The First Gardener
- Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Eugenia turned her pink, powdered cheek away from him in mock disgust and returned her affection to Maddie, kissing her multiple times on the face. Maddie giggled beneath the kisses. When Eugenia leaned back, a smile spread wide across her pink-painted lips.
Mackenzie chuckled and shook her head at the exuberant display. Eugenia had been almost as desperate for Maddie as she had been. Since Mackenzie was an only child, Eugenia’s hope for grandchildren rested solely on her. A load she rarely forgot.
Maddie wrapped her arms around her grandmother’s neck. “Gigi, I learned about midgets today!”
Eugenia raised expressive eyebrows above her crystal-blue eyes and turned her head, her coiffed bleached-blonde bob moving as a unit. Beauty shop day was every Monday. Tomorrow she would get it redone to look just like it looked today. “Of course you did,” she answered Maddie, looking straight at Mackenzie. “Your pastor says the c word, darling. Why wouldn’t they teach you about midgets?”
She put Maddie down, handed her the bouquet to hold, and led the way through the house to the kitchen, her silver pumps clicking on the refurbished pine floor. When the door of the oven opened, the fragrance of heaven flooded out. The faithful metal pan that held their Sunday afternoon feast was placed on the counter, the aluminum foil piled up in a mound.
Mackenzie knew what was underneath that silver dome. Paradise. The aroma had already leaked into every pore of her skin.
She walked over to the cabinet and pulled out the glasses. “Smells amazing, Mama.”
“We’re almost ready.” Eugenia took the flowers from Maddie and started arranging them in the cut-glass vase that sat on the kitchen table. “I went out and cut these right before you got here. Look as good as flowers from the governor’s—”
The back door opened. Mackenzie looked up to see her mom tug at the bottom of her baby-blue linen suit jacket. She still hadn’t changed from church herself. Eugenia had attended Southeast Baptist Church since before Mackenzie was born, and at Southeast Baptist they dressed up for Sunday service—another thing she often pointed out to Mackenzie.
Eugenia reached up to pouf her hair just as Burt Taylor’s voice boomed through the kitchen. “Well, good afternoon, everybody.”
Gray walked over and extended his hand. “Good afternoon, Burt.”
Eugenia, fussing with the flowers, spoke to Burt as if he were a last-minute invite. “Hello, Burt. Glad you could join us. Now, dinner will be ready in a few minutes.”
Mackenzie stifled her smile. She hadn’t seen her mom this nervous in a long time. Eugenia had always been a symbol of strength to Mackenzie, who had seen her cry only once—when Mackenzie’s father died ten years earlier. Once the funeral was over, Mackenzie had never witnessed another tear, and she’d only heard Eugenia weeping a few times behind a closed bedroom door.
Eugenia was tough, a rock. Mackenzie envied that about her. If anything happened to Gray, she couldn’t imagine surviving.
“Hey, Burtie!” Maddie squealed and took a leap into Burt’s arms. He let out a half chuckle, half groan.
“Easy, Maddie,” Gray said.
“I love it,” Burt responded, leaning down and planting a kiss on Maddie’s cheek. “I don’t get to see my grandbabies much now that they have all moved away, so it’s mighty nice having a little one in my arms.” The edges of Burt’s plaid suit jacket crinkled beneath her weight.
“Maddie,” Gray said, “let’s go sit outside with Mr. Burt while Gigi and your mom get dinner ready. You can tell him what you learned in Sunday school about midgets.” His laughter erupted as he turned toward Eugenia.
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