Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1800s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. The books are available from Lintern for $25 a set, tax and shipping included. Each book is about 120 pages written for intermediate readers (4th grade) with local illustrations. Volume I is Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II is Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III is Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV is Mr. Gamble Starts a School. Volume V is Jacob Blows his Horn. Volume VI is Cassie Fights the War. Volume VII is Emilene Adopts Her Family. Volume VIII is David Dances the Bases.
“Mama and Papa are coming for supper tonight,” Mother said as breakfast was finishing.
“Miss Vasbinder, too, and her brother, David.
“Maybe Jacob and Aunt Lucinda, as well.”
Time to stretch out the table.
“Why is everyone coming?” Natalie asked her Mother.
“The Vasbinders have their fountain almost ready for Central Park and we want a big celebration when it’s time,” she said.
“But why come here?”
“I think everyone wants to get out to the country and see Spring bursting out,” she replied. “I will need you to set the table, after we add the leaves.”
We’ll make it nicer than Central Park!
Natalie liked decorating, too, and was happy to be in charge of the table.
Mother’s gingham tablecloth, with Great-Grandpappy’s candleholders, and flowers from beside the creek; they just came up, she thought.
And, why don’t I build them a fountain in the middle of the table? I can make little pebble-lined pathways to each seat.
“I’ll take care of everything, Mother,” she said.
“I’m sure you will. We like your ideas,” Mother said.
“Most of the time,” she added, smiling.
Natalie helped her Mother add the table leaves, something usually requiring Father’s help, and spread the red and white gingham tablecloth; it is the only cloth long enough to cover the whole table.
Then she went to work.
She polished the four single candle sticks, trimmed candles that she had helped Mother make during the winter, scouted out the location of yellow and blue flowers just appearing by the creek for cutting later in the day, then set about finding a skirtful of little pebbles of several colors, washing and polishing each one to make pathways from the center of the table.
Then came the fountain.
“Do you need this bowl for the meal?”
“No, I think not.”
“How about this pitcher?”
“Yes, I expect so.”
“Couldn’t you use the smaller one, Mother?”
“Yes, I guess. How about this saucer, or this one?”
“How about your sugar scoop?”
“By suppertime, I suppose not. So, what is this all for?”
“The centerpiece,” Natalie smiled.
Mother gave a confused but accommodating look.
“Just remember to leave room on the table for plates and silverware,” she said.
“I will,” Nat smiled.
“And food,” she said.
Natalie rolled her eyes and drooped her shoulders as she dramatically and slowly said, “Fine, if you want someplace for your food, I suppose I can arrange that.”
Mother shook her head and smiled as she turned around to sift flour for a mix that soon would become corn bread.
The fountain took shape quickly, once Natalie had gathered the utensils, but she still needed a figure for the top of the fountain. Her rag doll was too flimsy, and the porcelain princess that Aunt Amelia had sent her dare not sit atop a pile of kitchen pans.
Natalie settled on a simple straw doll, stuffed into the rag doll’s dress and with tiny pebbly eyes and a stick nose.
Not nearly what I had imagined, but it will have a good effect on everyone.
That project completed, Natalie decided to gather her flowers and stroll around outside until the company arrived in a couple of hours. The creek nearby was filling its banks from a recent rain, and Natalie thought it would be good for her to rescue the flowers from potential flooding; she carefully arranged them and admired her work, then decided to climb the big oak to watch for the guests.
Natalie was a climber, something her Mother said was a Zimmerman trait, except for Cassie, who was scared of heights.
The old oak had been around a century before the Oakland Inn was even built, and that was more than 50 years ago. Although the first branch was nearly 20 feet off the ground, the roof of the house provided an access to one branch that allowed Natalie to ascend to dizzying heights and although Mother was understandably nervous, she just shook her head and looked away when Natalie started climbing.
As she said, it was a Zimmerman trait.
I probably should be wearing pants.
Natalie found it a bit awkward to have so much material flowing around her waist and legs as she stepped from branch to branch, although she was glad to have long sleeves as the new blooms on the branches grabbed at her.
The view was magnificent, better with each branch climbed, and her goal was to get high enough to be able to see Mama and Papa’s buggy as it made its way down West Diamond north from downtown, and along the State Road out to the road that led past Uncle John’s old house to the farm.
The foliage made viewing harder, but Natalie saw a spot a few branches higher that would make viewing perfect. It was a new climb, but everything seemed secure as she found a perch and looked.
And there they were, making their way north, with Uncle Jacob’s carriage behind.
I’ll watch until they turn east, then work my way down. That will get me down in time to greet them as they arrive.
And then she heard a “crack.”