There was the front door, I could hear it from my room where I was sweeping. It was a bright yellow room, hung all over with photos, posters, dried roses and notes. It felt on display and I was nervous. “Oh…dear…why is he here? to Examine me? To see if I measure up? Well shucks…Oh lands…it’s humiliating, really, to be looked over like a cow. How dare he think he can do this? Or does he just want to come? Perhaps, but he didn’t say that…” Its creak open, its slam shut…Footsteps from the living room were coming and Daddy’s deep sailor voice booming in waves back to my room “You can take your stuff back there, John B. I think you’ll be in one of those rooms.” Those steps came through the kitchen – Oh, they were mighty big footsteps. Hidden around the corner with a broom frozen in my hand and a pocket full of blazing blushes waiting to burst into my cheeks, I stood until the boots finally brought him into view. It took a minute for my eyes to reach the top of his tallness. I felt the closing of my throat and an airy lightness in my stomach, my knees felt like jello…“What if I fall over?” I envisioned me simply toppling forward in front of him and how embarrassing that would be. Instead, I leaned against the wall, for there he was, standing in the school room with his suitcase in hand, and his sleeves rolled up, and…cowboy boots… Out the window went every ounce of trying to pretend I didn’t like him. All the charming wit I could muster was choking out nonchalantly, “Well, look who it is…” He smiled slowly and looked ridiculously handsome. “Look who it is…?” he repeated back to me, making me realize how very silly of a thing it was to say after all. He had hazel eyes that were gazing down at me, in an ease and earnestness that was as unsettling as the rest of him. I finished sweeping and the girls wafted him away to bake cookies and test the fiber of this Texan. We played wahoo that night, and at breakfast the next morning, one thing happened that Daddy still remarks on with a shaking head to this day. “Pass the eggs, who wants a biscuit?” “Moriah, could you get out another thing’a butter from the fridge? Oh and get that peach jam – ” “Mama, is this muscadine or grape jelly?” And plates were being passed around, arms reaching, hands dishing out gravy and bacon and sausage and grits. I sat next to Chris who sat next to Daddy, and on my other side was John Barrett. Across the table, sat Merry. Merry who barely smiled in a photo for 3 years when she was little. Merry who suspects people, and looks through slightly squinted eye, and though she’s short, some how manages to be able to look down her nose at a person whom she highly disdains. It’s not pride; it’s mistrust and solid discretion, and honesty. She sees no need in feigning favor. Merry sat across from us and was passing food and plates and dishing up grits. Out went John Barrett’s hand to help himself to grits and before you could say Jack! there was a splintering “SMACK!” Merry had slapped John Barrett’s hand and the crack of that smack hung in the air as Daddy’s eyes went big and darted to Merry, who sat looking at JB, who had frozen in space and had lifted his eyes to hers. Then Dawn and Merry erupted, and Daddy exclaimed “Merry Emmaline!” And the table fairly shook with laughter. I was more encouraged by this than if she’d been sweetly asking questions. Merry only picks on the ones she likes.
True to his word, Chris did think of something to do while John Barrett visited. He took us shooting down the road at Mr Henderson’s. He’d even set up a course for all of us in the deep pine woods. We shot 22’s and competed against Micah and Merry for who could shoot the most bullseyes with the amount of bullets Chris had given us.Rain had been heavy that spring and again today, drizzles dripped through tall, thin pines, mystifying the woods and drenching the air with the spicy pungency of wet soil and pine needles. We wandered through the woods, John B and I. Down a steep bank there was a tiny stream, which we sat beside and talked a long time. It was easy to talk with him. Effortless, really, and that was hugely refreshing. He broke twigs, and poked them in the damp soil. I watched for minnows and dipped my feet in the cold water. There, with him sitting indian style, playing with moss and rocks and meandering down the trails of thoughtful conversation, I marked the time as one to remember. I wanted to remember the sense of comfort and ease in conversing. Somewhere between Friday and Saturday I’d forgotten I had been defensive when he’d first arrived. The notion that he was there to Inspect Me and either approve or disapprove was fear assumptions and certainly not what he had in mind. As we walked back home, we stopped by the barn overlooking the garden. Mr Henderson was a man of the earth. He gardened for the love of it, the wonder of God through it. Long, curved rows lay bare. He’d plant soon and that plot of earth would transform into a beautiful palace of leafed green and immaculate rows. We breathed in the moist earth and he leaned against the barn. “I don’t know yet what will come of this,” he said. “But I do know that you will be a wonderful wife and mother someday, for some man.” He asked if I was comfortable with moving ahead, and I said I was. I felt that I could have said yes then if he’d asked me.