Ociee On Her Own

Ociee On Her Own

Milam McGraw Propst

May 2003
ISBN: 978-0865548381

Book 2 of the Ociee Nash saga! A classic story in the tradition of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Synopsis Excerpt


Ten year old Ociee Nash is back for more adventures, trouble and laughter in the sequel to Milam McGraw Propst's award-winning young adult novel, A FLOWER BLOOMS ON CHARLOTTE STREET. Growing up in turn-of-the-century America, Ociee returns home to her family's Mississippi farm after her exciting time living with Aunt Mamie in the big city of Asheville, North Carolina. But things have changed.

Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn. Anne of Green Gables. Pollyanna, Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the tradition of those classics and others, Bell Bridge Books proudly presents the sweet, funny, poignant and mischievous adventures of ten-year-old Ociee Nash, a likable tomboy who turns her grief over her mother's death into a talent for recognizing lonely people who need a friend. Travel with Ociee as she spends time in the big city of Asheville, North Carolina, where she struggles to become a lady under the tutelage of her Aunt Mamie; then as Ociee returns to her Mississippi town for more daring-do as she be-friends a Gypsy, and now as she, Papa, and brother Ben move to the bright lights of Memphis, Tennessee, where a "witch woman” captures Ociee's tender heart.

Atlanta author Milam McGraw Propst was awarded Georgia Author of the Year and a national Parent's Choice Award for the first book in the Ociee Nash series, ‘A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street, which then became an acclaimed film in 2003 as THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH, starring Skyler Day, Keith Carradine, Mare Winningham, and Ty Pennington

She is hard at work on the fourth book in Ociee's saga. Milam's stories are inspired by the history of her own grandmother, Ociee Nash Whitman.


Chapter 1

"Elizabeth Murphy, you are my very best friend in all of North Carolina, but I do declare, you can be so lazy!” I dipped my brush in the whitewash and splashed more paint on the front seat of Mr. Lynch's carriage.

"I am not lazy, Ociee Nash!” She frowned at me. "I'm cold is all.” Ignoring her complaint, I pleaded, "Oh, Elizabeth, please get busy or we won't be done when Mr. Lynch comes by to get his buggy.”

"I'm busy enough, Ociee. Fact is I'm freezing almost to death. See how the whitewash is frozen to my brush?” She tried to prove that by showing how the bristles wouldn't bend.

"The paint is drying because you're going too slow. Come on, girl, quit being such a pokey priss.”

"All right, I'll keep working,” groused Elizabeth. "But I'm no priss!”

"I know that.”

With that, I got too much whitewash on my own brush and paint dripped down into the right sleeve of my winter coat. I spun around so Elizabeth wouldn't see and backed into the wet carriage.

"Looks like you're getting as much whitewash on you as on the buggy,” snickered Elizabeth.

I stuck out my tongue.

My friend and I were as different as daytime and night. To begin with, we actually looked the opposite. My hair was a mop of curly blond frizz that shot out in a thousand directions. My eyes were soft gray to match my light complexion. A light complexion exactly like Mama's, it was.

Elizabeth had darker skin, olive in color, with the deepest darkest brown eyes. Her shiny black hair was as straight as a fireplace poker. Mrs. Murphy could comb Elizabeth's hair in the morning, and it would stay that way all the day long. I was jealous of her hair, but she was jealous of my age.

I was eleven. Elizabeth was still only ten. Of course, she was quick to tell whoever would listen that she'd turn eleven soon enough. Her birthday was in January, two whole months after mine. I'd been eleven since way back in November. That made her as mad as mad could be, especially since Elizabeth knew she could never catch up with me.

If I told the honest-to-goodness truth about the things heaviest in my heart, I'd have to admit that I was jealous of her, too. I was jealous of Elizabeth because she had a mother. My Mama was dead.

"Drat!” I dripped more paint on my coat. I wrinkled my forehead and sucked air in through my teeth. "Aunt Mamie's gonna get me for this.” "Best go slowly, Ociee, and try to paint more care-fulllly,” drawled Elizabeth as she dotted my nose with her brush. I whipped around and spattered some paint on her cheek. Elizabeth quickly re-dipped her brush and slung it at me.

I retaliated. "Take that, care-fullllly.”

"And another helping for you, Miss Priss!” shouted Elizabeth. Before either of us realized it, we were battling like a couple of those awful boys at our school. Wet and nasty as could be, we rolled down onto the walkway. With the cold all but forgotten, we held our stomachs and laughed wildly. "Ociee, we're whitewashed enough that we match that buggy!”

"Elizabeth, I'm glad Mr. Lynch stabled Old Horse for the morning, or else he'd look like a ghost horse!” We giggled all the more.

My best friend and I were opposites on our insides, too. Elizabeth was cautious and slow to make decisions. It wasn't in her nature to have a whitewash fight, at least not before Ociee Nash arrived in Asheville. I expect I was considered a bad influence on Elizabeth.

I'd try almost anything without thinking very long about it. Aunt Mamie and Papa were fairly concerned about that particular trait of mine. They termed my courage "almost dangerous,” but that didn't worry me in the least. I was far more interested in discovering new things than I was in being prudent. I'd learned about courage from my brothers, especially from Ben, who was a year older than me. An occasional bump or setback never had stopped a Nash, and I wasn't going to let anything stop me just because I was a girl.

As we rested, I caught sight of our old Miss Kitty Cat dozing on the porch roof. There she was soaking in the sunshine with not one thing to disturb her morning nap. There Elizabeth and I were, covered in whitewash, having worked ourselves into a near tizzy. It was certain that Miss Kitty Cat had not earned herself a ride in the upcoming parade. I acknowledged that Elizabeth had.

Our neighborhood planned a grand parade to welcome 1900 and the brand new century. With only three days left until January 1, I realized the event would be upon us before we could blink. That was enough to make me anxious. Also, as nice as Mr. Lynch was to allow Elizabeth and me to decorate his buggy for the parade, he had made it perfectly clear that we were to finish what we were doing by noon. He didn't want to miss those good fares over the busy weekend.

George Lynch was my Aunt Mamie's beau. In fact, they met because of me.

Mr. Lynch told folks, "I'd have never won the heart of Mamie Nash without the help of her niece, Ociee.” Aunt Mamie wasn't ready to admit he'd won, not just yet anyhow; but he kept saying so just the same. My aunt would roll her eyes and say, "You hush up, George!”

Mr. Lynch was the very first friend I made in Asheville.

On the second day of September in 1898, I traveled all by myself on the train from Abbeville, Mississippi, to Asheville, North Carolina. I was only nine years old. When I got off the train, Mr. Lynch and his fine Old Horse took me to Aunt Mamie's house at 66 Charlotte Street.

I was surely hoping Aunt Mamie would say yes to marrying Mr. Lynch.

Elizabeth stood up, brushed the leaves and grass off her coat and said, "Admit it, Ociee Nash.” Her hands on her hips, she pursed her lips. "You are cold!”

"Am not!” I waved my brush at her and paint flew into her hair.

The front door swung open, and my aunt called, "Ociee, what on earth are you young ladies up to now? And what's all over you? Is that whitewash?”

"Just decorating the buggy for the parade is all,” said I.

Looking like a stack of wobbling velvet pillows, my aunt scurried down the porch steps. She pinned her salt and pepper hair into place as she got to us. "I've been in the back of the house sewing. All of a sudden, I just knew you girls were up to mischief.”

"Not us!”

"Oh, no, not Ociee Nash and Elizabeth Murphy.” My aunt began to wipe my face with the hem of her apron. "Gracious sakes alive,” she uttered again and again as she attempted to scrub us both clean. "I suppose that's the best I can do without soap and water. Now let me see what you girls have done with George's carriage.”

"What do you think so far?” I asked as she inspected our efforts. "Oh, Aunt Mamie, it's nearly noon. Mr. Lynch will be along any minute!”

"Hmmm, I see.”

Elizabeth and I looked sheepishly at one another.

"Of course, we still need to put on the decorations—the bows, the bells; and we'll add the holly sprigs. Aunt Mamie, will you help us a little bit, so we can finish it quickly, oh, please!” My aunt eyed me. I wasn't sure what her answer would be.

Mamie Nash had run a seamstress shop in her home for nearly twenty years. She had taught me about doing things in a "flawless” manner, often emphasizing the word flawless. Flawless was her absolute standard for the fancy hats and beautiful clothes she created for her devoted customers. Not only did my aunt teach me about sewing, but she also cautioned me about pleasing folks, even those she termed somewhat "persnickety.” She frequently commented, "People tend to take notice of what's wrong, long before they notice the first thing about what's right.” To my way of thinking, on that particular morning anyhow, my aunt's high standards should have applied to decorating carriages.

"Of course, of course I will. Let's get busy, girls. The sooner we are finished here, the sooner you two can get cleaned up.”

I passed the basket full of holly to her. "See, Aunt Mamie, we've shined the leaves with butter just as you taught me to do.”

"Very good, Ociee.”

Just like Elizabeth forgot the cold, Aunt Mamie overlooked the whitewash we'd spilled everywhere. As the three of us worked together, Mr. Lynch's buggy was wonderfully transformed into a fairytale carriage bathed in whitewash and covered with gold ribbons, silver bells, and shiny green holly sprigs.

Elizabeth said, "I'm sorry, Ociee, but you need to know that most people aren't going to all this much trouble for the parade.”

"Elizabeth, you and I are not ‘most people!' We are special,” I argued emphatically. "Mr. Lynch and Aunt Mamie are special, too. And we four will be riding in a very special buggy, if I have my say about things.”

Elizabeth sighed and smirked. Aunt Mamie smiled.

I added, "And don't forget this either. Old Horse is the very finest of all the carriage horses in Asheville. He deserves to be harnessed to the most flawlessly decorated buggy in the parade!”

Elizabeth was silenced.

"Oh, I almost forgot! Since we've been talking about Old Horse, I have something to show you, Elizabeth.” I winked at my aunt and said, "I'll be right back.” As I hurried up the steps, I turned. "Please, while I'm inside, try to finish tying on those bells, Elizabeth. Aunt Mamie, the holly, oh pleeease!”

Elizabeth groaned. Aunt Mamie laughed, adding, "Be careful not to drip on my floor, child!”

Mama died in the measles epidemic when I was eight years old. A year later, I left our farm in Mississippi and came to live with my aunt. Papa believed his sister Mamie could teach me how to be more ladylike. I was more prone to jumping on moving trains and chasing gypsies. Besides, Papa hadn't been schooled in feminine things. He said in a letter to his sister.

Mamie, dear, I suppose you would be a better teacher for my Ociee girl than is your rugged old brother. I will have to ponder this for a while, however.

Yours truly, George Nash.

Although Papa claimed that he wanted me to go, when I got ready to leave, he was sick at heart. He, my brothers Ben and Fred, and I near about fell to pieces at the depot when we said goodbye.

As miserable as I was about leaving my family and mighty scared, too, it was even worse once I got to Aunt Mamie's. I missed my family something awful. Our farm in Marshall County might as well have been way across the Atlantic Ocean, it seemed so far away to me. And being away from them made missing Mama all the worse.

Even so, things had worked out pretty well in some ways. I was "a charming young lady,” folks said. I liked Asheville and Aunt Mamie. I liked Elizabeth, too. Papa and the boys had done all right, too, or so they tried to convince me.

I took the stairs two at a time and scampered down the hall to my room. There it was on the window seat, my great-grandfather's black silk top hat. Aunt Mamie had helped me spruce it up with a spanking new silver ribbon around the brim. We'd tied the ribbon into a big bow, leaving enough to stream down Old Horse's long, thick, golden mane. I'd added a magnificent wispy, bright yellow feather, one my aunt had set aside to make a fancy bonnet.

"The perfect touch,” Aunt Mamie had praised me. I was a little worried that she might scold me for "wasting” the feather. But she didn't. She attached a strap so we could secure the hat under Old Horse's jaw. She and I meant for that horse to look as handsome as any gentleman in our parade.

"Turn of the Century,” I carefully penned the words in my black leather-bound journal. I always kept it on the table beside my bed. Quickly I scribbled, Noon Friday, carriage is almost ready. Details about our decorations will be added later.

On the page before, I'd written a longer entry:

The old century shouldn't turn too gently. It should sail high across the sky like a shooting star to announce the new century's birth. I hope and pray that 1900 will cover me and all of us Nashes with a blanket of happy blessings. Surely nothing else sad will touch me or my folks.

I was wishing that much of 1897, 1898, and 1899 and the terrible events that those years brought could be washed clean out of my memory the very second the new century was born. I gently touched Mama's picture.

I loved Aunt Mamie, but I did so miss Papa. And as much as I enjoyed Elizabeth, even she couldn't fill up the hole my heart saved for Papa, for Ben and Fred, and for Mama. I truly cared for Elizabeth's folks, too, and along with them, for all the friends I'd made in Asheville, especially Mr. Lynch and Old Horse. But the Ociee in me couldn't help but to yearn for my real home.

Aunt Mamie tried to explain that strong roots never really let go of a person like me. "Ociee, you are a very sensitive person. You have a great gift, one which you will eventually learn to treasure.”

"Why does my gift have to hurt so much?” "Because it's growing ever deeper, dearest.”

I wanted to understand. Maybe I did. I knew my roots had a mighty long way to stretch, all the way from my home in Marshall County, Mississippi, to 66 Charlotte Street in Asheville, North Carolina.

Chapter 2

I was almost afraid ask my aunt if the roots that bound me to Mama would ever let loose.

Old Horse's hat atop my head, I slid down the banister squealing, "Happy New Year!”

Aunt Mamie hurried to catch me. "I declare, child, do be careful!” One arm clutching me, she motioned for Elizabeth to come inside. "And you dear, you must get warm. Leave your wet coat on the hall tree.” "Yes, ma'am.” Elizabeth caught sight of the hat and burst out laughing. "Ociee, silly goose, you look like a circus clown!”

I laughed at that. "The hat belonged to my great-grandfather Nash. Aunt Mamie and I fixed it up for Old Horse to wear on Monday. It's just grand, Elizabeth, don't you think?”

She giggled, "I think you should wear it.” "Old Horse, Elizabeth! The hat is for Old Horse!”

Aunt Mamie shook her head, then winked and said, "I have a little surprise that should settle that question. While you two were outside painting, I finished a dress for Ociee to wear in the parade.”

"For me, Aunt Mamie?”

"Yes, dear girl. We'll let Old Horse keep the hat.”

"Mamie Nash, Seamstress Shop” had been bustling for months as my aunt, her helpers, and I created party dresses, ball gowns, and festive clothing for the 1899 holiday season. In fact, for the first time ever, Aunt Mamie had hired assistants. Lavonia and Opal began working in July.

They were the eighteen-year-old twin sisters of Daisy Nell, the cook for the McCalls, a couple who lived next door to us. The three girls had grown up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I was absolutely fascinated with them. Besides Daisy Nell, I'd never known other real mountain people. To top that, I'd never seen any twins close up. Of course, I knew there were such people. My older brother Fred once met a set of matching men in Abbeville. Ben and I made him tell us all about them as soon as he got home.

"The one named Clem would only talk when the other one, Clyde, hushed,” began Fred. "Clyde said he was birthed first, so it stood to reason he had to be the man to speak first. The two of them walked exactly alike, raised their left arms at the same time, and even had identical neck twitches! They looked like one another, too, except for one thing; Clem, I think it was, had a beard. I figured that was to help their people to tell which from which.”

I wrote my family about the mountain twins. The twin part was only the beginning of what was interesting about them. As cold as it would get, neither of them ever wore shoes in our house. The exception was if a customer was coming by, then Aunt Mamie would insist on the shoes. The twins would reluctantly agree, but they would walk around real gentle-like, as if they were afraid they might wear a hole in the floor.

"Shoes orta be saved for the out-of-doors cold!” Opal insisted. "Girl, they's jist wasted on these purday rugs, and besides, they ache our toes sumthin' fierce.”

The sisters were very thin with waist-length, brown braided hair. Of course, neither had a beard like Clem, or was it Clyde? I couldn't tell which twin was which until I noticed the one difference. Opal's right eye was gray, and the left one was brown. I never saw anything as strange. I asked her, "Miss Opal, do you see different colors out of each eye?”

She laughed out loud at me. But before she could answer, Aunt Mamie told me to hush up. She took me aside and explained I had been impolite by calling attention to Opal's oddity. I felt truly sorry about that because I liked Opal and wouldn't have hurt her for anything.

"Sorry about your eye, er, about saying anything,” I stammered. "Twern't nothing,” said Opal. "Why they's folks back home that say I'm a witch. Theys call it ‘Opal's evil eye'!”

"A witch!”

Aunt Mamie gave me her own version of an evil eye. I quieted myself and watched the girls cut out the satin fabric for a customer's dress. It occurred to me that perhaps my train had passed right by the sisters' home place that day I came up through the mountains. Assuming there wasn't anything impolite about that kind of question, I asked.

Lavonia answered, "Likely not, darlin', we's pretty well hid up thar.”

They both knew a good bit about Indians and spirits, about bears and the caves where they slept the whole winter long. I learned about snakes, too. The girls insisted some snakes could swim straight up a waterfall! "Them snakes have to set their minds to it though,” explained Opal. "Can't all of them jist go and do it. Reckon they's like people thataway.”

Opal also taught me about all kinds of strange critters, some which prowled around in the night and could see through pitch black dark. Sometimes, I got out of breath just listening. I really loved to talk with those twins. My time with them was even more significant after they hinted about returning to their mountains. "Too bloomin' big Aashvul” was not a comfortable place for them. Neither girl could tolerate all the comings and goings of the numerous and very busy town people. They complained that some folks talked too loud and too much for their peaceful ears to abide. I decided to take their words as a warning for me not to jabber on so.

Lavonia explained that she and Opal had come to work mostly because "kin called fer hep.” I knew the kin was Daisy Nell. She must have written for them to come to Asheville after Mrs. McCall talked about how busy my aunt was.

One day close to Christmas, Opal asked to speak with Aunt Mamie. She swallowed and began, "Missres Nash, me and ‘Vonie, we's needin' to be gittin' home soon. But don't ya' worry none about it. We's a'gonna keep our word to ya' and hep long as ya' be needin' us.”

My aunt looked sweetly at Opal and called for Lavonia to stop her work to join them.

Mamie knew Daisy Nell made all the decisions for her younger sisters, and she remembered that the young woman had visited with them only a couple days prior. It didn't surprise her to learn that Opal and Lavonia were needed back home. Knowing Opal as I did, it likely took her two days to gather her courage to ask my aunt about leaving.

Aunt Mamie was accepting of the news. "I certainly understand, although it will be difficult to give up such fine assistants as you. I'll go through what is yet to be finished and let you go back to your family as soon as I can.”

Opal let go the breath she was holding.

As much as I'd miss Opal and Lavonia, I surely understood the "family” part.

Knowing they wouldn't be with us for much longer, I tried to drink in everything they said. Sometimes Mamie would give me one of her looks. Her lips pinched shut, the frown on her forehead told me not to accept as true everything that was being said. Even so, I believed every word. The story about the bear sitting at their granny's table was my favorite.

"The Lord above can strike me dade with lightin' ifin this ain't the way it wer.” Opal raised her hand as if to make a promise and said, "The bar' was a sittin' thar by soup kettle etin' that squirrel meat.” She slapped her hand on her lap and shouted, "And that bar' were usin' Granny's fork to et it!”

Aunt Mamie cleared her throat. My guess was it was to keep herself from laughing out loud. Nonetheless, Opal quickly returned to her sewing.

My aunt didn't want Opal or Lavonia to fill my head too full of tall tales. At the same time, she let me know that it was the girls' jobs to concentrate on their sewing, not on entertaining me.

I repeated every story to Elizabeth, and I also wrote the tales to the folks back home. It was my brother Ben, who was twelve, who most enjoyed them. I couldn't write fast enough to satisfy Ben. Knowing him, I expect that by the time he finished repeating the stories to his friends, that bear had eaten a sack full of squirrels and poor Granny along with it.

Since Halloween, Aunt Mamie had worked long into the night and often all by herself. I'd be snug in my bed listening as the rickety-tick of her sewing machine sang me to sleep. One morning as I was gathering my things to walk to school, my aunt mentioned that she'd never had quite so much work to do. She thanked me for doing my part, saying "You have brought the joy of fun and laughter into my all too somber home, Ociee Nash.”

I liked that, but I wondered why she didn't brag about my sewing skills. She hugged me, "Oh, dearest, you have come a very long way, and for that improvement, I am most grateful.”

I wasn't sure what she meant.

Aunt Mamie also told me she couldn't have accomplished what all she had without Lavonia and Opal. "Bless their dear hearts,” she added. My aunt was always blessing folks' hearts.

Every night for the last week, with the exception of Christmas Eve itself, my aunt sent me to bed early. I didn't mind; at least not after Aunt Mamie let me in on the secret of my dress.

Elizabeth helped as Aunt Mamie pinned the hem. "Mind you, dear, keep your eyes closed tightly.”

Fortunately, Elizabeth was giving me hints with her "oohs” and "ahs.”

"Now take your first look, Ociee.” "My goodness,” I swooned.

"Ociee, it's the prettiest thing I ever saw,” said Elizabeth.

The dress made me think of a Christmas ornament, one big enough for an eleven-year-old girl to crawl inside. It was tea-length silver velvet trimmed with satin cuffs and collar, which were green, the green of a magnolia leaf. A red, green, and silver sash circled my waist. As the best surprise of all, Aunt Mamie cross-stitched "1900” down the left side of the matching shawl.

I threw my arms around her, "Oh thank you, thank you, Aunt Mamie!”

"You are most welcome.”

"Elizabeth,” began Aunt Mamie, "Your mother Frances tells me you will be wearing your new coat. I made this for you to wear over it.” With that, my aunt opened her drawer and brought out a sash embroidered with "1900”. The numbers were exactly like those on my outfit.

"See, you can drape it on like so,” she said, placing it over my friend's shoulder. "Hook it with this button under your arm.”

Elizabeth and I grabbed each other's hands and danced about the sewing room as my aunt applauded. We stopped and applauded her. "Cheers for Aunt Mamie. Cheers for her surprises. Cheers for 1900! Cheers for the brand new century!”

Suddenly, my aunt jerked her head around. She inhaled and exclaimed, "I smell smoke!”

Aunt Mamie and I raced toward the kitchen. Sure enough, smoke was pouring from the oven.

"Stand aside,” she cautioned, reaching inside for her cake. "Thank goodness. We got here in the nick of time!”

I turned around, and realizing my friend wasn't there, I hurried back to the sewing room. There stood Elizabeth, statue-still, clutching her sash. Of course, the smell of the smoke frightened her. Ever since the Murphys' home burned down the year before, Elizabeth was absolutely terrified of fire.

"It's all right, Elizabeth. Aunt Mamie's cake almost burned, that's all.”

"Is the house on fire?” she quivered. "No, Elizabeth, it's not.”

"Are you sure, there's not fire everywhere?” Tears filled her eyes. "Yes, I'm certain. Come with me. Aunt Mamie could be cutting us a slice of chocolate cake this very second.”

She sniffled.

I urged her down the hallway. Elizabeth hesitated.

"Come on, girl,” I encouraged. "I'm hungry. Aren't you?” Aunt Mamie was loosening the cake from the pan. She looked at Elizabeth and said, "Darling, there's no harm done. You see? The cake was just calling for me to come quickly. It's fine, and you're safe, too. Elizabeth Murphy is as safe as can be.”

"Yes, ma'am.”

"Ociee, you'd best take off that dress before you muss it. Please do so while the cake is cooling. Elizabeth, will you go with her and make certain she hangs it up properly?”

"Yes, ma'am.”

I admired my lovely dress one more time and carefully hung it in the wardrobe. As I adjusted my apron, I noticed that even it had a few spots of whitewash. "Look at this, that paint got everywhere, even inside my coat! But don't concern yourself, Elizabeth, because Aunt Mamie knows how to get stains out.”

She didn't respond.

"Oh well, a century turns only once every one hundred years, so a celebration is worth any calamity,” I remarked. "Just think, you and I will be one hundred and eleven years old the next time there's a century turning.”

She remained quiet.

"Actually, I will be one hundred and eleven, Elizabeth. You'll only be one hundred and ten.” Even that didn't get a response.

"Aunt Mamie said she might have to insist that her George cooperate with me by wearing his parade hat. Look here. We made one for Mr. Lynch, too. She told him that he must not hurt Ociee's feelings.” I swished my apron. "I am sensitive, don't you know?”

"I guess so.”

I eyed Old Horse's hat sitting on the bench. I picked it up and put it on again. "I know Old Horse will like this, but I'm not so sure Mr. Lynch will agree to wear his. They match, don't you see? Except that the horse's has places for the ears.” With that, I poked my fingers through the holes and wiggled them at her.

Elizabeth smiled a little.

"Look at this,” I said showing her the hat. "Mr. Lynch's has a red feather; it's a rooster's tail. Elizabeth, did you know my aunt sometimes calls him ‘you old rooster you'?”

"She does?” My friend smiled bigger. "That's so silly!” A bit miffed at her making fun, I tried to explain, "Mr. Lynch is very confident and proud, just like Hector.”


"Yes, Hector. He was my rooster; he called out to me at daybreak every morning, ‘Cock-a-doodle-Ociee.'”

"Wish I had a rooster,” sighed Elizabeth. "Well, I don't have one anymore.”

Even though Hector's crowing loud when the sun came up could be an awful sound to a girl burrowed down deep in a warm bed, I surely did long for his cock-a-doodle-dooing once I became a town girl.

Elizabeth interrupted my daydreaming as she confided, "Rooster or not, Mother says your aunt is never going to marry Mr. Lynch.” "Goodness gracious, whatever makes her say such a thing?” "She told Father that ‘Miss Mamie Nash is far too independent a woman to be marrying any man.'”

I shook my head. "Could be. Reckon my aunt is happy enough with Mr. Lynch all the time pleading with her to marry him! Elizabeth, Aunt Mamie told me that his courting made her feel young again. I don't much understand these grown people, do you?”

"I don't. Last week, my mother fussed about something my father did. A few minutes went by, and she walked up and kissed his cheek. I hope we never get old and complicated.”

"Let's make a promise about it,” I suggested.

We locked our pinkie fingers and squeezed shut our eyes. "We, Ociee Nash and Elizabeth Murphy, promise on this day, December 29, 1899, to stay uncomplicated forever and ever and ever!”

"Girls, the cake's ready!”

We raced one another to the kitchen and jumped into the same chair. Almost knocking it over, the two of us leapt up and sat on a second chair. Still together as if we were glued, Elizabeth and I laughed and laughed. My aunt just stood and watched.

"Are you young ladies properly seated yet?” We separated and sat, "Yes, ma'am!”

Aunt Mamie cut two pieces. The hot chocolate icing dripped from the serving knife. Just watching her, I could all but taste the first bite. Even though the odor of the worrisome smoke still clouded the room, Elizabeth ignored it. The laughter and warm cake had calmed her fear. We gobbled our servings, licked the dripping chocolate from our fingers, and pleaded ardently but very politely for a second helping.

"Here you are,” said my aunt. She knew us well and had already sliced two more pieces. "After you two get your fill, young ladies, I want you to go outside and clean up the mess you made.”

We grumbled.

"Now, listen to me, my dear girls. Remember, you each made that promise.”

"Promise?” I looked at Elizabeth.

"Promise?” she looked at me. We locked pinkie fingers again and started to snicker.

"What is so funny?” asked Aunt Mamie. "Just promising, that's all!” I licked the crumbs from the top of my lip.

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