Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The cherry trees are to the right behind us. That's Judy on the left, then Maggie, Theresa, me and Stephen, the littlest one in the photo.
We ran away from home. We ran all the way to the cherry trees at the end of our yard at 514 East Quarry Street in Manassas, Virginia. Our mother had wronged us. We packed our favorite dresses and dolls into brown paper grocery bags and ran away to our usual running-away place--under the cherry trees. But this time, the story didn’t end there.
It was so unfair! How were we to know that our mother would want a cup of tea that afternoon? She had tea every afternoon but children do not pay attention to the habits of adults. Judy and I took the sugar bowl and hid under the front porch to eat sugar one spoonful at a time, taking turns, letting the granules melt into liquid sweetness in our mouths.
The missing sugar bowl pointed immediately to the culprits because we were the only ones missing when Mom made her tea. She knew where to find us too. On a small town lot hiding places are few and there are not many places that escape notice. We had eaten just one spoonful each when Joe stuck his head under the porch and yelled, “Here they are!”
Ah, misery. We had to crawl out, hand over the bowl and be sent to our room. We felt wronged. All we had done was eat a little sugar; the punishment was surely greater than the crime.
“Let’s run away!” I suggested. “No one loves us here anyway.”
Judy sniffed and nodded. She grabbed her doll and pushed it into a brown paper grocery bag. “What are you going to take, Sue?”
I grabbed a bag and began packing too. “They’ll be sorry they were mean to us. We’ll show them.” We slipped down the stairs and out the door.
Mom spotted us from the kitchen window. “What do you think you’re doing? I sent you to your room.”
“We’re running away,” I said defiantly.
“Oh, in that case don’t let me keep you. Have a safe journey, and do write to me when you find a new home. I shall be so anxious about you.”
I felt Judy slow down and tugged on her arm. “Come on! She’s trying to make us feel bad.” Mom waved and returned to the kitchen.
“Where are we going, Sue? I’m scared. We’re not supposed to cross the street.”
I stopped under the cherry trees. “We can stay here.”
“It’s not running away if we stayed on our own property, is it?” Judy plunked down her bag and looked around. Where will we sleep?”
She was right. We would not make our point if we stayed under the trees. I looked up the back street and saw Mr. Knox working in his rose garden.
Mr. Knox was tall, thin and ancient. He had been in the “Great War,” as he called it. He had a German soldier’s helmet in his hallway. There was a bullet hole in the helmet, just above where the soldier’s ear would have been.
Mr. Knox lived alone. His rooms were spotless, the floors shining and the kitchen, old-fashioned as it was with its high-backed enamel sink, gleamed white. In the living room colored light streamed through the stained glass panels to paint the floor with soft hues. He always treated us like ladies when we visited, courteously inviting us to sit on the tapestry sofa.
“Judy, there’s Mr. Knox. Let’s go see him.”
“We can’t. We have to ask Mom first.”
“Silly! We’re running away. We don’t have to ask Mom. I bet he has some of his sugar cookies just waiting for us.”
I could tell that Judy was tasting Mr. Knox’s sugar cookies, just as I was—white, coated with sugar and a single raisin in the exact center, crisp on the outside but surprisingly soft when bitten.
“Okay. I guess we could visit for a little bit.” We watched Mr. Knox climb up the steep steps to his back porch and disappear into its latticed shade.
We crept out of our hiding place beneath the cherry trees and darted into the darkness of Mr. Knox’s garage. After checking to be sure the coast was clear, we ran the short distance to Mr. Knox’s front porch. I felt like a hero, a spy on a mission.
Mr. Knox seemed surprised to see us. “Come right in, ladies, come right in. I was just about to have a glass of sweet tea. Would you like some?” We nodded, not sure what to say now that we were here.
Mr. Knox tottered to the kitchen, talking as he poured tall glasses of cold amber tea that created immediate sweat on the cut crystal. Ice clinked as he talked about the lack of rain and his roses. I tried to look interested but I was not thinking about roses. I was thinking about how much our mother was going to miss us.
“And how is your mother?” he asked. I nearly fell off the couch. “A fine woman, your mother. Certainly does an excellent job with you children. I’m sure she must be very proud of you.”
I stared at Mr. Knox. “She’s fine, sir. She was just having tea and we told her we thought it would be nice to visit you.”
His eyes danced. “Oh, indeed. I’m surprised she didn’t call me, but perhaps I missed the phone while I was in the rose garden. You probably need to get on home before she worries about you. Tell you what, though …” His voice trailed off as he walked back to the kitchen. “…made these this morning and can’t eat them all. Why don’t you girls just take this bag home?” He held out a brown paper bag with grease stains beginning to seep through its sides.
I took the bag from him with mumbled thanks. What were we to do? The bag of sugar cookies would tell our mother exactly where we’d been.
“Thank you, Mr. Knox. Thank you for the tea.” When the door closed behind us, Judy grabbed my arm. “Mom will know where we’ve been. We’ll be sent to our rooms for a week!”
“Why does Mom have to know? We don’t have to give these to her. We don’t have to tell her.”
“But what will we do with the cookies? Where can we hide them?”
“Right here!” I patted my stomach.
Understanding dawned. “I don’t know. What if Mom finds out?”
“She won’t. If he says anything to her about it, she’ll think he’s talking about some other time when we visited him. Old people get confused, you know.”
“Well, all right. Where should we go to eat them?”
There was only one place, of course—under the front porch. I opened the sack. Fourteen three-inch round sugar cookies gazed back at me with their single raisin eyes. I could not believe a day that had been so sour had suddenly become so sweet.
We nibbled our cookies around the edges, leaving the raisin center for last. I grinned at Judy with my mouth full. “Isn’t this great? All these cookies, just for us!”
We concentrated on the task at hand. Judy ate three cookies and then stopped.
“I don’t want any more. I want to go inside. I need to go to the bathroom. I think I’m going to be sick.”
“You have to eat your cookies! I can’t eat them all! If you throw up, everyone will know. Don’t go!”
“I don’t care. It was your idea anyway.” She crawled away.
“Wait!” I yelled, but she was gone. I sighed and continued to eat. Twenty minutes later the incriminating evidence was safely stowed in my bulging belly. I crawled into the late afternoon air and walked to the door. It opened before I touched the knob.
“So there you are, Miss.” My mother did not look pleased. “Where are the cookies?”
“Cookies? What cookies?”
“Mr. Knox called to tell me you girls were on your way home. He said he hoped that we would enjoy the cookies. Where are they?”
She didn’t need to be told. Upstairs, I could hear Judy tossing her cookies into the toilet. I looked down to see that I still held the stained paper bag in my hand.
“Mr. Knox said you left two brown paper bags at his house. He wondered if you were running away.”
I burst into tears. “I’m sorry I ate the cookies. I think I’m going to be sick!” I dashed upstairs and joined Judy in the bathroom.
It was so sad. All those lovely cookies gone to waste. I cried myself to sleep. When I woke, there were voices in the downstairs hall. I sneaked onto the stair landing and listened.
“It was a pleasure to see your girls yesterday, Mrs. Connelly. I was afraid they might need their bags so I brought them over. By the way, I had quite a few cookies left from my last baking. Brought them over for the children.”
I heard my mother’s surprised thanks and peaked over the rail to see Mr. Knox hand her a bulging, grease-stained paper bag. He glanced up and before I could scoot out of sight, he caught my eye and winked.
“Be sure to tell your girls to visit anytime,” he said. “They don’t need to be running away to come see me. I’ll always have cookies for them. You’ve got some good girls there, Mrs. Connelly. You raised them right.”
“I’ll tell them,” Mom promised. She added, “You’re right. I have some very good girls. But I don’t think they’ll be wanting cookies any time soon.”