Part 1

This is the way we wash our clothes,
wash our clothes,
wash our clothes.
This is the way we wash our clothes
All on a Monday morning.

Monday, April 8, 1968

Helen Belden rolled over, pushing the button on the alarm clock to silence its annoying jangle. She shook her husband’s shoulder gently, but Peter was already stretching himself awake. Sitting up, she swung her feet over the edge of the bed and slid them into a pair of blue terrycloth slippers, pulled on her quilted housecoat, and went into the bathroom to run a brush through her tousled blonde curls. As she stepped out into the short hallway between her bedroom and the cozy kitchen of Crabapple Farm, she could hear Peter’s shower running. Another day was starting.

It was six-thirty in the morning. Helen listened at the foot of the stairs for the sounds of her sons getting dressed for their chores, but heard nothing. Sighing, she placed a foot on the bottom step. The boys are usually good about setting their alarm clock, she thought. I wonder what could have happened. They’ve got to get going, though. The bus will be here in less than an hour. Her feet flew up the remaining steps.

By the time Helen reached Brian and Mart’s room, she could hear her two oldest children speaking to each other in low voices as they dressed for school. Their coveralls, donned before going to the henhouse, hung on hooks in the back porch when not in use. Mart, almost thirteen, would fill the mash hoppers and gather eggs. Brian, fourteen, was responsible for watering the chickens, keeping the boxes filled with fresh straw, and sweeping the floor of the henhouse. Afterward the boys would doff their coveralls, wash up and eat a quick breakfast before joining their younger sister at the bus stop.

Helen was turning to go back downstairs when Brian and Mart came out of their room. “Did you boys oversleep? You’re running a little late this morning,” she said, with a worried pucker of her forehead.

“Oh, Moms, I got up a little early to do some last-minute review for my geometry test today. I had set the alarm clock to go off early, but then I got so involved in the geometry problems that I almost forgot to wake Mart. I’m sorry.” Conscientious Brian did look sorry. His brown eyes, so like his father’s, were cast down and he ran a hand through his dark hair.

“It’s a fort … um, lucky thing for you, dear brother, that my internal clock is … um, uncannily accurate. If not, we would not only have missed our chores, but also our breakfasts.” Blond Mart followed his brother out of the room. His china-blue eyes danced as he teased Brian.

“Well, run along now. You should have plenty of time to eat before the bus comes if you get started now.” Helen shook her head. Mart is so much like my brother, right down to his love of big words.

In the kitchen, Helen discovered her sister Alicia already up, fully dressed, and filling the percolator with water for a pot of coffee. Alicia’s knitting basket sat on the kitchen table and a dainty sweater of baby-pink, nearly completed, lay on top of balls of yarn in blue, white, and yellow.

“Good morning, Alicia,” she greeted the other woman. “How nice of you to start the coffee! Peter will be so pleased.” She’s certainly making herself at home, Helen told herself, feeling ashamed even as she had the thought. Lighting the pilot light, she turned on the oven for breakfast toast.

“I was happy to do it, sweetie,” Alicia responded. “Besides, I couldn’t sleep. Beatrix was so restless, talking in her sleep and thrashing around. Perhaps it’s time for her to learn the gentle arts of housewifery. That might calm her temperament.” The corners of Alicia’s mouth were turned down in disapproval. “I’ve decided it’s time for Beatrix to learn to knit. Since I’ll be here all this week, I’ll have plenty of time to work with her.”

Helen had to turn her head and cough to conceal her involuntary snicker. Alicia was very independent, living alone as she did, but she was the epitome of femininity, with her dainty crocheted collars, her annually updated wardrobe, and her perfectly coiffed hair. A skilled seamstress, she embroidered, knit, and crocheted as well as a professional, and she was a fanatically neat housekeeper, judging from the one visit Helen had made to her apartment. She was also a dedicated teacher at a private girls’ day school in Philadelphia. Despite that, Helen feared Alicia would meet her match in Trixie.

“Trixie does many chores around the house and farm for me. She dusts, makes both her own and Bobby’s beds, sets the table, and washes dishes. She’s also learning how to help in the garden.” Helen paused for a moment after defending her daughter’s housekeeping skills. I don’t want to make my sister angry, but it’s going to be a very long week if she thinks Trixie is going to be happy about staying inside and learning to knit instead of running after her brothers. Alicia has always made me feel … inadequate. She’s so – so perfect, I guess. “I’ve tried to show her how to sew on a button, or tack up a hem. But Trixie doesn’t have much patience, and she’s too restless to sit still for long.”

“Helen, dear, you’re too busy yourself to devote the necessary time and effort to Beatrix’s training in the arts of homemaking. Leave her to me.” Alicia beamed with confidence.

Helen gritted her teeth to stop herself from a snappy retort to Alicia’s superior tone. Opening the refrigerator door, she lifted out a mixing bowl full of the large brown eggs that were the pride of Crabapple Farm. She set it on the counter and removed a carton of milk, a pitcher of orange juice, a package of bacon, and a stick of butter. While Alicia poured coffee, she separated the strips of bacon and began to fry them on a griddle which covered two burners on her stove. As the bacon began to sizzle, she broke a dozen eggs into a clean bowl, whisked them briskly, and poured them into a skillet over a simmering puddle of melted butter. Next, she counted out a dozen slices of bread, buttered them and fitted them into two cookie sheets which she slid into the hot oven.

Behind her, she could hear Alicia getting out the plates, glasses, and flatware to set the table. As Alicia laid the last napkin in place, she stood back and admired the neat table and the cozy red and white kitchen. “I’ll go check on the children, Helen. They should be up by now, shouldn’t they?”

“Oh, yes. In fact, I’m surprised Bobby isn’t already down here. The little imp is usually underfoot while I’m cooking; he wants to help, but it seems that everything he does causes a mess, and it takes longer to do anything if he is ‘holping’.”

Helen could hear Alicia’s quick step on the stairs as Peter Belden appeared in the kitchen doorway, dressed for his work as a teller at the Bank of Sleepyside. “How’s my best girl this morning?” he asked. “Has Mart gone to the henhouse yet? I think several of the hens should be laying right now.”

“Alicia’s just gone upstairs to check on the kids. The boys are doing their chores now, and Trixie should be down any minute.” She stood on tiptoe to give her handsome husband a kiss. “Alicia wants to teach Trixie to knit, since she’ll be here all week.”

“Oh, does she?” Peter quirked a black eyebrow at his wife. “She may find that she’s met her match in Trixie. Besides, if Trixie’s learning to knit, who’s going to help you prepare the garden and watch Bobby?”

“Shhhh! Here they come.” Helen raised a finger to her lips. Indeed, Bobby’s childish piping was plain to hear.

“Trixie, Mommy said we gots to hoe the garden today, ‘cause Daddy tillded it yesterday. I’m gonna holp! Hey! I’m a big boy and I’m gonna hoe the whole garden,” he boasted.

“We’ll see, Bobby. I don’t know if you’re big enough to use the hoe yet.” Trixie’s voice was conciliatory, but doubtful.

“I am, too! Daddy showed me, and I’m a good hoe-er.”

“Beatrix, I have a lovely surprise for you today after school. You’re growing up now, and it’s time you learned some of the skills you’ll need as a housewife.” Alicia’s voice floated down the stairwell. “I’ve brought you a knitting basket, needles, and yarn enough to do a simple project. We’ll start today. By the time I leave next Saturday, you should have finished a couple of potholders and maybe a scarf. Won’t that be nice?”

Alicia was descending the stairs behind her niece and nephew, and missed the look of horror that crossed Trixie’s face at the prospect of spending a whole week of afternoons knitting. Helen did see it, and wasn’t sure if she wanted to cheer Trixie on or to chide her. It won’t hurt Trixie to learn to knit, she told herself. It’ll be a good chance for her to get to know her aunt, and it’s only for a week.

As the three adults, Trixie, and Bobby sat down to the steaming, fluffy scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and crisp, fragrant bacon, Helen smiled on the cherubic faces of her two youngest children. She dished out a mound of eggs to each one, and Trixie served her brother with bacon, toast, and juice. Alicia began eating, daintily as always. Helen also began to eat, while keeping an eye out for her older sons, who would be back from their chores any minute. She had ensured that plenty of food was saved for them, and their dishes were keeping warm in the oven, covered to keep them from drying out. Peter Belden held the morning newspaper in front of his face while he sipped his coffee and took forkfuls of egg, in between bites of toast and bacon. When everything finished up evenly, he wiped his lips and pushed his chair away from the table.

“I’ll be going now,” he said, bending down to kiss his petite wife. “Is there anything you need me to pick up from the store today?”

“No, I’m in good shape today. We’ll have a simple supper, since I’ll be doing laundry most of the day, and I’ll hoe the garden to break up the clods later. Bye, now.”

Trixie jumped up and ran over to give her father a kiss, and Bobby was right behind her. Unfortunately, Bobby’s hands had been busy with his bacon and toast, and he put a greasy handprint on his father’s wool trousers.

“Bobby!” Helen reproved him. Grabbing a clean dishcloth, she wiped his hands and face.

“Never mind, Helen. Luckily I have another pair of trousers to match this suit. I’ll run up and change, and stop by the dry cleaner’s at noon.” Carefully, Peter lifted the little boy above his head and then lowered him to the floor, just as Brian and Mart came in from the henhouse. They had changed out of their coveralls, and washed their hands at the sink before telling their father good-bye.

Helen pulled the older boys’ plates from the oven while they cleaned up, and she kept one eye on the clock above the table as they attacked their breakfasts. They were swallowing their last bites when the rumble of the school bus could be heard as it made its way down Glen Road. Brian, Mart, and Trixie grabbed their books, kissed their mother and brother, and ran out the door and down the drive to meet it. Helen watched them until they were out of sight, then closed the door and began to clear the table.

“Helen, sweetie, let me wash the dishes for you. I’ll clean up the kitchen while you get started on the laundry.” Alicia was already filling the sink with hot sudsy water, and she took the stack of plates from Helen and submerged them in it. “You have enough work to do.”

“If you insist, Alicia. But I hate to put you to work – you’re my guest!” Helen was embarrassed even as she felt gratitude for her sister’s help.

“Nonsense. I’m family.” Alicia plucked the dishcloth from Helen’s hands and turned toward the sink. Helen went back to her room to dress in the casual wrap skirt, pullover top, and slip-on canvas shoes she wore for everyday chores at home. Glancing in the mirror, she again ran her fingers through her blonde curls. I’ll never look as polished as Alicia does, she thought.

Sighing, Helen started toward the clothes hamper in the big bathroom upstairs, Bobby at her heels. She separated the clothes, and studied them for a moment to see which pile was the biggest. Deciding that although there was not quite as large a load of jeans as of whites, the jeans would take longer to dry, she made her way back to the washer, craning her neck to see over the pile of clothes. Before placing each item into the machine, she checked every pocket. You never know what these boys are going to have in their pockets, she thought. Trixie, too. A small pile began to accumulate on top of the dryer as she took two pencil stubs, a protractor, and an ink pen from Brian’s pockets; a couple of throat lozenges still in their foil wrappers, a notepad, and another pen from Mart’s, and a skate key, a chewed piece of bubblegum wadded into its waxed wrapper, and a tube of lip balm from Trixie’s. Lastly, she gingerly picked up a pair of Bobby’s overalls. Once he had concealed a small frog in the bib pocket and forgotten about it. When Helen pulled it out – quite dead – she screamed and her skin crawled; it was the next day before she felt that she had gotten the feel of the frog off of her hands.

Carefully, she shook the overalls out. Two crumbled chocolate chip cookies, a penny, a treasure map drawn by Mart, a smooth rock, and a handful of dried-up white clover with the stems on, fell onto the floor. This was par for the course. A second pair of overalls yielded a Matchbox car, several plastic soldiers, and a red crayon. Nothing really terrible yet! The last pair of overalls in this load seemed to be empty at first, and then a small rubber ball bounced onto the floor. Not quite ready to give up, she gave the garment a final shake, and a clump of what she at first took to be roots fell out. Looking more closely, she realized that the clump was a mass of now-dead earthworms.

“Robert Belden! Come here!” Her tone left no doubt that her youngest son was in trouble, and when Bobby appeared behind her, it was obvious that he knew it. One finger was in his mouth, and his eyes were angelic pools of china-blue as he answered her.

“What, Mommy? I was picking up socks for you.” With his free hand, he held out a half-dozen of the socks that had fallen on the floor during her trip from the clothes hamper.

Frowning, Helen pointed toward the disgusting mass on the floor. “Haven’t I told you not to put bugs, worms, and frogs in your pockets, Bobby? They don’t have enough room to move around, or any food to eat. And if you forget about them, they will die.”

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I forgotted that you told me that.” Bobby studied the dead worms. “Mart said he would take me fishing if I digged up some worms. I was gonna put ’em in a can for him, but I just forgotted.”

“Well, get the brush and dustpan, and sweep them up. Throw them away. And next time Mart asks you to dig up some worms, tell him I said for him to help you.”

“Yes, Mommy. The poor worms!” Bobby’s lower lip trembled, although he obediently trotted to the broom closet and returned with the brush and dustpan.

“I know you didn’t mean for them to die, sweetie. But you’ve got to learn to remember to take care of things that you collect.” Helen sighed and kissed her youngest child. “Run along and play with your tractors now, and I’ll call you when I’m ready to go outside. You can help me to hang the clothes on the clothesline.”

“Okey-dokey.” Bobby disappeared and in a moment Helen could hear him making his way up the steps to his room. She finished loading the washer, added detergent, and turned the dial to start the heavy-duty cycle. Then she returned to the kitchen, where she found Alicia wiping the table. Alicia’s knitting basket was back on the table, and once more, Helen noticed the pink sweater, neatly folded on top of the balls of pastel yarn.

“Tell me about your knitting projects, Alicia,” she invited. “That sweater is a lovely shade of pink.”

“It’s a present for Beatrix. It will be darling with the new Easter dress I made her.” Alicia smiled as she confided in her sister. “I’ve made blue sweaters for Robert and Martin, and a yellow one for Brian. It will set off his dark hair and eyes nicely. It’s rarely warm enough at Easter to wear short sleeves, and they will look wonderful as a group.”

Helen sighed inwardly. Her children did not like pastels; the colors would flatter them, but she would be surprised if the sweaters were worn more than once. What a shame that Alicia invested so much of her time and talent making them! she thought.

She smiled, however, as Alicia held up the pink sweater. It was dainty, a simple cardigan with a delicate picot edging at the ends of the three-quarter sleeves, the neckline, and the lower edge. A pink satin ribbon was waiting to be transformed into a bow which would conceal a hook and eye at the front opening. Helen touched it gently.

“It’s beautiful, ’Licia,” she praised truthfully. “I would have loved one like it at Trixie’s age. Even though I was a tomboy, I loved dressing up, too.”

“You don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings, Helly-Nelly,” Alicia told her. “I know very well that Beatrix hates to get dressed up, and she probably won’t like this – or her dress.” She sighed. “But I don’t have any girls of my own to dress up, and Marty’s daughter is too old – she told me right out that if I couldn’t copy the latest designs form Carnaby Street, that I shouldn’t waste my time sewing for her. Can you believe it! Twelve years old and talking like that!”

Helen couldn’t believe it. “I have to admit, Allison is very … frank! Mart and Helen haven’t stressed manners very much to their kids. You haven’t shown me the dress yet. Is it secret, or are you going to let me see it?”

“I’ll bring it down after lunch, so I can press it. You can see it then, along with the boys’ sweaters. I do have one secret that I won’t show you.” Alicia’s hazel eyes twinkled.

“You mean thing!” But Helen laughed. “I’ll be on pins and needles all week. Speaking of pins and needles, let’s go into the family room, and I’ll get out my mending while I wait for the washer to finish.”

The sisters worked quietly in the sunny family room. In a few minutes, Bobby joined them, carrying a bucket filled with his collection of farm animals, fencing, and three toy tractors. While he set up his farmyard, Helen pulled garments from the mending basket, checking to see what kind of work was needed. Garments missing a button went into one pile, while items needing hem repairs went into another; torn clothing was studied to see if it could easily be mended or if it should go into the rag bag or the trash. With four active children and a husband, Helen tried to be as thrifty as possible, but some tears were not worth the time or trouble it would take to mend them. Alicia finished the last bit of picot edging and made her ribbon bow. She was preparing to sew the hook and eye in place when the washer’s spin cycle ended.

“I’ll load the dryer for you, Helen,” she offered. “That way you won’t have to get up.”

“Oh no! I’m going to hang those jeans outside. They’ll dry quicker in the sun, with a nice breeze going, and I’ll get to be outside in the fresh air.” In truth, Helen hated mending, and preferred to use her sewing skills to create bright curtains, pillows, and other decorative items rather than to mend clothing. Like her daughter, she was bored by the mundane task. Now, she laid the articles that were beyond repair on the sofa next to her, stood, and called for Bobby, who had disappeared. In a moment, he could be heard clattering down the stairs, and reappeared, wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and a holster with a toy six-shooter over his sturdy denim overalls and a short-sleeved shirt.

“I’m the Lone Ranger, Mommy,” he announced. “I’m gonna scout for bandits while you hang up the clothes.” He drew the toy gun from its holster with a flourish and tossed it into the air. Unfortunately, his technique lacked finesse, and the gun narrowly missed a floor lamp, hitting Bobby’s head on its way down.

“Ouch! That hurted my head!” Bobby took off his hat and rubbed his head before bending over to pick up the gun.

Helen dipped to kiss his head, saying lightly, “Thank goodness you were wearing your ten-gallon hat, darling! Now, let’s go outside. You can get some more practice doing your tricks out there. You’re not supposed to be tossing your gun up in the air inside, anyway. The Lone Ranger would never do that!” Furtively, she glanced at her sister. Alicia’s face was puckered with a look that made Helen wonder whether she disapproved or was trying to keep from laughing – or both. Shaking her head, Helen led the way to the utility room and then outside to the clothesline while Bobby galloped behind her on an imaginary horse, shouting “Heigh-ho Silver, away!”

By noon, Helen had washed three loads of clothes; the sheets and towels had joined the jeans on the clothesline. She used the dryer for the remaining garments, some of which were Permanent-Press and could be hung up without ironing if taken from the dryer as soon as the cycle ended. This meant she was tied to the house, in order to be able to hear the bleat of the dryer when it finished. She had sorted all of the mending, replaced all the missing buttons, and cut up the ragged towels and T-shirts for cleaning rags. The unusable, worn-out items had been discarded after cutting away any sections that were suitable for quilt pieces.

During the same interval, Alicia had blocked Trixie’s sweater and then crocheted two dozen small granny squares, using the leftover yarn from the Beldens’ sweaters. She kept a small stash of baby afghans made from her project leftovers to give for shower gifts when any of her fellow teachers was expecting a new baby. Helen glanced at her and sighed. It’s too bad Alicia never had children of her own, she thought.

“Who’s ready for some lunch?” she asked brightly. “I’m going to heat up some vegetable soup and make some cheese and crackers.”

“That sounds lovely, sweetie.” Alicia carefully laid the pile of granny squares into her basket, and the two sisters and Bobby sat down to eat.

After lunch, it was time for Bobby’s nap. The little boy insisted that his Aunt Alicia was the only one who could read him a naptime story, and Alicia gave him a hug and invited him to choose his story. Helen sighed as she watched the two of them mount the stairs. She was tired and would have enjoyed a nap herself, but the afternoon promised more laundry and folding of the clean clothes, before she would have to stop to cook supper. Then the older children would be home from school. Right now was the only time she would have to herself in the whole day, and she had so many household chores to keep up that there wouldn’t be a minute to set up her easel and paint the blooming jonquils and hyacinths she wanted to capture on canvas. Glancing at Alicia’s knitting basket, she felt a fleeting envy of her sister. Alicia can do whatever she wants, when she wants to do it. She isn’t tied down with a husband and children, and work that takes every minute of her waking time.

Although she was alone, Helen’s face flushed and she reminded herself that she was fortunate to have a loving husband and four healthy children – and that Alicia was alone. But she still thought longingly of the peace and quiet of Alicia’s Philadelphia apartment, with its neat, attractive layout and lack of clutter anywhere. Alicia had a flair for decorating, and she had a whole room set up just for her craft projects and sewing machine. It, too, was organized – unlike Helen’s tiny sewing room, which always seemed to be overflowing with items that needed mending. Meanwhile, fabric for the bright curtains and tablecloth she wanted to make for the kitchen sat uncut.

Mechanically, she washed up the lunch dishes, brought in the two loads from the clothesline, and transferred another load of clothes to the dryer. Heading upstairs to the children’s bedrooms, she could hear Alicia’s voice, still reading to Bobby. Just as Helen reached the top of the stairs, Alicia appeared at his door, carefully closing it so that there would be no click as the latch caught. Alicia smiled at her sister and took the load of sheets from her.

“Let me make the children’s beds, Helen. I’m sure you have plenty of work to do.” Helen simply nodded, and Alicia turned and headed toward Brian’s and Mart’s room with the bedding.

Helen descended the stairs again, feeling guiltier than ever for her envious thoughts. Why do I feel this way, when Alicia is so kind and helpful?

Downstairs, she began to assemble the ingredients for her family’s supper. A roast beef dinner would be good; the warming weather signaled that a slow-simmering, oven-cooked dinner like this would soon be out of season. Mashed potatoes, gravy, and peas would complete the dinner, and a cherry crisp would be an easy and tasty dessert. Humming a little, Helen began to peel and chop an onion and to heat her largest skillet over a moderate flame. While the chopped onion sizzled in the skillet, she salted and peppered two sirloin tip roasts, then added them to the onion. Once the meat was browned and aromatic, Helen emptied the skillet into her enamel roaster, adding a little water and two cans of cream of mushroom soup. After sliding the covered roaster into a hot oven, she began to peel potatoes and then carrots.

Alicia entered the kitchen, where Helen was just filling a large saucepan with water. “Is there anything else I can do for you, sweetie?” she asked. “I’ll make your bed, or take the kids’ clothes up to their rooms.”

“Thanks, ’Licia,” Helen answered. “But the kids are supposed to put away their own clothes when they get home from school. And I’m going to make up our bed after supper. You can put the towels away if you like. Then we’ll have about an hour until Brian, Mart and Trixie get off the bus. I thought you were going to press Trixie’s dress after lunch, though.”

“You’re right! I was so engrossed in reading to Bobby that I nearly forgot!” Alicia nearly flew up the stairs again, and came back down, carrying a dress of blue-and-white gingham, with a smocked front and a wide sash. A white Peter Pan collar and sleeve bands completed the dainty garment.

“Oh, Alicia! It’s beautiful!” Helen truly admired the dress and Alicia’s skilled workmanship despite an inward groan. It was pretty, but Trixie just wasn’t a girl who liked dresses. This dress was also styled for a younger child, although Helen was sure it would fit her daughter perfectly.

“Maybe it’s not really Trixie’s style,” Alicia apologized. “It is a little young-looking for an eleven-year-old. But I took a class in smocking last fall, and this was such a pretty pattern that I just had to make it. I hope she’ll like it just a little bit.”

“The color will be perfect for her,” Helen said honestly. “She won’t wear it much – she doesn’t even keep any of her dresses in her own closet. But I’ll make sure she wears it for Easter. Now let me get the ironing board out for you, so you can finish before she gets home.”

Soon the two sisters were working in companionable silence again. Helen had the peeled and cut carrots ready to slip into the roaster with the meat when serving time was only an hour away; the potatoes were also ready to cook. She had prepared the canned cherries, and mixed the ingredients for a crunchy topping.

Alicia finished her ironing, hung the dress on a hanger, and folded up the ironing board. Replacing board, iron, and sprinkling water in Helen’s laundry room, she said, “There’s one thing I hadn’t thought of. Since I mean for Trixie’s dress to be a surprise, it won’t do to hang it in her closet. Where do you suggest I put it?”

“Her dresses are hanging in my closet,” Helen answered. “I’ll just take it in there now, before she comes in from school.”

Alicia set the table for supper, and then went outside to take down the clothes which were still hanging. Helen gazed at the vase of jonquils which sat on the kitchen table. I wish I could have spent some time painting this today, she thought. The petals are beginning to curl already. Even by tomorrow, they won’t be quite as pretty or as fresh. Alicia doesn’t have to put off doing what she wants to accommodate a family. Immediately, she pushed the thought to the back of her mind. How could I be so disloyal to Peter and the children – I’m so lucky!

At three-thirty, Helen recognized the rumble of the school bus. Quickly, she poured three glasses of milk, and reached into her cookie jar to remove two homemade, old-fashioned oatmeal cookies for each of her older children.

In a moment, the afternoon quiet of Crabapple Farm was shattered. The three children rushed inside, slamming the kitchen door behind them. Helen was the center of a vortex of activity and babel, each of her children trying to talk at once. Finally, each one had kissed her and she managed to get them to sit down and talk, one at a time. After they finished their cookies and milk, Helen reminded them of their chores.

“Now, go change out of your school clothes and get started,” she instructed. “Brian, please check the henhouse for more eggs, and then you can empty all of the trash cans. Mart, be sure the hens have fresh water and mash. Trixie, you can start hoeing the garden, and boys, you are to help her when your chores are finished.”

“All right, Moms.” With alacrity, Trixie jumped up from the table, while Brian and Mart got up more slowly.

“But Helen, dear, I was really hoping to start Trixie’s knitting lessons today.” Alicia walked into the kitchen, with a sleepy-looking Bobby trailing her. “Trixie, sweetie, look what I brought you for your birthday. I know it’s a little early, but I won’t be able to get back up here again next month, and I wanted you to have it.”

She held out a pretty wicker basket, shaped like a little hump-backed trunk, but long enough to hold a set of knitting needles. “Go ahead, open it!”

Helen saw that Trixie was forcing herself to take the basket and smile at her aunt. “Thank you, Aunt Alicia. It was really so nice of you. But maybe we could start the knitting lesson after supper, since I’m supposed to hoe the garden today.” She looked at her aunt, and then threw an imploring glance at her mother.

“Trixie, dear, I think the garden can wait. Your aunt has been looking forward to spending this time with you.” Helen forced herself to say the words that she knew Trixie did not want to hear. She still felt guilty over her jealousy of Alicia, and knew her sister had been looking forward to spending time with her niece.

“Trixie said I could holp her in the garden!” Bobby began to whine. “I’m gonna hoe the garden all by my own self!”

“Don’t worry, sport, you can holp Mart and me,” Brian reassured him with a brush of his silky blond curls. “We men will do the job.”

As often happened, Bobby’s tears turned to smiles in the blink of an eye. “Okey-dokey,” he agreed. “I’m a big boy. But I gots to have a cookie before I holp.”

“Here you are, darling.” Helen poured him a glass of milk and put one cookie on a saucer for him. Bobby munched his cookie as Trixie quietly left the cozy kitchen and made her way upstairs to change clothes.

Later, as Helen and Alicia washed the supper dishes together, Helen asked her sister about her most recent trip. Alicia usually joined a group of teachers in taking bus tours for a couple of weeks during the summer, but this year, the group had taken a trip to Switzerland over the Christmas holidays. Helen had often wished she could see, in person, the mountains where Heidi, one of her favorite childhood literary heroines, had lived.

“It was so beautiful, Helen! You can’t even imagine the sight of the Alps, wreathed in mist, and all red and glowing in the sunrise!” Alicia continued, describing the quaint chalet where her group had stayed, the Christmas markets, the ski lessons she had taken. “I’ll get out my pictures after we finish; I also bought some postcards, so you can see how it would look in the summer, with the window baskets under every window, and the bright flowers. You would love it.”

The tiny prickle of envy Helen had felt earlier returned. When will I ever have a chance to take a trip like that? she wondered. Aloud, she said only, “That will be wonderful!”

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Author’s Notes

5834 words

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2009 by MaryN/ Dianafan.

Huge thanks to my editors, Trish, Ryl, and Ronda, as well as to the members of my online writing group!  Each provided insights and suggestions that challenged me to improve this story. Any mistakes are mine, not theirs.  You ladies are fantastic!

I'm deeply grateful to Vivian, my webhostess and html guru, and to chromasnake, who helped me to make my pages web-friendly. Thank you, my friends!

The crabapple blossom graphic is from, as is the woven basket background; the borderstrip is Microsoft clip art; manipulated in Photoshop by me.

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