Nana’s big car oozed to a stop under trees hanging over the narrow driveway and she folded her hands in her lap after pulling on short white gloves which had ridden between us on the seat. “So, Ginny -lee,” she said as if we were continuing a conversation, “we will remember that twenty minutes is a call and Mrs. Pinnell is getting on.” I’m sure I nodded.
Nana came around the car to open the door and brush the skirt of my ironed cotton frock into place, smoothing down wrinkles in the back where I’d crushed it against the seat. I walked importantly beside her, chubby legs trying to match her stride, back out the drive, around to the right to enter the yard through a white garden gate.
The walkway to the house was a narrow one of old cement with moss growing in cracks and I lagged behind on the way to the tiny landing which served as a porch. Nana was brisk as usual and drummed her knuckles on the door while I dawdled, enchanted by Mrs. Pinnell’s garden.
It was tiny, a perfect fit for everything else. The little square of front yard enclosed by pickets had no grass, just pansies where grass would be in a regular plot. They were surrounded by a border of iris, not yet blooming in the cool of the year, which made a spiky green fence within the pickets.
I heard Mrs. Pinnell rattling the door handle and looked up in time to see Nana flick her gloved hand my way, but she wasn’t looking. I dawdled some more, barely moving toward the house, knowing what awaited me inside. I would get to sit on the footstool and try to make two Vanilla Wafers last while Nana and Mrs. Pinnell had tea.
This was a planned call so maybe the tea things would be laid and maybe making tea wouldn’t take so long, but that hadn’t always been the case when Nana took me with her to make calls. It was my first time here, so I was hoping the house was interesting inside. Maybe there was a nice cat.
I was only halfway down the short walk when Mrs. Pinnell opened the door and the tiniest lady I’d ever seen smiled so sweetly and said “Oh Virginia! How lovely you’ve brought your Ginny-lee.”
She barely came to Nana’s shoulder even with piles of white hair crowning her. The top of her body bent forward a bit and her hands fluttered like birds flitting when she talked . Her eyes were really blue, just like my china doll. She made me think of fairy godmothers except she was wearing a house dress under her starched apron. I knew the apron was fresh for tea because it had no bib and no wrinkles. Maybe Mrs. Pinnell’s house would be interesting after all. She did have a pretty voice.
Inside, it was dim. I’m sure if I had been older than almost four, I would have noticed how cramped the cottage was, but I wasn’t and I didn’t. Everything seemed about the right size for me and of course I didn’t know I was just standing in the entry looking about the place. Somehow, the grown-ups took my hanging back as reticence and sought to coax me into the room.
“Come, Ginny-lee. You sit here and we’ll see if Boots will come visit with you. Virginia tells me you’re very good with kitties.” I loved Mrs. Pinnell’s voice. It sounded like a storybook voice, but what she said made me look to Nana for confirmation. Really? Did she say I was good with kitties?
At home she was always scolding me to not tease, even though the cat thought I was playing. And she said I could only pet with one finger so as not to be too rough. I was never rough, but I still had to use one finger when anyone was looking. Nana didn’t look my way, and Mrs. Pinnell was talking again.
“Boots is a girl, but I didn’t know that until she had babies. I would have named her Pansy if I had known.” She went to get the tea tray and I thought about that. I knew that some girls had flower names, but I’d never heard of a Pansy. Maybe it was just for cats. Surely dogs couldn’t be called Pansy.
When Mrs. Pinnell came back with the tea tray, she was smiling and said right to me as if Nana wasn’t even there “Would you like to pick some pansies for me? I need them for my little vases.” Without even stopping to reflect, I hopped off the stool. I could hardly believe it. Never before had I been allowed to pick any flowers except in Nana’s garden and I surely didn’t want to miss a chance to go back outside.
I glanced over to see how I should answer and Nana was all leaned back in her chair with her legs crossed. She had her elbow resting on the arm and her cigarette was lit. She smiled and nodded a little and I scooted toward the door in front of Mrs. Pinnell who was already headed in that direction with three very small vases. She shifted them to one hand to open the door and cool air rushed in as Boots dashed out.
With the door closed behind us, Mrs. Pinnell handed me the vases and pointed at the edge of the stoop where I could set them down. Then she reached in her apron pocket and pulled out a tiny pair of scissors, handing them to me loops first just as if we did this every afternoon. She straightened a little and said, “After you cut me some for the vases, you can choose as many as you want to take home. Just put them in the basket, alright?” She pointed at a little trug near the vases and went in leaving me in the yard, in fields of pansies. All their faces smiled at me, begging to be picked and it took a very long time for me to do the job.
All the way till the end of tea.