by Alan Davies
What small events conspire to create a love everlasting?
MUD BETWEEN HER TOES
It was July 2nd, 1931 and it was hot. Too hot for Abigail! Her discomfort was made worse by having to wear a dress, knee socks, and worse still, bloomers! Darned ridiculously baggy undergarments fastened to just above her knees. They were big puffy and hot!
If she got caught trying to get some relief by fanning her ruffled dress her mother or her Nanny, Nanny Grace, would immediately tell her to leave her dress alone!
Nanny Grace was generally very nice, but she was an absolute tyrant (Abigail loved that word) about a young girl's manners and behavior while dressed up in her Sunday dresses. This was quite unfair since today was a steaming hot Thursday!
Jasper looked up at the big white house and spotted the blonde, blue eyed, girl that lived there. She was probably his age he figured. She looked just like one of the dolls he'd seen in the Woolworth's windows around Christmas time. Why in the world those folks would make their kids wear such fancy clothes on such hot a day as today he sure couldn't figure.
It would be way better for her if she could wear just exactly what he was wearing; undershorts and overalls, no shirt, socks or shoes!
Abigail saw that boy looking up at her house again. His daddy, Mr. Beaupre worked the crops for them. That boy was a mess! His brown hair, longish wild, and more than likely had not seen a comb and hair cream (like her daddy used) since the end of school!
To her surprise she waved at him!
Jasper smiled, and waved back, surprised how happy he felt that she waved at him.
He thought, ever so briefly, about walking right up the driveway, smack up to the giant porch with columns that were like something from his books on Greece and Rome, and inviting her to tag along with him to gig a few frogs. There was no way she could come dressed like that! Besides, she looked way too dignified (a word he learned from his Pa) to want to mess up that fancy white dress gigg'n frogs no matter how much fun it was, or how good they were battered up and fried!
The boy disappeared behind the gigantic weeping willow that was down at the end of the driveway. The way her view was from the great porch, the huge weeping willow was the last thing you could see. Then the road sort of dropped and folks walking by would seem to just disappear into the giant mass of willowy braches and not come out.
This, of course, she knew was and optical illusion since the people were really still on the road. The tree was so big the illusion even worked with cars and most trucks except for maybe a big old van.
The day seemed to last forever, since piano lessons with Mrs. Ackerman in the parlor did nothing to make the steamy hot day any more bearable. The only thing that did help her feel any better today got her scolded.
“Abigail, you’ve done this scale a hundred times! Where is your mind today?” Mrs. Ackerman complained gruffly.
Her mind was on fireworks! Her favorite Holiday was the Fourth of July, or maybe Christmas, but the Fourth of July was awesome!
Her Papa and the other men from the Mercantile Association put on a marvelous display every year over the fairgrounds.
The lesson was over and the way that Mrs. Ackerman bustled out made Abigail cringe. She was sure to get another talking to from her Mom about how young ladies, gentile young ladies, learned piano…and lessons were not cheap.
Jasper had a dozen frogs his hip basket already; they were so abundant in Brown’s Pond that there hardly seemed to be any room for fish to be swimming in there too.
Of course there were fish, plenty of perch, and catfish. There were also painter turtles, snapping turtles and crawfish!
The one thing Brown’s Pond was no good for was wading or swimming. That was because besides snapping turtles that were near as big as a football, there were leeches. Dark blackish red, some were three inches long.
Jasper’s friend Buddy didn’t listen to his big brother telling him not to swim in there. He just shucked off his overalls and went in for a skinny dip. He came out just covered in those creepy creatures. Lucky for Buddy his brother had some smokes and he lit one up and went to burning those blood suckers off, one at a time. Buddy’s chubby body looked as if he’d been cut up, because every place a leech was pulled from was bleeding. It wasn’t really a lot of blood but Buddy’s body was wet and so the blood mixed with the water and ran down everywhere; just remembering all that made Jasper shiver even though the day was still steaming hot.
Jasper decided he had enough frogs and decided to head home and see if he could get his mom to cook them up. She would batter the frog’s legs and fry them to a crispy golden brown. With a heap of them on his plate he would sprinkle some hot sauce on them… and yum! He could hardly wait!
July 4rth 1931
July 4 is the 185th day of the year (186th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 180 days remaining until the end of the year. It is also the occurrence of The Aphelion, the point in the year when the Earth is farthest from the Sun, occurs around this date.
Abigail’s tutor Mr. Frabicien told her all of these facts, of which she couldn’t care less. What was important was that it was just about nine hours till dusk and the Mercantile Association’s fireworks would begin shooting off.
Of course there was a lot more to do before the fireworks. The County Hospital sponsored a fair to raise money for the hospital. The fair was going on from 11 a.m. till 11 p.m.
Abigail’s mother was at the Elite Salon getting a Complete Cutex Manicure; which was advertized on a poster in the shop’s window. THE COMPLETE CUTEX MANICURE… Scrub nails. Remove old cuticle ad cleanse nail tips with Cutex Cuticle Remover & Nail Cleanser. Remove old polish with Cutex Polish Remover. Brush on the shade of Cutex Liquid Polish that best suits your costume. Then use Cutex Nail White (Pencil or Cream) and finish with Cutex Cuticle Oil or Cream. After every manicure and before retiring, massage hands with the new Cutex Hand Cream.
Her father was listening to the Philco radio in his office; the announcer was saying, “Nat'l Biscuit was a weak spot, down over 2 points to about 60; on reports that earnings are running close to dividend requirements. IT&T was strong on optimism dividends will be maintained. Bethlehem Steel rose on adoption of revised executive bonus plan seen as more favorable to stockholders; merger rumors were also circulating.” Of course Abigail had no idea what all that meant, but her Papa was glued to every word.
Jasper and Buddy arrived at the fairgrounds around two in the afternoon. They had spent all day yesterday and all of the morning collecting bottles and even mowed three lawns. The earned four whole dollars! This was going to be a great day! They could ride all the rides, visit the Creepy Creatures tent, and still have enough money for the shooting gallery, penny toss, dunk tank and who knows what else!
The hoop toss barker got Buddy’s money right off. He just about shoved the hoops in Buddy’s hand; which was a big mistake because Buddy was about as near an expert as someone might get.
He got a prize for two out of the three hoops he tossed. His first prize was a mini squirt gun. His next was a stuffed animal. Buddy chose a grinning alligator. He tucked it under his arm, thanked the girl running the booth and the barker; who gave the girl an oops look.
Buddy decided to have a corndog and a cola and Jasper chose some waffle fries and a cola. As they sat there eating Jasper spotted the girl from the great white house.
Abigail spotted the boy who waved at her and worked sometimes with his dad who was their grounds keeper.
Her Mom was called over by a friend who was in the Ladies Aide Society quilting tent; the perfect moment for Abigail to break away.
Jasper had just put a big salty waffle fry in his mouth when suddenly the girl from the big white house; (The Harriman Mansion), was its proper name, was standing right next to him.
“Hello, enjoying the fair?” she asked.
“Yes.” He managed, but it sounded like “Yeff.” His mouth full and his face flushed red as he felt a glob of Catsup on his chin, which he wiped off with his bare hand, and then wiped on his overalls, by habit.
"I’m Abigail, Abigail Harriman…what’s your name?”
“Jasper Beaupre,” he finally said clearly. His face still flushed from the Catsup and now from Buddy’s antics beside him.
“Oh, Beaupre, that’s French, you know the current age of the Beaupre family name is approximately 870 years.” Abigail told him, a little embarrassed for showing off her ability to remember the craziest facts.
“Oh, um wow,” Jasper replied, surprised; this girl was like some sort of Encyclopedia Britannica…which was actually neat, since he loved reading his grandfather’s set of 1928 Britannica’s. Each one weighed like ten pounds.
Unable to help herself and because he seemed interested Abigail added, “The Beaupre family moved down to New England, from Quebec, Canada, which is considered by much of your family to be the 'home area' although parts of the Beaupre family have also moved here to Biloxi, Mississippi; which is why your family is here.”
“How do you know so much about my family name, my grandpa has told me about coming from Quebec but most folks don’t just know that?”
"Well, it is silly really; I learned it from a radio show about early families of Quebec, and the Catholic Church.”
Buddy had finished his corndog and cola and took no pains to disguise his desire to move on.
Seeing Buddy’s discontent and not wanting to be razzed about a girlfriend (not that it could be prevented now), he said, “Well nice meeting you…guess I’ll see you around.”
“Yes, sure,” Abigail said, a bit surprised by the abrupt end to their meeting. She shouldn’t have acted all brainy!
As Buddy and Jasper rounded the fairway passing a loud ride motor, Buddy teased, “Guess I’ll see you around sweetheart…”
“Shut-up!” Jasper growled and shoved Buddy.
Buddy, knowing he’d hit a sore spot kept various versions of “Jasper has a girlfriend” going till he saw that Jasper had had enough. Jasper was good natured about being teased, but it went just so far.
Dusk came and families were laying out quilts and blankets on the side of the riverbank at the far side of the fair grounds. Jasper and Buddy were up on The Big Rock, which was just that; a giant rock that a glacier had left behind. There was actually a plaque that told the measurements. At its tallest point it was sixteen feet high. Its outer dimension around its edges was an amazing twenty-three foot.
There were at least twenty kids up on the great rock, one of them was Abigail!
Buddy was about to say, “There’s your girlfriend!” Then thinking better of it said, “Hey there’s that girl.” Figuring too that Jasper wouldn’t mind sitting by her, Buddy led the way.
“Hi again,” Buddy said sitting on her right side allowing Jasper to sit on her left, which he did.
Abigail was delighted to see them both again. She thought Jasper was cute; his green eyes, a band of freckles on his upper cheeks, his hair, though not combed and properly greased in place, was not so wild. In fact it was obviously clean and smelled somewhat of lavender.
The Mercantile Association out did itself! The fireworks were grand with, brilliant and wonderful colors followed by the loudest booms one might ever hear! The crowds of families cheered after the grand finally and Abigail’s father, who was the President of the Mercantile Association, thanked everyone and bid them safe travels as they returned to their homes.
The heat of the Mississippi summer continued all of July cooled only slightly by the sometimes fierce afternoon rain and thunderstorms that Jasper’s grandfather called gully washers. When they were really bad he would warn, “Don’t go out in that, it is positively Biblical out there!”
Jasper had to ask his grandfather what that meant the first time he’d said it, since Biblical usually meant making sure something was good; like, “Is that Biblical?”
His grandfather had chuckled and said, “Positively Biblical, refers to the rains that came in Noah’s time when God instructed him to build the arc.”
The next time he saw Abigail, who during the firework show told him to call her Abby, was right after a Biblical Mississippi afternoon storm.
He was walking down the “dirt road” which was dirt because it was officially past the end of the County Road. Everyone called it The Dirt Road as if it was an official name, like Chestnut Lane or something. Today though, the road was not dirt at all. It was mud; thick, deep, squishy, Mississippi mud.
Jasper had chosen sometime ago to take off his Keds, which he sent away for through an ad he’d found in his Popular Science magazine. “These famous athletes always wear Keds.” It took him two weeks to get permission to buy them by sending away for them.
His mother had scorned, “They are no different from nice ones you can find right in Woolworths for half that price.”
He was careful to keep his voice respectful, his heart was beating hard and he was frustrated. More than once he’d nearly got hauled out to the barn for “Talking back, or being rude to his mother” two dangerous sins in the Beaupre home. Making his point politely was very, very, important at that moment.
With his heart pounding in his head, the strain of staying calm had him near busting; suddenly he’d heard her say, “Well I think $5.00 for a pair of sneakers, which you may not wear in school is foolishness, you can get them. I can’t believe you want to spend your hard earned money that way. Imagine $5.00 for a pair of shoes for an 11 year old boy who will simply grow out of them.”
That was why there was no way in the world he was going to get his Keds all muddy.
He was getting close to where the county road would begin and there was Abby. She stood at the edge of the gravel county road and the now, very muddy dirt road.
She was wearing, as usual, a fancy department store dress and white patent leather shoes with white ankle socks that had pink trimmed ruffles at the top.
She looked absolutely at the end of her wits.
“Hi Abby what’s wrong?” he teased. He could clearly see that there was no way she intended to step her white shoes into the thick mud, just as he, just twenty minutes ago, had chosen to spare his Keds.
The mud!” she growled, pointing to the thick squashy mess in front of her.
“You don’t have to walk in it.” Jasper suggested thoughtfully.
Now she looked twice as exasperated. Surely he could see that she had a basket full of yarn. The yarn which had to be delivered to Mrs. Elmira Denton, so she could knit baby beanies for the orphan babies at the Sisters of Mercy Home for Wayward Girls; which the Ladies Aide had chosen as their charity work for the summer.
“I have to get this yarn to Mrs. Elmira Denton. She lives off this road as you may know and it is the only way to get there.” Abby was still in quite a state.
"Oh, well I could take the yarn to her.” Jasper suggested, very surprised to hear his own words since he had just slogged through two miles of the muddy mess from his house. He was really headed for the afternoon matinee at the Gaiety Theatre, on corner of Lameuse Street and Jackson Street, in Biloxi. He’d already agreed to meet Buddy. They had stood in front of The Gaiety Theatre and read the gruesome poster:
Cast: Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein)
Mae Clarke (Elizabeth)
John Boles (Victor Moritz)
Boris Karloff (The Monster)
As Buddy had said, “This is going to be the biggest thing to come to Biloxi all summer!”
Yet, now he had gone and offered to walk back nearly a whole mile for Abby.
“No, you can’t my mom sent a note. Plus she told me I have to deliver the basket. I don’t think I can just give it to you. It is awfully nice of you to offer though,” her voice softened.
“Ok then, take of your shoes and socks like I did.”
“Jasper Beaupre have you lost your mind?” She gasped, adding, “A young lady does not walk barefoot in Mississippi mud!” Yet, just as she said it she realized that she sounded just like Nanny Grace!
“Ok with me, go on back and give your Mom back the basket.” Jasper said, somewhat exasperated.
Next; to his surprise, she lifted one foot after the other peeling off her white leather shoes, dainty anklet socks, and placing them in the basket.
He watched as her first foot sunk into the warm, three inch deep mud.
Her expression made him laugh as her clean, manicured pink toes sunk into the warm brown squishy Mississippi mud!
Moving her second foot in began to cause a change in her grimace from pure horror to a smile!
Next she was deliberately plunging her feet as deep as they could go into the warm mud and laughing!
He began laughing too and doing the same. Soon they were marching through the mud with deliberate stomps, sending the mud in sideways splatters. The gross sounds cased her face to flush but a caused more of her sweet laughter!
By the time they reached to Mrs. Elmira Denton’s drive way they were both caked in partially drying mud up to their knees.
As Abby realized she had to go greet Mrs. Denton a look of panic came over her.
“Don’t worry Abby she has a hand pump right over there behind the barn. She can’t see us on that side from her house”, Jasper assured her.
Jasper pumped the water and Abby washed away the mud returning her legs and feet to their perfect pinkness.
Her legs and feet still wet, Jasper peeled off his undershirt and told her to dry herself with it.
Cleaned up and dried up, her dainty socks replaced and her white patent leather shoes on, she headed up Mrs. Denton’s driveway with a wonderful skip in her steps.
They were both just eleven years old. Jasper had no idea that a deep love for her had begun that summer that would carry them for 60 years of marriage, 4 children and 8 grandchildren…no, for now he was just a boy full of an unfamiliar joy, as he thought of Abby, so sweet and refined with mud between her toes.