When Grandma Rae Parker stole me away to the preacher on the morning of my kidnapped christening, she told him, “Bless this one just a mite bit more, if you will, dear reverend. She may be a Parker, but she’s got her mother’s look in the eye.” For that fact I am proud, because what Grandma Rae didn’t understand was that any trait shared with my mother was already blessing enough.
Daddy says Mama is part wolf. Mama’s love has teeth. Like the wolf who carries her pups real gentle in her mouth, then curls her lips back to show a sharp mouthful when she feels the need to be protective. That’s how Mama is with her pack. And that’s what Grandma Rae never understood.
Now about the kidnapping, I don’t remember any of it, being just a tiny baby at the time. I’ve got to rely on the story as Mama tells it, in a quiet moment before she tucks me in. Or as Daddy tells it at the dinner table, his eyes crinkling with laughter.
Grandma Rae, being who she is, thought she was doing a kind thing in sneaking my baby self to the preacher like that. Of course, Mama and Daddy didn’t know. They thought I was safe asleep in my crib down the hall. They were in the kitchen making pancakes, with no intention of having me christened on that day or any other day, according to Mama, so I can imagine they were none too pleased. But Grandma Rae wouldn’t hear of raising a baby without the Lord’s of.cial blessing, and said it was bad enough Daddy had gone and married Mama, who was what she called a free spirit. So that balmy summer morning she put on her Sunday best, and she took me off to church. All a secret, until Mama got a feeling she should put down her pancake and go check my crib. The mother wolf has instincts.
By the time they figured out where I was, I was christened. Of course that was a long time ago. It’s what you’d call a family story, one that may not have started out too funny, but has sort of smoothed out its hard lines over the years, each voice that tells it wearing down the jagged edges like wind on a mountain. We can laugh when we tell it now; the story’s gotten so it’s not so sharp when we hold it. These days when we recall it Mama just shakes her head and laughs in a light way that ripples like water. “It was a gesture, Franny,” she tells me. “Sometimes even the kindest ones get boxed up wrong and arrive on your front porch in pieces. You’ve just got to try to remember what it started out as, is all.”
I finally understood what Mama meant the summer of my thirteenth year. That summer there were many good intentions that turned out just .ne, and quite a few that turned out all wrong. Like the Fire Department’s Fourth of July bon.re. The whole town gathered at the swimming hole, ready for a night of barbecue, toasted marshmallows, the works. But there would be no .re. Hours later, those sticks were just smolder and smoke. Kids cried, and the .remen held up their hands in apology. That was the picnic where we all ate our s’mores cold and hard. The .remen must’ve felt awful bad ’cause the next week they held a redo. And boy, was it! You could roast your marshmallow from .fty feet back. Finally they had to call in one of the trucks and hose down the barbecue. But no one complained. Everyone ate their charcoaled hot dogs in their soggy buns. We knew the .remen had tried their best. Mama was right about good intentions. This is the .rst thing you need to know.
The second thing is the importance of family. Our family is very close, and by that I mean that some of us are close in how much we like each other, and some of us are just close in geography. Grandma Rae says it makes no difference. “Franny,” she says, “family is all you’ve got.” On the walls of her butter-cream parlor hang pictures of Daddy’s Oklahoma roots. Deep roots, back to the .rst settlements in the Cimarron Valley. Grandma likes to refer to those pictures often, especially the ones where skinny-legged farm kids stand like poles, hands crossed stiffly in front of them. Very respectful, she tells us. Personally, I think those kids look miserable. But I like looking at my people.
Only a bike ride away from Grandma’s is our farmhouse, with its crooked porch swing that’s never empty for more than a minute, and Mama’s .owers busting out of the shrubs that line our porch. Out of control, as Grandma Rae says. In the back, Daddy’s vegetable garden rolls down our sloping yard to the river, and by August, when it’s close to bursting, it unravels itself, leading a parade of tomato and pepper and squash right to the water’s edge. In the fall, we keep an extra close eye on the pumpkin vines so we don’t lose a good jack-o’-lantern down the river. It’s happened before. Across the way is the red barn where my chestnut pony, Snort, lives, and by it the old silo leans toward the .elds where Daddy likes to bird-watch, almost like it’s pointing to our well-traveled route into the hills. My little brother, Ben, and I liked to lose ourselves in those fields, though it seemed a little harder to get lost each summer as I got older.
Finally, you need to know that summer is a state of mind. Picture the way it looks on a person: a sticky ice cream mustache, a late-afternoon hammock dream, a gauzy dress rolled loosely at the knee. Summer has a mood different than any other season, and it sort of infects people. Maybe it’s the hazy afternoons that go on and on, or the too-sweet lemonade, or the full-bellied moons that hang extra low in the sky, but I’ve noticed that kids and grownups are under a bit of a spell come summer. It usually strikes around July, and you can always tell when it starts. People act just a little crazy: gardening in the hot sun, wading into a farmer’s stream, declaring love beneath dark windows. Mama calls it summer fever. And that year the fever started on the same day a blue truck rolled into the neighbors’ driveway, the first Friday of July, beyond our red barn.
Excerpted from Franny Parker by Hannah Roberts McKinnon.
Copyright © 2009 by Hannah Roberts McKinnon.
Published in March 2009 by R.R. Donnelley Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.