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This short story is loosly based on a true event in my mother's childhood. The setting is the early 1940's, in a Kentuck settlement in Northern Wisconsin.
Birthdays, Blueberries and Vanishing Braids
By Kaye Petts
The morning rays of the sun danced in through Myra Jane’s bedroom window, gently coaxing her to rise from the warmth of her feather bed. With the remnant of a yawn still lingering, Myra began to picture the activities planned for her day.
Instant excitement urged her into action. Today was the day she had been waiting for all week. She and her twin sister, Mary Beth, would soon be right in the middle of their second annual birthday adventure.
As she changed into her favorite overalls and boots, Myra Jane’s thoughts journeyed back to last year. She pictured Mama’s special picnic blanket loaded with scrumptious food, the daring climb up White Pine Ridge, the tire swing at Farley’s pond and the absolutely yummy blueberries they had picked at Old Joe Hansen’s field.
“M.J.”, Mary Beth called from the bottom of the stairs, “We best be gettin’ a move on, time’s a wastin’.”
Always rushin‘, she thought. “I’ll be right down”, she answered as she braided her silky auburn locks. She wondered if maybe this would be the year Papa would finally let her cut her hair. To Myra Jane, a hair cut would surely help people understand that she and her sister were not one in the same. “We do have differences!” she spoke out loud.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Myra Jane caught the familiar aroma of raw fried potatoes and bacon. Today will be good, she thought, as she and Mary Beth set the table.
“Morning M.J.”, Mama smiled. “You girls seem to be in some kind of tizzy this morning. Is there anything special going on today?” she teased.
“Mama”, Myra Jane started hesitantly, “you didn’t forget about today, did you?”
Mama moved toward the back hall. Bending down to pick something up, she spoke, “Well my sweet girls, not only did I remember, but I have something special for the occasion.”
Both girls inched in closer, in anticipation. Mama turned around and there in her hands was the most beautiful willow picnic basket. “I wanted this birthday to be special,” mama went on. “Turning thirteen is a big step and I figure you girls are old enough now for your very own picnic basket.
“Oh Mama”, Mary Beth exclaimed, “this is the best birthday present ever!”
Mama lowered the basket to the floor and both girls began investigating immediately. The soft willow lid was hinged in the center allowing it to open from either side. The inside of the basket was lined with yellow gingham and held picnic plates, cutlery, drinking cups and salt and pepper shakers and yellow napkins.
The twins looked at each other in amazement and jumped quickly into menu planning. Any thoughts of breakfast had all but disappeared.
“Breakfast is on, girls”, Mama beckoned. “You’ll have plenty of planning time after dishes.”
The three of them had just begun eating when Mira Jane spoke up, “Mama…. now that I’m thirteen….. I’m thinkin…… I could make a few changes. I mean, not that I don’t like who I am and all but….
Mama interrupted, “Well, Myra Jane, what ever do you have in mind?”
“Well,….I think……I’m truly ready for a hair cut this year.” Myra Jane could see the disappointment on Mama’s face.
Mary Beth spoke up, “Mama, I’ve heard you tell Papa after his hair cuts, ‘don’t worry dear, the good thing about hair is that it always grows back.’”
Mama’s stern lips softened to a smile, “Let’s wait until Papa gets home and we’ll discuss it with him.” Myra Jane smiled, satisfied with the answer. At least Mama hadn’t said no.
When breakfast was finished, the girls quickly did dishes and hurried out to the barn. Chores didn’t seem quite as mundane today. After packing a hearty lunch, they bid good bye to Mama and with berry buckets and a new picnic basket in hand, they began their long awaited journey.
The glow of the mid-morning sun illuminated the trail ahead and the fragrant wild flowers invited Myra Jane to step out beyond the borders of the path.
“C’mon M.J.” Mary Beth beckoned as she picked up speed, “we need to high tail it or we’ll never make it to the top of White Pine by lunch. And besides, we’re supposed to be picking berries, not flowers.”
“Why are you always in such a hurry?” Myra Jane asked.
“Why are you such a slowpoke?”, Mary Beth countered as she raced toward the ridge.
Myra Jane, not willing to argue any further, gently placed her bouquet of flowers in the top of the picnic basket and started off behind her sister.
They made it to the summit just before the sun reached mid-sky. Myra Jane found the perfect spot in the tall grass to delve into lunch which included a fresh chunk of brick cheese, some of Mama’s baking powder biscuits, last year’s blueberry jam, a hand full of cherry tomatoes and a quart jar of sun tea.
The noon sun rested on Myra Jane’s face as she lay hidden in the tall grass. She watched
the ever changing clouds, while a soft breeze gently caressed each blade of grass.
Myra Jane’s mind wandered back to her hair cut dilemma. Would Papa ever allow her to grow up, she wondered? For the last three years she had asked his permission to cut her hair and each year his answer was the same…”M.J.”, he would start in his serious voice, “you need to wait until you’re a little older. Why can’t you be like Mary Beth and just be happy with who you are?” That was the problem, she thought. Not only was she tired of being like Mary Beth, but she was tired of looking like her, too. Myra Jane hoped with all her heart that this would be the year Papa would finally say yes.
“M.J.”, Mary Beth called from a branch of a huge pine she had climbed, “it’s time we head out to Farley’s pond. There’s no point in spending eternity up here.”
“Is there anything you do without speed?” Myra Jane inquired, without response and put her thoughts of a hair cut on hold. She helped her sister repack the picnic basket and they were on their way once again.
At the pond, both girls took turns swinging on the tire swing that hung from a massive oak near the bank. After a time, both agreed Mama needed berries for canning, so, they climbed out of the pond, slipped into dry clothes and set out for Old Joe Hansen’s field.
As they walked quietly together, Mary Beth spoke. “M.J., why is it you fight to be so different than me? Are you unhappy with who I am?”
Myra Jane could detect a bit of sadness in the question. “Mary Beth, she responded, “ I don’t feel a bit bad about who you are. I just know that it’s high time I figure out who I am. We have practically been the same person since birth. Mama dresses us the same, fixes our hair the same, buys us the same gifts, why, we even share the same birthday!”, she said teasingly.
“Well, Myra Jane, that’s one thing you can never change“, Mary Beth smiled.
Just then, the girls came upon the biggest patch of blueberries they had ever seen yet. It followed inside the barbed wire fence that surrounded Old Joe Hansen’s field.
“Wow!” exclaimed Myra Jane, “we’ll have lots of jam this year.”
They each grabbed a bucket and carefully climbed through the barbed wire fence. Myra Jane started picking, carefully cradling each berry, just as Mama had taught her. Both girls were completely engrossed with filling their buckets, each humming a different tune and moving quite far from the fence.
Suddenly, Mary Beth let out a fearful gasp. “M.J…….”, her voice escalating, “I
think………” She began backing away from something.
Myra Jane could not see what had her sister so upset. “What is it Mary Beth?”
“We gotta run!!!”, Mary Beth screamed, throwing her bucket and running as fast as she could back toward the fence.
Myra Jane finally got a glimpse of what had panicked her sister. It was the biggest, ugliest, maddest bull she had ever seen and it was getting ready to charge. Not thinking, she turned and ran as fast as her legs could carry her, back toward the fence. At one point, she thought she could feel the heat from his breath, lifting the hair on the back of her neck.
“M.J., he’s gainin’ on you”, Mary Beth frantically screamed, “just throw your bucket!”
Myra Jane was determined to hang on to it, but as she was nearing the fence, her left foot caught the edge of a pot hole, causing her to fall to the ground. Fear welled inside her as the rumble of hooves intensified and she closed her eyes, not wanting to face her demise. All at once, she felt something tugging her clothes.
“M.J., this is no time for a snail’s pace”, Mary Beth exclaimed, as she pulled Myra Jane up off the ground. “We need to move fast!”
Myra Jane’s eyes flew open. “This is the one time I’m thankful you’re fast!” With that, they both locked arms and dove for the fence. Mary Beth made it through, but Myra Jane’s pigtail became twisted and looped around a couple of barbs. Mira Jane knew the bull was within inches. She tugged and tugged and just as the bull charged, her braid let loose.
Myra Jane was safe at last. She was extremely shook up and out of breath, but safe. The bull stood within a few feet of her on the other side of the fence, pawing the ground, snorting and tossing his head, as if in warning.
“Are you OK?”, Mary Beth asked as she helped Myra Jane regain her footing.
“I think so”, Myra Jane answered. “I believe all my bones are still intact, but I sure have a headache.”
All at once Mary Beth began laughing hysterically and pointing at both Myra Jane and the fence behind her.
“What is so funny?” Myra Jane asked in a disgruntled tone. “I almost died and all you can do is laugh?”
Mary Beth tried to gain her composure and after a few seconds of settling, she spoke. “ I guess you’ll be getting that hair cut after all.” She broke into hysterics once again, pointing to the fence, “look!”
Myra Jane spun around toward the fence and there, dangling from the barbs, was a clump of braid, with the ribbon still intact. Myra Jane was in total disbelief. She moved her hand up to where her braid had once rested and sure enough…it was really gone! “Oh my gosh, this has to be the happiest day of my life! I’m finally getting a hair cut!”
Myra Jane boldly walked toward her braid and the bull, yanked the braid off the fence, grabbed her bucket and turned toward home. “Let’s go, Mary Beth. We have so much to tell Mama and Papa and if we hurry, I’ll still have time for a hair cut.”
“Oh, look who’s in a hurry now,” Mary Beth giggled. Both girls broke into laughter, locked arms and began skipping their way home.
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