Niches, from Barbara King

I don’t even know how to say this word.  Is it nitches or neeches?  I know it means a small space used to cram or display something.  My sense of this word is that it implies a snug, sometimes hidden, space where just one more thing can be inserted, or fit in.  I guess that’s the cramming part of the word, isn’t it?  There is quite a bit of difference between cramming and displaying, it seems to me.

          Saints and icons of religious figures in general fit into niches in the wall, spaces designed for just such a purpose.  Those niches are for display.  Got it?

          Besides a literal niche, there are figurative niches, some to fit into, some to fill.  We find them and make them.  Metaphorically. 

          People venturing out into the world to seek their fortune are sometimes advised to find their own niche.  I like that idea.  Instead of setting off, willy nilly, in search of easy money and seductive fame, you simply look for a small piece of turf to call your own, in the world’s kaleidoscope of colorful possibilities, its cacophony of vibrant life being lived, its rapidly unfurling tapestry of pattern and

 . . . but wait.  Perhaps the niche you seek is neither colorful nor romantic, suppose your desired niche is a one-car-length break in the traffic as you are waiting to merge, to get into the flow of things, to join the break-neck, six-lane race to – somewhere. 

          This is too industrial an image for me to pursue.  Rather, I prefer to think of a hermit crab, recently grown so that his shell is constrictive and he must abandon it, searching blindly, in all of his nakedness, for a new shell, a larger shell to inhabit.  This is the way of hermit crabs.  They come together in colonies so that they may trade up when the need arises, never minding that when they leave their old shell to search out a new one, a larger niche, they are, for those brief moments between shells, naked and vulnerable, in competition with other seeking crabs for the most desirable shell, prey to any predator who may be flying or casting overhead.  Their world, as we watch from the side of the tidal pool or plain, is sand and little gullies and shallow basins of water.  They do not see the larger world with its other creatures, its myriad possibilities, and like us, they scrabble for survival, frantic to find a safe niche in which to rest, and grow, and search again, if they are fortunate enough to do so.

          This niche hunting is serious business.  You have to have some sense of self, some idea as to your relative size and how much of a risk you are willing to take, meandering about, looking for a new home, for a niche that fits you.

          Before you go tearing off to cram yourself into the first niche you find, it seems to me that you should sit quietly and contemplate what race you want to enter, what destination you want to find, and most of all, what talents and proclivities you possess that will make your journey to your own space a good one, with a chance of success.  For instance, assuming you are not a hermit crab, are you a musician who would like to make music for a living?  Your chances are slim to slimmer of attaining that goal, I understand from career counselors.  Even symphony tuba players at the top of their game must have a day job to sustain their music habit.  But just because someone has told you that your journey, the race you want to enter, is a difficult one, that is no reason to quit before you’ve even begun.  Be advised, however, you may have chosen to find a niche that is already filled, or one that is too high in the niche pile for you to reach.  Many are daunted at this point, and give up their search for their own niche.  But what if you don’t merely want to make music, but rather, you must make music?

          Some people don’t get to choose their race; some inner sense of who they are, their own personal gyroscope, defines their choices.  They were born to make music and that is the only form of self expression they can contemplate.  While I can admire the single-minded dimension of their choice, I do not resonate to their particular tuning fork.  I am more comfortable with compromise; if you cannot make enough money playing your violin in the subway, your donation basket at your feet, then you must get a job, perhaps find a career, and then play your music for friends, for your own enjoyment, but no one is suggesting you don’t make music.  You simply make music when you can.  What I am admitting here is that not every person gets to make a living at what he does best, but that doesn’t mean he has to give up his passion: it must simply become an avocation rather than a vocation.  Most of us must learn to compromise.  Experience and necessity have taught us.

          In this same vein, career counselors tell aspiring candidates in the niche race to find a career, a vocation, and save their non-productive inclinations for a hobby niche.  They tell them what they want to do is untried, unknown, unadvisable.  Perhaps they tell aspirants that the road they have chosen is too difficult, that very few succeed.  These counselors, parents, friends, are all trying to be kind.  They know, probably from reading statistics on the subject, that few high school songstresses become Broadway stars, only a few gridiron heroes go on to play for the NFL.  They are trying to do the advisees a favor, to let them in on one’s of life’s truisms, that many are called, few are chosen.  Their version of reality also plants doubts and encourages defeatism, what we call giving up on your dreams before you’ve even begun.  How fortunate we are that Leonardo de Vinci did not listen to his career counselor, that Abraham Lincoln did not go into haberdashery at his first political defeat. 

          It seems to me if you can crawl, you should go for the most desirable vacant shell. 

          We tell people to find a niche, to fill a niche, but there is another phrase that signifies here.  How about the people who go out and make a niche for themselves?  This forceful mental image implies that there is little room in the scheme of things for one more space to be created, that all of the known niches are filled and this person must elbow and shove and somehow make room for himself in life’s patchwork quilt, start a new niche.  Invent a job no one has ever heard of.  See a need and fill it.  Listen to your inner voice of possibilities.  Don’t listen to the career counselors too avidly.

          There are people who do not live in colonies, who do not drive on the freeway of life, who do not care to find a niche that someone else has already shaped and decorated and defined.  These people literally make a space where there was none.  They follow some inner compass, taking clues from around them and reassembling them in a unique way.  About them we sometimes say, after they’ve done the hard work, paid their dues, become successful, “why didn’t I think of that?”

          And they are, those who invent and create and march to their own drummer, from what I can ascertain, not in the slightest concerned with how they are perceived.  They seem to shake off the myriad voices of reason and discouragement and forge onward, making a path where one has not yet been.  They are the people who are forever pulling us onward further into civilization or technology or art, or well, just onward.  And they do not seem to be the sort of people who display their accomplishments in a niche on their wall (we are discussing the other shade of meaning of “niche” now, pay attention).

          What courage it must take to strike out into unchartered territory, daring to invest all of one’s time and even money into an idea (others may call a scheme, thus lending it a slightly shady aura), risking ridicule, defying odds, courting disaster and believing in one’s self so completely that the risk seems miniscule.   Do these people realize the potential for disaster?  Are they willing to pay the price when their schemes come to naught?  Do they whine as the rest of us would do, if failure should ensue, that life is unfair, that they were bilked?  Are they different than you and me?  Is that why they surpass us?

          You know of someone on this short list of super achievers.  An entrepreneur, an author, a CEO, the list is long.  Phil Knight.  Justin Bieber.  Thomas Edison.  Jonas Salk.  JK Rowling.  Oprah Winfrey.  Not all super achievers are prominent, so fame and its inducements are not necessarily a defining factor in identifying them. 

          It seems to me that the niche creators work hard, without exception.  They must practice and hone and try and fail and correct and try again.  What looks easy to us, is most likely not.  They learn.  While we are all capable of learning, niche makers most likely readily learn from their own mistakes, and the mistakes of others.  They analyze; what went wrong, what went right, don’t they?  Perhaps they compile data, internal and external, and they use it to chart a course.  Surely they perform these analytical tasks.  Or else they are just driven.  Or else there is something else.

          Ahh, I see it.  They are not a part of the herd.  The reason they had to “make” a niche is because they were in uncharted territory; there were no niches there and it was incidental, their making a niche at all.  They were unafraid to go out, naked, as it were, into the world, into the unknown.

          In answer to the question, are the superstars in life different from you and me?  Smarter?  Wiser?  Luckier?  I don’t think so. 

          Another difference between the rock stars and the front row audience might be that they, those mysterious “thems,” seem never to arrive.  They may collect statuettes and place them in a niche to honor the achievement, but they didn’t perform or work or invent or create in order to win prizes, for the most part, and they don’t stop doing those things once they have earned recognition.  They are constantly rearranging their living room furniture, so to speak, while you and I might find a pleasing floor plan for our stuff and there it sits, year after year.  We don’t like change, take risks, as much as those who are our role models and our heroes evidently do.  Maybe we are more easily satisfied while our counterparts are always reaching, perfecting, growing.

          Most of all, niche creators have an inner confidence.  Sometimes it appears to be false confidence, more bravado, but these nichies would rather fail than settle for someone’s else’s version of success, for someone else’s niche.

          We’ve been looking at niches cosmically, but anyone who was born into a family with at least one sibling knows that the niche concept works when talking about the family pecking order, too.  If the first born is a hellion, the second and subsequent siblings may, finding the hellion niche filled, turn to the student or the peacemaker or some other well-defined niche to fill.  Conversely, if the first born is perfect, the following issue may raise Cain with impunity, as “perfection” leaves quite a few niches available.  Well, it’s not all this simple, but you get the idea.

          There must be books and pamphlets and documentaries about nichery, how to get to yours, how to furnish it, how to get an agent to handle your business so you can continue to just, well, fill your niche.

          Ultimately, it’s not the niche itself that interests me, or at least primarily, but the acceptance of the concept that there even are niches and that talented, prepared, purposeful people will succeed in finding theirs.  I envision somehow a bee hive’s insides, little chambers, all alike, filled with honey, a Hilton Hotel with an inside glass elevator, so that you can see all of the niches as you ascend or descend, everyone knowing, just born knowing how to do his or her assigned task, and coming together at the end of the day to your own little hexagonal cubicle – but this image is flawed, for as soon as the cubicle in the hive is filled, it is sealed and the bees continue to toil to make more honey, more chambers, more, more, more.  Surely we humans are smarter than that; we surely pause to savor our accomplishments, to high five with the other bees. 

          Most of us are bees.  I am a bee, not the most industrious in the hive, but I do my fair share of buzzing and nectar gathering.  I believe in the concept of the welfare of the hive and I follow the bee rules, mostly.  Sometimes I buzz my own little tune, and once in a while I make a design on the cubicle wall I’m building, but mostly, I just fill my niche and feel pretty darn happy to be productive and among people a lot like me.  I have a purpose and a product.  I’m not entirely clear in my mind about how I got here, but I have found a comfortable niche and I can rest for a while.

          If we are communal creatures, like bees, we are also individuals and we, many of us, give lip service aplenty to “doing our own thing.”  Whatever that may be.

          The more I think about it, the more I equate the word “niche” with the word “home.”  I realize you may think “rut” instead.  But then, I’ve thought about the subject so hard that my head aches; I am not a niche-buster, after all.  I admire the people in life who get off the freeway, invent a new game so that they can make up the rules, and stand outside of the “shoulds” and the “oughts” and well, do their own thing.  While I visit that territory, I do not live there; I’m not one of them.  My rebellions are modest and my aspirations are, too.  As the world rages on around me, I am content to have my family, a few precious friends, and a sense of structure in my life, ephemeral though it may be. This is my niche. 

          By the way, if you live in Peoria, you say “nitch,” but if you live in Paree, you say “neesh.”

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Uncle Charlie

The Little George Series, No. 7


            Uncle Charlie didn’t take to that little kid like his wife Leaitis did.  He seen Little George sneak those biscuits and that ham and he seen him do another thing or two that weren’t so ‘sweet’.  Leaitis thought he was just a nice little boy who missed his Momma.  Uncle Charlie thought Little George might just like having no mother around and everyone to feel sorry for him.  Oh no, he waren’t a rascal nor anything that was so easy to catch.  That boy, he was always ahead of the game.  Uncle Charlie saw him watching him, too, and he knew that Little George knew about his stash of liquor.   But he hadn’t told Leaitis about it.  Which be more worrying than if he had a done.  Never could tell when that boy going to just up and blab out something that would get him in big trouble with the Missus.   Uncle Charlie sure did like to see that boy go off inta that there swamp.  Maybe a big ol’ gator’ed get em, and then he would be shut of him. 

            Course Leaitis would cry and fuss and probably blame him.  Darn that sister-in-law of his for getting left by the no-good husband of hers.  Uncle Charlie had kind of liked the man, afore he up and disappeared.  Who knows about these things, anyway?  Who knows if Little George isn’t going to grow up just like his Daddy.  

            Little George is a cagy sort of boy.  The sort of boy who il’ stand back, quiet like, and wait to see what the big folks was talkin’ before he would say a word.  Always a calculatin’.  And then he would open up them big blue eyes and smile and be so sweet he would charm the ladies.  They would want to hug the little fellow and give him a sandwich, or some cake.  Uncle Charlie’d watch him and see that Little George would catch his eye, for just a second, and it was a sure thing that chile was acting his theater part, like some traveling salesman, selling that snake oil.   But the ladies never did catch on to his shenanigans.   He was just like that, a snake oil salesman, Uncle Charlie thought, on account of he always got them ladies to fawn over him.

            Durn kid was too smart for his own britches, too.  Always coming up with some fancy answer or big question about something. 

            Well, we would just see how smart he was.  Playing down in the swamp with all them snakes and gators and his little black friend Dime, it weren’t likely he would outwit those critters for long.  Maybe for a while, do tell, but not for ever.   

            Uncle Charlie slipped his bottle back down behind the work bench and pushed the leaning  shed door to closed.  Some day he was going to get around to cleaning up that rusty lock, but for now, this’ed be just fine.   Where was that boy this morning?  He thought he would rock a bit on the back porch and see if he could spy him coming around.  It was a right fine morning for porch rocking.

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Grampa Jones

Little George Series, No. 6

            Lord have mercy, I cain’t believe it.  Poor chile had to walk home in that terrible storm.  I feel so sorry for him.

            Ain’t real sorry for Daddy, however, being as he been living the life of a drunken coot since Momma gone an’ died.  Still and all, it is a sadness, with him alone in that cabin and Little George just staying there with him for a few days.  Poor Daddy.  And poor Little George.  If’n he hadn’t had the new pony it would of been Little Jimmie there instead of George.  Jimmie almost a man, now, but Little George, he still such a tender age.  

            I got to find him and settle him down now.  Maybe Pastor can have a talk with him and help him with the troubles.  Boy has had so many troubles, with his Momma and all, and his Daddy running off and leaving them so poor.  Please have some mercy, Lord.  How much you ‘spect one little boy to take?

            Reading his note just breaks my heart.  I’m going to give him a quarter for writin’ out such a good letter.  I wish I could give him more.

 Der Aunt Leaitis:

          Sorry that I missed you.  Elmer in the barn said you had gone to see Pastor Jones but I had to sleep so I am leavin’ this here note.

          Grampa died last night in his sleep.  I come right to tell you, like I promised I would, but I had a lot of trouble.  There was a giant storm, which I ‘spect you already know,  and my pony Belle was so scared I almost had to drag her instead of ride her.  That 9 miles took a couple’ a hours at least, which is why I didn’t get here ‘afore you left.  The creek got so filled up with storm water that the footbridge was covered over and even tho’ the lightening had mostly passed, Belle was afraid to cross the bridge.  The water was half way up her legs. I knew my way real good, you know, so after a little while me made out OK.

          Grampa was awful quiet these last couple ‘a days. I would dip him some fresh water and put it up to his lips with a big spoon but a while ago he stopped wantin’ to take a drink.  When the thunder woke me up I saw he was staring out at the rafters and that is when I saw that he weren’t breathing a’ tall.  Cousin Jimmy is supposed to come in a few days and I was going to stay, but I figured I should come tell you right away.

          I covered Grampa up mostly with the afghan Gramma made for him and put an old quilt over his legs, too.  I left his beard out over the afghan like he always did when he was sleeping and his head is on the middle of a real good pillow.

          After me and Belle started I run back because maybe I was wrong about it all, but when I saw him laying there I knew I wasn’t. 

          The front door is barred from the inside like you said, so go around to the back through the screen porch.  I took the Winchester with me ’cause of snakes but I am leaving it with Elmer to give you.

          I’m  plum tired now and gotta get me some sleep.  After Belle has some hay I’ll put her in the pasture, like I promised, and go on up to the attic so as not to bother anyone. 

          I am sorry this is in pencil, but I still cain’t write so good with a pen.

                 Your nephew, George

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Aunt B

The Little George Series, No. 5

             He ain’t never been on a train.  It will be an a’venture.  Aunt Leaitis says he’s goin’ to like it lots.

            He’s goin’ take a train to meet his Momma.  Aunt Leaitis ‘ll take him to the station, and he will get off in Edison. Aunt B’s gonna meet him and take him to her house.  Her and Uncle Joel’s house.  Little George went there once, a long time ago, with his Momma.  But that was when he was just a little kid.

            Aunt B and Uncle Joel are giants.  Aunt B is a whole lot taller than any woman he has ever laid eyes on.  And Uncle Joel is even taller.  And he’s big, too.  Too bad he’s so mean.  Little George heard him from the bedroom yelling at his Momma, telling her she was a bad woman.   Little George didn’t like to hear that at all.  He doesn’t feel too good about seeing Uncle Joel, but he surely does want to see his Momma. 

            Uncle Joel has a fake leg.  It’s got metal strips around it and leather on the top.  Little George had seen it once when he peaked into their the bedroom when Aunt B and Uncle Joel was sleepin’.  His Momma was sleeping away it that guest bedroom up front and he couldn’t sleep no more, so he figured he’d do a little scouting around.  He scouted him up the door to the back stairs, which went down to the cellar.  Weren’t nothin’ exciting down there.  Then he scouted him up the cabinet in back of the closet where they had all them guns.  Took him a long time to get that lock open, but he put it back.  Didn’t take a gun, neither.

            But he couldn’t help himself about the leg.  He knew Uncle Joel had a war injury and had got himself a new leg, and he surely did want to see it.  Now Uncle Joel was not the kind of man a boy could ask to see such a thing, so Little George just had to peek in on his own.   He pushed the door open a tiny bit, and it didn’t even squeak, and there it was, a giant old wooden thing taller than Little George himself.  Laying right across the chair over from the bed where Uncle Joel was snoring.  He sorely wanted to tiptoe in and just touch it.  He would like to take it away somewhere – the cellar? – but his Momma would have killed him dead if he did that.  Besides, he was still a very young boy then and used to cause a lot of trouble. He had grown out o’ that now.  He was much better on being good now.    

            Aunt B is waiting at the station with a basket of sandwiches. She doesn’t have any kids, so he figures he’ll be real sweet to her and maybe she will treat him real special. Maybe she would let him have a quarter to take to the Five and Dime store here in town.  He remembers that store.  His Momma didn’t have a quarter when they visited before, but she allowed they could walk around in it anyway. There weren’t no Five and Dime back home, and he would surely like to have a quarter and go in there.

            Little George smiled up at Aunt B and said “You’re sure looking pretty today, Ma’am.  Right pretty, indeed.”  He smiled his biggest widest-eyed smile.  Aunt B smiled back at him and patted him on the head.

            “You’re OK, there, Little George.  You’re OK.”

            “Thank ee, Ma’am, for saying so.”

            “Have a sandwich, now, ya hear?  You need to put a little fat on those skinny bones of yours.”

            “Yes’m, I surely do.  Thank ee, Ma’am.  This looks mighty tasty!”

            Aunt Leaitis had given him two apples for the trip, which she said was a couple of hours, but he had et em right away.  He was grateful for the sandwich.  It was pineapple and tomato on white bread.  Delicious and sweet. 

            He hoped he didn’t have to see Uncle Joel much.  If’n he just saw Aunt B he was sure he would get that quarter by and by.  Then when his Momma came he would have her a present.

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Little George Series No. 4

             The attic dormer window had been left open.  Or rather, it was open just a crack at the bottom, as if a person had started to close it in a hurry and didn’t finish.  From the moist sill you could see over the tree tops to where the land fell away into the swampland below where the old farm house sat.  Just above the ever-smaller tree shapes there was a deep blue band of clouds, flickering with flashes of light.

            The moistness on the sill was not rain or mist or fog but a heavy sheen of damp air, hovering over it and clinging like warm lotion to the wood of the window, the cracked glass, the shingles on the old roof, and the wires that ran over it towards the chimney.   There was a soft rumbling sound over the swamp, and though it was aways away, the house beneath the window trembled only the tiniest bit, as though in anticipation of the excitement it felt coming.  Beneath the window, beneath the roof, beneath the stories, the old hand-built structure seemed to awake and tense a little:  it, too, knew what was coming soon.

            One fat soft drop hit the sill.  Another now on the old dirty glass.  A little breath of wind rustled the air, stirring away the closeness.  The birds, who had been singing in the tree tops, stopped.  The crickets and other bugs followed along as a hush of waiting enfolded the old home.  It had not been washed clean for many a month and as the royal purple clouds rose overhead and the drops turned into hundreds, now thousands, if you were listening very carefully you would have heard a soft sigh as the lightening danced and churned around in the billows of blue.

            In the morning there was a pool of rain water on the attic floor, just behind and below the dormer window.  When the little boy who sometimes lived here came up to look out at the forest, he found a tiny green frog sitting almost exactly in the middle of that puddle.

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Aunt Leaitis

Little George Series No. 3

             I suppose it is in my blood to hate that place.  I won’t go down in there.

            But Little George is my blood, so how come he loves that horrible swamp so much?  Momma used to let us go along the edge of the forest, Cabby and me, but land sakes we would have had our backsides tanned if we’ed gone down into that place.  There always been stories of terrible things hiding out in that swamp – horrid bad things that you cain’t even see a comin’.  One of Daddy’s farm hands come a runnin’ out of there one afternoon, shouting that he see’d a Will o the Whisp a chasin’ after him. He was so scared he a left the fish he had just caught on the bank and hightailed it back up to our barn.  Daddy gave him some of Momma’s chicken for his dinner and told him never to go back, ya hear?

            I did go part way in there once, even though I know Momma would a killed me dead.  I went with little Jeb Logan, but we didn’t get too far cause it was too scary.  Smelly and misty and all kinds of little sounds echoing around those trees sitting in that murky water.  I was sure I seen that hanging moss move all by itself, and I know I heard snakes.  They was all around us, everywhere, and we couldn’t see a one.  I made Jeb take me out of there, now.  I said it just like that – “Now!”

            So how is it that Little George goes in there every chance he gets?  Says he loves it and it ain’t scary or nothin.  Brings back fat long eared rabbits for the dinner pot and squirrels and even a big ol’ possum to simmer up for Brunswick Stew.   He brings fish, too.  Says it’s nice down in there.   But I think I know what he really likes about that place, besides catching those snakes so he and his friend Dime can skin em up and sell em.  He likes to get away from Uncle Charlie.  I know it, I know it.  But what can I do?

            Probably high time for me to send the little fellow over to Aunt Cabby’s for a while.  Sit that durn husband of mine down and tell him he gots to mend his ways.  My sweet little sister Susie would be so sad if she were to hear tell of the shenanigans Charlie been up to lately.  Lord knows Susie had enough problems without that.

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Aunt Cabby’s in the Kitchen

The Little George Series, No. 2

            Sometimes Little George lived with Aunt Cabby.  He never knew when he would be told to get his things and be plopped up in the wagon and driven to her house.   Aunt Leaitis did not give him a reason.  She would only say that it was about time for him to go see his other Aunt.  Little George had an idea it was a cause he’d been eating too much food and Aunt Leaitis had found out.  But sometimes he had been real good, only taking his served-up portions and not sneaking down at night to steal a bite of ham or a cold potato.  So it didn’t make sense.  When he was grown up he was going to be sure that things made sense.

            Aunt Cabby’s house was all the way over to Larson, so it took more than half the day to get there in the wagon.  Uncle Charlie would stop to give the horses some water in Social Circle and they would have some lunch in the Inn.  It was really a tavern, but Uncle Charlie said to call it an Inn.  He would have enough whiskey so as to not want to get down from the wagon when they finally got to Aunt Cabby’s.   He thought that she couldn’t tell he’d been drinking.   Little George was sure happy to get down, though.  That wagon had almost gone into the ditch too many times with Uncle Charlie driving.

            He never had time to tell Dime he would be goin’.  He didn’t have a friend like Dime over to Aunt Cabby’s.  Oh, there were some kids around, but they were mamby pamby kids  and didn’t like to go too much into the forest.  Once he talked little Leroy into going with him and hunting rabbits, but Leroy told his mother that Little George was a dare devil.  Aunt Cabby had to make him stay in his room for a whole day for a punishment.  Little George knew he wasn’t a dare devil, cause that Leroy was afeared of just about everything.   And Aunt Cabby liked it when he brought home rabbits for dinner, and so she let him out early on the day of his punishment.  She told him to go out and get some dinner for us now.  Little George tried, like the good boy he truly was, but it was best to hunt for rabbits early in the day, so he came back with his old flour bag empty.  

            Aunt Cabby was a terrible cook.  But sometimes she let Uncle Legree come into the kitchen and then the food was pretty good.   He had a speciality that he only served up for holidays and big dinners, like when their son, Major, would come with his wife to visit.  They lived all the way down to Jacksonville, which was a city.   Little George asked if he could go with them someday, to see a city, but they said it was too far a piece.  Uncle Legree would catch him a o’possum and put him in a cage on the kitchen porch, and feed him up to fat for a couple of months.  Then he would cook him up in a gravy sauce with rice from Big Daddy’s old abandoned rice field.  It was wonderful tasty food, and he even made biscuits to eat with the gravy.  Aunt Cabby’s biscuits, when she made ’em,  were hard as rocks, but Uncle Legree’s were soft as pillows.  Little George wished that Uncle Legree did all the cooking, but Aunt Cabby said it was women’s work to be in the kitchen. 

            His Momma was going to come and visit, Aunt Cabby said one morning.  She would come sometime in the next week.  Little George better wash up and get his things all neat so she would be proud of him.   Little George couldn’t sleep for waiting.  He would tiptoe outside on the kitchen porch in the middle of the night and look up at the stars and wonder if his Momma was seeing those same stars.   She’ed been gone a long time, he knew, but he didn’t know exactly how long.  Aunt Leaitis had said she wasn’t sick or nothin, so he was not to worry.  She was alright and she would come back some day. 

            But his Momma didn’t come after all.  Aunt Cabby told him that she had sent a letter to say she had to stay where she was working and could not get the time off.   Off of what, Little George had asked.  Off of work, Aunt Cabby had said.  But what is she working on that she has to get herself off of it?  But Aunt Cabby said to go on, now, and stop asking silly questions.  Little George was sad she wasn’t coming, but he understood.  He didn’t want his Momma to get into trouble with her work boss, so he just nodded and did not cry like a baby boy.  He was a very good boy, after all, and didn’t give his Aunts any trouble at all.

            Any time now, real soon he felt sure, he would be going back to Aunt Leaitis’ and get to see Dime again.  He sure did miss having a friend to play with.

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Waiting for Dime

No 1 of The Little George Series

            He is a short boy and spare:  all sinew and angles under his toe-headed blond hair.  He is so lean his eyes seem over-large in his face, beacons of wondering blue.  Their look of wide-eyed joy when he smiles will not change for all of his ninety-one years.  He is walking barefooted along the soft earthen path.  He has hidden his shoes near the entrance to the swamp land.  It is summer and his feet need to breathe.  His aunt doesn’t know it, but he usually goes barefoot out here, even in the colder months. 

            He is going to meet Dime, his friend, out near the swimming hole.  But he has gotten a late start because Aunt Leaitis made him do so many chores.  She must have known he was after snakes again, because it seemed like she kept coming up with one thing and another for him to do.  But he was careful not to complain, saying “Yes Ma’am”, and “I’ll just do thatn’ right away Ma’am”.  Because he is a good boy, a good nephew.  It’s just that sometimes his aunt is too much like a big fat mother hen hovering around her little chick.  

            The sunlight is dappling the undergrowth, as he passes easily along the path, knowing where to walk to avoid the water and mushy ground.  He loves it out here.  Even at night. Little George she calls him.  Guess he is kind of little, but someday his aunt will have to stop calling him that.  He may be little but he is smart.  Smarter than that big ol’ dumb Uncle of his, smarter than his Aunt, too.  They just can’t keep a’hold of near anything, always fretting over money.  He hears his aunt at night fussing at Uncle Charlie.  When Little George grows up he ain’t gonna fret.  He’s gonna go far away and be somebody big.   But right now he is free and easy here in the forest, smelling the freshness of the live oaks and the moss.  He sees a snake slither away in a pool nearby, but it’s a little one, and hardly worth the trouble to catch.

            Sitting on the bank by the hole, waiting for Dime to show up, he sees a gator quietly surface across and down the stream.  Sitting very still, he watches it stay floating on the surface for a little while and then quietly sink back under the bank.  It has some kinda kill under there, Little George knows, wrapped up to ‘cure’.  The bank is a big old shelf that cuts under and back, like a cave.  Once Little George came up under the shelf after a dive in the hole and almost didn’t get out before the light went out in his head.  Dime and a couple of buddies pushed on him ’til the all that brown water came out of his chest.  He weren’t never gonna tell Aunt Leaitis about that day.  She would make him do chores for a week for trying to drown out there in that durn swamp.   

            Time passes by, and the shadows get longer, with the quiet of the hole tickled by the noise of the bugs and the fish jumping up to try and bite them.   The gator comes back up and slowly starts to swim downstream, away from the hole.  He disappears into the shadows.  Dime still doesn’t come.

            A big old black snake comes swimming downstream out in the current.  Could be a moccasin or a king snake.  Hard to tell from the bank.  Little George wishes Dime were here so he could try to catch it, but it’s too big to get on his own.  But he knows that old snake will be around tomorrow.  He looks like he likes to hunt here.  Little George will tell Dime about him and they can wait for him to come back.  That old black snakeskin will make some fine looking purses to sell to the tourist ladies. 

            Little George walks back home along the same path. Aunt Leaitis will be looking for him for supper.  He’s probably late again. And, he’s plum hungry.  Maybe she will be serving up those biscuits of hers.  He sure does like them biscuits.  He’s a gonna stuff as many biscuits in his mouth as he can and then take a few with him when he hides out in the attic.  He always gets out of there before Uncle Charlie really gets going. Uncle Charlie probably knows where he goes.  But Uncle Charlie is too lazy to climb up all those old rickety stairs.  Too lazy and too drunk.  The thing about the attic is that you could hear him comin’ if he ever got up the gumption.  And Little George knows how to get on the roof and slide up out of view, above the dormer window. 

            He stops to put his shoes on and then walks by the back of old Mrs. Lewis’ yard and picks some cabbage roses for his Aunt.  She will know where they came from, of course, but it will help him out with being late and all.  Best be sweet if he wants to get out to meet Dime early tomorrow.

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Pasadena looked down.  She would not look into the man’s eyes. He was smiling and nodding  and being nice.  Too nice.  Patronizing.  Her father lay in his hospital bed, propped up, believing every word the man was saying.

            Pasadena did not.

            Her legs were swollen.  More swollen.  Pale and puffy and Michelin-Man like.  Could be the heat.  Being in her last trimester in very hot weather was harder than she had expected.  Perhaps she should call the doctor back.  He had left several messages this morning.  But she would think about that later.  Maybe.  The doctor was too into the hype of western medicine.  Pasadena had sat there yesterday afternoon, in the little room, and listened to the doctor telling her she had to do something immediately.  Well, she sort of listened.  She had actually really tried to listen, but it was hard not to be distracted by the pasty white round face of Dr. Stevens, with sweat beading up on his forehead, with his high-pitched nasally voice.  He was overreacting, she was sure.  And he was a man.  The only things he really understood about pregnancy were out of a book.  Of course he had years of medical practice, but Pasadena knew, she knew, that doctors looked for things to confirm what they already believed. 

            She had only agreed to let them take some blood.  Which was probably why he kept calling.

            There were just too many things to think about right now.

            And what was this man standing by her father’s hospital bed trying to do? He was one of the pastors from the new church that her father had joined after his big stroke.  Pasadena wished she could focus.  She felt kind of far away, now that she thought about it.  Kind of far away and sort of woozy.  Maybe she should sit down. 

            The man kept on smiling and nodding at her father, and now he was holding out a document for her father to sign.  And a pen.  What was this all about?  Shouldn’t she say something?  It seemed like something was going wrong here. 

            It was like she could smell it – something was wrong.

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White linen napkins

The white linen napkins are both pressed and starched, and rolled perfectly around the silver dessert forks.   The two rolls are placed precisely in the middle of the stack of two small porcelain plates, dessert plates, in the center of the small pedestal table.  There is a small crystal vase next to the plates, with dark pink roses. This setting is in the library, near the big picture window, looking over the garden.  The silver dessert forks are part of a set for twenty four, sterling, not plate, and monogrammed with Mrs. Owen Geoffrey Archibald-Jones’ initials.  The two outside initials are smaller than the larger scrolled AJ in the center of the monogram.  This is the more traditional, and more proper, way of monogramming.  A woman’s first name should never appear outside of her handwritten correspondence:  she should always use her married name.  Mrs. Owen Geoffrey Archibald-Jones had ordered this service as a bride, from the best shop in town.  Please send the invoice to my fiancé, she had told the clerk.   A perfect setting to begin a perfect life.

            But Mrs. Archibald-Jones is only serving two today: her sister and herself.  Mr. Archibald-Jones is on assignment somewhere – in Africa, was it? – but who knows really.  His assignments require him to travel extensively.  He sends back gifts from places that Mrs. Archibald-Jones, Priscilla Jane, would really not want to know more about.  He is a very important man in his corporation.  Many of the things he sends home are wonderful art pieces, silks, and tapestries.  Priscilla Jane has many of them carefully stored in the front attic.  She has had them professionally packed in cloth that will prevent them from damage.  One can have too many foreign artifacts, however.   And some of the items Mr. Archibald-Jones has selected are not quite, how shall we say, not really the proper sort of thing that a lady such as herself would want to display. 

            But he really is quite a good husband.  He respects his wife’s preference for home, for stability, for continuity, and how she eschews the exigencies of travel.   Mrs. Archibald-Jones welcomes her dear husband home whenever he is able to come.  At least twice a year:  once for their annual summer picnic by the lake with friends at the club, and also for the holidays.  Or for at least part of the holidays.  Mr. Archibald-Jones has explained that his corporation is like a family to him, and it is important that he spend time with some of them over the holidays, as well.   Priscilla Jane, of course, completely understands this. 

            He is very kind to be sure that funds are always in her account, and that any larger than expected expenses are paid immediately.  Priscilla Jane is always careful to dress well, when she goes into town.  It is important that she represent the family name well.  She has taken great pains to keep her good figure, and to maintain her skin and hair.  Mr. Archibald-Jones was so supportive when she had to explain, when they were newly married, that she really did not have the constitution for children.  And it would have ruined her figure, of course.

            Soon her sister, Ethel Ann, will be here, and Jonathan, the butler, will serve the tea and cakes.  Ethel Ann is quite fond of Lemon Cream cakes.  Priscilla Jane ordered them fresh made this morning.  She is hoping to enlist Ethel Ann in a small project.  Ethel Ann, who is a single lady, is not always excited about Priscilla Jane’s projects, but Priscilla Jane is hopeful today.   The project is to have a luncheon for her niece, her brother’s only child.   The girl is just turning fourteen and, from what Priscilla Jane can see, has very little connection to proper society.  But then her father, Priscilla Jane’s brother, has never been very proper in almost anything.

The luncheon will be for several of her niece’s friends, and of course, it will be suggested that the girls wear dresses and hats and gloves.   It will be important to have the cook prepare a ‘modern’ dish of some sort, for the young ladies, and they can open up the main dining room and have service there.  Which means the chandelier will need to be cleaned, of course.   And the gardener must come an extra day so that the garden will look nice through the window.  So much to do.

            Ethel Ann will certainly be supportive.

            It  will be so nice to get to know her niece a little bit.  And have her show her friends that she is from a good family.  From a family that knows how to behave.  If there is one thing that Mrs. Archibald-Jones can provide, it is a proper perfect home.

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