to do. Need to fertilize before the rain comes back."
Stella turned back to Nate, who picked a bug from one of Bertha Ann's leaves and crushed it between his thumb and index finger. "I thought I'd go with Griselda and pay a little visit to Agnes, if that's okay with you."
Nate screwed up his mouth and tossed a rock over the pumpkin patch fence into the cornfield on the other side. He was a big man, must have stood six feet four inches with shoulders as wide as a door. "Go on," he said. "Don't know why you need to see her though. She stopped praying for us and now look what's happening to our patch."
It wasn't Agnes's fault, but I could see there was no point in pressing the issue.
"I just thought it would be nice to visit," Stella lied. Then she tried to reach up and kiss him but he turned away—much to Stella's embarrassment, I'm sure. "Be that way," she said.
* * *
We had driven about a mile before Stella spoke. "Honestly, that man is impossible anymore. All we do is bicker, bicker, bicker."
"He's just worried about the weigh-off," I said.
"I know, I am too, but he doesn't have to treat me so mean. I'm not treating him that way. And sometimes I hear him ... I hear him out there talking to Bertha Ann about me. Now that ain't right, Griselda. A husband discussing his wife with a pumpkin—she is a pumpkin."
"I'm with you. That doesn't even sound right." I turned left onto Route 113. Now it was only a straight haul to Greenbrier for about four miles. I was just about to ask Stella about what was going on when I heard the buzz of a low-flying airplane overhead.
"Look at that," I said. "I can see the pilot. Why is he flying so low?"
Stella grabbed onto the dashboard and ducked. "Holy cow, that's nuts! Are they allowed to fly that low?"
The sight nearly took my breath away. But in a surprisingly good way. "Wow. It must be exciting to fly a plane like that."
"And dangerous," Stella said.
I kept the plane in sight as long as I could.
We drove another mile or so before I turned the subject back to the matter at hand.
"Are you going to tell me what the real problem is, Stella, or should I wait until you tell Agnes?"
Stella gazed out the window. The farms with mostly mowed over cornfields whizzed by. I could hear a flock of migrating red-winged blackbirds overhead, no doubt making their way to a cornfield to rest and forage.
"Look at them," I said. A black cloud of birds soared in the sky, dipping and swirling on the currents like spilled ink. "They are magnificent."
Excerpted from Griselda Takes Flight by Joyce Magnin. Copyright © 2011 Joyce Magnin. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >