Myra Jean felt a bit like a foreign dignitary as the pastor’s wife drove her out into the countryside, telling her about the occupants of the farmhouses along the way. After about twenty minutes, they turned down a long lane into a corn field, bouncing over the ruts toward a silo. The lane opened into a farm yard with a large house, a barn, and some outbuildings, all looking a bit worse for wear. “You know how they say you can’t keep them down on the farm…” Bitty nodded toward the house. “Mr. Winters is all alone here now. His children went off to follow their dreams, but he won’t think of leaving this place.”
As soon as the car stopped, a thin, stooped man came out onto the porch, automatically pulling on a cap, and then, remembering his visitors, immediately pulling it off again. “He’s gotten a little hard of hearing since he turned seventy,” Bitty said, then raised her voice in greeting. “Well, good morning! Nice day, isn’t it?How are you?”
“Woke up on the right side of the dirt,” answered Mr. Winters, squinting a bit in the sun. After the introductions, Mr. Winters ushered them into a large dining room full of furniture covered with knickknacks and family photos. A coffee pot and a pie sat in the center of the embroidered tablecloth flanked by china cups and plates.
“Now that my wife has passed, Lavinia Thompson comes in a couple of times a week,” Mr. Winters said as he pulled out chairs for the ladies. “She baked that there pie. I don’t know what I’d do without her and young Jeb.”
“Jeb’s turning out to be a nice young man,” nodded Bitty, taking charge of serving so naturally it seemed a habit.
“Best of the bunch,” said Mr. Winters. “Poor Lavinia had her hands full after her husband died in the war, and some of them boys ain’t worth a plug nickel.” He glanced at Myra Jean, then back at Bitty, who nodded. “Bootleggers,” he went on. “And Lavinia won’t take a penny from any of them.”
“It must be a comfort to have Jeb coming up so well,” said Bitty, handing Myra Jean a slice of pecan pie.
“Jeb gathered and shelled all these here pecans and the walnuts for your carrot cake.” Mr. Winters indicated a cloth bag on top of the buffet against the wall. “Comes by most every day before and after school, works a few hours, and I give him whatever I can spare. My son’s old clothes and shoes, books…He’s a big reader, that one. I never see him without a book.”
As Mr. Winters and Bitty chatted about some of the other neighbors, Myra savored the pie and gazed around the room, from the lace curtains to the embroidered napkins on the table. She wished she could have met the woman who turned this isolated farmhouse into such a haven.
Walnuts are the first ingredient in Mrs. Bitty Johnson’s carrot cake.