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1635 The Dreeson Incident: Chapter Twenty Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 20:20 EST



    Ron Stone was feeling rather paralyzed in the presence of Missy’s grandmother. Not so much her parents. Chad and Debbie Jenkins weren’t so bad. He’d seen them often enough when he was in high school. But as the conversation progressed, it was slowly dawning upon him that, necessarily, Missy had as many relatives as Chip did. All of whom probably took as much interest in her activities as they did in Chip’s. This was just one grandmother. There was another one, somewhere out in the woodwork. A grandfather. More aunts and uncles.

    He advised himself to be cool. Yes, that was the word. Cool, Stone, cool. If you are totally casual, maybe they will all be so preoccupied with Chip’s girl that they won’t notice you. What was that word in the poem they had studied in English literature? Hecatombs? Yes, that was it. Missy didn’t just have cousins. She had hecatombs of cousins, most of whom trailed spouses and children along with them.

    In the poem, hecatombs had involved broken hearts. Broken dreams. Something broken.

    The grandmother was discussing the history of the serving dishes on the table. Each bowl and tray, none of which matched any of the rest, had apparently been passed down in some branch of her mother’s family for several generations.

    For a guy who had never exactly met his mother, since she had taken off from Lothlorien Commune for parts unknown before he was old enough to remember, this was a little disconcerting. Ron looked a little warily at Gerry, sitting close to the other end of the table, who had never exactly met his mother either. He hoped that Gerry would keep his mouth shut on the subject of mothers.

    The old lady asked his opinion on the design of the gravy boat.

    To the best of his knowledge, this was the first time he had ever seen a gravy boat.

    "Well," he said, "it’s bourgeois." Then clearing his throat, "But it’s good bourgeois."

    Missy was trying not to giggle. Chandra wasn’t even trying not to.

    Ron had a feeling that he should sink down right through the floor.

    Missy’s uncle was looking at the gravy boat with a critical eye. "I think," Wes said, "that that’s a fair enough assessment."

    Missy’s grandmother glared at Missy’s uncle.

    Ron analyzed his feelings and decided that they clearly fell under the label of "immense, deep, profound gratitude." He could, he thought, get to like Missy’s Uncle Wes.

    He looked toward the other end of the table again. Gerry was talking to Missy’s Aunt Clara. Since their conversation was entirely in German, it was more or less sliding in and out among the rest of the dialogue at the table.

    At least until Clara looked up to the end of the table where he was and said, "Wesley, how interesting. This young man Cherry plans to study theology at Jena."



    Wes looked down toward her, smiling. The soft "g" sound, along with occasional tangles with the past tenses of irregular verbs, was almost Clara’s only concession to the fact that English was not her first language. She had even mastered the English "w" - an uncommon achievement for an adult whose native language was German. Though, as she had once whispered into the ear she was tickling, her desire to be able to say "Wesley" correctly as soon as she had the chance had provided an uncommonly strong motivation.

    He’d have to ask her, some time, if she had written "Wesley and Clara" on her note paper and drawn hearts and daisies around the names. If she hadn’t, it was probably because it hadn’t occurred to her.

    The boy didn’t seem to be offended by "Cherry."

    Wes said, "Yes, that is interesting." Because it was. And smiled at her again.



    "Actually," Ron said. "He’s young enough that he still has a lot of options. Nothing’s set in concrete, yet."

    "Give it up, Ron," Gerry said. "I am going to be a Lutheran pastor."

    Ron groaned to himself. Gerry had not indicated in any way at all that his plans were confidential. He had proclaimed them right out loud. By this time next week, it would be all over town.

    He sat there, thinking about his brother Faramir - Frank, to Grantville - and Giovanna’s two weddings. One Catholic, performed by a cardinal, in the Sistine Chapel, believe it or not; the other by way of his father’s mail order credentials as a minister in the Universal Church of Life in … whatever … and … stuff. His older brother would probably end up Catholic, no matter how socialist and atheist the rest of the Marcolis were. After all, Giovanna had promised the pope himself that she would do all that was in her power to convert Frank. He had a feeling that Giovanna was the kind of girl who kept her word. Plus Frank was chums with Father Gus Heinzerling. Catholic on one side of him, Lutheran on the other. Himself . . . 

    Ron was never likely to be "any of the above." His mind didn’t work that way.

    That was how he lost track of what people were talking about. Only to come back to reality and find out that Missy’s father was telling everyone about that ultimately improbable and utterly unfortunate mechanical event, back before the Ring of Fire, in the days when there were car lots in Grantville and his brother had been dating Missy.

    Ron had sort of hoped that Chad Jenkins had forgotten that those two had ever dated. It hadn’t been for long. Six weeks, maximum.

    Why did we come here? he asked himself. We could have gotten a meal from the staff cafeteria out at the plant.



    "Mom has quite a display up, doesn’t she?" Chad stopped next to his new sister-in-law, who was looking at a wall full of framed family photographs in the rec room.

    "I am always fascinated by photographs," Clara answered. "If the Ring of Fire had happened earlier, we in Badenburg, ordinary people, could have had pictures of our grandparents. Not only wealthy people who can afford to have portraits painted. Though my brother Dietrich does have a drawing of my grandfather Pohlmann, who lived in Arnstadt, made by a student at the Latin School. He was no great artist, but it is said to be a good likeness. It is in pen and ink, though, so it does not tell us the color of his hair and eyes any more than these ‘black and white’ ones.

    She looked at the wall critically. "Though, mostly, they are shades of gray, and some are more tan or brown. Wes says that we will have our photograph made and give a copy to your mother for Christmas. And to my father."

    "Your family is okay with having you marry an up-timer?"

    "Yes. Maybe they would not have been ‘okay with it’ two years ago, but there has been enough time now. In any case, I did not ask them. I did not request their permission."

    It was an oddity in her English, Chad thought. A tendency to say the same thing, or almost the same thing, two or three ways in succession, as if she were trying out different model sentences from a conversation manual to see how they fit.

    Clara turned back to the wall. "Who are all the people?"

    Chad toured her through the Jenkins and Newton families, with a side trip through the five Williams sisters.

    "A violinist," she said, looking at Joe Newton’s picture. "That is interesting. And this man is your other grandfather, Hudson Jenkins?"

    "A fiddler more than a violinist. On the other, Hudson Jenkins, yes. He died young and Grandma Mildred married again. This is her second family, with Clarence Walker, taken right after World War II. That’s Dad, over in the corner, at the end of the back row."

    Clara looked back and forth, from Hudson Jenkins to his son standing in a far corner of the Walker family photo, then to Joe Newton with his wife and daughters.

    "Perhaps," she said slowly, "it is as well that we do not all keep photographs of our families."

    Chad raised an eyebrow. "Meaning?"

    Clara frowned at the photos she had been examining. "I knowed - knew - already that Debbie was a widow when she married you." She pointed. "There is the photograph for her first wedding, to the soldier who was killed. Don Jefferson. You said that this child" - she pointed to a snapshot of a little girl about six years old - "is her daughter, Anne, the nurse who has gone to Amsterdam. But there is no first husband for your mother."

    She pointed to the wedding photograph of John Charles Jenkins and Eleanor Anne Newton, the date in an ornamental garland at the top. Then to a family picture, taken shortly before Wes and Lena married, the two of them standing in back, one on each side of their sister Mary Jo, who had been left up-time, with their parents sitting in front, drawing the downward slant from Wes’ height to Chad’s, the shape of each face and hairline, on the glass with her fingernail. "Where did Wesley come from?"

    Chad looked at her, considering what he should say. Fresh eyes . . . 

    "Never mind," she added, before he had said anything. "It makes no difference."

    "Things happen," he said. "Dad did the right thing."

    Clara, he decided, was not only "okay" but also no slouch.

    She was looking at Wes’ and Lena’s wedding photo now, then one with Lenore about ten and Chandra about eight, both long legged and gawky. "Those little apples did not fall very far from the tree," she commented.

    "I expect that Wes has copies of most of those newer ones. You’ll have to ask him to dig out the albums."



    "I wish that Lenore could have come today," Eleanor Jenkins said.

    "Too many places for her to be, Gran," Missy said. "Bryant wrote her. The letter made a fuss that she should have noon dinner with his sister Lola, and then the Days wanted her and Weshelle for supper. Maybe she can run in here for an hour or so between two Thanksgiving dinners, the way Chandra is going to do for the Pricketts, before she goes to the Days’. Well, Chandra’s really going over to David Jones’ house, since Nathan’s mom is Mr. Jones’ sister and they’re having Thanksgiving there. I can phone Lenore at Lola’s and ask, but I wouldn’t count on her being able to get away soon enough."

    "Jasper Day isn’t even in town. He’s up in Magdeburg, still, so she doesn’t have grandparents there. Believe me, at Thanksgiving a grandmother outranks three aunts. If she had to be at Lola’s for dinner, she could have dropped in on the Days this afternoon and come here for leftovers for supper." Eleanor’s voice was very firm.

    "They guilt-trip her, Grandma. Because Aunt Lena and Sarah and Diana and Di’s girls had gone to the movies together and were left up-time, now Janice and Nell and Cassandra are putting pressure on Chandra and Lenore and Sarah’s kids to hang tight with them as a family group. Which goes triple now that Ed Monroe and Chauncey Wilson as well as Uncle Wes have all remarried. Plus, they’re pushing even harder since Janice and Ross adopted five kids and Nell and Fenton have adopted two kids. Replacements for the ones they lost. They’re trying to focus on them, I guess. Bonding and all that kind of stuff. Make them feel that they are really part of the family. Plus, with Cassie remarrying to a German guy this month and bringing in three stepchildren . . . and the Nazarenes lost almost their whole church congregation and their minister. The Days were hit really hard by the Ring of Fire."

    "You’re sounding very grown up, littlest granddaughter."

    "Teacher training. Child psychology as well as library science. I’m not ‘littlest’ any more, really," Missy said. "You’ll have to promote one of the great-granddaughters to spoil in that spot. Or leave it vacant for a while, considering that Chandra’s girls are twins, which might cause sibling rivalry. Wait and see what Chip and Katerina produce once they get themselves organized."



    "Missy, where are you going?" Debbie hurried out into the hall.

    "Home. Gran brought up ‘good bourgeois’ and started saying things about Ron’s dad. He and Gerry left."

    Debbie winced. Her mother-in-law’s talent for disguising catty remarks as polite comments was one of the banes of her life. It occurred to her that Ron Stone might not be so bad to have around if he had an antenna that picked it up too.

    "I’m sorry, hon. But you can’t go straight home. You’ve got to stop by Aura Lee’s. You can’t not go see Nani and Pop on Thanksgiving. Everyone’s feelings will be hurt if you don’t."

    "Sometimes," Missy said. "Sometimes I wish that people would collect all the things they get hurt feelings about and put them out in a garbage can."



    "Sorry I put you through that," Ron said, lounging on his dad’s favorite bean bag chair.

    "No problem," Gerry answered. "Dinners like that are part of what pastors have to learn to do."

    Ron stared a minute. More alien than Mork from Ork.

    Then he got up and looked in the mirror. Missy. Miss Utterly Bourgeois. That meant that she knew, without thinking about it, where her body, her face, her hair, every bit of her, came from. What did he know about himself? Looking at his reflection, he had to admit that it would probably have been sort of hard to tell the origin of any of the component parts, even if he had known his mother at all and his father for sure, given how . . . average . . . the whole ensemble was that looked back at him.

    For the first time in his life, it occurred to him that even though his biological paternity was a bit optional, so to speak, Dad had at least known his mother. In every sense of the word. They’d been acquainted. In his next letter to Italy, he would ask what she had looked like. Even if the answer was "sort of all-round unimpressive," that would be something. And his school records should have a copy of his birth certificate. He could ask for a copy of it to back file with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Maybe he ought to do that for all three of them. It wasn’t a bad idea to make sure that your paperwork was in order.



    "It can’t be serious, Chad. Can it?" Debbie took off her shoes and propped her feet up on a hassock. It had been quite a day. "They can’t be serious?"

    "No idea," Chad answered sleepily, tilting his recliner backwards before folding his hands across his chest.

    "Surely not. Oh, surely not. They’re only eighteen."

    "Nineteen next month. Both of them. Out of high school for quite a while now, when you think about it."

    "She was just being nice because their father and stepmother are still in Italy. If they hadn’t come here, where would they have eaten?"

    "With somebody else, I expect. Or done something at their place with chicken. Based on the way she was looking at him, wherever he was, she would be too. Seemed rather taken by him. Vice versa. Both trying hard to keep anyone else from noticing. Success level with that project measurable at roughly zilch. Very taken with him. Can’t imagine where she gets it," he yawned.

    That was probably the best tack to take, he thought, remembering that Debbie had been seventeen and still in high school when she married Don Jefferson, who was only a year older. She was eighteen when Anne was born and Don was killed in Vietnam. Willie Ray had used every ounce of political clout at his disposal to get the school board to let her come back the next year and graduate. Willie Ray had once told him that Debbie would have run off with Don if he hadn’t given his consent at the time. Debbie had been a rather determined young lady herself, Chad mused. Nope. Absolutely can’t imagine where Missy gets it.

    "Charles Hudson Jenkins!"

    He assured himself that Debbie hadn’t been reading his thoughts. "It’s not as if Tom Stone is a social pariah any more. He’s made a ton of money legally and his father-in-law’s not too shabby when it comes time to bargain either."

    "Well, I’m going to call Mother. If Missy came straight home rather than stopping by Aura Lee’s, I might as well hear about it now as later."

    She reached for the phone extension, listened a moment, and put the receiver down again. "It’s busy."

    Chad raised an eyebrow.

    "Missy and Ron. Dissecting the dinner events." She frowned. "Missy has a sharper tongue than I ever realized. I wish that I weren’t such an honorable mom. I might have learned a lot from eavesdropping longer."

    "What did you learn in fifteen seconds?"

    "That Gerry called the Lutheran minister out at St. Martin’s as soon as they got home from here. About Chip’s needing to take instructions, I mean."

    "That’s not exactly revolutionary news. Chip broke it to us a long time ago. And they are Protestants. Lutherans, I mean. I looked that up after Vera said . . ."

    Debbie would rather not talk about her mother right now. "According to Ron, this school teacher out there, the one who is going with the Kochs’ daughter, is practically keeping a prize list under the heading of ‘up-time converts we have caught.’ With Chip, at the moment, as a candidate for the blue ribbon."

    "One hand washes the other. We can’t expect all the influence to run one way. Doesn’t the Koch girl count as a prize?"

    "The Kochs were Lutheran already. Before."

    "Oh. I guess I never knew that. Our paths didn’t cross much."

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