When Susie and I got back to Minneapolis, Uncle Frank and I had decorated obnoxiously for Halloween, “Satan’s Holiday” Mama had always said, but I was becoming unsure how to take how Mama had seen everything. More and more people were telling me I needed to decide things for myself. I’d never been allowed to do that before, and I didn’t know where to start.
“How was your trip, Sweetie?” Uncle Frank asked me. I didn’t want him to call me “Sweetie,” the word didn’t sound right coming out of his mouth. It was Taffy’s word, not his. I knew he didn’t mean it, and it annoyed me that he thought I’d believe him.
“Do you like the decorations?” he asked.
“Not really,” I admitted. “But Mama never decorated for Halloween. I guess I’m not used to it.”
“Well, I think it’s nice,” Susie jumped in. “All these oranges and browns – it’ll be an easy transition to Thanksgiving.”
The mention of Thanksgiving put me in a better mood.
“Thanksgiving!” I exclaimed to Aunt Lucy. “Can we go to Susie’s for Thanksgiving?”
“I’m glad you’re getting along with Susie, Jen, but you really need an invitation for Thanksgiving.”
“But she did invite us,” I said and then stopped and remembered that she had only really invited Taffy. “Or she meant to. She told Taffy he could stay with her if he came. He’s all alone there in Leifton. There’s no one left anymore.”
“Well, I don’t know, Jennie,” Uncle Frank said. “I have started to think about Thanksgiving. I thought maybe we could get reservations at a restaurant somewhere, invite Stuart.”
“You don’t have Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant,” I said.
“Jennie, how we spend the holiday is not up to you. Plenty of people eat in restaurants on Thanksgiving.”
“If you wanted to come, Stuart could certainly come too,” Susie said. “Thanksgiving is supposed to be a big gathering.”
“Thanks anyway,” Uncle Frank told her. “Enjoy the time with your brother. We’ll find something else to do.”
“But he’s coming to see Jennie too, Frank,” Aunt Lucy told him.
“And she’s right, there isn’t any one left out there anymore.”
“Damn it, Lucy!” Uncle Frank interrupted. “I’m getting really tired of everyone ganging up on me. ‘Jennie’s sad,’ ‘Taffy’s sad.” Everyone wants to make it better. What if I’m sad? Does that matter? What if I’m not quite up to watching as my wife and her high school sweetheart ogle each other over turkey and cranberry sauce?”
“Oh grow up, Frank,” Aunt Lucy said. “You’re getting your Christmas on the slopes with Ryan.”
“I’m not going to ski, Lucy. I’ll be working most of the time.”
“Sure you will,” Aunt Lucy said.
“We’re not getting into that again,” Uncle Frank said. “You can’t give Jennie whatever she wants. You’ll spoil her.”
“Jennie is nine years old, and she’s lost both her parents. It’s not spoiling her to let her have Thanksgiving with the one person she’s known and trusted her whole life. You spend Thanksgiving wherever you want. Jennie and I will be going to Susie’s.”
“Fine, then,” Uncle Frank pouted.
“We’ll go, but I don’t want to hear another word about me going to Denver for Christmas.”
“All right,” Aunt Lucy said. “Fair enough.”
When I got to St. Ignatius, they had placed me in all the middle classes, instead of the smart ones, even though I had been getting straight As in Leifton. I didn’t think the crazy secretary or any of my teachers even looked at my records. They kept talking to me as if I were made of eggshells. They spoke very slowly and constantly asked me if I was keeping up. Finally, I’d had enough.
“Keeping up?” I told my teacher. “A dead toad could keep up. I learned this all two years ago.”
“Mary Jeanette, that is no way to be talking to teachers,” she said.
“It’s Jennie,” I said. “I go by Jennie. I tried to tell the secretary, and I tried to tell her I’d been at the top of my class at my old school. I guess she didn’t write anything down. She put me here by mistake.”
“Do you know what Jesus thinks of girls who can’t be humbled? Pride goes before the fall. Have you heard that saying, Mary Jeanette?”
“Of course I have,” I told her. “Mama used to remind me of it all the time. But I’m not being prideful. I’m being honest,” I said.
“I don’t have time to argue with you, Mary Jeanette. There are students here that want to learn.”
I looked around the room. Two boys had made a football out of notebook paper and were passing it back and forth between their desks. Three girls, all with matching haircuts, were in the corner, giggling. Another boy was rummaging in his desk looking for a pencil. He was probably happy the little argument had delayed things a bit. Most of the kids were probably happy. Only a couple looked eager to learn.
“I can’t deal with this attitude, Miss Halifax. I’m going to have to send you to speak with Father Christopher. With the Lord’s help maybe he can make you understand.”
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