spacer  The Children

The Children

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 01 Forrie Holly, age 7 spacer

Forrie, age 7, 1953

She heard him scraping again. "What are you doing?"


"Making a hole? It's not a safe place for holes, not here near the clothesline." She could twist her ankle in one. She'd done it before.

"No. I'm just scraping. I need some dirt."

"What for?"

"Pop said I could build a dam near the pepper tree."

They were so important to him, his dams and moats and forts. The precious urgency of Forrie's make-believe world touched her and dissolved her annoyance. In such moments she felt included in a universe of trucks and caves and tunnels, the fluid world of a normal boy at play.

"A flood's coming so I got to build it fast."


"Aw, Mom, you know what I mean."

 02 Faith, age 5, 1953 spacer

Faith, age 5, 1953

"I wanna go now. Naaoow. Naaoow." Her whine stretched out the word. It was a horrid sound.

"Be quiet."

"Naaow." Jean thought she had probably brought on the sound herself, or her condition had. Her unresponsiveness to facial expressions taught Faith early that a pout to show displeasure wasn't going to get any action. Either she might as well forget it and do as she was told, or she had to resort to stronger measures: Faith learned the tantrum.

"Here. Feed your brother."

"No." The word exploded with finality. Jean walked toward her, fuming, but before she got there, Faith threw herself on the kitchen floor, kicking and screaming.

"Faith Ingraham Holly, stand up."

"Naaoow." Jean pursed her lips. How did Faith learn to do that when she'd never seen it and it must feel terrible? "Sit up." Jean's voice rose higher. "Naaow." More kicking and crying. Jean went for her to pull her up. Faith bit. Jean bit back. Faith screamed louder and wiggled out of Jean's grasp. Jean's anger flushed hot. Here was a perfect child with nothing to cry about, acting like a wild animal. And Hap, with everything to cry about, strapped into his highchair gurgling, dear Hap, content with the world. Faith was going to stand up. Jean grabbed what she could find-it happened to be Faith's hair-and yanked her upright. The shock silenced her.

 Billy, age 4, 1954 spacer

Billy, age 4, 1954

Out in the pasture Billy saw that the reins had fallen between Tony's two front legs. A hard, hurting place formed high up under Billy's rib cage. He knew he'd have to reach down there between Tony's legs and get the reins. When he approached, Tony backed away. Billy snatched the reins and pulled them tight, but Tony didn't budge. They struggled. "Stupid horse," Billy said. "Can't you do anything I want?" Tony didn't come in until he was good and ready, and when they finally headed toward the corral, Billy knew that he wasn't actually bringing the horse in. Tony was bringing him in.

Pop wasn't outside anymore. Good. In the corral, Billy unsaddled Tony easily enough, but when it came to getting the bit out of his mouth, Tony went after his hand. Billy pulled back, but not in time. Tony bit. "Damn you," Billy yelled. He grabbed for the bit again and yanked it clean.

"Never going to ride you again," he cried. "Never ever." His tears made it hard to see what he was doing, but still he slung the bridle on the hook, did only what he had to do and pushed the corral gate closed with an angry shove.


He was so untouchable. This was one child with whom she feared failing. He was an enigma to her, only a shadowy presence. Like an iceberg three-quarters hidden, he glided about in mistiness, just out of reach.

 Hap, age 3, 1954 spacer

Hap, age 3, 1954

She knew something was different with this baby. Alanson Perry Holly felt different, like a bowl of jelly. He could bend back as easily as forward and seemed to slide through her grasp.

She slipped back into town quietly and tried to learn how to tend this difficult infant who would not eat and whose movements had an erratic discontinuity, as if he were spastic. More than the other children, his little neck lacked the strength to hold up his wobbly head. Gravely she thought somehow it must have been her fault in the birth, or in having a fourth child. In despair, she chased his mouth with a bottle, then with a spoon, sometimes with determination, sometimes in desperation. As much as she had with the other three, perhaps even more, she bathed him with love, exploring his limbs, his receding chin and slightly drooping lids, brushing the gossamer eyelashes with a lingering tenderness, yet in her loving there was a note of self-torture.

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The Wading Pool