Authors: Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Copyright Â© 2006 by Joyce Moyer Hostetter
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, please contact
Printed in the United States of America
Cover illustration copyright Â© 2011 by Lisa Lyman Adams
Cover design by Robbin Gourley
Text designed by Helen Robinson
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Blue / Joyce Moyer Hostetter.â1st ed.
Summary: When teenager Ann Fay takes over as “man of the house” for her absent soldier father, she struggles to keep the family and herself together in the face of personal tragedy and the 1940s polio epidemic in North Carolina. [1. PoliomyelitisâFiction. 2. Race discriminationâFiction. 3. FriendshipâFiction. 4. North CarolinaâHistoryâ20th centuryâFiction] I. Title.
ISBN: 978-1-59078-389-4 (hc) â¢ ISBN: 978-1-62979-268-2 (ebook)
Pz7.H81125 B1 2006
Quotations have been taken from 1944 and 1945
issues of the
Reprinted with permission.
An Imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc.
815 Church Street
Honesdale, Pennsylvania 18431
For Chuck, who said something to the effect of
“Sure, go ahead and give up a predictable salary
to follow your writing dreams.”
Every writer should be so blessed!
If you ask folks around here what they remember about the year 1944,
A child might say, “That was the year my daddy went off to fight Hitler.”
A mother might look off towards Bakers Mountain and whisper that polio snatched up one of her young'uns.
Hickory Daily Record
will say that my hometown gave birth to a miracle.
If anyone knows about them things, it's me, Ann Fay Honeycutt, for sure.
But if you ask me what I remember,
I will say it was the year I put on overalls and become the “man of the house.”
It was the summer that wisteria turned enemy on me and I made best friends with a colored girl.
It was the fall when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to his fourth term in office.
I will say it was the time in my life when I learned that all of us is fragile as a mimosa blossom.
But I also learned that it mostly hurts at first â¦
My family huddled together on the railroad platform, but we wasn't huddling to get out of the January wind. We was all trying to stay close to Daddyâlike that would keep him home somehow.
At the other end of the platform, under a sign that said COLOREDS, a Negro family was doing the same thing. That's when it hit me how much colored people was just like us.
Daddy took my chin and made me look right at him. “I expect you to be the man of the house while I'm gone,” he said. He handed me a pair of blue overalls. “You been wanting to wear britches ever since you first climbed that apple tree. I reckon this is your chance.”
Daddy run his finger over the Old Hickory label on the front of them overalls. “See, they was made right here in Hickory, North Carolina.”
I knew Daddy would expect me to act like a lady if he was staying home. When I turned thirteen, he started telling me it was time to learn some things from my momma and quit tagging after him all the time. Now, he was telling me to wear britchesâwhich should've made me happy. But wearing britches so I could take the place of my daddy wasn't the same as wearing them so I could climb trees.
I knew I had to do my part for the war. But was this my part, sending Daddy off to fight while I planted the peas?
“Don't look so downhearted,” Daddy said. “Your momma always said I spit you right out of my mouth. So you might as well go ahead and take my place for a while.”
I took a long look at my daddy with his dimpled chin and his black hair and blue eyes. I soaked up the look of him tall and solid under his new uniform.
I knew I looked just like him. And ever since I could walk, I had chased after him like a train following a railroad track. It didn't matter if he was cutting a hickory branch to make a handle for his shovel or planing a board for a nightstand for Momma, I was right there picking up the curly wood shavings and poking them in his ears.
Daddy always said he had to go hide in the johnny house if he wanted to get a minute without me.
And now, here I was sending him off to fight Hitler.
I threw my arms around him and sucked in the smell of his cigarettes and hair tonic. I hung on tight and felt his heart beating in my chest. Or was it my heart?
After he tore himself away, he picked up my six-year-old sisters, Ida and Ellie, one at a time. He rubbed noses with the twins like he done every morning when he went to work, and said like always, “Now don't you be growing up while I'm gone.”
If it was an ordinary day, they would've teased him back.
Just watch. We're gonna get big when you ain't looking.
But today they didn't have the heart for Daddy's games. And I didn't blame them. Daddy was going off to fight the meanest man in the world, and we knew good and well that we might all have to grow up without him.
Then Daddy picked up my four-year-old brother. “Why
did you give them overalls to Ann Fay?” asked Bobby. “I thought I was gonna be the man of the house.”
“Bobby,” said Daddy, “you're the only man child I got, but you're just a little man. I expect you to help Momma and Ann Fay, but you gotta take some time to play ever' day.”
Daddy ruffled Bobby's brown curls and added, “Now, that's my opinion and it's worth two cents.” And just like that, he reached in his pocket and pulled out two pennies. He put one in each of Bobby's chubby hands.
Bobby didn't say nothing about no overalls after that.
Then Daddy put his hands so tender around Momma's head and buried his face in her shiny brown hair like he was sucking in all her smells. He whispered her name and that's all he said. “Myrtle.” Like just saying her name would tell her everything else in his heart. She laid her head up against his chest and fingered the muscles in his arms. I thought how I knew the exact feel of his muscles under her fingers. And I knew the ache in her heart too.
Bobby was hanging on to both their legs. Ida and Ellie hugged each other and cried. All of a sudden my family seemed so broke apart. I wanted in the worst way to squeeze us all in Daddy's truck and let him drive us out into the country.
But just then the conductor blew his whistle and called, “All aboard!”
“Oh, Leroy,” my momma said. Her voice cracked, and I felt a stab of pain in my throat. Daddy squeezed her one more time and let her go real slow, in a way that seemed like he was really hanging on to her. I think I seen tears in his eyes, but he turned quick and almost run to that train. I looked for him to wave out a window, but he never did, so I knew for sure he was crying.
Down at the other end of the platform, I seen that colored daddy in his uniform getting on the train too.
I tell you whatâthe sight of them two daddies, the colored daddy and my white one, leaving their women and children at the exact same time, was like the beginning of a journey for me. I didn't go anywhere, really. But I was never in the same place after that either.
The train let off a last big puff of steam and wailed out of the station. Bobby started up howling right along with it. Momma held her hand over his mouth and said, “Hush, now, sugar. Daddy will be back before you know it.”
About that time a man started toward us. He was dressed in a black suit with a hat to match, and he had the kindest eyes, which put me in mind of Daddy. The man put his hand in his pocket, and the next thing I knew, he was prying my brother's fist open and putting a nickel in his wet little hand with his wet little pennies. “There now,” he said. “I bet if you buy yourself a root beer, you'll feel better in no time.”
Well, I reckon Bobby hadn't ever had a whole dope to himself. He swiped his fat wet cheeks with the back of his fists and gulped back his tears and didn't say a word.
Ida whined, “How come Bobby's getting all the money?”
Ellie echoed right after her, “Yeah, how come?”
The man laughed and pulled three more nickels out of his pocket. He started handing them to us girls.
But Momma wasn't used to taking money from strangers. “Sir,” she said, “my girls didn't mean to beg.”
“Of course they didn't,” said the man. “But I want to give it. There's a war on and we all have to share.” Then he pulled a five-dollar bill out of his pocket. “While you're at
the store, pick up some meat for your supper tonight. The ration board says we can buy pork again. I hope you have some ration coupons.”
I reckon the man saw that Momma could use the money. But I didn't think she'd take it. She shook her head and said, “I do have coupons. But I can't take your money.”
The man laughed softly. “For these little ones, you can. I have a child too,” he said, “so I know how you love them.” He shook the bill gently and said, “I can't serve in the war, but I like to support those who can.”
Momma must've liked his argument, because she took the five dollars. “I don't know how to thank you,” she said.
The man winked at me and patted the twins' blond curls before he walked away.
Then we walked to the parking lot, where our neighbor, Junior Bledsoe, was waiting for us in Daddy's truck. Junior is seventeen years old. He's the man of his house too, ever since his daddy's heart give out a few years ago.
Junior and his momma don't have a car or truck, and my momma don't have a driver's license. So Daddy give his pickup to Junior to use while he's goneâas long as Junior helps look after us. Which Junior would do anyhow, on account of that's just how he is. He's got a big heart, for one thing. Not to mention, he dearly loves being in charge.
When we was driving away from the train station, we seen the man that give Momma the money. That's when I knew why he couldn't serve in the war. And why he got that softness in his voice when he talked about his child.
Him and his wife was pushing a wheelchair with a girl in it. She must have been about the same age as Ida and Ellie. She had braces on both legs, which was real skinny, and I knew the minute I seen her what was wrong.
“Oh, my Lord,” I said. “His little girl has got infantile paralysis.”
“What's that?” asked Ellie.
“Polio,” said Junior. “That's what President Roosevelt had.”
I thought how Daddy had told me if Franklin Roosevelt could be crippled and still get himself elected president, then I could handle any hard thing that got thrown at me.
Since Daddy said it, I knew it was true. But with him gone, I wasn't feeling so sure. And seeing that girl with polio put another sadness all over me.
We stopped at the Fresh Air Market and bought a whole dope each. Momma bought one for Junior too, and she give us each a dime of that man's money to put in a little box on the counter. The box had a label that said MARCH OF DIMES. The dimes would go to the president so he could help other people with polio.
“Some people can't even breathe when they get polio,” said Junior. “They have to lay in an iron lung with nothing but their head sticking out. It's like a big barrel that does the breathing for them.”
Sometimes I wished Junior Bledsoe didn't feel so obligated to tell everything he knows. You'd think at a time like this he could see we was in need of hearing something more cheerful.
Going home just made me feel worse. The first thing I seen was the flag hanging in the front window. It had a blue star on it to show that this was a soldier's house. But I couldn't bear to look at it just then, so I went around to the back porch.
I sat on the cold concrete step rocking myself and praying Daddy would walk out of the johnny house any minute. I
told myself maybe he didn't really go to the war. Maybe he just needed a break from me.
I heard a little rattle like the sound of the latch lifting on the outhouse. But it was just a family of seedpods, hanging left over and lonely on the mimosa tree. When the wind blew, they made a sad, clattery sound.
I looked past the mimosa to the pines all covered in wisteria vines, and even that vine, which I dearly love, made me sad for Daddy.
Wisteria is the only thing me and Daddy ever argue about. I say the flower is purple and he says it's blue. I tell him I don't see how anyone can hate a flower that's so beautiful and smells so sweet. Daddy says he don't understand how anyone could love a vine that wraps itself around every limb on a tree like it wants to choke the life out of it.
Last summer he declared war on the wisteria on account of it was making its way toward our garden. First he cut every single wisteria vine back about ten feet, and then he dug a ditch between it and the garden. “There,” he said. “I dare that menace to come across my ditch.”
“If you destroy Wisteria Mansion, me and Peggy Sue are gonna be mad,” I said.
Peggy Sue is my best friend. When we was nine years old, Daddy helped us clear a big space under the pine trees out behind the garden. We made us a mansion with different rooms. It has got to be the most beautiful spot in the world, with the sunlight making lacy shadows on the brown pine-needle floor. The walls are all green from the pines and wisteria. Except for a few weeks in Aprilâthen they're full of purple blossoms that hang like bunches of grapes and smell so sweet it nearly knocks you over.
When Daddy declared war on the wisteria, I was afraid
he would kill it all off. But he said he couldn't kill it if he tried.
“Ann Fay,” he said, “that vine is just like you. It's mighty pretty, but it's also determined. It would take a powerful strong enemy to destroy either one of you.”
I wanted to believe him. But now that Daddy was off to fight a real war, I felt destroyed already.