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  • I sat inside the circle of fabric display racks and read while Mrs. Carlson picked out material for dresses. Two women walked past; I saw their feet, their scuffed and dirty high heeled shoes. One woman had a hole in her stocking. They smelled very much like the university woman in the pink jacket. I could see their faces over the tops of the fabric bolts. A sour laugh twisted the thin lips of one woman, a smirk marred the face of the other. If they had glanced down they would have seen me. They didn't.
    Their voices carried and the tones were harsh against my ear. It was the tone people use when they want to impress the people they hope will hear them. When I became an adult I called it the gossip's voice.
    God only knows why that boy brought her back here.
    As if there aren't plenty of decent young women right here in America for him to marry.
    They nodded their heads at each other as though sharing a dangerous secret.
    And that HAIR! If I got my hands on it. I'd cut it all off!
    I hear she has a gun! What kind of woman has her own gun?
    These war brides... hussies, I say.
    Or worse....
    Their voices trailed off as they made their way through the department store. The last words sent a chill through me.
    ...and he had the bad taste to fall under a combine....
    Mrs. Carlson looked behind the bolts of fabric.
    Ah, there you are.
    I had stayed where I'd been told to stay and Mrs. Carlson promised ice cream afterward, She was using what a later generation would call positive reinforcement. She didn't have names for doing what you're supposed to do, but we both got ice cream.
    Gramma, what's a war bride?
    It's a mean word for a lady who marries a man from another country during a war, then goes home with him when the war is over. Why?
    Is it a hussy?
    Where did you hear a word like that? She was angry.
    I pointed to the two women across the aisle.
    Is it a bad word?
    It's a very bad thing to say about a woman. I don't want you to say that word again. And don't point.
    I couldn't remember her being so abrupt with anyone, but her voice softened quickly.
    "You shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people."
    What does that mean?
    It means don't say mean things about people, don't be a gossip.
    Scripture was so much a part of her life that an apt verse came to her lips without her needing to think much about it.
    Are those women gossips?
    I'd be one if I said they were. Gossip isn't nice, it hurts people.
    They said the lady who brought me home was a war bride.
    Her name is Mrs. Collins.
    She saw the question coming before I got the first word out.
    Mrs. Collins is a widow. That's a lady whose husband has died. Like Margaret.
    Did Margaret's husband fall under a combine, too?
    Her eyes widened. No. He died In the war.
    We went to visit Mrs. Collins. Mrs. Carlson brought a container of ice cream. Peach.
    Her name was Jean. She had lived in Paris. She had been a dancer. There were pictures of her in her leotard and tights and a very short ruffled skirt she said was called a tutu.
    Then came the war and no one felt like dancing for a long time.
    There was also a picture of her with a man who wore a uniform like the one in a picture of Jerry's father.
    She was wearing a white lace dress.
    She asked why I spoke French. Mrs Carlson told her.
    Soon, it was time to leave.
    She asked us to visit again, kissed both of us on both cheeks and waved until the car turned onto the road home.
    We were going back to the house in Chicago the next day.
    I wondered if Mrs. Collins would have to wait a long time before we came to visit. Or if she was another friend I wouldn't see again.
    As we went in the front door I asked Mrs. Carlson why it was taking Jerry so long to come home.
    I knew people went away when they died, but I thought they came back. Like Jesus.
    I was four-and-a-half when I learned about the awful finality of death.
    I looked out my bedrom window for a very long time that night, but I didn't notice the full moon.
    Jerry wasn't coming home.
    Ever.
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