Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Kind Contrast

Back in January, I shared a bit that gave Marie a lump in the pit of her stomach. I want to give a contrast with this part, which actually comes a bit earlier in the book.

Marie slipped off Bess and led her toward a tie post. Mrs. Bates came from the house and joined her, beaming at her, as Marie secured the horse.

"Marie Owen! It's a favorable day when I get a caller." She hugged Marie, then called out in Spanish, motioning over a brown-skinned lad who was working nearby. "Ven aquí, joven. Quídate del caballo."

The boy dropped his pitchfork and came running to see what Mrs. Bates needed. She explained, while Marie marveled at the woman's command of a foreign tongue.

"Mrs. Bates," she exclaimed when the boy had taken charge of Bess. "I didn't know you spoke Spanish."

Muriel Bates drew Marie along toward the house, laughing as they went. "Why girl, a body has to know how to speak it hereabouts if you want to get the work done. It's a pretty tongue." She clucked at Marie's tangled hair. "Now we'll just take a brush to that mess of locks, and put buttermilk on your face to take the sting out of the burn."

In no more than five minutes, Marie sat on a chair in the kitchen, holding a cloth Muriel had soaked in buttermilk to her face. She felt the heat lifting from her skin.

Muriel ran a brush through Marie's hair, patiently working out the knots. "Tell me the news, Marie. How is your ma? Is Ellen well? How is that husband of hers? Is he on the mend?"

Marie spoke through the fabric. "Ma is doin' as well as one might expect. Carl is still down in bed, but Ellen says he's makin' progress." She paused to remove the cloth and turn it over to the cool side. "Ellen is well, and she is happy. I ain't ever seen a body so content."

"That's right gratifyin' to hear, girl." Muriel worked at a particularly stubborn tangle for a moment, then asked, "Did your brother return yet? Mr. Bates said your pa was right vexed that he left."

"No," Marie mumbled. "He's still gone. Ma is grievin'."

"I imagine so. I imagine so," Muriel repeated, and lapsed into silence as she tackled another matted-up spot in Marie's hair.

Marie squeaked as the hairbrush pulled tight against her tender scalp.

"I'm sorry, girl," Muriel crooned. "Let me try finger combing through that one." She put down the brush and used her fingers to coax the hair to separate. "You didn't bring any pins to put up your hair?"

"No. Pa was in such a hurry to leave, and I didn't think to dress my hair, nor to bring my bonnet. I'm payin' the price now." Marie sighed.

"Let me wet that cloth again. I have plenty of buttermilk today." Muriel took the cloth from Marie, dipped it in a bowl, and wrung out the excess moisture. "I reckon the butter specks will look like freckles, but they'll wash." She gave the cloth back to Marie, and started in on the last tangle. "I don't have no spare hairpins. I can try something new, though, a little trick I learned from Paco's mama. She helps out here and there when I need her," she continued. "She's the one teachin' me the Spanish tongue."

Once Marie's hair flowed freely down her back, Muriel took a piece of leather and a smoothed-down piece of wood, and twisted the hair into a bunch at the back of Marie's head. "This won't hurt a bit," she murmured, fitted the leather piece over the top of the hair, and thrust the wooden spike through a pair of holes in the leather. "There now," she said, making sure the clasp was secure. "That's right pretty, and will keep the tangles away." She patted Marie's shoulder. "Or you could make braids."

Marie caught her breath. "I never thought of braids, being so old, and all."

"Old!" Muriel laughed. "When did you get to be old? You're just now at your best, girl."

"My sister tells me I'm old."

"Julianna? That girl has no sense. Get the notion of bein' old out of your head, Marie. That will only give you the vapors. You're as lovely as can be, and don't you forget it."

Rod Owen poked his head into the kitchen. "Time to leave, daughter."

"I'm comin' Pa," Marie said, and removed the cloth from her face as Rod exited the room as fast as he had entered it. "I thank you for the buttermilk cure, Mrs. Bates, and for pulling the snarls out of my hair." She touched the leather clasp. "May I use this while I'm down hereabouts? I'll bring it to you when we come back through."

"You keep it, girl. I'll have Mr. Bates make me another."

"Thank you, ma'am."

What a difference between Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Morgan! You can see where Ellen Bates Owen got her caring heart.

Have you ever experienced kindness when you were feeling down? How did it impact your outlook on life?


  1. Anonymous12:33 AM

    It reads like you've got a good one going there, Ms. Ward.

    Good luck on your progress!

    Doc Burgess

  2. Marsha, this is good. I am going to have to go back to the original book to see where she fits into the family but I love what I have read so far. Kathy

  3. Great job, Marsha. Here's a story of kindness changing an outlook. In 1987 my husband and I survived a bad plane wreck. We'd just moved to this old ranching community trying to build a life there so we didn't know many people. My parents came to take care of us on our remote ranch 11 miles from a paved road. We'd begun putting in irrigation when we had the accident leaving us with six of our eight limbs in casts. One morning dozens of cars and trucks came down our dusty road. Women brought food they spread over our harvest table and the men worked all day in the hot sun putting in irrigation pipes laid among the rattlesnakes. At one point a rancher asked how I was doing and I said terrible because I felt so bad to have people we didn't know have to help us and how embarrassed I was and how we'd never be able to pay it back. He said words I've long remembered. "Oh Jane, you miss the point. We love doing this and you give to us when you let us. You'll never be able to pay us back; the best you can hope to do is pass it along." Wise words I've harbored and acted on whenever I could to pass that goodness along.

  4. That's a great story, Jane and very true!

    Marsha, good piece. Kindness doesn't take a great effort. Sometimes I find just smiling at a stranger and receiving one in return lifts my spirits (and hopefully theirs).

  5. My mother was a particularly kind woman. I have developed tenderness when I show kindness to others due to her example.

    The kindness of others has helped me continue to have hope in the future. People who have been there when times have been tough have given me strength and encouragement-- so I continue to desire to do my best. The "kindness connections" in my life give me motivation to love and serve others with kind acts.

  6. I don't know anyone who hasn't responded to kindness. It's good to show it through a character in your writing. I remember enjoying your previous selection as well. Keep it up, girl!

  7. Thank you, everyone. What wonderful comments you've shared with us.

    I received a kindness this morning when I opened my email, and got a totally unsolicited critique of this very piece (he said he'd taken a saber to it) from Charlie Whipple, the writer in Japan I wrote about on my other blog, Writer in the Pines. His insights have helped me a great deal.

    Charlie said he was sitting doing nothing, so took the time to go over it. What a nice thing to do, particularly when you're "sitting doing nothing" in ravaged Japan!


I welcome your comments.

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