Ours was never a family with money, but we had mortgage-free land, which we all understood to be the most precious thing a farmer could possess, the only thing that mattered other than (and here came my mothers voice) the church. (And we had standing in the town that came from having history in a place where not just our fathers parents and grandparents, but their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents before them, all lay buried in New Hampshire soil.) More than any other family in town that was what made us who we werehistory and roots.
The Dickersons had drifted into town (my mothers phrase once more) a few years back from someplace else. Out of state was all we knew, and though they owned a placea run-down ranch house out by the highwayit was clear they were not country people.
Besides Dana, they had an older boy, Ray lanky and blue-eyedwho played the harmonica on the school bus and once, famously, arranged himself on the tar of the playground at recess, motionless and staring blankly in the direction of the sky, as if hed jumped out a window. The teacher on duty had already called the principal to summon an ambulance when he hopped up, dancing like Gumby, all rubber legged and grinning. He was a joker and a troublemaker, though everybody loved him, particularly the girls. His badness thrilled and amazed me.
Supposedly, Mr. Dickerson was a writer, and he was working on a novel, but until that sold he had a job that took him on the road a lotselling different kinds of brushes out of a suitcase, my mother thoughtand Valerie Dickerson called herself some kind of artista notion that didnt sit well with my mother, who believed the only art a woman with children had any business pursuing was the domestic variety.
Still, my mother insisted on paying visits to the Dickersons whenever we were in town. Shed stop by with baked goods or, depending on the season, corn, or a bowl of our fresh-picked strawberries, with biscuits hot out of the oven for shortcake. (Knowing Valerie Dickerson, she said, I wouldnt put it past that woman to use whipped cream in a can. The idea that Val Dickerson might serve her shortcake with no cream at allreal or fakeseemed more than she could envision.)
Then the women might visitmy mother in her sensible farm dress, and the same blue sweater that stayed on her for my entire childhood, and Val, who wore jeans before any other woman Id met, and served only instant coffee, if that. She never seemed particularly happy to see us, but fixed my mother a cup anyway, and a glass of milk for me or, because the Dickersons were health food nuts, some kind of juice made out of different vegetables all whirled up together in a machine Mr. Dickerson said was going to be the next big thing after the electric fry pan. I hadnt known the electric fry pan was such a big idea, either, but never mind.
Then they moved away, and you would have imagined that was the end of our familys association with the Dickersons. Only it wasnt. Of all the people whod come in and out of our lives over the yearshelpers on the farm, customersat Planks, even my mothers relatives in Wisconsinit was only the Dickersons with whom she made a point of not losing touch. It was as if the fact that Dana and I were born on the same day conferred some sort of rare magic on the relationship.
I wonder if that Valerie Dickerson ever feeds Dana anything besides nuts and berries, my mother said one time. The family had moved to Pennsylvania by now, but theyd been passing throughand because it was strawberry season, and our birthdays, theyd stopped by the farm stand. Dana and I must have been nine or ten, and Ray was probably thirteen, and tall as my father. I was bringing in a load of peas Id spent the morning picking when he spotted me. It was always an odd thinghow, even when I was young, and the difference between our ages seemed so vast, he always paid attention to me.
Excerpted from The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard. Copyright © 2010 by Joyce Maynard. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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