Chapter 2: Boots and Letters
Early next morning, Ginny climbed the steep, rugged path to Jack's house. He was feeding his parents' three hogs when she got there and paid her no mind. She leaned on the wooden fence and watched the hogs for a minute before asking, "Hey, Jackie, whatcha got planned for the summer?"
He sat the bucket down, wiped the sweat from his brow, and thought a minute. "Well I reckon I'll work around here, get some fishing in, maybe see if anybody else needs some help around their farm, make me a li'l money."
"Ain't ya gonna play ball with us any?"
"Mmmm I dunno, kid. I'm about getting too old for that kind of stuff."
"Kody said he's gonna."
He thought another minute. "Well I reckon I could get my glove out some."
"Great! Well, see ya later."
"What? Uh, bye...I...guess." He shook his head. "Weird little kid."
She rushed back home and slipped through the back door, taking her seat at the little round kitchen table just as Mama put a plate of hot sausage on. Ginny took in a deep breath of the smell of home - of breakfast cooking and fresh coffee.
"Already out and about this morning, Ginny?" she asked.
Ginny smiled sheepishly but didn't answer. Mama took no notice because her attention was already elsewhere. "Kody, please, with the newspaper. Is there any good news in there, anyway?"
"Not really," he mumbled. "Just stuff about that war over there."
"Then put it away. We're eating or we're reading, not both at the same time. Can't say grace with your nose stuck in the Editorials," she went on, sitting down with a cup of coffee.
He folded the paper and stuck it under his plate as they all bowed their heads and Mama thanked the Lord for the food before them and a little bit of everything else.
A few minutes into the meal, Mama casually stated, "Ginny, I saw y'all after school yesterday."
Ginny chuckled. "Well I did wave when we passed the store."
Mama didn't say anything, just stared into her coffee cup as if deep in thought. Finally she resumed. "Those poor little boys of Doyle Montgomery's. That littlest one looked like his clothes was about to just fall right off him, not even any patches to cover the holes. And didn't neither one of 'em have on decent shoes. I can only imagine having to provide for four boys but it's a shame those kids do without while Doyle gambles and drinks and Lord knows what else his paycheck away."
Kody and Ginny frowned.
"Sorry," she said. "I just ain't been able to get that out of my mind since yesterday." She sat her coffee down, got up, and headed toward the kids' room. The sound of digging through a closet could be heard while she was gone and when she returned she had a pair of boots Kody had outgrown.
"Either of you going into town today?"
They both nodded reluctantly, their gray eyes conveying that they knew exactly what she was getting at.
"These should fit one of the younger ones. See to it they get 'em, Ginny."
"Mama!" She argued. "Do you know how embarrassing that'd be for them? They don't wanna be nobody's charity case."
"It's not charity."
"What is it, then?"
She hesitated. "Relief for my conscience."
Ginny looked to Kody for backup, but he only looked back, obviously intent on keeping out of this argument. She tried a different approach. "But it's summertime. They don't even need no shoes til September."
"They could wear 'em to church."
"They don't go to church."
"Well maybe they would if they had shoes to wear to church."
"But Mama -"
"Virginia." She cut her off and the stern look on her mother's face silenced her.
"Kody, walk your sister into town and see to it that these boots get where they need to be."
He glared at Ginny with contempt, annoyed to have gotten dragged into this business entirely against his will.
After they had eaten and Ginny had washed the dishes, Kody went into the bedroom and reemerged with a fishing pole, looking impatient. Ginny grabbed her baseball glove from the bedroom and hurried out the door behind him. Mama cleared her throat and she gloomily turned back to retrieve the boots; she tied the laces together and carried them like a lunch pail.
They walked in silence for a while and when Ginny felt her brother had had sufficient time to stew over the task that had fallen upon him, she said, "So, we need a few more people to make a team this year."
"No what? I didn't even ask anything."
"Well you were going to. No, I'm not spending my summer playing stupid baseball with you and your stupid friends."
"It wasn't stupid last summer."
"I'm not arguing with you."
She was quiet for a bit before she remarked, "Well don't mention to Jack how stupid it is. He may take offense."
"If Jack wants to spend his time playing a dumb game, that's his business."
Her scheme wasn't working out quite like she'd hoped. She knew she'd end up winning him over so long as he didn't talk to Jack before she had succeeded because, honestly, he didn't have anything better to do. So she went straight to desperation. "Well, so, are you gonna at least let whoever else we get to play use your catcher's mitt?"
"Of course not."
"Who else has a catcher's mitt?"
"Somebody, I'm sure."
"Nobody that I know. What do you need it for anyway if you're not gonna use it?"
"I had to save up a long time for that mitt!"
"So you should use it!"
He groaned and rolled his eyes.
About that time, she realized they were coming up on the rows of company housing. Her train of thought shifted quickly.
"Give these boots to Tommy and Danny," she commanded.
"Mama told you to."
"They were your boots."
"They are your friends."
"Kody, I just can't. What am I supposed to say? 'Hey, my mama feels sorry for ya'll so here's a pair of my brother's old boots, since our hand-me-downs are better than yours' ?"
"Nothing wrong with hand-me-downs. You're wearing them."
Any day she wasn't attending school or church, Ginny was in a pair of her brother's outgrown overalls or jeans. Dresses were a punishment to her.
"Yeah, but they've only been through one brother, not two or three."
"They'll be grateful."
"They'll be ashamed."
"How will it be any different if I give them to them instead of you?"
"I dunno. It just will. If I give 'em your old boots, they'll know Mama put me up to it."
The Montgomery's house came into view, Tommy and his younger brother Danny sitting on the front step.
Kody sighed. "Give me the boots."
Ginny handed them to him and he threw them over his shoulder. His stride became more brisk and his demeanor more cheerful.
"Morning, Tommy, Danny," he said.
"G' morning," they both replied.
He took the boots from his shoulder and said, "Hey, I was going through some of my old stuff and come across these. They're about ugly as sin, I know, but they still got a lot of wear left in them. Ginny'll probably never grow into them and I figured since I was headed over here anyway, I'd see if maybe one of you might want them. If not, I understand. They are really ugly. I just hate to throw them away."
"They ain't ugly," Tommy replied. "They look like they'd fit one of us."
"So you'll take them?"
He handed Tommy the boots and they each immediately slipped a foot in to see who they would fit. They could hardly contain their excitement.
"Are Andy and Freddy inside?" he asked.
"Yeah," they both answered, never looking up from the boots. As he stepped up onto the porch, he glanced over his shoulder at Ginny and smirked. She was right, but he'd never admit it. His giving them the boots had made all the difference.
Ginny was filthy when she got home. Mama was frying potatoes in the kitchen.
"Did them boys get them boots?"
"Good. Go warsh up. There's already water in the tub."
Ginny noticed a tri-folded piece of paper opened up on the table; she approached it and as she put out her hand Mama snapped, "Warsh up!" She dropped her hand and slumped off to the back porch to clean up.
By supper, the paper had disappeared from the table and she had forgotten all about it until Mama said, "Got a letter from y'all's Uncle Kent today."
"How is everybody?" Kody asked.
She sighed. "Could be better, I suppose."
She nodded. "Yeah. He says she's getting worse."
Ginny stared at her plate and pushed her food around on it. She didn't know her mother's family very well, as they had moved to Cleveland before she was even born. What she knew came in the letters, and recently the ones written by her great-grandmother had stopped and they only got updates from Mama's younger brother, Kent. Her great-grandmother had been ill for some time and the passing of her husband a few years earlier seemed to have expedited the process.
They sat in silence a moment then Mama cleared her throat and began, "I think maybe I should go help Kent with her. Reckon I'll talk to Mr. Kelly Monday about taking some time off."
"So...How long do you think we'll be gone?" Kody asked.
More than anything, Ginny wanted to protest. The only thing that could possibly make this summer worse than her best friend being gone for most of its duration was being dragged away from her other friends to go care for an old lady she barely knew. But she kept her mouth shut because she understood her mother's thinking; this was the woman who had raised her and her brother and sister, after all.
Mama hesitated. "Well, that's the part I need to talk to you two about. You know, as wonderful as the extra help would be, that apartment's just so small. Kent and Adam share a room as it is. There's just no space."
"Hey, yeah! What about Adam? He's what, my age? Can't he help Uncle Kent?" Kody asked.
"He's a year younger than you, and yes, Kody, Kent tells me your cousin is a big help. But it ain't just a matter of having enough warm bodies around to take care of things. It's more than that. If I don't go out there, I'll...I might..." Her voice was shaky.
"Regret it," Ginny finished for her.
Mama looked down and nodded.
"So we'll stay with Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill?"
"Actually, Kody's pretty responsible and you're both pretty grown up, so I was thinking y'all could just stay here. Of course, you'd be checking in with Betty and Bill pretty often. And Ralph'll be here when he's in so it's not like you'd be totally unsupervised."
"Can't you at least take Ginny with you?!" Kody pleaded.
"No. There is no room unless somebody sleeps in the floor the whole time we're there and I'm not having that. I'm also not taking one of you and leaving the other here alone."
What she meant was she really didn't trust either of them and leaving both of them ensured they would stay in line, as their contempt for each other would compel one to rat out the other. Always. She was a smart woman.
"But Mama, I planned on working at the station this summer, if I can. How am I gonna do that if I gotta babysit?"
"Your sister will require no more of your attention while I'm gone than she does with me here."
Ginny was secretly thrilled about the prospect of being virtually unsupervised and simultaneously stricken with guilt about it, given the circumstances. Kody would have been excited too, had he been an only child. There wasn't much more to the conversation. After supper, they cleaned up the kitchen and retired for the night.
The rough, gravel road crossing the mountain made for a bumpy ride for Ginny, sandwiched between her mother and brother in the family's pickup as they headed home from church. Her mother, to her right, was tranquil, obviously uplifted by the service. Kody kept his eyes on the road, deep in thought. She knew when Mama left that church on Sundays would be the first thing to go; he hated going to church possibly more than she did herself, for reasons all his own, she supposed.
She hated it because it meant they were different. Not that everything else about them wasn't different from everybody else as it was. For starters, they had that odd last name that even Mama had managed to get shet of, Paserella. While her friends had names like Riley and Kelly and Williams, theirs sounded particularly ethnic (though she honestly hadn't the slightest clue what country her father's people had dragged it out of). Then there was the fact that they lived so blame far outside town. The coal company had put indoor plumbing into the camp houses several years back, yet her family still bathed in a galvanized tub on the back porch. And to top it all off, they couldn't even attend one of the many churches in town like everybody else, but rather had to drive this awful road weekly to attend Mama's home church.
On the other hand, it would, she supposed, ultimately work out for the better, since not attending a church in town would make skipping church when Mama was gone ridiculously easy.
Once they were back at the house, both Ginny and Kody were anxious to deliver the bittersweet yet serendipitous news they had received the night before to their friends- they would all be so jealous. But it would have to wait. Deeply religious, Mama took Sunday seriously. After church there would be no chores, but there wouldn't be any fishing or swimming or baseball either.