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ELIZABETH was eleven when I first met her. She was tall for her age and had fair-colored skin. Her hair was a chocolate brown and her eyes, a solid blue. We were standing in line at the local grocery store and she was right behind me. She was carrying an assortment of breads and cheeses and the smell filled the air. Now, we country folk don’t usually pay any mind to a girl such as her, but something was different about her. Yes, perhaps she did look a lot like the other children I had seen ‘round here, but she was wearing a small dragonfly brooch. It was purple, but not very bright. It didn’t look like it was worth anything either, but it sure caught my attention.
Now I had no right talkin’ to a child I had never seen. I was just standing in line for groceries is all, but I had to know about that brooch.
“Child, don’t you know you’re too young for a brooch like that?” I says really slowly.
“I don’t think anyone is too young, miss” she replied.
Now I had never heard anyone ‘round these parts of Mississippi talk like that before. She, with her funny l’il accent, why, she must have come from England! Such a rich place England is, all fancy and nice, I’ve heard.
“Not here girl, now where’d you come across a brooch such as that? Certainly not here” I continued.
“Well,” said the little girl shyly, “My great-grandmother passed it down to my grandmother, you see, and she passed it down to my mother. My mother, oh how I love her so, she gave it to me for my tenth birthday. And, although I never thought of it this way, well, I’ve always kept it on. Of course I take it off at night and when I switch outfits, miss, but. . .”the girl trailed off and stood there with her bright blue eyes staring at me.
“It’s all right, child” I say to her and offer to help carry her bread and cheese. She says no thank you more politely than I ever heard and it is my turn to pay from my milk and dinner rolls.
The cashier punched in the prices and the total came out to three dollars and fifty cents! All say! Prices are rising faster than the sun everyday! Why, last week the same thing would have cost me only a dollar and twenty-five cents! I filled the cashiers hand with the money and grabbed my paper bag. I said good day to both the cashier and the interesting little girl and walked down the street.
It was a warm April day and the streets were congested with walkers and bikers; some takin’ a nice stroll and some goin’ somewhere important. The sky was a nice blue and the sun was as bright as ever. I wanted to enjoy the day, but something kept me from it. It was the little girl with the dragonfly brooch. I walked slower, heavy with thought about her. I had never seen her before, had I? I’m sure I, of all people, would have noticed. I decided to take a stop at my old friend, Mr. Donald’s shop on Madison West Street. It wasn’t very busy and so I marched right in and waved to Mr. Donald.
Now, this shop of his, it ain’t very big or popular, but Mr. Donald likes it anyways. It’s full of pinks, purples, blues, greens, yellows, and any other color you could think of. He’s got all kinds of flowers too; roses, carnations, hibiscus, and even some that I can’t even name. The paint is bright yellow and peeling in some places, old as Mr. Donald himself, they say. He’s retired, old enough to be anyway; such a crazy man! Just likes to sell flowers he says.
I glance at the old gray alarm clock on the brown wooden counter. It reads twelve, noon already! I greet Mr. Donald in a friendly manner and ask him the usual questions such as how he’s feeling t’day and how business is going. The answers are usual as well. He’s always “fine, fine and you?” and “business suit me well”. ‘Course that’s not what makes him so interesting, in fact he’s not interesting in the slightest bit, I’ll say! It’s really who he sees in his store which is the most interesting. Usually he’ll describe all the interesting people and I’ll listen. T’day I had a special person in mind. I wanted to know if Mr. Donald had ever seen the girl with the dragonfly brooch.
“No, not that I recon. ‘Course I could be wrong, with so many young girls on the streets and in and out of my shop, I couldn’t be certain. A dragonfly brooch, no I don’t recon.”
I sigh. I was getting’ more curious by the second. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been this curious in all my life! Whose little girl was this? Susie Anne’s? No she had three sons. Rachel Blumstein? No I met her daughter, Margot I think.
I was on an investigation, but who would help me, more than likely the cashier and I were the only ones to notice her at all. The cashier was not a particular friend or foe, just someone I saw every week, so I decided to go on alone.
The whole week I searched for evidence that might tell me whose child she was. Now, I’m no secret agent that’s for sure! I just went to all the gossip places, the Barley’s café down on Broad East Street and the old fruit market on Bramble. ‘Course I also visited the grocery store more often then usual. I also wondered why I was so curious about such a girl. She wasn’t very pretty, I’ll say, and the brooch was hardly worth anything so it wasn’t that I wanted to be aquatinted with a rich folk, no it wasn’t that. Maybe it’s the England air that I wanted to be a part of, but how could it be, I had never been out of Mississippi or out of this part for that matter.
That Sunday I went down by the old fishin’ pier there were no lines in the water and no one near the ol’ bait store. It’s not a popular place for a woman my age, or any woman for that matter. No woman would pay any mind to a place like this. All full of the awful smell of the ocean when there were fish and poles ‘round. I buy all my groceries at the store in town, even with the risin’ prices, I can’t imagine catchin’ dinner. Why if I had a husband he wouldn’t like to fish either. Though, I refuse to marry. My younger sister Marie Ann, why she married at the age of twenty-five; such an age to get married, I’ll say! And she’s never been quite happy. Why, I figure I’m just as well off with just me in the house. Only one person to feed and I don’t mind workin’ at the old Dutch restaurant down on Hundarg Road.
Now, this place does bother me when there’s no body around to make the place smell. I just like to look at the water is all. So I’m glancing at this pretty fish that keeps swimmin’ around a rock next to a piece of sea weed and I hear a l’il noise. It’s comin’ from behind me and sounds like footsteps. I hope it’s not an ol’ fisherman and turn around to see a little girl about my height, with strong blue eyes and a dragonfly pin.
“Hello child, now whatcha doin’ here on a nice day such as this?” I ask breakin’ the silence.
Her queer blue eyes stare at me a couple o’ seconds and then she says real soft, “I come here to think, miss.”
It takes me a couple o’ seconds to think this out. Her eyes were now gazing at the ol’ wooden planks o’ the dock. I smile at her softly and say, “Well there’s room here for the two o’ us. Come join me, will ya please.”
The girl walks real slowly over to the edge of the dock and sits down. I watch her an’ follow her. I too sit wit’ her. I don’t make any noise for a few seconds and then I ask her the question I’ve been waitin’ too, “what’s your name child?”
The girl clears her throat and says, “My name is Elizabeth, miss and I come from far away. England to be more specific, miss. I’ve had a plain life and a simple one. My mother left me with a nanny most of the time so I can not say I missed her to much when she left the house to the nanny and I. I had hardly known her, only seen pictures in my room, miss. My father was never part of my life, left my mother when I was born. So I have never really had a family to miss, you see. I came here to America when my nanny left me. I was sent by a ship, miss. It was dark and not very comfortable, but I had never known comfort so it was alright for me, miss. I met my Aunt’s cousin here about a year ago and I never go out much. I don’t like people to pity me if I tell them and they can’t help but ask about my sour expression. I have never had someone ask about my brooch though, but I assumed someone would. My mother gave it to my nanny to give to me before she left.” Then she paused as if asking what I thought.
“Child,” I cleared my throat as well, “Elizabeth, that is a strange tale if ever I‘d heard one and I am very much interested in you. You are a queer child and caught my attention from the very beginin’. Probably feels good to get that off your chest, hmm?” I smiled at Elizabeth; she was indeed a peculiar child.
She nodded her head, “I must go for dinner, goodnight, miss, and thank you kindly” She got up quite quickly and set off to the west. I watched her go until she disappeared behind a small gray buildin’ and then I too, got up and left. I had enough information fo’ now.
That night I couldn’t help but dream about Elizabeth and all the struggles she’d gone through to get to this li’l ol’ town in Mississippi. I thought several times about askin’ her to live with me but I couldn’t take her away from the last bit o’ family she had. I had to find out if Elizabeth was happy. For some reason all I wanted was for the poor li’l child to be happy and do somethin’ with her life. Why if I were young I would want to live in a carrin’ household and I wish so many times I could’ve received a good education and actually done somethin’ important in my life.
Did she get schoolin’? Did I know her aunt? Was she friendly and good with children? This girls safety was one of the most important thin’s in my life and I didn’t even know her that well. How surprising!
Then I thought of all the other children suff’rin just like Elizabeth. I needed to do somethin’ but what?
The next morning I got a knock at my door. Curious to whom the person would be I opened the door and saw Elizabeth.
“Hello, miss,” she began, “I’m awfully sorry to disturb you but my aunt has left me alone. She has fled to New Jersey and left me only with a twenty note. I know it is a lot to ask of you but may I please stay with you a while. I have asked the officer for help but he can not help a girl under twelve without a guardian.” Her eyes we red and she was on the verge of tears, my heart sank.
“Oh, child, come in for heavens sake. I would always take someone in if ever they’d be in danger. Let’s get you some soup.” And that was the day I realized that I could do something.
Elizabeth had a cousin Peter in California and she had to move there after three weeks of livin’ in my house. I was sad to see her go. After that day I decided to help all children. I opened my house to all suff’rin’ children from all ov’r.
Elizabeth showed me how to make a difference in the world, my way.