As she got out of the car now and headed over to the tree that she always sat under, she was all too aware of the pile of dirt that had not yet settled on the new grave, her grandfather’s. This was the first time she’d been back since his funeral, and having two graves to “talk to” now instead of one was a bit daunting. She soon remembered though that these were the folks who had loved and raised her, and in no time, she was chatting away. From a distance, onlookers would have thought her quite mad, but the cemetery was empty with the exception of one red car that was so far away she couldn’t even make out the model. Parkers, she thought. It was getting dark.
The desolate cry of a cemetery bird broke the silence of the twilight. Why do those damned birds always seem to be only here, she wondered. They were blackbirds, of course, but she had always thought of them as “cemetery” birds. The tea roses that her grandmother had planted a lifetime ago were budding. Soon the pale pink petals would open, but no one would be there in the autumn to cut them back. They would be left to their own devices now, as Alice, too, had been since February. She looked out across the field and back at the house as she said her last goodbyes on the gentle breeze that rustled through the oaks and cedars and elms.
The sun was gone as she drove threw the sleepy, little Texas town. As she passed the city limit sign, she cried the very last tears for the death of a childhood that had been as happy and rich and full of wonder as any childhood had ever been.
Chapter 1: Three Little Blessings
Kite Season, 1966
Still hung over from the long winter just passing, the field beyond the house stood its vigil uniformed in varying shades of brown and gold. The sun above, however, shone with the glad brightness of heaven, and the wind blew spectacularly on a mid-March day that would guarantee glory for even the most amateur of kite flyers.
Three children – the last generation whose childhoods would never be tarnished by video games, home computers and DVDs – played merrily with their new kites in the field that divided the living from the dead in a cemetery that had existed longer than the town. Behind the cemetery ran the railroad track and, in the distance, barren hills of gold speckled with the black outlines of skeletal trees and meandering cattle dotted the landscape. Spring would soon arrive bringing with it the lush greens that had been lost to the land for months.
The echoes of the children’s laughter floated away on the wind and were carried back to a well-loved grandmother who hung fresh clothes on a homemade wire line. In fact, just about everything outside that was usable had been proudly created by Grandpa Blessing, the Michaelangelo of welders. From the swing set to the garden chairs and picnic table to the BBQ pit made from an old oil barrel, Grandpa Blessing had done it all.
Grandpa Blessing was a handsome man of 58. When he was outdoors, you would always find him wearing a cap of some sort, either to hide or protect his bald head. His nose was quite big, which he always attributed to one of his younger brothers who used to “poke” Grandpa's nose when they were growing up. Grandpa was concerned with his appearance and kept Grecian on his mustache and the bit of hair he still had left around his head. His eyes shone clear and blue through the lenses of his glasses, and with the exception of a partial plate, he still had most of his own teeth.
In the adjoining field, he now ambled along briskly while his most prized possession, the “best bird dog in the county,” ran free sniffing out rabbits and quail and dove. She was a Brittany Spaniel named Alice. Grandpa Blessing had named her Alice after his beloved granddaughter, the oldest of the children now flying kites in the field beyond. He loved the dog almost as much as he loved the little girl.
There were three houses facing the dirt road that ran between the field and the little town of Cisco. The first one was the Blessing house. A gravel drive ran between the storm cellar and house on one side and an orchard of pecan trees, grapes and various fruit trees on the other. This place had become a haven for three lost children.
Great piles of fresh, dark dirt – leftovers from the cemetery - dotted the field where Alice and her two younger brothers played. The children had known this place all their short lives, and the cemetery had become a playground rather than a place of sorrow to be feared.
With hair pulled up in a pony tail, Alice Blessing stood atop the greatest of the piles and stared up with her grandfather's blue eyes at the black, plastic bat kite that dived and darted on the wind high above. Slowly, she unwound the string and let it slide loosely through her fingers, watching the kite rise higher and higher. Her younger brothers, Daniel and Matt, had given up, their kites lying forgotten like broken toys on the desolate field as they now turned their attention to war games. Great clumps of dirt flew back and forth through the air, sometimes hitting their targets, but mostly missing. The bath water would most certainly be dirty tonight.
With white hair blowing in the wind, Grandma Blessing carried the empty clothes basket into the house and started a simple but hearty lunch of tomato soup and cheese sandwiches. Her life was lived to care for her husband and grandchildren, and she would have had it no other way. She was tough when she had to be, but beneath it all was a woman whose love was great and a heart as big as Texas.
Grandpa Blessing called to his dog and headed for the house. “Alice!” he shouted toward the children, into the wind. “Get the boys and get washed up for lunch.”
“In a minute,” Alice called back. But Grandpa Blessing didn’t hear the words as he walked across the road with his back to the field. He was keeping an eye on Alice the dog.
Meanwhile, Alice the girl had spotted a patch of water in the ditch along the road, remnants of the gulley washer that had come two days before. Previous experience had taught her that there was probably something interesting in that water...a tadpole or two at the very least. She looked over at Daniel and Matt who were oblivious to everything but their current game of dirt-flinging and decided she would explore a little further.
She crouched down beside the dark water that stood still except for the little ripples caused by the wind and stared with the eye of a mad scientist into its depths. There! She had seen something move; she was sure of it. And there again! She got down on her knees, not caring for one moment about the mud that soaked through her corduroys, and peered closer. She could see something moving very slowly, but she still couldn't make out what it was. Dare she reach in and grab it? She did not hesitate.
As her hand came out of the water, she saw that she held the biggest crayfish she had ever seen. It's legs moved methodically as she held on for dear life, but she wasn't afraid. Not Alice! At that moment, Daniel and Matt ran up. “What is it?!” Daniel asked excitedly.
“Can't you see, stupid? It's a crawdaddy.” Alice stood victoriously and pushed the creature into Daniel's face. He jumped back with a little howl, almost tripping over Matt, the youngest and smallest of the three.
“What are you gonna do with it?” he asked. Alice enjoyed the fear that flashed in his eyes as she stepped toward him again. “I'm going to show it to Grandma,” she said defiantly.
They marched, single file, back to the house with Alice leading the way. As they approached the back gate, Alice made the decision to surprise her grandmother and turned abruptly on the boys. “Through the front door. I don't want them to see it yet. I have an idea.”
“Shhhhhh,” she said over her shoulder to the boys as she quietly opened the door. “Don't you let it slam, Matt!”
They could hear Grandpa and Grandma in the kitchen chattering away. Daniel and Matt followed Alice into the bathroom, to the big, white porcelain tub. She motioned to Daniel to shut the door.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “I thought you were going to show them.”
“Just hush your horses!” Alice whispered. She put the plug into the drain and ever so quietly turned the cold water on. It was little more than a trickle. The crayfish was wiggling wildly in her hand now, and she set it down into the little stream of water that poured from the spout and turned to snicker at her little brothers. Their eyes were as big as saucers, and Daniel pointed toward the tub.
Alice turned back to the tub in time to see hundreds, or was it thousands, of tiny little creatures dispersing into the water. She screamed. Matt screamed. They all ran from the bathroom in time to be caught in Grandms Blessing's arms.
“Goodness gracious, what's going on?” she asked peering beyond the children into the bathroom. They couldn't answer. They didn't know. “Stand aside,” she said firmly. The children parted as she made her way to the tub. A few moments passed while she stared into the water, and then she let out the biggest, longest belly laugh the children had ever heard. “Grandpa, come here and see what these kids have done now.”
It took a moment for it to register, but then Grandpa Blessing joined in the laughter. “Alice, Daniel, Matt, come here,” he commanded.
The children slowly ambled over to their grandfather. “Do you see all those little things swimming around in the water?” The children nodded their heads, fearing they were in big trouble. “They're babies. Didn't you see them or feel them when you were carrying her around?” The boys remained motionless while Alice shook her head, instantly giving away that she had been the instigator in this latest plan.
Grandma leaned over the tub and pulled the plug out of the drain. “Well, there's nothing we can do now,” she said. “Can't possibly catch them all. She'll just have to start over again.”
The three little Blessings watched as the little crayfish went down the drain in droves. Grandpa Blessing picked up the mother crayfish and handed it to Alice. “There you go, darling. The three of you take her back where you found her, and be sure to tell her you're sorry.”
Single file, they departed the house as they had arrived, with Alice leading the parade. As she knelt down and released the crayfish back into the water, Daniel gave her a little shove, almost knocking her in. “I bet we're going to end up paying big for this,” he said angrily.
Alice rose, still staring at the water. The mother crayfish had disappeared once again into the murky depths. “No,” she said. “They know it was me.” She pointed into the water, “And she knows it was me, too. I'll be the one thinking about all those dead babies tonight when I'm trying to fall asleep.”
Alice Blessing was wise beyond her age. She knew this was just another of those life lessons her grandmother so often spoke of. One thing was sure though - she'd never stick her hand into those waters again. Mama Crawdaddy would be waiting for her revenge!