“No miss, not one; all.”
The weather was just on that verge of becoming a real spring as the clouds stopped being sources of rain and had become targets of creative imaginations as ducks followed elephants becoming a larger teddy bear as wisps of Indian smoke drove through it all to make a field of cotton ball clouds scattered across a pale blue sky. Elizabeth Hanna Maria Sumner looked out across the still cold grounds of the August Hamilton Home for Children.
Her hands purposefully removing a long white cigarette from a silver plate holder and brought it to her mouth. She didn’t really want a cigarette, but she didn’t want to risk talking anymore. The process of starting a cigarette would give her the moment to calm and collect her thoughts.
“I have brought clothes for the girls and boy and would like them to wear them for travel.” She stated to the window. Her lip was starting that little quiver that she so hated since she was a small child in Mississippi, on the very wrong side of the tracks. Long before today, long before the doctor’s degree and even long before Miss Elvira Stipple’s school for girls of color.
“That would be fine Mrs. Sumner.” The director eyed the woman doctor from California. “Will, Mister Sumner be joining us today?” Wondering what would cause her to travel so very very far from home to adopt three children she had never met, but only seen in a photograph.
“No”, she snapped. Her head almost jerking around, but instead locked like an iron trap on the rusted child’s tricycle in the play yard. Regaining her calm in the desperation of her focused endeavor, she turned while blowing out smoke.
“No he won’t. He was called back to California when we arrived in Toledo; something to do with the upcoming elections.” Now concerned about a possible problem or even worse delay in the process of securing the children and her life, “I was under the impression that all the paperwork was complete and our coming was only a formality . . .” a tiny panic fluttered to her heart but then calmed to a mere resting butterfly, “and of course the civil thing to do.”
Turning once again to the window, and leaving the young director in a chilled silence to muddle through her social misstep of asking questions that may or may not be her business or concern.
Elizabeth’s right hand, absent mindedly pulled at her hat as an imaginary curl errantly broke loose. Not that the hat was the most stylish by west coast 1922 standards, but it served her well to hide the mass of overly curly hair that she had permed once a month, as straight as it could get to an acceptable “waviness” for a white woman doctor.
“I see there is a tricycle in the yard”, turning back to the director shuffling the last of the paperwork. “ I have a Kodak camera, do you think there is anyone on your staff who would know how to take a picture of the children and me? In the yard.” Her hand waves at the yard past the window “On the tricycle. The children of course, not me.” The flutter of the butterfly beats softly in her chest.
The director looks at the slight hint of panic. Then it washes away. Not her concern but she wonders at the devils that drive this quirky woman doctor from California. “I can do it.” She offers at the woman is once again looking through the glass, her eyes focused a thousand miles and many years away.
“Do what?” She turns as her hands searched the purse for another cigarette. She focuses down into the purse then up at the young blond woman sitting behind the desk in a starched white nurse’s uniform. Her mind starts to slip back to a not too far distant time in another kind of home as the man who was her father lay slipping away.
“Take the photograph. I have an Argus camera, how different can they be?” The director sensed that she was no longer the focus of this woman’s attention but that it had turned inward as she wrestled with her thoughts or demons. Quietly she stood and walked toward the office door, “I’ll just see to the children.” A disassociated hand waved in dismissal in her general direction, a quiet sniffle was masked by the snapping shut of the woman’s purse.
Her father lay slipping away. The once powerful lion of a man, who thundered through halls of justice, now lay before her a sallow shadow of the visage that commanded juries and galleries to listen and view the world through his eyes and wager the lives of the men who he would send home or to prison. His fine porcelain skin drawn thin, like thread-bare sheets over his bones, was cool in her hands. The sound of his breathing was like the memory of long lost lovers sighs in a spring night’s air.
The words were all said, the heritage of concepts all understood, now was the easy part; the waiting, the dying, the simple act of never being able to talk again; To ask questions, again; To share hopes and dreams, again.
Not that a girl living in the Colored side of the tracks could share much with her powerful white father, but it was the possibility that he would see that what he had started by sending her away to school was about to finally make her a woman doctor, and white. The white children, and an imaginary successful husband and father, slain at the prime of his life would put away any question of color in their new home, and her new position at a new small clinic in the sleepy town of Van Nuys.
“Yes”, she turned from her past and the window, and toward her new life and self. “Are they ready?”
“Almost, they’ll meet us in the yard.” The director offered her hand in guidance down the hall. Then she stopped and turned to the woman and in a quiet confidant voice, “could I ask you why?”
The shock was almost as if she had slapped the other woman “How dare. . . “
“I don’t mean to pry.” She rushed on. “It’s just that it is rare that even one deaf child gets adopted, but there are angles waiting for you that you would take all three. And I just wondered where you find the grace to shoulder such a yoke, I mean your heart must by either huge or hurting, to take on that much.” Blushing at her crossing of a very fine line, she looked down then back into the woman’s eyes.
The not much older woman stood as of stone, and not much colder. She searched in the soulful eyes of the young nurse director and found the spark of the understanding she needed. Then she warmed, and all the fear and worry from the lies washed away as she understood and owned in her heart a truth. A truth that was not only universal, but about her personally as well; one that she had learned but not recognized, from her father that day he was passing away, and she put her hand out onto the other woman’s shoulder and squeezed just ever so slightly a motherly squeeze.
“Every child needs a home, someone to love, and someone to love them.”