Born in a drafty house, Jessie, the first born of Mary and her abusive husband, Bill, was born for better things. Throughout her childhood, she tells stories that enable her to escape into her own made-up world. She cares for her siblings and manages to establish lifelong friendships. As a teenager, her parents divorce, and Jessie begins to experience days without the need to weigh every action or word. She no longer fears the night or the soft footsteps that once came to her bedside. Because of her capacity for forgiveness and compassion, Jessie refuses to be a victim. Later, she is reunited with a high school friend who becomes the man who makes her frightening memories dissolve into distant shadows that hover at the outer fringes of her mind but are rarely allowed in. As a wife and mother, Jessie again turns to storytelling not as a way to escape her fathers' cruelty but to entertain and teach her children. She introduces them to characters that leave them wanting more, but appreciating what they have. Jessie weaves make-believe with reality to create a tapestry of lasting memories that make bedtime a time to be savored.
|Publisher:||URLink Print & Media, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)|
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An Open Window
By P.B. Harrison
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 P.B. Harrison
All rights reserved.
Spring has arrived and the colors around me are exquisite. I watch many people walk by me as I sit on the porch in my old rocking chair with my thoughts, remembering a story that began long, long ago.
It was two days after Christmas in the hills of Tennessee in a small country town called Hopkins Junction. All the housetops were white with the fresh virgin snow that had been falling all night, and smoke was rising from chimneys all over town. There was a quietness all around except for one little house, no bigger than a mountain cabin, with its two small windows, one door and wrap-around porch.
Inside you could hear the footsteps of old Mrs. Johnson, the town midwife, and the voice of Doctor Weems telling his nurse, Jessie, "It's not time yet." She was also the doctor's wife, and went with him on all his house calls.
There were soft shrill moans and groans coming from one small corner of the room; Mary Sawyer was having her first baby. She'd been hurting for days when Mrs. Johnson said, "Today is the day," and called the doctor. Her labor pains were getting closer together.
Mary's groans were getting louder. Her husband, Bill, looked over the doctor's shoulder as he checked her again.
"It's going to be a while yet Bill. Let's have another cup of coffee," Dr. Weems said as he put his hand on Bill's shoulder.
Nurse Jessie was busy making sure the doctor had everything he needed for the delivery. She was a good nurse and a soft-spoken woman with a beautiful smile. Her big black eyes looked like small chunks of coal. Her hair was so dark it sparkled blue when she walked by the small kerosene lamp that lit the room.
Dr. Weems was one of two doctors in Hopkins Junction, and the family's favorite one of the two, as was his father before him. Everyone called on Dr. Weems from miles around.
The weather was very bad outside and he and Jessie thought it best to stay with Mary since it was her first pregnancy. He admitted they seem to always be the roughest ones.
Bill paced back and forth across the room. He was too nervous to sit down. He'd been toting in wood for the fireplace and the pot-bellied stove Mrs. Johnson used to boil water on. His dad and brothers made sure they kept enough wood cut for Mary. She was in no shape to do any chopping. The little house they lived in needed a lot of work, but Bill wasn't one to fix things up. The ground under it peeked through the cracks in the floor. There were beaver rugs covering most of them, but you could still hear the wind whistle through the boards in some places and feel the cold air against your legs as you walked across the room.
Doctor Weems was napping on an old front porch rocker that Bill brought inside for him to rest on. Jessie found some quilts in an old cedar chest that was given to Mary by her mother after she and Bill got married. She put them on the seat of the rocker to cover the wood splinters sticking up. Mary had cut up some of her old dresses and made a large pillow for her baby to sleep on after it was born, which made a fine cushion for the Doctor's head. Bill's brother, Abe, found a hollow log in the woods behind the house and cut it in half to make a baby bed. He whittled two pieces of wood into an arch and nailed them to the bottom of the log so the bed would rock. It was a nice prop for the doctor's feet.
He was resting peacefully when Jessie tapped him on the shoulder and said, "It's time."
Mary's groans were even louder. Doctor Weems arose and went to her bedside. "Push hard, one more time and it's coming," were some of the words that filled the room.
Mary's mother warned her she'd feel much pain, but she had no idea what pain was until her labor started. It felt like someone was cutting her body open with a knife. She wasn't sure she'd survive. Mary truly thought she was dying.
"Why won't it stop?" she yelled with all the strength left in her.
Then she heard the words "umbilical cord," and the loud voices turned to soft whispers she couldn't understand.
Am I dead? She wondered, as she watched shadows moving in the room. Where is the baby's cry?
"Where is my baby?" Mary cried with a weak voice.
Dr. Weems walked out of her sight as the midwife attended and comforted her.
Nurse Jessie watched her husband walk away in sadness then quickly picked up a cheesecloth that was used for cleaning up Mary's blood. She ripped off a clean piece, put it over the lifeless newborn's mouth, and started to breathe fast and hard. The baby sucked in the air the nurse was giving her and started to scream at the top of her lungs. The doctor ran to her with water dripping off both his arms. He checked the tiny baby carefully and told Jessie to let her cry all she wanted to. She was going to be fine.
The front door swung open and Bill ran to Mary's side. He had thought the baby was dead and ran outside to throw up in the snow. He wanted a boy, but when he saw the little girl in Mary's arms he said, "If it had to be a girl, at least she's a pretty one."
Nurse Jessie leaned over Mary's tired body and asked what she was going to name her baby.
"Jessie, of course," Mary said proudly.
She had saved her baby's life and no other name was good enough for her little girl. Jessie gave Mary a hug and then she and the doctor left for home.
Mary wanted to get out of bed, but she'd been in labor for three days and was just too exhausted. She knew the rest of the family would be coming through the door at any time to take her baby out of her arms. Dr. Weems told them not to come to the house during the labor and delivery, so Mary just lay in her bed holding her little Jessie.
Bill didn't seem to be as happy as Mary. She could see his disappointment in her for having a girl. He just sat around the fire starring at the flame. He didn't even want to hold his baby. Mary's mind drifted back to the times at home with her family when a new baby was born in the Fuller house and how anxious they all were to hold it.CHAPTER 2
The Fuller's were a very poor family. Mary had five brothers and five sisters. Raising eleven kids was hard on her father and mother, Samuel and Edna. Sam loved all his kids, but Mary was his favorite child. She was always helping her mama and daddy. If the garden needed to be tended, it was Mary who was in it with a hoe. She gathered eggs from the hen house every morning, rain or shine, and helped her mother with the other kids as much as she could. She learned how to cook and make up a bed at a very early age. Mary and one of her brothers washed the family's dirty clothes, once a week, on a big rock at the edge of the creek behind the house. They used a bar of lye soap their mama made.
Edna loved the nighttime, when the work ended and she could sit in her chair and read to Mary. She was a very smart young girl. She could actually read better than Edna. Mary would sit on the porch at times and read to her siblings. She could never do enough for them, like the time she used some of the pages from the outhouse Sears catalog to make paper dolls for her younger sisters and when she whittled a small tree limb to make her brothers a bat to play ball. Sam taught her how to do that. The whole family loved Mary very much.
Sam took her out of school in the sixth grade. Edna needed her at home. Her teacher begged him to let her stay, but he refused. He hated doing that to his child, but had no choice. She was needed. All Mary ever asked for was to go to school and become a nurse. She loved helping others.
Times were hard back then, and it took everyone's help for a family to survive, especially if they were poor. Sam worked at Pollard's Feed Mill from daylight to dark just to buy seed to plant for food to put on their table. Edna used flour sacks to make her children's clothes. The boys got striped shirts and underwear and the girls got dresses and underwear with flowers on them. Nothing went to waste in the Fuller house, not even the sacks the flour came in.
Life was hard for Mary and her siblings, but they learned to cope. She didn't know much about the world outside the house she was raised in.
One day, Sam told Mary to get her younger siblings and put them in the back of his old pickup truck. He was taking them to town. It had high sideboards for hauling things, so he didn't worry about them falling out. Riding in the back with the cool air blowing against their bodies was one of the fun parts of going to town.
Edna needed some buttermilk and flour, so Sam stopped in front of Wheeler's Grocery. All of the kids got out of the truck to go with her. Mary stayed with her father. He was checking the air in the truck tires. She heard a squeaking noise behind her and turned to see what it was. The wind was blowing the sign over the door of Buddy's Barber Shop. Old Mr. Miller was sitting on a bench in front of Murphy's Shoe Store whittling on a piece of wood. Mrs. Williams was sweeping trash out the front door of the train depot. When Mary turned back around, she saw a young man walk out of the barber shop rubbing the back of his head. She could tell he'd just had a haircut. She'd never seen him before and didn't know who he was. He got in a truck and sped off.
Edna and the kids returned and they all loaded up in the truck and headed to Darby's Service Station. Sam needed some gas. He pulled up to the pumps and told the kids to stay put. He didn't want them running all over the place. A young boy walked up to him and asked if he could help him. It was the same boy Mary saw coming out of the barber shop in town, and he couldn't take his eyes off her. She could feel heat on her face and neck as she turned to sit down in the truck bed. Sam told the young boy he just wanted two dollars worth of gas then went inside the station.
Mary was only fifteen years old, but her body had matured quite well and she was fair to look at. Edna taught her how to take care of herself. Her skin was smooth like a baby and she never had problems with facial acne or discoloration like most teens.
She could hear the boy talking to her mother. He seemed to have an outgoing personality and was quite handsome. Mary listened to every word he said, but being so shy, she was too embarrassed to look at him again.
When Sam got back, he thanked the young boy and asked him if he was Chester Sawyer's boy.
"Yes sir, I am. My name is Bill Sawyer," the boy replied.
Sam thanked him again and drove away. Bill didn't try to hide his attraction to Mary and watched her until she was out of sight.
When they got home, Mary asked her mama who the Sawyer's were. She wondered why she never saw Bill at school when she was younger. Edna told her the Sawyer kids didn't get much schooling. They lived in a holler about three miles away and she only knew what she'd heard about them at church.
Inez Sawyer had died in childbirth years back. She left her husband, Chester, to raise their four sons. It was told that he mourned her death for a long time. He didn't think he could live without her and started to drink. He later lost his job at Adams Lumber Yard, and the boys had to get odd jobs when they were very young to take care of the family. That didn't sit well with his oldest son. Word is he became bitter towards his father and it was that bitterness that caused Chester to stop drinking and get back control of his family.
"Do you think any of that's true, Mama?" Mary asked.
"You stay away from that boy Mary. I've heard bad things about him. I'm not judging him, but I am telling you not to take up with that boy," Edna pleaded.
Edna talked to Sam about the conversation she'd had with Mary when they went to bed that night. He didn't like hearing it because he'd heard the same gossip about that family, and his heart was heavy. He saw how Bill and Mary looked at each other at the gas station.
"I don't want that boy at my house. I won't let him take my girl from us," Sam told Edna.
"I don't see how we can stop any of our kids from leaving us Sam. That's how life works," she told him.
They both knew in their heart they were going to lose their precious Mary, but would try to keep the Sawyer boy from being the one who took her from them.
Days later, Mary was hanging clothes on a rope clothesline Sam made, when she saw someone walking up the trail to the house. She ran to get her mother. It was pretty rare for anyone to be walking that far back in the hills and it frightened her. She didn't recognize the man until he got to the front porch. It was Bill Sawyer, and he wanted to talk to Mary. Edna told him Sam didn't want her to be around boys alone. With hesitation, she called Mary to come outside. She didn't want to go, but had to mind her mama. Edna sat in the rocker on the porch and listened to what the boy had to say to her daughter. She wanted him to leave because she knew Sam would be very mad if he came home and found him there.
Bill didn't stay long. Mary was very shy and he didn't want to push his luck with her, so he told them goodbye and left. The damage had been done and Edna knew it.
Mary looked at her mother to see tears in her eyes and said, "Why are you crying Mama?"
"You'll understand someday Mary. I'll be alright. Go finish your clothes now."
Edna knew she had to tell Sam and wasn't looking forward to it. It upset him so bad he couldn't eat supper that night. He called Mary to the porch after she got through doing the dishes. The air was crisp with the coolness of early fall. Sam's heart rate sped up and he could see his breath turn white as he breathed it out of his body.
"What's wrong Daddy?" Mary asked.
"I don't want you to see that boy again. He's not good for you," Sam said with a heavy heart.
He knew if they wanted to see each other they would find a way, and that's exactly what happened. Mary went to the creek one day to do the laundry by herself and saw Bill standing across the water.
"What are you doing here? You scared me to death!" she said, holding some dirty clothes in front of her and turning around to go back to the house.
"Don't go. I just wanted to see you again. You don't have to be afraid of me. See, I'm staying on this side of the creek. Unless you want me to come help you," Bill said with a longing tone in his voice.
"No, no, I can do it by myself. Don't come across please. You'll get me in a lot of trouble," Mary pleaded, as she slowly walked to the water's edge.
Bill agreed to stay where he was. He had come there hoping to catch Mary alone so he could sweet-talk her. One thing led to another and Mary started going to the creek quite often alone to see him. She enjoyed hearing him tell her how pretty she was.
Six months later, Bill went to Mary's house late at night and helped her out the bedroom window. They were running away to get married. Mary had on her prettiest Sunday dress that she had helped her mama make. She was as scared as she'd ever been and hated what she was doing to her mama and daddy, but she loved Bill and he talked her into it. He parked his daddy's truck down the road so Sam wouldn't hear it.
They drove for a while then stopped at an old run-down building that had paint peeling off the outside walls. The screen on the front door was hanging off the bottom hinge and wouldn't even close. Bill knocked and knocked until the door opened. Mary hesitated about going inside. He assured her the wedding was legal as she slowly walked through the door. An elderly man in his nightcap and robe, with a small book in his hand, greeted them. He didn't seem to be very happy to be interrupted at that time of night. His face was long and his wire-framed glasses were sitting on the end of his nose as he peeked over them to see the two young people standing in front of him. He asked what their names were as he wrote on a piece of paper. Mary started to shake, so Bill held her close to him. It was a short wedding.
"Do you take this man," were about the only words Mary remembered hearing.
It sure wasn't the ceremony every girl dreams of. Bill didn't have any money to give the man, so he gave him a jug of moonshine.
"Nobody has money to get married, so they give gifts," Bill said.
Excerpted from An Open Window by P.B. Harrison. Copyright © 2015 P.B. Harrison. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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