A Little Background
Today is National Be Humble Day. A definition of being humble--or having humility--is having a modest view of one’s own importance. (I can think of a few public figures on which I’d love to confer instant humility--and silence!)
In my newest release from The Wild Rose Press, Ruthann’s War, the male protagonist isn’t the typical young ‘hunky’ love interest but rather a mature man, one of whose outstanding qualities is humility. He’s approaching 50, a widowed school superintendent, a man still dealing with a debilitating injury incurred in France during the first World War. In fact, he’s lived most of his life believing that he really isn’t anyone’s Mr. Right and that the time for falling in love has long since passed him by.
Until he meets the new third-grade teacher in September of 1945.
He falls hard.
But what about Ruthann?
Here’s a scene from his first clumsy attempt to get back into the courting game:
Drew Mallory, man extraordinaire
Ruthann kept her eyes down. “I should go home. I have some letters to write, and…”
Drew chuckled. “And a few things to wash out? Come now, Miss Cooper, it’s Saturday evening.”
Kay’s foot made contact with Ruthann’s under the table. “You mustn’t miss the quilts,” she said. “And John and I will save you a seat near the stage.”
Panic, like she’d felt all her life when unwanted attention came her way, set her heart pounding. There’s no way I can get out of this without being rude, and he’s my boss, after all. Just please don’t let me run into Gwen or the Fulton.
“All right,” she said finally. She slid off the picnic bench. “My grandmother used to quilt. I have one she made for me.”
“Do you?” Drew asked as he fell into step beside her. She noticed he didn’t seem to be leaning so heavily on his cane tonight. “I didn’t bring it with me, but it’s across the foot of my bed at home.”
“A true family heirloom, then. I don’t have any of those to pass down to Gwen. My parents died of diphtheria within weeks of each other when I was ten. I have no idea what happened to any of their things. A welfare worker took my younger brother and me to an orphanage right after the funeral.”
“Oh, I see. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, so am I, but that’s just the way things happened.”
“How…how did you get into education?”
“Not easily. I ran away from the orphanage when I was sixteen, lied about my age, and joined the army. It was a good life, but then there was the war. I soon found myself in France, in a trench, with mud up to my ears.” He tapped his leg with the cane. “That’s how I got this, which I’m sure you’ve already heard.”
Ruthann didn’t reply.
“What I really wanted to do was stay in the army. Make a career of it, you know. But they didn’t want me, so I mustered out. I took odd jobs along, but I wasn’t going anywhere with those.” He stopped walking and faced her. “Sorry. I’m sure you’re not interested in my life history.”
“Oh, yes, I…but I didn’t mean to be nosy.”
“Just making conversation?” He grinned at her.
“Not really, but…of course, I’m interested.” She gritted her teeth at the words. Would he consider them impertinent—or worse, an attempt to flirt with him?
“Well, then, to make a long story short, someone I worked for encouraged me to go to college—or at least go for a teaching certificate—so I did. I liked teaching and kept going back to school during the summer terms until I’d gotten enough credentials to be an administrator. The future’s in our young people, you know, more now than ever. We’ve lost too many of a generation during this last war, so it’s doubly important to nurture the ones we have left.” He stopped again. “I know your fiancé died in the war.”
Ruthann nodded. “He flew B-17s out of England.
He didn’t come back from his ninth mission.” She watched honest sorrow fill his blue eyes.
“Daylight bombing. It was the only way to get the job done, but our losses were tremendous.”
“Jack’s whole crew was lost.”
“I’m very sorry about that, Miss Cooper. After the first war, President Wilson said we’d set ourselves up for another one. I remember hearing him on the radio and hoping he was wrong, but it happened just as he said.”
Ruthann couldn’t speak past the lump in her throat, but she knew the memory of Jack didn’t put it there. Rather, something in Drew Mallory’s earnest words made her feel small and inadequate. It occurred to her he was passionate about his work. Education was his life, but she realized with a jolt she was only passing time no matter how much she enjoyed teaching.
He touched her elbow. “We can’t change what happened,” he said. “But we can’t forget, either.” A few more steps brought them to the quilt exhibit.
After the quilts, they spent a quarter of an hour admiring a large assortment of handcrafted linens. Ruthann couldn’t resist a lace-edged dresser scarf embroidered in shades of lilac, deep purple, and green. “I don’t need it,” she said as she paid the seller, “but it’s beautiful.”
“Don’t you remember what Sara Teasdale wrote about spending all you have for loveliness?” Drew asked as she completed the transaction.
“Oh, yes, the poem’s one of my favorites.” Ruthann smoothed the folds of the tissue paper in which the woman had wrapped the scarf and tucked it into her purse. “And I’m afraid I didn’t count the cost.”
Drew smiled and motioned her away from the booth. “Would it surprise you to know I own a large collection of poetry books? I’ve always loved poetry.”
“Some of our most famous poets have been men.”
“That’s true, but when you’re a boy of twelve caught reading poetry…” His smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Let’s just say the other boys make you question whether or not you’ll become a man in the long run.”
She stared at him a moment, disarmed by his raw honesty. At the same time, a warning bell rang in her brain.
“But I kept reading anyway. Poetry has always touched something deep inside me. My books are dog-eared, and my daughter calls my library my folly. I see people heading toward the stage. You are staying for the music, aren’t you? I can promise you a treat.”
As they passed the next booth, her eye caught a display of watercolors and pen-and-ink sketches. “Oh, they’re lovely,” she said.
“A local artist,” the woman in the booth said with a smile. “And they’re all one of a kind.”
Ruthann leaned in to see the signature A.M. on one sketch of two schoolchildren on the swings. “He or she lives in Camden?”
Before the woman could reply, Drew said, “Oh, yes, but he’s quite the recluse.” He touched her elbow and urged her forward. The electricity which shot through her body provoked another panicky urge to flee, and she thought she heard the woman laughing behind them.
On Monday morning, Ruthann found a package filling most of her school mailbox.
“Uh-huh,” Rena said.
“What does that mean?”
“What’s in the package?”
“I’ll open it in my classroom.”
Rena laughed. “I expect you have a not-so-secret admirer.”
“Oh, stop it, Rena!” Annoyance replaced anticipation in Ruthann’s soul. She edged past Rena and headed for her classroom, where she wasted no time untying the string and peeling away the brown paper. A miniature watercolor of the Camden School sprang out from a gold wood frame. Her eyes searched the lower corner for the initials: A.M.
“Quite the recluse!” Ruthann repeated the words Drew Mallory had spoken. “Why, that…” She stopped and laughed softly. Then she returned the painting to its protective wrappings and slipped it into a drawer in her desk.