Well, there wasn't much to the road but dirt, but how much of a surprise was that? I was in the middle of nowhere. Not that that is much of a surprise either. I was born in the middle of nowhere. I will probably die in the middle of nowhere. Big shocker! There is just nothing here to get excited about I suppose. I live in a small town - the sort of a small town that doesn't really have much in it except houses. The school is small, heck; everything in the dang town is small. Either it's small or it just isn't here. We also don't have very much turn over in our folks. People come here and, you got it, they just stay here. It might be something in the water. There also isn't very much cement here. We have one paved road in town and a side walk in front of the school. That's all there is. There isn't even a hospital here. My mama says that if I wasn't in such a dang hurry I would have been born two towns over. Imagine, actually been born somewhere someone has heard of. Well, I certainly can't imagine it anyway.
As I said, there is nothing out here. Well, I lied, a little. There is one thing. There is a church. Young ladies here learn how to play the organ. That's where they get their sophistication. Or, at least, that's what they tell us. There aren't too many girls growing up here, but they all learn how to play the organ at some point. I hadn't ever asked my mama when the lessons were going to start for me. Not even when I turned thirteen. I used to play on a keyboard when I was little, but an organ is a different thing all together and I wasn't feeling very excited to learn. If there was one thing this town did have, it was enough girls to play the organ at the church all day and all night, twenty four hours, forever. They would never have to stop. If one girl got tired, her mama could take over for her, and once she got tired, her mama could take over for her. Then once you'd exhausted one family, all you would need to do would be to go onto the next. By the time you had gone around town and got all the gals who knew how to play the ones who you started with would be fresh again and ready for the long haul. It would never end. Then after awhile they would start playing more complicated pieces and the competition would be fearful. Because, dear guys and gals, just playing the organ in this town just is not good enough for anyone. Even girls who don't like it play it until they are good enough that no one will ever laugh at them if they are suddenly called to play they won't make a fool of themselves. Not that any of them will admit to not particularly liking playing the organ. After all, that's what this town is all about.
I finally started taking lessons the year I turned thirteen. No use teaching someone who can't reach the petals. So I was a little late getting started. I admit it. Actually I was very late, but my family didn't have much money. I don't think my mama would have bothered to send me at all if it wasn't for the passionate way this community felt about it. She didn't want anyone to say she was a bad Christian because her daughter didn't get to have organ lessons. It was mentioned to her a couple times that it was about time I started lessons, but she side stepped them somehow. That year I turned thirteen was the last year she could hold off. My older sister had just finished her high school and was moving away to go to collage, so I could finally take lessons with the money that had been allotted for my sister’s lessons. I don't think my mama got too much guff from anyone who knew the state of things. I don't think the organ teacher knew the state of things, because when my mama told her I would be the one to take lessons now, she snuffed something in her nose and acted as though my mama was contemplating having a different teacher give me lessons. My mama brushed it off of course. She always brushed it off.
When I first started with the lessons, I thought Ms. Peterson (that was the teacher's name) didn't like me too well. I knew I was kind of slow coming too it, but I was just learning for the first time, you know. Then I decided that couldn't be it when I showed up a little early for my lesson one day and she acted the same as she had with me with Peggy. She's a girl in my group. She's been taking lessons for three years and fairly good at it too, but Ms. Peterson was pushing her about the same as she had been pushing me. I don't really like being pushed.
So this went on for a few weeks. I had a lesson every week and a time scheduled to practise at the church, but nothing seemed to be good enough for that broad. I said I had played the keyboard a little, but I didn't say anything close to saying I was good at it. Two hands doing two different things at different times was just too much. The organ with different levels of keyboards and all the knobs along with everything was confusing me. I couldn't seem to remember things she told me either because she kept saying in a cross voice that I should know this or that. I have never had a problem with my memory, so I thought that it might be the way she told me things. I mentioned this to her, but she got really mad and sent me home.
As I was walking home on that same dirt road I was talking about earlier I considered making her mad again. Getting sent home early wasn't that bad. I had a little time to myself before I had to get home and get on with my chores. Didn't much care for wasting my mama's money, but when I thought again about Ms. Peterson I gave up feeling bad really quick. So quick actually that I noticed some buttercups growing in the ditch beside the road I was walking. I hopped right into the ditch and was thinking about how my mama would smile when she saw that I had brought her some flowers.
I was still in that ditch actually when I heard a motor speeding down the road. There are lots of motors out in our corner of the middle of nowhere that make a lot of different sounds. I didn't look up until that vehicle was almost on top of me. It was a dirt bike. A couple of the boys in town had them. I had seem them drive them to school. It wasn't until it passed me that I saw the long braid of hair coming out from the bottom of the helmet. What girl in town had a dirt bike? They were all playing the organ.
I watched the girl go down the road and rushed right out of the ditch so I could see where she was going. Nothing could have possibly surprised me more then what actually happened. She turned into Ms. Peterson's plot of land. The lady got off her bike and went up to the door. Ms. Peterson answered it, but looked even angrier then I had made her. The lady gave her something from the pocket of her jean jacket and walked away. She didn't even seem to care that Ms. Peterson was yelling something at her and waving her arms. The lady just got right back on her dirt bike and started back down the road . . . towards me!
I should have got right back into that ditch, but before I knew it she had skidded to a stop right in front of me.
"Are you on your way to organ lessons?" the lady asked coolly.
I couldn't see her too well because of her helmet, but I could tell one thing. This lady wasn't very young. Seeing her braid up close I could tell there was a lot of grey in it.
"No, I just came from my lesson," I said.
"Then you're just like every other girl in town," she said revving the engine a little and it looked to me like she was about to go.
"I'm not just like everyone!" I shouted. I couldn't let this incredibly cool person think that I was hyper about organ lessons that I knew my mama couldn't afford. "She just kicked me out!"
The lady stopped revving the engine. She took off her helmet.
I had never met Mrs. Tucker. I had heard about her from different people. It seems as though she owned a little house on the far edge of town - further than anyone else. I had been told that she spent a lot of time traveling whenever I asked about the house. The house was always there, even if the owner wasn't. She was a widow and she asked me to call her Anna. I didn't think I was old enough to call her by her first name and told her so, but she just laughed at me and told me I was welcome to call her whatever I wanted to. Our conversation wasn't long. I told her who I was and she told me who she was. She said I could come see her if I wanted to. I asked her why Ms. Peterson was mad at her too. Mrs. Tucker laughed and sped off.
I was a little confused at this, but thought that it shouldn't really matter to me.
In a town full of gossip one would think that everyone would be talking about Mrs. Tucker coming back, but no one ever said anything. I really listened up. I mean, I was really keeping my ears open, but nobody ever said anything. I couldn't decide if the talk was being kept from me because I was a child or because no one was talking. I had heard about Lily-Beth when Ricky had got her pregnant. I thought that was pretty shameful. If they weren't keeping that kind of information from me than I couldn't think that they were especially keeping anything about Mrs. Tucker away from me too.
I even asked one of the ladies at church if she knew anything about Mrs. Tucker.
All she said to me was, "She doesn't go to church."
"Does that mean you don't know anything about her?" I asked.
The woman didn’t answer me, but instead looked away and acted as though she hadn’t heard me.
So there I was back at Ms. Peterson’s for my organ lesson. She told me that she hadn’t told my mother about my talking back in a really sweet way. She said I was old enough to know what would have happened if she had spoken to my mother and that I ought to “appreciate” that she had not spoken to her. It was really interesting, the way she kept acting like it was going to be really disgraceful for me if she said she wouldn’t teach me any more. I didn’t know what she was talking about. There were at least half a dozen women in town who would have taught me to play, willingly. She also said something about how I was to talk to my elders, but I wasn’t really listening by then.
When she stopped her rank, the lesson began, but it wasn’t much of a lesson. The instrument I was supposed to play for her on was a really sad instrument. The organ in the church was much nicer. There weren’t any pipes here. Instead it was an older electronic do-hickey that plugged into the wall. The keys were yellowing and it beat the heck out of me how anybody could get a decent sound of it the old piece. Mrs. Tucker’s dirt bike sounded better.
I sat there plucking away at my practise songs as she scolded me. I wasn’t really listening then either when the knock came at the door. Ms. Peterson went to go answer the door, but I knew from the storm of shrieks that came from Ms. Peterson that it was probably Mrs. Tucker again.
After the door slammed and Ms. Peterson came back into the room as red as I have ever seen here, I was tempted to ask her what the fuss was about. I hadn’t got to asking though before she told me that my lesson was very much over and kicked me out again.
As I walked down the concrete steps, I contemplating actually telling my mother that I had been kicked out early the second week in a row. I wasn’t getting any better, and I needed to get better. I couldn’t let the money my mama was spending on these lessons go to waste. I had to get at least good enough as so not to shame her. If Ms. Peterson kept throwing me out I would never get any better.
Apparently Ms. Peterson had slammed the door in Mrs. Tucker’s face, because she was just now putting her helmet back on and mounting her dirt bike. When Mrs. Tucker saw me I saw her smile.
“Hello,” she said to me brightly. “Just had your lesson cut off a bit early?”
“Yeah,” I said kicking a rock with my sneaker.
“Why don’t I give you a ride back to your house? You can tell me about it,” she offered.
Riding on the back of that dirt bike wasn’t like anything else I had ever done. I had ridden on the back of motorcycles a couple times, but usually they were being driven one of my loony uncles who liked to drive in the ditch or something. It was something about Mrs. Tucker. None of the other ladies I knew rode around. They weren’t doing things boys did. It was fun though. She didn’t take me right home, but she didn’t drive me into the ditch. She took me along the country roads and through a tiny orchard to a pond. The wind was blowing around me and I felt, well, free.
She took me home.
When I got off the bike, she asked me again what the trouble was with Ms. Peterson.
“She pushes me,” I said.
“To play the organ?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s not that simple.”
“Do you want to play the organ? You know - be the best damn organ player in this town?” Mrs. Tucker asked.
“I don’t really think there is much point in competing,” I said. I looked at the ground, “Why is Ms. Peterson so angry with you?”
Mrs. Tucker smiled. There wasn’t a trace of lipstick on her mouth. All the women I knew wore lipstick, but I thought Mrs. Tucker’s smile looked warm enough without it.
“Sadie,” she began slowly. “I don’t think it has much to do with me exactly. I think it has more to do with who I am. She doesn’t really like my position in life.”
“Are you trying to make trouble for her? If you are that’s okay,” I said.
She gave me a curious sort of look. “Do you not like her very much?”
“I said she pushes me,” I said quickly. “I don’t like being pushed.”
“Who does?” Mrs. Tucker said as she rode away.
I had never gone to go visit an adult before without having a specific invitation before. Her house was really something. It was an older house, with fruit trees around it. It looked like someone should have been living in it all the time and making it beautiful. It had a swing in the front yard that was sheltered from the sun in the evening – like it was now. With all that shade around the house, it looked like an oasis. It practically was after I had walked that far down the sun bleached dirt road. After all, it was only September and still blazingly hot.
I went to the door and knocked. No one answered.
After I had knocked a second time and no one had answered I went and sat down on the swing. If no one was around it wasn’t likely that anyone would care. The swing had fresh linen covers on the seats. When had I ever seen front porch swing covers that weren’t made of cracked vinyl? I hadn’t. It felt disrespectful to sit on it, and I thought about going right home again. I thought it wouldn’t be too bad to sit down, just for a minute. It was going to be a long walk home.
I hadn’t been sitting there for very long when Mrs. Tucker came around the corner and said hello. I stood right back up again, but she didn’t seem mad.
“I came over for a visit,” I said, but not shyly.
“Why didn’t you come around to my shop? Didn’t you know it was in the back yard?” she asked.
I shook my head that I didn’t know.
She smiled, “It’s this way,” and she led me around the house. “Whenever I come to town I like to get my projects done.”
“What kind of projects are you working on in your shop?” I asked willingly.
“I work on my bike sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes I make furniture out of wood. It sells pretty good at the farmer’s market in town. Mr. Mark Taylor down the road takes my pieces in with his home made honey. He’s a real good and friendly man,” Mrs. Tucker said fondly.
“I’ve never heard of a Mr. Taylor around these parts,” I said, almost running to keep up with her pace.
“That doesn’t really surprise me,” she said with another smile.
The woman was almost always smiling. It was interesting to see that much good will being splashed around. Especially when there wasn’t anybody around but me, or maybe there was something funny going on that I just didn’t get. Then what the lady in church said to me came back.
“Does Mr. Taylor not go to the same church as me?” I asked.
The smiled broadened. “I really haven’t any idea where Mark goes to church. Our conversation just never veered that way.”
Her smiled made me think it might be all right to ask her the question I had wanted to ask.
“Why don’t you come to our church?” I asked.
“I go to church. I just don’t go to the church in town.”
“Are you a different religion?”
“Are you a Christian?”
“Yes honey,” she said, the smile never moved.
“Then I don’t understand. We can’t be that different.”
“The people in town think we are that different,” she said stressing the word that. “There really is nothing to worry about. I’ll tell you all about what I believe if you want me to and you can tell me all about what you believe if you want to, but we don’t have to talk about it at all. I don’t really mind that they aren’t friendly to me. If it really bothered me I would up and join your church in town, but there are some things I am more worried about then whether or not those people in town like me.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like denying what I know to be true in order to be accepted socially. I just couldn’t do it. We all come to know God in our own way and to deny what we have learned directly from God would be more of a lie then anything I know of. I won’t do it. So there you have it.”
We came up to the door of the shop and she showed me her tools for making furniture. The shop’s floor looked as though it had been cleanly swept and there weren’t too many things hanging from the ceiling in order to make room for things on the floor. She had a large kite that hung from the ceiling, almost the only thing. It was a clean room. The wood shavings were cleaned off the tools. Her shop looked like it had much more order than my father’s, which was always mucky.
It looked like she had been working on her bike that day. Besides the bandana on her head she had a smudge of oil across one of her cheeks. I didn’t think I would ever have the courage to call her “Anna” as she had suggested when I met her. She took me around the room and showed me some of the furniture she had been working on. I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming, but my curiously was getting to me. Why was Ms. Peterson so angry with her? It was eating me alive to know.
At last she came to the kite.
“I just love the wind,” she said. Then she looked at me, as though she was waiting for me to ask her something.
“Is that why you have your bike?” I asked.
“Mostly,” she said wrinkling up her nose.
“Please tell me why Ms. Peterson is so angry with you.” I don’t suppose I was old enough to go about it in a more dignified way. I just didn’t know how, so I went about asking the way I did know how.
Mrs. Tucker frowned for the first time. “Well, if you really want to know so badly I will tell you about it, but you must understand that this is not really a story for everyone. Do you know what I mean?”
“You don’t want me blabbing it all over the country,” I said.
“I suppose that is a good enough promise of secrecy as I can expect. You see,” she said sitting down on one of her work benches. “Ms. Peterson is my late husband’s sister. The reason why I am Mrs. Tucker now and not Mrs. Peterson is where it starts to get complicated. Her brother was older than me when we got married. I hadn’t even finished high school when I married him. I hadn’t even hit the darker side of twenty five when he died. He was in an accident on this very farm. He had been left everything by his mother, and he left everything to me. At first Stella and I lived together. Stella is Ms. Peterson. You know that right?”
“I didn’t have any children,” she went on. “Even out here there didn’t seem much point to staying single forever. When Kyle, that’s my second husband, started to come around to see me, she didn’t care for him much. I didn’t realize that she wanted me to hang around with her in this house for the rest of our lives, but she did. She taught organ lessons back then too. I could never decide if she was angrier at me for changing my faith or getting married. I still don’t know. I think it is starting to get a little ridiculous that she would still be angry at me even now that Kyle is dead as well to be angry at me for marrying him.”
“Did you have any children with your second husband?” I asked in hushed sort of voice.
“I did. I would have thought that Stella would be interested in having some young family, nephews and nieces, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with me after that. It really is too bad,” she said sadly, and then the smile came back.
“So why have you been going to visit her?”
“She has fallen on hard times you know. She used to teach organ lessons to every girl in three counties, now she doesn’t have nearly enough students to fill her card. The house she lives in is her own, but what she makes isn’t what it used to be. I don’t know how she is paying for her groceries.”
“And you want to help her?” I asked. I felt a little uplifted in my chest and in my head.
“I want her to come live here again. I haven’t always been around, but now that my kids are grown, there hardly seems a point to running around after them. She won’t come though. It won’t matter how she starves.”
With that Mrs. Tucker got up and led me into her garden. There was something else she wanted to show me.
“You haven’t been practising!” Ms. Peterson shouted at me.
I blinked; very hard. I had thought a lot about what Mrs. Tucker said. I had been trying to think about the bad situation Ms. Peterson was really in, but hadn’t been able to concentrate. It was November now. Nothing had happened. Ms. Peterson’s house was colder than outside. I hadn’t taken off my winter jacket and only took off my mittens because Ms. Peterson had made me take them off. When I asked her about it, she had snapped at me that the furnace was broken. I thought about how uncomfortable she must be in this house, but I didn’t think about this for long. Something a little stronger was pressing down on me – hard. I hated the organ.
Mrs. Tucker had taken to coming to talk to Ms. Peterson during my lesson, partly so if I got thrown out of my lesson she could give me a ride home. She had already come during my lesson and Ms. Peterson hadn’t thrown me out, but she was in a mighty fiery.
When she wrapped my hands with a wooden stick, I yelped out of pain.
“That didn’t hurt,” she said sharply.
My hands were cold and the smack against my knuckles was just too much for me. I stood up. I was going to start crying if I didn’t get out of here.
“I’m telling my mother,” I said picking up my gloves and running out of her house.
I thought I might have heard her call, “Wait,” after me, but I ignored her.
When I got outside, I saw that Mrs. Tucker had already left, so I had to walk all the way home by myself. The idea didn’t strike me very friendly like, but I decided to just get it over with. The longer I walked in the dark of the cold night; I knew something had to be done. I had never been so sure that someone had to be saved. Me!
When I came in, my mama didn’t seem to notice that I was home a solid fifteen minutes early. She didn’t ask me how my lessons went as I sat down at the kitchen table. She was doing dishes at the sink. Her shoulders slumped a little, and I knew she still wasn’t better from the cold she had just had.
“Mama,” I said quiet like, taking off my toque. “I want to quite organ lessons.”
She turned around, and dried off her hands. “I don’t know why I knew that was what you were going to say.” She leaned against the sink.
“Is that okay? That I don’t want to take any more lessons?” I asked.
“I know you were kind of pushed into taking them in the first place. I won’t make you keep them up if you don’t want to. Actually I want to apologize to you. You shouldn’t have had to take them if you weren’t interested and you never said anything to me acting like you were.”
“Thanks mama,” I said. “There’s something else I want to tell you about as well.”
That night I watched my mama walk through the snow to pay a visit to Ms. Peterson. She looked real gallant like bundled up in all that winter gear heading out to save something important.
Telling my mama wasn’t blabbing it around the county I’ll have you know. Something had to be done about that foul tempered woman and my mama was just the person to do it. When I told her what Mrs. Tucker had told me, she had known the story, except for that last part about Mrs. Tucker wanting Ms. Peterson to go live with her. My mama had known that things were not going well for Ms. Peterson, but my mama was the last person in town who could have done anything for her, except send her daughters to take their organ lessons from her. If anybody could change Ms. Peterson’s mind about living with Mrs. Tucker it was my mama.
One would think that quitting my lessons wouldn’t have been anybodies business, but man alive, was I wrong. A woman came up to me in church and asked me how they were going.
I said, “I’ve quit taking lessons.”
“Oh, you mean you’ve had enough of old lady Peterson. Well, the teacher I sent my girls to. Mrs. Jacobs. You’d probably have a better time of it.”
“No,” I said. “You don’t understand. I have given up learning to play the organ.”
Her eye brows came together and she looked at me at first as though she thought I was telling a lie. “Does your mother know you’ve quit?” she said quite seriously.
“Yes,” I said.
She looked at me as though she didn’t believe me and then made a line straight for my mother to confirm what I had said as truth. I watched her all the way. When the woman spoke to my mother I saw mama smile and nod. I thought the woman would faint on the floor.
It wasn’t any better with my class mates. None of the boys seems to give a care, but there was a completely different reaction throughout the girls. I was lucky there were only five of them. I had been the last to take lessons and the first to finish them. When I saw Peggy’s eyes, I thought perhaps that she agreed with me. She didn’t say anything to back me, but I didn’t really expect her to go against the majority like that.
After the debate over whether or not I was too stupid to hang around with them anymore, one of the boys in the class above me who had heard the chicken fight leaned over to my desk.
“What are you going to do with yourself now?”
I wasn’t sure if he was making fun of me or not, but I decided to answer him seriously.
“I’m going to make myself a new bed frame. Mrs. Tucker says she’d help me. It’s going slow though, I’m not very good with the plainer,” I answered.
“What wood are you using?”
“Maple,” I said.
“No wonder. I’ll come help you push it through,” he offered and then went back to his book.
I looked up at the girl. I saw with just one look that I hadn’t won any points. It’s didn’t really matter now that I didn’t have to play the organ.
So, that afternoon after school he put me on the back of his snowmobile and we drove down to Mrs. Tuckers. As we came into the shop, all bright a rosy with a fire in the stove we saw something we were never to forget.
Mrs. Tucker and Ms. Peterson were tuning another dirt bike.
Author's Notes: This isn't really along my usual vein, and that's what I like about it.