Borrowed Children

Borrowed Children

George Ella Lyon
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 136
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Borrowed Children
    Book Description:

    " Golden Kite Award winner, 1989 Booklist, Editor's Choice School Library Journal, Best Books of 1988 Publisher's Weekly, Best Books of 1988 Twelve-year-old Amanda Perritt is pitched head-first into adult responsibilities when she has to quit school to care for her newborn brother and invalid mother. She gets an excape, she thinks, when she's offered a trip to stay with her grandmother and her sophisticated Aunt Laura in Memphis. But during the visit, she discovers unexpected parallels between her mother's childhood and her own and comes to understand her own individuality as well as what it means to be part of a family.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2767-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. 1
    (pp. 1-6)

    It’s Friday. Fridays are the best days because we know Daddy is coming home. He works all week cutting timber on Big Lick Mountain—too far to come back to Goose Rock every night. I wish he could. The house lights up when Daddy’s here.

    Even now, just knowing he’s on his way, chores seem easier and we don’t quarrel. I’ve been taking care of my little sisters, Anna and Helen, but they’ve been happy—Helen stringing spools on yarn, Anna looking at the new Sears-Roebuck catalogue. “Wish Book,” Daddy calls it. “Wishes are free,” he says. “Look your fill.”...

  3. 2
    (pp. 7-10)

    And so she herds us in—through the parlor and the dining room to the back of the kitchen. Towels hang by the washtub where we bathe. I dry Helen off while Anna gives herself a rubdown. I didn’t realize the rain had blown in on us so much. Guess I was too scared.

    Mama dabs at her face with her apron, then scrapes cornbread batter into a cast-iron skillet which she eases into the stove.

    If this were a regular Friday we could relax now. But there’s that bill, hanging over everything. I wonder if Ben’s trying to break...

  4. 3
    (pp. 11-15)

    David and Ben started working at the Asher on Sunday. They won’t tell what they did, but Ben says it was “too close to housework” for him.

    That makes me mad. It’s easy for them to scorn clothes–washing and floor-scrubbing and chicken-plucking. It’s all done for them—I even make up their bed! And Mama’s silly about them; she always has been: David because he’s her firstborn and Ben because he’s so much like Daddy as a boy. At least that’s whatshethinks:

    “I just look at him and catch up on all of Jim Perritt I missed.”...

  5. 4
    (pp. 16-19)

    I expect Mama to be mad at me for eavesdropping, but she’s more concerned with what’s happened.

    “Imagine Mr. Russell sending that boy out here, all puffed up like a fritter! He knows we always pay.”

    “But what was wrong with the check?”

    “I expect I wrote it too soon. You see, your father has a separate account for the mill and has to transfer funds from that account to—well, it’s too complicated for you to worry with. The basic thing is the money was there, it was just in the wrong place.”

    “So Mr. Russell will be paid?”...

  6. 5
    (pp. 20-23)

    Sometimes I think housework comes down to hot water: laundry, canning, chicken scalding. Today we’re making jelly and chow-chow, but first we have to fetch the Mason jars.

    Helen’s too little and scared to go down to the cellar, but Anna does her part.

    “Oooo,” she squeals. “It’s creepy down here.”

    “You should be the first one down and have to light the lantern.”

    “It’s like a cave.”

    “Itisa cave. A cave with shelves.”

    More than half the shelves are already clean and loaded: fat red tomatoes, gold corn, olive green beans. There are June apples, too, fried...

  7. 6
    (pp. 24-28)

    We’ve been in school a month now, and the weather turned gray as winter. But this morning, sunshine is back. Even the air glistens. David and Ben groan and stamp like horses on plowing day. Anna bounces:

    School days, school days,

    Dear old golden rule days.

    Reading and writing and . . .

    “No singing at the table,” Mama calls from the kitchen. “School will have started before you get out the door.”

    For some reason, she’s decided Helen has to go to school with us too. Helen’s only five and nobody likes the idea.

    “I don’t want to go,”...

  8. 7
    (pp. 29-34)

    So we spent last night at the Skidmores’, which could have been worse but mercifully was not: a scrawny chicken red at the bone for dinner, the littlest triplet spitting up in his plate. Daddy had brought some quilts over, along with pickles and a basket of eggs. It was good to have something of home to bed down on. And I fixed the eggs for breakfast—just right.

    We’ve hardly got started toward school when Daddy runs up behind us.

    “You have a little brother!” His face is so white it’s shining. “And Rena—your mother came through fine....

  9. 8
    (pp. 35-38)

    A baby is a very heavy thing, any mother will tell you. Willie, settled in my arms, grew heavier than the house.

    All month I’ve held him, bathed him, diapered him, carried him to and from Mama’s breast. The little daylight he shuts his eyes to I spend working: meals, floors, Mama. I haven’t crossed the creek or opened a book since Daddy put him in my lap.

    I try to plan time for myself, but something always takes it. Like right now. The boys got behind on wash, so I’ve just finished a tubful of Willie’s gowns. Had to...

  10. 9
    (pp. 39-43)

    That cry has gotten worse because Willie has colic. It’s been going on about two weeks. He eats and falls asleep and then wakes up screaming. I’ve tried sugar water to burp him and a hot water bottle on his stomach, but nothing helps. Mama’s had to quit feeding him in the night. If the cramps started then, he’d wake the whole house. The trouble is, the only way she can not feed him is if I walk him back to sleep. He won’t take that from her, and anyway, she needs her rest. She’s just been out of bed...

  11. 10
    (pp. 44-49)

    Everyone at the table seems to hold his breath while I go to the kitchen for a rag and a bowl. Gradually, as I wipe gravy from the wallpaper and pick china fragments from the rug, they resume talking, but nobody says a word about what’s happened. Anna and Helen must be biting their tongues. When I finish, I come back to my place and dig meat off the back of the chicken. I did take the back. Mama will have to give me credit for that.

    All the time I’m clearing the table and washing up I’m waiting for...

  12. 11
    (pp. 50-54)

    Before Helen was born, we used to go to Memphis once a year. “Come summer, I have to go home,” Mama would say, and pack a trunk and a hamper. I only remember the last two visits: red waxy flowers in Omie’s back yard, Aunt Laura pretty as a catalogue cover, Opie peeling apples with his pocket knife. One trip the boys disappeared the moment the train pulled out and Mama told me to quit looking out the window and watch Anna till she found them.

    But it won’t be like that this time. I’ll be on my own. I...

  13. 12
    (pp. 55-58)

    The train has a hard time leaving. It jerks and strains and shakes. I feel that way too. If anyone had told me a month ago that I’d be sad to leave home, I would have scorned them like Miss Snavely. But I am sad.

    I remember what I told Helen: the nailed-down track is connected—Goose Rock to Memphis—and will bring me back. I’m grateful for that.

    I wonder how Mr. Aden felt coming to Goose Rock, leaving behind the paved world he knew. But Mr. Aden is a grownup and a man: why should he worry? Men...

  14. 13
    (pp. 59-61)

    A night’s train ride and the world has changed: flat red earth, big fields, patches of pine trees. I look out the window and consider the people I’m going to meet.

    Mama says mountain people are different from southerners and Delta people are different even from that. Then Daddy says, “Are you sure it’s not just your people who are different?” She has kin over in the Delta.

    But I’m not going to the Delta. I’m headed for Memphis, with its big white sorrowful houses and voices soft as flour. “Sorrowful houses” is my grand mother Omie’s description. One of...

  15. 14
    (pp. 62-65)

    As we pull into Union Station, I see Omie and Opie waiting, as much a pair as bookends. Their clothes aren’t alike, Opie’s gray coat and Omie’s rose, but they stand close and their faces look for the same thing.


    All of a sudden, I feel shy, backward. My going-away dress Mama was so proud of looks dull and homely. My hair hangs limp, like someone cut it in the kitchen, which Mama did.

    But Omie and Opie don’t seem to notice.

    “She’s grown a mile!” Opie exclaims, giving me a hug. “She’ll outstrip her mother in no time.”...

  16. 15
    (pp. 66-69)

    Waking up in Memphis is not at all like waking up in Goose Rock. The sun doesn’t have to strain to get over mountains; the air is rich and flat. It’s not just the wide paved streets but the river—everything feels light and free, like the day you peel off Your winter underwear.

    Opie has left for the mill by the time I get downstairs, but there are eggs and biscuits in the warming oven.

    “I’ll have another cup of coffee while you eat,” Omie says. “Would you like some?”

    “I’d like to try. Mama doesn’t allow me coffee...

  17. 16
    (pp. 70-74)

    Today we’re going to see Aunt Laura, to meet her for lunch at the Peabody Hotel. I wear my best dress—gray wool with a lace collar. At home it looks passable, but here—I don’t know—I feel country. I think it’s more my face than the dress.

    “Your face is fine,” Mama always says when she catches me frowning in the mirror. “Just don’t go and wrinkle it up.”

    That’s easy for her to say; Mama’s face is doll-sweet. Mine is long and strong like a lantern, and I have dark hair thick enough to put out the...

  18. 17
    (pp. 75-78)

    Christmas Eve. In Goose Rock Mama will put holly on the mantel. Daddy will set up the tree. Before bed, they’ll pop corn on the fire and light the candles. With Mama playing the piano, everyone will sing:

    O little town of Bethlehem

    How still we see thee lie.

    Mama has a hymnal, so they don’t miss a verse. Anna and Helen hum when they run out of words.

    O morning stars together

    Proclaim His holy birth.

    After that, Daddy always says, “I used to know some of those Morningstars. Had a farm over in Knott County. Couldn’t get to...

  19. 18
    (pp. 79-85)

    When I wake up, daylight is standing in my room. I’ve never slept till light on Christmas and my heart lurches, afraid I’ve missed the whole day. At home Helen will be back to sleep now, exhausted by candy canes and a doll. Mama will have the turkey baking. And what about Willie?

    I find Omie and Opie in the kitchen. He’s dusting two picnic hampers and she’s working a golden turkey leg like a pump handle.

    “I don’t want to rush it, but I think it’s done. What do you think?”

    “Just tell me when to eat,” Opie replies....

  20. 19
    (pp. 86-90)

    The next morning Omie is tired.

    “I’m not going to do a thing today but wash and put away dishes. That’s no fun. Why don’t you go with Opie to the mill?”

    Sawdust piles, bandsaws, men with fingers gone: that doesn’t sound like much fun either. But I don’t want to hurt her feelings.

    “I’d love to.”

    “All right,” Opie says. “But first we’ll have to get these Christmas trees in the ground.”

    For a minute I think he means the tree we decorated. But then he goes on: “Rena’s mountain sprouts. They’ve been out of earth long enough.”


  21. 20
    (pp. 91-95)

    We drowsed away the rest of yesterday. I read Keats’ “Nightingale” which is sleepy too. But today Aunt Laura has volunteered to take me sightseeing. I can’t wait!

    “It’s a sight what you’ll see with Laura, that’s for sure,” Opie says over breakfast. “But you might like to look at this first.”

    He hands me a letter from the stack of mail Omie brought in. It’s from Mama.

    “And here’s yours.” He slides another one across the table to Omie.

    I’ve never had a letter from Mama before.Miss Amanda Perritt: her handwriting, plain as day. Opie has already slit...

  22. 21
    (pp. 96-102)

    I feel so lucky to be going out with Aunt Laura. I don’t know where—maybe a play or a concert. You can’t even go to a picture show in Goose Rock. Besides, I want to see something on a stage. I want to sit in the dark and see something—



    “This is the streetcar stop.”


    “You were a million miles away. Homesick, I’ll bet.”

    I don’t say anything.

    “You can’t tell me you don’t miss Duck Roost.”

    The Number Eight car rattles up and we get in. We have to sit in front, right behind the...

  23. 22
    (pp. 103-106)

    I’m just going to ask Omie is all. I want to know and people don’t volunteer telling. There’s only today and tomorrow before I go home, and tomorrow I’m going back to Aunt Laura’s.

    Today is Sunday—still as a dead rabbit. We went to church but it wasn’t like Christmas, ate dinner, and now we’re sunk into the parlor, Opie asleep with the newspaper in his lap, Omie crocheting. Another popcorn-stitch bedspread. Every time she hooks the thread, I feel caught and twisted. If I’m going to ask, I have to ask now.


    “Yes, child.”

    Our words hang...

  24. 23
    (pp. 107-112)

    It’s raining and the streetcar is crowded. I feel funny going to Aunt Laura’s for lunch. Yesterday while Omie talked I felt I was meeting Aunt Laura as a little girl. But today at her house she’ll be grown up.

    Nobody pays me any mind. Does that mean I look like a city girl? Omie helped me pin my hair under.

    I can tell as soon as I arrive that something is wrong. Old newspapers are piled on the porch and the curtains are drawn. Aunt Laura is slow in coming.

    She has on a black satin bathrobe, shiny as...

  25. 24
    (pp. 113-116)

    At the streetcar stop I have to wait in the rain. What am I going to say to Omie? She’ll want to hear about the visit and it’s not for me to tell.

    But when I get there Opie’s describing a mill accident. By the time he gets through, supper is ready. Maybe I’ll get by—

    “And how did you find Miss Laura?” he asks, first thing.

    “Easy. She’s right where you said she’d be.”

    “And did she feed you ambrosia?”

    I think it’s Aunt Laura he’s poking fun at, but I’m not sure.


    “The bird of the gods”...

  26. 25
    (pp. 117-120)

    It’s the path I always take when I’ve been up to my thinking rock. It follows the wet-weather spring down behind the house. In the dream it’s slippery as April and I grab at saplings to keep my balance.

    For some cause I’m in a big rush and when I run up on the porch and find the front door locked, I don’t even stop to wonder, just tear around to the back. They can’t have all gone off. Maybe there’s a bedroom window open.

    I squeeze between the snowball bush and the house but it’s no use. The window...

  27. 26
    (pp. 121-123)

    The train leaves at seven-thirty, so we’re up before light. My talk with Omie seems like a dream. With the other dream inside it.

    “Morning, Miss Perritt,” Opie says when I come into the kitchen.

    “Is it?” I ask, bleary-eyed.

    “Your grandmother says you had to sit up half the night and talk. Womenfolks! Here, let me get you some coffee.”

    He pours me a cup, takes a look at the toast in the stove.

    “‘Don’t let it burn,’ your grandmother says, as if I had a handle on fire.”

    “I’ll watch it.”

    The pieces come out, golden and yellow....

  28. 27
    (pp. 124-127)

    “Good-bye, Opie!” No one can hear me. “Goodbye, Memphis. Good-bye!”

    Good-bye is always hello to something else. Good-bye/hello, good-bye/hello, like the sound of a rocking chair. The train pulls out and Memphis slips away: Omie, Opie, Aunt Laura, the man who played the bird horn.

    Across the aisle an old woman is saying the rosary. I know what it is because Janey Mobeltini brought hers to school. Mr. Aden asked her to explain it.

    “Each bead is a prayer,” she told us. “We say one Our Father and ten Hail Marys—”

    “But to whom are you praying?”

    “The Queen...