Ginny raced through the kitchen and grabbed the phone. Breathlessly, she squeaked out, “Ginny speaking.”
“Ginny, this is Gwen Snipes, Ruth Northrop’s granddaughter. If I’ve caught you as a bad time. I apologize.”
Ginny took a deep breath. “Not at all, I was taking the trash out when I heard the phone ring. I almost let your call go to voice mail, but I’m glad I didn’t. What can I do for you, Gwen?”
“Did Charles Cantrell send you a copy of Granny’s will?”
“He did. It came in the mail yesterday, but I haven’t had a chance to give it more than a cursory glance.”
“I’m calling in reference to Granny’s house. I expected the house to go to Mom and so did she. Mom’s not interested in the house because of its history but I am. Granny realized that my interest was because of its historical importance. Currently, I’m doing research on the Northrop family who settled in Summerfield; one of whom was Simon Northrop.
“Years ago, Granny became interested in genealogy. She spent months tracing the Northrop ancestors. When I expressed an interest in researching the Summerfield settlers’ roots, she turned over all of her notes to me and gave me a list of books and newspaper articles to read. I'm guessing that she willed the house to me because I hounded her to turn the place into a small historical museum."
"You and Ruth were close weren't you, Gwen?"
"Then, my guess is that she trusted your judgement."
“I begged her to move into a retirement center. I worried about her being in a house with stairs. Besides, I felt that the companionship in a center would be good for her after her painting became more of a frustration than a pleasure."
"You wanted her safe. That's understandable."
“Lack of money is not an issue for me. I have a trust fund left to me by Dad’s parents, so my inheritance from Granny will go toward setting up a fund to pay for operating expenses of the Northrop Historical Museum.
“That, of course, is down the road. Until I finish school, I plan to close the house. I don’t want to do that until Molly has a chance to wander around and explore. After all, the house is part of her heritage."
"What a generous offer."
“Dad said that when you had dinner at Granny’s Molly only saw Julie’s old room, the living room and the dining room. I’d love to give her a tour. I know every nook and cranny in Granny’s house. I’m hoping that you will bring her to lunch next Saturday. Callie promised to come in and fix us a picnic lunch.”
Ginny’s head was spinning. Who was this young woman? “I am impressed that you considered Molly’s feelings. Molly couldn’t stop talking about her mom’s room. She told me that she felt close to her mom when she touched her mom’s personal things.”
“Then she will like seeing the cubby hole where Julie and I exchanged secret messages, and the secret room where we hid and read comic books. Come any time after eleven.”
“We’ll be there.”
“Dad and I talked about putting all of the furniture in Julie’s room in storage. Obviously, Molly’s too young to get excited about memorabilia and household stuff, but that will change when she’s older. When she’s ready, she can either use the furniture or sell it.
“While you’re at the house, I’d like for you to look around and see if there’s anything you think might be appropriate for her when she sets up her own apartment or house. I’ll keep some of the furniture for the museum, but other pieces we will sell and put the money in a fund to handle operating expenses.
"Then there are the paintings. Someday, all of Granny’s will be valuable. Evan if Molly never learns to appreciate art, she’ll want Granny’s paintings for the sentimental value. Sorry for rambling on and on. We’ll talk more Saturday.”
“Thank you for your kindness, Gwen.”
"I can afford to be generous. If Mom and Dad hadn’t adopted me, my life would have been very different. Despite Mom’s psychotic breaks, my childhood was still a cake walk compared to the life I would have led if my biological parents hadn’t given me up. Other than a tendency to blame others for her mistakes, Mom was relatively normal during my formative years. Her phobias set in when I was a preteen.
“What Mom lacked in parenting skills, Dad excelled in. He was and is an exceptional dad.”
“Did your mom’s condition ever require hospitalization?”
“Didn’t Charles tell you about Mom’s episode this past week?”
“I haven’t talked to Charles this week.”
“The police picked her up for questioning, and she zoned out. The officers said that she was like a zombie before they reached the police station. She wouldn’t speak. Didn’t react. Didn’t blink. Charles claims that the same thing happened after the rape case all those years ago. Anyway, an officer called Dad, and Dad called Charles. They managed to get her to the hospital. She’s in the mental health unit.”
“I am so sorry, Gwen. Has she been hospitalized before?”
“Twice. I was too young to remember her first psychotic break. When I was twelve, she spent two months at Psychotic Treatment Center in Maryland. Our home life was never the same after that episode.”
“Has she ever been violent?”
“There have been a couple of times when she threw things, but usually she just retreats from reality. Granny claimed that Mom’s mental health issues were caused by the trauma she experienced when she was a teen. If you are worried about the condition being inherited, don’t. There are no other incidents of mental health issues in the Northrop’s medical history.”
“No, that wasn’t my concern, Gwen. I’m worried about your mom.”
“I am too. It’s strange, Ginny, she’s not happy with who she has become, so she keeps adopting other people’s personalities hoping that one will stick. If you want to know more about what makes her tick, talk to her friend Teresa Kesler. They go way back. Teresa hung with Mom through the good and bad times until recently. Because of some minor misunderstanding, Mom refused to speak to Teresa. That was it for Teresa. They haven’t had any contact in months.”
“So, who are her friends?”
“As far as I know, she doesn’t have any. She’s alienated all of them.”
“That’s too bad. Let me ask you a question that concerns Molly, not your mom. Are you sure that you don’t want to reconsider raising Molly? You are a family member, you’re bright, and most importantly, you seem to be centered.”
“It would be more accurate to say that I’m working on being centered. If I were older and wiser, I would jump at the chance to raise Molly, but I would be wrong for her. She needs a mom who’s stable, has more patience and can deal with children more effectively than I can. Because of my family background, I would be overprotective at times, and other times I would be permissive. From everything I read, that stifles a child’s emotional growth. Granny was convinced that Molly needed someone with your nurturing skills. I trust her judgment.”
There was silence on the line.”
“Oops. Guess I jumped the gun. When you get to know me, you’ll learn that I’m outspoken and I don’t hesitate to voice my opinion. I tend to get into trouble occasionally, but no one can accuse me of not being open and honest.
“Let’s put it this way. Charles, Nell, Dad, and I are hoping that you will agree to give Molly a home. Dad and I aren’t blood related, but that doesn’t mean that we want to exclude her from our lives. We hope to visit her, and we hope she’ll want to spend time with us. If you do decide to raise her, please know that I will do everything in my power to be the aunt that Julie would have expected and wanted me to be.”
The Saturday visit with Gwen turned into a real adventure for Molly. She and Gwen took a grand tour of the house while Ginny hung out in Ruth’s studio. She could here their laughter, so she assumed that the tour was a success.
Ginny loved browsing through Ruth’s paintings, but she was surprised that so many of the paintings were still in Ruth's possession. Word on the street was that collectors were offering high prices for them.
It was amazing to see the evolution of her work as her eyesight became progressively worse. Her early work reminded Ginny of some of Winslow Homer’s paintings. Her latest paintings were abstracts, the colors vibrant with broad strokes. She picked two she particularly liked, hoping Gwen would agree to sell them to her.
Gwen said no to a purchase. “Granny would not have taken money from you, Ginny. They are yours if you want them.”
At one, Callie spread a red and white checked tablecloth on the living room floor, and set out an array of lunch items, including hot dogs, potato chips, baked beans, relishes lemonade and s’mores. The smile on Molly’s face made the trip more than worthwhile.
After lunch, they packed Julie’s journals, the scrapbook of family photos that Ruth had let Molly take to Ginny’s house, some of Julie’s sheet music for piano, Julie’s swimming medals and all of the jewelry Julie left behind. The portrait of Julie was wrapped with Kraft paper. The other larger items would go into storage.