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“Grandma Nellie?” Mary stirred the mixing bowl, watching as the flour and eggs wrapped around the wooden spoon and slowly combined with the small sprinkle of currants she had just thriftily added. “Has the knowing ever shown you a part of your own future?” She had been wanted to ask Nellie this question since she had glimpsed the extraordinary sight of herself strolling with the unaware Norton Beecroft the other week, but she still wasn’t quite sure how she should word it.
“Mmmm?” Nellie, bent over her mending, did not look up. “What do you mean?”
Mary gritted her teeth. Grandma Nellie was obviously not going to make this easy for her. “Ask her about Theodore,” Cee-Cee whispered. “Get her to talk about your grandfather.”
“Did you know that you were going to meet Grandpa Theodore before you met him? Did you have an inkling that he was to be your husband before you even spoke a word to each other?” Mary set the mixing bowl aside, suddenly certain that this conversation would need her full attention.
“Yes, I knew.” A small smile played across Nellie’s lips. “Oh, I knew all right.”
“Tell me,” Mary prompted. She picked a tiny currant out of the mixing bowl and popped it in her mouth as she watched an peculiar array of expressions flitter across Nellie’s face; happiness, love, exasperation, and regret.
Nellie threaded her needle back through the thick cloth of William’s pants, busily mending a tear in the knee. William was always tearing his clothes, much to Nellie’s dismay. After this last incident, she had threatened to send the boy out in his long johns if he didn’t start taking more care of his outer garments. “Your grandfather worked on my father’s farm. He took on the position of stable boy and cowhand when he first joined us and although the knowing had whispered to me that I should expect him in my life, I had no idea what guise he would take when he showed up. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed when I first set eyes on him. He had his sleeves rolled up to the elbow and his arm deep inside a birthing cow, his hair falling in his eyes as he cussed and swore as if the world had ended.” Nellie chuckled at the memory. “He turned as red as a beet when he saw me standing there. I thought the apologies would never stop.”
“Yes, but when did you know that you were supposed to fall in love with him? You just told me that you knew he was going to be your husband before you saw him, and now you are telling me that you weren’t impressed with the first sight of him.” Mary rolled her eyes in exasperation.
Nellie looked up sharply, though Mary could have sworn there was no way she could have seen her eye roll as she bent over her mending. “Don’t take that tone with me, missy. You either want to hear the story or you don’t.”
“Sorry, Grandma Nellie.” Mary was instantly contrite and anxious to make amends. She liked hearing Nellie’s tales of a life gone by. “I do want to hear your story.”
Nellie bit off the length of thread between her teeth and tossed William’s pants aside before reaching for one of his shirts. She turned the garment over in her hands, shaking her head at the sight of the enormous tear that ran from the collar to the hem. She disgustedly threw it to the floor on the other side of her chair. “That one is good for nothing but patchwork squares now. The boy will be the death of me.” She reached for one of Ezekiel’s woolen socks, along with a ball of yarn to darn the toe, before resuming her story. “Theodore turned up at the family dinner table that night, scrubbed to an inch of his life. His face was shining from an over-application of water and soap, his hair lay combed flat against his head, and he had dressed himself in his best shirt. He sat down opposite me and he did not take his eyes off me for the entire meal.” She smiled in obvious satisfaction.
“Did you talk to him? Did you stare back?” Mary was enthralled with this new image of her irascible grandmother and the grandfather she had only known from Nellie’s prior descriptions of the man.
“Nice young ladies don’t stare at menfolk.” Nellie’s lips twisted into another smile. “But yes, I certainly did my share of looking that night. It’s amazing what you can see through half-lowered eyelashes. Ah, I could write a book about the things that men don’t know.”
“What happened next? Did he ask if he could court you?”
“He asked my father. Marched right up to him when the meal was over and politely asked. My father took one look at my silly, foolish face and agreed.” Nellie shrugged. “The rest is nothing but history now.”
Mary giggled, picturing that long ago evening scene. “And you knew? You knew when you gazed at him across the table that he was the one?”
“I knew alright. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the pain that he would put me through, but I guess that was all part of my own learning.” She accidently stabbed herself in the thumb with her needle and quickly drew in a breath. “Look at that.” She held up her thumb to show Mary the small red blob of blood. “He’s still paining me now. Just the mention of his name causes me hurt.”
Mary frowned. This part of the story about her grandparent’s life was also new to her. Of course, she understood that Grandpa Theodore had died when June Berry was just a young girl, struck down dead by a well-aimed kick from an ornery cow, but Nellie had never mentioned any other troubles. “How did he put you through pain? What do you mean, Grandma Nellie?”