Lucy requested the children call her Auntie. She was quite fat and quite rich and lived in a beautiful house surrounded by lawns and leafy trees. She was the only child of Ma’s Uncle Charles. Charles had moved to St. Louis and made his fortune, leaving it all to Lucy when he died. Auntie had a housekeeper, Grace, who was a good cook and not too fussy about messy three year old boys. She also had a spoiled dog, Prince. Meredith couldn’t understand what Auntie had done to fill her time before they came to live with her. Maybe she had offered to take them in out of sheer boredom.
After breakfast, she’d call the twins into her sitting room where she would laugh with them as they played with Prince. She mildly scolded them if they were too rambunctious but mostly she just watched them and cooed over them. She sent out for books for them and blocks. Meredith had gone to a little bit of schooling, before Pa had died and would have loved some books, but she never felt particularly welcome in the sitting room.
“You don’t have to stay here with us,” Auntie would say merrily. “Go out in the garden if you’d like.”
Meredith would glumly leave her brothers behind and spend solitary hours in the garden. This wasn’t what she’d had in mind. She had spent her entire childhood working. Ma needed her and although it was seldom fun, it was nice to feel needed. Now she had nothing but time. Before she would have thought such an expanse of freedom to do nothing in particular was a dream come true but now she discovered that she was lonely. She missed her Ma and her brother and sisters. The twins didn’t need her and Meredith was almost mad at them for being so happy. Didn’t they miss Ma?
Mr. Donaldson was the gardener that came twice a week. Auntie’s yard wasn’t big enough to need a full time gardener but there was enough to keep him busy on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Meredith started following him around on the days he was there. She had never been a particularly chatty person and Mr. Donaldson certainly didn’t have much to say so they usually spent the day in companionable silence. It made her happy to kneel on the ground next to him and pull out weeds while he hauled water or transplanted plants. He would gruffly give her directions or nod his approval at her work but besides that, they were quiet.
All the time that Meredith had grumbled about having to work while growing up seemed very far away. She was glad to have something to do that seemed worthwhile. She was happy to have busy hands and to be able to look back at her work and see that she did something.
There was a cooler feel in the air and it was not quite as hot and muggy. One day while Meredith was weeding a yellow leaf swirled by her head.
“Fall’s coming,” Mr. Donaldson commented with his usual brevity.
Meredith wondered what she would do if she couldn’t work in the garden. “Will you still come and work?” she asked.
“Some,” he said, “But you’ll be in school.”
“I will?” she said, the thought had never occurred to her.