Bringing Maggie Home

By: Kim Vogel Sawyer

For my girls—Kristian, Kaitlyn, and Kamryn.

I know I didn’t do everything right, but I hope you know I always loved you.





Hope deferred maketh the heart sick:

but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.

—Proverbs 13:12, KJV





One




Mid-July 1943

Cumpton, Arkansas

Hazel Mae Blackwell

Hazel set a porcelain cup and saucer on the overturned apple crate in front of her little sister. “Madam, would you like cream and sugar in your tea?”

Maggie nodded, making her Shirley Temple curls bounce. Her hair—what Daddy called flaxen—shimmered under the noonday sun, almost as yellow as the roses painted on the cup.

Jealousy sparked in Hazel’s heart. Why couldn’t she have inherited Mama’s sunshiny-yellow hair and sky-blue eyes the way Maggie had instead of Daddy’s dirt-brown hair and eyes?

“What do you say?” Hazel asked the question as tartly as Mama.

“Yes, pwease.”

“Pluh-ease,” Hazel said.

“Pwuh-ease.”

Hazel sighed. Maggie was just-turned-three, as Daddy often reminded Hazel when she got impatient with her sister. Sometimes she wished Mama hadn’t waited so long after Hazel to have another baby. Wouldn’t it be fine if almost seven years didn’t stretch between them? Mama and Daddy were always telling her she was lucky to have a sister, and Hazel loved Maggie. Of course she did. But sometimes…

“Pwease, Hayzoo Mae?”

She lifted the lid on the doll-sized sugar bowl and spooned out pretend sugar. Then she pretended to pour cream. No matter how much Hazel begged, Mama never let her waste real sugar and cream for her tea parties. She used the spoon to stir the air in Maggie’s cup. “There you are.”

Maggie’s apple cheeks dimpled with her smile. “Fank you.” She picked up the cup between her fingers and carried it to her rosy lips.

“I hope it isn’t too hot.”

Maggie made noisy drinking sounds. Her blue eyes rounded and she pursed her lips. “Ooooh, it is hot! I bu’n my tongue!”

Hazel stifled a chuckle. Playing make-believe with her doll had never been this fun. Maybe she should have let Maggie use her special tea set before. But she’d waited until her sister passed her third birthday, the same age Hazel had been when she received the set for Christmas from Memaw and Pappaw Blackwell. She hadn’t trusted Maggie’s baby fingers not to break one of the fragile cups or plates.

She picked up her own cup and held it close to her mouth. “Blow on it.” She puffed breaths into her cup, smiling when Maggie imitated her.

With the sun warming their heads, they sipped and smiled at each other and helped their dollies eat pretend cookies from the serving plate centered on the crate. Hazel’s imagination painted their surroundings from a dusty yard to the fancy city restaurant she’d seen in a magazine. With linen-draped tables instead of a handkerchief-covered crate. With ladies wearing silk instead of homespun. So easy to see in her imagination. She even pretended her hair was shiny yellow curls trailing down her back instead of wind-tossed, dirt-brown, pin-straight locks lopped at shoulder level.

She picked up the plate and offered it to Maggie. “Would you like the last cookie?”

Maggie reached out her pudgy hand.

The screen door squeaked open and Mama stepped onto the porch. “Hazel Mae? Maggie?”

Maggie rolled sideways to push herself to her feet, and her bottom bumped the crate. The teacups and serving pieces wobbled. Gasping, Hazel dropped the plate to steady the table, and the plate landed on the sugar bowl. Both the plate and the lid to the sugar bowl snapped in two.

The lovely daydream shattered. “Oh, Maggie, look what you did!” Hazel snatched up the halves of the once-pretty plate with its circle of painted yellow roses and green leaves and hugged them. Surely her heart was broken in half, too. “Why can’t you be careful? I should never have let you touch it.”

Tears swam in Maggie’s blue eyes, and her lower lip quivered. Mama hurried across the yard, her bare feet stirring dust. Maggie buried her face in Mama’s apron skirt.

Mama scowled at Hazel. “For shame, yelling at your sister. It was an accident.”

Hazel stared at Mama’s hand on Maggie’s head, the fingers petting, sweet and soothing. Why didn’t Mama soothe Hazel? She’d suffered the loss. “But she broke the serving plate. And the sugar bowl lid.”