A New Blessing
It was clear Tommie missed Mabel's help while she was away, even
though Ivy Lee helped as much as she could. She was so glad her
Mother let her stay for a few weeks with Daddy's sister in Charlotte
before Mabel returned home. Tommie told Ivy Lee she would have
a little brother or sister. Ivy Lee never noticed her mother was
expecting. Their father pulled out the old cradle, and Tommie
gathered some clothes she made and others the Green family gave
her. Ivy Lee was so excited. She didn't care whether it was a brother
or sister. She loved babies and couldn't wait.
When Ivy Lee returned from Charlotte, she was excited to meet
her new little sister, Georgia. She was beautiful, like a little doll with
hazel eyes. Ivy Lee marveled at her small size and eye color. Her hair
was fine, sandy, and straight, and her she had a light complexion. She
couldn't wait to hold her, but now bossy Mabel was back; She felt she
wouldn't get the chance. Mabel seemed happier than before Ivy Lee
left for Charlotte.
Ivy Lee stared down at Georgia in the knotty walnut crib,
swaddled on her back in a pink blanket with both arms up. Her
chubby fingers curled into little fists. Her hair outlined her forehead
as if painted on. Ivy Lee adored her. She couldn't stay away.
Mabel ran to tell Tommie she was hovering over Georgia
again. Tommie, tired from work, too exhausted to engage Mabel, and
waved her away.
Ivy Lee's Rue
"Now Mabel, let dat chile be. You know she loves her." Mabel,
fuming, left the kitchen and stood watching Ivy Lee before Tommie
called for Ivy Lee's help with dinner.
Mabel spends a lot of time with her. Ivy Lee pouted as she put away
groceries Tommie brought home. She glanced into the living room,
seeing Mabel coo and cradle Georgia.
Tommie let Ivy Lee peel the potatoes while the water was
boiling for mashed potatoes. The aroma of fried chicken permeated
the modest house. Ivy Lee enjoyed cooking. She mastered Tommie's
sweet potato pies. She complimented Ivy Lee's cooking and told her
she looked forward to Ivy Lee taking over one day. Ivy Lee would
make her way to the kitchen every chance she got to shadow her
Mother. Tommie let her take over so she could rest her swollen feet
and ankles, supporting her full-figured frame. She was big-boned,
dark-skinned, and stood six feet tall. An attractive woman, but she
appeared weary, bags and dark circles under her eyes now. She would
arrive home at dusk each evening stiff and exhausted, creeping over
to her chair.
Ivy Lee was a daddy's girl. Johnny, a sharecropper, arrived home
tired from tending the fields each night. He worked their small, rented
plot of fertile land to provide for the family, the only option available
during this time. Their crop comprised soybeans and corn. All the
tools used belonged to the landowners, including the old mule. The
landowner would seek Johnny to cut down trees on other properties
Johnny stood over six feet tall. His dark brown weather worn
skin deeply embedded with deep lines and wrinkles. Aged by toiling
in the torrid heat of the south. As a young boy, he labored alongside
his father until leaving rural Georgia. He held odd jobs until making
his way to North Carolina. His love for carpentry came from his
uncle, but he appeared to have a natural ability. He loved the smell of
the wood and it made him happy to create something. Johnny was so
proud of the family crib he designed, which was used by all his
children, and now Georgia.
Valerie D. Wade
Johnny called on Ivy Lee to sing him a song. Ivy Lee's
melodious soprano notes filled the room. She waited by the door daily
with Johnny's worn slippers and a cool glass of lemonade. His
cigarette smoke circling his head as it balanced on his chapped
bottom lip. He kicked off his tattered work boots and plopped down
in the chair with an enormous sigh. This was the best part of Ivy Lee's
Ivy Lee fell asleep nestled in her father Johnny's lap most nights.
This night was no different. He guided a sleepy Ivy Lee to her bed.
Mabel hovered over Georgia while swaddling her in the crib.
Tommie and Frank were already in bed. The house was so small,
they could hear any cry from Georgia throughout the house, and
Mabel would have Georgia in her arms before Tommie could
Johnny smiling. "Get you some sleep, girl."
"I know, Daddy, I can't stop looking at her. She is so beautiful."
Mabel gave her dad a kiss on his bearded cheek. She headed towards
the bedroom, glancing back at Georgia.
Baby Georgia shifted all the family's attention upon her arrival.
Her crying kept the entire family awake many nights. Tommie was
back working for the Green family with no break. Mabel doted on
Georgia, feeding her, rocking her, and washing the endless
amount of dirty diapers.
Johnny ambled over to Georgia's crib and watched her for a
moment while she slept. She appeared so tiny in this crib that each of
his children used; It was the little one's turn.
"Lord, bless this surprise child—bless all of them."
Besides singing, Ivy Lee wrote poetry. She kept her poetry
hidden in an old notebook given to her by her favorite teacher, Miss
Miller. Miss Miller, Ivy Lee's fifth-grade teacher, took time with a shy
Ivy Lee's Rue
Ivy Lee mustered up the courage to share her poetry with Miss
Miller. All the class left the classroom, except Ivy Lee. She weaved
her way through the desks left in disarray by the rushing students. Ivy
Lee's thick black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Beads of sweat formed
under the big bangs covering her forehead. She walked towards the
front of the room. Books in arm, and carrying a wrinkled piece of
paper in her trembling hand. Miss Miller stood behind the desk,
overflowing with textbooks and papers, erasing the blackboard.
Startled by Ivy Lee, she turned around. Ivy Lee, head down, and
"Here is a poem I wrote." Ivy Lee, never lifting her eyes from
She took the paper from Ivy Lee. "Thank you, Ivy Lee. I love
poetry!" Miss Miller read each line of the poem about rain. "This is a
lovely poem! I like rain too!" Miss Miller reached out and hugged a
beaming Ivy Lee. She thanked Miss Miller and shoved the paper into
her notebook and ran out of the classroom. Miss Miller stood there
smiling. She never saw Ivy Lee this candid before.
Ivy Lee could read well. Miss Miller would often call on her to
select a book and lead the class reading. She was nervous the first time
she stood in front of the class. Miss Miller encouraged Ivy Lee and
chastised the students, who giggled or whispered as she went to the
front of the room. Ivy Lee surveyed the class and noticed two girls
whispering to each other, and Miss Miller came over and put her arm
around Ivy Lee to reassure her. When Ivy Lee began reading, Miss
Miller stood in the back of the classroom and cleared her throat. The
girls who whispered about Ivy Lee turned around, sat up in their
chair, and focused their attention on her. Ivy Lee's nervousness
subsided, and each time after, it became easier. Miss Miller let Ivy Lee
select books to take home and gave her a special notebook. Ivy Lee
only shared her poetry with Miss Miller, who made her feel important.
As usual, both Johnny and Tommie rose early each morning and
left the house; Johnny to tend the fields, and Tommie to the Green
family, while Mabel cared for Georgia.
Valerie D. Wade
Tommie worked for the Greens. Many of the household chores
fell upon her children. She would work late when the Greens would
have parties. On those nights, Frank, who loved sweets, waited up for
the leftovers and desserts she brought home.
Before dawn, Tommie and Johnny began their daily ritual.
Tommie kneeled first as she reached up to grab Johnny's calloused
hand. They clasped hands as Johnny began a prayer to cover the
family, calling each of them by name. Johnny led the prayer as
Tommie hummed. He rose first, helping Tommie up. They shared a
lingering embrace before departing for the long day ahead.
The summer brought long, sweltering days in Wadesboro.
Mabel oversaw Frank and Ivy Lee, but Ivy Lee thought she was
overbearing. Locked in the house with Mabel while Frank played
outside and burdened with chores, she didn't get to spend much
time with Georgia, whom she adored.
"Mama said to watch you. No wandering off."
Ivy Lee would retreat to her poetry when she was angry. Poetry
to her was like singing. It could take her anywhere in her mind,
anywhere away from mean old Mabel.
One day, I'm going to write a poem about her, Ivy Lee thought. She
also knew if she wrote what she thought about her sister, she might
get in big trouble. While Mabel was busy tending to Georgia, Ivy Lee
quietly organized the pots and pans in the cabinets. She washed up
the dishes left from breakfast and swept the kitchen; chores Mabel
usually took care of.
"Mabel, I cleaned the whole kitchen because I knew you were
busy. Did I do a good job?" Mabel surveyed the room. One hand on
her hip and a scowl on her face. Peering into the lower kitchen
cabinet, she rolled her eyes and grinned.
"Those pans go in the other cabinet. Mama won't be able to find
anything now. You can set the table." Ivy Lee frowned and trudged
to the drawer to pull out the silverware. I'll have some fun. I have my ways,
she thought with a sneaky grin.
Ivy Lee's Rue
"Can I go play on the swings, Mabel? You can see me through
the window. I promise I won't go anywhere. I've done all of my
chores, and I'll even sweep the porch if you want me to." Once Mabel
agreed, Ivy Lee ran out of the front door. The screen slammed behind
her, and her pink-striped jumper caught the breeze. Ivy Lee picked
up the ragged broom leaning against the wood-framed house and
swept the porch. She noticed Mabel peeking out the window with
Georgia in her arms as she swept the porch clean before she
headed towards the swings. The stray hound was hanging around. It
appeared now and then, but ran away when she tried to pet it. The
little hound, with its nose to the ground, fixated on a scent, didn't
even notice Ivy Lee. She figured he belonged to someone, and it must
have gotten lost in the woods while hunting. Ivy Lee loved animals
and wanted to have her own bird when she grew up. She petted any
stray animal she saw, even trying to corral feral cats in the area.
Tommie halted her attempts to bring home frogs she caught with
Frank at the pond near their home.
Ivy Lee saw Frank down the road from the swing behind the
house. Frank was standing and talking with a girl and a couple of boys.
She continued swinging and daydreaming. As she swung with her eyes
closed, she felt something cold and wet pressed to her knee. The stray
beagle surprised her, causing her to jump off the swing. The little
beagle was black, brown, and tan, and his tail was wagging. Ivy Lee
bent down to touch it. She was face to face with its hazel eyes and red
eyelashes. "I'm going to name you Sadie." She could hear her father
state, "We don't need no flea-bitten mutt around here. I'm barely able
to feed you kids; and don't be petting it." Ivy Lee rubbed it anyway.
The little hound put his paws on her lap and tried to lick her face. She
wished she had brought some food with her. The mysterious hound
got distracted with a scent and ran back towards the woods.
"I'll save some food for you next time. It will be our secret." She
kept swinging and daydreaming.
"Hey, girl!" came a familiar voice from behind Ivy Lee.
Valerie D. Wade
She opened her eyes, recognizing the light-skinned, hazel eyed
young man as Ozias Smith from the other side of the hill. He thought
he was popular with girls. She glanced around for Frank because she
thought Ozias was the boy he was standing with. It seemed liked
Ozais appeared out of nowhere. Ivy Lee spotted Frank distracted by
Ozias' sister up the road.
Ozias, a few years older than Mabel, used to hang around trying
to court her. Many of the girls liked him. Tommie warned Mabel to
stay away from "dem high yeller men," but Mabel liked him. When
they suddenly broke up, Ivy Lee remembers her moping around the
house. Tommie told Ivy Lee Mabel went to stay with her cousins in
Tampa to cheer her up and help with babysitting. A few months
before, Ivy Lee overheard Tommie scolding Mabel about something.
"I came to say hi, big stockings." Shouted Ozias.
"My Daddy told you to stay away from here. I'm telling Mabel."
You don't need to call her. You didn't act this way in town at
the store, did you?"
Mabel appeared at the door holding Georgia.
"What are you doing around here? You heard what my daddy
said. He'll have a talk with your folks if you come around. Ivy Lee,
come in here! Stay away from me, my little sister, and this house!"
"She doesn't seem like a little sister to me." Winking at Ivy Lee.
Ivy Lee ran towards the porch as Mabel held the door open.
Although Ivy Lee didn't realize it, Frank kept a close eye on his
little sister. She would often wander off, but he didn't tell his parents
or Mabel. He didn't need Ivy Lee getting in trouble. The first time it
happened, he thought she was hunting for the stray dog, or chasing
toads around. Every time he would question her, she would deny
"Ivy Lee, if you keep disappearing, we will have to stay home."
"Doing what, Frank? I didn't do nothing.
Ivy Lee's Rue
"I have been searching for you for an hour. You scared me.
Maybe you should stay home with Mabel."
"No! please don't make me. I promise I won't do it again. I don't
remember." As the sun set, Frank put his arm around Ivy Lee to
comfort her as they trudged home. Ivy Lee appeared confused, which
Ivy Lee's Rue
Lee opened the large hat box from the Millinery shop at Hudson's
Department Store downtown.
During her dark periods, those close friends and admirers would
shy away. In her moments of clarity, the hurt and loneliness became
much of her daily life. Her nephew Riley was the one joy she could
count on. He seemed to bring out a stable calmness. No one else
affected her this way.
Mabel, strong willed and bossy, bore a striking resemblance to
Tommie. She was tall, very attractive, big boned, with smooth
unblemished mocha skin. Her long, curly, shiny black hair, which she
got from her father, stretched down to the middle of her back.
Mabel felt being the eldest was a burden having to watch out
for her younger siblings. The death of Georgia left her depressed and
filled with guilt. She shut her siblings out, staying in her room and
crying for days. Tommie assigned her tasks where she had to interact
with family and couldn't retreat to her room. As soon as she
completed her tasks, she returned to her room. She replayed the
events over and over. It devastated the entire family. It was then Ivy
Lee first displayed signs of mental distress; her personality
changed from her usual cheery disposition to being withdrawn and
quiet. Her sweet nature could change in an instant.