Chapter 15: Buried Treasures
Ginny and her friends walked along the railroad tracks with no particular destination in mind at all. They did this sometimes. It was an easy enough game- set out walking, following the tracks, and see how far you get before you get tired and have to turn back. If they got lucky, they would be able to bring a story or two back from their travels. It was a great way to kill time when they were all burned out on baseball and swimming. J.D. and Becky were giving Tommy and Danny the play-by-play of Ginny's altercation the day before.
"I seen him after. I didn't go home," J.D. said. "He's gonna be sporting that shiner for a while."
"He had it coming," Becky added. "Good for Ginny."
Ginny wasn't quite as proud of herself as her friends seemed to be; she kept trying to change the subject, which Tommy picked up on.
"Got some good news this morning," he announced.
"You heard from your brothers?" J.D. guessed.
"No...not that. Actually, we found out we ain't gotta go away anytime soon. Father Riley must have some connections or something. We can stay there as long as we need; nobody from the county's gonna come out and take us away."
"That's fantastic news!" Ginny chirped. J.D. and Becky agreed and they were able to keep the conversation away from Sam Green's black eye for the rest of the day.
In the evening, when they were all tired and hot and hungry because they hadn't taken a break to eat, they turned around and followed the tracks back toward town. When they got there, J.D. and Becky went straight home, while Ginny lingered on the Priest's porch, talking to Tommy after Danny went in to wash up for supper.
"Thank you," Tommy whispered. "For, you know."
"Don't mention it. Like Becky said, he had it coming."
She laughed. "I doubt there'll be a next time. I don't think he'll mess with any of us again and I don't think I'll be getting into any more fights. For any reason."
"Good. But I was gonna say next time ya hear somebody talking ill of us, just let it slide. Don't go getting yourself hurt or in trouble for our sake. Besides, whatever he was saying- and no, I don't wanna know- it was probably just the truth."
"But-" she attempted to protest but he shushed her.
"It is what it is, Ginny. No matter how hard ya hit, it won't change the past, won't change the truth. We're no-account, Danny and me. We come from trash."
"Tommy,that is not the truth!"
"It is the truth. But it's OK. We've been given the chance to change that and most natural-born trash don't get such a lucky break."
"I don't understand." But, she thought, she really did. She just needed to hear it from him.
He sighed, trying to think of how to make it make sense for her. "Ya know, it was just a few years ago when Pap got on in the mines and we moved into that company house. You 'member before that, when we lived in the ol' home place?"
She did. She remembered that rickety old shack they had lived in when their pap was working odd jobs (and making moonshine on the side, of course). There were cracks between the boards on the walls bigger than her fist that the boys would stuff with newspapers in the winter just to keep out the drafts. It had mysteriously burned to the ground not long after they moved out.
"Yeah, I remember."
"Well, when we moved into town we thought we was rich. But that don't even compare to now. We ain't ever had it so good. We eat three times a day, we got decent clothes to wear, a warm bed to sleep in, don't ever have to worry 'bout what kinda mood Pap's gonna be in when he gets back from the still. Heck, me and Danny might even get to finish up our schooling before we go work full time...Now, don't get me wrong, I love my pap, and my brothers, wherever they've got off to. But if somebody showed up here tomorrow and said we'd have to go back there, I wouldn't go without a fight. That would be something worth fighting for."
A smirk crept across her face as she realized that her dear friend could see what she'd feared he couldn't.
"What I'm getting at," he went on, "is next time somebody's talking that way about us, you just let 'em keep right on talking because we're gonna be the ones having the last laugh."
Kody was completely worn out Thursday after work. With Andy gone, Mr. Grant had hired another boy to help around the station, and he wasn't a fast learner. Kody was not only doing his own work, but frequently found himself fixing what the new boy messed up. That, paired with two days of helping Jack and Uncle Bill on the farm, left him confident he could easily sleep for three days straight. But he had to work tomorrow, and after that was his date with Leslie. At least I have something to look forward to, he thought.
He leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes. Without even thinking about what he was doing, his hand drifted to his pants pocket and wrapped around something smooth, hard, and perfectly round. A few minutes later, the stress from the day had lifted and he realized he was rolling the object around between his fingers. He removed it from his pocket and stared at the big green marble in his hand.
It reminded him of Daddy. But a lot of things had done that these past couple of weeks. Ever since Ginny had asked about him that Sunday morning, Kody had thought more about his father and about things that had happened after his death than he had in years.
"What did he look like?" Ginny's voice repeated over and over in his mind. It pained him that all he could remember was the coal-dust covered image that looked the same as all the other miners.
But if his shoddy memory served him right, it seemed like there had once been a picture of Daddy in the house, and Ralph had insisted it be gotten rid of. But he knew Mama wouldn't do that; she would keep it tucked away somewhere for Ginny and him. But where? Where could she hide it that Ralph would never look?
He slipped the marble in his pocket, got up, and walked into Mama's bedroom. His better judgment reminded him that snooping wasn't his style - Jack's or Ginny's, yes, but not his. He turned to walk back out of room and preserve his integrity, but he couldn't. Not without being sure.
After peeking around the doorway to ensure Ginny hadn't slipped in unheard, he spun back around and knelt before the cedar chest at the foot of the bed. It had been Mama's hope chest, but after she got married it became storage for fabric scraps, yarn, and any of her other sewing or knitting needs. He lifted the lid and found that it also contained a quilt and a few mismatched plates and coffee cups; she must have started putting things in there for Ginny.
While digging through the fabrics and balls of yarn, his hand brushed across what felt like cardboard. Pulling out the heap of loose fabrics revealed, in the bottom of the chest, a shoe box. He lifted the lid, glanced at the contents, pulled the box out, and set it beside him in the floor while he returned the fabrics to the chest. After shutting the lid on the hope chest, he returned to the front room with the shoe box.
On the top were a couple dozen letters, some in Uncle Kent's handwriting, but most in Granny's. Several of them looked quite old. He laid the stack of letters on the couch beside him and continued exploring the contents of the box: a thimble, a lady's wedding band, buttons, ribbons, a rusty spoon, a cork, an old Bible tract, a dark lock of hair, and on the very bottom, an unsealed envelope. He opened the envelope and smiled. She hadn't gotten rid of it.
Kody looked up when he heard the screen door shut. Ginny didn't even acknowledge him when she came in, heading straight to the kitchen. He gazed at the picture a little longer, then laid it down and examined the lock of hair. It could have easily been Daddy's or his or Ginny's; there was really no way of telling. Women hold onto weird things, he thought.
He returned the lock of coarse, dark hair to the box and began poking about the letters. A twinge of guilt tugged at his conscience as he looked over a few of them; they weren't addressed to him and he had no business reading them, but he'd already violated his own moral code anyway.
He was finishing up one of the older letters from Granny, informing Mama that her sister had not survived childbirth, when Ginny re-emerged from the kitchen. "Whatcha got there?" she asked, looking over his shoulder.
Kody laid the letter down, picked up the old photograph, and held it up for her to see.
"Who's baby is that you're holding?"
"I am the baby, Ginny."
She looked at him in disbelief, then snatched the picture from his hand when the realization hit her. "So that's him?" she said, smiling as she stared at the photo of Mama and Daddy in their Sunday clothes, with an infant Kody in Daddy's arms.
"They look so happy."
She continued staring at it a few more moments, then narrowed her eyes. "Where was this picture taken?"
"I dunno. Why?"
"Those stairs they're sitting on. I've seen 'em."
Kody didn't really care where the picture was taken, but he couldn't help but wonder why it seemed to matter so much to Ginny.
"Where'd you see them?" he asked.
"In the old foreman's house."
"That old house you and Tommy were trying to study up on at the library? The one you told Aunt Betty you hadn't been in?"
"I told her we hadn't been playing around it. We only went in once, me and Tommy, and it was just to get the baseball he knocked the window out with."
"Well, I doubt that picture was taken in that house. Lots of stairs look the same, and if you've only seen them once, you're probably mistaken."
She shook her head. "I don't think so. I specifically remember that pine-cone looking thing on the end of the rail."
He shrugged and returned to the letters.
"Where did you find all this?" she asked.
"Mama hid it."
"I figured as much. But where?"
He continued looking over the letters without answering her.
"You're not gonna tell me where you found it, are ya?"
"Ugh," she groaned as she dropped the picture on the couch beside him and stomped to the bedroom.
Kody quickly returned the letters to the box and replaced the lid. While Ginny was changing clothes in their bedroom, he crept into Mama's room and quietly put the shoe box back in its place beneath the fabric scraps in the hope chest. When he returned to the living room, he picked up the old photograph off the couch and gave it one last look before slipping it into his back pocket.