Lydia Parker’s grandfather died in 1906, two days before her fourteenth birthday. Grandmother shared her thoughts on the subject after the funeral, the night before Poppa’s sister left for Florida. “It’s time Lydia was out on her own. She’s a great one with numbers. She could work as a bookkeeper’s assistant or an arithmetic tutor. In Cincinnati, perhaps?” Grandmother’s voice had gone soft, but Lydia had excellent hearing.
What’s in a Name?
I wasn’t thinking about names as I unfolded invoices and paired them with delivery slips from the pile of papers strewn across the dining table. I was focused on numbers. I didn’t trust myself to prepare the checks yet. The penciled list I was keeping of the billed amounts was barely legible. But it wasn’t what my late husband called my cowboy coffee making my hands shake. It was eleven-year-old Anne, sleeping fitfully in the front bedroom. I’d placed a salt-water compress on her forehead and plied her with warm cinnamon milk, gritty with crushed aspirin. I had no thermometer, but there was no doubt she had a high fever. When she’d crawled into bed with me in the middle of the night complaining of a headache and sore throat, her body had heated the sheets in seconds, like a hot, flannel-wrapped brick. That’s when I knew. She had influenza. Though the main outbreak had ended last December, there had been rumors of its return this spring. Two of Anne’s playmates had been out of school last week. And now it was in my house, come to claim the last of my family.
The Key (in progress)
I started that Monday, the last one in August, by lighting the Aladdin. Not a magic lamp by any means, but still the best oil lamp in the world. Ours had a milk glass shade and nickel base with 1915-16 imprinted on the wick adjuster to commemorate the gold medal won at that year’s world’s fair. Its white light was almost as bright as the latest Edison Mazda bulb, but the incandescent mantle took twenty minutes to fully illuminate. The corners of the kitchen remained cloaked in darkness while the lamp warmed up and I had to feel my way around the cupboard to the basket of splits tucked between the back door and the ice box.