Ruthie’s big country kitchen with mason jars of fig preserves was the center of fury this morning. Elizabeth is telling Ruthie about some “people from the church,”- keys in hand on her way to the office in her turquoise Studebaker. She has on a scoop-necked powder blue dress, the color of her eyes, bright red lipstick which I love to watch her put on in the Studebaker mirror. Elizabeth speaks in a high pitched voice to stress her meaning and begins a lot of sentences with “I donno why..” which is code for the fact that she doesn’t agree with whatever she is describing and would like it to be different. She is mid sentence as her sister, Carolyn comes thru the door, but the whining of the overhead fan is all that can be heard as the door swings back and forth a few times from the intensity of her entrance.
Ruthie has come downstairs to oversee lunch for Papa who will be coming in as he does each and every day from the office. Ruthie is slightly impatient with the conversation which has drifted to Carolyn’s contribution. It’s something about people I don’t know. The Wilson girl has gone off with Emmett Brown’s son and you know, he drinks and their family never amounted to anything…” And on and on it goes.
Ruthie suddenly notices me at the table, and sees that the beans I’m snapping.
“Now, Peggieyanne, those beans won’t be good with strings,” she says exasperated which has Carolyn and Elizabeth stop talking to look my way. Then they turn to resume their conversation as if I weren’t there-”You can’t get her to do anything,” Carolyn says shrugging her shoulders.
Elizabeth with her back to me “-I think it’s because she just doesn’t pay attention and no one pays attention to her” looking concerned at Ruthie now who is aggravated and picking up speed as she moves around the kitchen. Elizabeth turns to Ruthie “Now mama, there is no good in getting upset.” But from her expression, clearly she is irritated.
My face is down looking into the bowl of green beans now seeing for the first time the strings, feeling the heat on my face, embarrassed that everyone can see.
A tea whistle blows releasing the pressure for all as Elizabeth goes out the door, and Carolyn picks up the rolling pin and carefully glides it across the biscuit dough on the wooden slate.
“Rufie,” Carolyn always calls her mom this pet name “you better take a look at these tomatoes. They came from Piggley Wiggley and not from Charlie’s vegetables.” Ruthie is looking and feeling the tomatoes now, focused.
“Mrs. Thomas is going to have surgery and Miss Bennett they think had a stroke,”Carolyn goes on. Running water over her hands at the sink and she has raised her voice to continue.
I slip down from the stool having measured in my mind how many steps it will take to be through the door. Just then Papa comes in from the other door to Carolyn’s cheery “Hi Daddy.” In one motion, I escape unnoticed shivering even in the middle of a South Carolina summer.