46. Patty Thinks

That Riah’s
Done it now.
All the time, she plays with fire,
Daring folks.
Working fields just like a tenant,
A day picker.
Even that good year–Tom
Didn’t need her! Women, sure,
Could work the fields–
Not me, Patty thought, but
Some God-fearing people–
But don’t drive the big machines!
Man’s work, tractors.
Who does Riah think she is,
Makes herself the only one?
Queen-of-May, Miss High and Mighty,
Up there on her tractor seat?
Patty pictured how she’d feel,
And shuddered.
But this latest–
The last straw!
That bold redhead
Right there in her car.
Patty bit her lip.
Playing with fire.

Patty kept a peaceful house.
Since Bud had joined the bank,
“Sidewalk farmer,” the men
Teased him, though she’d
Never….Now they were more
Comfortable. Not rich, Patty thought,
Not rich. Just better off.
Nice baby clothes. Hers too.
She unscrewed a tin,
Piano polish.
It smelled so refined,
Well-made, secure.
She rubbed her cloth in it.
The rumpling wax
Made waves beneath her thumb.
Funny how one thing
Led to another.
Pa had always said it:
You can tell a lady, honey,
By her shoes.
Wrong shoes
Were a clue to other wrongness.
Riah rode a tractor–some might
Comment, what’s the harm?
Old Mrs. Price
Said words to that effect.
But Riah was tone deaf
To all the gentle hints
That Patty dropped.
And that was not the worst–
Bud said down at the store
The men were chuckling,
For they’d never seen a man
Hen-pecked as Tom,
Can’t buy gum without say-so
From his wife.

Not right, Patty thought,
To treat him so.
Should be
Like the preacher said on Sunday–
Something about helpmate–or helpmeet–
And wives, something, your husbands.
She recalled the feel of it,
Quite well.
She’d sat straight by Bud,
So proud, they all could see.
Patty ran a wipe-rag
Down the door.
Hers, the only house with
Paper in each room–and
Had not lost its design.
Shades, drawn to ward off
Fading–roses on the bedroom,
Lilacs on the hall,
Some bloom she couldn’t name,
An orange-pink, parlor.
Riah could afford not
But one roll,
So she lined just
The borders of her walls.

Someone’s got to tell her,
Patty sighed. I guess
Must be me.
Louise Kemp’s no fit companion
To break bread with man or beast.
It’s too bad we buy her make-up,
But that’s business,
Not her chatting in your car,
As big as day!
I’ll tell her, “Riah,
What will people say?”
Patty frowned.
She started to rehearse
A speech to Riah, as she
Shined the full-length mirror
In her room.
I’m not firm enough, thought Patty,
That’s the problem.
Often Riah did not hear
What she had said, though Riah
Listened very hard:
Her questions showed
That she had missed the point.

Rubbing on the polish,
Patty practiced.
She cleared her throat,
Tried once more to find
That undeniable, no-nonsense voice
Her Pa had used,
And with such good effect,
On Patty,
When she was a little girl.

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