- Simon Pulse
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.13(w) x 7.61(h) x 0.61(d)
- Age Range:
- 9 - 12 Years
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Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed
By Virginia Hamilton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Virginia Hamilton Adoff
All rights reserved.
"Willie Bea? Willie Bea?" Toughy called. "Guess what arrive in a looong, black 'n' fine motor car. Willie Bea Mills, you hidin'? You hear me? You people done come!"
Once tonight is night, Willie Bea thought, I'm gonna lose Toughy Clay. Why me? Why must I bother with the whole rag-tag end of town whenever somebody comes to visit? Nosey-body! Toughy Clay! And it's almost Halloween!
Willie Bea's anger rose.
"Willie Bea, Willie Bea ..." The sound of Toughy Clay calling her went off in the distance. It veered and came close again.
Hiding under the back porch, she made herself as small as she could. The time was a slightly cool Sunday on the tail end of October. A sticky, airless late morning everywhere except under Willie Bea's old wooden porch. There, the ground was weedy and shadowy. There were places where fresh moss grew. Willie Bea stretched out on her stomach so she could smell the sweet earth down beneath yellowish grasses.
"Oh, it's so nice!" Her lips barely made a sound, touching the moss.
I've got plenty of time, she thought. Begging for treats won't start good till it's nighttime. Plenty of time to get myself painted and the kids, too.
She never had to think about dressing up for begging. What to wear always came to her as she went about finding old garments for her and Bay Sister and Bay Brother to wear.
Tonight would be an exciting time of treats or tricks all over town.
Willie Bea stared at the ground. Suddenly, she was alert. Listening, she heard Toughy Clay trot into her yard again and run inside her house.
Like he lives here! Like he's my own family!
He came out the back door, slamming the screen behind him. He flopped down on the porch with his back resting against the screen. His rump and his legs were directly above Willie Bea.
She held her breath.
"Ummm," Toughy Clay grunted, breathing hard. When he had caught his breath, he sang out of tune, "Should I may, oh, should I may?"
Willie Bea held in an urge to giggle. What's he mean, should I may?
"Willie Bea! You people done come and they here over there at Gramp Wing's right now!"
Hasn't got the sense he was born with, she thought, closing her eyes tight.
Toughy Clay's mother was Honey Clay, the only hairdresser in town. She gave Willie Bea a hair-do for free any time Willie Bea needed one. As long as Willie Bea would look after her Toughy awhile while she worked. That was why Willie Bea's hair was always straightened and then curled to perfection every Sunday.
"There's Hewitt Wing come to town," Toughy yelled, on the porch above Willie Bea. "And he stayin' over. Say he gone beggin' with Big Wing, and you can't go neither, Willie Bea. And Uncle Donald, Hewitt's papa, is there."
Don't you think I know that? They're my relatives! Willie Bea thought.
"And Aunt Mattie Belle, Hewitt's mama, and they gone stay all night at you Grand and Gramp's 'cross the road. And Uncle Jimmy Wing's kids done already sprang over there from across the field. They all lookin' for you, too.
"And Hewitt and Big already slip off with you baby brother right under you mama's nose," Toughy went on. "Hewitt's papa, you Uncle Donald, already have him a highball twice — I know where you hidin'!"
Toughy leaped off the porch on his skinny legs. Willie Bea saw him stand still at the edge of the porch. He had on corduroy knee pants, knickers. And nothing on his legs below the knees, and no shoes.
Then Toughy was moving straight for the barn. The barn was the only outbuilding Willie Bea's papa had on their small farm. The front part of it was a shed. Jason Mills, her papa, kept his rakes and hoes there. The high stilts Willie Bea had made for herself and her sister leaned against the wall.
"Willie Bea, I know you here!" Toughy Clay called. He had opened the door in the rear of the shed, which led to the hog gallery. The hogs could come into the rear shed from the fenced-in field. They would be fed slops in the gallery by her papa. He would stand on a platform that ran the width of the barn.
Willie Bea wasn't anywhere that Toughy could see. He came back up onto the porch and opened the screen door partway. He listened.
Oh, don't you go in my house, don't you dare go upstairs and wake my mama! Willie Bea thought.
She'd forgotten Toughy had said her mama was over at the old homestead, where Wing relatives from Ashtabula would be staying overnight.
Why must they come on Sunday when I am busy with Halloween begging? she thought.
She knew why. Uncle Donald worked Saturdays. And this being 1938 and not better yet, her papa said, men worked when they could.
Toughy Clay let the screen slam. He jumped off the porch. He was going. Willie Bea listened to the sound of his feet dragging through the grass. She could tell he was headed over to her cousin Big Wing's house through the large field that separated her Grand and Gramp Wing's old homestead from Uncle Jimmy Wing's farm.
Uncle Jimmy Wing was her mama's brother. His wife was Lucille Long Wing. Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Lucille's children were Big and Little Wing. Those were their real names — Big and Little.
Willie Bea's family farm was directly across the road from Grand and Gramp Wing's homestead. Their family house was on a line with Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Lucille Wing's house, on opposite sides of the five-acre field owned by Jimmy and Lucille. Aunt Lucille was most often called Aunt Lu. Uncle Jimmy was that to everyone. He was the best farmer in the family. He had two barns on his property; one of them was huge. He would allow no electricity in his house. He'd heard it was the devil's power.
Jason Mills, Willie Bea's papa, was the worst farmer in the family. But to Willie Bea he was the best man. He certainly was the smartest. He had a farm and he held down another job as well. The Wing men made jokes about him because he came from Iowa, from the big city of Des Moines. Even when he had learned almost as much about farming as they had, they still joked about him being an "outlander."
Saying that one day Uncle Jimmy was hoeing his leaf lettuce. Real fine lettuce that June, coming in green and fresh. And her papa, Jason Mills, standing looking at those pretty green leaves. Saying, "But when do they make a head of lettuce?" And Uncle Jimmy pausing and finally saying, "Late at night, city boy, late at night!"
They would laugh at her papa forever over that. Her papa might not have known about leaf lettuce back then, but he knew a lot about the world. He told Willie Bea about it. He would say why he looked so worried when he heard the bulletins. These were the new, brief warnings that came over the radio suddenly, any time of day or evening. They scared Willie Bea to death.
"Can't help to worry," her papa said. "Look at Japan's war with China last year. And Hitler, taking Austria and persecuting the Jews just this March 1938. Now he's taken over Czechoslovakia, with France and Great Britain lettin' him. You can bet Roosevelt is watching how Japan, Germany and that Italy are growing closer."
Willie Bea usually remembered everything her father told her, even when she didn't understand all of it. She knew if Hitler hated Jewish people first, he would hate Negro people like her whole family right after. There were all these Jewish people that Mr. Hitler had thrown out of Germany, her papa had told her.
Lazing under the back porch, Willie Bea idly ran her thoughts over her family. Her very own family included an older brother and sister, her sweet mama and her good papa, and Bay Brother — her little brother, who was Kingsley — and Bay Sister — her younger sister, who was Rhetta, but no one ever used those proper names. Her family was about perfect, so she didn't dwell on them. But no one, herself included, could understand how two farm folks like Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Lu could have such impossible children as Big and Little Wing.
Well, how someone like Aunt Lu could have a brat like Little Wing, Willie Bea thought. Her cousin Big wasn't really bad at all.
Carefully, now she crawled from under the porch. She was hardly aware she was moving.
Uncle Jimmy was silent, stubborn. He was full of himself, her mama said. Because Uncle Jimmy's farm was the biggest in the family. Because he had a truck, and a black touring car like Uncle Donald's. Uncle Donald was her mama's oldest brother.
"Oooh!" Willie Bea whispered. Her legs had fallen asleep and standing up straight was hard. She had to stamp her feet a moment to get them back to normal. Then she raced inside the house and up the bare brown stairs. She took the stairs two at a time. She stopped at the top. In the light of the window, she thought to look at her dress. It was red dotted Swiss, a pinafore with sleeves, tied like an apron behind her back. The front of it now showed dirt and streaks of green moss where she had lain and slid on her stomach under the rear porch.
"Oh, it's all dirty!" she sighed.
She wouldn't dare stand before her mama with her starched dress all soiled, or in front of relatives who had driven all the way from Ashtabula in their grand touring Ford motor car, Willie Bea thought. She sighed deeply.
Everyone in the family had a motor car except Willie Bea's family. Her father shunned automobiles, although her mother didn't mind them. Her papa had never been behind the steering of a motor car. Couldn't drive a lick. When the cousins teased Willie Bea about this, she had no good comeback. She was still trying to think of one.
Now she turned and jumped back down the stairs. She hurried to the kitchen to clean her dress. She took a dish towel and wet and soaped it with lye soap. Then she scrubbed her bodice as hard as she could. She rinsed the towel until all the soap was out. This she did over the washtub, using glasses of water from the water reservoir in the wood cookstove. The water in the deep holding tank in the stove stayed warm the whole day. She dipped the glass and filled it from the reservoir, poured it over the towel and wiped at her bodice. By the time she was through, the whole front of her dress was soaking wet.
But it's mostly clean! she thought happily. Maybe Mama won't notice. Gee whiz, I have to get going!
First she found a dry towel and blotted the wet part of her dress with it. The towel soaked up a good bit of the wetness.
When Willie Bea turned around to leave, she was not alone.
"Oh!" she nearly screamed, flinging herself back against the stove. And it was a good thing no fresh wood was burning inside it.
Before her stood Little Wing and her own Bay Sister, watching her. They were exactly the same height, but Little was twelve, as was Willie Bea. While Bay Sister looked so sweet in the face, Little Wing always had a frown and was plain ugly, was Willie Bea's opinion.
She tried not to look shocked to see them, although seeing them there so suddenly had scared her witless for a few seconds.
"Hey," Willie Bea said, as calmly as she could. "Want a drink of water?"
"Looks like you done drunk it all," said Little. "But seems you missed you mouth!"
"Shut up!" Willie Bea told her.
"But, Willie Bea, you got yourself all wet," Bay Sister said.
"Shoot!" cried Willie Bea. "Can't chall talk about nothin' else? What's goin' on over home?"
"Over home" was what everybody called the homestead that was Grand and Gramp Wing's home. Over home was the very first Wing house ever built.
"Mama and Grand and Aunt Mattie cookin' everythin'. We all eatin' over home and —" Bay Sister didn't get to finish. Little interrupted her.
"If they was anythin' goin' on over there, why you think we over here? Not to see you, anyway!" said Little.
"Then what're you doin' here?" Willie Bea asked. "Get on out, if not to see me."
"I had to help this baby chile get across the road," said Little. "She too afraid to cross it by herself. Sayin', 'Little, come help me. I'm afraid to fall in the ditch. Help me, Little, I'm so afraid.'"
"I never did," Bay Sister said. "You just followed me over here. I cross the road any time I want to."
"'Course she does," Willie Bea said. "Girl, you can sure lie."
"Who you callin' a lie?" said Little. She put both hands on her hips.
Little was swayback. She had on a white pinafore with pink piping along the hem and waist and the scalloped sleeves. When she stood leaning back like that, her stomach stuck out and the front hem of her dress was shorter than the back hem. Little's legs were more than slightly bowed.
She should never stand that way, Willie Bea thought. She giggled. She knew it wasn't nice to laugh at other people. But Little was such a nasty child, she thought. Who could help but believe she deserved having legs like that?
Swiftly, Willie Bea marched out of the kitchen, brushing by Little in the doorway and grabbing her sister's hand as she went. "Next time, you come home alone, don't be bringin' no stranger," she said to her sister. She pulled Bay Sister along.
"Better get out of this empty house, girl," Willie Bea called to the kitchen. She could tell Little hadn't yet thought to move. "Else somethin' get messed up, you'll be to blame."
"Gone tell my daddy on you, too," she heard Little say, coming through the dining room. "Callin' me a thief."
"Now, did I say thief? Tattle-tale!" Willie Bea said, stepping outside.
Little pushed her way out of the house and slammed the screen door behind her.
"Oh, playmate," Willie Bea began to sing, "come out and play with me. And bring your dollies three. Climb up my apple tree ..."
"Big got your little brother, too," Little whispered in Willie Bea's ear. Willie Bea was hurrying across the yard with Bay Sister in tow. And Little was right behind her as close as she could get. "He took him downtown for some ice-cream," Little said. "Big and Hewitt Wing took you brother. And you know what that means!"
"Slide down my rain barrel," Willie Bea sang. She didn't even care whether she got the words right. "Climb up my cellar door ..." She was about to die at the thought of Big and that halfwit Wing taking off with her baby brother. "And we'll be jolly friends, forever more!"
But she wasn't going to let Little know she was upset.
Have to get away from her and Bay Sis, too, she thought. Oh, yes, I know what it means, they took my baby brother for ice-cream. Ohhh! Big knows better! But I can catch them. I sure will. Know where they might be right now, if they're back from gettin' some ice-cream. Oh, that Big Wing. If I tell Mama, she'll kill him for sure! Should I? 'Should I may? Oh, should I may?' That dumb song Toughy Clay had sung on her back porch came to her all of a sudden.
All at once Willie Bea thought to look around, to make sure Toughy wasn't hiding behind a tree somewhere. She didn't spot him. And she went on thinking about telling on Big and Hewitt.
Tell Mama right now, too, in front of everybody. Grinning, momentarily forgetting that her little brother could be in danger, she held Bay Sister's hand tightly. They were at the edge of the tar-and-gravel road that stuck to their feet.
Suddenly, the town siren blew. Today it was the Sunday siren. And tomorrow it would be the Monday siren. That was what her mama said. But all of the town kids called it simply The Whistle. The Whistle blew one long, loud scream for lunch. It blew three shortened blasts in case of fire. It blew hard and high for three minutes when there was a storm with a black tornado inside.
The siren filled Willie Bea's brain, along with the thought, Now look both ways. It was what Mama always told them. Patiently, Willie Bea looked up and down the road that went west to Dayton and east, veering north to Springberg. There was nothing coming. They could see nothing, nor hear anything on the road.
Not one truck full of hogs, Willie Bea thought. And no motor car, little dot showin' through the dust, way off. But gettin' bigger. Until it 'most a black spot. Next, you hear it, huur-rum-rummmm, and it somebody goin' along just as fast and easy. Sweet mercy me! Willie Bea knew those words because her mama had a habit of saying "Sweet mercy me!" when something was too wonderful.
Gonna have me a motor car, too, come about 1944, Willie Bea thought. She figured that by the time she was eighteen, she should have the money for a big automobile like Uncle Jimmy's.
Now Willie Bea stood holding her sister's hand. The Whistle surrounded her thinking with a kind of piercing red heat. She let her thoughts dissolve as the heat came and went in three short blasts.
Excerpted from Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed by Virginia Hamilton. Copyright © 1983 Virginia Hamilton Adoff. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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