Tell me more about you, Rita. Tell me what else you grow in your garden and how you grow it. Should I be doing anything now in my yard? Tell me what it's like to have a grown-up boy. Robbie might just kill me. He already hates the baby. I'm trying to tell him everything will be all right, but how can I say it with a straight face? My son's no idiot. He knows when I'm lying.
The medicine won't taste bad.
The bath is not hot.
Daddy will be safe.
I'm so big now I can't do much. And the snow it falls and there isn't any relief. I go to the market once a week and then come home.
So thank you, Rita. Thank you for writing back. Because life is so closed up and now it feels more open, like a wide, wide field in Iowa.
I'm enclosing a sketch of my square bit of earth here on the cliffs that I call a backyard. It's sunny. Tell me what I should plant in my victory garden, Garden Witch.
And tell me a better lie to tell my son so he grows up as good and open and pure as yours seems to be.
With great newfound affection,
February 19, 1943
IOWA CITY, IOWA
I wish I had red hair! Once my hair was as vibrant as Toby's, but now it's faded and pale. I wear bright coral lipstick all the time so people have something else to look at. Thank heavens for Mr. Max Factor.
Anyway, your letter came just before lunch yesterday. I read it while picking at a hamburger plate in a dark leather booth at the Capitol Café. Irene is in Omaha visiting family, so I'd planned on staying inside with some egg salad and a cup of tea. Then the postman arrived and I got ants in my pants so I grabbed what he brought and hoofed it into town.
The emptiness is hard to get used to. It's the middle of the academic term, yet I could roll a bowling ball down Washington Street and not hit a soul. I'm sure the weather has something to do with it (a whopping eight degrees at noontime), but more likely it's this war. With so many boys gone overseas the university might as well rename itself Sister Josephine's School for Educating Ladies. And those gals have no time for meanderingthey are busy bees indeed.
It sounds like you have your hands full as well. Robbie will come around, but he is at a tough age. Now that I think about it, all the ages are difficult, even after they leave the house. Take my Toby, for instance. Turns out you were slightly mistaken in your assessment of himhe isn't quite on the shortlist for sainthood. I had just returned from the café yesterday when someone knocked on the front door. My heart nearly stopped beatingthe unannounced visitor is about as welcome as the devil these daysand I ran to the window to see if a government vehicle sat in our driveway. I wanted to start dancing when I saw it was a girl standing on the porch. She was a colorless, skinny thing, mewling like a cat, and when I ushered her inside she started crying, tears so big and fat I worried she'd drown.
Her name is Roylene.
"My daddy owns Roy's Tavern? On Clinton Street? By the co-op grocery?" Everything is a question with this girl, like she doesn't trust herself enough for the declarative. I took her coat and snuck a sly glance at her tummy (flat as a pancake, thank God), and poured a cup for her. She slurped at it like a Chinaman.
Apparently when my Toby turned eighteen he headed straight for the enlistment office, and then took a detour through Roy's Tavern on his way home. Instead of going to class last November he sat on a bar stool writing in his notebooks and spouting poetry to Roylene. "My daddy says I'm no good behind the bar? So I work in the kitchen? Toby sits between the sacks of flour and potatoes and keeps me company?"
Excerpted from I'll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan. Copyright © 2013 by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan. Excerpted by permission of Mira. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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