Update (06/03/16): I’ve removed the two previous versions of the prologue and chapter one and replaced them with the current version (which has gone through several edits).
Every Color Beautiful
By Cyndi Hilston
To “Aunt Pat” Grittner, lifelong friend of Grandma and still kicking.
“I miss you.”
A dark-haired young woman perched by a window in one of the split-level houses along Adams Street, her face obscured by the frosted glass.
Moonlight reflected off the thin blanket of snow that covered the earth. In the stillness, the world seemed at peace, but peace was the last thing on her mind as she brought a hand to the window and gently stroked the pane. Cold air leaked into the room around the edges of the glass.
Sleep eluded her, and so she spent the remainder of the night at the window as the night passed away and gave way to Christmas morning.
She adored the holiday season, but there was a sad void that even joy could not fill. Ten years had passed since her grandmother had died.
“You make me proud to be your grandma, Haley. One day, when you are all grown up and old enough to understand, you’ll share that same joy with your children and your grandchildren, God willing.”
Haley wiped at the tears in the corners of her blue eyes and willed a smile. She placed both hands on her swollen belly and murmured quietly. Very soon, she would know the joy of which her grandma had spoken.
Haley returned to bed. Her husband, Richard, snored on his side. She snuggled under the warm blankets as her mind drifted to the drive she had taken a few weeks earlier in her grandma’s old neighborhood. While her grandma’s childhood home no longer stood, memories still lived on.
To some looking back, the world seemed a simpler place a hundred years ago. People left their doors unlocked. Neighbors waved and said hellos and how-do-you-dos. Children could play outside all day, no matter the season, and return home safe for dinner at night.
Several modest, nearly identical houses lined Madison Avenue, all constructed around the turn of the century. There were the Foleys, the Thompsons, the Gardners, the Halleys, the Bradfords. And the Rechtharts.
Augustus Rechthart had met Lucille Grosner in the summer of 1899. Gus had been delivering some goods to the local general store when he accidentally had bumped into a young woman coming out of the shop…
“Oh, excuse me, ma’am,” he said, lowering the wooden crate.
“No need for your excuses,” the young lady returned, her eyes challenging him.
Gus detected the slightest grin on her face. He hastily set aside the load.
“Might I buy you a drink to make up for my carelessness, Miss-?”
“Grosner. Lucille Grosner. And yes, I suppose so, although if you’re thinking of getting me drunk-”
“No, not that kind of drink, Lucille,” Gus replied, laughing, a little embarrassed. He was testing his luck by using her given name.
“Very well, then. And my friends call me Lucy. And you are?”
“Oh, right.” Gus smiled easily, relieved. “Augustus Rechthart, although no one in their right mind ever calls me that. Plain, old Gus is just fine, Lucy. Are you Lucy to me?”
“Well, that depends on rather a lot of things, Gus. Since I am in my right mind, I’ll call you Gus, and since I think we might well become better acquainted, yes, you may call me Lucy.”
After that initial conversation, the two had struck up a courtship that led to an engagement at Christmas.
Gus was a hard-working man, but he didn’t take life too seriously. He knew the value of an honest day’s labor, and when to stop and kick his heels up – after removing his boots, according to Lucy. He laughed and smiled often, and his more laid back personality was the right companion and perfect contrast to Lucy’s more serious nature. Like her husband, Lucy believed in working hard, but she had a difficult time knowing when enough was enough. When she felt Gus wasn’t taking her requests gravely, Gus could charm a smile onto her face with a few stolen kisses.
Lucy didn’t believe Gus when he told her she was pretty. Whenever she looked in the mirror, she only saw two hazel eyes staring back out of an unremarkable face. She especially hated her chin, which she found too square and strong. She often pulled her mousy brown hair back in a bun of some sort, but, after they married, Gus loved watching her brush it out every evening before bed, the long lengths wavy and thick, before she braided it for the night.
Lucy’s strength perfectly complemented Gus’s rugged handsomeness. In the summer, he was tan from working long hours in the sun, loading and unloading the horse-drawn carts in town and working the field in his own yard. His dark blonde hair with a few grey streaks was often unkempt from being stuffed under a hat. Lucy loved the mischievous sparkle in his blue eyes most of all.
Gus and Lucy were the children of German immigrants who had come to America in the late nineteenth century. They built their home for $4000 shortly after their marriage in 1900. For that time period, Gus and Lucy were married later than most, being twenty-seven and twenty-five when they said their vows in the Methodist church down the street.
Lucy became pregnant and gave birth to her first child, Amelia Rose, on March 22, 1902. After suffering from two miscarriages, her son, Erik Nathaniel, was born in 1907, followed three years later by another son, Harold William.
Finally, Gus and Lucy had another girl. Hannah Lucille was born on April 12, 1912. Hannah brought the world new life, the snow melting near the time of her birth, flowers peeking through the ground, and the promise of the return of spring.
x x x x x
Amy’s hazel eyes stared past her long blonde curls at her baby sister sleeping in the cradle. “Ma, when will Hannah be old enough to move into my room?”
“If you keep asking me, Amelia,” Ma said, “you won’t be sharing a room with her at all. Now, go. I’ve much work to do.”
“It’s Amy,” the girl huffed.
With a sigh, Amy left her mother, who was busy folding laundry, and went outside. School had ended a week ago, and Amy was already bored. Harry and Erik tossed a ball back and forth in the yard, their clothing and skin covered in dirt from the damp ground. Amy curled her nose at them and went to the large swing her uncle had built when she was small.
The lazy summer afternoon wore on, and Amy’s eyelids drooped. While Erik and Harry scuffled nearby in the grass, Amy began daydreaming of pushing Hannah in a carriage down the street, waving to the neighbors who were seated on their front porches, and how much better it would be having a real baby to walk instead of her doll.
Amy’s happy thoughts were interrupted as Erik pounced on her, yelling, “Dinner! Don’t be late, Amy!”
“Get off,” Amy groaned, pushing her pesky brother away and brushing hair out of her eyes. She stood and walked toward the house. Muddy footprints covered the floorboards inside. Her soiled brothers sat eagerly at the table.
“You’ll have to do better than that, boys, if you expect to have a seat at my table,” Ma said to her sons, running a hand through her hair to smooth it back. “Your father will be home in five minutes.”
Ma glanced up and seeing Amy, she visibly relaxed. “Can you get your sister? I can’t leave the kitchen right now, and your brothers aren’t making my job any easier.”
“Sure, Ma,” Amy replied, excited to be given the privilege of caring for the baby. “But remember, call me Amy.”
Ma waved her away.
Amy went upstairs and found two-month-old Hannah sleeping in her cradle, and she felt guilty having to disturb her. She did as she had been bid and reached into the cradle. Hannah wailed.
Despite Amy’s attempts at calming her sister, Hannah continued to cry all the way down the stairs and into the kitchen. Her father was home now, seated at the table along with her brothers. The timing of everything seemed right, for Ma had just served the last bit of food and was ready to nurse Hannah. Amy, tired of hearing her sister’s cries, gratefully handed her over and took a seat.
“Would you like to say grace?” Pa asked Amy,, his eyes twinkling.
“Me?” Amy asked, surprised, for Pa usually said the prayer before every meal.
He nodded. “You’ve just proven how much you’ve grown, Amy. So, yes, you may have that honor tonight.”
Amy glowed inside as her cheeks warmed. Resisting giving her reckless brothers a smirk, she folded her hands. She thanked the Lord for her family, for the food, and for the roof over their head. She opened one eye briefly, peeking at Hannah, who was now quiet and content in her mother’s arms, and finished with, “And thank you for Hannah… even if she does carry on so.”