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A Friendship Album Story

The Namesake: Dorothy, 1902

By Frances O'Roark Dowell

Pinning the diaper on five-month-old Robert, Dorothy thought about her long-ago beloved rag doll, Josephine. The first quilt she’d ever made had been for Josephine, a patchwork of fabrics dyed with onion skins, blueberries and walnut hulls, the scraps collected from her mother’s sewing basket over the course of several months. She’d only been allowed to take the smallest scraps—Mama had quilts to make for the family, after all—but Dorothy hadn’t minded; Josephine had been a very small doll.

She’d spent the last four months of her pregnancy making the baby a quilt, stealing a few minutes here, a half an hour there, to stitch. As she pieced the squares together, Dorothy had imagined tucking her baby beneath the quilt’s comforting warmth at night and singing him to sleep, the same way she’d sung Josephine to sleep all those years ago.

If there was one thing Dorothy Johnson had learned in the last five months it was that a whole world of difference lay between a rag doll and a real, live baby boy. Rag dolls slept   whenever you told them to. Little Robert only slept for short stretches—a few hours if Dorothy was lucky—always waking with a furious howl, ready to be fed.

Lord, if this baby doesn’t start sleeping more I might just lose my mind, Dorothy thought as she carried him on her hip into the kitchen. He was starting to get too big for the sling she slipped him into when she cleaned at Mrs. Rudolph’s, but whenever she put him in the basket she brought for him, he’d start to wail. That was fine if Mrs. Rudolph went out for the morning—Dorothy scrubbed and mopped and dusted with Robert’s cries in her ears, pushing her to work faster. But if Mrs. Rudolph was home, and she most often was, Dorothy had no choice but to carry her baby next to her body, where he napped or gurgled happily to himself. She’d move clumsily around the house, working extra hard so that Mrs. Rudolph wouldn’t have any cause to fire her. Dorothy knew that not every woman would let her bring a baby to work.

Well, work was done for the week, she reminded herself as she stirred the pot simmering on the stove. The Rudolphs were going to a funeral in Columbus tomorrow, which meant Dorothy had the rare Saturday off. And not only that, she had something special to look forward to. Mama and Albert were coming by in the wagon first thing to take Dorothy and the baby to the home place over in Black Fork. Heavily pregnant in March, Dorothy hadn’t gone for Easter homecoming. She’d hated to miss the trip, knowing it would be another year before they’d make the next one—or so she’d thought. When her mother had heard Wallace refer to the baby as “Buddy” at dinner last Sunday, an impromptu plan for a journey home had been hatched.

“That baby’s name is Robert,” Mama had informed her son-in-law, mouth set hard. “Robert after my father, one of the founders of the Poke Patch settlement for freed slaves and pastor of the New Bethel Church in Black Fork. Why, he built that church brick by brick!”

“That’s a lot of weight for one baby to carry, Miss Martina,” Wallace had replied. “I think Buddy suits him well enough for the moment. He can be Robert later.”

When Dorothy had tried to change the subject by mentioning that she didn’t have to work the following Saturday, and maybe she and Mama could spend the day quilting, Martina turned to Dorothy’s father. “Charles, can you spare Albert on Saturday? I want him to drive us over to the home place.”

“It’s good for a person to be reminded of where they come from,” she told Dorothy before turning to Wallace. “You’re welcome to ride with us, of course.”

Wallace had to work on Saturday, but if Dorothy knew him at all—and after a year and a half of marriage and the birth of a baby, Dorothy felt like she knew him a whole lot better than she used to—he wouldn’t have made the trip even if he had the time. Wallace Johnson wasn’t sentimental about the past, particularly a past he’d had no part of. He was a city boy, born and raised in Milton Falls, son of a millworker and a millworker himself. “You sure are country,” he’d say to Dorothy from time to time, and Dorothy would lift her chin and reply, “Yes, I am, which is why I know how to do a thing or two, unlike a lot of folks around these parts.”  

Truth be told, she never felt as confident as she sounded. Dorothy had been fifteen when they’d moved to Milton Falls from Black Fork, and it was clear from the beginning that her new neighbors found her unsophisticated; backwards even. Even though plenty of folks made their own clothes, raised at least some of their own food, and maybe even kept chickens in their backyard, Dorothy quickly saw that the better off you were, the less you did for yourself. A store-bought dress was always considered superior to home-sewn, and a cake purchased at the bakery garnered more praise than the one you made from scratch. Her mother scoffed at such foolishness—homemade food was always better, and if you wanted a dress to fit right, you made it yourself—but her mother didn’t have to bear the scrutiny of the girls at church and school who glanced at Dorothy and sniffed, “Look at Little Miss Country Mouse in her Charity Box dress.”

Wallace’s people had lived in Milton Falls for two generations. The first time Martina had spied Nellie Johnson and her large brood at St. Joseph’s AME church services, she’d sniffed at Dorothy, “Some city folks will put on airs, now that’s the truth.” Dorothy didn’t know about that, but she did know that Wallace’s mother looked fine in her high-collared church-going dress. His father was a handsome man, though more plainly dressed than his wife, in a loosely woven buttoned shirt and brown trousers held up by suspenders. The boys’ attire was similar to their father’s, but the girls looked like a flock of peacocks—at least according to Martina. “The grass withers and the flower fades—those girls will discover that soon enough,” she’d leaned over and whispered to Dorothy as the collection plate was being passed.

“I think they’re pretty,” Dorothy whispered back, but by this time her eye had landed on the young man sitting at the end of the Johnson family pew. She couldn’t help but admire his broad shoulders and intelligent eyes. She wondered if he was courting anybody and then shook her head at her own foolishness. A boy like that would never have eyes for a girl like her.

It took some time before she could pass for a girl Wallace Johnson might notice. Dorothy carefully studied the girls in her class and on the street that caught a person’s eye, noted the cut of their dresses, the way they did their hair. She knew she wasn’t a beauty, but she was pretty enough to draw an occasional glance. Mama preached against vanity, but Mama always liked her girls to look nice, so she helped Dorothy fix her hair in the morning, and if she had a little extra money in her pocket, she bought fabric for a new church dress. She didn’t mind seeing Dorothy shine as brightly as the other girls in the choir.

Sometimes Dorothy wondered if she’d gotten Wallace’s attention under false pretenses. But after they got married, she decided that she was just the sort of woman he needed. She was the one who showed him how to put in a winter garden, after all, and she was the one who taught him about tapping the maple trees in the woods down the road from their tiny house, so they could pour syrup over their pancakes and cornbread when they wanted something sweet. Over and over Dorothy demonstrated how country ways would get you through a hard season a lot better—and cheaper—than city ways.

Still, she’d never stopped Wallace from laughing at her when he caught her doing something he thought was backwards, like planting her garden by the signs or drying herbs to make healing teas. And she’d never once gotten him to go visit the home place.

“I’m interested in who you are now, not who you were way back when,” he’d say whenever she’d ask him to come home with her.

“But who I am now has everything to do with back then,” Dorothy insisted. “That’s where I learned everything worth knowing.”

“You learned everything worth knowing when you said ‘I do’ in front of the preacher,” Wallace always replied with a grin. “What happened before all that is yesterday’s news.”

Dorothy suspected that Wallace didn’t think the home place was worth going back to. Half the time she wondered if bringing him home was even a good idea. He might take things the wrong way. Mama Ree liked to take an occasional dip of snuff after dinner, and Granddaddy didn’t always wear a shirt under his overalls if the weather was warm. Everything they owned was well-cared for, but raggedy nonetheless.

Except for the quilts, Dorothy always reminded herself. Mama Ree couldn’t tolerate a raggedy quilt. If one got worn out, she dug through her scrap basket and started dreaming about a new one. Every quilt in that woman’s house was a beauty, every stitch as even and straight as day. Wallace could sniff at old country ways all he wanted, but he’d be a fool to turn up his nose at a quilt made by Marie Lewis of Black Fork, Ohio.


Saturday morning, Dorothy was waiting on the front porch when Albert and Mama pulled up in the wagon. The sun was barely up, and the cool air hinted that fall was on its way. It would be warm enough in a few hours to free the baby from his cocoon of blankets, but for now Dorothy held Robert close to her chest, a pair of little brown eyes peeking through a gap in the fabric the only clue that she wasn’t cradling a sack of potatoes.

“Callahan didn’t want to leave the barn this morning,” Albert called as he jumped from the wagon to help Dorothy up. “If he were a mule, we wouldn’t even be here yet. It’d be ten in the morning before we’d convince a mule to come out.”

“What kind of name is Callahan for a horse?” Dorothy wanted to know as she handed the baby up to her mother. “Sounds like you bought him over in Irishtown.”

Her brother grinned. “That just happens to be the case. His name was Bob when we bought him, but Daddy kept calling him Callahan for a joke and the name stuck.”

Albert made a stirrup out of his hands, and when Dorothy stepped in it, he guided her into the wagon. “I still can’t believe Daddy switched over from mules,” she said as she took her seat on the bench next to her mother. “I thought he didn’t care much for horses.”

Martina clutched the baby close, as though she thought Dorothy might ask for him back. “He said mules had become a bad habit with him,” she told her daughter. “A farmer needs a mule; a man who drives around town in a wagon needs a horse. You know what I think? He thinks a horse looks fancier. Thinks driving a horse around town makes him look fine.”

“Mules are smarter,” Albert said after he’d climbed back into the driver’s seat. “I’d rather drive a mule any day.”

Dorothy pulled a quilt up from the floorboard and laid it over her lap. “This is real pretty, Mama. I’m surprised you let it outside the house.”

“It was pretty in its day, for sure, but it’s past its prime now.” Martina took a moment to admire the quilt. “I always did like a Chimney Sweep block—there’s something stately about it. I’ve thought about making another one just like it, but I like to move onto new things, don’t you?”

With that, Dorothy and her mother settled into their favorite kind of conversation, one about quilts and quilt-making, what they were working on and what they planned to work on next.

“I’ll tell you what I miss sometimes about living in the country,” Martina said as Albert swung the wagon south on Old Columbus Road. “You could dye your fabrics. You’d just go out to the woods and pick leaves and berries and come up with the prettiest colors.”

“I remember doing that,” Dorothy agreed. “But you can do it in the city, too. You can find everything you need in the woods near Lincoln Heights.”

“You need enough room to do the job right—room and time,” Martina said. “I don’t have either anymore. I swear, Mrs. Lampron keeps me working morning, noon and night. She wants me to come on Saturdays and Sundays to cook dinner, but I put my foot down.” She paused and lifted up a corner of the Chimney Sweep quilt. “Just look at that pretty brown. It’s from the bark of a chestnut tree.”

Dorothy smiled. “We’ve got a chestnut tree in our yard. It’s robbing my garden of light, but I can’t bring myself to take it down.”

“You need that garden more than you need that tree,” Martina admonished her.

“I know it,” Dorothy agreed. “I hate to lose it, though.”

“The world is full of chestnut trees,” Martina said with a sweep of her arm. “Just look around!”

It was true; the road was lined with trees—chestnuts, beech, birch and elm. Dorothy glanced at the baby still in his grandmother’s arms and wondered what he saw. A whole lot of green, that was for sure, but could his eyes make out trees and branches and leaves? Did he have an idea of what a tree was, even if he might not know the word tree yet? Maybe. Dorothy suspected there was a lot more going on in that little head than she could ever guess, which was one reason having a real live baby was more interesting than having a rag doll, even if that real live baby never let her rest.

The trip took close to two hours, and as they got closer to Black Fork, the talk turned to remembering this and that about the home place and the things they used to do—and as they got hungrier, their remembering turned to food.

“Now the best food was always what got made for Summer Revival,” Martina insisted. “Baked ham, sweet potato casserole—”

“Fried chicken, corn pudding, cucumber pickles,” Albert continued for her. “And caramel layer cake. What I wouldn’t do for a piece of Mama Ree’s caramel cake this very minute.”

“Or her biscuits,” Dorothy added. “Nobody ever made a lighter biscuit than Mama Ree—not even you, Mama. I wish we could have Summer Revival again, don’t you?”

“Too many folks moved away for us to have it anymore,” Martina said. “First it was the Lawsons, and then it was the Martins, and then it seemed like it was everyone all at once. We stayed as long as we could, but finally even we had to leave. Not enough families to pay for a schoolteacher, for one thing, and not enough work at the ironworks, for another.”

They rode in silence for a few moments until Albert slapped his knee, as though suddenly convicted. “Well, I miss the old place and the old folks, but I think I might just prefer living in town. Lots more pretty girls, for one thing!”

“Albert! What kind of talk is that?” Martina scolded, but then   she shrugged and said, “It’s true, I don’t know how we would have gotten all the older ones married off if we’d stayed in Black Fork. Or Dorothy, for that matter. There weren’t enough young people left to get married to.”

“Pastor Spencer needed him a wife,” Albert said, poking an elbow into Dorothy’s side. “You would have liked that, wouldn’t you? Five stepchildren to run you ragged as soon as you left the altar!”

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Dorothy said. “One baby at a time will do me just fine. This one alone has about got me plum wore out.”

“You know what I just noticed?” Albert asked. “The closer we get to home, the more country we all start to sound.”

“We don’t want to seem like strangers when we get there, now do we?” Martina said. “The old folks might not recognize us if we talk like city folk.” She leaned down and kissed the baby on his head. “Mama’s going to be happy to see this little one, even if he’s not good country people.”

Dorothy’s eyes went wide. For the first time it occurred to her that her baby was going to grow up to be a city boy. She pictured him in a pool hall, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, not knowing one thing about anything. Why, he might even start drinking beer!

“Hand me that baby, Mama,” Dorothy said, reaching out her arms. She would have to hold onto this boy tight, she realized, or who knew what kind of trouble he’d get into.

Now it was true that city-born Wallace didn’t frequent pool halls, bars or racetracks, Dorothy reminded herself. He didn’t smoke or drink. He worked too hard and too many hours at the mill for any of that, and he was a church-going man, besides. Her husband was a good man, even if he was stubborn as the day was long. The night before, Dorothy had tried one last time to convince him to go with her to the home place. She’d been thinking about it, and she decided that Wallace needed to meet little Robert’s namesake. There might not be many more opportunities.

“I can’t afford to take a day off work just to make you happy,” he’d said when Dorothy brought the matter up. They were in the bedroom, Wallace changing out of his work clothes, Dorothy getting her things ready for the morning, the baby napping on the bed. “Sure, it would be nice to meet the old folks, but more than that, I’d like to see the rent paid. Your day off tomorrow is costing us a day’s wages.”

Dorothy’s cheeks went hot. “Now don’t go blaming me, Wallace Johnson. I don’t have a choice but to take the day off.”

“Doesn’t matter why you’re not working,” Wallace said, sitting down on the edge of the bed to unlace his boots. “The bottom line is somebody’s got to bring some money into this house tomorrow and that somebody is me.”

Dorothy glanced at the baby fast asleep in the middle of the bed. She half wished he’d wake up and start howling, just to make Wallace stop talking.

“I don’t begrudge you the trip,” he continued, looking up at Dorothy. “But the way you go on about the old home place, sometimes I think you forget that your home is here. Your family’s here. Me and Buddy, we’re your family now.”

“That’s the problem with people like you,” Dorothy said as she snapped her satchel shut. “You’re all too happy to leave the past behind.”

Wallace made his way to the door. He was halfway through it before he turned around and looked at his wife. “Isn’t that what you did—you and your parents, your brothers and sisters? You left the past behind, too. And that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do—you’re supposed to head for the future and better days. All the past holds is stories, and stories don’t pay the bills.”

Maybe that was true, Dorothy thought now as Albert drew the wagon to a stop in front of her grandparents’ house, the yard filled with squawking chickens. But stories got you through hard times and cold winters. Even sad stories were worth holding onto; they reminded you that you made it through one bad season and most likely you’d make it through the next one, too.

Granddaddy came out on the front porch, waving. He hadn’t shrunk a bit in his old age the way some men did, Dorothy noticed, but he was thinner than the last time she’d seen him. Too thin.

“Is that my children come home to see me?” the old man called as Albert helped Martina off the wagon. He turned toward the house. “Marie, we got company!”

Mama Ree appeared beside her husband, wiping her hands on her apron. “I heard the wagon pull up! Martina, I got your note on Wednesday. Margaret’s inside—she’s been helping me with the cooking.”

Dorothy glanced at her mother. Martina and her youngest sister were frequently at odds over—well, just about everything. They both had specific ideas about how to cook what, and those ideas rarely corresponded. How much salt, how much sugar, how long to cook something, whether or not to put gravy on a piece of meat. Dorothy couldn’t think of one harmonious moment the two women had shared in the kitchen—or any in room of the house, for that matter.

Martina brushed off her skirt and hurried toward the front steps. “Mama, you should have waited ‘til we got here to start,” she fussed. “That woman is probably ruining our lunch as we speak.”

“Here, put this on,” Mama Ree said, untying her apron and handing it to Martina. “Because I don’t want to be in the kitchen with the two of you together. Too much fussing!” She turned to Dorothy and held out her arms. “Let me see that baby!”

Dorothy’s grandfather held up his hand. “Hold on—that child’s named after me, ain’t he? Seems like I should get him first.”

Mama Ree shook her head in mock annoyance. “You ain’t got no business holding a baby, old man, boney as you are.”

“Hush now,” Granddaddy said, taking the baby from Dorothy. “Why don’t you two take a walk around while Albert and I tell this boy everything he needs to know about being a man.”

Mama Ree grabbed Dorothy’s hand. “Come on around back then—I’ve got a new quilt on the line. Just washed it for the first time and it’s crinkling up just the way I like it.”

“Your garden’s holding up,” Dorothy noted as they turned the corner of the house.    “You’ve got a lot of flowers still blooming so late in the summer.”

“Coneflowers and coreopsis will bloom until the first frost if you tend to them,” her grandmother observed. “And the coreopsis will reseed itself. It can get downright overzealous if you let it.”

“Granddaddy looks good, too. Skinny, though.”

Mama Ree shook her head. “He’s too greedy to be so skinny—greedy for the biggest piece of pie, greedy to hold the babies folks bring by. That old man is greedy for life, but I don’t know how much he’s got left. He’s outlived all of his brothers, even the ones younger than him. Of course he got freed a long time before they did, and that makes a difference. Didn’t get worked so hard for so long. He was twenty and I was eighteen when we moved here—can you imagine such a thing?”

“You could have stayed in Virginia,” Dorothy said. “Ohio was a long way to come.”

“Didn’t want to stay in Virginia. You think we had any love for that place? No, when old man Phipps died, and me and Robert got set free, we wanted to be as far away from that state as we could get. Poke Patch Settlement—seems like a silly name now, don’t it? But it was music to us back in the day.”

They made their way into the back yard, followed by the flock of chickens that had greeted the visitors upon their arrival. “You and Martina need to take some eggs back with you—these girls are producing like it’s July, and I don’t know what to do with all those eggs except give most of ‘em away. I tell Robert we got too much going on for just the two of us. We got more chickens than we need, we grow more tomatoes and beans than I can preserve. I give Margaret all that she can use, but now she and Charles are talking about moving to Cincinnati.”

“Everybody keeps moving to the city,” Dorothy said. “You and Granddaddy’ll be next.”

Mama Ree laughed. “Granddaddy won’t ever leave this place, and I guess I won’t, either. We built it up from the ground—us and the others who settled here. When we’re gone, won’t be nobody left and that will be the end of it. I want to be here til the very last minute. Now—look at the quilt. Ain’t it pretty? It’s the Wild Goose Chase pattern.”

The quilt hung from a line strung between two maple trees. “Now that’s real pretty, Mama Ree,” Dorothy told her grandmother as she moved closer to get a better look. “Where’d you get your fabrics? I see at least one of Granddaddy’s old shirts in there.”

“I took a few old shirts from the mending basket that was never going to be mended,” Mama Ree admitted. “And Josephine brought me some fabrics from Columbus the last time she come for a visit. She says you wouldn’t believe what you can get in the stores nowadays. She likes them conversational prints—that’s what she calls them, the ones with the tiny little pictures all across ‘em. See that little dog running through that one? Well, you know Josephine—always going for the different thing.”

Dorothy smiled, thinking of her favorite aunt. Josie always did have a taste for the unusual. “Did you make some dresses, too, or just this quilt?”

“Child, for the first time in my life, I cut up fresh fabric for a quilt block, and I’ll tell you what”—Mama Ree leaned toward Dorothy like she was about to confide a deep, dark secret—“it nearly scared me to death to do it! Cutting up never-cut-before fabric into squares and triangles! I’d never used anything but scraps for quilts before. But I’m an old woman and I don’t need any new dresses.”

“Well, that fabric sure makes for a pretty quilt.” Dorothy traced a line of flying geese with her finger. “I like this print with the sprigs on it. I like that red.”  

“Some of it washed out,” Mama Ree told her. “Turned the water pink. But that’s alright—it’s still red enough.”

Dorothy circled the quilt, admiring it from every angle. “I bet Wallace would get along with Aunt Josie—he likes new things, too. Up-to-the-minute things. Sometimes I’m not sure I’m up-to-the-minute enough for him, truth be told. I like the old ways more than the new ones, if I have to pick.”

“Good thing you don’t,” her grandmother replied, leaning over to brush some grass off of her leg. “There are all kinds of old ways you wouldn’t be happy with. You were born free, weren’t    you? Same with your mama and daddy. Both of them born free men and women. Me, I was born a slave. You’re glad those old ways are gone, aren’t you?”

“Those aren’t the old ways I was talking about,” Dorothy protested. “You know what I mean, Mama Ree.”

“I know what you mean,” Mama Ree admitted. “And I’ll tell you the honest truth—it scares me a little when I see all my babies and grandbabie s dependent on their paychecks and getting what they need at a store instead of making do for themselves. But it seems to me you can have the best of both worlds. You can have your garden and your chicken coop, so you don’t have to rely on the store all of the time. You can make and mend clothes and not buy new. That’s just thrift, Dorothy. You can be thrifty in the country and the city. Don’t matter where you are, you can take care of what you have. And you can have a good life—especially since you got yourself a good man.”

 “He might be a good man, but he’s too stubborn to live.”

“Every man’s too stubborn to live,” Mama Ree said, a sly smile on her face. “At least the ones worth having.”

Dorothy ignored her grandmother’s attempt to humor her. “I tried to get him to come with us today. Tried to get him to see where I come from—and where his baby comes from, if you stretch things out a bit. But he can’t bring himself to be interested.”

“Your mama wrote that he had to work,” Mama Ree chided g ently. “That’s not the same as not having an interest. Besides, you sure you want him here? You sure you want to see this place through his eyes? You might not like how it looks.”

Dorothy hesitated before speaking. “I couldn’t ever be ashamed of you, Mama Ree—you or the home place.”

“I know that, honey, but someone else’s view of a place—a less affectionate view—well, it might spoil it for you.”

“Still and all,” Dorothy said, pulling herself up to her full height. “He ought to come. Because maybe he needs to see this place through my eyes. Anybody ever think of that? And he ought to meet the man our baby is named for.”

“He’s got his eyes fixed firmly toward the future,” Mama Ree said, slipping her arm around Dorothy’s waist. “Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Because the future’s where you and that baby are headed, too. Me and Granddaddy, we’re in the past.”

Dorothy shook her head. She didn’t want to believe that. Couldn’t believe that. Not in this moment, standing in front of Mama Ree’s brand new quilt, Granddaddy around the corner, holding baby Robert and telling him all sorts of stories, Albert egging him on. Why, this place was alive. Just look at the flowers, and those chickens pecking in the dirt, she wanted to argue. Look at the last of the summer tomatoes over in the garden. She should have made Wallace come visit even before they got married. This is who you’re marrying, she should have said. When you call me country, well, this is the country I come from.


Years later, when Dorothy brought her granddaughter, Alice, to stand at the very same spot where she stood in front of Mama Ree’s new quilt, she knew her grandmother had been right. The home place wasn’t made for the future, and maybe that’s why Mama Ree and Granddaddy hadn’t lasted much longer after that August visit all those years ago. Granddaddy died a week before Christmas 1902, and Mama Ree passed on a few months after the old man. When Margaret moved with her husband to Cincinnati a short time later, the home place wasn’t home to anybody anymore.

Some of the buildings were still standing when Dorothy came to visit with the grandchildren—the old schoolhouse down the road, the smokehouse out back near where the barn used to be. The maple trees behind Granddaddy and Mama Ree’s house were still there, though the clothesline that had been strung between them was long gone. Still, Dorothy pointed out to Alice the spot where the quilt had hung on the line..

“I still have the quilt,” she told the girl, “the one hanging right between those two trees. Me and Mama Ree had been admiring it and were about to go in for dinner, when guess who came around the corner?”

“Who?” Alice had asked, even though she’d heard the story a hundred times before and knew exactly what Dorothy would say next.

“Your grandfather,” Dorothy told her. “Daddy Wallace. Even though he said h  e wasn’t ever coming out to the home place. He didn’t have any interest in the old ways or old times, at least that’s what he said.”

Alice supplied the next lines, knowing them as she did by heart. “He had his eye on the future.”

Dorothy nodded. “He had his eye on the future. But there he was, out here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the day, which meant he left Milton Falls not one half-hour after me and Grandmother Martina left that morning.”

“He decided it was time to meet his namesake,” Alice said. “Said it was high time.”

“Not his namesake,” Dorothy corrected. “Your Uncle Robert’s namesake. My granddaddy—Robert Lewis—that’s who your Uncle Robert is named after. But yes, Daddy Wallace decided it was high time to meet my granddaddy, so here he came, barreling around the corner, shouting out hellos left and right.”

Dorothy turned toward where the old house used to be, half expecting to see Wallace—twenty-year-old Wallace, the handsome young man who was still making her heart flutter after two years of marriage—walking toward her.

“How you doing, gal?” he’d called her that late summer morning. He took off his hat and nodded toward Mama Ree. “Why don’t you introduce me to this young cousin of yours?”

Mama Ree had shaken her head and laughed. “Lord help us, all this family needs is another sweet-talking man.” She turned to Dorothy. “Good looking, too. How ‘come you never told me you married such a handsome fellow?”

“She wanted you to see for yourself,” Wallace supplied. “Figured you probably wouldn’t believe it without proof. It’s nice to see you, Miss Marie.”

“You sure took your time getting here, Mr. Johnson,” Dorothy’s grandmother teased. “But I’m glad you made it.”

“That’s one pretty quilt you got there,” Wallace said. “I reckon that’s the Wild Goose Chase pattern.”

Dorothy stared at her husband. “How do you know that?”

“ I have a wealth of information you don’t know a thing about,” Wallace told her with a wink before taking Mama Ree by the arm. “I’d love it if you’d show me your garden, Miss Marie. Dorothy here has gotten me interested in gardening. Why, she’s practically got me out in the yard digging day and night, putting in tomatoes and them black-eye Susan flowers she likes so much …”

What a morning that had been, Dorothy remembered now. Wallace had charmed everybody within an inch of their lives. He exclaimed over the garden and the chickens, ate two servings of dinner and smoked a pipe on the porch with Granddaddy afterwards, even though he didn’t smoke.

“Daddy Wallace said this was the prettiest place he’d ever seen,” Alice said, as they continued their walk across the yard. “He’d never been to the country before.”

“And he said he should have come sooner than he did. A lot sooner. But he got there in time,” Dorothy finished. “And that’s all that mattered. Come on now, I’ll walk you down to the creek. Sometimes me and my brother Albert would spend all day fishing when we were your age.”

Alice ran down the path, and Dorothy smiled at the sight of her granddaughter making the same journey to the creek that she’d made nearly every day of her life until her family moved to Milton Falls. She’d walked with Wallace down this path, too, after that day he’d shown up at the home place like he’d been intending to come all along.

“You gave up a day of work to make me happy?” she’d teased him as they made their way through a field of cornflowers. “That’s not like you, Wallace Johnson.”

“I came so you’d stop fussing at me about it all the time,” Wallace said. “Besides, I suppose I should meet my son’s namesake so I can tell him later that I did. Soon as I woke up this morning, it occurred to me that I owed him that much.”

“And what do you owe me?” Dorothy asked after a moment, not sure if he owed her a thing. Still, she was curious how he might answer.

“An apology, most likely,” Wallace grumbled. “At least that’s what you think.”

“I don’t think that,” Dorothy told him, meaning it. “Nothing to apologize for.”

Wallace looked around, taking in the view. “This is a nice place. It’s not half as backwards as I thought it would be.”

“Did it ever occur to you that you’re the one that’s backwards?” Dorothy asked, laughing.

“Occurred to me just this morning,” Wallace told her, and took her hand. “I must have been too busy looking forward to notice.”

The End.

Copyright 2022 by Frances O'Roark Dowell and Milton Falls Media, Inc. All rights reserved.


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