Rebel's Life in Shoes

(This is the first chapter of my novel. Please read and give me feedback. Thanks.)

                                   The Letters

April 25,1964
 Hidden beneath my Grandmother’s corset in her dresser I found a packet of unopened letters tied together with a lime-green ribbon. The letters, like everything in Grandmother’s house, smelled of lavender, a pungent aroma that made my nose twitch, this time with excitement. The addresses on the envelopes puzzled me. 
 I was eighteen, soon to graduate from High School. A child of the 1950s, I knew snooping was wrong, and so was stealing, but I took the letters believing Mother would want to read them. 
 Answers. That was all I wanted for Mother and for me. As I crossed the alley into our yard, tears filled my eyes. Years of whispered conversations, tension between family members, a cedar chest of secrets, and harsh comments directed at me from my Grandmother, Rose Cassidy, flooded my memory. I sensed the unopened letters were the key to the past.

Part I: Cowboy Boots and Mary Jane Shoes

Chapter 1: Am I Adopted?

March 1950
 “Go away, Rebel. We’re trying to play checkers,” said Columbia, my oldest sister. She’s six years older than me.
 I picked up several of the checkers and stacked them into a small tower.
 “Leave those alone,” Amherst said. “Checkers is for two people. Go chase yourself.”
 Amherst is a year younger than Columbia, but already she’s taller than Columbia which upsets Columbia. I ran around the card table in our living room in my shiny new red cowboy boots, looking over my shoulder in an effort to chase myself. On the second lap my boot snagged a table leg. I fell to the floor. The checkers slid off the table and clattered like hail onto our wooden living room floor.
 “Now look what you’ve done, Rebel!” Columbia screamed at me. “I was about to win.”
 “Fat chance of that ever happening,” Amherst said. “I always win.”
 “Don’t be a smarty pants, Amherst. I’m the oldest. I should win.”  After this outburst, Columbia lowered her voice to a mean whisper and said to me, “Let me tell you something freckle-face, you’re not really my sister. You’re adopted. Now go away.”
 Adopted? That means I don’t belong in this family. If I don’t belong here, where do I belong?
 “You’re lying,” I said.
  “No, she’s no,” Amherst said. “Anyone with half a brain can tell you don’t belong with us? No one in our family has red frizzy hair and green eyes but you!”
 “You were left on our front porch like a stray dog,” Columbia said.
 “Yeah, and Mother and Daddy should have left you there,” Amherst added.
 Tears filled my olive green eyes. I ran as fast as my four-year-old legs could carry me toward the front door as my sisters yelled, “Cry baby!”
 “Hey, orphan, come back here,” Columbia said. “You have to pick up these checkers.”
 “Redcliffe. RED-cliffe. That’s perfect name for the red-haired orphan,” Amherst said.
 Columbia and Amherst laughed as the front door closed behind me. I climbed onto the porch swing, my thinking place. My boots, which are far too big for me, fell off.
 The porch swing is wide enough for Mother, Daddy, and me to sit together. I love the evenings we sit together and swing. I wish they were beside me now, but Daddy is at work and Mother is busy in the kitchen.
 I stretched out on the swing, tucked a pillow under my head and rocked away my tears. I stared at the ceiling of the porch. Paint peeling off in one spot looked like puppy.  I wish I had a puppy. A puppy would love me.
 I hate it when Columbia calls me freckle-face. Amherst said my real family would have frizzy red hair like me, but I  don’t want a different family. I want this family. Tears refilled my eyes.  Amherst is right, no one looks like me.
  Mother’s hair is light brown. She pins her soft curls away from her face with bobby pins. Her eyes are as blue as the sky. She has soft hands and long fingernails. I bit off the nail on my
 index finger and swallowed it. Daddy’s hair is straight and darker than Mother’s. Amherst and Columbia’s hair is the color of Mother’s and straight like Daddy’s.
 My hair is the color of  new pennies. Curls fly out from my head like a kite tail blowing in the wind. When Mother combs the snarls from my hair it hurts. And worse yet, I’m covered with speckles, small copper-colored spots cover my nose and cheeks.
 Before more tears ran down my cheek I had a wonderful thought.  If I’m adopted, then Columbia and Amherst aren’t really my sisters. Yeah! Maybe I have nice sisters someplace who won’t pick on me and tell me I’m a cry baby.
 My stomach growled. I rubbed away the noise and sat up. A cookie. That’s what I need. Mother baked white cookies with cinnamon on the top today. She calls them Snickerdoodles. What a weird name for such a good cookie. 
 I jumped off the swing, pulled on my boots, and ran to the front door. Columbia and Amherst weren’t in the living room. I saw them at the kitchen table doing their homework. Mother was peeling sweet potatoes for supper. 
 This is the worst day of my life. First I learn I don’t belong in this family and now I have to eat sweet potatoes for supper. Ugh. Sweet Potatoes make me gag.
 “Mother, do you love me?” I asked.
 “Of course. What a silly question,” she said.
 “Even though I don’t belong here and I have a real family someplace else?”
 “What are you talking about, Rebel?” Mother said.
 “I figured since I’m adopted, you don’t really love me and you  might give me back, and —” Gooey stuff came from my nose. I wiped it away with my fingers.
 “Where do you come up with this nonsense?” Mother said.  “You’re not adopted. Who gave you that idea?”
 Amherst and Columbia shoved their chairs away from the table. They grinned and raced toward the back door. Mother shook her head. 
 “Columbia said you found me on the porch, and Amherst said I don’t belong here because no one else has red hair, and that’s why you named me RED-cliffe.”
 “Come here, Rebel.” Mother knelt and put her arms around me. “You are not adopted. And for your information, you’re sisters don’t know everything. You are not the only person in this family with red hair.”
 “Really? Who else has red hair?”
  Mother stood, returned to the sink and continued to peel the dreadful sweet potatoes.
 “Tell me who.” I stomped my feet. “I don’t believe you. Show me a picture.”
 “I’m not sure I have a picture,” Mother said. “But don’t worry, you are my own little red-haired Rebel, and you belong to this family.”
 “You sure?”
 “Yes. I was there when you were born,” Mother said. “The doctor said, ‘You have a healthy red-haired daughter.’”
 “Tell me about being born?”
 “You were born on a Friday,” Mother said. “What a morning! Just as we finished saying grace at this very table the ceiling fell onto us. Your sisters’ bowls of oatmeal were filled with chunks of plaster. Your father’s coffee splashed all over his white shirt. What a mess.”
 “Wow! What happened? Did a star fall from the sky and crash into the house?” 
 “You and your imagination, Rebel. No, nothing that dramatic. For weeks your father had been using a steamer upstairs to remove wallpaper from Columbia and Amherst’s bedroom. The water dripped through the floor, soaked the plaster ceiling, and that Friday morning it dropped on to the table with a big splat.
 I sighed. Phooey. A falling ceiling. That’s not special. I want an exciting story. One as  different as my red hair.
 “Why do I have a weird name?”
 “Your father and I are college graduates.” Mother put down the potato peeler and looked at me. “A good education is important, Rebel. Never forget that.” I nodded. “After we married, we decided if we had children, we’d name them after famous colleges. I chose Columbia’s name. I thought the name might inspire her to be adventuresome like Christopher Columbus. I hope she’ll expand her horizons beyond Farmerville, Iowa.”
 “What’s wrong with Farmerville?” I said.
 “Nothing. But it’s just a wide spot in the road. Only 500 people live here. I grew up in a big city, St. Louis. That’s where my parents, your Grandpa Michael and Grandma Rose Cassidy live. I miss going to museums, shopping in department stores, and eating at nice restaurants.”
 “Farmerville is perfect,” I said. “There’s a school for Columbia and Amherst, a church and grocery store for you, and an ice cream store for me. And there are nuns by the Post Office. ”
 Mother always tells me not to stare at people, but I can’t help it if the people are nuns. Every morning Mother and I walk Columbia and Amherst to school by our church, St. Paul’s Lutheran. Next we go to the Post Office to get our mail. On the way home we pass by different church. Next door to the church is a big house where nuns live. Our church doesn’t have nuns. The nuns look like dark angels in their long black dresses and huge white-winged hats that soar high above their heads. They often wave at me from their porch. Sometimes they walk down their front sidewalk and offer me a stick of gum. Mother’s told me I can’t take candy from strangers, but she lets me take the gum. It is in a green wrapper.
 “I know you like Farmerville. It’s a good place to raise a family, but I wish —”
 “Who named Amherst?” I asked.
 “Your father,” Mother said.
 “And what about me? Who named me?”
 “We both did. The day before I came home from the hospital with you, we still hadn’t selected a name for you. I wanted a name that was romantic and elegant, but it had to be the name of a famous college. I’d just finished reading Wuthering Heights about the brooding Heathcliffe —”
 “Can I read that book? I know how to read.”       “Dick and Jane is best for you now. When you’re older you can read about Heathcliffe. His name reminded me of Radcliffe, an exclusive girls’ college back east. I thought Radcliffe would be a great name for you.. Your father suggested Rose to honor your Grandma Rose and me, Bonnie Rose.” Mother scowled and mumbled, “And then, the nuns misspelled you name on your birth certificate which upset your Grandma. She thought I named you RED-cliffe on purpose because of your red hair and because she had red hair.”  “Why doesn’t anyone call me Redcliffe, my real name? Everyone calls me Rebel.”
 “You girls were all born at the hospital in Cameron. That’s an hour away from here. When your father brought us home from the hospital, as soon as he started the car you bawled. Your father sang lullabies, turned the radio on and off, adjusted the heat, and patted your stomach to calm you. Nothing worked. When we reached home, after an hour of your crying, he said,  ‘Redcliffe’s a rebel, isn’t she?’ I agreed, so we’ve always called you Rebel. You don’t mind do you?”
 “No.”
 “That photo on my dresser with you in my lap was taken the day you came home from the hospital,” Mother said.
 “My face is all weird and pinched,” I said.
 “That’s because you were crying.”  Mother paused. She looked beyond me, like she was looking at something far away. I turned to see what was behind me. Then she said, “I wonder what happened to that old sepia photo of me sitting on my mother’s lap with my dad standing beside her?”
 “It’s probably in your cedar chest with all those other old photos.”
 Mother’s cedar chest is a beautiful big, red box in their bedroom. It is off limits for snooping. I’ve sat beside her when she has opened it. The chest is filled with old clothes, blankets, and photos. Nothing very interesting except for an old doll. Mother said the doll is fragile and I can’t play with it, but maybe I can when I am older. I hope so. The doll is beautiful and has fancy clothes to wear.
 “I hope so, Rebel. I’d hate to lose that photo. It’s the only one I have of her.”
 Mother turned and looked at my sister’s home work. She shook her head.  “Rebel, tell your sisters to come finish their homework.”
 I pushed open the back door and shouted Mother’s order. My sisters shuffled into the house and sat at the table.
 “I’m not adopted. I belong here,” I said.
 “That was terrible of you to tell Rebel she’s adopted,”Mother said.
 “I thought it was funny,”Columbia said.
 “We were just teasing,”Amherst said.
 “There will be no dessert for you two tonight.” Mother put the sweet potatoes on the stove in a pot of water. “Here, Rebel.” She handed me silverware to place on the table.
 I stomped around the table in my red cowboy boots placing a knife, fork and spoon for each of us on our blue-checkered table cloth.
 “Quit making so much noise,” Columbia said. “I can’t think.”
 “You never can think when you have math problems,” Amherst said.
 “Pipe down, Amherst.” Columbia wrote something in her Big Chief table, and then erased it until she tore a small hole in her paper. “Now look what you made me do, Rebel.”
 “I didn’t do anything,” I said.
 “Columbia, don’t pick on your sister,” Mother said.
 “Finished.” Amherst folded her paper inside her book and ran from the room.
 “How can you be finished already?” Columbia jerked another piece of paper from her Big Chief tablet. “I’ve ruined this page, now I’ll have to start over. I hate long division.”
 “I hate sweet potatoes.” I said.
 “They’re good for you,” Mother says. “Daddy grew these in the garden,”
 “I don’t care. They make me sick.”
 “How much is sixty-four divided by twenty-three?” Columbia sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
 “If the potatoes make you sick, you’ll have to stay with Mrs. Fangmeyer tomorrow when I take the bus to Cameron tomorrow to go shopping,” Mother said.
 Phooey! I have no choice. I’ll have to gag down the sweet potatoes. I marched around the room chanting,“Whoopee! A bus trip. A bus trip. I’m going to Cameron tomorrow. Whoopee!”
 “Quiet! I can’t think with all the racquet you’re making.”  Tears trickled down Columbia’s cheeks.
 “Cry baby!” I ran from the room laughing.
 

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