Porcelain (Part 3)

Olivia gasped in surprise, her right hand fluttering slightly as she placed her teacup and saucer onto the porch railing.  Her cheeks flushed bright red as she stood up.

“He is coming over here?”

“Yes dear, over here.  I thought we might entertain him for supper this evening.”

“He agreed to that, to come over here?”

“I told you he did.”

Without another word Olivia bolted into the house while her mother settled back into the rocking chair with a faint smile on her face.  She remained sitting there until she saw Tom Drummond coming up the road, dressed as always in a nicely tailored brown suit and carrying a small bouquet of flowers.  He was a tall man for the time, standing over six feet and had the long legs and arms to match his height.  Although he walked with a slight limp, an after effect of a childhood dare, his stride was purposeful and strong and he was quickly on the porch, doffing his hat and offering the flowers to Olivia’s mother.  She took them without rising, patting his hand and remarking on his punctuality.  He then offered her his arm as she rose and they both walked into the house.

They found Olivia standing formally behind the large chair in the drawing room, dressed now in a delicate blue dress with cream lace accents and a high collar.  Her hair had been throughly brushed and was now pulled back on the sides and lay in gently curled ringlets down her back.  She gave a slight curtsey as Tom and her mother entered the room, offering him a seat with a wave of her hand.  After pouring drinks Olivia sat down also and pleasant conversation passed between the three of them, words that Olivia took directly to heart but that would have been unremarkable to most other people.

As they moved onto supper Tom lapsed into telling tales to Olivia’s mother, both about the journey out from Maine and his exploits in his younger years as a sheriff’s deputy in Virginia.  Olivia said little, eating her food in small bites just in case she had to speak up or offer a thought to the conversation.  That only happened once however, as she expressed her own desire to see the outlying parts of the Hiawatha community left as a buffer between the town and the Indian tribes in the area.  As Olivia served the dessert, a rhubarb pie made the day before from freshly harvested stalks, her mother took the opportunity to excuse herself, stating she was too full for dessert and too tired to try eating it in any case.  As she left the room she kissed her daughter gently on the cheek and offered her opinion that a walk might be a nice way to end the evening.

After she was gone Olivia sat down again and her and Tom ate the pie in relative silence except for his remark upon its delicious taste.  As she cleared the table he leaned back and looked at her until she stopped to return his gaze.

“It was an excellent meal Olivia and I thank you for having me here for it.  I enjoyed the company of you and your mother.”

“Thank you Tom, and it was a pleasure.”  The awkwardness of the moment was not lost on either of them, Olivia rubbing her hands together while Tom played with his watch chain.  Finally he stood up and extended his arm.

“A walk then?”

“Well, y, yes, yes,” Olivia stuttered in reply, “I just need to finish cleaning up.”

“It will wait, I am sure.  Let’s enjoy the evening before it gets too dark.”

Olivia paused, her pulse racing as she looked at Tom’s offered arm, then she collected herself as best she could and replied, “Yes, very well, let’s enjoy the evening.”

They stepped out onto Shawnee, Olivia wrapped again in her purple shawl, her left arm gently twined around Tom’s right.  They walked in silence for several blocks as she fought through a tangle of thoughts in her head; memories of the past, wishes and wants for the future, fear of rejection and lack of confidence in herself.  Finally she convinced herself that maybe, just this one time, it was worth it to to be bold.

“You know Tom, I often wonder about whether you truly have any interest in me.”  As she said it, Olivia could hardly believe she had summoned the courage to ask and her pulse was racing again, waiting on his reply.  He took a minute to do so, finally reaching over with his left hand and placing it on top of her arm as he spoke.

“I do Olivia, I do.  I actually have always had quite an interest in you.”

maple lined streets of hiawatha

maple lined streets of hiawatha

As he said this they turned onto Delaware, the sides of the road lined with some of the sturdy maple trees that had been such a prevalent part of the land when they arrived.  Olivia had been one of the settlers who advocated for keeping these trees in place whenever possible, and she thought of it as one of her major contributions to the town.  At the moment however she hardly noticed them, as Tom’s simple response had flooded her mind with new, but still very confusing thoughts.

“Why then have you always put us off, put me off?  I know I may have been a shrinking violet at times, however surely you could have made some of your intentions known.”

Tom stopped, turning to look at her, his eyes filled with a mixture of desire and remorse.

“I just cannot, I cannot pursue this intention toward you.”

Olivia returned only a slightly hurt look, waiting for him to continue.

“I cannot, as I am married, back east where I came from, I am married still to a woman from whom I have been unable to remove myself.”

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 2)

She left quietly although not quickly, pausing several times as she gathered up her personal belongings to look at things within the store that had been such an integral part of her life.  Sam Potter might believe it a miracle that she had lasted as long as she did, however Olivia saw her time at Leaders to have been full of productivity and purpose.  She certainly had been the most reliable of all the employees that had come and gone over the years, going in on scant notice when others had become ill or abruptly moved from the Hiawatha community.  She also was still the only one who understood the inventory system in the back of the store, one that was carefully arranged not by product name but by demand and quality.  Olivia had labored over this system for many weeks and almost offered to try to explain it to Sam again as she paused at the door of the store on her way out for this last time.  She saw him peeking at her from his small office stall in the back, his thin, dusty brown hair scattered around his head in no particular order.  She paused and raised one hand, an offer almost, an offer to at least try to make him understand the basics of the system before he had to go back there hunting for hardtack or rope.  She decided against it however and left with a faint, “fair thee well.”

6th and oregon looking east 1909 courtesy hiawathapics.com

6th and oregon looking east 1909 courtesy hiawathapics.com

hiawatha library

hiawatha library

Walking home she headed east, which although it was the not the most direct route, did lead past the rose garden behind the public library.  Olivia liked to sit there in the middle of the garden, not looking around at the bushes or stuffing her nose into them, which is what nearly everyone else did, but leaning back on a bench, closing her eyes and smelling the subtle fragrances that mixed in the air.  The man who had planted the flowers was an experienced rosarian, a careful and meticulous man who tended the garden daily despite his own long work schedule at the bank.  He had brought his bulbs with him, along with a collection of live bushes, all of which he carefully tended through their arduous trip from Maine.  Olivia had watched him graft once, the man’s thick, dirty fingers tenderly trimming cuttings from his bushes before lopping off the flowers and most of the remaining stem, leaving just two or three leaves on a plain green stalk.  The man had given her a short lecture on how plants waste energy producing flowers, which seemed ridiculous to Olivia as she figured that was about what they were good for and supposed to do anyway.  The man did however have quite a talent for getting those cuttings to root and bloom.  His creations now filled the air in the garden with a mixture of musk, fruit and tender spice smells, and Olivia swore she smelled pepper sometimes which just brought a faint smile to the man’s face but never a reply or affirmation.  She sat longer than usual today and then headed home, arriving to find her mother sitting out on the porch in her usual rocking chair, a wool blanket wrapped around her legs to ward off the chill of the day.

“Home early today daughter?”  The lack of surprise in her mother’s voice gave away the fact that she must have already heard about the incident and its eventual outcome.  Olivia said nothing, passing by her mother with a soft pat to her shoulder and then going inside to put her things up and brew some tea.  When she emerged again she was wrapped in a purple shawl and carefully balancing two cups of camomile.  Placing one on the small table next to her mother, Olivia settled down into her own usual seat, a simple but comfortable straight-backed chair with a floral printed cushion.  No words passed between them for several minutes until her mother sighed, placed her tea back down and pointed out toward the road.

“A horse broke a leg out there today.  The carriage it was pulling lost an axle and overturned, that poor animal got twisted up in the harness.  I heard it break, sickening sound really.”  Her mother’s voice, deepened by age, cracked a little as she spoke, her general love of animals showing as always.  “They put it down quickly enough, but still sad to see.”

Olivia nodded in reply, uncertain if this story carried any other meaning.  After several minutes with no more details provided, she figured that was all that was going to be said about it.

“I won’t be going back to Leaders.”

“Hmm, interesting.  What happened?”

Olivia looked over at her mother, an eyebrow raised in question.

“I mean, how did it start dear.  Nobody told me that part yet.”

Olivia gave her mother the rest of the details, becoming slightly worked up again as she told the story.  When she got to the part where she had pulled the cowboy outside, her mother raised her hand to indicate that she knew the rest.

“So Sam Potter finally had enough of you then?”

“Really mother, that’s harsh don’t you think?”

“Not really.  You have always been too defensive about all of this town pride nonsense.  This place could use a few changes.”  A slight twinkle sparked in the woman’s grey eyes as she said this, looking over at her daughter to see her reaction.

Olivia huffed once before replying, her voice slightly raised and edgy.  “Our journey out here was difficult mother, as you know, difficult and trying.  It took everyone of us pulling together to reach this land and we have every right to be proud of it.  And we made this into a fine frontier town, the best if you ask me and plenty of others agree.”

“Plenty of others who were on the trip with you.”

“Them sure, but other people too, ones that pass through here and remark on how much we have done in such a short time.  It wouldn’t have been possible without all of us working together.”

“That and your bunch of fearless leaders.”

“They had the vision, the resources and the knowledge to make it all happen.  We certainly needed them.”

Her mother stayed silent after that, finishing up her tea which had gone cold but was no matter to her, as she had consumed plenty of cold tea in her life.  When she was done she carefully placed the blue and white china cup down on its saucer, which had several slight chips in the edges, memories of the travels her life had taken.  She looked up at her daughter and smiled.

“You should get ready then.”

“Ready for what mother.”

“Tom Drummond of course.  He’s coming over in one hour.”

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 1)

The town still seemed fresh in 1880, having only been plotted out twenty-three years prior by the founding fathers.  Those four men were still revered around Hiawatha and just saying the names of Coe, Wheller, Morrill or Drummond in the wrong tone around the community was bound to get you into an argument.

leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

That would have been especially true at Leaders Dry Goods and Clothing, which was run by Olivia Good and who had been part of the original group of people who had traveled from Maine to settle the verdant part of Kansas that they all now called home.   She was a typical frontier woman, short and durable, pale-skinned and with long brown hair that she often piled on her head to keep it out of her way while engaged in work.  Olivia had a particular affection for Tom Drummond, a man with whom she had flirted for most of the past two decades to little avail and much frustration.  She managed to keep most of that in check however, as he always put her off in the nicest way possible.  Perhaps the next time would be the charm.  That was how she always explained it to her aging mother, a vibrant ninety-six year old whom had followed three years behind her daughter on the road toward the midwest.

704 shawnee courtesy of hiawathapics.com

704 shawnee courtesy of hiawathapics.com

As they would sit together on the wrap-around porch of their home at 704 Shawnee, sipping tea into the evening hours, her mother always shared the same thought.  Olivia should have nailed down Tom Drummond when the two of them were involved in plotting out the streets in Hiawatha, carefully naming the main thoroughfare Oregon and the streets north and south of it after Indian tribes in the area.  She should have nailed him down good and proper when she had the chance and then all of this silly school-girl chasing around would not have been necessary.  Olivia often wondered exactly what her mother meant by nailed down, however she chose to take it in its most innocent form.  It was probably true that she could have acted with a little more determination and a little less subtlety at several points along the way.  At this point however she was mostly stuck with the current situation as she believed it much too late to be anything other than modest.    On that point at least her mother agreed.

It was not then a shock to many when, on a uncommonly cold July afternoon, Olivia ended up in a heated discussion with a new ranch hand who had come into the store to purchase trail gear and sundries.  The man wanted a particular make of saddle coat, which the store did not carry, and this led to his announcement that Hiawatha was about as backward of a frontier town as he could imagine.  Olivia had stepped from behind the counter, trying to smile through pursed lips.

“Whatever do you mean by that?”

“I’ve been in this place for three days and so far all I get from any of you all is, we don’t have that.  I heard it at the drug company, the coal shop and hell I even heard it at the Baptist church.”

first baptist church hiawatha ks courtesy hiawathapics.com

first baptist church hiawatha ks courtesy hiawathapics.com

“You’ll watch your mouth in here sir.  We don’t tolerate you cowboys coming in here and fouling up the air with your trail talk.”  Over the shoulder of the young man Oliva could see Sam Potter, the owner of the store, giving her a hard stare.  This would not be the first time that there had been a confrontation in his store because of her and he had warned her that the next time could well be her last.  It was driving business away he had explained, as word was getting around that his store had a sharp-tongued devil working in it.  That discussion had not had much of an effect on her at the time and his look had little in the moment.  She continued.

“Now, as for Hiawatha, I will have you know that we here are one of the fastest growing communities in this area.  Just two decades ago there was nothing here except the Indians and since then you have all of this, all of this that is around you here.  Come with me young man.”

The ranch hand seemed to have had enough.  “Ma’am if it’s all the same to you I will just be on my way.  No offense and apologies for the language.”

Olivia took his hand and Sam Potter buried his face in his hands, taking care to remove his glasses first.

“You come with me young man.”  She led him out the front door, pulling him along by his fingertips.  He could have easily disengaged, however at this point likely thought it was not going to be of any real assistance in his current situation.  When they were outside she stood beside him, hand on his right shoulder, and waved her arm down the west side of Oregon Street.

“Look down these streets young man.  Do you see all we have to offer here?  The mercantile, the doctor’s office, the drug company.  Look right above Yates there, you see the bank.  That is the bank of Barnett, Morrill and Janes, our own financial house right here in Hiawatha.  And then here,” and she turned the man to look east, “the hotel and the telegraph. See them?  And the churches?”

6th and Oregon looking west 1915 courtesy hiawathapics.com

6th and Oregon looking west 1915 courtesy hiawathapics.com

The man raised his left arm in an awkward partial salute.  “Well you have it all then I guess.  Quite the fancy place you have here.  How could I have been so wrong.”  The mocking tone was evident to the small group of people who had stopped on their way past the store to see the scene play out.  Abel Murray, who knew Olivia well, whispered something to his wife who just rolled her eyes.

“You be respectful young man.  We have a good town here, better than whatever hustle and bustle city you come from and we have plenty that good people want.  You go find your fancy saddle coat somewhere else!”

The man took her advice and left, leaving behind a muttering crowd that soon dispersed and Olivia, who remained with her hands on her hips at the door.  Sam Potter came out three minutes later and told her to go home and never come back.