First Love


I’D just as soon, every bit, hear somebody say, ‘Our barn caught fire the year I was seventeen and near burned to the ground,’ and then laugh, as to hear anybody go on about puppy love as though’t was somethin’ funny. After havin’ Lila with us that summer and seein’ how it took that girl down, that’s how I come to feel about it.

Lila’s so little related to us that she’s no relation at all, practically. A cousin of George’s and Lila’s father married cousins, I think it was. I’d never so much as seen a one of them, myself, and I certainly was floored when George come home from a sale and said he’d been talkin’ to Lila’s father there and that he wanted me to sit right down and write and ask Lila’s mother to let her come and stay with us for the summer.

I did n’t know, o’course, how things were, and I was n’t exactly tickled about the idea, but George said I’d pretty near have to because he’d told Lila’s father I was goin’ to. George was just askin’ about the folks, like he would, and the ages of the children, and said something about wishin’ we had some of our own, and that they might lend him a girl. And Lila’s father took him right up on it and said he thought it could be fixed so’s we could have one for the summer. What was George to do, he says. I told him I supposed he could n’t do nothing, bein’ the man he is, and I wrote — wrote right away — and Lila’s mother wrote back so relieved and grateful I was glad I did.

She said she was n’t aimin’ to foist one of the children off on anybody, but somethin’ had to be done, and that pretty soon. She said that the oldest one, Lila, — she was seventeen, — had gone and fallen in love with a neighbor boy of a family they had n’t any of them spoken to in twenty-three years, — and for good reason, — and was n’t any of them ever going to. She said Lila was a good girl and had n’t ever been contrary or headstrong about anything else at all except that, and she’d been in love with the boy for two years, and try as they would they could n’t seem to break it up entirely, and she thought the best thing would be to get Lila clear away and out of the county, and if we could take her for the summer it would be a great accommodation.

I wrote Lila was to come, o’ course, and I fixed up the upstairs room in the ell for her, and her father brought her to a hog sale both him and George was goin’ to and George fetched her on home — her and her luggage.

I seen George had taken to the girl right away, and I took to her myself and I don’t see how anybody could help but. She was a tall, long-legged girl, slim, and awfully graceful in the way she’d get around. That was one of the first things you’d notice about her, how easy and fight she was gettin’ around. I can see her yet, the way she’d turn from the worktable to the cupboard to put up a dish — just an easy swing, so pretty! She had nice hair, brown, with a wave in it. That’s all I ever saw her show any vanity about, though she was nice enough lookin’ in every way. But she’d stand in front of the kitchen glass, brushin’ her hair and pushin’ the wave in with the edge of her hand, and always so sober at it.

She was good help. Actually, I was ashamed to have her do so much, just stayin’ with us like that, and not hired or anything, and a kind of a relative like she was. Anyway, I was afraid she’d overdo, she was so slight. It would n’t ’ve been so bad if she’d a eat her meals, but she would n’t. Could n’t, I guess. George was at her all the time to eat more. And he’d keep sayin’ to me, why did n’t we get her on a tonic — she’d go into T.B. or somethin’.

She was quiet. If you asked her anything, she’d talk, and pleasant enough, but she was goin’ around workin’ all the time and thinkin’ and thinkin’. It ain’t natural for a young girl to work that hard or to be thinkin’ like that all the time, either. We knew she was grievin’, but she did n’t talk, and we did n’t ask her nothin’ or let on like we knew a thing. I thought it might do her good to talk about it, but George was sure it was best not to bring it up or to let on we knew, even.

Well, she’d write letters. Up in her room, she’d write ’em at night, and then in the mornin’ she’d come and put ’em in the range. Burn ’em up, almost every morning! Whether she just could n’t make up her mind what it was she wanted to say (o’ course she was writin’ to that boy), or whether she was n’t just sure she wanted to write at all, I don’t know. Maybe her folks had told her she was n’t to write him. I don’t know.

But one night I come up to her room to take her something, and she was sittin’ up in bed writin’ and she shoved the tablet and all under the covers. And I says, ‘ If I was you, Lila, I’d send that one.’ And she says, ‘Maybe I will!’ And next morning she took the letter out to the road and waited for the mailman, to hand it to him herself, instead of leavin’ it stuck under the mail-box flag, like we do.

After that she was more cheerful. She’d go round whistlin’ under her breath, but never out loud, and listenin’ all the mornin’ long, until he come, for the mailman.


She got two letters from that boy. Just two. And I won’t forget the morning the first one come. We was puttin’ up the cherries. Lila was pickin’ ’em and I was sittin’ on the back porch pittin’ ’em. She was up in a tree when the mailman come — had on a blue dress. She seen him stop from up in the tree where she was — she was in our biggest tree — and she hung the pail on the top of the ladder and took hold of a limb — could n’t wait to come down the ladder — and swung down and out and then dropped. Did n’t hurt her! But I thought when I saw her hangin’ there, just before she dropped, how little through she was. She was n’t any thicker than — well, you would n’t believe how thin she was. She run around and out to the gate to get the mail, and she did n’t come back right away, and I wondered had something happened. And then I heard her coming through the kitchen, runnin’, and then, next thing, she was there behind me, and her arms around me, rockin’ me from one side to the other, and sayin’ over and over, fairly singin’, ‘He wrote to me! He sent me a letter. He’s comin’!’ Why, she wasn’t the same person at all. She danced and whirled around. She was just in a transport.

She said she was goin’ to get dinner by herself. I could go on pittin’ cherries if I liked, and she hugged me some more.

And when George come in for dinner, if she had n’t fried a chicken and made a cherry pie and put on the good dishes. George made a fuss, o’ course, and My-my-my’d around like he will, and asked who was cornin’, and Lila said, ‘Nobody. It’s just a celebration!’ And George asked her what she was celebratin’.

And she set there with her elbows on the table, lookin’ down and fiddlin’ with a fork, turnin’ it over and over, and says, ‘I got a letter from my sweetheart! ’

And George says, ‘That so? What’s his name?’ and she let loose and told us all about him — how they met first by her startin’ over toward his place to take ’em some mail that had been left in their box by mistake, and he was fixin’ the fence by the road and well out o’ sight of either his folks’ place or hers, — she was on her pony, — and he come down to the road and they talked, and she liked him and he liked her. They knew they could n’t start goin’ together, open, so they fixed it to meet, and they did meet, one place and another. Went skatin’, sometimes, the two of them by their selves, down on the river. Their places was both near the river. ’T was early winter when they first talked there by the road and set their hearts on secin’ each other. They’d meet when they could.

But that’s such an open country over there! I don’t see how anybody could ever keep anything from anybody! Their folks was bound to get wind of it, and they did, and after that Lila’s folks would n’t let her put her nose outside the house, hardly, unless someone had a hold of her. And his was almost as bad. Never’d let him have the car alone. He was an only boy, and they kep’ track of his every move.

Lila told George and me all about it, there at dinner. Not like she felt the need of confidin’ to get us on her side, — I think she felt the Lord and all the Host was on her side that day, — but like she just had to speak out and would’ve if there’d not been a soul on the place. I never saw a girl happier — never. He was comin’ to see her, he’d written — comin’ Sunday, that next Sunday. That was a Tuesday, I think.

Lila, she lit in and changed everything around in both the livin’ room and the dinin’ room. She’d a changed the kitchen too, I think, if she could a budged the range. She did slide the worktable under the other window. George is no hand to like the furniture moved. He wants to have everything so he could go away and be gone five years and come in in the dark and lay his hand right on the bedpost. But he never said boo. That girl could do what she pleased. It looked nice, too.

I took her into town and had her pick herself out the goods and made her a dress — tissue gingham, it was, pink, with a tiny white check in it, and puffed sleeves and a square neck with lace edgin’ on both. And she was the sweetest thing in it!

She picked and brought in all the flowers there was but some by the walk.

But he did n’t come. We got a good dinner and waited and waited, and when, by two, he did n’t show up, Lila went off upstairs and shut her door and George and me set down to two chickens, alone, and ate precious little.

Lila, she come back downstairs when she heard me doin’ the dishes and took the dish towel and begun to wipe, and she says, ‘I’ve not cried, and I ain’t goin’ to. He said he’d come, and I know he meant to, and somethin’ prevented, that’s all. He’ll write.’

But he did n’t. Not for some time. Not a line. Lila, she’d go out to the mail box every morning, rain or shine. She could n’t bear for anybody else to go, and when she’d come in without her letter her face would be set ahead, already, on the next mornin’ and the next mail. One day she says to me, ‘Do you suppose somethin’ could a happened to his letter — it got lost or somethin’?’

It was sad to see, and George said it was like we’d dreamed it, those few little days she was so happy.


Then, at last, there come that other letter. He was n’t breakin’ it off definite; just said that he thought maybe ’t would be better if they’d not write for a while, and if she’d not count on his comin’ to see her — and that he was tired to death of trouble to home. His folks, they’d been workin’ on him, I suppose. He was the only son, and that big place comin’ to him, and his mother takin’ on so about him goin’ against ’em and wantin’ a girl from a family they was dead set against and could n’t get on with. He just give in, I guess. Anyway, he did n’t write again.

If she wrote him or not, I don’t know, but she did n’t give up hope he’d send some word or come. She did n’t make no ado, but, land, she took it hard. She’d not eat much and I know she was n’t gettin’ her sleep, but she worked. She just drove herself, never let down. And all the time, no matter what she was at, thinkin’ and thinkin’.

I remember one time she was churnin’ — we had one of them flip-flop churns then, that you turn with a wheel — and she was sittin’ there by the window, churnin’, and turnin’ the wheel, and all at once she stopped, and I says (I was workin’ at somethin’ and my back was to her), ‘Has the butter come, Lila?’ and she, like someone in pain and sick, and sufferin’ more than’s to be borne, cries, ‘Oh, I can’t think of the butter! Do you suppose anybody ever felt like this?’

She’d laid her hands together on the wheel and her forehead on ’em. ‘I don’t know, Lila,’ I said. ‘I suppose so. I did n’t, ’cause I did n’t have a call to, myself.’

I thought maybe ’t would case her to talk about somebody else. ‘I was seventeen,’ I says, ‘and George, he come home with our boys and they was all pole-vaultin’ out by the barn. I saw ’em out there, and I took a pitcher of buttermilk and some gingerbread — ’t was all we had in the house — and took ’em out to the boys and they made us acquainted, George and me, and he was underfoot from that time forth.’

One day a man come takin’ pictures, come just at dinner time, and Lila went to the door and he asked her could he take a picture of the hollyhocks, ’cause he thought they was the highest he’d ever seen, and they were nice. She turned and asked us, and George said, ‘Go ahead.’

Then he asked why could n’t Lila come out and stand in front of them to show off how tall they were, and George thought that was a good idea and I told her to run upstairs and put on a good dress, and she come down in that tissue gingham. We went out to watch him take the picture, and he says to Lila when he got her standin’ just the way he wanted, and posed right, ‘Smile!’ And she smiled for him, and he says, ‘Oh, now, really smile. Give us a big smile. Look like you was happy!’

Lila looked over to George and me, and George, I never saw him act so to a stranger. He says to that fellow, ‘She don’t have to smile. You say “smile” again and I’ll kick you and your traps right through that gate!’ and stood there by him, breathin’ hard, while he took the picture. Then the fellow said he’d send the proof pictures when he’d developed ’em and we could say how many we’d like fixed.

I was in my room sewin’, I remember, when Lila come in with the mail that brought them picture proofs. She had got a letter from her folks, and was readin’ it to herself, and never noticed, and I took a look at that picture proof, and her smilin’, standin’ there in front of them hollyhocks, and honestly, I never saw anything that took hold of me more. Sad! I didn’t want Lila to see it, nor George, neither. It seems like there’s things that come to a person and you don’t really see, lookin’ at ’em, how much it’s done to ’em, like you do when you look at their picture. And that was a true picture of Lila, too, and pretty. I put it back in the envelope and stuffed it down in under the quilt scraps in the quilt-scrap box that was open beside me on the floor, and she never noticed.


One night it come up a thunder shower and I went down and closed the windows and come up and went in Lila’s room, not wanting to wake her if the storm had n’t, to shut down her window, and there she was, up, and over by the window, in her nightgown.

The window was up, but the rain was from the other way and none of it cornin’ in, and I says, ‘Lila, what you doin’, up, and in the window, this time o’ night?’

And she says, ‘Nothing. Just thinking.’

And I said, feelin’ that maybe to talk a little would do her good, ‘What you thinkin’ about, Lila?’

‘About love.’ And then she went on and told me what she’d been thinkin’. She said she thought that all the love that was wasted was likely stored up some place, and kept on hand, and then, when anybody new fell in love, it was some of that that he got, some from all that was stored up. Else how would it be, when it come, stronger and sharper and different from anything that had ever been in a body’s life before?

I told her she might be right, that I’d no way o’ knowin’, and to get back in bed or she’d catch cold; and I stayed to cover her good.

And when I went back to bed George was awake, for a wonder. Usually he ’ll sleep through any amount of thunder, and I told him about Lila wonderin’ and thinkin’ up there by herself like that, and what she’d told o’ how she thought it was, and George, he said, ‘Well, maybe it’s so. But if it is, it’s pretty strong silage for yearlin’s.’

And you know Lila did catch cold! Whether from sittin’ in that window or not I don’t know, but she got a real bad cold and I made her stay in bed with it. It seemed to weaken her. She was in bed several days, and one day George, he come down from goin’ up to take her a couple of Spotty’s kittens that had just got their eyes open, and he come out in the kitchen and says, ‘What we goin’ to do with that girl? She looks bad.’

And I said I had n’t an idea, that I thought’t would be nice for her to get out with young people a little, if I knew any I thought she’d feel at home with and like, but I did n’t, seemed to me. And George said, ‘There’s the King boys. There’s Thed and Stella King’s boys. Why don’t you ask ’em over?’

Well, the Kings are fine people and their boys was all right, but never in the world the kind you’d think Lila would like at all, or even put up with, but I looked at George, standin’ there flippin’ some corn off ’n a cob he’d picked up from the basket and was fiddlin’ with, and I knew, I knew to look at him, that that was an idea of his he’d been thinkin’ about some time and had set his heart on. The Kings is related to him, too; him and Thed are cousins; but they ain’t the same branch at all as Lila’s folks. Other side of the house entirely.

I did n’t have any notion it would do Lila any good, but I went to the phone and called Stella King and asked them over for dinner Sunday — the whole outfit. Then I went upstairs and told Lila we was havin’ to have some of George’s folks in for Sunday dinner and I hoped she’d feel good enough to come to the table, whether she felt like eatin’ anything or not. Half an hour and she was downstairs and in the kitchen, askin’ me which I wanted, a chocolate layer or an angel food.

Those Kings was actually the noisiest outfit I ever saw, and that’s a fact. I should think Stella would a lost her mind. Scuffle, scuffle, all the time, and whoop and fool around. Stella could n’t have a good rug. That’s true! Them boys would rip the seams right out of ’em, wrasslin’. No girls — five boys. Theirs is fine people and awful well thought of, always have been, but when they got to clownin’ there was n’t nothin’ those boys would n’t do. They got it from their grandfather, Thed’s father. And Thed had his share, himself. Those boys was a-clownin’ before they was all in the door. Lila, I had n’t told her a word about how they’d be, or that two of them was grown, or anything. She just stood there, wringin’ her hands and lookin’ from one to the other.

At the table, when she’d get up to bring in somethin’ hot, there her apron strings was tied to the chair, and when she come back to the table her plate had disappeared entirely, and with the two oldest of ’em, one on one side and one on the other, she certainly did n’t have any time to think of her troubles, not for a minute. And after dinner the two of them started helpin’ her carry out the dishes. The King boys was all good to help in the house, there bein’ no girls, and Stella was goin’ to help too, and I said, ‘ No, let’s let the young ones do it. We’ve served our day.’ And we went in the front room and talked with George and Thed. But Stella was so nervous.

‘If I know them noises,’ she says, ‘them boys is tossin’ plates, just like they do to home, and I’d better get out there!’

And George says, ‘Leave ’em be; they won’t do no harm, I guess.’ And us usin’ his mother’s plates, too, that day, what there was left of them! I seen he was puttin’ a lot of store on his idea workin’ out.


And the wonder is, it did work out. If there’d been just one of them boys, instead of two, makin’ over her, I don’t think Lila’d a had a thing to do with him. She’d a sent him on his way. But the two of ’em comin’ like they did, right along, after that Sunday we had ’em all over, and both of them so full of the devil, and always thinkin’ up somethin’, and never bein’ serious — somehow there did n’t seem to be nothin’ to fight against, and so when they’d come for her, she’d go. Oh, they’d usually bring another girl, and almost always it would be a different girl. But they did n’t fight over her. They taught her to dance, and she’d never learned before. She seemed to take a real pleasure in it, and by herself she’d dance around the livin’ room, sometimes, to the phonograph. And yet her face would be just as sober. She was quiet still, and never said much.

One day she was washin’ dishes and I saw her smilin’ to herself, and it seemed such a long time since I d seen her do that, and I says, ‘Penny for your thoughts, Lila.’

And she says, ‘Oh, it’s nothin’. I was just rememberin’ somethin’ funny one of the boys said last night.’

I asked her which it was and she said, ‘Bill, I think.’

Later the other one started goin’ with the Hotchkiss girl, steady, and Lila liked her real well, and so the four of them would plan and go places together. Lila went quite a bit that fall and winter. Bill’d keep her laughin’ half the time, seemed like, when he was around. But he could be serious when he got ready to, all right.

Lila’s folks wrote in October they thought it would be all right for her to come on home, and I did n’t want her to go and neither did George, so without sayin’ anything to her about it I wrote we wanted to keep her on. George, he told me to put in for him that he was feedin’ that girl through the winter and was goin’ to put some meat on her. And so it was settled she was to stay on. She never said anything about goin’ home, herself.

One night in March, — it was after a real nice day, — Lila’d been out with Bill some place, and when she come home she come on up to our room and come on in and set on the edge of the bed, and never said a word but just, ‘Look,’ and put out her hand where the moon would shine on it and there was a ring sparklin’ on it. I just cried, I was so pleased. Bill’s a fine boy and he comes from an awful good family. I woke George and he was just as pleased and proud as I was. Had to tell over again to Lila how Bill was related to him, and tried to get me to say he’d been the very picture of Bill when he was his age. Well, there was a resemblance, that’s a fact.

I asked Lila right out, she was so quiet; I said, ‘Lila, are you happy?’ She put her hand with the ring on her knee, and the other one over it, and was still for a little, and then she says, ‘Yes. Yes, I am.’ And she kissed us both and went off to bed.

They was married that summer and went to live over beyond the Kings’, quite a ways.

We did n’t see her often, nor talk with her. They’re on a different line, and if you try to call through you may have to spend half a mornin’ at the phone. We meant to go over, but we just did n’t get around to it. I went over, o’ course, when her first, the boy, was born. Took a little quilt and a tendollar gold piece George had made a special trip in to the bank to get. I was awfully glad to see Lila.

Their house is little, but real comfortable, and she had such a nice lot of things fixed for the baby. He was a fine boy and she could hardly take her eyes off of him. Bill was clear silly about him too. She was still abed when I come. I looked at her lyin’ there with the baby and I said, ‘ Lila, you were a pretty girl, but now you’re simply handsome!’ That was the truth. I went home feelin’ awfully good about her.

When the little girl come, for some reason I could n’t get over, — had company or somethin’, — but I sent something, and another gold piece, and wrote the message George wanted sent along with it: ‘Lila, you’ll break me.’


Thanksgiving of that year, a couple of weeks before, George said why did n’t we have Lila and Bill and the babies over for Thanksgiving dinner. It seemed such a shame we’d let years, like that, slip by and us not had them with us. But you know how you ’ll do, even with folks you think a lot of. I set down and wrote her, askin’ ’em, and she wrote they’d be glad to come and she’d try to get there early enough to help me with the dinner, and could n’t she bring something, the pies or something?

It was a cold day, that Thanksgiving, and I thought George would roast us out o’ house and home he had such a hot fire goin’, and was fidgetin’ around fixin’ rugs rolled in front of the doors so’s not the slightest draft would get in along the floor and cool those babies.

They come, and o’ course at first it was all for the babies, gettin’ ’em out o’ their wraps and havin’ a good look at them. George was feelin’ their hands and feet and was scared they’d froze. Why, they was toasty!

When I did get around to take a good look at Lila I could hardly believe my eyes, she’d changed so. She’d filled out, put on a good thirty pounds, I do believe, since she was with us. But she was n’t too heavy for her height, and she carried it awful well. She was just a big woman, and so handsome. You’d take hold of her arm and it was so firm and round. It took me a while to get used to her bein’ changed so.

George, he had a blanket warmed and had made a little nest for the baby of half the pillows in the house piled up in one end of the lounge, and set there lookin’ at her and burrin’ his lips for her, and makin’ foolish faces and noises for her. The boy they turned loose and let run. He was into everything, and the cutest little tike — looked like his father.

Lila, she come right out in the kitchen and reached for an apron and went right to work. It certainly was nice to hear her sayin’, ‘Is that one of Spotty’s kittens?’ and ‘Shall we use the big platter or the blue?’

Changed as she was, it seemed like she had n’t been away. She talked more’n she used to, quite a bit, but Lila never was what you could call a real talker. She was more a thinkin’ person, but sometimes she’d tell you all about what she’d been thinkin’. She went on about the babies, and the sewin’ she was doin’ for ’em, and how some of her beans spoiled she put up a new way, and about the place they was on, and Bill and all — laughin’ and talkin’. And I thought to myself, with her there at the stove beatin’ potatoes and askin’ which was the cream she was to use in ’em, ‘What time can do! Even just a little time. And did n’t being in that kitchen call it all back to her mind?’ It seemed not.

When we got the dinner on the table, George was bound he was goin’ to hold the little baby, but Lila said she’d better hold her, if she had to be held. It seemed George felt they must all be up to the table, so he brought in cushions and books and fixed a place for the boy to sit by him. We had an awfully good dinner. Bill, he got to cuttin’ up, in true King fashion, like he used to when he and his brother was cornin’ to see Lila, and then the little boy took it up and started in monkeyshinin’ and showin’ off a little, and Bill sobers right down and says, ‘Here, Son, that’s enough!’

And Lila laughed and winked at me, noddin’ toward Bill, and I thought, watchin’ her, with her face so round and rosy, and that pretty babe squirmin’ in her lap, and her not mindin’ but managin’ to eat, and laughin’ to herself between bites about her man callin’ down her little boy for doin’ just what his dad did, what a fine and pretty woman she was. And I remembered her hangin’ from that cherry tree limb, ready to drop and run out to get her letter, and so eager. ’T was strange.


They stayed until dusk, and when Bill was sayin’ they just must go Lila thought of somethin’ she’d meant especially to ask me: if I had any light green scraps, gingham or percale, that I did n’t need, ’cause she was makin’ a quilt for the little boy’s bed and needed more.

I said I thought I had and we’d see. We went upstairs in the ell room to look. Nobody in it, I’d been usin’ that room as a place to put things. It was kind o’ cluttered, but I knew Lila would n’t mind. I had boxes and pokes full of scraps settin’ around. We’d just got up there when George come puffin’ up with the oil stove and lit it for us so’s we would n’t be cold. He went back down and Lila and I was lookin’ through the boxes and I lifted one up and emptied it out on the bed, and told her to look for herself.

I was lookin’ in a poke to see what I’d put in it, and she was lookin’ in that stuff emptied out on the bed, the stuff that was in the box. And all at once she got up and went over to the window, and I seen she had something in her hand and was lookin’ at it close. It was that old picture that young man come along and took of her with the hollyhocks. She looked at it, standin’ there at the window to get the little light there was, and then she laid her arm along the window sash, and her head down on it, and cried — just sobbed aloud. I never heard a woman cry so, except for the dead. I went and took that picture out o’ her hand. Though it was faded out some, still you could see her in front of those hollyhocks, so slight and young, smilin’ for her picture, and yet all the hurt and wonderin’ in her face. It was a true likeness.

I put my arms around her and said, ‘Lila, girl, don’t cry like that.’ And we stood there and in a minute she let up cryin’, and was lookin’ up at the light, pattern the oil stove threw on the ceilin’. It was quite dusk then. And when she was n’t sobbin’ any more I says, ‘Lila, ain’t you happy with Bill?’

And she wiped her eyes on my apron, and says, ‘Of course. I’m happy. I was just remembering, that’s all. It just come over me — the way it was.’