I said, “Well….”
“It’s true! I’ve known him almost sixty years!”
“Yeah?” I sat back, waiting for a story. That was always the best part of being home, waiting for a story. “Kline—well, your grandma, Alma.” Bess was still talking out the service window, bent over a table in the back room looking at me. “You remember how hard she worked, right?”
“Sure,” I said. “She was always doing something.”
“Okay, well, they used to keep chickens—everybody did, then, a long time ago. And Kline, he’s greedy as well as he’s impatient, and he always wanted more—more chickens, more eggs. Of course, it was Alma had to do most of the work, or the girls when they got big enough. But Kline would do one thing with those chickens by himself, and he didn’t trust anyone else to do it. He’d go out there to the hen house with an awl or a nail or a pocketknife and chip away at those eggs, pick the shells off so the baby chicks would be born a day or two early and start growing quicker. He didn’t trust nature. He couldn’t ever wait for nature.”
“Oh, he’d go out in the garden and flick dirt off the bean sprouts when they were coming up, so they’d grow faster.”
I laughed at that one.
“You laugh, now, but that man can be terrible,” Bess said. “He did the same thing when your Aunt Irene was born.”
Bess stepped back from the window and went around and came out into the waiting room.
“It’s true,” she said. “Alma went into labor, or thought she did, and old Kline got in his truck and drove to Alum Bridge—that’s where the paved road from Weston ended in those days, at Alum Bridge, it was just mud between here and there. And Kline got his car out of the garage he kept it in and drove on into Weston on the paved road and he got the doctor.” Bess caught her breath, a gasp. “And so then he drove the doctor back to Alum Bridge, and they got in his truck and they drove back through the mud to Burnt House. And when they got here, Alma wasn’t in labor anymore.” Bess looked at me and nodded. So there!
After a moment, I asked, “And….”
“And so Kline told that doctor, he said, I’m not bringing you all the way out here a second time. He said, you need to get in there and get me that baby right now. Right now. And the doctor did it—brought out that baby two or three days early, a week early, I don’t know.”
I thought of poor Grammaw Talbot. Back in one of those bedrooms, pregnant, sick and miserable. Alone, I guessed. Full of a baby. And how did that doctor get Irene out? Some drug? Did he cut the baby out of her? Pull it? Did he hook the baby to a chain and winch it out not really ready to live and leave poor Grammaw all ripped apart and bloody? Ah, wow. Disgusting. I almost felt a cramp myself. I never wanted kids. I touched my belly. Sick.
I said, “Jeeze.”