drove me home after that first memorable visit to his house,
I asked him to drop me at the end of the public road abutting
onto the dirt road that runs through the farm. He looked at
me strangely but complied without protest. It wasn't until
we'd gone out several times that he insisted on driving me
all the way home and accompanying me into my house. He was
sorry once he did. My parents are never impolite, but they
are frequently unfriendly to strangers. Although they knew
of Jason, he was a stranger. It didn't help that my father
disapproved of Amanda's views and of her being a self-supporting,
divorced woman with liberal views or that my mother really
wanted me to marry Mike McLaren and saw my relationship with
Jason as an impediment to the fulfillment of her fantasy.
Jason took it personally. How could he not take it personally?
I explained their behavior to him as best I could, and he
seemed to understand, but his feelings were still hurt. He
never said a rude word to my parents or to me about them though.
Maybe it would have been better if he had. I don't know. Their
coldness threatened to drive a wedge between us, which is
why I turned to Anita Carswell for advice. I'd hoped she'd
talk to Jason and explain my parents' behavior to him in a
way that he could take in without feeling hurt, but she didn't.
She just told me that Jason might not like the way my parents
treated him, but if I stood up to them on his behalf, he'd
not only not hold their treatment of him against me, but it
would raise me in his estimation and win me an even stronger
place in his affection. Or something like that. I didn't stand
up to them for him though. How could I? I thought it was pretty
brave of me to keep seeing him when I knew they didn't want
Once Jason left for Ann Arbor, my mother upped the pressure
on me to see Mike McLaren more often. My father didn't care.
He just wanted me to get more hours working at the bank and
the drugstore now that I didn't have school to distract me.
I would have been grateful to him for not pressuring me into
dating anyone I didn't want to date, had he not been so opposed
to my taking a course at the community college. He blamed
my wanting to do that on Jason, insisting that I had gotten
fancy ideas from him about what I should do with my life.
"Let him get his useless degree," my father growled.
"I want you to be able to support yourself until the
right man comes along."
I knew better than to argue or to tell him that I knew very
well that he was less interested in my supporting myself than
in my helping out with payments on the new backhoe he'd bought.
So I pleaded instead, telling him that if I could get a bit
more education, I'd be able to earn better and be more of
a help in the long run. He wasn't convinced, but I signed
up for the psychology course anyway. He grumbled at my having
to pay for it, but since I had gotten more hours at the drugstore,
he didn't complain as much as I'm sure he would have if my
paying tuition had actually reduced the amount of money I
turned over to him from every paycheck.
Between work and studying for my classes, I didn't have time
for much of a social life. But I did manage to stay in touch
with Amanda, Jason's mother, after he left. At first I think
dropping in to see her, look at her drawings, and show her
mine was a way of staying close to Jason. Soon, however, I
realized how much I enjoyed my contact with her in its own
right. It became something independent of my relationship
with him. She usually had good things to say about my drawing
and about art in general. Sometimes she'd tell me what Jason
had told her on the phone or by email or letter, and I did
the same. Jason wrote me a letter every week and phoned me
when the spirit moved him. When he first went away, he phoned
a lot, but the calls became less frequent over time. That
was to be expected, I guess, but I missed hearing his voice.
Amanda's accounts of his adventures and misadventures compensated
somewhat for the increasing infrequency of his calls, but
I was under no illusion that I saw her just to hear about
him. My enjoyment of her kept me visiting whenever I got the
"You know," she said to me late one rainy Saturday
afternoon as we drank that disgusting Earl Grey tea she was
so fond of, "I'd never missed having a daughter until
you showed up. Jason was always more than enough for me to
mother. But lately I've been thinking it was sad that I never
had a daughter. Jason would probably have been happier with
a sibling, and I think I'd have benefited from having another
female in my life besides my mother."
I was touched but didn't want to show it. "Well,"
I replied airily, "if you'd had another child, it might
have ended up as another boy. And then what would you have
Amanda laughed at me. "I guess that what I'd have done
was raise two sons instead of one."
I shook my head. "I don't think Jason would have liked
having a brother," I said, not sure why I thought that
but certain I was right. "He might not have minded a
She nodded. "Yes, I agree. It hasn't always been easy
for him as the only child, but a brother wouldn't have changed
I suppose I was surprised to hear someone say that she'd missed
having a daughter. In my family, being the only girl was a
lot like being the only drain on the family's resources. I
never had the feeling that my parents wouldn't rather have
had three sons.
I knew that Amanda had added the remark about how Jason would
have liked to have a sister because she didn't want to dwell
on her own loneliness. With Jason gone, the only family member
she had nearby was her mother. I was sad to see how she cringed
every time Lore Harnisch, which is what her mother insisted
on being called, showed up at her house when I was there.
The old woman insisted on being rude, and I think she did
it just to bother Amanda, for she knew very well that I found
her rudeness laughable. She said as much.
"I think you're laughing at me, girl!" she'd barked
once when I couldn't keep a straight face at one of her more
I didn't apologize. Amanda just whispered, "Mother, please!"
"Don't say please to me, Amanda. I know perfectly well
when I'm being mocked."
"You're not being mocked, mother," Amanda protested
I said nothing, and the old woman glared at me before turning
on her heel and stomping out.
"Why do old people have to be so difficult?" Amanda
asked me as soon as she'd made us a pot of tea to restore
our equanimity, or so she said.
"They aren't all difficult. Miss Carswell is a bit intimidating,
but she's not difficult," I observed.
"She's not difficult," Amanda agreed. Then she added,
"She's downright terrifying."
I was surprised at Amanda's reaction since Jason was so fond
of Miss Carswell.
"You look bewildered," Amanda observed after a few
seconds of silence.
"Well, I guess I am. It's hard for me to reconcile Jason's
relationship with Miss Carswell and your attitude. I'm afraid
I don't understand."
Amanda grimaced. "I'm not sure Jason would be so fond
of the old
woman, if it weren't for that fountain pen
his grandfather gave him. But you know that story." She
shook her head. "Neither of us is very forceful. We leave
that to my mother. Miss Carswell is even more formidable than
my mother, and that's saying something."
I shook my head. "I agree that Miss Carswell is formidable,
but she's nothing like your mother, at least as far I can
see. I've never known Miss Carswell to be intentionally rude
or hurtful to anyone."
Amanda sighed. "Sometimes outspokenness can be worse
than rudeness. Miss Carswell has a way of telling people what
they really don't want to hear."
I had to agree with that comment about Miss Carswell, but
I just didn't see how that was worse than rudeness, and I
said so. Amanda reflected for a few minutes as I washed our
mugs and put the tea canister away. When I was returned to
the table she had her face in her hand and was smiling at
"You do make me think, you know, Lisa. And not just about
I smiled back at her. "I know she has said things I didn't
want to hear," I said. "But I've never known her
to do it out of meanness or spite or even out of condescension
because she thought she knew better."
"It's her certainty," Amanda announced, "that
way she has of doing and saying whatever she has a mind to
with giving a damn what people will think of her. She's all
alone out there in her old house, acting as if she's queen
of the world instead of an old woman who could end up unable
to take care of herself and totally dependent on others any
day now. That's when we'll see how sure of herself and independent
she really is!" Amanda shuddered. "I hate it when
women seem invulnerable. It's so
She shrugged and didn't finish her statement, but her tone
had taken on a edge that alarmed me. It occurred to me that
her enmity towards Miss Carswell ran deep. I wasn't sure I
wanted to know where it came from or how deep it ran, but
at the same time I couldn't really agree with her. Maybe Miss
Carswell didn't care what people thought of her, but she certainly
did care about people's feelings, and to me that was much
more important. I wasn't sure I wanted to get into an argument
with Amanda about her though, so I just pulled out a couple
of drawings I'd done and we started to talk about the uses
and misuses of light and shadow.