by Sandy Tritt
truth? And is the truth always more honest
than fabrication? More noble?
I don’t know.
It makes my head hurt. But here I sit at the
Crystal Cafe, waiting for
my sisters. Stuffed inside my purse is the
truth. The real truth. And I
have just a few minutes to decide whether or
not to reveal it.
I am Sadie, the
quiet one in the family, the one who listens
and watches and writes. In
fact, I was the first one to notice Mary,
although I’m sure Bobbi Jo
will try to claim she was. I was also the
first one to realize that
Mary could be our Mary, and the first one
who said so. Of course, Bobbi
Jo called me the very next day after I said
it and screamed,
“Red-headed Mary is our cousin! I just know
it. We’ve gotta get down to
the courthouse and check it out!”
I just rolled
my eyes. I learned a long time ago that
trying to set Bobbi Jo straight
on anything is a waste of good words. Once
she makes up her mind about
the way things happened, there’s no
convincing her of the truth.
And there I am
using that word again. The Truth. It’s only
7:55, so I should have ten
more minutes before my niece Terri drops her
kids off at the grade
school and my sister Shirley drops her
mid-life surprise off at
preschool, and Bobbi Jo’s migraine medicine
kicks in and she remembers
to pick up Mother.
meeting down here every Wednesday since me
and Shirley moved back to
town within weeks of each other in 1993.
It’s no wonder we know all the
And Mary is as
regular as they come. She arrives at exactly
8:30, her lipstick
perfect, her orange hair rolled and brushed,
her crimson nail polish
unchipped. Like us, she has a near-perfect
complexion that makes it
hard to believe she’s pushing seventy. But
she must be. She’s already
confessed that she retired more than ten
Mother had her
seventy-fifth birthday right here at the
Crystal in August.
Everyone thought she was sixty-something. Of
course, when Bobbi Jo
turns fifty in February, they’ll not believe
Anyway, back to
Mary. The first time I noticed her, Bobbi Jo
was telling us about her
and Shirley getting kicked out of Walmart.
Seems like they
price-checked one time too many. But Bobbi
Jo has a knack for telling a
story, and we were making more than just a
little noise laughing at her
animation. Of course, I snort when I laugh,
which makes everyone laugh
even harder, and I figured we very well
could be the first people to
ever get kicked out of the Crystal.
And then I saw
Mary. She sat at the next table, alone,
watching us with a smile. She
didn’t say anything; she just sat there.
The next week,
Shirley told us about finding a cocaine
addict in the dumpster while
she was dumpster digging. Now, Shirley isn’t
homeless. In fact, she
lives on one of the nicest streets in town
and drives a Mercedes (so
what if it’s ten years old, it still has
that neat little hood
ornament), but she’s about as tight as my
high school leather pants and
digs through trash to find UPC’s to turn in
for rebates. And she can
spin a tale, too. So, as I snorted and
covered my mouth and
snorted louder, I again saw Mary watching
Only this time,
she stood. She walked over to our table and
said, “I think it’s so
wonderful to see a family get together like
Bobbi Jo said
something nasty, but she didn’t say it loud
enough for anyone to hear.
“Be good, Mom,”
Terri said. Terri is kind of quiet, too, at
least at breakfast. I hear
she causes quite a racket at the VFW on
Bingo night, but she usually
doesn’t say much in the mornings.
important,” Mary said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“We gotta hang out together. No one else
would put up with us.”
important,” Mary repeated, and I knew right
then that she was a retired
school teacher. She had that carriage to
her, you know, that way of
holding herself that speaks of authority and
that says you shouldn’t
argue with her.
So I didn’t.
But you know
Bobbi Jo. She always has to get the last
word in. “That’s why we eat
dinner at the county jail,” she said. “So we
can be with the rest of
thankfully, ignored her. “You are very lucky
to have a family.” She
smiled again, then turned and paid her bill.
After that, we
started inviting her to sit with us. It just
felt like she belonged,
know what I mean? And even though Bobbi Jo
tried to make us all sound
like scoundrels and misfits, Mary saw
through it. She treated us with
Week by week,
bit by bit, she told us about her life.
She’d been adopted when she was
five and raised by a very nice but proper
family in the next town.
She’d always wanted to be part of a large
family, but she was the only
child. Money, though, was never a problem,
so she took dance lessons
and piano lessons and voice lessons, and
after she went to college as
her daddy insisted, she took a side trip to
New York. Ended up on
Broadway, holding leads in several musicals.
It wasn’t until 1958 that
she returned to West Virginia. That was the
year her daddy had a heart
attack, and she came home to be with him.
She never went
back. She put her teaching degree to work
and taught grammar school for
the next thirty years. She married twice,
but never had children. And
now that her parents—and both husbands—were
dead, she was alone.
The week it hit
me was the week we went to lunch instead of
breakfast. We sat at the
corner table at Bob Evans, being obnoxious
and noisy, giving fake
lottery tickets to our waiter and carrying
And then Bobbi
Jo, the one who always keeps things loud,
got quiet. She looked at
Mother and said, “I want to find Little
up and watched Mother.
about it, then nodded. “It’s time.”
We all knew the
story about Little Mary. Mother’s oldest
sister had Little Mary out of
wedlock at the age of fifteen. In 1931. But
that wasn’t the worst of
it. Little Mary wasn’t entirely white. I
gotta give Aunt Molly credit
for keeping her as long as she did. It
couldn’t have been easy for her.
But finally, she gave in to pressure and
gave Little Mary up for
But Aunt Molly
has been dead now for ten years and Bobbi Jo
thought if we were ever to
find our lost cousin, we’d better do it
Bobbi Jo wrote down all the details as
Mother recited the dates and the
names and everything she could remember.
And that’s when
it hit me. Mary. Little Mary. The age was
right. And Mary did resemble
us, all of us, especially Aunt Molly—the
same wrinkle-free skin and the
same blue/green eyes and the same broad
nose. And scariest of all, the
same sense of humor. Most people thought we
were deranged; she sought
us out and thought we were funny.
“You know,” I
said, “maybe Mary is Little Mary.”
Bobbi Jo asked, feeling up the waiter and
making him drop a whole tray
of ice waters.
Mary.” I waited until the commotion died
down and said, “She looks like
her head. “Little Mary had black in her.”
“You said her
father was very light-skinned,” Shirley
her head again. “It couldn’t be.”
“You told us
little Mary loved to dance and sing,”
Shirley insisted. “And red-headed
Mary performed on Broadway.”
folded and her lip quivered and we all know
it really could be.
That next week at breakfast, we all eyed
Mary. And it all checked out.
She was short and stocky, she had curly
hair, she even laughed as Bobbi
Jo crawled on her knees to propose to an
Elvis-look-alike. And again,
she told us how much we needed to appreciate
having a family, how nice
it was to have someone to enjoy the holidays
with, to have someone who
is always there, no matter what.
find out you have a family, too,” Bobbi Jo
said, and we all gave her
the evil eye.
And so, here I sit, with the official proof
in my purse. Bobbi Jo
couldn’t get down to the courthouse and
Shirley had to drive her
mother-in-law to Columbus, so I got stuck
with the job. Of course, they
all called me last night and begged me to
tell them what I found out,
but I refused. And then I made static with
aluminum foil and pulled the
plug on the phone and locked all my doors. I
even made my kids crawl
through the doggie-door this morning,
knowing Bobbi Jo could be lurking
anywhere. For someone who’s going to be
fifty next month, her knees are
in pretty good shape.
But do I show
them the document? Is the truth really
invited Mary to Bobbi Jo’s big 5-0
breakfast. We found photographs of
Aunt Molly to give her. We even went ahead
and added her name to our
annual gift exchange drawing, which we do in
January so we have all
year to hunt for bargains.
So does it
matter if she is related to us by blood or
not? Does it matter that the
real Little Mary died eight years ago?
I don’t have to
look up. I can tell by the commotion that
Bobbi Jo is here, bringing
Shirley, Terri and Mother with her.
demand, circling me.
I shrug. “I
couldn’t find out a thing,” I lie. “There’s
no documentation on Little
Mary at all.”
down, suddenly quiet. Deciding what to order
for breakfast becomes
difficult. No one talks; not even Bobbi Jo
can think of any good
stories to tell.
8:30, the door opens and Mary enters. She
walks to our table and hangs
her hat, just like she belongs here.
“You better sit
down, Mary,” Bobbi Jo says, “Cause do we
ever have a story to tell you
today.” She gets out the photos of Aunt
Molly and baby Mary.
And then I know
the truth. The real truth.
And the real
truth isn’t found in legal documents at the
courthouse and the real
truth isn’t found in blood tests. The real
truth is something that
happens in your heart.
Welcome to the
1997. Sandy Tritt. Published in Mountain
Echoes (2004); in Mountain