I had put on a lavender gown and new, white satin gloves that were laced, today, a lovely day in the April of 1929, to see Mrs. Jacob Lowry. She was an elderly widow, who told me stories of when she was a girl, to amuse herself and me. I came over twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays to keep her company. I read to her once in a while too, depending on her mood.
"Marjorie?" Mrs. Lowry asked when I came in.
"Yes, Mrs. Lowry."
"Why do you have that silly gown on? You sewed it yourself, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did," I said puzzled. I always sewed my clothes, and always tried to look my nicest, especially in front of Mrs. Lowry.
She sighed dramatically. "Well, Marjorie, I consider it provocative to find that you would go out on the street, to walk here, wearing that."
"What's wrong with it, Mrs. Lowry?" I asked.
"The sides are uneven. It's beautifully made with that pure silk, but the sides are conspicuously uneven!"
"Oh, Mrs. Lowry," I laughed, "that's the latest style."
Mrs. Lowry raised her eyebrows. "The latest style, eh? Style or not, that looks completely ridiculous on you. Marjorie West, go get me the newspaper. While I'm reading it, please pick some of the cherries off of the marasca tree, so I can make maraschino cherry for Elisabeth when she comes."
Elisabeth was her oldest daughter, who lived a few miles away. She loved her mother's remarkable maraschino cherry. When Elisabeth was a little girl, her mother and she had planted the marasca cherry tree, that was now enormous. When she grew older, Elisabeth enjoyed the cordial that her mother made with the cherries.
I went out to Mrs. Lowry's garden with one of her big kitchen bowls, and started to pick the ripest cherries. Mrs. Lowry only had one more fruit tree, and that was her apple tree.
Mother was used to buying her cherry and apple pies and jellies at the stores, and claimed that they were just as good as being homemade, but I greatly disagreed with her. I think that Mrs. Lowry is a wonderful cook. I wished that Mother would cook more, but she says that it takes up too much of her time to cook and clean up all the pots and pans, when she could just buy them at the store. We purchased storebought delicacies and even bread, though, despite my protestation. Of course, today is a prosperous time to live in and Mother feels she can afford to buy food, instead of bake it.
Father continuously invests in different stocks; that's how he and most of America get their money. We have even borrowed two thousand dollars, like a lot of people, to add to our investment to make even more money, because our stocks are doing so well. A lot of people are just starting to learn that they can take advantage of the stocks.
At our Methodist church three weeks ago, our minister, the Reverend Wimber warned against borrowing money, especially just to get more money. He has also brought up an occasional hint about it, but a great part of the congregation does this anyway. Most of Reverend Wimber's sermons are on the evils of money, now, because he feels strongly against people having too much money. He's also worried about the risk.
Father joked once and said, "Gossip has it that Reverend Wimber has a few shares in the stocks!"
Reverend Wimber did have a little bit in a few investments, so he told the next Sunday, "I have earned too much money from these investments; such that would seem a small amount to the world. I want to let you know that I have given up all of my shares. For 'the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered from the faith.' Turn with me now, to the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy, chapter six."
Reverend Wimber was very harsh this Sunday in May, and put his emphasis on verses eight through ten, which told that too much money causes greed, and greed causes ultimate destruction.
After his sermon, Reverend Wimber told our church choir to lead the church in a few choruses of "Take Up Thy Cross." On our way home in our family's Model T Ford, I hummed the hymn as I thought about the first verse: "'Take up thy cross,' the Savior said, 'If thou wouldst my disciple be; Deny thyself, the world forsake, And humbly follow after me.'"
"Oh Edward, maybe you should at least pay back the credit," Mother told Father. "Two thousand dollars is quite a bit of money. You could buy two houses; now think of that!"
"Reverend Wimber goes at it each week. Nothing will happen, Shirley," Father answered.
"What is so important anyway? Why do we need the extra money so much, Edward?"
"I'll pay back one thousand of it back to the bank tomorrow, because I have thought about this for a long time. It might affect our reputation in some way, too. That's all we're going to pay back, though."
Mother smiled. "That's good enough, dear."
The next day I visited Mrs. Lowry. "Mrs. Lowry, I brought All Quiet on the Western Front, for us to read. It's a wonderful bestseller that just came out this year."
"Who wrote it?" she asked coldly.
"Enrich Maria Remarque," I replied.
"I don't feel like reading novels-"
"It's about World War I -"
"I don't care. 'Real Folks' is on."
"I'll turn it on, then." I smiled and turned on the radio switch, when I saw a copy of Reader's Digest. I picked it up from her coffee table. The old familiar music turned on from "Real Folks," and Mrs. Lowry cleared her throat.
"Oh, I'm sorry. May I read this issue of Reader's Digest?"
"Yes. But before you do, Marjorie, get me some orangeade tea. The water is boiling on the stove."
"Wonderful! I love orangeade tea. Who gave you the oranges?"
"Jimmy Hamilton, across the street, offered me a whole cart of oranges that he grew himself."
"Oh, Jimmy's the little boy who fainted during Reverend Wimber's sermon, one time," I said, recalling the incident.
"You are so quick to condemn, Marjorie," Mrs. Lowry retorted. "Though he's only eight years-old, I must admit that he has a green thumb. He also gave me a sample of some spices that he grew. I put some of his rosemary in the tea."
I nodded my head. Mrs. Lowry was a bit sharp today. Sometimes she was that way. I got through her complaints, though. While she listened to "Real Folks," I thought about why I had come here twice a week to entertain Mrs. Lowry for four years, now. I had done this because I enjoyed it and it gave me a sense of self-respect. Mother or Father hadn't come up with the idea to visit her; I had.
"What are you thinking about, Marjorie?" Mrs. Lowry asked nonchalantly.
"I was just ... thinking about, oh, I suppose I had better get the orangeade tea ready, now," I concluded.
"I suppose you had better."
I smiled.
"Yes, ma'am?"
"Please call me Mrs. Lowry, and ..." she paused, "don't smile without reason."
Fourteen weeks passed and brought me to the humid month of August. Mrs. Lowry had caught a cold the day before, which was a Sunday. Therefore, she hadn't heard Reverend Wimber's sermon. I came to tell her about it. I told her that he had preached at certain people this Sunday, but without mentioning their names. Everyone knew whom he was preaching at, though.
"He always preaches at certain people. Every week he talks about the evils of money. I don't need to hear that anymore. Have you brought that book by Enrich Maria Remarque, called Quietness on the Western ...?"
"All Quiet on the Western Front, Mrs. Lowry," I replied.
"Yes, yes. A good book that is. You have good taste, Marjorie. It beats 'Real Folks' anytime."
I had pursued to read that book to Mrs. Lowry. She had ended up liking it. She often judged things that she knew nothing about, but usually ended up liking them, like this time. On the second Thursday in September, Mrs. Lowry eyed me when I walked in, as usual. I knew she would think of an excuse to complain about something, but would eventually calm down and let me fix her tea and read to her.
"Please go home, Marjorie. After this..."
"Mrs. Lowry, I will not go home," I said. "Your illness has gotten much worse. Should I write to Elisabeth?"
"Marjorie, I know that today is your birthday. You are fourteen; are you not?"
"Mrs. Lowry!"
"Am I mistaken?"
"No, but I want to be with you, even on my birthday. You said that on your farm you never got a break from work, even on special occasions, with the exception of Sundays, of course."
"I don't want to ruin your day, though. What could you possibly want to do here?" she asked.
"Mrs. Lowry, I just want to help you now, because you are sick. I don't mind coming to you; I like to."
"Nonsense. Oh well, I want to give you this." Mrs. Lowry took out a small, brown box that was tied with a lavender bow, which she knew was my favorite color.
I carefully took off the strings and lifted the cover to the box. It was a thin, silver ring with imprinted flowers around it, and the initials M.W. on it.
"Remember my Aunt Anna, Marjorie?" Mrs. Lowry asked.
"Yes; she was your favorite ... excuse me; she was one of your friendliest aunts," I said.
"She gave me this ring when I was fourteen, and I want to pass it on to you," she said.
"The initials are M.W., though; for Marjorie West?"
"They also stand for Margaret Williams. Williams was my name before I married Jacob. My finger eventually became too big for it, so I put it in a little box for years and years."
"I didn't know your name was Margaret. That's a lovely name."
"I'm glad you appreciate it. Well, do you like it?" she asked.
"Like it? It's the most beautiful silver ring I have ever seen. Mrs. Lowry," I continued, putting the ring on, "it fits perfectly."
"At least someone will make use of it. Would you prefer to do anything in particular today?"
"Would you like me to write a letter to Elisabeth?"
"If you think it's necessary, you may. Don't you dare to extend the truth by saying that I'm dying, or..."
"I wouldn't even think of it. I'll just state that you are ill," I said.
I wrote Elisabeth a two-page letter. By the time I was done, Mrs. Lowry had fallen asleep on her sofa, which was towards the entry to the parlor. I thought that it was now time for me to go back home, so I wrote Mrs. Lowry a note that told her I would see her on Monday.
Three weeks later, Mrs. Lowry and I awaited Elisabeth's arrival. Elisabeth had decided to stay with her mother for at least two weeks, or until she got better. When I first saw Elisabeth, I saw a definite resemblance to Mrs. Lowry. She was a little taller, though, and had mousey, bobbed hair.
"Good day, Mother," she said encouragingly to her mother. To me she said, "You must be Marjorie."
"Yes," I replied. "We made some maraschino cherry for you. The cherry tree is doing very well, considering it the middle of October."
"Well! Now that you're fourteen, Marjorie, does your mother let you have Margaret Lowry's special maraschino cherry?"
"No, Mother still doesn't allow me to have it, because it is partially fermented," I sighed. "But your mother made me some of her wonderful apple cider."
Elisabeth and Mrs. Lowry talked for hours and hours, while I picked more of the cherries in Mrs. Lowry's backyard.
Mrs. Lowry's physician, Doctor Hill, came to her home very often after her daughter's arrival. Elisabeth and I tried to nurse her, but it didn't help that much. I started to come to Mrs. Lowry's house on Saturdays too, but she was surely failing.
On the twenty-ninth of October, I picked the prettiest white violets out of my flower garden, and put them in a small, blue, opalescent vase. I was on my way, then, to Mrs. Lowry's home. Elisabeth was incredulously worried, so I was sure to get there right after school.
Elisabeth's sullen face met me at the door. "She's gone. She went almost an hour ago. Her last words were, 'Make sure that Marjorie brings that Horatio Alger novel, Try and Trust, today.' She was wondering so, about what was going to happen between Herbert and Abner Holden. Oh, but I have to say that those white violets are divine," she said changing the subject. "Marjorie, do come in."
Elisabeth set the small vase on the modest, oak coffee table that Mrs. Lowry had done most of her sewing on. I looked around the room. The old grandfather clock in the corner hadn't been wound that morning, so it stood still. Everything was still.
All of a sudden, there was a pounding at the front door, that broke the silence. "I'll get it," I said, and left Elisabeth to other matters. I opened the door. "Hello, Jimmy."
"I've come here to give Mrs. Lowry some of my ginger and more of my rosemary," Jimmy said with the two spices in his hands. "Mrs. Lowry likes my rosemary especially."
"Yes, Mrs. Lowry did like your rosemary," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"She still does, doesn't she?" he asked.
"She would, but she's..."
"Marjorie, is she really...gone?" Jimmy demanded.
"Yes, she is."
Before I left, I baked an apple pie for Elisabeth, and called several newspapers to make sure that Mrs. Margaret Williams Lowry's obituary was in at least two major newspapers. When I did leave, it was an almost five o'clock. Elisabeth said before I departed, "I'll see you at church this Sunday. Won't Reverend Wimber have an interesting sermon?"
"I'm not sure I know what you mean, Elisabeth."
"Oh, his warnings will now turn into ... oh, you haven't heard, have you?"
"No, I suppose I haven't. What happened?"
"Well, why don't you ask your mother. The news has been on the radio all day. I don't want to tell you what happened, though. Why don't you just talk to me on Sunday."
I walked out of the home of Mrs. Lowry feeling sad, but confused. I wondered what had happened that would make Elisabeth think that Reverend Wimber's warnings would decease. I walked slowly into our airy house, that was so huge, with the red and gold carpeting was simply elegant, and our crystal chandelier hanging right above it.
Mother came out of the hall, and said, "Well, I suppose Elisabeth told you."
"She hinted at something, but she didn't tell me what happened today. Is everything all right?"
"Marjorie, the stock market completely crashed today. We lost everything! Everything! Not only did we lose everything, but we're in debt of more than three thousand dollars, with all the borrowing and losses and expenses. There has been nothing else on the radio all day, except how the stock market crashed. This country is headed toward destruction. Reverend Wimber will definitely have an interesting sermon this Sunday, won't he?"
"That is exactly what Elisabeth Lowry said. Mother, Mrs. Lowry died right before I came to her home, today."
"Mrs. Lowry was sick for such a long time. She was such a sweet person. But now that you won't be helping her, you can certainly help the West family. I've been trying to teach your sister, Doris, how to sew all afternoon. I want you to go to Mr. Harding's store to get some seeds to plant right now. Make sure you get vegetable seeds there and that it is their planting season. For now, I'm going to learn how to bake pies and cook bread. I don't know what we're going to do with our land; we'll probably end up selling it. But enough about this for now. Get the vegetable seeds and three pounds of bread flour at Harding's store, for I've heard that they're much cheaper than Mr. Franklin's store. After that, you can help Doris with her sewing."
The store was a mile away, so I had plenty of time to think along the way. Mrs. Lowry had died. America seemed to be falling apart. The sun was just beginning to set as I entered the store, so I hurried to get my goods.
People had changed in such a short period of time. No longer laughing or pulling out their wallets for anything that looked the least bit interesting, people frowned and used their money sparingly.
As I walked out of the store, I knew my life would change after this. Mother had tried to bring the news out carefully as if there were to be no major changes. I was afraid, though, there would be more modifications than Mother cared to anticipate. I tried to visualize lovely days ahead.
We wouldn't be going to the picture shows or the plays for a long time, but we would read books together and Mother was going to bake more. In Mrs. Lowry's final days, I saw how she always looked forward to reading and spending time with the people she loved. She had grown up enjoying time with her family. Now our family would be together. I knew that we would discover that being together would be the only thing that matters.