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Authors: Hannah Roberts McKinnon

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BOOK: Franny Parker
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“Follow me,” I said, trying to hide my smile. “You can feed the turtles.”

“How do you feel about worms?” Ben asked, as he handed Lucas a bucket on the porch.

The barn was cool and dark, the animals quiet. I lifted each mouse up from the soft heating pad in the shoe box. They squirmed and peeped, mouths open for the eyedropper.

“Where'd you learn all this?” Lucas asked in amazement.

“Some my parents taught me, some I taught myself,” I said, feeling suddenly proud.

Ben changed the water in the turtle cage while I showed Lucas one of the baby birds.

“Wow, she's a beauty,” he whispered behind me. I could feel his breath on the back of my neck, warm and steady. The little bird chirped as I scooped her up.

“A barn swallow,” he added, leaning in closer. A thrill sprang to my chest.

“Yeah, how did you know?” I asked him.

“We had whole nests of them back in our barn,” Lucas said.

“You had a barn, too?”

“A big old tobacco barn. It was my grandpa's, back in Georgia.”

I watched him settle the hay gently around the bird as he
described the barn, delicately replacing each piece of straw until Daddy called us in for supper.

The table was beautiful. Mama had laid out some of her mother's creamy white linens, and the beeswax candles glowed above the small feast Dad had made.

“Lucas helped feed the patients!” Ben shouted, as we took our places around the table.

“Quiet down,” Mama murmured, tucking a napkin under his chin.

“What'd you think of our little hospital?” Dad asked, passing his famous potato salad.

“It's great,” Lucas answered shyly. “Franny's real good with the animals.” I blushed, and Sidda scowled at me across the table.

“Lucas is a bird expert, too, Daddy!” Ben announced. “He had barn swallows at his old barn, too.”

Dad looked up. “Really? You must've had the violet-green swallows in New Mexico. Never seen one myself.”

Lucas looked puzzled. “Violet-green?”

“Yes, that's the variety of swallow that lives in the more western regions,” Dad explained. “They winter in New Mexico.”

“I thought you were from Georgia,” I said.

“Georgia? You mean New Mexico,” Sidda said, gazing at Lucas.

Lucas coughed and popped a potato in his mouth, looking suddenly uncomfortable.

“No, no, no,” Ben corrected Sidda. “Lucas is from Georgia. He told me so!”

“No, no, yourself, Ben. Lindy was just telling us about their old house in New Mexico,” Sidda insisted.

Everyone looked up in confusion, first at Lindy, then at Lucas, who both seemed to be just as lost as the rest of us.

Finally, Lindy cleared her throat. “Well, we moved here from New Mexico. But we also lived in Georgia, uh, some time ago,” she tried to explain, looking at us hopefully.

“You certainly are well traveled,” Mama said.

“I'd love to see a violet-green,” Daddy said dreamily, still stuck on the birds. “Tell me, are they the same size as our barn swallows?”

“Um, I'm not sure.” Lucas looked helplessly at Lindy.

“Mr. Parker is a bird-watcher,” she told him, eyebrows raised pointedly. “He knows about birds, from
all over

Lucas shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Something wasn't right. “I don't really remember, sir.” He shrugged apologetically.

“Well, you sure know your local birds,” Dad said, his eyes crinkling with admiration. But the Dunns grew oddly quiet.

“What other critters did you have in New Mexico?” Mama asked.

“Um . . . I don't really remember,” Lucas stammered.

“Crocodiles?” Ben asked.

“Don't be ridiculous!” Sidda said.

“Prairie dogs?” Ben continued.

“Something like that,” Lucas said. He looked to Lindy again.

“You must remember some,” Ben pressed.

“Ben!” Mama scolded.

Lucas looked like a cornered animal. It made my stomach flutter.

“Well, this sure is good chicken!” Lindy said, changing the subject suddenly. “I'd love the recipe.”

“Want to share?” Ben asked, waving his half-eaten drumstick at Lindy. Everyone laughed, and comfort filled the room again. I looked around the table. Daddy sipped his wine. Sidda poked at her plate, still sulking. But Mama was looking at Lucas, her expression soft and worried. Just like I felt.

The Library Contest

s you know, the first prize is a trophy and one hundred dollars,” Miss Thorn reminded us the following morning, smiling down at the kids crowded around her feet in the children's section of our library. It was a few weeks into our summer reading contest, and Miss Thorn felt a little reminder of the prize money might prove motivating.

“Not to be squandered on junk!” Mrs. Tibble added, yanking a book cart to a sudden halt behind Miss Thorn's chair, like a dark shadow. She leaned ominously over the cart. “Personally, I find it's bad enough you kids think you ought to be paid for reading. A good book should be reward enough!” She slapped the top of the cart for extra emphasis.

Miss Thorn cleared her throat delicately and said, “I'm sure the winner will use the money wisely.”

Ben raised his hand. “What about worms?” he asked. I elbowed him.

“What about them, dear?” Miss Thorn asked.

“Speed Bump eats worms. Could I buy a hundred dollars' worth of worms?”

“Who eats worms?” Miss Thorn looked puzzled.

Mrs. Tibble threw up her hands in disgust. “Oh, for Pete's sake!” She turned to go, shoving her book cart with a giant heave, the back wheel wobbling crookedly in protest.

Soon a frantic sea of hands was waving and everyone was inquiring how the money could and couldn't be spent. Ice cream? Skateboards? An iguana? It was exhausting. As far as I could tell, none of the kids with the silly questions were likely winners in the first place.

“What book are you on?” Pearl asked, as we hopped down the library steps. I was so tired from waking up every few hours to feed the mice that I wasn't in the mood to have this talk.

“My third,” I lied. I was really on my seventh.

“Oh,” Pearl said and sighed. She fingered her Nancy Drew book. It was the second in the series.

“Hurry, girls, hurry,” Mrs. Jones ordered. She was parked in front of the library, squished into the driver's seat of her red convertible, her pearl necklaces spilling over the steering wheel. Mrs. Jones was large. Her car was not. I shimmied into the tiny backseat, pressed tightly against Pearl's baby sister, Mable, who was already sandwiched behind her mother in a car seat.

“Woof!” Mable barked, waving a soggy Cheerio at me.

“You mean
,” corrected Mrs. Jones. Not even the baby was allowed to enjoy baby talk.

I sank into the seat, pulling a Cheerio off my shorts.

“Hurry, Pearl, I'm burning up!” Mrs. Jones wailed again, fanning herself with her long sparkly nails. Her red hair was drawn back severely, and her pasty skin glowed sharply against the red car wrapped around her. Mrs. Jones looked like a peeled, hard-boiled egg stuck behind the wheel.

The car was hardly practical for a family of eight, and so two or three kids were always being left at home. Although Mrs. Jones said she liked the wind in her red hair, I suspect she didn't mind a few missing kids from time to time either.

“So give me the update! Who's in the lead?” she asked as we spun away from the curb.

“Julie Mills,” Pearl shouted above the roaring engine.

“Again? She won last year!” her mother shrieked. In front of me, Pearl sank a little in her seat.

“So how many? Don't tell me. Three, four?”

Pearl sank lower. “Twelve.”

Mrs. Jones almost swerved off the road. She tore up Main Street, past Harland's Market and the feed store. Pedestrians fled the crosswalks as we blazed by the post office, the Methodist church, and Tweedy's Bakery. We passed Grafton Tractor Supply and the firehouse at warp speed, then swerved left at the hospital, heading out of town to the farms. Moments later, we roared down my dirt road like a red rocket, halting in a cloud of dust in front of my house.

“Franny, what about you?” Mrs. Jones glared at me, her forehead wrinkling in the rearview mirror.

“Um, three books,” I lied again.

Her forehead smoothed out, and she said, “Well, Pearl, that is just one more than you. Franny's no threat. But twelve? That Mills girl is lying. I'm calling her mother!”

I climbed out of the car and shrugged apologetically at Pearl, who looked like she might break free and run with me into my house. But there was no chance.

“Buckle your seat belt, Pearl. We've got books to burn through!” her mother yelled.

The Sewing Bee

hat's a fine stitch,” Grandma Rae said, peering approvingly over Sidda's shoulder.

Sidda beamed, tilting her part of the quilt up for everyone to admire. I didn't see what was so great about it.

“And you?” Grandma eyed me. I showed her what I'd been working on. “Oh dear. Better give it here.”

I sighed and surrendered my square. Sewing just wasn't my thing. The Busy Bees, as Grandma Rae called them, came most Fridays. Daddy called them the Busy Bodies. They'd been at it for years, making quilts for new babies, donating shawls to the cancer wing at the hospital, wrapping each family member in their work. But it was more than just the sewing. Those ladies could spin a story. Every Friday afternoon I got to know a lot
of people, most of whom I'd never met. There were second cousins from back east, rich uncles in California, even a runaway bride with a broken heart. Each of Grandma's friends had family, and family makes for good stories. When those ladies filled the room, our creaky old farmhouse felt solid, as if the party of chatty women inside made it stand up straighter on its ancient foundation. There was something about that group of women gathered around our kitchen table that made the walls nearly hum.

So far it was Sidda who showed the most promise in the family. I don't know who was more pleased by this useless bit of news, Sidda or Grandma, but both seemed to get great pleasure from informing me and Mama of their sewing superiority. Despite the fact only one girl in our family showed any talent or interest, somehow the Busy Bees had set up hive at our place. Mama, being a free spirit, didn't mind a bit. She dragged her easel in from the living room and painted right alongside them at the table. And I liked seeing Izzy, Dotty, Faye, and Grandma tottering up our porch steps with bags full of fabric and mouths full of stories.

The latest project was a patchwork quilt with a giant oak tree growing out of the center and into the sky, leaves and birds sprinkling the branches. So far it was just an ugly brown hulk of a trunk. The tree had a lot of growing to do.

“Today's hotter than a flapjack,” Izzy said, pushing her giant straw hat back on her head. Grandma's friend Izzy was as wild as her hats. She was known to decorate the wide brims with just about anything, from green bananas to lightbulbs.
When Ben was a baby, just the sight of her crazy hats used to make him cry. But he got over that. Today's hat was covered in tiny plastic dinosaurs that swung around each time she turned her head.

“How are the fields?” Grandma Rae asked Faye, ignoring Izzy's dinosaurs.

“Not so good,” said Faye. “We lost most of the wheat back in June. Cotton's due for harvest in August, but it doesn't look much better. We may have to apply for government aid this year.”

“It's turning out to be a bad drought,” Mama said, planting a glass of lemonade in front of me. “I saw the state trucks over at Larsons' farm last week. They were inspecting the south fields. Apparently they've already declared their sorghum crop a total loss.”

I'd seen the state trucks around town, too. Red pickups with Oklahoma government stickers on their sides. They only came out during disasters: floods, drought, dust storms. The sight of those red trucks meant farmers were asking for state money.

“Isn't there something we can do?” I asked, thinking of the low river in our yard, the yellowed fields behind Snort's barn.

Faye shook her head sadly. “Not unless you can bring my two hundred acres back to life.”

“We've done stranger things,” Izzy replied, swatting at a T. rex that swung dangerously close to her left eye.

“Don't remind us,” Dotty Knox said.

“What kinds of things?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, prayed at church, made casseroles, helped irrigate fields. It's always something each season.”

“That's not all we do,” Dotty whispered.

“What are you talking about?” I asked them.

Mama swirled some red onto her palette and adjusted her canvas. It was a new one, a portrait of a woman in a red coat. “These girls have all kinds of powers, Franny. They can conjure up the rain.”

A hush fell over the group.

“You're just joking,” Sidda said. “No one can do that.”

“Oh no?” Izzy's eyebrows went up and down, up and down.

The ladies set down their quilting, and spoke a rhyme together, their voices soft and light in the afternoon heat.

Dance in a field to the crickets' tune,
a full-moon sky in the afternoon

Sidda and I looked at each other, then at the ladies, who resumed their stitching quietly.

“That's just silly,” Sidda said.

No one disagreed.

“If it is true, why didn't you bring the rain for Faye's crops? Or Blue Jay's apple orchards?” Sidda said. She had a point. I looked around the table to see how they'd handle that logic.

“The time has to be right,” Dotty whispered.

Outside, there was the sudden crunch of gravel in the driveway, and the spell was broken. The blue truck rounded the corner to the little cabin.

BOOK: Franny Parker
8.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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