Mama was an excellent manager. She was always quick and efficient. I remembered the conversation she and Mr. Fenton had on his last visit, a week earlier. We had whisked through the dishes. It was afternoon. Mama was bathed, dressed, and scented with violet talcum powder. They were sitting under the grape arbor. I was perched in the apple tree reading Kentons, a book Mr. Fenton had sent down to Mama. I hadn't cleaned up for the day, which was fortunate, for I had torn a rent in my black-ribbed morning stockings and honey was dripping down the front of my dress. Being true to the the Mrs. Antha tradition that eating should accompany every act, I had taken a stack of crackers covered with honey up in the tree with me.
Mama had on her white dimity with a knot of blue ribbon at the neck. This had come on a dress Mrs. Antha had hired made. As soon as she saw it she decided it was too fancy-dancy for her, ripped it off, and brought it over for Mama. The blue matched Mama's eyes and she looked beautiful as she sat there with the sunlight coming through the leaves and touching her hair. She was leaning back in her chair, her hands in her lap with her fingers locked together. Mr. Fenton sat in a chair by the table drawing designs on an envelope he had take from his pocket. Mama was talking and laughing. She was one of the few people who could laugh without sounding silly.
"I don't see how you manage drudgery so gracefully," Mr. Fenton said. Here I stopped reading for I always liked to hear what Mr. Fenton said. It was even more fascinating to me than the conversation on the printed page.
"You mean that I'm capable?" Mama asked.
"I suppose so, but you don't look capable," Mr. Fenton answered.
"I expect you identify capability with glasses and hair drawn into a tight knot," Mama said.
"And a firm mouth," Mr. Fenton added. "But how do you live so prettily?"
"Yes," Mr. Fenton said. "Your house is always neat and orderly, and it has touches. I don't know just what they are but they are pretty. You move fast, but you don't rush and bustle. You're efficient, gosh-blamed efficient to quote Mr. Baldwin. I know efficient isn't a pretty word to use in describing a woman."
Madeline Babcock Smith