South Georgia, 1948
As the fatback sizzled in the cast-iron pan, Hub watched his niece through the open window. His mind was still not easy with this mysterious state of affairs. How could it be that he, Hubbard Leroy Montgomery, fifty-nine years of age, was responsible for this child? What did he know about raising a little girl?
When his brother died six months ago, there was simply no other place for the child to go. Not that he minded having Mellie around. She was a quiet little thing. But, a girl? He knew nothing about girls.
Mellie could feel Uncle Hub watching her as she hoed the potatoes. He said she was old enough to be doing some of the cooking, but he hadn’t showed her how yet. She’d rather cook than hoe these potatoes, that was for sure! She sighed. He wasn’t mean to her. She couldn’t say that. But he wasn’t like Daddy, who would hug her and pull her pigtails and listen as she talked, about whatever was on her mind.
Like today. She had something on her mind. She wanted permission to go to a birthday party on Saturday. Making friends at a new school had been hard, so it was extra special, being included as one of the select few invited to travel with the family to Savannah to have lunch, then “shop” all Saturday afternoon. Not that she would be buying anything, of course, but oh, just to look in the windows at all the clothes and shoes and trinkets! That would be enough for her.
Her lovely daydreams were interrupted when she heard her uncle calling, “Supper’s ready. Come on and eat.”
They ate in silence. The only sound was the steady “tick-tock” of the clock on the mantel. Wanting to catch him at his most agreeable, Mellie was torn between asking now or waiting until he was rocking by the fire. She decided to take her chances now.
Mellie took a deep breath, and let it all tumble out. “Uncle Hub, my friend Zenia’s invited me to her birthday party Saturday afternoon, and they’re going to Savannah, which is not too far, and she said you could drop me off at her house in town when you go to get supplies on Saturday, and Beth said her daddy could bring me home afterwards, it shouldn’t be much past dark, and all I need is a dollar for supper and a little birthday present for Zenia.” She paused, but when no answer was forthcoming, she continued. “I know you wanted me to help plant corn Saturday afternoon, but I promise I’ll do my part every day after school.” She waited.
Hub weighed it in his mind. Sounded to him like nothing but a bunch of foolishness. He’d never spent a day doing such as this when he was growing up. There was no value to be gained from this trip. On the other hand, he knew well the value of hard work. And he believed it should be instilled in a child.
He made his decision. “Hmph. No, you’d best stay and help with the corn.’
Lips quivering, Mellie stared at her plate, and slowly nodded her head.
Intent on reading the Farmer’s Almanac, Hub thought nothing of it when Mellie retired early. He was banking the fire when he heard the faintest of sounds coming from Mellie’s bedroom. With quiet steps he moved to her door and stopped. It took him awhile to recognize the sound, because it had been a very long time since he had heard a little girl sobbing.
The more he listened, the more his heart melted. Was it his fault she was crying, this precious girl who had slipped so gently into his lonely life?
Knocking softly, he opened the door a crack. “May I come in?” Her sobs now stilled, Mellie nodded.
Uncle Hub gingerly lowered himself to sit on her bed. “I’ve, uh… I’ve been giving it some more thought, and, uh… I think maybe you should go to that birthday party. Girls….uh, I guess girls need to do that sort of thing from time to time… and, uh…..” He was startled into silence when Mellie suddenly sat up and threw her arms around him. Hesitantly, he placed his arms around her and patted lightly.
“Hmph.” A single tear trickled down his wrinkled cheek. He wiped it away. “Let’s get you tucked back in, girl.”
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