I. THE STRAWBERRY DEAL

"It was still the Wild West, in those days, the far West. We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst; and we saw men die violent deaths as they worked among the horses and cattle...." — President Theodore Roosevelt

"And please let Dad's deal go through." That's how my childhood prayers always ended. It seemed like his deals often didn't go through or did go through only to end in disaster. But Mother and I were always hopeful. At least I was. Over time, Mother tired of being hopeful, but I thought my dad was perfect.

Well, not perfect, perhaps, but I thought Charlie Breckenridge was the handsomest man in the world, without exaggeration. Mother said he spent so much time in the shower, she was afraid he'd melt like bar soap and wash down the drain. After combing his gray-streaked hair back into waves, he came out of the bathroom and saw me.

"Hello, Princess," he'd say. "How's my pride and joy today?"

Sometimes I'd catch him studying me, comparing me to his mother. He said I looked like her. Talked like her. Had her strong will. After staring at me a little longer, he'd shake his head in disbelief.

One thing different about me was that she and my parents had dark hair, but my hair was red. The only other trace of red hair in our entire family was my grandfather's red beard. I was the first redhead. That made me special. Mother and Dad said my hair was a beautiful, golden red color--and wavy--not that carroty, frizzy kind of red.

Dad's sister, Aunt Jo, told me that after I was born, she was in Mother's hospital room, full of fall bouquets that raised fistfuls of maroon, orange and gold blossoms into afternoon sunlight. When the nurse brought me in, she handed me to Mother, who put up her hand to signal, Stop! Then she instructed Aunt Jo, "Count her fingers and toes."

"But she's beautiful," Aunt Jo said, who'd always wanted a daughter. "Look at her coloring. And her features are perfect."

"I won't touch her until you count her fingers and toes," Mother said, turning her face away from me.

Aunt Jo did as she was told. Counted out loud, she was so mad at Mother, "One, two, three...." Luckily, the count added up to ten--and ten again.

"That's a relief!" Mother said, as Aunt Jo handed me over to her. It was quiet for a moment as Mother scrutinized me. Then she said," Look at that pursed little mouth. She's going to be prissy."



Jill Breckenridge is available for readings of her poetry or memoir, and talks on various other topics about writing and publishing. You may contact Jill through this website.