Elisabeth tucked my shoes, and Mom’s cup and saucer in her shoulder bag, then draped the Butterfly Dress over it so it wouldn’t get wrinkled. She patted it twice, grinned at me and grabbed my hand, leading me inside to the ice cream counter where she bought us each a single scoop cone of King Tut.
We stepped outside with our cones and waited on the corner for traffic to pass. It was very hot and we licked quickly as the ice cream melted. When the street was clear we and crossed Main St. then turned left toward Aalders, just a few blocks away.
I knew from Elisabeth’s accent that she was from another country. She sounded like the Summer People who came up from The City to take the waters.
“You aren’t from my continent, are you, Elisabeth.”
Elisabeth looked down at me and her eyes widened.
“You are right, Mellie! How did you know?” she laughed.
“Because you sound like the Summer People, and they weren’t born on my Continent. My brother Billy says we have three big countries on our continent and everybody but the Mexicans speak English. So you are from a continent across one of the big oceans.”
I didn’t know how many continents the world had, but I certainly knew about my Continent. Billy studied them and was saving up to buy a globe of the world. He wants to join the Navy and sail the seas when he grows up.
“Well, that is true. I was born in Germany and then my parents sent me to France when I was a baby. Those countries are on the large continent called Europe, and we speak many, many languages there. Oops! They speak many languages there,” she giggled, “Silly me, I forget sometimes I am now American!”
I listened carefully, thinking that she said she was born in Germany, which she doesn’t remember. Then her parents sent her to France when she was just a baby to live with her mother’s sister. I thought I had something in common with Elisabeth!
My mother was going to adopt me out when I was four because the photographer and his wife wanted me to be their little girl. They took me on a long vacation trip, but I got very sick from missing my mother and brother, so they brought me home.
Bud and Diane were killed in a head-on collision two weeks later, and Mom said I would have been killed too. It’s proof that God works in mysterious ways, and gave us a miracle.
“Were your parents adopting you out, Elisabeth?”
“Oh, no! My goodness no, Mellie! They wouldn’t do that to me!” She paused and looked close at me like Mom did sometimes. I hoped Elisabeth wasn’t going to get mad. “How old are you again?”
“I’m six, remember? I’ll be seven in October, after school starts and before Halloween.” How fun would it be fun to dress up with Elisabeth and go Trick or Treating!
“Well, times were bad in Germany before I was born. And war was coming again. My Mutti and Papa wanted to leave as soon as possible, but to do so meant Mutti needed to work too, so they could save money for passage quicker. So they put me on a train with friends leaving for France. My Aunt and Uncle met them at the train to and took me home.
My aunt’s house was near the sea, and the friends stayed there too until they sailed. My aunt said we were waiting for my Mutti and Papa to join us. We all planned to sail a ship to your continent, to find Calistoga!”
We walked along licking our ice creams as fast as possible and got the freeze from eating too fast. The sun wouldn’t be going down for a long time.
“How do your Mom and Dad know Miss Lillie?”
“Ooh, Mellie! I think you will surely grow up to be an attorney! “It was my Aunt and Uncle in France who knew Miss Lilly’s husband, Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith was a soldier there during the first war. And when we arrived in California, Miss Lilly and Mr. Smith picked us up at the train. I don’t remember because I was a baby, but the Smiths are the reason my Aunt and I come to Calistoga for a visit each year.”
“Oh! My daddy was in the first war too, Elisabeth! He was a sailor! And he has a tattoo on his arm too, but he doesn’t have any numbers, only a picture of a Hula Girl!” I was thrilled that my Dad had something in common with my new friend and couldn’t wait to tell him next time he visited us.
Elisabeth suddenly spun around, with her face tilted toward the sky. Her blue skirt flared, showing her petticoats. The handbag with the butterfly dress became yellow wings as she twirled, with both hands raised to the mountains, a blur of blue, white and yellow against the summer sky.
I heard her take long, deep breaths like I do when I dive to the bottom of Aalders pool. “How beautiful it is here, Mellie!” Her voice was small I wondered if she was going to cry, but she didn’t.
“We must remember the beautiful things in our lives, yes?” She stopped spinning, and stared Mt.St. Helena to our North.
“I have a picture of my parents on my dresser in San Francisco. They stand in front of the cottage in Germany that I was born in, and my mother’s belly is big with me inside. My father has his arm around her. She is smiling up to him and he is such a proud and very happy man.
Our cottage was in a village called Sonthofen, in the foothills of the Alps. You can see the great mountains in back of our house, so big and white and magical. I think in summer Sonthofen must look like your valley. Of course, in the photograph it was winter and the mountains were white with snow!”
She pointed to Mt.St. Helena, “I think your mountain may not be as tall, but I’m sure it is as magical as any in The Alps! So lovely!”
I wanted to know more things about continents, like how long it took to get from her continent to mine. I pulled on her skirt and she looked down and smiled.
“How long did it take for you and your aunt and uncle to get to my continent, Elisabeth? My brother Billy says it took the Pilgrims over three months to get to across the oceans.”
Elisabeth got very quiet, and didn’t answer right away, so I skipped down the street to the corner of Washington St. and skipped back again, taking her free hand.
“Well, it didn’t take three months, but I was very small, not even two years old. I never asked, so my Aunt and Uncle never told me how long it took. Shall I find out for you?” I nodded yes.
We held hands as we walked along, without talking very much. We made the turn onto Washington St. then jay-walked at Franklin.
“Oh, Look! We are home! Here, let’s wrap your mother’s pretty cup and saucer in your Butterfly Dress and put your pretty shoes in your pockets. You can try them on for your mother! Shall we take a picnic lunch to the park tomorrow? We can wade in the creek and swing and play games. Would you like that?”
Elisabeth talked in a low voice, and snuffled like I do when I cry. She didn’t look at my eyes.
So I just nodded, thinking about showing her the bull-frog-pollywogs that were bigger than my hands, and where the turtle family lived, too. I hoped she could walk barefoot on the rocks. Some girls say it hurts too much.
“So, come to cottage number 14, when you are ready. I’ll make our lunch, and we can swing on the swings!”
Elisabeth gave me a hug and kissed the top of my head. Her eyes looked wet, but she smiled and said with her hands on my shoulders, “This has been the best day of my life, Mellie, it really has!”
She turned and walked down the street, and then she turned once more and waved her hand, “I’ll see you tomorrow!” Neither of us knew she was walking out of my life.
I skipped carefully home and started up our steep stairs and saw Mom leaning on the wall by the front door, looking down at me with arms folded, and a cigarette in one hand. She tapped her foot as I approached.