(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-48 in earlier Blogs )
And if he meeteth with injustice he shall have patience…
The Seven Valleys
It was a rare moment of peace and calm in a storm-tossed, deadline-driven world, when Maddie and John sat down for a late lunch with Maddie’s parents, the day before Thanksgiving.
John’s mother was scheduled to arrive at O’Hare that evening and Maddie’s older sister, Bahia, was scheduled to arrive from Australia with her two children the next day.
“Cora, how do you make a tuna sandwich taste like a gourmet feast?”
“Oh, John. Are you sure you haven’t got some Irish in you? You sure know how to kiss the blarney stone.”
They all laughed together.
“You know, I’m beginning to understand why Maddie always has to eat the best of everything. She won’t eat it if it isn’t gourmet.”
“Oh c’mon, John. I’m not that bad.”
“Oh, yes you are. I’ve never seen such a finicky woman. Now, what I want to know is did you also inherit your mother’s cooking talents?”
“Why?” She held his eyes. “Does it make a difference?”
“None whatsoever,” he said, staring straight back across the table. Then suddenly he sobered up. “George, Cora, how do I go about asking for your consent to marry your daughter?”
There was a pregnant silence. Then, as unflappable as ever, George said, “Well, you just ask.”
“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins,” John looked to his left and then to his right again, “I love this…this beautiful…angel of a woman,” he looked across the table at a blushing Maddie, “I mean, I really, really love her. And I’d like to spend my life…huhh!,” he cleared his throat as if his voice wasn’t coming out in the right pitch. He pounded his chest once or twice, “Man! this is…” he shook his head and took a deep breath, then plunged headlong into it, “If you’d let me, I’d like to marry her. So, how…how about it?”
Again, nobody rushed. George looked at Maddie, who had tears in her eyes but seemed curiously radiant. He had never seen such light in his daughter’s eyes.
“John, Maddie, have you discussed your goals, what you want out of life?”
“Yes.” They both answered at the same time.
“Well, I think since you’ve been working together you have a pretty good sense of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
“Yes, I’m aware of her strengths, she’s aware of my weaknesses.”
“John!” Maddie objected.
“Now see, that’s a definite strength, a sense of humor. Sometimes you need that in a marriage.” George patted John on the shoulder.
“Well, I have no reservations. I consent to your marriage,” he said, quite simply. Maddie flew out of her chair on a high squeal and flung herself around his neck.
“All right, all right, but you still have to get through your mother. She’s going to be a hard case,” he said.
John and Maddie now looked at Cora, who took her time, collected her thoughts and then reached for Maddie’s hand and then John’s hand and put them both together, saying, “I think you two are going to make a very strong marriage.”
John had a suspicious mist in his eyes and Maddie was sniffing and wiping her eyes with a tissue, all with a crooked smile on her face. “Thank you, mom,” she whispered, hugging her and kissing her cheek.
“My baby’s all grown up. And she’s a wonderful woman.” Cora hugged her daughter back. “And I’m very happy with the choice you’ve made. This is a good man.” She reached over and squeezed John’s hand.
“Thank you, ma’am.” John said.
Ever since they had picked up John’s mother at the airport Maddie had an intuitive feeling that something was not right. There was some strain there. But it wasn’t till late that evening, when Mrs. Pitts had gone to bed and Maddie and John were the only ones left in the den that she asked him about it.
“John, was it my imagination or did your mother seem a little nervous, a little subdued.”
“Of course, I don’t know her, maybe that’s the way she is. I just had this intuition that she was… well, I don’t know.”
John looked acutely uncomfortable. He sat on the edge of the couch and looked at his folded hands. “Well…she had a little bit of a shock tonight,” he said.
“Yeah. She, she didn’t know that you were…
He hesitated, then sort of gestured around. “All this rich.”
“Rich? John we’re not rich.” She smiled like he was being ridiculous.
“Huh! Spoken like a true princess.”
Maddie had a blank look. She really didn’t seem to know. It irritated him slightly. “Maddie, you gotta know, that all this is a little intimidating to people who don’t live this way.”
“I mean, I don’t come from this kind of money. In fact, if you want to know it, my background is more what you could call ‘white trash.’ There, he’d gotten it out. And it was a relief.
Her mouth seemed to drop for a split second and then she said, “John…I’m sorry if we’ve been insensitive.” She frowned. “I can see that we have. My mom, with her tour of the house, that must of seemed like…I’m so sorry.”
No, you definitely didn’t take a poor person through your house and show them all your possessions.
Who was he kidding, his mother wasn’t rich but she wasn’t destitute either. Now he felt a prick of guilt.
But Maddie was rushing on. “You know my parents don’t care about what you…have. And I wish you wouldn’t use that word.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste, unknowingly appearing snobbish.
“John, how do we make this right?”
Seeing the worry on her face the guilt grew. He’d tried to throw her off track by making a mountain out of a speck of dust. He knew that the Hawkins social class was not the issue with his mother.
If anything that had softened the blow. If Maddie had been both Black and poor it would have been damn near hopeless. But most people (and his mother was no exception) were a little bit in awe of wealth, no matter what color it came in.
He knew he had to come clean, otherwise things would just get worse. “Maddie, the truth is…the shock my mother had tonight was that she didn’t know your family was…black.” His last words were said very quietly.
Maddie was not stupid. Immediately, she knew that if John hadn’t told his mother something so critical, then it meant he must have anticipated a problem. She couldn’t believe he had kept her in the dark about this.
John shifted in his seat. “You’re not saying anything.”
She stood up and faced him. And then her words came out, one by one, staccato. “John Pitts! You mean to tell me that woman,” she pointed upstairs, and then her next words were accompanied by a wagging of her head and a rising voice, “traveled all the way here from Montana and she did not know she was going to meet her son’s black girl friend…”
“Stay in a black man’s house…”
“Honey…” John was making placating motions with his hands.
“And eat Thanksgiving dinner at the same table with a black family?!”
He ran his fingers through his hair.
He nodded his head, silently.
“Jeez!” She threw her hands up.
He jumped up. “Maddie, listen I’m sorry, but I,I couldn’t.”
How was he going to explain that he had always meant to tell his mother, but that he’d chickened out, and that he had always meant to tell Maddie, but that he’d been ashamed. That he couldn’t bring himself to say that his mother, his one and only parent, was a racist.
“You couldn’t! Oh!” She was almost out of the door before he grabbed her arm.
“Maddie, honey, wait!!”
She then spoke in a voice he had never heard, “Let go of my arm, John.”
His fingers reacted as if they had touched hot coals. He dropped her arm. “Maddie,” he was begging.
“Your bed linens are in the hall closet,” she said, in a tight little voice, and then she walked out of the room and up the stairs.
“Maddie!” he called.
John went back to the sofa and wondered whether he should bother to make it up. He knew he probably wouldn’t sleep much that night.
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
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DISCUSSION QUESTION 49: Did John really blow it this time?
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