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Friday, March 18, 2005

Unwanted Change

Ray always knew this day would come. He had prayed many times that it would. Only now he had a family-those that depend on him to provide for their needs. A familiar lump had made its way to his throat; the same lump that he had when he heard the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. Ray wasn't worried about loosing his family; just their life as they knew it today. Ray pulled the long yellow government envelope from his shirt pocket and looked at the typed return address:

United States Government
Department of War
Washington, DC

Ray held the letter in his hand as he pulled onto the long winding rode that led to his home. Ray stopped. He could not wait any longer to read the letter. He tore it open and read the dreadful news-the news that would end his strong livelihood. They'd make it, but it would be hard to get use to not going all the time and having to sell their crops or not. When the government approached Ray back at the beginning of the war, Ray saw this as a way to serve his country. He had taken pride in growing his crops, harvesting them and then sending the crops to the government so they could feed the soldiers who were at war.

The letter read:

Dear Mr. Singleton,
The United States Government would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your faithful service to your country during a very trying and fearful time. You have served our country by providing them with an invaluable service. Raising crops is not easy and they are important to our cause over seas. Thank you for your four years of faithful service.
This letter is bittersweet in that it is to inform you that our war efforts abroad is dwindling down. I am sure this news is one you expected.
The down side to this letter is that the government no longer needs your service. With the harvesting of beets and beans in the early spring, this will be our last purchase and barter with Singleton Farms. I hope the past four years the government has served you as well as you have served them.
I would like now to thank you personally for a job well done.

Thank you again,
Harry S. Truman
Commander in Chief

Ray stuffed the letter back into the envelope and put it in his pants pocket. Ray began riding up the long drive to his home slowly; pondering how he would tell Livy.

Since the windows were open, Livy heard the truck coming up the drive. She wondered why Ray was driving so slow. Livy had been doing spring cleaning today and decided that the house could use some fresh paint, new rugs, and new curtains. Livy had been working on the yard and gardens and now she was working on the inside.

Livy knew that Ray would be happy to let her repaint the house. Livy didn't necessarily want to change the colors, just make it look fresh and new. Livy thought that she might wait to ask about new rugs and curtains. She didn't want to overwhelm Ray at once and make him think that she wanted to change everything. He was so willing to change and do anything for her when she came to be his wife. Livy was always careful not to take advantage of his willingness to please her.

Livy had gotten money when her mother passed away to complete graduate school and travel to Turkey to see the ruins of Troy. Livy no longer wanted what she use to want. Besides, Livy thought to herself, I already have a MRS degree and a MOM degree. That was enough for Livy. Livy wanted to use that money for this. It would be her anniversary gift to Ray. Their first anniversary.

Livy began early in the day planning her strategy to get Ray to agree to let her pay for the painting. Livy had planned one of his favorite suppers: roast beef, potatoes, carrots, rice and gravy, and biscuits. Livy hoped her plan would work. She had thought about not even telling Ray and surprising him one night when he came home. But Livy felt she needed to ask before she did anything, out of respect for Ray's parents and Ray. She did not intend to upset anyone.

When Ray finally made his way up the drive, he felt the lump in his throat grow larger. Ray dreaded going inside. A feeling that he had not felt since Livy came into his life. Ray walked in the front door and looked into the living room. There he found his family, his love, his life. Ray smiled at Livy; she was nursing Daniel as she usually did this time of day. Ray found joy in seeing Livy nurse Daniel. It wasn't sexual enjoyment; just pride that he had a part of the bond that Daniel and Livy shared.

Ray walked over to Livy and Daniel and kissed both of them on top of their heads. Ray smelled Livy's hair and for a brief moment, Ray was lost in his love for his wife. He had forgotten about his problem. He was home and in the love of his family where he always found security. The moment was gone when Ray allowed thoughts to creep into his mind that told him the only reason Livy stayed last December was because he gave her everything-a swimming hole, driving lessons with the "Beetbox", long drives to the mountainside with friends to look for butterflies, a phone, a diamond ring. They all took money. Something that Ray was going to have less of now.

Livy had no idea about the operation of the farm. She knew that Ray grew crops for the government and they sent workers to help in the fields. But Ray intentional kept the books from Livy because finances were the husband's responsibility , not the wife's. Livy had the house to keep up with. And she was a great keeper of the house. She always had a good meal cooked, the clothes were always washed, and the house was kept neat, and a busy baby. Ray felt that was enough for Livy to have to worry about. Besides, Ray's dad never bothered his mama with the opertation of the farm and Ray liked it like that.

While Livy got supper on the table, Ray played with Daniel. Daniel was crawling now and sitting up well. Ray was so amazed at how quickly Daniel grows and learns. Daniel would get excited now when Ray came home because he knew that his daddy was going to play with him. He also squealed when Ray would leave. That made Ray feel so good. The past few years when Ray had been so lonely, he never dreamed he would have the feeling of his family again. He always wanted Daniel to want to be with him. And Livy, too.

Livy sooned called the men folk-that's what Ray called them sometimes-to supper. Ray put Daniel in the highchair that Martha had let them have until Ray finished the one he was working on. Who knew when that would be. Livy broke up pieces of biscuits and put them on the tray of the highchair and Daniel sat and ate contently. The conversation at supper was almost forced-like their first dinner together on the day they were married. Ray avoided looking Livy in the eyes and made small talk with her about her day. Ray complemented Livy on how nice the house looked. He knew that Livy must have been working hard and she should be proud.

At supper, Livy felt the heaviness of their conversation. Was Ray annoyed at her for something or was he just tired? He had been working in the fields long and late to get them ready for harvesting and some ready for planting. Soon the government would send in help for the crops, Livy thought, and maybe then Ray wouldn't have to work so hard.

Ray played with Daniel after supper as he always did. He usually would get him ready for bed-a bath, put on his night clothes, and then Livy would have to do the last step of the routine-give him his last meal of the day. Ray loved these times with Daniel. But tonight, he was going to have to look at the Farm Ledger. Ray hoped Livy wouldn't mind doing the routine tonight. Ray knew she was tired but he needed to get to the books and really see what the letter meant for them.
When Livy finished in the kitchen, she came to the living room where she stopped in the doorway to admire her men folk. How blessed Livy felt to have a husband who loved her no matter what and have a son that was just perfect. How could Livy not have wanted to marry and have a family? But Livy decided quickly that Ray was what made all the difference. She didn't want to be just anyone's wife, only Ray's.

Livy walked over to where they were playing on the floor and sat down with them. Daniel smiled at his mama, but continued to play with Ray.

Livy looked at Ray and said, "Daniel really loves his daddy."
Ray felt proud, "Yeah, maybe so, but mama gives him something that I can't."

Ray asked Livy if she minded giving Daniel his bath tonight because he had some Farm paperwork to do.

Livy, with a smile, responded, "You do your work and I'll do my work. I think I can manage one night."

With that, Livy disappeared around the corner.

Ray reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the letter. He then went to the desk and pulled out the Farm Ledger. Ray began scanning the ledger. Ray had been very frugal since his parents had passed away. It didn't take much to keep him going. He was so glad he had. Ray had a savings,too, but with the end of the war, you never know how the economy will fair.

Ray felt guilty about his feelings. He did want the war to end. He did want someone's brother to come home safe. Ray was patriotic and loved his country. This just all meant change. A big change for the Singletons.

The lump in his throat was beginning to grow and throb. Ray could not decide what to tell Livy. Soon she would be asking when the help in the fields would begin. Livy loved going out to the fields to socialize. Ray laughed softly to himself. How opposite he and Livy were, but oh, how well fit they were.

Livy had given Danny his bath and put on his night shirt. He was now ready for his last meal of the day. As Danny nursed away, Livy thought about how she would tell Ray about the fresh paint and how she wanted it to be her gift. Her gift to him.

Livy changed into her blue flowered night gown and went downstairs. She put on the kettle to make their nightly cup of tea. Livy had not drunk coffee or tea much until she moved here. But now she couldn't go a day without it.

Livy was now standing in the doorway of the living room, waiting on Ray to finish his work in the ledger. Ray had not noticed Livy. When he looked up, Livy moved toward him and wrapped her long arms around him. She said, " I love you, Mr. Singleton, with all my heart." Ray took her hand and led her to his lap. There she put her hands on his shoulders and his around her thin waist. Livy asked Ray if everything was okay. Ray said, "Yeah, I just have some figuring to do."

The tea kettle went off and Livy jumped up to see about it. Soon Livy returned in the doorway with two tea cups. Livy beckoned Ray to the sofa. Ray could never tell Livy no, no matter what she asked.

Livy did most of the talking. Telling Ray about things than Danny had done that day. How he had crawled into the fireplace while Livy was cleaning out the trunk in the corner. Livy said she was going to have to watch him like a hawk. Ray smiled every once in awhile but he never contributed to the conversation.

Livy continued talking about the days work and how she loved the house and loved keeping it clean. She then bit the bullet.

"Ray, I have something I want to do for us, for our house. I would like to repaint it and make it look fresh and new." Livy was sure that Ray wouldn't mind the painting of the house, but letting her use the tuition money was the concern.

Ray cleared his throat as he had done many times before when he felt uncomfortable or nervous.

Ray agreed that the house needed painting. He had thought about doing it when he put in the hot water before Livy moved in. But he was afraid the paint fumes might get to Livy or her baby and he decided against it.

Ray really didn't want to have this conversation tonight. He was afraid to spend money on frivolous home improvements such as paint.

Ray finally spoke, " Livy, I feel we should wait to paint the house. Wait and see what happens with the war and our crops." There he had said it. In a round about way, but he said it. The lump seemed to have gone down some in his throat, Ray could actually breath now without feeling like someone or something was choking him.

Livy sat quietly. Ray could see the disappointment in her eyes. Ray's soul ached because he wanted to give Livy everything she wanted. He would do anything to make her happy. But Ray felt they needed to wait.

Livy couldn't believe that Ray said no. Livy then said something that to this day she wishes she could take back. It hurt Ray, and Livy knew it.

Livy told Ray about the money that her mother left her to finish graduate school and go to Troy to do excavations. Now, Livy wanted to use it to make his grandparents home look new again. She wanted to give to Ray as an anniversary gift. Their first anniversary.

Ray didn't respond at first, much to Livy's surprise. Livy sat uncomfortably and finally looked at Ray. She knew she had gone too far.

Ray got up and in his sturn voice, the one Livy has only heard once, he said, " I provide for this family-their needs-their wants. That will not change."

Ray hurriedly left the room and took two or three steps at a time to reach the top of the staircase. Ray went into their room alone.

Livy had an aching in her soul that she could not explain. Ray was not himself tonight. She could not believe that he told her that they needed to wait. But oh no, Livy has to take it a step further. She should've just went ahead and said, "I know that you want to wait and kinda see what happens, but I,I want to be a brat and say that I have money and want to do this for your grandparents." How cruel Livy felt she had been. How insensitive she was. Ray took pride in one thing and that was the honor of taking care of his family. And good ole Livy shot that one down as well. Livy couldn't get those thoughts out of her head.

Livy so wanted Ray to confide in her. To tell her really what was bothering him. He had not been himself all night, even at dinner. She wanted to be there for Ray, as he had been for her in her darkest of days. Livy's soul continued to ache for the one man she loved. It ached because Livy had hurt him, something she said she would never do again.

A lump came to Livy's throat that made it difficult to swallow-to breathe.

Livy left the teacups in the sink-something she has not done since becoming Mrs. Ray Singleton. But Livy could not bare to be away from Ray anymore. She had to go and try to make it right with Ray.

When Livy reached the bedroom, all the lights were out. Livy had hoped Ray would still be awake. His eyes were closed, but he was awake. Livy left the hall light on so she could see to check on Daniel. When she came to cradle, Daniel was not there. A voice came out of the darkness and startled the silence. "I have him here with me, I hope you don't mind." Livy could barely speak because of the lump, "Of course not, Ray, he loves to be close to his daddy."

Livy walked over to the dresser and began to take down her twist. Sometimes the bobbypins liked to hide in her thick curls. Livy remembered that this was how Ray became involved in this nightly ritual. At first, he helped her find the lost bobbypins. Soon, he took the brush and began brushing Livy's long, curly hair. Ray told Livy that her hair was one thing that attracted him to her. He thought it was the most beautiful hair that he had ever seen. One night after they had made love, Ray said that he had a silly request Livy didn't think so. At night, when they were in the privacy of each other, he didn't want any clips, any pins, or any ribbons in her hair, he wanted it down so it could hang around her shoulders. He wanted that beauty only for him. Livy delightful oblidged.

Ray tried not to watch Livy as she brushed her hair. But he could not help himself. He loved her so much. But Livy had to understand that he had to be the provider for his family. That was her money, not theirs. How beautiful she was just standing there. Ray knew he had hurt Livy, but if they were going to have any thing in the years to come, they could not be frivolous with their money.

Livy was really sorry about what happened tonight and she wanted to make it right. Livy was willing to do whatever it took. Hopefully, Ray would confide in her and let her know what was going on. Livy knew she had taken tonight too far, but what else was eating away at Ray?

Livy came and got the baby and put him in the cradle. Livy wanted nothing to be between them-no baby, no secrets, no hurts. Just a husband and wife talking and making things right again. Livy needed to tell Ray how sorry she was and she would wait to paint the house whenever he saw fit to do it. Livy wanted to hold Ray and love him like he deserves.

When Livy climbed into bed, Ray quickly pulled her so close to him, so close that she could barely breath. Livy was nervous like it was their first time. Ray obviously wanted Livy. But he also needed her tonight. He needed her to need him,too. Livy loved Ray, but she needed to know that Ray wasn't disappointed in her for offering her money. It was important to Livy to give her husband what he needed tonight. He needed her to need him, to look to him for fulfillment. Both got what they needed. There wasn't any conversation that night, but there needn't be. Just acts of love that two people needed and deserved.

When they did finally spoke, Livy apologized for suggesting to use the money. She did not mean to insult him. Ray told her that she had nothing to be sorry for. Ray apologized for what he said and leaving mad.

Livy's lump in her throat had finally gone away and she was able to fall asleep quickly. Ray's lump remained. He spent the better part of the night thinking about his family and what he needed to do.

Ray left out before dawn the next day, partly because he had a lot of work to do in the south field and partly because he didn't want to face Livy. He had never felt this way, but he had never kept anything from Livy.

Livy sleep in because the baby did not wake until almost 8 o'clock. He had been sleeping through the night for the past few weeks. Livy had been getting up with Ray. She must've been tired this morning because she didn't even hear Ray get up.

Livy still felt that there was something that Ray was keeping from her.

After Livy fed Daniel, she picked up cleaning where she left off yesterday. Today she had to clean out the kitchen cabinets. Danny got fussy in the highchair, so Livy let him down to crawl around. She would go fetch him every few minutes. Livy heard Danny in the living room. Livy quickly went to find him. He had made his way to grandma's spinning wheel. Livy scooped up Danny and twirled him around in the air. On Livy's way back to the kitchen, she noticed that Ray's desk was still out from the night before. Livy quickly put Danny down and was just going to put the papers in the ledger and close it up in the desk. As Livy was doing this, she noticed a yellow envelope-United States Government-the letter was close at hand. Livy began to read it. At first, she thought it was a letter thanking him for his service. Livy didn't feel guilty about reading the letter until she got to "your services are no longer needed". Livy read no further. She left the desk as she had found it. She did not want Ray to know that she knew. Livy was certain that he would tell her. In his own time and his own way.
Livy knew this was what was bothering Ray. His means of providing for his family is uncertain and he didn't like that. Oh, how selfish Livy must've sounded last night. Ray did try to tell her last night. He asked Livy to let's wait and see what happens. A lump reemerged in Livy's throat and her soul ached once more for the man she loved. She can only imagine the turmoil that Ray must be feeling. Livy had to find Ray, not to ask or tell she knows, but to be with him. No wonder Ray spoke little last night, he didn't know what to say.
Livy had no idea what this really meant, but she was certain that Ray knew or he would know soon. That's all Livy needed to know. Livy would do whatever Ray told her they'd have to do.
Livy grabbed a diaper, the baby, and a cocola from the icebox. Livy had no idea where Ray was, but probably somewhere on the tractor because the truck was still there. Livy headed down to the south field and Ray was there plowing the fields to get them ready for potatoes. When Ray saw the truck, he immediately stopped the tractor and ran over towards them. Three got out of the truck, Livy, Danny, and Franklin jumped out the back. Ray hollered asking if everything was alright? Livy shook her head and raised her hand to let him know that all was well.
Danny squealed when Ray got close to them and started wiggling and jumping and Danny spoke his very first word, "Da-Da". Livy could not believe her ears. Ray thought he heard something but did not realize that it was Danny. Danny said it again only clearer this time, "Da-Da". Ray swooped up Danny from Livy's arms and reached him towards the sky, and said with tears in his eyes, "Yes, I'm your Da-Da!" Livy was so excited. It could not have happened at a better time. Ray wiped his tears with his shirt sleeve and asked Livy if that was why she came and she said, "No, he didn't say it until he saw his Da-Da. I was tired of cleaning and believe it or not, Danny was fussy for his Da-Da."
Ray was beside himself. He still couldn't believe that he had a son and his first words were Da-Da. While Ray basked in the glory of his son, Livy spread out a blanket for her and Danny to sit on. Livy went to the truck and got the cocola that she had brought for Ray. Ray smiled and said "you always know what I need." Livy replied smuggle, "I'm your wife, I should know what you need, what you desire, what you think about and what you worry about. If I wasn't good, then anyone could be your wife." Ray quickly said, "No one is as good as you." Ray could not understand how Livy knew something. But who was he kidding? Ray wasn't himself last night-not at supper, not when Livy asked to paint the house, not when they made love, and not this morning when he left the house without saying goodbye. Ray was not afraid that Livy would not understand the situation, but that her lifestyle would once again be altered by the man she looked to to provide all that she needs.
Ray leaned against the "beetbox" and finished his cocola. Livy took Danny to the blanket with a few toys to play with. Franklin lounged at the edge of the blanket as if to keep an eye on him. Livy walked back over to Ray at the truck. He held his hand out and twirled Livy into his arms as he did at Martha's birthday party last summer. Ray's smile warmed Livy's heart. Ray pulled Livy closer to him and kissed her like he does when they're in the privacy of their marriage bed. When their lips parted, Ray whispered as if he didn't want Danny or Franklin to hear, "Our lives are going to change, Livy, and it isn't for the better." Livy took Ray's smooth face into her hands and said, "Ray, no matter what it is we are going to be just fine. You just tell me what I need to do." Ray told Livy about the letter and what it meant for them. Ray was totally honest with Livy, and it felt good. The more Ray talked, the smaller the lump became until it was eventually gone. Ray felt relief telling Livy everything. He felt even better and knew that they would be just fine when Livy said, "I have you, the baby, and plenty of clothes. That's all I need." Ray hugged Livy tight and swung her around and reminded her how much he loved her, how he was the luckiest person around. Livy disagreed. She was.

Ray and Livy's lives were changed from this day forward. Ray didn't worry much about it after that day, because Livy never gave him reason to. She did exactly what Ray said they needed to do.