Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



All of My Friends

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Miss Ernestine

Delores has challenged us once again.
This week's words?
Insignificant, crimson, mottled, track, border, spinning
And/or the phrase: She was as stiff as last year’s Christmas tree.
What would you do with those?
Time for a short story . . .

Her name was Miss Ernestine.
And the kids in the neighbourhood were terrified of her.
We all called her Miss Scare-estine.
Miss Ernestine was a maiden lady.
A tall, slender person. Always impeccably groomed.
She had many talents.
For thirty-five years, she had taught home economics to hundreds of young girls at the local high school. Now, in retirement, she spun and wove. Was a seamstress extraordinaire. And worked in her garden - a cool, wondrous place that could sometimes be glimpsed through the slats of her back fence - with carefully laid-out tracks and flowered borders.
But her greatest talent was her ability to stare at kids through reading glasses that magnified her eyes to unbelievable proportions.
And see into their souls.
At any time of the day, you could see her sitting beside her great front window, spinning.
And watching.
Soaking up the intimate details of the actions of the kids on the block.
Obviously recording them in her steel-trap brain to tell our parents later.
The moment any of us stepped out through the front door of our homes, we felt like little insignificant insects under the careful watch of a giant, bug-eyed scientist.
Whenever her sharp, magnified blue eyes turned toward me, I could feel my face turn crimson and my heart speed up. Or my face drain of colour and my heart stop. In fact, I was always in a state of mottled anxiety: red, turning white. Or white, turning red. 
Fear does those things to you.
Sometimes, we would see one or more of the adults on the street stop and chat with her.
But it was obvious that, when it came to the art of jovial conversation, she  . . . struggled.
Okay let’s face it; she was as stiff as last year’s Christmas tree.
She would spend her time correcting any hapless person who chanced to make a comment that fell within her areas of expertise. And said areas of expertise included any and all topics.
She was sharp, critical, outspoken and downright scary.
And the bane of the entire block’s worth of children.
And then my mother got sick.
At first, it was ‘just the flu’, and would be over and done with shortly.
But it stayed, and worsened.
Finally, the doctor diagnosed it as pneumonia.
He assured us that, with proper care, she would recover and continue to live a full and happy life.
But she did need that proper care.
And how she was going to get it as a single lady with six kids - and the eldest only ten - was anyone’s guess.
Then came that knock on the front door.
My older sister answered it.
And there was Miss Ernestine, loaded down with boxes and bags.
Without even waiting for a ‘come in’, however timidly it might have been offered, she swept into the place and . . . took over.
For the next week, she cooked for us, cleaned, did laundry, helped with homework, kissed boo-boos and nursed my mother.
Bedtimes, though strictly enforced, were a relaxing time of storytelling and learning about bygone days as Miss Ernestine regaled us with tales of growing up in the mad, wonderful city of San Francisco in the roaring twenties. Of her wish for marriage and children that never came to fruition. Of her careful watching of the neighbourhood children to make sure they were safe and happy.
The day that I woke up to see my mother once more installed in the kitchen was both the best – and the worst – of my life.
And later, when Miss Ernestine disappeared out the front door, laden again with boxes and bags, I thought my heart would break cleanly in two.
After that, things on our street were different.
Gone was the fear. The dread. The ignorance and uncertainty.
Armed with the knowledge and understanding of a different perspective, we discovered there was something else that Miss Ernestine excelled at.
Love.

Drop by Delores' place and see what the rest of us came up with!

16 comments:

  1. What a beautiful story. Dang...there go those sympathetic tears again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! And thank you for the tears! :)

      Delete
  2. Oh man! How you do this, I'll never know!
    Love,
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I live in my head. It's a peaceful place . . . most of the time!

      Delete
  3. Beautiful story. I love these exercises.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love this, Diane. I am such a sucker for a happy ending, especially when it happens to a deserving soul! (fiction or non-fiction, doesn't seem to matter :))

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm exactly the same! I get as mushy over fictional characters as I do over real ones!

      Delete
  5. That reminds me of a spinster aunt, although I think that she was too stiff-necked to love anything.

    I remember Dennis the Menace and his pal, Joey, watching the local neighborhood spinster sweeping her steps. 'Just wait, Joey, today she's sweeping the steps; tonight she'll be riding it.'

    Good story. Thanks for posting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pure fiction, although I was reminded of a certain someone as well!
      I loved Dennis the Menace!

      Delete
  6. This was a sweet heartfelt story, and I could feel the spirit on this one.
    Blessings and hugs!

    ReplyDelete
  7. So beautiful, Diane. Reminds me of my grandmother in many ways!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think there was a lot of my great aunt in this one!

      Delete
  8. You learned that within the cast-iron exterior there beat a heart of pure gold. It's amazing when something like this can shift our entire perspective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just a bit of knowledge can dredge out a mountain of ignorance!

      Delete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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