Peggy Ernest currently writes fiction, poetry and essay, is seeking to publish a short story collection, and is working on a novel and a blog. Publishing credits are mostly business related or local news features. She is married, mother of four and Gramma to nine grandchildren who light up her life. She is an artist, working in acrylics and mixed media.
Edna Rankin marked the exact day and time when she knew she’d had enough. She looked up at the yellow plastic kitchen clock and noted the time. 11:05 a.m. Not yet noon on the day when her life would change forever. Her fingers drummed on the green Formica table top. The aluminum band around the table made a cool line on her forearm as it rested on the edge.
“Tuesday, July 12,” she read aloud from the morning newspaper lying beneath her coffee cup. Tuesday, July 12, eleven-oh-five in the morning, Edna Rankin quits being a doormat! Who does Fred think he is? Once again he’s to blame and makes it look like it’s my fault. Well, I’m through with all that!
Getting up from the well-worn table, Edna set her jaw and walked with a firm step toward the small bedroom she shared with her husband, Fred. She jerked open the closet door and pulled out her best navy skirt, a crisp white shirt and some navy pumps.
After fixing her hair into a flattering style, she applied coral lipstick and light makeup, paying special attention to the bags that had begun forming under her eyes. Middle age, ugh. I don’t mind people knowing I’m forty-five, but I mind the evidence on my face.
Twenty minutes later she started her old red Chevrolet and drove into town to Community Bank of Lee County. She easily scored an appointment with the bank Manager, Chris Donnelly, an old family friend, even though she had to wait half an hour until his schedule cleared.
“Edna, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Donnelly said, extending his hand. “Go ahead and sit down, and I’ll get us some coffee. Black, right?”
That’s the good thing about a local, small town bank. They have a personal touch and know you by name. Who needs the big city, when Leesville suits me just fine?
“So, what can I do for you this morning, Edna?” Donnelly said as he handed her the coffee mug.
“I’m here to borrow $25,000, Chris.”
“That’s a surprise. You know I’ll have to ask some questions.”
“Ask away. I’m ready to tell you whatever you need to know.”
“I guess the first thing I have to ask is, does Fred know you’re doing this?”
“This isn’t anything to do with Fred. You know I’m good for the money. I have collateral enough to pay for the loan, it’s just that my assets aren’t liquid at the moment.”
“Then my next question would be what do you want the money for? I can’t just hand out the bank’s money unless it’s for a sound reason.”
“I know that, Chris. I’m not a business woman but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how things work in the financial world. As you well know, Daddy left me a comfortable amount of stock to deal with, some of which is invested in your bank, so I have experience safeguarding it while trying to expand the capital. I think I’ve done okay over the last fifteen years.”
“That’s true enough, Edna. I’m not questioning your money savvy, but I still need to know why you need $25,000.”
“I want to go back to school. I looked up the curriculum at the community college and for $25,000 I can finish my degree and have a career in radiology. I could cash in some stock, but I’ve done the math and I’d be better off paying interest on a loan than taking the hit on my stock.”
“And before you ask,” she continued, “no I don’t have to go to work. I want to work. I want to feel like I make a difference in this world. I put my own ambitions on hold to raise a child. Now that Fred, Jr. got his degree and moved out on his own, I’m ready to do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
“That’s admirable, Edna, but are you sure you don’t want to discuss this with Fred? He’d probably finance your education if you asked him to. I don’t think that’d strain his finances too much.”
“Yes, tightwad Fred has the money. And, yes, I probably could convince him to pay for me to go back to school, but without going into family matters too much, this is something I want—no I need—to do for myself. Fred will have to know about it, eventually, but I want to get everything in place before we have that conversation.”
“And how soon would you want the loan, assuming we work out mutually agreeable terms?”
“ASAP. I need to register in a few weeks to get into the fall term.”
It didn’t take the bank manager very long to complete the loan application with Edna. He knew her net worth far exceeded the amount of the loan and he was sure he wouldn’t have any problem with the loan committee in getting it approved.
Edna left the bank in a jubilant mood and headed toward Massey Mercantile to buy a gallon of paint. Now that Fred, Jr. was out of the house she intended to turn his room into a sanctuary for herself, starting with painting the walls a calm blue-gray. If she was, indeed, going to go back to school she would need a quiet place to study.
For years she had pressured Fred, Sr. to move to a larger house and give them some breathing room, but his thrifty ways made him oppose the idea on cost alone. She wondered what he was saving his money for if not to give them a better lifestyle.
I love him, she thought as she compared nuances of color on the paint charts, but he drives me crazy with some of his antiquated thinking and his parsimony. And then, this morning, accusing me of leaving the gate open and letting the cow get into the vegetable garden. He knew full well he was the last one in from the barn, but he had to make it my fault. What’s the matter with the man, anyway?
On the way home she mulled over the morning’s skirmish. When she married him twenty-five years earlier she knew about Fred’s rough childhood and his fear of poverty. She loved his quiet humor that showed up unexpectedly and she was smitten by his deep blue eyes and his almost raw need for love and acceptance.
Being settled and calm herself, she figured he would find security in their marriage and begin to blossom. It hadn’t happened exactly that way. He was a good father and a faithful husband, but as the years wore on he became more and more miserly as a result of his childhood poverty. Somehow, her love couldn’t overcome the scars of his early neglect. They had enjoyed fun and laughter and Edna felt they had grown together as a family in spite of Fred’s penny-pinching.
The death of his mother three years before had opened some kind of old wound in Fred that he couldn’t seem to get past. He had become increasingly accusatory of Edna as if putting her down made him feel better about himself. She was almost at her wits’ end with him.
That afternoon Edna got down to business with the painting, first shoving the furniture to the middle of the room and draping everything with old sheets to protect from paint splatters. As she rolled the soft-hued paint on the walls, she rehearsed what she would say to Fred when he came home and found she had painted the room. That would be her opening to tell him her plans for the room, her education, the rest of her life.
The room was small, like the other rooms in the house, so it didn’t take Edna but a couple of hours to paint the walls. She finished around 4 o’clock and cleaned herself up so she could begin preparations for supper. She planned to make Fred’s favorite meal. She was aware she was softening him up for the conversation, but she really did want him to understand her motives and she wanted his support without having to pressure him for it.
Edna knew she would have to present her case for going back to school carefully so as not to make Fred feel he had somehow failed to provide for her. His feelings of insecurity and of not measuring up stemmed from somewhere deep in his psyche, and she was not insensitive to that. Sometimes, however, she felt she had been the strong one all of their marriage, and that his fragile self-esteem placed an unfair burden on her. Whenever she began to feel that way, she would remember the Bible verse that said, “We who are strong must bear with the infirmities of the weak.” Over and over the Lord had used that verse to bolster her courage and help her see that everyone needed to rely on another’s strength from time to time.
Fred was a strong man and trusted God, most of the time, to overcome his fears, but his underlying insecurity reared its head often enough. Edna then felt the pressure to be strong for him.
They had not had many fights in their marriage, chiefly because she was a pacifist and he was so scarred by his parents’ epic brawls that he didn’t want anything like that for his family. Their few arguments had usually been when they were both too tired to deal with life and said what was on their minds without cooling off first. She didn’t want this to be one of those times, even though any conflicts between them were usually resolved quickly. She was not even mad any more about his morning accusation regarding the gate.
I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes. I’m ready to forgive him because I know I will want his forgiveness when it’s my turn to mess up. That’s the way life works, isn’t it—give what you want to receive? The Bible says if we want God’s forgiveness we have to forgive others, so there it is, in a nutshell. Besides, I know Fred didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. In fact, I’m glad it happened. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had enough fire to go to the bank and ask for the loan. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I just needed a kick in the pants to get the ball rolling. I should thank Fred for getting me started on this journey and thank the Lord for a faithful husband that, with all my faults, loves me anyway. He’s still an old coot, but a lovable one when he isn’t being so wounded he can’t see past himself.
Let’s see, Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, green beans and fruit salad. For dessert . . .