“Lizzie! Is everything ready for Henry’s arrival?” I asked. Today was the day, the day of Henry’s return, so all the last minute preparations had to be completed in a matter of a few hours.
“Yes, Miss. Shirley. Everything is finished and done, to perfection.” replied Lizzie(the family housekeeper), with a smile.
“Thank goodness, and thank you for ensuring that my plan was put to use.” I said, gratefully. Everything had gone as planned, the final thing I had to do was to ask or beg my parents to accompany me to greet Henry.
“Miss. Shirley go greet your brother, we have everything handled.” said Mary(the family cook), who had just entered the room.
“Thank you both, I will do that exact thing, Mary.” I said happily. The house felt the most welcoming it had felt for two years, which was the way it should be.
I quickly went upstairs, to my father’s study, confidently I knocked on the study door, but my confidence was knocked down, when I heard my father’s serious, and tired voice, telling me to come in. I then nervously opened the door, and entered the small room.
“What is it Shirley.” my father asked, barely looking at me, as he wrote some letters.
No turning back now, so better get it over with I thought “Well father, Henry is coming home today, and I felt that you and mother should come greet him at the station, if that’s alright?” I asked.
“Well Shirley, frankly I don’t have the time nor is your mother well enough.” he answered, still not looking at me, but at least he acknowledged that I was in the room.
“So you cannot come?” I asked, I was having the sudden urge to shake him, to get some sense into him.
“Exactly.” he replied, indicating that he wanted me out of the room. I felt disgusted, angry, and most of all saddened, that my father, my logical and no nonsense father, was truly losing sense. As for my mother, she had lost sense a year ago, so no use asking her. I bitterly headed downstairs, trying to decide what to do next. There was no use to weep, that would not change anything.
“Miss Shirley, Mr. and Mrs. Monroe, said no, didn’t they?” asked Bertha who was at the bottom of the staircase. She was dressed in her outing clothes, a simple grey coat, and freshly ironed black skirt. I nodded, sadly, there was no need to speak, Bertha understood.
“Well we ought to catch the streetcar to the station.” she said changing the subject.
“Yes, we cannot be late.” I said with a little smile, as she handed me my hat, coat, gloves, and purse. I quickly put my outing things on, and changed my indoor shoes to my stronger, leather boats, it was miserable weather out. I was now ready.
Bertha and I left the house, and headed down the sopping wet and muddy street, towards the pickup zone of the streetcar, which was only a short walk away. When we arrived at the pick up zone, we were just on time, and gratefully entered the streetcar. It was only a short ride away until we reached the Grand Central station, which made me feel nervous, which was ridiculous. I was greeting my brother, not a king. Bertha seemed calm, and not nervous whatsoever, but that was the way Bertha was.
The streetcar came to a sudden stop at our destination, Bertha and I quickly stepped out of the car with a swarm of people who were also going to greet a returning family member who had just returned from war.
I led Bertha through the crowds of people towards the actual station, once inside, it was even more overwhelming, with streams of people in the station and the steady stream of just returned soldiers from the trains, which made it very easy to get lost, or lose someone, so I clutched onto Bertha’s arm, and led her through the crowds, to reach the place we were going to meet Henry.
Finally we reached our destination, which happened to have an empty bench, which Bertha and I gladly sat down on. As I looked about my surroundings I noticed it seemed very familiar; the crowds of people, the busy trains full of soldiers, and the overall overwhelmingness, was a very familiar sight…..
“Shirley dear, come on we have to say farewell to your brothers.” said my mother, gently as she took my arm and led me towards the train, where my two older brothers stood tall and proud. My serious and unsmiling father had a small smile of pride today, and so did my mother. I nodded softly at my mother. I did not want my brothers to go, though how immature and childish it sounded.
I walked towards my brothers, who looked so tall and handsome that day. I didn’t know what to say, I was scared, I didn’t want to lose them, but I managed to maintain my smile. I first went up to Ralph, my wise, intelligent, and gentle twenty year old brother, who would have gone to Harvard Law, if it wasn’t for his decision to serve a duty to his country. Instead of speaking I embraced him, he gently hugged me back.
“I’m going to miss you Shirley.” he said kindly with a smile, as I lifted my head.
“I’m going to miss you too Ralph.” I said with a whisper.
“Promise to write to me.” he said , gently as he let go of me a little. I nodded as I gave him the final hug, he then went to our parents, and began speaking with them, so I turned to Henry, my eighteen year old, fun, flamboyant, and teasing brother.
“No emotional farewells for me, Shirley.” said Henry jokingly. He was always teasing, no matter what.
“You won’t get one than.” I said with a gentle smile, I had now regained my composure, by then. As he hugged me quickly, and promised to write as often as he could. Then Ralph and he walked up the train and were gone. I watched the train…..
“Miss Shirley..” said Bertha suddenly, distracting me from my thoughts and memories. I turned and saw a very familiar person walk on the train, Henry.
“Henry!” I exclaimed, as I hurriedly walked towards my brother, who was picking up his small suitcase. He looked the exact same, maybe a little older, but still the same dark haired and blue eyed person two years ago.
“Shirley!?” he asked when I reached him, he did seem more different now, come to think of it. He seemed more serious and quiet.
“Of course!” I laughed as I hugged him. He smiled and hugged me back. “My, you look a lot older, and taller.” he laughed, as he gestured with his hands.
“You know that it’s cruel to tease a woman of her age. And yes I grew.” I said with a smile, he was changed but still Henry. Bertha had now reached us, and began welcoming Henry, warmly. I stood back a little and smiled. Henry was home, at last! The future seemed a tad bit brighter.
“Shirley, where is mother and father?” asked Henry, as we led him towards the streetcar. I was not at all ready to answer that question, what could I say: our father barely leaves his study or speaks, and our mother is in bed most days, and does not acknowledge anyone? So I quickly came up with something.
“Mother is not feeling so well, so father decided to stay and take care of her.” I replied. That was mostly true, my mother was not well. But the part of my father was false, my father avoided my mother at all times these days, unless it was dealing with her doctor.
“Oh dear. What does she have? Is it serious?” he asked with concern, which made his already big blue eyes even bigger.
“No it’s not serious, not even a cold, I am not sure exactly, but I think it might have to do with her poor lungs.” I replied, this was also partially true, my mother was not seriously ill physically, more mentally, and she did have poor lungs.
“Oh dear, I hope she gets well soon.” he said, absentmindedly. At this moment Bertha began glaring at me. I probably deserved it, lying to my brother about our parent’s situation. I would probably get a lecture when Henry’s out of ear shot.
Before we boarded the streetcar, Bertha pulled me aside. “This is none of my business, but lying to your dear brother like that. What got into you?” she asked sternly, not angrily, which was a relief.
“Bertha, what could I say?” I asked, trying to enter the car.
“At least be more honest next time.” she replied sadly, as she entered the car alongside me. I ignored her as I watched the buildings roll by.