There are two things I love most in my life: pretty women and winning contests. Yes, absolutely in that order. So when I tried to get the attention of my neighbor up the road, Mrs. Elroy, I couldn’t believe she wasn’t interested in me at all. Most single women in our little town thought I was good-looking. My looks, my charming ways, plus the fact that I’m not attached to anyone I think is why they always treat me like Iâ€™m pretty special.
I knew Mrs. Elroy’s husband was recently deceased by listening to the women gossip at Clarkâ€™s dry goods. They also said she was only twenty-one, just a little older than me. I’m nineteen. Mrs. Elroy was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Her eyes were violet and she had long hair the color of a shiny blue/black raven.
Everyone in town thought of her as uppity. When she went there to shop, or got gas or a bite to eat, she always looked straight ahead. After a while the folks just started to ignore her and figured she was suffering in some way they couldn’t understand plus now grieving over the loss of her husband. I took it for shyness myself.
The annual county fair of 1932 was coming up in a few days and I planned to participate. I knew I was a bit old for contests like this, but I just liked winning so much I’d enter just about anything. The one contest that I thought I had licked was for the biggest pumpkin. We had been getting a lot of rain here, so I expected my competition wouldn’t be too stiff. The way I took care of my pumpkin was exceptional. I turned it, made sure the soil was perfect and, heck, I even talked to it. Figured that couldn’t hurt, and it sure didn’t. It grew bigger than a hay stack and not a mark on it.
It was what my mom would call, “the cat’s pajamas.” I know that doesnâ€™t make much sense, but it’s her highest compliment.
I ran into Mrs. Elroy at the postal boxes yesterday. Ours are right next to each other, but the chances of being there at the same time are about one in a hundred, I figured. As I approached her I have to admit I was nervous as a rabbit. She looked up at me and grimaced.
I said â€œHi,â€ anyway.
“Hello, boy,” she replied, and pulled her mail out of the box.
This was my big chance and I knew I had to say something exceptional.
“My name isn’t boy, it’s Alvin. Alvin Hendricks, and I live on the same road as you,â€ I said, in the white Victorian house. My mom and I are your only neighbors for miles.”
Not exceptional, I knew.
“Can you imagine that, and here I thought I was surrounded by loads of friendly neighbors. You learn something new every day.” She was shaking her head, like she really was surprised at what I said.
Of course, I knew better. This woman was plain being mean. My interest in her was quickly fading. Didn’t matter anyway, I don’t think she even saw me.
“Truthfully, I don’t know what you would do with friendly people, Mrs. Elroy, maybe shoot them and eat them for supper.”
I was mad, and my pride was laying somewhere on the road. I don’t normally talk out of line, but I can’t stand sarcasm coming from anyone.
“Grrrrrr,” she responded, and walked off.
I stood there stunned. This was the woman I dreamed about? Well, that was about to stop.
I’d gotten a couple friends to help me take my pumpkin to the fair grounds, but the fair was a flop. The weather was overcast that morning and they were calling for rain and thunderstorms. I still went, even though the grounds were almost empty.
I was inside a tent leaning on my pumpkin when the wind started to howl. Lots of the tents fell, and the one I was in partway collapsed. The rains came down hard. I was drenched and about ready to head for home when I heard something strange coming from the hill nearby. It sounded like a baby crying, or an injured bird. It was hard to tell with all that wind.
I headed toward the crying sound, fighting the wind and being pelted by the rain. As I got closer to the hill, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was Mrs. Elroy up there, standing under a maple tree, holding a baby close to her. Her blouse was open and I figured she was trying to cover the baby with it.
I worked my way up the hill. When I finally reached her, I took off my raincoat. “Put this on,” I ordered. “Put the baby under it so you both can dry out a little. What are you doing out here anyway?”
She was shivering and her face had a terrified look on it.
“I had no idea this storm was coming, she said. I was going to watch the fair from here since, you know, I don’t mingle that well.” She spoke very quickly and her breathing was heavy; we had to get out of there.
“Come on, we’ll go to my house since its closer. My mom will help us.” I took her by the elbow and led her down the hill. The wind tore at our clothes. The rain was still coming down strong when we reached home.
“Mom, this is Mrs. Elroy, our neighbor. She and her baby got themselves caught in the storm; they’re cold and wet to the bone.”
Mrs. Elroy broke down crying. It must have been hard for her to feel so helpless, independent as she was. My mother brought in clean, dry clothes for both of us and a blanket for the baby. She put on a tea kettle so we could warm up inside too.
“Wow, I’m glad that baby has such strong lungs, or I might never have seen you.” I said this with a smile on my face that probably looked like I was flinching. I was ready for anything from this woman.
“She’s only a one year old, but she has my personality already–loud and stubborn.”
Both Mrs. Elroy and the baby were smiling.
“My name’s Edna and this is Melody. We are both very grateful to you, Alvin.”
She remembered my name. I couldn’t believe it.
Mom brought us steaming tea in large mugs and a plate of cookies.
“Itâ€™s still awful out there so you’ll stay here tonight, Edna,” my mother said, “and don’t even think of saying no. No one refuses Mildred Hendricks.”
“I wouldn’t think of it,” Edna responded. She took a cookie and looked right at me. “By the way, Alvin, what ever happened to your giant pumpkin?”
She saw my pumpkin! I’m not invisible!
“It’s sitting under a half fallen tent at the fair all by itself,â€ I said, â€œwaiting for the blue ribbon.”
We all laughed, longer and louder than might be normal. It felt warm and safe around that table, and I loved it that Mrs. Elroy was now Edna.