The Taylors knocked on the door, and Levi opened it. “Howdy, come on in,” he said.
Grace came out of her room and said, “Come on, Ruthanna. I want you to look at the fish in my aquarium. I just fed them. Their names are Faith, Hope, and Charity.” So Ruthanna went into Grace’s room.
Mr. Taylor sat on the couch in the living room, while Mrs. Taylor went to help Mrs. Bailey in the kitchen. The kitchen was decorated with chickens. Mrs. Taylor exclaimed over every hen or rooster she could find. “Chicken dish towels, chicken magnets, chicken plates, chicken paper towel holder! They are so cute!” she enthused.
Ironically, chicken was not on the menu that night. “I was fixing to make chicken for y’all tonight,” Mrs. Bailey said in her soft drawl. “I usually fix either chicken or pizza for company. So today, I said, ‘I’m gonna make the Taylors some good ol’ chicken and mashed potatoes,’ but then I got to thinking that maybe y’all would rather have pizza, so I changed my mind. “Sarah, do you like pizza?”
“Oh, definitely. We all do! But what’s this—canned pineapple?”
“Yeah, we got to liking the Japanese pizza, where they put pineapple on it. Is that OK with y’all? ’Cause you can just leave it off, if you’d rather not have any. We don’t bake it on or nothing. We just get it out of the can.”
“Sure, I’ll try it, Phyllis. I like new flavors. Ruthanna can be picky, but she’s got a real sweet tooth, so fruit on pizza will be right up her alley.”
“Oh, good. I was so afraid y’all wouldn’t like pizza.”
“Who doesn’t like pizza?” Levi sounded indignant. “Are they out of their mind, not wanting to eat Mom’s specialty?”
“Nobody doesn’t like pizza, Levi. The Taylors all love it. Now get out the little table for you and the girls, like I asked you.”
“I already did. You just can’t see it behind the big table.”
“OK, well, set the plates and silverware for your table, and Nicole, you set the big table for me, dear.”
“Why isn’t Grace helping tonight?” asked Nicole.
“She and Ruthanna are spending some time together. She’ll dry the dishes afterwards. Now get a move on.”
Nicole and Levi got to their tasks, and the ladies continued their chat. “I hope our girls will hit it off and be real good friends,” said Mrs. Bailey.
“I’m sure they will. Most girls are shy at first.”
“Yeah, but Grace is so disappointed that Ruthanna isn’t crazy about critters like she is. I told her that not everybody is the same, and God knows what’s best. She just doesn’t see it like that.”
“Ruthie isn’t afraid of animals. She just hasn’t been around them much, because Ralph and I have allergies.”
“Aw, that’s a shame. Grace still misses her dog Bailey back in Arkansas.”
“Bailey? But that’s your last name.”
“I know. Grace is proud of our family name, and she said there wasn’t any better name for him.”
“That’s sweet. It would be good for Ruthanna to get more involved with what’s going on around her. She just loves to sit inside, read books, and cross-stitch. Of course, I read to her since she was a baby and taught her to cross-stitch when she was seven, so I guess I created the monster.”
“Both girls could be a good influence on each other, I’m sure. Grace hasn’t sewn hardly a thing, other than a leather butterfly purse. She only reads for schoolwork, or when the book is about horses or dogs.”
“We’ll just have to pray for them to have fun together in spite of their differences. Maybe they’ll rub off on each other.”
“Of course they will, Sarah. I think it’s time for dinner now. Kids! Sam! Everybody! Let’s get to the table!”
“Shall we all hold hands while I say the blessing?” Mr. Bailey suggested.
“That’s a good idea, Sam,” replied Mr. Taylor. “We like to do that in our family too, don’t we, Ruthanna?”
“Yeah, but our family doesn’t have as many hands to hold,” said his daughter.
“Just gather round, kids,” said Mrs. Bailey, “and you can get your pizza as soon as we’ve prayed.”
Ruthanna found herself between Levi and Grace as the two families bowed their heads. Grace’s hand was a little smaller than her own, with shorter fingernails. Levi’s hand was rough and large, but Ruthanna could tell it wasn’t as pudgy as his dad’s.
“Dear God, thank you for the food that Phyllis prepared with love. Thank you that the Taylors got to Karuizawa safely. Give us each your blessing as we live for you here in Japan. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“Let’s eat!” yelled Levi abruptly. Before Ruthanna could look up, he was grabbing a slice of pizza to flop on his yellow plate.
Ruthanna picked up her green plate, and held it out, as Mrs. Bailey scolded her son. “Company first, Levi. You give that piece to Ruthanna!” Ruthanna traded plates with Levi.
“Mom doesn’t put any of that yucky stuff like peppers and onions on her pizza,” Grace told her new friend.
“I’m glad, because it looks bad if I pick stuff out and don’t eat everything on my plate when I’m the guest,” Ruthanna whispered back.
“You don’t like them either, then?”
“Uh-uh,” Ruthanna said, wrinkling her nose. “Peppers and onions are gross.”
“No they aren’t. You just gotta get used to ’em,” Levi mumbled, his mouth full of cheese.
“When I complain about food, Papa always says, ‘You don’t know what good is,’ ” Ruthanna said.
“He’s right, you don’t,” said Levi. “’Course, I don’t go begging Mom to put onions and anchovies and stuff on the pizza either. It’s heaven when she makes anything red with cheese on it.”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll ask Mom to make you some raspberry jello with cheese on top!” retorted Grace.
“How about strawberry cheese shortcake?” Ruthanna put in.
“Might not be bad. Hmm. Idea for a new recipe.” Levi slapped another pineapple slice on his third piece of pizza.
“Why are you guys putting pineapple on your pizza?”
“Listen at her, Grace! ‘Why are you guys putting pineapple on your pizza?’” Levi mimicked.
Grace couldn’t help giggling.
“What?” Ruthanna felt hot and stupid, but she wasn’t sure why.
“For one thing, the term is ‘y’all,’ not ‘you guys.’ As to why we put pineapple on our pizza, the answer is, it tastes good that way. Try it.”
“All right, I will. But ‘you guys’ makes just as much sense as ‘y’all.’ Where have you guys been living, anyway, to talk like that?” Ruthanna stuck a fork in the can, and fished out a pineapple slice.
Levi’s mouth was full, so Grace jumped at her chance, and sang, “Away down South in Dixie! Away! Away! Away down Sou—th in Dixie.”
Ruthanna chuckled as well as she could with pineapple juice running down her chin. She swallowed and wiped her face with her napkin. “I figured that much, but what state?”
“Arkansas,” Grace and Levi chimed.
“Oh, I’ve never been there,” said Ruthanna.
“Never been to Arkansas, the greatest place on earth?” Levi widened his eyes and reached for his water glass. “Where have you been, girl?”
“Every state east of the Mississippi except Rhode Island and Vermont,” Ruthanna said proudly.
Levi whistled. “I guess she’s got us beat.” he admitted.
“Dad’s been to just about every state, because of being in the military or getting church support,” said Grace. “But he didn’t take us along everywhere.”
“And when he did, we had to squeeze into the back seat—all three kids stuck there for hours,” said Levi.
“I don’t have any brothers or sisters to sit beside, but I didn’t have the whole back seat to myself, either,” said Ruthanna. “On the seat next to me was a slide projector, pillows, suitcases, Papa’s suit coat and tie, and above all, snacks!”
“Yep, nobody can do without snacks,” Levi stated.
“Eating pretzels kept Mama from getting carsick—most of the time,” Ruthanna said with a wry smile. “I’m done eating supper now. What do we do with the dishes?”
“Carry them to the sink and rinse them,” said Grace. “Nicole washes them, and I have to dry them.” She made a face at the sink. “Whenever I ask Mom why she doesn’t ever do them, or why we can’t get a dishwasher, she says she had to wash dishes when she was a kid, and now I have to do them for her. When I have kids, I’m gonna make them do the dishes. That’ll be my way of getting back at Mom and Dad.”
“We have a dishwasher,” Ruthanna told her. “But that’s because our hands get all sore and cracked when we wash too many dishes.”
“Oh yeah?” said Nicole, coming over with her plate and glass. “I wish that would happen to me. Then mom would feel sorry for me and make Grace do them.”
“You’d still have to dry!” Grace jeered.
“Besides,” said Levi, “we do have a dishwasher. It’s Nicole!” He gave his sisters an annoying grin and tossed his wadded-up napkin into the wastebasket. It landed on top of a heap of rubbish.
“You’d better not talk, Levi,” said Nicole. “I’ll just bring the overflowing trash can to Dad’s attention. You haven’t taken out the garbage once this whole week, and you really don’t deserve to get an allowance.”
“Yeah, quit teasing us, or I’ll dump the whole trash can on your head!” said Grace.
“In that case—” said Levi, and he bent over the trash can and gave the plastic bag a yank. It didn’t budge, but he kept wrestling with it. “Ummph,” he grunted. “Come on, you overgrown bundle of disgusting trash, come out and take your medicine!”
The girls laughed at his battle. Even the grown-ups’ attention was attracted, for the table was only inches from the kitchen’s wastebasket.
“Levi, what made you decide to take out the trash now, with company here?” said Mrs. Bailey, turning around to look him in the eye.
“Um, it looked like it needed it?” Levi shrugged.
“Son, leave the trash alone, and take care of it tonight after the Taylors go home,” Mr. Bailey told him.
“Yes, sir,” said Levi.
“Why don’t we move into the living room, since we’re done eating?” Mrs. Bailey suggested.
“Good idea,” said Mr. Taylor. “I’d just like to stretch out on this sofa, but then where would the rest of you sit?”
“Go ahead, Ralph. Make yourself at home,” said Mrs. Bailey.
“Not at all. I was just teasing. Ruthanna, why don’t you come and sit next to me?”
“OK, Papa.” Ruthanna liked snuggling with her father.a