Milas' Suprise Announcement

Milas’ Surprise Announcement

By Elton Camp


(A continuation of the series about life in the rural South during the early 20th Century.)

The family had no warning. Thirteen months after his wife’s death, Milas pulled into the yard in his wagon. With him, on the seat, was a poorly dressed young woman. A lean girl of six years sat between them.

            “This here’s Belle. We got hitched down at th’ courthouse today,” he announced to his children. 

            He’d waited the year that Southern rural custom demanded before remarrying. He was 44 years old. She estimated her age at the mid twenties. Belle didn’t know, and never learned, her exact age although she knew the month and day.

            “Yore older then y’u air good,” was the only reply her mother would make when Belle questioned her on the subject.

            She was likely only a few years older than Bertha, though she appeared considerably older. Her dress, sewn from feed sack material, was shabby and faded. She wore no shoes. A white bonnet covered her head. Its strings were tied in a loose bow under her chin. Her hands were tanned from long exposure to the sun.

            “This here’s her young un, Birdie Swearengin,” Milas continued. “Y’all make yore new maw welcome. Show her ’round th’ place.” 

            Bertha and Mamie were rendered speechless. The older boys feigned indifference. The younger ones were unconcerned and ran over to become acquainted with Birdie. It would be fun to have a new playmate about their age, even if she was a girl.

            “Com’on, Birdie. We’ll show y’u th’ hid’ out,” Howard invited. Leon jabbered with excitement as they dashed to the secret spot in the barn loft.

            Belle was a widow of a few months. Her husband had died of tuberculosis, leaving her in dire poverty along with her daughter. The extended illness and death of her mate forced Belle to eke out a living as best she could. An ox was all she had to pull the plow, but she strove mightily to fulfill her husband’s sharecropper agreement. Winter was approaching and the little she’d earned wasn’t sufficient to carry her through until spring. She didn’t know what to do.

            Milas had learned of her circumstances. About two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, he pulled into her yard. Belle sat on the edge of the front porch of her run-down dwelling. She watched his approach with interest, but said nothing until he spoke.

            “Afternoon, Miz Belle,” he said with only a trace of a smile. “Would y’u care t’ visit a spell?” 

            He didn’t identify himself, but Belle knew who he was. They’d never been introduced, but he was well known. She believed that she knew why he had come.

            “Why shore, Mr. Milas. Have a seat heer on th’ porch,” she invited. She gestured toward a cane-bottom chair. Since it was the only chair, she turned to face in his direction as he sat down.

            “No doubt y’u heered o’ th’ passin’ of my wife,” he commenced. “Hit’s left me in a consid’able bind, what wif som’ o’ th’ young’uns bein’ small.”

            “I heered ’bout hit an’ I’m powerful sorry. All sez yore wife wuz a fine woman,” she replied.

            Milas turned the conversation to the weather. The two chatted idly about the approaching winter for several minutes. Not one to continue to waste words, Milas got to the point.

            “I’m in need of a wife an’ hit’s plain thet y’u air ’n want of a husband. If y’u think well of hit, I kin pick up a license this afternoon an’ we kin git hitched tomorrew,” he suggested.

            “I reckon thet will b’ fine, Mr. Milas,” she answered.

            “Then I’ll com’ ’bout this time Friday,” he said as he rose to depart.

            That was all there was to it. Neither knew much about the other. “Love” was no consideration. It was an eminently practical arrangement for them both. But what would be the reaction of his daughters?

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