Violet lived life on the edge. No one would get the best of her... No one except herself.
|The room poorly lit, the air stale and at moments, stifling. A woman of advanced years reclines on the bed, lying beneath a heavy comforter. Despite the warmth of the room her small frame quivers, and her skin felt cool to the touch.
She hears them speaking... Those who stood or sat about her, but she couldn't make out their words. Curt in her ways at times, she wanted to demand that they speak up, but the words would not form on her lips.
She listened intently to the world around her instead.
It was raining, she was confident of that, for the sound of the drops beat against the roof and window with a loud rhythmic beat, or was it the sound of her own heartbeat. She became unsure of which it might be.
And with that she began to question herself, "Why did I not enjoy the rain more? I could have danced in it more... walked in it more... Oh, to feel the cool drops now... maybe it would bring me back ... refresh me... revive me.
Oh silly old fool that I am. Violet, my dear let's get a grip." The elderly woman tried to pull her thoughts together.
While her body failed her, the elderly woman's mind was still sharp, and her emotions were ever so real. And at the moment... a wave of feelings washed over her like a raging river overflowing its mudded banks. Her heart felt as if it were breaking, it was then she began to pray, for it was all she had left to cling to. She knew her time left on earth was fleeting.
"Oh dear God, how has it taken me this moment to realize what a pettish life I have lived. Even in my best moments I now realize how utterly vain they were. Help me... My body has imprisoned me, and my words fall mute on my lips. I am surrounded by the ones I have claimed to love, and at this moment I realize I have failed them in every way. I am left only with an ocean of regret."
As Violet lay motionless, a soft breeze wafted over her. She heard a silent voice. A voice so very clear and distinct, which was odd in itself, for it was as if someone was whispering in her deaf ear. "Oh my child... my petulant child. You have not always taken the road I had laid before you. So many times you have chosen to take paths that were not meant for you. Many of those pathways were rugged and perilous, so much heartbreak, so much needless pain. But in the moments you lived your purpose, there were many blessings, and much affection. I have loved you through it all, and as you begin the final journey home, I wait to welcome you with open arms."
Violet's breathing became less laborious, and the younger woman in the room took note that Violet seemed to unclench her fists as her palms turned upwards, a simple change in position, but it was well noted as others glanced over.
Her mind drifted beyond the present and into a much earlier time in her life...
It was 1932 in Bellingham, the city in the throes of the Great Depression. The locals, as well as the entire country was hit hard with the harsh reality of everyday life. The fortunate ones still found themselves employed, yet even then... their weekly pay was never certain. Many found themselves bartering for goods and services, and if not that, many found themselves standing in long lines with a rationing ticket in hand.
At seven years old, Violet Kenney the 7th child of 9 siblings born to Leo and Edna Kenney fell into the most destitute and vulnerable groups of all the citizenry of that time.
An old rustic barn had been transformed into a makeshift home for the Kenney clan. (Her father, being a carpenter by trade, did the best he could with what he had.) The owner of the property had agreed to trade rent for Leo Kenny's labor about the property. The barn was located on the outskirts of town in an area, known for its seedier side. Riddled with speakeasies and houses of ill repute, with the more redeeming establishments, a small Lutheran church and a German deli that served as the neighborhood mercantile nestled on the border between the poorest of neighbors and midtown.
"Violet! Violet Kenney, hurry please!" Violet's older sister Charlotte pleaded as she stood at the base of the rickety old stairs. Violet, in the room that she shared with her four older sisters, was searching for a warm shawl or coat to wear in the chilly spring air. "I'm coming. I'm coming." The young girl replied as she grabbed a dark blue coat that was shared amongst the sisters.
When Violet reached the base of the stairs Charlotte grabbed her sister’s hand as they bolted out the door. "Hurry child, mama's coming home tonight and I have a million things to do."
The street was long and narrow. The taller buildings lay shadows along the path of the twosome. A gust of wind scattered old newsprint and wayward tumbleweeds up the street as a smattering of people dodged around the debri scurrying hurriedly past them, while others on horseback made their way through the thorofare, and every so often a wayward Model T raced by as if in a hurry to find a safer secure area of town.
“Keep up child.” Charlotte scolded Violet. Charlotte, a mere child herself at the age of sixteen, treated all her siblings as a mother would a child. For she being the oldest of the 9 children had taken on that role more often than not the past few years.
“We need to catch up with Leo before he heads home.”
Violet tried to match her steps to her sister’s longer strides. Her height was about 3.2 ft , shorter than her classmates at school. Her dark brown hair shoulder length and her hazel eyes were ever so watchful. Her chiseled nose burnt from the recent spring outings to Lake Padden.
The young girl began to cough as she breathed in the cool air. Charlotte slipped her hand in her coat pocket retrieving a peppermint stick and breaking a piece off she handed it to Violet as she said, “We are almost there.”
The girls crossed over to midtown and headed to Chandlers Lumberyard. As they approached the storefront Leo yelled, “Hey!” as he spied his siblings. He was carrying a load of longboards through the yard towards an old truck, dropping his load he began tying it down. When he finished he turned his attention toward his sisters.
“What’s up?” He queried. His eyebrows furrowed as it was rare that Charlotte or any other of the female persuasion would make an appearance at the old lumberyard.
The older girl hurriedly responded, “Mama’s coming home today. I need you to go down to the lake after your shift and catch us some fish for dinner.” She waved her hands in front of her as if to keep her younger brother from interrupting her. She continued, “Whatever you can manage to catch… trout.. bass… It’s no matter which. Mr. Mc Alster brought a box of potatoes and a pound of flour on his last visit. With fish it will be more than an acceptable supper.”
Leo scowled as he adjusted his cap, pushing his hair up into the hat. “Only for you Charlotte. I don’t know why all the fuss, you know she will only stay as long as she needs and then off she’ll go. She’s no good and no earthly use to us.” The young boy of fifteen finished as he stared off into the distance.
Charlotte quickly covered her younger sister’s ears before she answered. “That will be enough from you, Leo Kenney. She may stay this time if she feels welcomed. No more of this talk especially in front of Violet.”
Leo shook his head as he walked away. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
And with that the sisters turned and found their way home.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent cleaning the simplistic abode. Charlotte, an expert at setting a plan into action and executing it to its completion, recruited and then directed those within hearing distance. “Gloria, I need you!” Charlotte called as a younger girl of fourteen came through the sitting room and into the makeshift kitchen with Sonny in tow, who at the age of three was the youngest of the siblings. Placing the young boy on the nearest chair Gloria declared, “He scrubbed up pretty good. Don’t you think?” Charlotte turned from the white metallic basin as she finished wiping down the final tin plate placing it on a tattered towel.
As she pulled her hair back into a ponytail and removed the cotton apron, her eyes surveyed the young boy's appearance. Reaching into a basket that sat atop a small buffet she grabbed a small red apple and handed it to her brother. “You are such a handsome young man. You clean up good. Now stay that way.” She smiled as she straightened his collar.
Sonny replied matterfactly, “I’m not handsome, I’m adorable.” taking a large bite of the apple he jumped off the chair and ran towards the stairs. Gloria laughed and yelled after him, “Who has been filling your head with nonsense.”
Margret burst through the door. “Mrs. Swanson gave me one tomato and two onions.” She carried them to Charlotte as if she were bringing a great treasure.
Margret at the age of nine fell into the line as the sixth child and she always seemed to be engaged in constant chatter whether anyone was listening or not. Mrs. Swanson, an elderly widow who lived in midtown and had taken Margret under her wing and the young child had become the woman’s companion of sorts and stopped by the Swanson house twice a week after school.
Charlotte placed the produce in the bowl on the buffet as she quietly whispered, “Manna from heaven.”
Violet swept the sitting room and dusted the sparse furniture as best a seven year old could be expected to do. When the task was completed she sat down on a stool out of sight of the others and just listened as she tried to absorb the day's events.
Saturday’s were alway busy around the Kenney household but the excitement in the air baffled her. It had been a year or so since mother’s last appearance… and in the short time Violet’s memory of her mother had grown foggy at best. The clearest of memories was of her mother singing… she had always thought it was the sound that angels must make. There was a lilt and richness in her voice that even her young ears took notice of.
Another memory filled her head with dread… When mother made her last appearance father had stood in the kitchen. When his wife’s shadow crossed over the door’s threshold. He stared at her for a brief moment and then declared, “Edna, I will not have another mouth to feed in this house. This is not my doing or my child you carry. As soon as you have given birth you may stay as long as you choose, but not the child.” She laughed in a mocking way, “What makes you think this isn’t your child?”
“What proof do you have?” “What will the neighbors say about a man who would deny his child?”
“The neighbors be damned. They know your character and the company you keep.” He responded
Violet, who had been watching from the floor near the buffet, quickly crawled between the man and woman, standing up shielding her father as her mother raised her hand to slap him. “Stop!” the young girl yelled, “Don’t hurt my daddy.”
As if on cue Charlotte had rushed into the room and pulled Violet from between the adults. Whispering in the child’s ear as she carried her upstairs, “This matter is none of your concern child. Come get ready for bed. Everything will be sorted out by morning.”
“I don’t know.” the young girl worrisomely muttered as her thoughts came back to the day's events.
Charlotte called Buddy and Herbert in from the back lot that lay behind the barn. Before they entered the house Gloria ordered them to remove their boots. Silvia, the youngest girl at age of five followed them in. She was forever the boys shadow and clearly the tomboy of the family.
“Come wash up you three and set the table for supper.” Gloria directed as she sat at the table peeling potatoes while Charlotte made dough for biscuits.
Charlotte looked up in panic, “The stove! Buddy hurry get some wood and light the stove!”
By four in the afternoon supper was all but completed. The final task left was the frying of the fish which Leo had in hand when he walked through the door at about quarter after. The family had depleted their staples for this meal. But Charlotte did not fret. Mr. Mc Alister was due for a visit early Monday morning and he always brought enough supplies to feed the family for a week. As she began to fry the fish she anxiously watched the door hoping she would catch a glimpse of her mother.
Father arrived at 4:30 and he washed up as the children gathered around to tell of the day's events. Drying his hands he directed Charlotte, “If she is not here by 5:00 we will eat. There is no sense in holding dinner when we have no Idea when she will arrive.” Charlotte began to protest, “But we have worked so hard to welcome her.” He shook his head and ended the conversation, “A roof over her head should be welcoming enough.” The smell of alcohol on his breath made the older girl uneasy as she resigned to his wishes.
By 10:00 all the children were in bed. Everyone asleep but Charlotte. She lay on her cot next to Violet listening intently to any sign that her mother had arrived. An half hour passed before she heard the squeaking of the front door as it opened and fathers voice acknowledging the long awaited visitor.
Slowly she sat up and crawled across the thin floorboards. The slats on the flooring had gaps in them. And if one would lay on the floor they could see downstairs. With her cheek pressed against the floor Charlotte peered to the floor below.
Leo Kenney stood in front of his wife as he spoke, “Once again you never disappoint.” Mockery clearly in his voice. “Again you are welcome to stay, but I will not allow another child in this home.
Father moved away from the woman and Charlotte had a clear view of her mother. She drew in a sharp breath as it was clear that her mother was with child again. By the looks of it she must be six to seven months along.
Quickly Charlotte crawled back to her cot, covering herself as she began to sob. All her hopes were quickly dashed. Never again would she put hope in her mother. For too long she had thought some day her mother would return and be a mother to her children and Charlotte would no longer have to carry that responsibility on her young shoulders.
As the next few months passed Violet observed from a distance. Even at seven years old she felt the unattached coolness of her mother. The young girl's pride would never allow herself to attempt any connection she otherwise might pursue. She watched her mother’s uneasiness around the family… The older woman paced an ungodly amount of the time much like a wild animal would when it had been trapped.
As the birth of the child neared, Edna could hardly stand her confinement any longer, she paced the kitchen floor as she rubbed her belly. She snapped at an ever watchful Violet, “WHAT?” “Everytime I turn around you are staring at me, child. Do I have three eyes? Two noses? Please go and leave me in peace.”
Violet turned with no words and planted herself on a small chair in the sitting room but positioned herself so that her mother was still in full view. No one would tell her to leave until she chose to herself. The young girl began to wonder if her mother even remembered any of her children’s names as she always addressed them as “child”.
Edna knew the child's eyes were still fixed on her and somehow that unnerved her.
With school out for the summer harvest Violet found herself quite often observing her ill-suited mother. Somewhere deep down she enjoyed seeing her mother squirm. Besides she wanted to get a glimpse of the baby before it was sent away like the other babe was nearly a year ago. She was certain it had been a girl but the baby was out of the house before she could really be sure. No one ever spoke of the child and she was sure that this new infant would be dealt with in the same manner. This time she was determined to know for sure… “Someday.” she thought, “Someday I will find these lost babes and …” Well she wasn’t sure what she would do after she found them. Her young mind had not thought that far ahead.
Edna gave birth to a baby girl in early July and the child was quickly adopted out to a middle aged couple who was childless. After a week of recovery Edna was up and gone and it would be years before they would lay eyes on her again, with the exception of Violet.
After their mother’s exit the family went back into their summer routine. Every Monday Charlotte waited for the arrival of Mr. Mc Alister and his wife Pearl. They were a kindly older couple who seemed deeply concerned about the well being of the Brower family. Violet was clearly Mrs. Mc Alister’s favorite and alway brought a peppermint stick for the young girl.
This most recent visit the pair brought three pounds of flour, a crate of red apples and a wheel of cheese. “Next week I will have lard, a dozen eggs and possibly a crate of oranges.” the older man stated as he lay the newly arrived staples on the small kitchen table. Mr. Mc Alister worked for the government social service office and it was his job to find the most neediest of families in town and bring them what little supplies were available. Sometimes they were seconds or worse but to the poorest of the community they were grateful for whatever they could lay their hands on.
After they asked after the family and found them thriving the older couple took their leave and Charlotte went about the kitchen parsing the food for the week ahead. Taking note that she had a few potatoes in the bin left from the previous week. That evening the family dined on fresh bread and sliced cheese.