THE OLD PLANK ROAD
by Margaret Richardson
Written in 1950
(When I was small, we lived on a farm in central Missouri “out on the old plank road.” The name of the road puzzled me because I could not see any planks. My grandmother explained that back in 1857 some progressive farmers got together and laid hickory planks side by side to pave a stretch of the road eight miles long.
It was said to be the first paved road west of the Mississippi River, and folks came from miles away just to ride back and forth on it. Oh, it was a sight to see. Some of the more daring young men painted their sulky wheels yellow and shortened the shafts until they were practically riding the horses’ tails.
To this day, that region is noted for its trotters and the State Fair still has harness racing.)
Ed Stillman parked his old red truck with the four hogs in it in front of the Barbee Q and went inside, letting the screen door slam behind him.
“Couple hamburgers and a Coke.”
He swung a blue-jeaned leg over a stool, inserted a coin in the countertop jukebox, and grinned at the girl behind the counter.
Mamma heard the order and pushed a skillet over the gas burner as big band music filled the air. Rita reached for the DPT gun, walked around the counter and sprayed the screen door. Then she stepped outside and shot a vicious cloud of repellent in the general direction of the truck and its grunting occupants.
She could hear Mamma and Ed laughing behind her, but the sound brought no answering mirth within her. She felt a sudden sympathy for the big blue fly still trying dazedly to cling to the wire screen. Life had trapped him, too.
Rita had always taken it for granted that when her school days were over, she would go to the city and get a job. Most of the girls around here did. The city was where things happened. There was music. Real music. Not this jukebox stuff. And plays, and people. Interesting people who did things. Something was always going on in the city, and you could be there and see it happen. Maybe even be a part of it.
But Mamma had put her foot down. No girl of hers was going off to the Wicked City and Run Wild. Rita could help out here in the lunch room until some nice boy came along and she decided she was ready to settle down.
Some nice boy like Ed Stillman, Meg supposed. Oh, there was nothing wrong with being a farmer and raising pigs, if that was what you wanted to do, but was this all she had to look forward to? Living on here while Life passed her by?
Simply nobody new ever came along this old side road. It did not even have a number like Highway 40 or M 55; people just called it “the old plank road” and it was every bit as back woodsy as it sounded.
In a little ceiled house along this same road a long time ago, Meggie Alexander lay tense on her shuck mattress waiting for Pa’s snores to sound off from the front room. Beside her, Cousin Birdie twisted and burrowed and fidgeted about.
Cousin Birdie’s restlessness caused Meg no little guilt. Cousin Birdie preferred the feather bed. If the decision had been Birdie’s, she’d have chosen to sleep on the feather bed the year round, but Meg told her Ma she would get up and sleep on the floor before she would swelter in that hot old feather bed all summer.
So Cousin Birdie sniffed her little martyred sniff and said, “Far be it from me to run a body from her own bed . . . ”
She always left sentences hanging in that meek way of hers, as if to remind everybody that after all she was only a poor relation who had no rights.
No one ever tried to make Cousin Birdie feel like a poor relation, Meg thought as she twisted resentfully against the shucks. Hadn’t they given her the bed and put the boys on a pallet?
Cousin Birdie was such good help for Ma, and so thoughty for them all, that they might have forgotten she was beholden to them if she had let them. But Cousin Birdie never forgot, and she never let anyone else forget it, either.
Pa’s snores began to raise a racket like a marauding wildcat, and then clopped off short like a piece of chopped stove wood. Then Birdie quieted, as if this had been a signal, and then she added her thin little whistle as an obbligato. Meggie stifled a giggle with a corner of the wedding-ring quilt and slipped one foot out from under the kiver.
Cousin Birdie was a light sleeper. Eluding her would take as much skill and cunning as it took to follow an old turkey hen bent on hiding her nest. The shucks rustled as Meg slid to the floor, and for a moment she almost wished they had kept the feather bed.
She reached the middle of the room, and, hugging herself, wished for the clothes that lay neatly folded on top of her trunk. But she didn’t dare try to dress. Cousin Birdie would hear and be awake in no time, demanding to know what Meg thought she was doing dressing herself in the middle of the night.
She crossed the room and, stepping cautiously over the sleeping boys on the kitchen floor, slipped out the back door. She stumbled and nearly fell over something at the top of the steps. It was Ma’s shawl, slipped from her shoulders and forgotten as she and Pa sat a spell before going to bed.
Meg folded it cornerwise and wrapped it around her shoulders. She hesitated only a minute before she deliberately pulled the drawstring from the neck of her muslin gown and tied it tight around her waist, belting in the shawl. There. Not as much of the white nightgown was visible now.
Everyone was sound asleep anyway, she reminded herself, but it did not hurt to take precautions. If Pa had the slightest notion what she was up to, he’d skin her alive, big girl that she was. But ever since the Barbee boy’s visit last month, Meg’s curiosity had been a-boiling. She was dying to see what the men were doing to the Big Road. Of course, she couldn’t go up there in the daytime and look – a young woman amongst a group of rough men – but at night, when everyone was asleep, and no one knew . . .
Meg had been churning the morning the Barbee boy had come to their house, and Ma had traipsed to the front door all afluster to let the young man in. He had protested politely that he had come to see Pa and would just run on down to the barn, but he was the first neighbor to call since they had moved across the ridge to Missouri, so Ma ushered him firmly into the parlor, rolled up the green window shade and clipped it with a clothespin, and sent Cousin Birdie to get Pa. Ma knew Quality when she saw it.
The Barbees lived up the road a piece in that big painted house with the upstairs and, though the women folk had been polite enough whenever their buggies had met in the road, Meg knew Ma felt a little hurt that none of them had come to call. She was determined to show this young man that they had as good manners as anybody.
Pa was not so polite. Pa was busy trying to get Old Maud’s harness patched up so’s he could get his haying done before the big cottony clouds in the west could blow up a rainstorm, and Pa did not relish having to stop just to be neighborly.
When he discovered the purpose of the visit, Meg, who had edged over to the door to listen, thought Pa would choke.
“Help you to plank the road? What in tarnation for?” Pa roared at the young man whose face was now almost as red as his hair. “Lay the road over with planks all the way into town? Why, it would take you weeks to do that – months, maybe. Weeks awasted while the hay rots.”
Eventually the young man found himself outside, his hat in his hand, and Pa afuming all over the front yard.
“Lookit over there son, on that slope. That’s your Pa’s hay, and it’s still standing, just like mine.”
He swung his long arm around to the west. “See them clouds rolling up? If you was the proper sort of young’un, you’d be helping him get it in instead of running around bothering the neighbors with such tomfool ideas. Don’t know what the young folks are acoming to these days. All they think about is to be rushing around somewheres. In the first place, a planked road ain’t practical.”
The young man muttered something about having them in Kentucky. Meg put her hand over her mouth. Oh, he couldn’t have. Pa hated Kentucky, and everything in it.
“It might be all right fer Kentuckians,” Pa conceded and the way he said it, you’d a thought the folks living in Kentucky were some sort of foreigners. Heathen, even. “Folks with nothing better to do than ride around all day behind their new horses. But I’m a man that works fer his living, and I’ll thank you to take yourself off, and let me be at it.”
Meg felt her face burn with shame. How could her Pa be so unmannerly? If Ma had noticed the ladies who lived up the road, so had Meg. She noticed how they always turned their skirts up in the buggy, so the hems would be fresh and clean when they got to church. How they always wore stocking mitts on their hands and arms when they worked in their gardens to keep them white and ladylike. How they never pushed their sunbonnets back, no matter how hot ’twas, for fear the sun would coarsen their hair and darken their faces. The Barbee women were ladies.
Meg had noticed this young man, too. She had seen how broad his shoulders were when he dashed past on the big bay stallion, how thick and curly his red hair was the day his hat flew off just as he reached their front gate. She had seen his eyes crinkle with merriment that day in church when Cousin Birdie had come sailing in under full steam and almost knocked over little Mrs. Doctor Jenkins.
And he did not seem too mad at Pa, Meg noticed.
Young Barbee looked up and saw Meg watching, and a suspicion of a wink twinkled in the corner of his eye. The young scamp, Meg gasped. No one but bad boys winked at the girls, Cousin Birdie said, and no one but bad girls liked it.
Meg felt ashamed of the delighted glow which stole over her. She didn’t think she was a bad girl, but she liked it. But what must he think of her, stealing up like that so she could listen to the men talk business? She hurried back to the churn and reached for the dasher.
“The butter’s already come,” Cousin Birdie informed her airily. “I took it up.”
Remembering all this, Meg ventured out into the moonlit night. When she was safely across the back yard, she stood still for a moment in the shadow of the big shagbark hickory to see if she had roused anybody. Pa’s snores, though dimmed by distance, were still rhythmic, and she felt vaguely grateful. The sound was cover for any little noise she might have made.
Satisfied that all was well, she turned off down the lane. She would stay in the lane until she came to the crick. Then, out of sight of anyone from the house, she could walk boldly down the big road. She couldn’t wait to see how far young Tom Barbee’s road had come.
Pa refused to discuss it, and Meg had been afraid to ask. Sometimes she thought her Pa was right sorry not to be helping. Pa always prided himself on being a good neighbor, and it did a man no good to be known as one who would not do his share on community projects. But Pa was a stubborn man, and he held to his course, even after some of the older men came to talk to him about it.
They explained that with a road covered from here to the junction, a body could take a wagon to town any time he was a mind to, even in rainy weather, but Pa just sat and chewed.
Meg wanted to remind Pa of the trouble he had getting home with that sack of wheat flour across the saddle, the time he rode Old Tip to town through the mud. Pa liked his biscuits, and a week of cornbread sent him to town after flour in spite of the muddy roads. He brought it back, but from the wild look in Tip’s rolling eyes, the sweat on his sides, and the mud all over Pa’s britches, Ma and Meg had known that it had not been easy.
Pa would use the road once they got it built. He’d have to. It was all the road there was. Oh, why couldn’t he give in just this once? If only Tom had not mentioned Kentucky. Pa always got upset whenever anyone spoke of Kentucky, and Meg had wondered why until Cousin Birdie explained. When Ma was a girl, Cousin Birdie said, she had almost run off with a young man from Kentucky but her folks found out about it and put a stop to it.
“The man’s folks had Plenty.” Cousin Birdie loved to talk in capitals. “But he was No-Account and Fiddlefooted. I reckon your Pa has always been a mite Jealous.”
Ma had come in from hoeing the garden just then, and Meg looked at her in astonishment. Imagine her Ma carrying on with a wild young man. But she was a right pretty woman, Ma was. Her eyes were bright, as black as Meg’s own, and her hair, damp with perspiration, curled softly around her face.
Ma went over to the washstand, wet her hand, and pushed the hair back into the tight little knot on the back of her neck.
Willows along the lane that looked so pretty in the daytime were mighty lonesome looking at night, Meg decided. Their lacy fronds closed about her like folds of black veiling. A plaintive scream from the wild plum thicket made Meg shiver, though she knew it was only an old screech owl. She’d be plenty glad to reach the road.
But it was not so easy to step out into the bright moonlight once she got there
Meg wished she had not heard Cousin Birdie telling Ma about the Woman in Black that people in town had seen moving along the roads after sensible folks were abed. The Woman in Black never did anything or said anything. Not that anyone ever knew about anyhow. She just followed along behind you and you couldn’t get rid of her.
Meg cast a quick glance behind her. All was bright and still. Shucks, Cousin Birdie was always talking about Visitations and Spirit Rappings and such. Usually Ma and Meg laughed about it. Only tonight, for some reason, those tall tales did not seem quite so funny.
Meg hurried along, kicking up the soft dust with her bare feet. She hadn’t been barefoot all summer, a great big girl like her, and it felt real good.
Why, the men had come clear up to the fence by the west forty. There were their tools piled in a heap by the side of the road, ready to be used first thing in the morning. And there was a pile of hickory planks, already smoothed on one side, ready to be laid.
Meg looked down the moonlit road. She could hardly believe her eyes. It stretched smooth and paved with planks as far as she could see. Why it was slick as a kitchen floor, pretty near.
Your buggy wheels would really hum when you whipped up the horses. Be hard on the horses’ hooves, though, like Pa said. But she guessed a body really ought to have them shod anyway, like Tom Barbee said.
“Them logs’ll rot,” Pa had said.
“Not for a long time, and you can replace them,” Tom had said.
“Your buggy wheels will carry the mud right up on top of it,” Pa had said.
“Not very far. And the next fellow’s rig will pack it back down, hard as a rock,” Tom had said.
Tom had said it would be the first paved road west of St. Louis, Meg remembered with a glow of pride. And her Pa would have nothing to do with it. Meg felt torn between loyalty to Pa and pride in Tom Barbee’s accomplishment. She looked down the long stretch of paving, glanced over at the planks all ready to be laid, and set her lips.
Pa was never going to give in. He would not even come out to see how they were getting on. And her brothers were too little to help. Well, here she was, and she had two arms, hadn’t she?
No one would ever know she had helped, she told herself, as she tugged at the nearest heavy plank. But she would know it. Every time she rode along the new road, she could say to herself, “I nailed down one of these planks my own self. Maybe this one we are riding across this very minute.” If there was only some way to mark it, so’s she could tell where it was.
She was backing across the road, dragging the plank by one splintery end. The black shadows of trees behind her reached out across the road in dark scallops. One of the shadows was taller than the rest. It moved.
Too terror-stricken to go on, or even to drop the plank, Meg froze. The Woman in Black, she thought. She tried to make herself turn around and face the danger but she could not. Then someone laughed.
Ghosts did not laugh. They groaned. Meg dropped her plank and whirled about to face Tom Barbee.
“That’s a fine thing to do,” she told him scornfully. “’Sneaking up on respectable womenfolk in the middle of the night and scaring them half out of their wits.”
As she gave tongue to her fear-turned-to-anger, she became increasingly aware of her position. “Respectable women” did not stand barefoot in the middle of the road at midnight in their nightgowns. Vainly she tried to cover herself completely with the shawl.
Seeing her embarrassment, Tom stifled his laughter and asked, “Did you really think you could tear up the whole road?”
“Tear it up? Oh, no.” Meg was horrified. Why, he thought she was on her Pa’s side. “I only wanted to help a little. Pa won’t, and the boys are too little. And I – Oh, Mr. Barbee, isn’t it wonderful? Why, rigs will come from all over, just to ride on our road. Surreys from Salisbury, buggies from Brunswick, carriages from Cairo, some of them from as far away as twenty miles, even. Can’t you just see yourself flying down the road in a new buggy with yellow wheels behind a high-stepping horse?”
“With a pretty young lady beside me?” he teased.
Meg stiffened. What must he think of her? And all at once that seemed the most important thing in the world. More important than the road, even. She turned blindly away.
“Wait,” Tom said softly. “I know how you feel, because that’s the way I feel, too. This is something big we’re doing, something new that people will talk about and marvel about. Here. Let me help you.”
Meg clutched her plank again. “No, please. I want to do it all by myself.”
Young Barbee was very ill at ease until the plank was laid in place. “At least let me spike it down for you,” he told her. It made Meg feel nice and protected to know he had not liked to see her working while he stood by and watched. She looked carefully round.
“If there was only some way to mark my plank, so I could tell which one it was. Do you suppose a fence post . . . ”
“No.” But this time Tom did not laugh. “The fence will be rotted long before the plank is. This is good seasoned hickory.” He touched the plank briefly with the toe of his boot. He walked slowly up the road a ways and stopped where some brush was growing.
“An oak tree, now . . . ” he said thoughtfully. “It takes many a year to grow, and will outlive a man.”
He came back and fumbled among the tools until he found a shovel. In a short time, he had the little burr oak planted in the fence row opposite the plank she had laid.
“It’s so little,” Meg ventured to criticize.
“A bigger one would not grow,” he told her. “I’ll keep it watered for you, until it gets a start.”
Meg looked back along the lane. She suddenly felt the cool night air and she suddenly felt uneasy. What if Cousin Birdie woke up and missed her? What if she followed her and found her here like this? Cousin Birdie would tell Aunt Emma, and everybody knew what a gossip Aunt Emma was. Soon everyone in the county would think that Meg had gone to meet the Barbee boy on the big road in the middle of the night in her nightgown.
“I thank you,” Meg said politely, but her teeth chattered. “I’ll never forget it.”
She started back. Out of the corner of her eye she could see his long legs keeping step.
She stopped abruptly. “You can’t come with me. Please.”
“I can at least walk you to the end of the lane,” he announced in a firm voice that made Meg think of her Pa. “You’ve no business out here alone this time of night.”
“I know it,” Meg told him meekly. She stole a sideways glance at him. “Why did you come?”
Even in the darkness she could feel that the tension between them had been replaced by companionship.
“Same reason you did,” he admitted a little sheepishly. “Couldn’t sleep. Wanted to gloat over it a bit, I reckon, and see how it looked in the moonlight.”
They walked a moment in silence, and then she heard a chuckle.
“I don’t even know your name.” It was a question more than a statement.
“Why,” Meg stammered, “it’s Marguerite, really, after a French grandmother. But Pa’s Scottish. He calls me Meg.”
“I’ll not call you Meg,” Tom decided. “I’ll call you Rita. It’s pretty, and it matches your black eyes.”
Meg was speechless. He could not possibly see the color of her eyes, even in the moonlight. He must have remembered.
All too soon they came to the end of the lane. They could see the house lying white and still as a sleeping cat in the moonlight.
Old Tige, his short hair bristling with suspicion, stood stiff-legged out in the yard. Meg held her breath. The folks had not missed her yet, but what if old Tige barked? Pa would be up instantly with his shotgun in case it was a varmint after the chickens.
Hurriedly Meg moved out into the light. Tige must have recognized her for he lay down again, stretching his head out along his forepaws. But Meg knew he was keeping his eyes on them.
She heard Tom breathe deeply. He had been afraid, too. “Look,” Tom whispered. “When will you be sixteen?”
“November 7th,” Meg told him, surprised. “’Why?”
“You must not have heard all of the conversation I had with your Pa,” he told her mischievously. “I asked him something else. And he told me you can’t do any setting up with a man until you’re sixteen. November 7th, huh? I’ll not forget.”
But they had forgotten old Tige. The old dog must have caught the deeper tones of Tom’s voice, for the next thing they knew, he rushed across the yard raising Old Ned, and right behind him was Pa, one hand still pulling up his galluses, and the other clutching his gun.
Pa stopped, puzzled, as Meg hurried forward to try and stop Tige before he could get to Tom. But Tige circled around her and was not to be diverted until she caught him round the neck and held on.
When Pa spoke again, he sounded like an old, old man.
“Who’s that ye got with ye?”
Tom came forward then and stood beside her. Pa looked at them a long minute and all Meg could think of was her bare feet and the dusty hem of her nightgown. Slowly Pa raised the gun and laid his cheek along the wooden stock.
Meg wanted to run out and clutch the gun, knock it aside, or even to throw herself in front of it. She tried to move but her legs seemed rooted to the sod. She tried to cry out, and her tongue was like a ball of wet wool in her mouth.
There was a sudden swish of white muslin from the front porch. Cousin Birdie was there, too, swinging on Pa’s arm and bringing the gun barrel down before Pa could shoot.
“Rob Alexander.” Her voice was sharp and tight. It did not sound a bit like Cousin Birdie. “What in tarnation do ye think you’re a doing?”
“Leave me be, Birdie.” Pa shook her off. “I aim to kill him. Not a man on the jury would convict me.”
“Mebbe not.” Birdie clutched the gun again. “But they sure would convict Meg. Think what you are doing, Rob. Do you think any decent man would look at her twice, after you pin a thing like this on her?”
Pa pushed her aside and clicked the hammer. Birdie swung her weight on the gun barrel and it came down. Even through her terror, Meg felt a deep surprise that meek little Cousin Birdie had the spunk to stand up to Pa like this – a thing that not even Ma had ever dared to do.
“Do you want her to be like me, Rob?” And now she sounded more like herself. “An old maid with no one to call her own, beholden to her kin for every bite she eats?”
For the first time, Cousin Birdie’s words seemed to make Pa conscious of what she was saying. He turned to look at her.
“You’re a good woman, Birdie. I reckon I never did believe what was said.”
“There was them that did,” Cousin Birdie pointed out grimly. “Seems like folks just purely want to believe what is ugly or bad. You can’t do this to Meg, Rob.”
“She done it to herself.”
Meg slumped, and then she felt Tom Barbee’s hand under her arm, steadying her. He urged her forward across the yard, and it seemed miles and miles they had to walk.
“Stop right there.” Pa said to Tom, and with his head he motioned Meg up onto the porch where Ma was waiting.
Tom stood and waited. Even through her fear, Meg felt proud of him. He hadn’t talked back to Pa. He knew what they were all thinking, and it shamed him, too, but he did not act scared a bit.
“Reckon there is just one other thing to do then,” Pa said grimly. “He will have to marry her.”
Meg wished she could go right down through the porch floor and never come back up. For her Pa to say a thing like that. To force her on a man, a man like Tom Barbee, who wouldn’t even want her. Oh, she couldn’t. She’d kill herself first. She would.
Through the fog of fear and shame that surrounded her, she heard a strange sound. Tom Barbee was laughing. Laughing.
Pa was as mystified as Meg, and half-raised his gun again.
“I’m sorry,” Tom said when he could speak. “Of course I’ll marry her. I made up my mind to do just that the first time I ever saw her, when she came into church that morning with her cheeks as rosy as the ribbons on her hood and her black eyes a-sparkling. The only thing that worried me was, I knew what a stubborn, strong-willed man her Pa was, and then I kind of got off on the wrong foot with that road business. I couldn’t see how I was ever going to talk you into it.”
He stood up straight and tall, and made a little bow in the direction of the porch.
“I’ll be very happy to marry your daughter, sir,” he said formally. “But not until she’s had her due of proper courting.”
He sounded every bit as stubborn as her Pa, Meg thought,
“You’ll marry her now,” Pa said, and hefted his gun.
“Shame on you, Rob,” Cousin Birdie said. “This young man is treating our Meg like a lady. Why can’t you do the same?”
Cousin Birdie, Meg thought, I love you. And the first thing in the morning, I’m agoing to put that feather bed back.
Tom turned his back on Pa and his gun and walked to the front gate. There he swung around and spoke straight to Meg.
“I’ll be back to call,” he promised before them all, “on November 7th.”
Meg watched him walk away from her down the big grand road in the moonlight.
Rita looked up as a brand new station wagon turned onto the gravel in front of the Barbee Q. The back end was filled with tools and equipment of some kind. Telephone linesmen, maybe, she thought. But no lines were down that she knew of, and nobody needed a new phone, either. There was never anything new around here.
The driver got out and harried to the lunchroom door. He was short and stocky – a hungry male who wanted his dinner and no nonsense about it. The other man was younger. Rita noticed how broad his shoulders were. His forehead was high, and his red hair had a tendency to curl that even a crew-cut could not discourage. As he reached the door, his eyes met Rita’s and crinkled in amusement. Rita grinned back.
That was simply all that happened, Rita told herself. They did not know each other – they had not said one word. They merely laughed together because that little man had been kind of funny. No cause for her to stand here like a goon, staring off down the road to where that old burr oak leaned against the fence.
A jalopy overflowing with kids from the Consolidated High School roared to a stop out in front.
“Hi, Rita,” someone yelled. “Wanna travel?”
Mamma was at the door in nothing flat. “Rita Barbee. Don’t you dare get in that thing.”
She turned to Ed Stillman who was right behind her.
“I don’t know what these young folks are coming to. All they want is to be rushing madly from one place to the other.”
“It will be worse than ever,” Ed drawled, “when they put the new road through.”
“What new road?” Mamma wanted to know.
“Ain’t you folks heard?” Ed licked his lips with eagerness at the prospect of spreading some exciting news. “They’re making a new cut-off for Highway 40 right through here. Four lanes, seventy foot wide. Follows the old plank road clean through to Moberly. Ought to make your business pick up considerable.”
His bright eyes found Rita and he gazed at her in a calculating fashion.
So that is why the big ape has been making passes at me, Rita thought grimly. Well, he can just go feed his pigs.
The men in the station wagon were probably surveyors. They should be around for quite some time. Rita smiled to herself. Maybe this summer would not be such a washout after all.
A new highway. Right here. Maybe they could get the buses to stop. There would be cars from all over. Massachusetts and Florida and California, maybe even some from foreign countries. They might put in a gas pump. Maybe even a trailer camp. Things were going to happen right here, and she would be here to see it happen. Maybe even be a part of it. Who cared now about going to the city? Why, the whole world would soon be roaring right past her own door.
Mamma was gazing off down the road .
“They will have to cut down that old oak tree. Mighty pretty it always is in the fall.”
“Mamma,” Rita laughed. “It’s just an old tree.”
“Well, old Grandma Barbee thought a heap of that tree. Always said she wanted to be buried right under it.”
“But she’s laying up on the hill with the rest of them,” Meg said.
“Of course she is. The Barbee women are ladies.” Mamma opened the screen to go in.
“Oh,” she said, glancing in that direction one more time. “I know it’s just an old Oak tree. But I sure hate to think of them cutting it down.”