Strength, Love and Grace by Lindsey Curtis
Before Larry was shipped off to the Army base in Fort Meade Maryland, Grace was going to purchase him a gold wedding band to remind him of her love and their vows. They married in such a whirlwind after Larry proposed to her, she didn’t have the time to shop for her beloved’s ring.
Grace had a job at Betty’s Boutique, a store that only carried ladies clothing. She had a savings account at The First National Bank in downtown China Grove for the last five years. Now, she was glad that she had the discipline to put her a little stash of money away on a weekly basis. Grace withdrew the money she needed on her mid morning break while Betty could cover for her.
Tuesday’s at Betty’s Boutique were always slow and Grace was elated that she had gotten off at two o’clock, early enough to take care of all of her errands. She planned to stop by the same jewelry store that her friend Ruth had told her about, Pearl’s Jewelry in Landis.
Entering the jewelry store, she saw a pretty redhead dusting off counters. The lady came around to the front of the counter to greet her.
“Hello, I’m Pearl. Is there something I can help you with today?”
Grace smiled, “Hello, I’m Grace. As a matter of fact, I’m sure you can. I just got married three days ago and everything just happened so fast, I didn’t have time to buy my husband a wedding ring. I was looking for a yellow gold wedding band, fourteen carat and a size twelve.”
“You’re right, I can help you. I have some plain gold bands and some that has some intricate detailing around the exterior of the band. Most are size ten, eleven and twelve.”
Pearl reached down to the middle shelf and pulled out a tray of wedding rings for men. Grace peered at all the bands. Some looked far too dainty for Larry’s large hands and fingers.
Pearl glanced at the rings on Grace’s wedding finger and thought she recognized the engagement ring and wedding band as the rings she had recently sold to a nice guy named Larry.
Pearl had to ask,”Your rings are lovely. Did you marry a guy named, Larry?”
Grace grinned, “Yes, I did. I came by your store because my best friend Ruth recommended your store to me. Do you know my husband?”
“No, I don’t actually know him, but he purchased your rings at my store.”
“Well, he has good taste. I love my rings. And, I think I have found the perfect wedding band for him. I think I like this one.”
Pearl looked at the medium thick band Grace held in her right hand between her two fingers.
She said, “I think you made a nice choice. I like the width you chose, too. Okay, Grace I will put this in a box and bag it up for you. I will give you a receipt just in case it doesn’t fit. I give all my customers fourteen days to return their merchandise and get their money back, or trade it in for another one.”
Gazing down at her wedding rings, Grace said,“Thank you, Pearl. I’m so glad Ruth told me about your wonderful store and that someone recommended your store to my husband because I love my wedding rings.”
Pearl said, “It is better to have good quality gems than a large quantity of gems that look like something from the five and dime. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, Grace.”
“I know what you’re talking about – cut, clarity and carat. My friend Ruth taught me about that. That woman loves jewelry. I’m telling you, she would sell her own mother for a pretty ring.”
At that comment, Pearl and Grace burst out laughing.
As Pearl handed Grace her purchase, she said, “Grace thank you for coming by. I hope Larry likes his ring and come back to see me.”
Grace said, “Thank you, Pearl, I will and I will bring that crazy gal Ruth with me next time. Law, look at the time. I need to have Larry’s supper on the table and I still need to go by the market. Thanks a mill, Pearl! Bye now!”
Still giggling, Pearl said, “You’re welcome! Bye!”
Grace felt better now that she had gotten Larry a wedding ring. She put the few groceries she had bought in the cabinet and the pork chops in the small refrigerator. Grace wanted to relax and have a cigarette before cooking supper. The smoke curled around in the room as she was deep in thought.
Sounds of the kids playing next door echoed through the open kitchen window. They were jumping rope in the road. Little girl squeals and the weight of the old tattered rope whacking the pavement, reminded Grace of her own childhood.
Her cousins on their maternal side, the Hunt’s came down with their parents from Lexington, North Carolina to visit in the spring and summer months. Grace’s parents garden always had a bounty of fruits and vegetables to share with their families and neighbors.
Usually there was some pulling hair before the girl cousins left to go back home. Their cousin Dotty wasn’t nice like her older siblings, she liked to cuss and bully Grace and Clara. Grace had a more passive personality and Clara didn’t mind fighting. Dotty got the worst end of the deal every time she fought Clara.
Grace couldn’t help laughing every time she thought of Clara and Dotty fighting while growing up in the good ole days.
Dotty always took off running to her pappy with a bloody nose or a big bruise somewhere on her body. If she had any sense, she wouldn’t have messed with Clara. It was like Dotty was just asking for a beating and Clara was more than happy to give it to her. Even moving in to adulthood, Dotty Marie Hunt had trouble getting along with people for some reason.
She stubbed out her cigarette in the clear glass ash tray and went to the kitchen sink to wash her hands to prepare supper.
Grace rinsed the pork chops off and blotted them with paper towels before dusting them with flour and a few shakes of salt and pepper. The oil in the frying pan was sizzling at just the right temperature.
She placed them in the black iron skillet to brown, covering them with a metal lid to tenderize, then turning them with a spatula. The fresh green beans her mother had canned from last summer, simmered in a pot with a little bit of fat back grease for flavor. The cubed potatoes were tender enough to whisk in butter, cream, salt and pepper. If Larry wanted dessert, Grace had homemade applesauce her mother had also canned.
Grace was setting the table when she heard an old pick-up pull in to the dirt driveway. It was Cecil Larson, Larry’s cousin dropping him off. He had been helping Cecil on some construction jobs before he left for the Army.
Grace struck a match and was lighting two white tapered candles that sat atop the the small metal table as Larry walked through the front door. He look very tired and sweaty, but was glad to be home to his wife.
Larry grinned, “Hey babe! I smell something good, what did you fix that smells so good?”
Grace was smiling because her man was finally home. “Pork chops, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, rolls and applesauce for dessert.”
Larry blew Grace a kiss. “Babe, I’m so dirty, can I get a quick shower before supper? I won’t be too long.”
She said, “Sure, babe. I picked up some Coca~Colas at the store. Would you like Coke or tea?”
“A Coke would be good,” he said.
Grace was humming as she set napkins, salt, pepper and some butter in a light blue butter dish on the table. She couldn’t wait to surprise him after supper with his wedding ring she had bought him.
Larry walked in to the small kitchen, freshly showered and had changed in to a light green cotton tee shirt and casual tan pants. Grace still had on her yellow polka dotted dress and low heeled white pumps she had worn to work at the boutique that morning. Larry loved seeing his wife in her pretty dresses.
She made their plates and placed them on the table. There was only two metal chairs around the metal table in the modest kitchen, but it was clean. The mixed flowers in a milky glass vase sat on the window sill, smelling sweet and like spring.
Larry sat across the table from Grace devouring the delicious meal she had prepared.
Larry buttered his roll and said, “Babe, this meal is so good, it would make a hound dog break it’s chain!”
Grace laughed, “I’m glad you are enjoying it sweetie. It didn’t take that long to prepare. After we eat, I will wash dishes and we can spend some time together in the living room.”
“That sounds good, babe. Cecil had to stop for gas and I picked up a newspaper I’d like to scan through.”
“Okay, Larry, it won’t take me long. Relax and I will be in there shortly.”
Grace quickly put away the food in the refrigerator, washed and dried the dishes and silverware. She rinsed her dish rag under the faucet to wipe down the table, counters and stove.
She reached behind the Morton salt box and grabbed the black box that contained the gold band. Grace cupped her hand around it before stepping in to the sparsely decorated living room. It only held a brown sofa, matching chair, coffee table and a tall metal lamp with an ivory shade, thin as parchment paper that had seen better days.
When Larry saw Grace, he folded his newspaper and laid it to the side.
Larry smiled and said, “Come and sit beside me, babe. How was your day?”
Grace sat close beside him, “I had a pretty good day. Betty closed the boutique a little early. Tuesday’s business is always slow.”
Larry squinted his eyes as the last rays of sun came through the slats of the venetian blinds.
“So what did you do after you got off work? Did you stop by to see Ruth?”
Grace’s lips curved in t a big smile. “No, I went and picked you up a little surprise.”
Larry was smiling now. “Well, you didn’t have to do that, but since you did, what did you get me?”
Grace opened her right hand that revealed a black velvet box just like the one her engagement ring and wedding band came in that Larry had given her.
She said, “Look, I felt terrible not having a wedding band to give you when we got married… Ruth told me about that new little jewelry store called Pearl’s Jewelry. I met the owner, Pearl and she’s real nice and sells great quality jewelry, too.” As she said this, she twirled her wedding rings around on her left ring finger.
Larry laughed and said, “Yes, I met Pearl when I went to buy your rings. And she is a really nice lady. She was very helpful and I’m sure she could tell I didn’t know anything about jewelry.”
Grace opened the box and took out the shiny gold band and placed it on Larry’s left ring finger.
Larry was totally surprised and looked at how perfect the band fit and how shiny it was. She could tell he was pleased.
He said, “I love it, Grace, this is really a nice ring. Thank you, babe. I love you.”
She was beaming because she could tell Larry really liked his ring. “I’m glad you like it, I thought you would. You’re welcome, honey.”
Larry leaned over and pulled Grace to him embracing her in his arms and gave her a long kiss. She hugged and kissed him back, feeling loved and appreciated.
They settled back on the sofa, Grace cuddled up to Larry and laid her head on his shoulder.
“So how did your day with Cecil work out today?”
“Well, it was a pretty good day until Ed Williams and his crazy sidekick Lewis Smith wandered down to the job site. Ed had on his five cent badge that says Sheriff on it pinned to his shirt. Somebody needs to put a leash on Ed and Lewis, they are so aggravating. It didn’t take long for one of them to cause trouble as usual. Here comes this short fat woman in a pink robe, head full of hair curlers cussing a blue streak.”
Grace was laughing and asked, “Why was she cussing.”
“She said she was going to kick Lewis’ ass because he had his pointed head peekin’ in her window trying to see her naked, again.”
Larry was laughing hard now.
“Who was she, the woman in the pink robe?” Grace asked.
When he could get a breath, he said, “All I know is they call her Fat Faye and apparently it wasn’t the first time Lewis has been caught peeking in her windows. Cecil didn’t want any trouble on the job, so he ran Lewis off and told Ed he might as well get on down the road, too.”
Grace wiped her eyes from laughing. “Yes, trouble always seems to follow those two. I didn’t know that you knew Ed and Lewis.”
He replied, “I’ve known those crazy two about all my life. In fact, I went to school with Lewis, seems like Ed and his parents moved here while I was in elementary school.”
Grace said, “Did you know why Lewis’ head is so small and pointy?”
Larry said, “No, why is it shaped so pointed and small compared to his body, even though he is a skinny little fella?”
Grace was amazed Larry didn’t know.
“I was told his head was like that because when he was a baby he drank gas.”
Larry said, “Well that is sad. I just thought he was born crazy.”
She said, “Before I met you, one day I was hanging out with Ruth at her house. Her parents paid Ed to mow the grass. It felt like a hundred degrees outside that day. Anyway, she got to feeling sorry for Ed. He was pouring sweat, sprawled out under the shade tree taking a break. Ruth took him a cold glass of lemonade knowing he had to be thirsty. They were talking and Ed got up his nerve to ask Ruth to go out on a date with him. She told him, not a chance in Hades would she ever go out with him, not even if he had a million dollars and a few other things I won’t repeat.”
With a wide grin on his face he said, “I can imagine Ed had her fired up. Ruth is a firecracker and way out of his league. I heard Ed was sweet on a lady in Landis that won’t give him the time of day. Besides, he ain’t got no steady job and no money to take a woman out. I think he’s going to be stuck with Lewis”
Grace laughed, “You’re probably right about that.”
“I’m so tired Grace, are you ready for bed?”
“Yes sweetie, I will be in there in a little bit.”
He had to get up at six o’clock in the morning to be on the construction site with Cecil. He realized tomorrow would be another rough day carrying ninety pounds of shingles up a ladder to finish the roofing job.
Larry went through the house turning out the lights and locking the doors.
Grace went through her usual routine of getting ready for bed, enjoying her warm soak in the tub.
She opened the door of the small bathroom closet to get her new pink rose colored negligee’ off of the wire clothes hanger. It felt as soft as her skin as she rubbed the material between her finger tips.
Working at Betty’s Boutique had its advantages. She got to see all the pretty things that was shipped to Betty’s first, plus she got fifteen percent off on everything she purchased.
Grace slipped the pretty lingerie over her head. Pink was her favorite color and looked stunning against her skin. The front was a halter style and the back scooped low, half way down her spine. The tip of the hem of the garment was a few inches above her knees.
Larry had always complimented her about her shapely legs.
It was hard to believe he would be leaving for Fort Meade in two days. If Grace kept this thought in her mind, she knew she wouldn’t get any sleep tonight. She shook her head as if she was trying to shake the thought from her mind.
Grace removed her hairpins and her hair fell loosely down her shoulders and back. She gently began finger combing it. Looking in the mirror she thought she looked pretty, but different.
Then it occurred to her, this is what being in love looks like…
(to be continued)