After the war (the second world war), Mother and Daddy returned to Daddy’s hometown in Tennessee to live. Daddy thought it expedient to open his first law office in the town that his family had called home for three generations. He leased office space above the pool room on the south side of the town square and advertised for his first secretary. When she came to the office for her interview, he was down on his hands and knees nailing down the new linoleum. He had to remove the nails from his mouth to say “hello.”
In the early spring, Dr. McCrady confirmed to Mother that she was pregnant. She called Daddy from the doctor’s office and asked him if he could close up early and come home. They lived down the hill from town and up the next hill on the top floor of an old three-story house that had probably witnessed the Yankees ride through eighty years earlier and that had now been converted into apartments.
All they would have for heat the next winter when the baby caught pneumonia and struggled for breath would be the oven and the coal that Mother lugged up three flights of stairs for the fireplace. But they didn’t know any of that then. Mother was painting their apartment when Daddy came through the door with an expectant grin. Smiling, she put down her paint brush and walked into his arms.
His first thought was to tell his mother. “Let’s walk up to the house and tell her,” he said. The war had interrupted Daddy’s fledgling law career, so they had no money and as yet, no car. Daddy walked to and from work. Mother had walked into town to the doctor’s office. So they left the apartment and walked up Green Street to Grandmother’s house.
A light rain was falling. The rain had been falling when Daddy walked home from town and while Mother was painting the apartment. The fresh smell of the rain mingling with that of new paint had added to Mother’s happiness that afternoon. Now, as they walked with their arms around each other up the sidewalk to Grandmother’s house, the rain sprinkling their scalps tickled and they were laughing.
Mother told me about this many years later. It is the only story she ever told me about her and Daddy laughing together. It is a sad story because within minutes of telling Grandmother that Mother was “expecting,” their smiles, in the face of Grandmother’s furious indignation, were slipping, fading into the past that overtook and overwhelmed Mother’s hopes for the future, her smile fading utterly from a face now molded in sorrow, the sorrow distilling decade by decade to its essence of rage.
And the rage falling drop by drop, like acid, into the heart of the daughter, etching a hollow there that nothing would ever fill, but the longing to fill it bringing her again to an afternoon in early spring in a lovely little town in middle Tennessee. She closes her eyes and sees them again walking up Green Street to the house at the top of the hill, her mother’s arm around her father’s waist, his arm encircling her shoulders.
A light rain is falling and they are laughing.