Mulberry bush Part 2

This is the way we iron and mend,
iron and mend,
iron and mend.
This is the way we iron and mend
All on a Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, April 9, 1968

After the familiar morning routine had seen the three elder Belden children on the bus, headed for school, Helen dressed Bobby while Alicia washed up the breakfast dishes.  “Now, Bobby, I want you to play nicely while I iron this morning.  If you do, you can watch a cartoon when you get up from your nap today.”

“I’ll be good, Mommy,” her son promised.

Soon, Helen had the ironing board set up in the kitchen.  She collected hangers from every closet, pulled the large plastic sprinkling bag full of clothes from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, plugged in her iron, and set up her portable garment rack.  Alicia was sitting at the table with the mending basket, and had announced that she was going to mend any pockets that needed repair.

“Tell me about your painting, Helen,” Alicia invited.

As Helen opened the zippered plastic bag full of damp clothing, she began to describe the flowers from her garden that she had begun painting the previous summer.  Unfortunately, before she could finish the grouping, she had been distracted by Mart spraining his ankle while playing baseball, and then Bobby needing stitches after jumping on the couch and falling against the coffee table.  By the time she could get back to her painting, the blooms had faded and the light outside had changed.  “Next time, I’m going to take a photograph before I start painting,” she said with a sigh.

The iron was hot, and within an hour, Helen had pressed several dresses of her own, the boys’ school pants, and Trixie’s skirts, which now hung on the garment rack.  The familiar, clean scent of spray starch filled the bright room.  Alicia still sat at the table, with a pile of the children’s pants whose pockets she had mended or replaced.  Bobby had disappeared upstairs, and the house was strangely silent.  Helen had a sudden feeling of unease.  What could he be doing?

“Bobby!  Come here for a minute,” she called.

There was no answer.  She walked to the stairs and called again. 

Still no answer. 

Helen turned and asked her sister to check the terrace and yard for Bobby, while she went upstairs.  Where could he be – and what could he be doing?  With Bobby, you never knew.  

She ran lightly up the steps and looked in his room.  It was fairly neat – Trixie had made up his bed before she left for school.  But Bobby wasn’t there.  Brian’s and Mart’s room was empty, and so was Trixie’s.  Bobby knew he wasn’t supposed to get into his siblings’ rooms when they weren’t at home, but once in awhile he did it anyway.  The only room left upstairs was the bathroom, and she opened the door.  She gasped at the sight.

Bobby was perched on the counter.  His face – reflected in the mirror – was coated with foamy lather, and his clothes were sopping wet.  Soapy handprints were smudged all over the mirror.  In one hand, he clutched one of his father’s razors, and he was poised to make the first stroke of the razor down the right side of his face.  Hearing her gasp, he turned around.

“Hi Mommy,” he began with his most cherubic smile. I’m a big boy, and I’m gonna shave like Daddy does.  Brian was shaving this morning – I saw him.”

“Is that where you got the razor?” she asked him.

“Yep, it was in the medicine cabinet.”  Bobby beamed with pride.  “I putted the shaving cream on all by myself.”

“Well, you are not quite ready to shave yet,” Helen told him.  “Daddy will let you know when you can start shaving.  The razor is very sharp and you could cut yourself.”

“Then would I have to get stitches?  Like I gotted last year?”  The little boy’s lower lip trembled.  Although Helen wondered if he really remembered the ordeal of the stitches, she certainly did.

“Yes. Just like last year.  Now, let Mommy clean you up.  You’re going to have to change clothes and everything.”  She sighed and began the chore of cleaning not only her son, but the wet counter and floor, and the smudged mirror.

“Helen! I couldn’t find Bobby anywhere.”  Alicia’s voice reached Helen and she jumped. I almost forgot Alicia was here, she thought. 

“I found him, ’Licia!  Could you please make sure my iron is turned off?”  In a moment she heard Alicia’s quick tread.

“Oh, my goodness!  What were you into, Robert, darling?”  Alicia’s face was a picture, her mouth open in a round “O” of shock.

“I was gonna shave, ’cause I’m a big boy now.  But Mommy said I wasn’t big enough yet,” Bobby explained calmly.

“You certainly are not!  Come with me and we’ll get you into some dry clothes, dear.”  Alicia held out her hand to her nephew, who followed her back to his room with docility.  Left alone, Helen finished wiping down the soapy mess he had left.  Alicia really is trying to be helpful – why do I always feel like she is smarter, better, luckier than I am when she’s around? I’ll bet things like this wouldn’t happen to her… if she had children.   And Bobby – what he doesn’t think of!  I’ll have to warn Brian to keep that razor put up better.  I can’t even believe my Brian is old enough to shave – he can’t possibly have six chin hairs! 

Soon, the three were back downstairs together.  This time, Helen insisted that Bobby stay in the kitchen with them, and play with his toy farm set.  He began to load all of his animals onto the wagon which linked to his tractor, and was busy pulling them around the kitchen floor, imitating the Brrrrrrm, brrrrrm, brrrrrm of the tractor’s engine as he did so.  Occasionally he would vary that by barking like a dog and making his toy collie jump up and down as it ran alongside the tractor.  She ironed a half-dozen school blouses for Trixie and a dozen handkerchiefs, and turned off the iron.  The rack of ironed garments was pushed into the dining room, ready for the older children to put away when they returned home from school.  Alicia finished repairing the Belden family’s pockets and put Helen’s now-empty mending basket into the utility room.

“Are all of these clothes clean, Helen?” she asked, indicating the pile.

“Yes, you can go ahead and fold the dungarees; I’ll sprinkle Peter’s and the boys’ chinos now and iron them after lunch.  Thank you for mending them, Sis.”  Helen smiled her gratitude. I feel like Alicia thinks I should be able to keep caught up with the mending, but it was sweet of her to do it.

She looked at the clock and realized it was time for lunch.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup from a can, with carrot and celery sticks, she decided.  I’ve got a package of hamburger in the refrigerator thawing, and I’ll make lasagna for supper. 

After lunch, Bobby again demanded Alicia read him his story, and Helen sighed as she sat down in the family room with a magazine after cleaning up the lunch dishes.  Just fifteen minutes, she promised herself.  Fifteen minutes to read my magazine and I’ll get up and hoe the garden again so Alicia can give Trixie her knitting lesson today.  Then it will be time to start making the lasagna.  She felt tired even thinking about it.

Next thing she knew, Alicia was shaking her shoulder.  “Hey, Helly-nelly!  Why don’t you go lie down yourself for a bit?  Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

Helen struggled to open her eyes and look alert.  “What time is it?  I must have dozed off while I was looking at my magazine.”

“It’s one-thirty.  I had to read Peter Rabbit to Robert three times!  But he’s asleep now.”

“Oh, my!  I’m going to hoe the garden now, so Trixie will be free for her knitting lesson this afternoon,” Helen said.

“I’d offer to help you with that, but I’m just hopeless in the garden.  I try to grow a few tomatoes on my balcony, but that’s the limit to my gardening.”  Alicia sounded wistful.

Or was that my imagination?  Surely she doesn’t wish she had a garden, with all the work and all the canning to do every year?  Helen stood and stretched.  “If you really want to do something, you can get the ingredients for my lasagna together and I’ll start on that when I’m finished in the garden,” she suggested.

Outside, the air was fresh and the day was sunny, although not as warm as the previous day.  Helen enjoyed working in the garden despite the fact that sometimes it was drudgery.  At this time of year, it was exciting to see the ruffles of lettuce, shoots of green onions, and the blossoms of the pea vines and potato plants.  Not many insect pests had begun to appear, and the garden was fenced to keep rabbits and other predators away from the vegetables.  After forty-five minutes of work, she felt tired but invigorated at the same time.

When she went back inside, Helen discovered that Alicia had assembled all of the ingredients she needed for lasagna, using the recipe on the box of noodles.  In addition, the large rectangular glass casserole dish Helen used to bake the lasagna sat on the counter next to the dry ingredients.  Alicia herself was squatting in front of the base cabinet where Helen kept her mixing bowls, colanders, and baking utensils.  “Where could Helen’s cheese grater be?” she asked aloud.

“It’s just behind the big plastic pitcher there,” Helen said helpfully.  “Thank you for getting everything together!  That will save time.  Can you get the big colander out, too?”

Alicia had jumped when Helen began to speak. “Helen!  I didn’t hear you come inside,” she said.  “Is there anything else you want to have along with the lasagna?”

“Yes, but I won’t start the salad until it’s closer to dinnertime.”  Helen washed her hands at the kitchen sink. She had already left her gardening shoes on the service porch.  “I’m going to change clothes before I start cooking.”  Drying her hands, she stepped into the downstairs bathroom which adjoined the master bedroom and glanced into the mirror.  Her nose had a smudge of dirt on it, and curly tendrils of blonde hair stuck to her face and neck, escaping from the low ponytail she had secured that morning.  Helen washed her face and went on into the bedroom, where she pulled out a clean skirt and a neat camp shirt, and slipped her feet into comfortable slip-on canvas espadrilles.  Then she brushed her hair and secured it behind her head with a wide barrette.

Why didn’t I get the tall, slender genes?  she wondered.  Alicia could put on this same outfit and look put-together.  I just look dumpy and practical.  Sighing, she pasted a smile on her face and went back out to the kitchen, just in time to greet her three older children as they came home from school.  She served a snack to each one, and sat down at the table with them for a few minutes while they competed to tell her about the school day.  It was only after the initial hubbub had abated that she noticed Alicia must have gone upstairs.  She was nowhere to be seen in the parts of the main floor within Helen's sight.

“All right, it’s time to get busy on your chores,” she finally said.  “Trixie, I hoed the garden today, so you can start right in on your knitting lesson as soon as you change clothes.  All of you have ironing as well as mended things to put away, so please pick up your own things in the dining room before you go upstairs.  Brian, you may put the garment rack back in the laundry room when it is empty.”

Brian and Mart began doing as she had asked, but Trixie hung back.  Her face was glum.  Grimacing, she asked, “Moms, why do I have to learn to knit? I mean, I’m glad Aunt Alicia likes to do needlework, but I don’t.  And I didn’t ask her to teach me, she just decided I needed to learn.”

“Shhhh, don’t let her hear you!  Trixie, sweetie, I think your aunt wants to spend some time with you, and since she is a teacher, it’s probably natural that she wants to teach you something.  I think she feels like you might enjoy knitting if you learn how to do it.”  Helen smiled and kissed her frowning daughter.  “Remember, it’s only for a few more days.  And you really might enjoy knitting.  Alicia says it’s very relaxing.”

“Okay, Moms.  I’ll try.  But I wish she would have decided to spend extra time with one of the boys this week.” Trixie headed slowly toward the stairs, her head down.  She nearly walked into Alicia, who was coming down the stairs with Trixie’s knitting basket.

“Hello, Beatrix, dear.  I’ll be in the family room, waiting for you as soon as you change clothes,” Alicia said.  Helen couldn’t hear Trixie’s answer.  She sighed and filled her large stockpot with water to boil the lasagna noodles, then crumbled hamburger meat into the iron skillet along with some bulk sausage and chopped onion.  Soon, the sizzling of the frying meat prevented her from hearing any more of Alicia’s and Trixie’s conversation.  By the time she had layered the noodles, sauce, cottage and mozzarella cheeses and slid the casserole into the over, the knitting lesson was ending.

“Moms, can I help you with anything?”  Trixie stood in the kitchen doorway.  “I’ll fix the salad or garlic bread.”

“Certainly, dear.”  Helen smiled at her.  “You know your dad likes your special bread the best.  Why don’t you fix that?”  Trixie came closer and Helen handed her a serrated knife and a loaf of Italian bread.  While Trixie sliced the bread, she melted butter and stirred in garlic powder. 

“I might not be very girly, Moms, but I do like to cook.”  Trixie grinned back at her mother.  “And I’m glad that Dad likes my cooking.”

Just then, Alicia appeared at the kitchen door.  She looked just a little frazzled, Helen noticed.  “I’ll be happy to make the salad, Helen, dear,” she offered.  Silently, Trixie moved to the table to grate a block of mozzarella cheese and sprinkle it on top of the slices of bread, and Alicia took her place at the cutting board, chopping cucumbers and green onions and tearing lettuce for the tossed salad.

“Do you have any tomatoes, Helen?  Or are you waiting until the garden tomatoes are ripe?”

“I have a tomato, but it sure isn’t as good as one from the garden.”  Helen handed her sister the anemic-looking store tomato and Alicia chopped it into the salad bowl.  “We couldn’t get a better meal at any restaurant in Philadelphia,” she commented, inhaling the aroma of the baking lasagna. 

Later, when everyone had eaten their fill of the lasagna, salad, and garlic bread, Helen said, “Now, Mart and Trixie, you may start doing the dishes.  Brian, I need to talk to you for a minute and then you may sweep the floor and empty the garbage.”

Bobby had carried the newspaper into his father’s study and was demanding to be read the comics.  Helen could hear the rumble of Peter’s voice as he started to read.  She gestured to Brian to follow her out to the service porch, where she told him of Bobby’s ‘shaving’ episode.  “You know you can’t be too careful, Brian,” she finished up.  “Somehow Bobby has an instinct for getting into things he is not supposed to.”

“I’ll find a better place to put that razor, Moms,” Brian promised her.  “Maybe I could get one of those plastic cases, so he couldn’t see it.”

“Knowing Bobby, he’d just have to open it and see what was in it,” Helen admitted with a sigh.  “I’ll speak to him again, too.  He should know better than to climb up and get into that medicine cabinet.  I know part of the problem is that he doesn’t have anyone to play with.  When the three of you were small, you had each other.  Bobby doesn’t have a built-in playmate, and he does entirely too much exploring when I’m trying to get my work done.”

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Author’s Notes

2625 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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