Women in Time Ch. 04


A wave of dizziness hit me, and he offered his arm for support. Cpl. Stewart led me to a nearby bench, and told me he had been a medic in Howard's unit in France. Howard had come to him with symptoms of a very personal nature, and although Cpl. Stewart tried to help him, it was too late. Howard's indiscreet encounter with a French prostitute had left him sterile. There had been no "accident."

Most indelicately, I lost my evening meal all over Cpl. Stewart's shoes and he hurried to find my mother. Seeing how upset I was, Mama took me home immediately. I didn't tell her what had upset me – I just couldn't. Even though I received a most gracious note from Cpl. Stewart a few days later, his bold, masculine script assuring me he had no intention of disclosing my secret, my nerves remained shattered and I found it increasingly difficult to accomplish even the most mundane of tasks. I spent most of the remainder of my pregnancy in bed, Dr. Loomis fearing the loss of the pregnancy, and I of what remained of my sanity.

Franklin Charles and Frances Eugenia Miller were born at 9:34 and 9:46 a.m. respectively, on May 12, 1930 after a mercifully brief labor. Howard's mother was beside herself when I refused to name my son after Howard, but I felt that would only add insult to the injury and deception that surrounded the twins' birth. Aside from Cpl. Stewart and me, no one knew the truth about why Howard had shot himself on that November evening in 1929, and the comfort and concern of my friends and neighbors stung like salt on a bleeding wound. I felt I had consigned myself and my children to the role of tragic local figures that many of the good people of Macon could nurture and support, finding some sense of meaning in the face of their collective inadequacy during this cruel Depression.

August 1934 Since I had no luck getting the twins to nap in the sticky August heat, I decided we would go to the drug store Clyde Barrett and his wife Sarah still owned. There were only a few items on my list, and normally we would have walked the few blocks but at the last minute, I decided to take the car if for no reason than the breeze coming in through the open windows.

I had finished with my shopping, and was checking my list one last time as Frannie and Frank fidgeted impatiently in front of the candy counter. I knew the children would plead for some of the sugary treats, so I had budgeted a small amount to indulge them. There were so few treats these days, and all due to circumstances far beyond the understanding and control of children – or many adults, it seemed. My back was turned when the commotion started.

An outraged female voice yelled, "Stop! Thief!" The aroma of unwashed flesh and fear assailed my nose as a slight figure rushed past me, intent on getting to the door. As I turned to see what was going on, the thief found his passage blocked by Clyde, the owner of the drug store, who had emerged from behind the counter in response to his wife's cries for help. Clyde grabbed the boy by his shirt collar and gave him a threatening shake. The force of the hold sent the young man's cap tumbling to the floor and tore the collar of his shirt. Two bars of soap skittered under the edge of the counter. I gasped out loud as an unmistakably female breast was bared as the shoulder seam of her shirt gave way.

"Mama, that's a girl!" I heard my small son's shocked voice and pulled him behind my skirt as I hissed at Clyde. "For the love of God, Clyde, let go of her!"

Even as he was loosening his grip on the girl's torn shirt, Clyde continued to assume an air of outraged authority as he proclaimed, "Fine then, Clara. We'll let the law deal with this little thief." I recognized the panic that flickered briefly across the girl's face before she quickly replaced it with the mask of defiance. I also remembered from our women's church group missions at the Macon jail at Christmas that there were no accommodations for women who had been arrested. My decision was made instantly.

"No, Clyde, don't do that. No law. I'll take responsibility for her. Put her soap on my bill." Clyde's wife, Sarah, had come to stand by her husband and was just as incredulous as he that I would consider such a thing. Clyde looked at me in disbelief as he asked me to step behind the counter to talk.

With the girl under the unwavering glare of Sarah's watchful eyes, Clyde and I went behind the counter. Clyde's tone was serious. "Clara, I'm sorry but she's one of those damn tramps – the kids who ride the rails ever since this god awful Depression started. Only most of them are boys, and they just travel from town to town, stealing whatever they can. I feel real bad for them, but I can't just give all of them what they need. Someone has to stop this. Do I need to remind you that you don't need any more responsibility than you have now? Now get this foolish notion out of your mind."

"Clyde, imagine the circumstances that led to this girl stealing soap, of all things. My place would be much better for her than jail. Make your point with some other tramp. She's going home with me and I'll pay for the soap. My mind's made up."

Realizing that he would not sway me, Clyde added up my purchases plus the two bars of soap, and gave me my change. As I picked up my box of goods, I asked the wide-eyed girl her name. She said it was Bobbie Calvert. "Well then, Bobbie, come along before you get into any more trouble."

If the looks on the faces of the small group of people gathered around the door were any indication, we must have made a motley procession as we left Clyde's drug store. I loaded the box and the twins in the back seat of the car, and then opened the passenger door for my new houseguest, who had the dubious honor of being a petty thief.

Frank and Frannie were in the midst of one of the most dramatic moments of their young lives, and hardly restrained in their questions, both of them peppering Bobbie at the same time. "Why do they call you Bobbie? That's a boy's name. How old are you? Why did you take that soap? Where do you live? Are you going back home tomorrow? Are we driving you there?"

As I tried to still the rapid-fire questions Frannie and Frank asked, Bobbie quickly spoke up, her voice surprisingly husky for one of her youth. "No ma'am, don't shush them. I don't mind. I'd wonder why we were taking a smelly girl to our house, too, if I was them." Turning to the children hanging on the back of the front seat, Bobbie's face relaxed into the first smile I had seen her wear.

"Bobbie is what my little sister and brothers call me. My real name is Roberta, but I never liked it much. I'm 17, and I took the soap because I need a bath and my clothes do, too. I can't go back to my house right now, so I guess I'll stay with you today, unless your Mama wants me to leave. And no, I don't think you will be taking me to my house, because it's in Oklahoma and that's a very long way from here."

I stopped the car at home, and turned to Frannie and Frank. "Now, you two may take your candy and go play in your room. Bobbie needs a bath and something to eat and then, she and I are going to talk. You can talk to her some more later."

Bobbie carried the box into the house, setting it down at my direction on the kitchen counter. Frannie and Frank danced eagerly beside me as I handed them their candy, reminding them to remember to share. As I turned to her, I saw that Bobbie was looking around at her surroundings in awe. I asked her what she wanted first, a bath or a meal. She quickly chose the bath. I motioned for her to follow me, as I went to my room to find something suitable for her to wear while her filthy clothes were washed.

"You'll need something to wear until we can wash your clothes. I may have something in the closet you could borrow. Let me have the shirt and I'll see if it can be mended." As I looked back up, I was stunned to see that Bobbie had taken the shirt off, dropped it on the floor and was following suit with her trousers. My embarrassment at viewing her nakedness evaporated as I assessed the young woman's body – lithe and toned, with sinuous curves as well as taut, pert breasts. Her hips flared slightly below her waist, and her muscular thighs and calves tapered gracefully to slim ankles.

I met Bobbie's defiant eyes and said, "You're not really 17. Now, how old are you and what were you doing stealing soap from the drugstore?" I handed her a dressing gown from the closet and waited for her response.

Tying the dressing gown at the waist, Bobbie looked at me, and thrust her chin out. "I'm old enough to go anywhere I want to, and like I said, I need a bath. But I'm not about to start answering to anyone. I'm my own boss now."

Appalled at her attitude, I closed the gap between us in two steps. "I have every right to know who is staying in my house. Now either you tell me the truth or I will put you on a train with a paid fare back to where you came from." Amazingly, I saw tears well up in her eyes, before she brushed them away with the back of her hand. Haltingly at first, and then with an increasing desire to rid herself of the burden, Bobbie sat on the edge of the bed and began to tell me what home was like for her.

She was 23 years old, and had left her home in Oklahoma's dust bowl four years earlier, when her father had told her to go. The ultimatum came after yet another argument, her father drunk and reeking of vomit, when Bobbie had displayed the streak of independence and sassiness that he so hated in a woman. He stood inches away from her face, his breath hot and fetid, as he told her to get out by morning.

She had kissed her mother, sister and brothers good-bye, and packed her few possessions in a pillowcase. Right before she left in the weak dawn of the next morning, Bobbie forced a promise from her younger brother that he would assume her role as a buffer between their father's drunken, battering rages and the rest of their family.

Bobbie walked into town and hopped a train headed east. She thought her luck would be best in the southern states, which she had heard were welcoming and hospitable. But the reality of the tramps riding the rails during the Great Depression was far from welcoming and hospitable. Bobbie quickly learned to keep her hair short, her mouth shut and to wear the baggy clothes that helped her to pass as an older teenaged boy.

The tramps went from town to town, most willing to work, but there were no jobs available. Some cities had missions, where the tramps could get a meal and sometimes a bath. Shoes, which wore out frequently, were almost impossible to come by. Bobbie was always hungry, but she stayed away from the camps. Need soon overrode propriety, and just as the other tramps did, Bobbie unapologetically stole what she needed whenever she had the chance. "But I never took anything from someone worse off than me." She looked anxiously at my face as she said it, as if it mattered very much to her that I believed it.

My heart ached for this young woman who had been separated from her family and her home. I hugged her close and told her I was sorry for what she'd had to endure. I suggested she run a bath while I got her something to eat. I decided we would have an early dinner of cold fried chicken left from yesterday. The twins were lively at dinner, and Bobbie's spirits seemed to lift as Frannie and Frank teased her about the way my clothing engulfed her slight frame.

Bobbie supervised the children's baths that evening while I cleared away the dinner dishes. I smiled as gleeful shrieks and laughter drifted into the kitchen as Bobbie put the children to bed. When I went in to kiss them good night, both Frank and Frannie begged me to let them "keep" Bobbie as their adopted big sister.

Bobbie and I made a bed for her on the sofa, since my third bedroom was lacking a bed. I had put it to use as a sewing room and extra storage for things the twins had outgrown, as well as the vegetables I had canned for the winter. I loaned her one of my nightgowns, so voluminous on her, she looked like a small child playing dress-up in her mother's cast-off clothes.

As for me, I tossed and turned in the stifling August night heat, despite the best efforts of the fan I had trained directly on my bed. I finally got up at about 1 a.m. and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. As I looked out the window to the backyard, I saw Bobbie's silhouette under the big oak tree, her nightgown clinging limply around her legs. I took my glass of water outside with me.

"You couldn't sleep either, I see." I handed the glass to Bobbie, and she took a grateful sip. "It's just so hot and nearly impossible to get comfortable enough to sleep," Bobbie said, as she handed the glass back to me. I knew that despite the open windows in the living room, she must have sweltered on the overstuffed sofa, which had seen better days.

"You know, my granny used to have a way to cool us kids off when we were little and too hot to sleep. She took the sheet off the bed and wet it down, and then the fan blowing on us made it feel much cooler." I considered this solution and thought it was worth a try. It took both of us to wring out my bed sheet after I had soaked it in the bathtub in cool water. As we laid it carefully across the bed, a thought occurred to me. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to lay a wet sheet on top of our nightgowns, Bobbie."

She looked at me as if I were a small child and sighed. "Of course we will need to take off our nightgowns, Clara. What would be the point if we didn't?"

Giggling at my shocked expression, Bobbie pulled her gown over her head. The blasting heat made me cast my natural modesty aside – after all, we were two women. We clambered into bed side by side, and sat with the sheet pulled over our naked bodies, relishing the steady cool air now blowing across them.

As I watched, Bobbie stretched her arms over her head, and the twin peaks of her erect nipples, chilled by the wet sheet, were clearly visible. I stared, mesmerized at the sight.

"Touch them." At the sound of her voice, I looked into her face. There was no hesitation in her eyes and she said it again. "Touch them, please." A visible shudder ran through Bobbie as I tentatively grazed her nipples with the palms of my hands. Almost imperceptibly, she leaned slightly toward me, pressing her nipples more firmly into my hands.

The points of her rigid nipples seared into the palms of my hands, and I closed them around the swell of each breast. A soft moan escaped Bobbie's lips and she closed her eyes. As I cupped each breast more firmly, I felt the dampness growing between my legs, and I was overwhelmed with desire for her.

I kissed her then, feeling her soft lips yield to mine, and her breath as she opened her mouth to take my tongue. The sheet dropped from our bodies. Her hands moved slowly down my body as we kissed, pausing to caress my neck, breasts and belly. Then she moved one hand lower, her fingers grazing and plucking at the dark hair covering my mound. Each time she gently tugged, electric shocks raced through my wet sex and I heard my own throaty moans.

Then she was pushing me down, raining breathy kisses on my face and neck, urging me with her hands to lie down on the bed. I did as she wanted, and she straddled my body, using her hands, mouth and tongue on my breasts and nipples. I had never felt such intense erotic feelings before.

Bobbie continued her sensual journey. She went farther, kissing and caressing my belly, nibbling at the sensitive skin where my hip met my groin. When she reached my tangled hair, she stopped and inhaled deeply. Startled, I clamped my legs together, but she gently and persistently parted them with her hands, looking up at me with a smile.

She buried her nose and mouth in my wet sex. Softly at first, and then with increasing excitement, she lapped my erect button with her tongue, brief intense flicks, before she sucked it fully into her mouth. I felt her fingers invade my wet depths as she licked my clitoris faster.

Wave after wave of pleasure crashed over me, and I arched up to meet the waves and her invading fingers, plunging deeper and faster as I rode the ecstasy. The sound of my heart pounding in my ears became a faint and distant roar, and darkness threatened to take me. I was overwhelmed by the intensity of my orgasm, having never experienced anything like it.

I opened my eyes to see Bobbie, still astride my legs, but kneeling upright now, with her fingers parting her moist lips, rubbing her erect nub with hard and fast strokes. As she peaked, her head fell back, and in the dim light of the room, I saw the goddess that resides in every woman.

Her smile was soft and relaxed as she lay down on the bed beside me. I drew the sheet up over us and we slept, our hands entwined. We woke together early the next morning, just as the first light of the sunrise beckoned. Our first kiss was shy, as kisses in the light of day between lovers often are. The shared memory of the connection we had created flickered and flared briefly, bringing a passion to the kiss that left each of us breathless.

As we rose and dressed for the beginning of the new day, my heart was singing.

March 1939

Bobbie developed into a gifted seamstress and in the years near the end of the Depression, we began to take larger and more complex requests for sewing, even designing and making the wedding gown and trousseau for the daughter of Macon's mayor in 1938. Our thriving business made life more comfortable for the children as well as ourselves. Her energy and drive had a wonderfully positive effect on most everyone she met, and Bobbie assimilated into our lives in Macon with ease.

She was, quite simply, the love of my life, and I of hers. She was the keeper of my secrets, and I trusted her completely. She was also brutally honest, having learned that together there was nothing we could not face and emerge all the stronger for it. She reminded me every so often that the twins deserved to be told the circumstances of their conception and births. I knew she was right, and in one of our many late night discussions, we agreed we would tell Frank and Frannie the truth about their parentage and Howard Miller's death when they were 14. Neither of us could have possibly imagined how Frannie would respond.

We were in the kitchen one blustery morning in March, taking a break from a particularly backbreaking project of pleating draperies we had started as soon as Frank and Frannie left for school. I got up to rinse the coffee cups in the sink, and Bobbie came behind me, sliding her hands up my blouse to cradle both breasts, teasing my nipples with her fingers. I turned to her, cupping her face in my hand and kissed her deeply as she continued to pinch and tweak my nipples. We had both forgotten Mama was supposed to come over to bring some fabric she had found on a trip to Atlanta.

Mama never let the screen door slam shut. Bobbie and I were so engrossed in our erotic embrace we never even heard her come in, but we both heard her startled gasp as well as her retreating footsteps as she hurriedly left our home. Bobbie held me late into the night as I imagined the horrifying outcome of Mama's unwelcome revelation about me.

The letter from Mama arrived in the post the next day. I quickly put it in the pocket of my apron after taking it from the box, so Bobbie couldn't see. I could read it later, when Bobbie went to the store to pick up rickrack for an apron she was making for Frannie from one of my old ones.

Later that afternoon, sitting under the bare branches of the oak tree in the backyard, I opened the envelope from Mama with a hairpin held in trembling hands. Her dainty and precise script blurred as I read the letter through eyes swimming with tears.

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