As Joe took the family to the Wabash Drive-In near Attica to see Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, he slowed down and ran the right-hand wheels of the Chevrolet onto the berm when he passed Russell Mitchell’s farm. Joe’s eyes roamed across the Holsteins in the pasture. He worried that Russell’s sons might have a heifer so promising that she could challenge Buttercup for the championship at the county fair.
After eating his popcorn, Robert fell asleep for most of the movie. Ida considered waking him, but she found the motion picture so preposterously long that she thought a sound sleep might outweigh the historical value. To her, the extravagant scenes felt pompous and out of place with the mood of the country that the television was establishing. About a year earlier, the family had attended The Music Man at the Mars Theater in Lafayette, and Robert had eagerly watched every moment of that rousing musical. Now Ida glanced into the back seat to see Robert peacefully dreaming. She began to wonder if she would miss anything if she, too, were to take a nap during Cleopatra. The squawking speaker hanging on the edge of Joe’s window kept droning on and on.
The weekend arrived when Uncle Harold’s car crunched the pebbles of the half-circle driveway in front of the house.
“They’re here!” Robert called from his perch at the front window, where he had been vigilantly watching.
It was early Sunday morning, and everyone was dressed for church. The summer day had turned off blessedly cooler after a hot week—almost like the springtime!
Dapper Uncle Harold wore a neatly trimmed mustache and was one of the few mustachioed men in Robert’s experience. Uncle Harold escorted daughters Sally and Becky and Aunt Della through the front gate. Robert loved hearing Uncle Harold’s Georgia accent!
Wearing her new dress, which had just arrived from the mail-order house, Ida greeted her sister, who took Ida’s hand and held it closely in her own. Robert looked back and forth from his mother to his aunt and noted the resemblance.
“You look so pretty, Ida,” Della said.
“The dress is new,” Ida beamed. “Look how much your daughters have grown!” Ida turned to Sally and Becky. “You’re young ladies now,” she said.
Robert considered his cousins more beautiful than the girls in The Music Man.
Charles said, “After church, we can ride bikes!”
Sally laughed. “Charles,” she said “I wonder what I would look like wearing this dress and trying to pedal a boy’s bike?”
Joe said, “You know how much you enjoyed steering the tractor the last time you visited. I can put a blanket on the seat and we can go for a ride on the Minneapolis–Moline Z, if you want to later on.”
Ida said, “I think the girls may want to walk with Della and me around the garden and see the flowers this time.”
Meanwhile, Uncle Harold handed Ida a box full of oranges.
“You didn’t grow these in Georgia!” Ida exclaimed.
Harold smiled. “No, these are from Florida.”
“Well, they look wonderful,” Ida said, as she turned to carry the box into the kitchen. “We’ll be having a big dinner after church,” she called back over her shoulder. “Maybe we can add some oranges to the fruit cups.”
Harold and Joe drove their families to the Methodist Church, where Grandpa and Grandma Morris were waiting on the steps.
“It is so good to see you,” Grandpa Morris said, shaking hands with Harold while Fern quickly hugged Della.
“Aren’t your girls dressed so nice!” Grandma Morris said.
“They’re young ladies,” Grandpa Morris observed.
“That’s exactly what I said,” Ida commented.
In the car, Ida had put on her new white gloves and had adjusted her blue hat, which she had simplified to match the new styles. As Ida and Della walked down the aisle, Robert thought his mother and his aunt looked radiant and charming. He felt proud that his aunt was so becoming in her dove-gray dress and matching hat of the latest fashion.
Pastor David Richards invited the congregation to sing the first hymn. Although he felt that he did not sing well, Robert could easily read the music. He enjoyed listening to his mother’s clear soprano voice and his father’s resonant baritone voice. As a young man, his father had performed with a quartet, and his experience showed in his confident singing.
The sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows cast pastel patterns on the pews. While the Rev. Richards gave the sermon, Robert watched the pink, gold, and turquoise lights play across his mother’s gloved hands, which she held clasped together until it was time to lift the hymnal again from the varnished rack attached to the back of the pew in front. The spring-like weather made the day seem like Easter in the middle of summer.
Ida and Della had much to talk about over the lavish dinner that Ida had prepared. Sally, Becky, Charles, and Robert sat at a folding table beside the main table. (Joe had removed the davenport to make room in the crowded kitchen.) Grandpa and Grandma Morris, Harold, Della, Joe, and Ida sat around the big table, which had been greatly expanded with extra leaves. Both tables were covered with antique linen tablecloths that Ida had ironed until there were no traces of wrinkles to be seen.
After the meal, everyone sauntered into the yard.
Charles glanced longingly at the red bike lying on its side near the well, but he realized that Sally and Becky’s dresses prohibited riding. Ida’s summer flowers were in full bloom. Becky clapped her hands when she saw a hybrid tea rose covered with big yellow blossoms.
“I love this,” she said, gesturing toward a rectangular flower garden running almost all the way across the yard from the house on the west to the garage on the east. In the center was an arched trellis with a climbing rose that was enjoying a second blush of red blooms.
“I was standing by that trellis,” Ida said, “on the morning when Robert was born. I can hardly believe he’ll turn nine in a few days.”
“He’s already steering the tractor when I haul cornstalks to the cows,” Joe said, with a smile toward Sally.
“I’ll steer for you the next time we visit,” Sally said, smiling back. “Aunt Ida, what is this called?” Sally asked, pointing toward a large, tangled bush.
“Do you mean the Japonica?” Ida returned. “It blooms in the spring.”
“I think what I’m seeing is blooming now,” Sally said.
“Show me,” Ida suggested.
Sally found a way into the flower bed without stepping on a plant, and she pointed directly at what looked like a miniature ear of green Indian corn on a stem.
“Oh, those are the seeds of Jack-in-the-pulpit!” Ida exclaimed. “They turn red in the fall.”
“Has it already bloomed then?” Sally asked.
“Yes, it bloomed in the spring. The pulpit looks like the old-fashioned ones that had an ornate canopy overhead. Under the canopy is this same stem, only much smaller when the plant is blooming. His name is Jack.”
“Can you eat the seeds?” Sally wondered.
“No,” Ida said. “The plant is poisonous, but the Indians had a way of preparing it as medicine.”
“It’s beautiful!” Sally exclaimed.
“It’s so peaceful here,” Della said, peering intently at her sister. “Everything else seems to be in such turmoil these days.”
Ida nodded, not able to put her thoughts into words but fearing that the world that Sally, Becky, Charles, and Robert would one day inhabit as adults might not be so peaceful.
The time had passed too quickly. Uncle Harold, Aunt Della, Sally, and Becky had to leave. They were going to stay overnight in West Point before returning to Georgia the next day. Aunt Della hugged Ida. The sisters’ eyes glistened.
Uncle Harold waved from the driver’s window as he made a U-turn and headed east on State Route 26. Charles and Robert waved back. Robert felt sad to see them go, but he knew they would come again before long.
In the mean time, Joe changed into his work clothes and went to the barn to start the evening chores. He looked carefully at Buttercup strolling with the other Holsteins along the path in the meadow. She glowed in the honey and amber light of late afternoon. Had she grown into the young lady that would take the championship ribbon at the fair? Joe would soon find out.