They are pretty, they are not, they are plain, mysterious, tall, short, slender and not so slender, but without exception, they know they are a Wallflower. There is no sex in this story. It is a little longer than my usual stories, but you will enjoy it.
Every community has one, larger communities may have several, but if you look closely, you will find the Wallflower. They are friendly yet quiet, seemingly self-contained, seldom sitting in a group although not always alone, and never the center of attention. They are pretty, they are not, they are plain, mysterious, tall, short, slender and not so slender, but without exception, they know they are a Wallflower.
As young children, the Wallflowers were often alone on the playground, or they desultorily joined the games played by other children when a teacher brought them into the group. Yet, if left unattended they would return to their wall. As teens they sat alone in a classroom, in the back corner, or frequently had a vacant desk beside them. Some were quite studious, while others struggled to understand the world around them. They did nothing to call attention to themselves, but on occasion they garnered the looks, comments, or dismissal, of others who were curious, who wished to tease or simply did not understand.
Such was the case with Mary Margaret. Alternately called Mary or Margie by family, friends, or acquaintances. Nonetheless, she was Mary Margaret. Rarely she gave someone special permission to call her Mare.
Benny Malone, although he was not a Wallflower, was often treated similarly to Wallflowers because he was a special child. He was the only person who bothered to call the Wallflower, Mary Margaret. As a young child, allowed to hold the five-day-old baby, the mother carefully told him the baby girl's name. Although he did not say her name any better at the age of thirty-two than he could the day he held her so carefully, he persisted in calling her Mare-Mar-Get, as if it were three separate words. The gentle soul, inside the body of a grown man, blushed when she would shake his hand on Sunday mornings and say, "Good morning, Mister Bennett Malone." His pride at having two names was as special as Mary Margaret's pride with her own two names.
Usually somewhere near Benny was his older brother Gerald. Gerald, or Jerry as he was known by a select few, may have thought of Mary Margaret by both of her names and may have spoken to his brother using both names, yet if he spoke to the young woman, he addressed her as Miss McNabb. The two men resembled each other, yet they were not at all alike. Benny had soft features that easily turned into a smile of pleasure at a kind word or a simple thought and he had an infectious laugh. The harder features of Benny's older brother seldom expressed a smile. Both Gerald and Benny were stout and strong men, accustomed to the hard labor of a full day caring for the large farm where they lived alone without parents, siblings, or wives.
Benny was capable of doing a full day's work, similar to other men, with adequate instruction and careful supervision. His body may have matured beyond the age of the raging hormones of a much younger man, yet his mind had not advanced with his physical age. The joy he found in life was that of a young child not yet a teenager. He was tempered with gentleness, and the occasional awkward movements of someone many years younger than he was.
Few people knew anything about Gerald's preferences in women. He was a gentleman, somewhat courtly and occasionally chivalrous. Around town, at church or in a community gathering -- beyond the dutiful greetings and dances with the grandmothers, mothers, and unattached women -- he was usually in the company of other men. Gerald, like the other men with whom he conversed, spoke about crops, about animals and the weather. However, the few women who knew him beyond a polite nod thought of him as well-educated, sensitive, and quiet. He was a handsome man who puzzled some because he did not pursue women who smiled at him or watched with a flirtatious glance.
Young women viewed Gerald as an older man because he seemed to be a peer of their fathers, with similar responsibilities, possessions, and interests. Older women thought of him as less eligible because of the impediment of his younger brother. Perhaps the women between those two age groups, who had children of their own, either did not know Benny or else felt having him in the same home with their own children was not to their preference. Therefore, they too did not show interest in the older, good looking man. Gerald may have had similar thoughts. At any rate, he had never found a woman who seriously interested him.
Because Benny felt so comfortable with Mary Margaret, and because Gerald was indulgent of his younger brother, Gerald often found himself near the young woman, participating in conversations between her and Benny. The few occasions anyone could recall seeing Gerald smile or hearing him laugh were those limited times when he spoke to Miss McNabb.
"Mother, are you sure you want to spend hours on end with four small children cooped up in a motor home for six whole weeks?" Mary Margaret looked at her mother as she asked the question and could not believe the excitement she saw on the older woman's face.
"Well, your daddy's going to be there, too. He can help."
"Oh, right." Mary Margaret did not bother to hide her sarcasm. "Then who is going to be the driver? The last time I remember being in a vehicle with him and four small children, I was one of those children and he was telling you to make us all sit still and be quiet."
"Now, now," Hilda McNabb made a mild effort to counter her younger daughter's comment. "It won't be that difficult. Your sister is going to fly out for the last few days of the reunion. She'll be there part of the time. Besides, if I can corral a classroom full of eight year olds, I should be able to handle my own grandchildren."
Hilda was not going to tell her younger daughter the other reason for taking all four children on the extended trip. It might break the young woman's heart. Although she was Aunt M's to the younger generation, Mary Margaret had been the only mother the youngest child had ever known. Less than six weeks after the baby was born, his mother abandoned him, his older sister, and their father. Two days after Bruce's wife left, at his parent's urging he moved himself and his two small children into the rambling two-story farmhouse. That was little more than a month after Mary Margaret graduated high school.
It was more than two years before the telephone call came from a distant police department, informing Bruce McNabb that they had identified a Jane Doe, the victim of a drug overdose, whom they had buried in a pauper's grave almost a year earlier. Bruce did not even care enough to have a marker placed on his wife's grave.
Years earlier, the older daughter, Charlene, was pregnant at sixteen. Now the mother of two, she worked as a bank teller, struggling to help her auto mechanic husband support their small family. Charlene had finally taken her family out of her parents' house into a home they could call their own only a few months before her brother Bruce and his children returned to the family home. The old farm house seemed to swell, shrink, and then swell again.
The oldest son of the family, Thomas, had been engaged to marry his long-time sweetheart upon her graduation from college. The marriage never happened. The young woman decided to accept an out-of-state job rather than be the wife of a man whom she felt had no better aspirations than being the next generation to farm land which had been owned by a McNabb for over two hundred years.
The revolving families and individuals moved in and out of the McNabb house during the summer Hilda had expected the house would finally begin to empty. After all the shuffling was finished, Hilda and Hiram still had three grown children and two grandchildren in their home.
Jeremy, Mary Margaret's young nephew, the motherless child, was now four years old and his sister, Janet, was almost six. Their cousins, children of Hilda's older daughter, Charlene, were nine-year-old Theresa and seven-year-old Josh. When all four children were together, any room they chose to occupy become a racetrack, a jungle gym, or a scene that would rival any professional wrestling match. Toys became weapons or closely held possessions. Shoes and socks were lost, and parents and relatives raised their voices to be heard over the energetic screams of children hard at play in constantly changing contests of boys against girls, siblings against siblings, or one-on-one.
Hilda had expected to see the rooms of the big farmhouse emptied of her children. With Thomas's pending marriage, Bruce's growing family, and Charlene establishing her own home, she'd had only her younger daughter's future to consider. Mary Margaret, if her mother could persuade her to do so, might actually go to college. None of Hilda's children had chosen that route, and Hilda thought Mary Margaret might want to be a teacher someday.
Instead, Bruce returned with his two children, Thomas did not leave, and Mary Margaret decided that with a house full of people, she would fill the role of homemaker in her mother's stead. There were five adults, a tiny baby, and a young child to care for, meals to prepare, clothes to wash and mend, a large vegetable garden to tend, chickens to feed, eggs to gather, two cows to milk, butter to churn, and she didn't want to go to college anyway. She was a Wallflower, happy in her solitude with one of the best-used library cards in the county.
Hilda sat grading spelling tests at the kitchen table, while Mary Margaret dished up the meal she had prepared to feed five healthy, hard-working adults and two growing children. Although it might appear to be a mountain of food, most of the dishes would return from the dining room empty. The stomping of boots, cleaning them of whatever had accumulated while doing various chores around the farm was heard along with a father calling his two small children to come to supper.
Hiram drank half of his glass of iced tea and told his wife, "Hildy, I talked to Gerald Malone today."
"Oh good, what did he say?"
"Jerry said he and Benny can take care of the milking and help with the last of the garden. He has two farmhands at his place so coming over here won't leave him shorthanded. Gertrude Powell's brother said Trudy would like to help like last year. She would like an extra half-case of pickled beets this year." He looked at his youngest daughter, "Margie, what are you going to do all by yourself for a couple of weeks?"
Mary Margaret looked up when she heard her name, but she did not understand the question. "I'm sorry. Why am I going to be by myself?"
Hilda looked at her youngest child and leaned back in her chair, "Oh dear, here we've been making all these plans and didn't even tell you." So, began the litany. The oldest son, Thomas, who would never be anything but a farmer, was going to spend two weeks at an Agricultural Experimentation Station. And then Bruce would not be around to help with his two children because he had two weeks of National Guard service requirement to satisfy. It wouldn't matter anyway Hiram and Hilda were taking all four grandchildren on a month-long tour of several states, stopping to visit a few places where Hiram and Hilda might like to live as their retirement home. After the month of searching for the retirement home, they would spend the following two weeks at a long-planned family reunion, with many other McNabb families coming and going as their time allowed. It was an unusual coincidence that all of those events happened during almost the same time period. That would leave Mary Margaret virtually alone.
Hiram had the good grace to sound slightly embarrassed, "I told Jerry you'd fix supper for him and Benny for those two weeks."
Still slightly flustered at all the plans and details that had already been decided, which she had really heard nothing of, or given little attention to, Mary Margaret agreed, "Yes sir, I don't mind. I like Benny, he's sweet."
"Good, Jerry said Benny's really good with the garden." Hiram finished his statement and looked down at his plate, industriously mashing butter into another helping of potatoes. "Ah-h-h, Jerry said he would spend the nights here, so he can do the night and morning milking before he goes home...if you...if you think...well, he would need to bring Benny, too. But you'll be here alone...and he wanted to know if it would...would you mind...you know...two men..." He finally stopped and looked at his wife for help.
"Oh goodness," Hilda exclaimed. "That man is so old fashioned."
"Well he's right to be cautious," added Mary Margaret's older brother, Thomas. "Remember that Thompson girl and the hired hand a few years ago."
"Yeah, and he's gonna have Benny with him. He can't leave Benny at home, he doesn't have enough sense not to burn the house down," Bruce added dismissively.
"Bruce..." cautioned his father.
"Bruce!" echoed his mother.
"Benny's sweet, I don't mind him," finished Mary Margaret.
"Well, it isn't Benny that's the problem." Hiram took a deep breath and let it out. "Jerry's still single and considered quiet a catch, at least by some of the women in this county. He's got all that land and no children." Hiram looked at his grown children around the table and finally at his wife, none of whom were going to help him finish the subject he had introduced and he was bumbling around without saying what was really on his mind. "What I mean, is he's concerned about your reputation, Margie. He wanted me to say something to you, specifically about him and Benny staying at night so you wouldn't be out here by yourself. It's not like you can leave all the doors open and the keys in your cars anymore."
"Good Lord," Bruce raised his voice, "The man's a dozen years older than me. He's practically old enough to be Mary's father."
"What's age got to do with it?" Thomas was just as loud as his brother was. "You think a forty year old man doesn't want a woman as bad as a thirty year old does?"
"Yeah," Bruce looked at his older brother. "I saw you sniffing after that little Griffin girl. Golly, Thomas, she's almost the same age as your baby sister."
"Boys!" The father exclaimed, "There are ladies and children present. Watch your language."
Mary Margaret watched the conversation and argument going on around her and looked at her mother, whose attention was fixed on her husband. Instead of saying anything, the young woman left her seat between the two children and went to the kitchen, missing the look that passed between husband and wife and the gentle pat the man gave his wife's hand. When Mary Margaret returned a moment later with a pitcher of tea to fill the nearly empty glasses of all three men, the discussion had changed to the upcoming trip.
There was little time and energy, to spend on similar conversations in the next few weeks. Everyone concentrated on the most intense jobs of a farmer's year, putting something aside for another day. This meant gathering and preserving the fruits of an extensive vegetable garden. There were cases upon cases of empty pint and quart jars to scald, fill, and seal in a deep pot of boiling water. Other vegetables were gathered, blanched, and frozen, until two freezers had not an inch of spare room. Potatoes filled sacks. Cucumbers were sliced or left whole, soaked in brine, or added to sugar and spices and onions, to fill additional jars. Nearly one-quarter acre of tomato plants filled more jars. Box after box of jars were carried down to the cellar to fill every inch of narrow shelves on all four walls of two separate rooms. Some jars were stacked beneath the shelves as overflow. It took days to fill, mark, and date, the jars of jelly, jam, and preserves. Still growing in the garden were root vegetables to gather and preserve.
Feeding a large family, sharing bounty with friends, and selling the best at two local produce markets were full time jobs. At harvest time, the whole family focused its attention on the important work at hand, yet the daily chores of tending to animals and managing a household did not cease. Additionally, while the on-going maintenance of farm machinery kept the men busy, to their list of chores Hilda added cleaning and servicing the motor home for the upcoming trip. In between the multiple trips up and down the stairs with baskets of laundry, the large vehicle was packed. Boxes of preserved vegetables and fruits to share with relatives filled one closet of the motor home. Six one-pint jars of Mary Margaret's peach preserves were marked for Hiram's aging mother. "Old Mom" said she could make the six jars last almost a whole year if no one found her stash.
The day Hilda McNabb, a school teacher for more than twenty-five years and her husband Hiram, a farmer for all of his 58 years, left with their four grandchildren, the old farm house seemed to echo with the slightest sound. It was empty and quiet. Breakfast had always been a rushed meal People ate what they wanted in the time they had, then rushed off to begin their day. But now only Thomas would come in for lunch at mid-day and perhaps might take a short nap during the heat of the day. Bruce usually had his lunch in town along with other telephone company employees who lined their service trucks at the back of a restaurant parking lot.
For almost a week Mary Margaret's world seemed to be on hold, waiting for something to happen. Even though the major garden work was finished, there was still enough to keep one or two people busy. Trudy Powell came out three days a week to help Mary Margaret can in exchange for her own supply of vegetables. Green beans and black eyes peas were her favorites. Some of the root vegetables had already been preserved, but beets and turnips were still growing. Two five-gallon crocks held shredded cabbage, slowly fermenting until they were ready to become jars of sauerkraut, an occasional family favorite.
With the slower pace, Mary Margaret had the opportunity to catch up on a few chores she had allowed to build up. She had several loads of laundry to do every other day and a stack of men's shirts to mend and iron. She wondered how Thomas and Bruce managed to lose so many buttons, while her father seldom lost a one. Her brothers must not be very careful of the way they unbutton their shirts, or maybe they were in a big hurry.
She dutifully washed, dried, and folded the tiny blue lace panties she found in the pocket of Thomas's good khaki slacks. There had been one instance of Mary Margaret washing an unknown woman's undergarment which she did comment on, but her older brother told her to mind her own business.
Supper that night was quiet, unusually quiet, with little to look forward to except the nine o'clock telephone call from her parents. Thomas rushed through his meal and left the table, saying he was going to take a shower and go to town for a few hours. His bag was packed and he would leave near daylight the next morning to spend two weeks away from home. He was not in a particularly good mood.
"Mary Margaret, I need to talk to you." Bruce pushed himself back from the small kitchen table. His voice was low and rumbling, as if he was embarrassed.
"You're probably not going to like it, but I made Mom and Dad promise not to say anything to you until I knew more about what I was going to do." Bruce looked at his younger sister. "But before I tell you about me, I wanted to tell you something else. Don't say anything to Thomas, but I think he's going to ask that little Griffin girl to marry him."
"Oh, you mean Becky, Becky Griffin?"