Part 3

This is the way we mend our clothes
Mend our clothes, mend our clothes
This is the way we mend our clothes
All on a Wednesday morning

Wednesday, April 10, 1968

“Alicia, thanks to your help, I don’t have any mending to do today,” Helen told her sister after she and Bobby waved goodbye to her three older children.  Trixie, the last one outside, had slammed the kitchen door as she ran after her brothers down the long driveway to the bus stop, and Helen noticed Alicia flinch as it banged shut.  I’ve got to stop letting Alicia get under my skin, she thought.  She’s been nothing but kind and helpful – she’s just not used to my children.  And she’s my only sister – we should be friends.  Aloud, she asked, “What would you like to do?  I’m not going to the grocery store until tomorrow.”

Alicia seemed hesitant.  “Can I help you with your flower garden?  You always have such lovely flowers.”  She nodded toward the vase of fresh jonquils and hyacinths that ornamented the breakfast table.

Helen smiled.   “Thank you.  It’s a little early to plant anything, and the spring bulbs are blooming beautifully now.  I’m not going to do anything with my roses until after Mother’s Day.  So I appreciate your offer, but no, there’s nothing.  And the vegetable garden is in good shape now after the cultivating I did yesterday.”  She paused.  It was so unusual to be able to deviate from the routine of weekly chores that she had difficulty deciding what to do with the free time that beckoned.  Finally, she suggested, “You know what I’d like to do?  I’d like to paint.”

“Paint … pictures?”  Alicia seemed surprised.  “Doesn’t that take a lot of time?  And what about Bobby?”

“I could set up my easel in the kitchen.  It will be easy enough while the older kids are gone to school, and Bobby will play in there while I’m painting.  With you to help me, we should be able to keep an eye on him better than I could by myself.” Helen’s blue eyes began to sparkle as she listed the reasons why painting could work.  “Bobby, darling, can you get dressed by yourself today, like a big boy?”

“’Course I can.  I can even tie my own shoes.  Mart showed me how.”  Bobby beamed with pride and scampered up the stairs.

“If he can tie his own shoes, it will be a major accomplishment.  I’ve been trying to teach him for a month or more, and he just hasn’t been catching on.  But Mart has a way with him.  Maybe he has learned.”  Helen went to a closet in the family room and pulled out an easel and a stiff canvas-covered piece of cardboard, which had a pencil outline of a vase of jonquils and hyacinths on it.   Whistling happily, she donned a smock and then retrieved a box of oil paints from a high shelf in her pantry.  Alicia watched as her sister prepared her workspace and spread newspapers under the easel.  Then she opened the sewing basket that was never far from her reach, and took out a linen square held in an embroidery hoop.  The cloth showed the beginning of a sampler.  She sat down and began to embroider in the bright light next to the window, humming along to the tune Helen was whistling.

Ten minutes passed.  Helen had arranged the vase of flowers on the spot she had selected, taken a photograph of it, and chosen her paints.  She had just loaded her brush with paint to fill in the background, when she glanced at her watch and said, “I wonder what’s keeping Bobby?  Surely he has had time to dress and tie his shoes.  I know Brian put away that razor, and I checked the bathroom cabinet for anything else he might be tempted to get into.” 

No sooner had she stopped speaking than Bobby’s plaintive wail reached them.  “Mommy!  Mommy!  Holp!  I need holp!”

Sighing, she put down her palette.  “I’m coming, darling!” she called.

At the door to Bobby’s room, the sight which greeted her would have been funny if not for Bobby’s tear-filled eyes and trembling chin.  The little boy had dressed himself in corduroy overalls and a pullover shirt – nothing funny about that.  But he sat on the floor with his fingers somehow tied up in the knots of his shoestrings.  He couldn’t get them untied and he couldn’t walk back downstairs because his hands were – in essence – tied to his feet.

“Bobby!  How ever did you tie your fingers in knots with the shoestring?”  Helen got down on the floor with her son, since he obviously couldn’t stand.  Carefully, she began to pick at the knots which held him.

“Ow! Ow, you’re hurting me,” he cried.  “And I can’t feel my fingers!  Ouch!”  Now Bobby was crying in earnest.

Helen was sweating.  Bobby’s chubby little fingers were turning purple and she wasn’t making any headway with the knots.  If he would just be quiet, I could think!  Maybe I’m too old to raise another child.  What were we thinking?  And what am I going to do if I can’t get them untied? she thought. Concentrating on her task, she didn’t hear Alicia coming up the stairs.

“My goodness!”  Alicia sounded shocked.  “How did you do that, Bobby?”

“I don’t know how I did it!  I tried to do what Mart showed me, but there was too much string so I did it some more.  Now I’m stuck … and I have to go to the baf-room!” he ended on a sob.

“Don’t you worry.  Aunt Alicia has just the thing.  Move over, Helly-nelly.  I think I can fix this.”  In her nice skirt and blouse, and high heeled shoes, Alicia sat on her heels and Helen watched as she pulled her sharp embroidery scissors from their protective case in her skirt pocket.  The scissors glittered in the sunlight and Bobby stared at them in silent terror.  Alicia snipped the laces of his shoes at the top hole, freeing them from the shoe.  After that, it was the work of a moment to cut the knots that held Bobby’s fingers.  When she finished, Alicia reached forward and gave her small nephew a hug.

Why didn’t I think of cutting the knots, Helen wondered.  It was the obvious thing to do.  I’m letting myself get into a tizzy because my sister’s here – that’s crazy!  

“Mommy!  My fingers have pins and needles in them!”  Bobby flexed and straightened his fingers, and shook his hands in the air.  “Thank you, Auntie Alicia!  You’re my favorite aunt!”  He threw his arms around his aunt’s neck and kissed her.  Alicia was still squatting on her heels and she was nearly set off-balance by the enthusiastic little boy.

Bobby turned to face his mother with a pout.  “Mommy, why didn’t you bring the scissors?  You could have cutted the knot like Auntie Alicia did.  The shoestring was too tight and hurted my fingers.”

Helen was taken aback by Bobby’s complaint.  “Sweetie, I came as soon as you called me.  I don’t know how I could have known you were tied up in your own shoelaces.”  Now Alicia’s making me feel incompetent as a mother! she fumed.  What’s wrong with me?

Alicia frowned at her nephew.  “Robert, dear, your mother is right.  And I don’t like that tone to your voice.  Please tell her you are sorry right now.”

Bobby’s face was a little thundercloud, but he said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.  I know you tried to holp me.”  As Alicia continued to stare meaningfully at him, he gave his mother a hug and a kiss, too.  Helen returned the hug, but felt a little resentful that her own son had to be told to give her a hug.  And she felt a little jealous that it was Alicia he obeyed.

“All right, Bobby.  I’m just glad you’re okay.  Now, let’s go downstairs and I’ll see if we have a pair of shoelaces to put back in these shoes.  I think they’ll need to be laced if you are going to run faster and jump higher.”  She took Bobby’s hand and started down the steps, with Alicia following them.  

By the time Helen found a pair of laces for the sneakers, laced them up, and sent Bobby outside to ride his tricycle on the terrace, she discovered that the blobs of paint she had squeezed onto her palette before running upstairs had started to dry and had to be scraped away and reapplied.  Sighing, she began again.  Alicia picked up her embroidery.  During the brief time they had been upstairs, though, the light had changed.  Alicia moved her chair and Helen moved her easel.  Finally, the two sisters were able to resume their work.  From time to time, Helen glanced outside to see what Bobby was doing.  You never know what he will think of next, she reminded herself.

Helen had roughed in the shape of the vase and the flowers, and had begun blending her background colors onto the canvas.  Alicia had just moved her hoop to a new section of the sampler.  Just as Helen brushed in the shape of the bouquet of jonquils, she heard a shrill cry.

“Now what has happened?”  She put her brush and her palette down and rushed to the French doors.  “Bobby!  Where are you?” she cried.

“Mommy!  I’m stuck!  Holp, holp!”

Helen had run outside without a jacket and she shivered as she made her way around the house.   Upon reaching the service porch, she saw that Bobby was kneeling on the ground with his finger in the outside spigot for the garden hose.  “I putted my finger in the spigot to see if it would get wet, and it got stuck,” he explained.  “Now it’s stuck tight.”  Once more his lower lip quivered.   

She looked at the spigot.  Bobby’s right index finger was pushed into the brass spigot all the way to the knuckle.  She gave an experimental tug to the trapped digit, but it didn’t budge.  However, Bobby howled.  “Ouch, ouch!  That hurts!” he cried.

Brian never got into such messes, Helen thought.  Neither did Mart.  Now, Trixie…!  But Bobby thinks of things even she never thought of.  “Bobby, I’m going to turn on the spigot and see if the water will push your finger out,” she said.  She gave the faucet a turn, but there was no sound of running water.  I guess Peter hasn’t turned the faucet on yet for spring, she decided. 

“Nuffing is happening!  I’m gonna be stuck here forever, and I’m getting hungry,” Bobby was beginning to whine.

Alicia appeared at the service porch door, carrying a jacket for Helen.  “My goodness!  Whatever have you done now, Robert, dear?” she asked, coming outside and handing Helen the jacket.

“I just wanted to see if there was water in the spigot.  Now my finger is stuck,” he explained, wiping his face with his other grubby hand.  “And Mommy doesn’t know how to get it unstuck.”

“Don’t be silly, Bobby!  Of course we can get it unstuck.”  Helen pulled on the jacket and faced her sister.  “Kids!” she exclaimed.  “I can’t imagine why he would put his finger in there!  Alicia, could you go fetch me a jar of Vaseline from the bathroom?  I think we can get him loose if we grease his finger up with that.”

“I’m sure you’re right.  Where will I find it?”  Alicia was poised to go back into the house.

Helen told her, and in moments her sister reappeared with the jar of petroleum jelly.  Alicia squatted down and rubbed a generous amount on Bobby’s finger – what she could see of it – and used a cotton swab to push more up inside the spigot, while Helen tried to keep Bobby distracted by finding shapes in the clouds overhead.  When Alicia had spread a film on as much of the finger that she could reach, she pulled on it again.  It moved just a bit, Helen could see.  Alicia used more Vaseline and tugged again.  Bobby was quiet now, and seemed confident that he would soon be free.  Suddenly, the finger popped free, and Bobby laughed. 

“Did you hear my finger pop, Mommy?  It popped just like a cork.”  His face was wreathed in smiles.  “Auntie Alicia fixeded it for me.  Thank you, Auntie Alicia!”  Once more, he kissed his aunt.  Helen noticed that Alicia was careful to keep his grubby and greasy hands off of her nice clothes even as she returned his hug and kiss with enthusiasm.

“Look at the time,” she exclaimed.  “Alicia, Bobby, it’s time to go in for lunch.”  The trio re-entered the house and Alicia took Bobby to wash up.  Helen washed her hands in the kitchen before spreading peanut butter, jelly, and butter on slices of bread for the sandwich known as a “Crabapple Farm special”.  She poured glasses of milk for each of them, and sliced up a couple of bananas.

After lunch, Helen scraped the dried paint from her palette again, and put away her easel while Alicia read to Bobby.  By the time Alicia came back downstairs, she was making her grocery list for the next day.

“It’s too bad you weren’t able to get more done on your painting,” Alicia sympathized.

“I suppose I should stop trying to do anything until Bobby goes to school.  It’s almost impossible to get involved in anything when he’s up, and after scraping paint twice today, I’m just not in the mood to try again.”  Helen smiled although she felt sad and frustrated.  Alicia is so lucky, she thought once more.  She’s not tied down like I am.

“He is such a darling, though!”  Alicia smiled in turn.  “Those blond ringlets and those big blue eyes!  He looks like you did when you were little, Helen.  Trixie and Mart do too, of course.  But I don’t think those two would ever sit still long enough for me to read to them.  And I didn’t see them much when they were little like Bobby.  I was still taking classes for my master’s degree every summer back then.”

“I’m really happy you could visit us right now, Alicia.”  Helen told herself that she really was glad, despite the many times she had compared herself unfavorably to her perfect older sister.  Deliberately putting aside thoughts of her interrupted painting, she asked, “Why don’t you tell me about your sampler?”

After Alicia described her inspiration for the sampler and the process by which she had designed it, she began again to stitch, while Helen pulled out her ironing board to finish ironing the chinos she had not done yesterday.  Time passed as the fragrance of hot starch filled the room and the stack of crisply pressed trousers soon filled the portable hanging rod.  It seemed no time at all until Brian, Mart and Trixie arrived home from school.  

While Brian and Mart took care of the chickens and Trixie settled in the family room with Alicia for her knitting lesson, Helen prepared the family supper of beef stew.  Cubed leftover meat from Monday’s roast, cut-up potatoes, onions and carrots went into her big dutch oven, and she added the leftover gravy and enough water to cover the vegetables.  Placing the covered pot over a medium flame, she noticed that without the sounds of cooking interfering, today she could hear some of the conversation between her sister and her daughter.

“Now, Beatrix, remember how I showed you to do the purl stitch?  It’s the reverse of a knit stitch.  Alternating knit and purl for your rows will give you a smooth surface on the front side and the knotty surface will be on the back.  For this potholder, though, you want to either knit or purl every row, so it will be the same on both sides.”

Helen strained to hear Trixie’s responses, but her daughter’ voice was barely audible.  I suppose she’s facing the wrong way for me to hear her; Trixie’s not usually so quiet.

“You’ve dropped a stitch here, Beatrix.  Go back and catch it up, dear.  It will leave a hole in your project if you don’t.” 

“Very nice.  Your mother will love these potholders, dear.  Perhaps when you finish you’d like to embroider “Moms” on it.  I’ll be happy to show you how.”  I remember when Alicia was teaching me how to knit, Helen thought.  I like to knit now, but back then I hated to sit still long enough to make even a potholder.  She felt a twinge of sympathy for Trixie.

“If you’re tired of working on the potholder, Beatrix, we can start on the scarf I told you about.  This is a very simple pattern, and it will give you a nice ribbed scarf as wide and as long as you want to make it.  Here is the yarn I bought for you to use; this blue will bring out your blue eyes.”

“Yes, knitting does take patience, dear, but I find that it’s very relaxing as well.  I think you’ll enjoy it if you stick with it.  We’ll work some more on the scarf tomorrow.”

Helen sighed and began mixing the dough for biscuits.  Patience was one trait Trixie did not possess.   Finally, the knitting lesson had ended and she could hear Trixie trudging up the steps to put away her supplies.

Peter Belden arrived home just as Helen was checking her beef stew for readiness.  She hurried in to the living room to greet him, and the two parents exchanged a very affectionate embrace.  Trixie galloped down the stairs in time to see her parents kissing.  “Ew!  Do you always have to be so lovey-dovey?” she demanded.

“Hello, Princess!”  Peter beamed at his only daughter.  

 “Daddy!”  Trixie jumped into her father’s arms.

“You seem extra-excited to see me today.  What’s the occasion?”  Peter kissed his daughter and ruffled her curls.

“Dad, can I ride my bike for a little while before supper?  I’ve been knitting ever since I got home and I need to move around.”  Helen could hear the plea in Trixie’s voice.

“All right, dear.  Be careful on the road, though.  Maybe you could ride up to Lytell’s store and bring back a couple of cartons of milk.”  He handed her a dollar and fished a dime from his pants pocket.

Helen hugged her daughter and repeated, “Please be careful!”

“I will,” Trixie promised, and took off like a shot.

After supper, Trixie dried the dishes while Helen washed.  Alicia was upstairs giving Bobby his bath.   

“Moms, why does Aunt Alicia keep trying to get me interested in sewing, knitting, and all that stuff?” Trixie blurted out.  “Why can’t she leave me alone?”

“Sweetheart, you know your aunt doesn’t have any children.  She always has doted on her nieces and nephews.  Your cousin Allison is really girly, and Alicia used to enjoy making things for her, but now that Allison is older, she wants to be ‘mod’ and Alicia is kind of frustrated.  Try to be patient with her, Trixie, because she really loves you.  And please, be careful!  I wouldn’t want Alicia to hear you talking like that and I don’t think you would want her to, either.  It would hurt her feelings.” 

“I’ll try, Moms.  I just hope I’ll be able to make it to the end of the week.”  Trixie sighed and blew a curl away from her forehead.

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Author’s Notes

3225 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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