The Two Houses
A Children's Story
Bee watched the chill
gray ocean from the balcony of the big house. It was odd that yesterday
had signaled the start of spring when winter's old ice still clung
to the rocky beach. As her mother would say, "Such is life in the
Spring was cleaning time.
Just last week, Mother had received the Call. The Greens would soon
arrive for their summer vacation, and their home must be in picture
Each day, Mother and
Bee rose to meet the glowing dawn. Mother scrambled up some sizzling
sweet pepper omelets. Bee set the cottage's crooked little table,
straightened the flowered tablecloth and started the toast. While
Bee waited for the bread to brown, she soaked up the kitchen's warm
delicious smells and sleepily daydreamed of June daisies. After
a slow, pleasant breakfast, Mother and Bee bundled up in their thick
winter coats. Hand in hand, they trudged out the door.
Mother smiled, the cobwebs
of last night's sleep still hanging about her thin face. "Next year,"
she said, "you will be in school." She fumbled with the key and
unlocked the big house's tiny back entrance. "You will be reading
and learning with all sorts of wonderful people"
"But who will help you
clean?" asked Bee. Mother's eyes seemed to shine a bit more than
usual and she blinked.
"Oh, I'm sure I'll manage
it alone" she said as she quickly dropped her gaze.
Summer eventually struggled
into full bloom. The last patches of frost melted, and the sun dried
out the boggy pools of springtime mud. The big house had undergone
a similarly impressive transformation. Mother and Bee swept away
dust and mouse droppings from the long winter. They covered the
musty mattresses with crisp new sheets and freshly washed afghans.
Bee overheard Mother mutter "The Lady says it makes the place feel
rustic." Looking up, she saw the useless rusty lantern that Mrs.
Green had purchased at a local antique dealer.
Bee even helped Mr. Edwards,
the local handyman, give the front door a bright new coat of paint
the color of pine trees. When they finished, the big house looked
just like the one in the postcards.
Every evening, Bee sat
on her mother's lap, in the big creaking rocking chair. Sometimes
they perused the newspaper. Other nights they read books from the
town's tiny library. Bee liked the books called 'history' the best.
They told of beautiful places and marvelous stories, but Mother
said they were actually true.
Often Bee helped her
mom sound out the big words. Mother seemed awfully proud and would
always treat Mr. Edwards with tales of Bee's latest reading materials.
Mr. Edwards grinned and called Bee a 'precocious child.' She assumed
this was a good thing.
One brilliant day, Bee
was playing behind the shrubbery, when she heard the Green's large
white sedan pull into the big house's driveway. Pale Mr. Green and
orange-tan Mrs. Green creakily emerged, their bulging bodies cramped
from the long drive. Their only son, Alexander, was sound asleep
in the back. When awakened, he protested mightily, and was only
calmed after being promised a cup of "Sally's special ice cream
Mother was planting new
azaleas around the cottage when she heard Mr. Green calling her
name. "Oh, Sally," gushed Mrs. Green, "It is so good to see you
again. Alex is just dying for one of your famous ice-cream concoctions."
Mother was rushed inside to tend the walking-wounded. By the time
she returned to the cottage, the sun was sinking low and the roots
of the baby azaleas had dried out. Mother sighed, saying they would
plant just marigolds this year.
Alex Green was two weeks,
five days, and twenty-seven hours older than Bee, or so he claimed.
He was never around very often because Mr. and Mrs. Green always
had some big event planned. Between hosting cookouts and visiting
friends, the Greens had to squeeze in the beach on Mondays, picnics
on Saturday, and jetskiing on Sunday. Mr. Green was fond of looking
up in the air and exclaiming, "There just isn't enough time in the
summer to make this vacation worthwhile!"
Mrs. Green set aside
every Thursday so Alex could, "play with the local children." Mr.
and Mrs. Green spent such days at the new golf course, which did
not allow small boys for fear dangerous golf balls would bonk them
on the head. Bee never quite understood why the golf course was
'new,' because it had been there as long as she could remember.
However, Mr. Edwards said it was "brand spanking new," and he generally
knew what he was talking about.
Even when Alex was there,
Bee did not like playing with him very much. Bee showed up promptly
every Thursday at 9 AM and Alex always was deeply engrossed in his
family's giant television. One day, Bee spotted a chipmunk eating
under the oak tree. She asked Alex to hurry so they could see where
it hid its acorns. Alex didn't understand what the rush was all
about and insisted on watching the last few minutes of his fifth
most favorite show. The chipmunk was gone when they finally made
"Let's play make believe,"
said Alex. Bee was still thinking about the chipmunk and did not
answer immediately. Alex continued, "I want a big castle full of
gun-tot'n beavers. Um, and you can be like Sally and feed my beavers
when they are hungry." For some reason Bee suddenly felt very angry.
Bee turn stiffly towards Alex and said coldly, "I don't feel like
playing any more today. I think I will go read. Goodbye." And with
that, she turned sharply and stomped into the cottage, leaving Alex
standing there quite at a loss for words.
When Mother returned
from cooking the Green's evening meal later that evening, she found
Bee sitting in the kitchen with a large pile of books spread all
around here. "Will you read to me, mother?" asked Bee. Her eyes
were red and puffy. Mother gave Bee a big hug. She deftly made Bee
a sandwich and a glass of warm milk. Together they sat in the big
rocking chair and read.
They read about Indian
gods with a thousand arms and local fishermen. They read about how
Roman roads were built and how plants grow toward the sun. And finally
they read an article on the American Civil war. The kitchen had
grown warm and Bee was very sleepy. She nestled down close to her
mother and whispered, 'Mother? Are we slaves too?"
Mother was quiet for
a very long time. She held Bee more tightly and softly answered,
"You are not a slave. There is a giant wonderful world waiting for
you outside this little cottage. All you need to do is dream hard
enough." Bee wanted to ask something else, but she was so tired.
The slow rocking and gentle rhythm of her mother's steady breathing
lulled Bee off to a peaceful sleep.
The rest of the summer
passed by in a blur. The Greens returned to the south and the big
house was once again sealed and bolted. Mother stored the cooking
aprons and cleaning supplies for next spring.
Mother started her off-season
job in town and returned home much later in the evening. Bee always
had a hot cup of mint tea waiting. While Mother wiggled her sore
toes and sipped the tea, Bee read her poetry.
The next fall Bee started
school. Just before the bus drove up, Bee reached out to touch her
mother's hand. "Mother," said Bee as she cocked her head to one
side, "I think I'm going to make my own history." Mother scooped
Bee up and hugged her with such vigor they spun around in a circle.
"You will, Bee," said Mother, as tears rolled down her cheeks past
her smile. "You will."
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