by Michaelle Wilde
Margaret crouched in the doorway of what she thought was an abandoned church. While trying to catch her breath and wondering what she was going to do next, she saw an older lady approaching. In need of help, she stepped out to the stair rail when the woman was within a few feet of the church steps. Startled, Adella turned to chastise the misbehaving child. The girl’s traveling attire clearly indicated she had no business in the city’s slums. Adella insisted the child go home, but the girl refused. Adella had no time to talk sense into the girl, so continued toward the seaside restaurant where she worked. Margaret began to follow the woman, explaining to her that she needed help. Adella informed the girl that she had an hour’s walk and no time to stop and solve any rich-girl problems. Undeterred, Margaret started telling Adella why she wouldn’t return home…
“Rhodon, our family estate, bustled for days in preparation for the President’s party. I was so excited. I was especially looking forward to seeing the women in their long evening gowns. The din was too much to ignore. The sharp clink of champagne glasses, boisterous laughter from jokes I couldn’t hear, party music played only on such occasions. I had to get a closer look at the wonder that would become tomorrow’s featured entertainment article. Who could imagine President Roosevelt being elected for a fourth term? And Mr. Howe, he’s so attractive. President Roosevelt even brought Fala along!”
“Fala?” Adella interrupted.
“Yes, President Roosevelt’s dog.”
Irritated, Adella asked Margaret how a dog had anything to do with her leaving home. With her enthusiasm subdued, Margaret continued, “I wasn’t allowed at the party, but I put on my prettiest dinner dress and shoes in the off-chance that I met one of the guests on my way to the kitchen. After I finished eating, I started to walk back to my room. One of the guards—I don’t know who he was there to protect, the President, the Prime Minister, or the Premier—grabbed me by the arm. He didn’t say anything, just turned me roughly as if making sure I wasn’t armed. When he let me go, he waved his gun in the direction I had been walking. I didn’t hear him follow me, but when I turned to shut my bedroom door, he was there.”
Adella stopped walking and faced Margaret. She didn’t need the girl to continue her story, Margaret’s tear streaked cheeks told her enough.
“My parents called for my aunt and uncle to come take me away. Mother said that once the baby was born, I would be sent back home. She said I had to give the baby up for adoption and that no one was ever to speak of the baby again.”
“That’s what is done,” Adella whispered in Margaret’s ear as she held the sobbing fourteen-year-old.
“I…I can’t, Adella. I can’t give up my baby. It’s not the baby’s fault. I don’t want my baby growing up thinking that I didn’t care.”
A single gas lantern, the formerly charming white finish worn from decades of use, glowed nearby on a stand. Margaret sat, leaning back, on pure white sheets smelling strongly of Clorox. The wooden spoon Adella had placed in Margaret’s mouth now donned an imprint of the girl’s teeth on its well-worn handle. Adella had told Margaret to be “real quiet” and to take herself to a nice place. But Margaret struggled to take her mind to such a place.
Several months prior, envisioning a pleasant day at the beach with friends, sitting at her vanity table for hours in an effort to make herself look more like Lana Turner, or an adventurous horseback ride would have been easy for Margaret. But, as the contractions grew stronger, Margaret couldn’t think of anything other than the pain.
Margaret’s baby entered the world with a squeak. “How does she look?” Margaret asked anxiously.
“She perfect,” Adella beamed, “’bout seven pound.” Margaret lay back on the pillows; Adella placed the baby on Margaret’s chest. “What ‘er name?”
“Judith,” Margaret told Adella, proudly and without hesitation. “Judith means admired in Hebrew. And my baby will be admired one day, Adella,” Adella believed that if Margaret was so obstinate as to get to where she was, there was no doubt the young mother would do everything she could to ensure Baby Judith’s success.
After Judith’s birth, Margaret acquired a position at a grocer’s in the city. The money that remained after needed purchases Margaret happily gave to Adella. Adella tried to convince Margaret that she and Judith were not a burden, but rather a joyous addition to their family.
Early in her childhood, Judith’s love for dance became evident. Margaret began darning and ironing clothes in the evenings to pay for dance classes. Despite working long hours and the tenderness in her fingers, Margaret never failed to take Judith to a lesson, rehearsal, or holiday program.
Judith was nervous the evening her dance troupe was set to perform at the Beau Monde Theater in the heart of the city—where talent agents always went to find their next clients. Adella knocked softly on the doorframe of the room where Margaret was pinning back Judith’s hair…the same room where Judith was born seventeen years ago. Adella said nothing as she placed a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with string in front of the young lady. Judith turned to Adella, “You shouldn’t have.” She gushed with excitement. The family rarely exchanged gifts, stretching their limited funds each month.
“Go on then,” Adella prodded. She couldn’t keep the smile away as Margaret searched Adella’s face for a clue as to what the package contained.
Judith opened the gift cautiously, not wanting to tear the wrapping. When Judith rushed to Adella sobbing, Margaret pulled a corner of the wrapping away. Inside was a new, pale pink dress for Judith’s performance.
Margaret and Adella waited for some time for the agents to finish speaking with select dancers from the troupe, Judith being one of the most sought after. Once home, the trio celebrated with berry tarts and homemade ice cream. Adella squeezed Margaret’s hand. “Obstinate little thing you were. I am so proud.”
Adella had cared for numerous white babies throughout her life, but only one called her Grandmother.