The Life and Times of Lee Graham, Chapter Five: Polly Sets Priorities

Chapter Five, Polly Sets Priorities
by Lulabelle Gimlin

On Lee's ninth birthday, a telegram came for his Mama.  Polly had never received a telegram before and was apprehensive from the very moment she heard one had arrived.  The man behind the counter at Alma's general store told her when she came in that morning to buy fixings for a sumptuous birthday supper, which was to include an apple cake. 

"Missus Graham, that messenger boy from the Western Union Office in Wellsville was here a few minutes ago.  He brought something for you." 

The shopkeeper, a burley man named Ben Carver, reached under the counter and handed a brown envelope to Lee's mama.  "I was gonna walk it up to your place, but, since you're here..." 

Polly Graham read the telegram silently as all the shoppers and the shopkeeper looked on, waiting to see if she would be happy or sad when she finished.  It was impossible to read emotion on the woman's face.  That was nothing new.  Folks around Alma knew she couldn't be happy living her life as Mrs. Josiah Graham, but they got that information from the bruises that almost always appeared on the woman's pale face when her husband was in town, not from anything the woman said or did.  Polly Graham was the most stoic woman God ever made.  At least that was the impression she gave her neighbors in Alma. 

She folded the telegram and slipped it into her purse.  Then, she turned to an older woman among the gathered shoppers. Mrs. White was the widow of the town's methodist preacher who had died several months previous. 

"Mrs. White," Polly said, "Would you be willing and able to tend to my boy for a couple of weeks?  I need to make a trip to Ohio." 

"But why, Mother?" Lee cried out.  "Why do you have to go away?" 

Polly turned to her son and said, "Your father has been injured in a fire in North Baltimore, Ohio.  Right now he is being kept in the home of...  well the home of a lady who works in the local hotel. She was with your father when the fire started and is evidently the one who saved his life.  She says  I need to come right away to care for him and bring him home.  She says your father's presence in her home is making her life quite difficult and she needs him to leave as soon as possible, but that he cannot make the journey home untended." 

There were glances exchanged between those who overheard this explanation of what the telegram contained.  They were all fairly certain what the Ohio woman's occupation might be and understood why an overnight guest in her home, especially one who might require all her attention, would be problematic.  They admired Polly's ability to speak of the woman with dignity. 

Those assembled in the general store gasped at this news.  "I saw mention of that fire in the newspaper that came from Cleveland earlier this week," said Mr. Carver.  "They say half the town was destroyed.  If I'd-a-known Mr. Graham was there at the time, I would-a said something to you, Missus." 

"There is no way you could have known," said Polly, "I did not know myself where Josiah was until just now.  When he leaves on business, he rarely tells me where he is headed." 

"I want to go with you, Mother!" said Lee. 

"I am sure you do, son, but this is not something I want you to see.  I'll go alone." 

Then she returned her focus to Mrs White, who told her.  "Of course, I can look after Lee.  Why he's no trouble at all!  In fact, your boy is very good company.  His presence will do me good." 

"It's very kind of you to say so," replied Polly.  "Of course, I will reimburse you for his room and board when I return with Josiah." 

"I assure you, Polly," said the older woman, "there is no need for that.  It will hardly cost a thing and what little the boy does cost me in food will easily be paid for in his good company." 

Ben Carver, who owned a sizable buggy and a pair of horses he regularly  used to haul goods back to his store from Wellsville, interrupted then to ask if  Polly would like a ride to the train station.  If you hurry home and pack, I can close the store right now and get you there in time. 

Polly hesitated a moment before answering.  "If you don't mind. Mr. Carver, I think I would rather start my journey tomorrow.  Today is Lee's birthday and I was planning a small celebration for him.  I think Josiah can wait one extra day." 

Every face in the general store was smiling.  It was evident that all gathered there approved of Polly putting her son's happiness before her husband's needs.  It was the town's collective opinion Polly and Lee Graham would be better off if the Bible salesman had died in the North Baltimore fire of 1888. 

Previous Chapters of The Life and Times of Lee Graham can be found here. 

* Lulabelle Gimlin is an SL RP character of Stephanie Mesler.  The Life and Times of Lou Graham is copyright Stephanie Mesler, 2014.  This story may be reprinted for inworld RP purposes with proper attribution to its author, Lulabelle Gimlin (Stephanie Mesler). 


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