Preview of Gunpowder and Tea Cakes: My Journey with Felicity
Written by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst
Published 2017 by American Girl Publishing
Bri-ing! When the last bell of the day rings, everyone in my class starts shoving stuff into their backpacks. It's springtime, and nobody wants to hang around.
“Don't forget your assignment!” Ms. Deming calls. “Your persuasive essays about citizenship are due on Monday.”
Right. We're supposed to explain the important role that everyday people play in government. Pretty boring. I haven't started writing. I know what I'll be doing all weekend, I think gloomily.
My friends Lauren and Amara are waiting in the hall. “Have you started your essays yet?” I ask.
“Mine's almost done,” Amara says.
“Show-off!” Lauren teases.
Amara shrugs. “My parents won't let me participate in extra activities if I don't get my homework done. My African dance group is performing tomorrow night, and I have a rehearsal this evening.” Amara loves to dance. Her mother was born in Senegal—a country in western Africa—and they both belong to the African dance group. Amara also takes ballet.
“Well, I haven't even started my essay,” Lauren says, as we walk outside.
“Me either,” I admit.
“I've got more important things to think about today anyway,” Lauren says. Her eyes are sparkling.
“What's going on?” I ask suspiciously.
“My mom is taking me to the animal shelter to pick out a puppy this afternoon!” Lauren exclaims.
“A puppy?” Amara squeals.
“Why didn't you tell us?” I demand.
“Because I wanted to surprise you!” Lauren says happily. “My mom said you both can walk to my house with me, and come to the shelter with us. After we choose a puppy, Mom will drive you home.”
Amara whips out her cell phone. “I'll let my parents know. My rehearsal isn't until eight o'clock.”
Lauren turns to me. “You'll come too, won't you?”
I can tell she really wants me to come. And since I love animals more than just about anything in the whole world, I really want to go.
“I'm sorry, Lauren,” I say quietly. “I have to go home.”
“Do you need to call your dad?” Amara asks. “You can borrow my phone.”
“It's not that,” I say. “I'm not allowed to go anywhere after school unless I clear it with my dad in advance.”
“My mom will drive you home,” Lauren says again. She looks confused. She can pretty much do anything she wants.
“My dad hasn't met your mom,” I say miserably.
Amara is still holding out her cell phone. “Can your grandmother give you permission?”
Dad and I moved in with Grandma after my mom died last year. “No,” I say, staring at the sidewalk. “I'm really sorry, but that's my dad's rule.”
For a long moment nobody knows what to say. Kids are shoving and shouting all around us, either heading home or lining up to get on a bus. My face feels hot.
“Your dad is really strict,” Lauren finally says. “Well, I guess we'll see you later.”
“Sure,” I say. I hate disappointing my friends.
Lauren and Amara walk away. I turn toward home, with nothing to look forward to but cleaning in my grandmother's antiques shop and homework.
My grandmother's shop is in a really old brick building in Williamsburg, Virginia. My grandfather, who died before I was born, worked in a grocery store. My dad was an only child, and after he started school, Grandma kept herself busy during the day by buying and selling antiques. Her shop isn't crammed with all kinds of stuff like some antiques stores are. Everything is tidy, and she doesn't sell anything that isn't at least a hundred years old. Some of her things are over two hundred years old.
When I open the door, there are no customers inside. “Hi, Grandma,” I call.
To my surprise, Grandma and my dad come out of the back office. Dad runs his own plumbing business, and he's hardly ever home so early.
He smiles. “Hey, how's your day been?”
Everything comes pouring out. “Dad, Lauren is picking out a new puppy this afternoon, and she invited Amara and me to go! Can I? Please? Maybe we could meet them at the animal shelter.”
“I'm sorry,” he says, “but I just stopped home for a minute. I have an emergency call. An elderly woman has a burst pipe and water all over her kitchen.”
“You could just drop me off, and Lauren's mother will drive me home. Please?”
Dad just shakes his head. “I haven't met Lauren's mother yet. I'm sure you'll have plenty of chances to see the puppy.”
But I want to help choose the puppy, I mutter in my head. I can't have a dog because the apartment above the shop we share with Grandma is small. We have a sweet yellow cat named Muffy, but Grandma thinks a dog would be too much trouble.
Dad starts to walk away, then turns back. “Cheer up, Pumpkin.”
I sigh. Dad has called me that since I was a little kid. Today it makes me feel like he thinks I'm still a little kid.
“We have a fun day planned for tomorrow, remember?” Dad is saying. “A daddy-daughter day at Colonial Williamsburg.”
Colonial Williamsburg is a big historic park very close to where we live. People called interpreters work there. They dress up in old-time costumes to tell the story of the American Revolution, when the thirteen colonies broke free of British rule to become the United States of America. Sometimes they give tours of the old buildings. Sometimes the staff and volunteers at Colonial Williamsburg stage little plays right in the streets, and visitors can pretend they're townspeople.
My dad is a volunteer interpreter there, playing the role of a Patriot who wants independence. I've been accepted as a junior interpreter for the summer. I'll probably learn how to churn butter and bake bread, stuff like that. I agreed to do it because Dad wanted me to but honestly, it's not how I would choose to spend my summer vacation. I'm a little worried that I won't know what to talk to visitors about. And going to Colonial Williamsburg it doesn't take the place of choosing a puppy.
“Don't wait dinner on me,” Dad tells Grandma. Then he walks out the door.
“It's not fair,” I mumble. “He's the strictest dad on the planet. Last week I asked if I could take horseback riding lessons, and he said I had to be sixteen years old before I could.”
“Your dad was afraid you might get hurt if you taking riding lessons,” Grandma says. “And his rule about always knowing who you're with is just to keep you safe.”
As if going to an animal shelter is dangerous! “It's like he doesn't trust me. He says I'm too young to babysit, even during the day.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Grandma looks sad.
“Can't you talk to him?” I plead. “I'm not a little kid any more!”
Grandma shakes her head. “He's the parent. I can't second-guess his decisions.”
So, I think, I'm out of luck.
Grandma changes the subject. “How was school today?”
I shrug. “School was OK. I have a lot of homework.”
“I have some homework too,” she says. “I purchased a treasure this afternoon, and I want to learn more about it. Want to see?”
She leads me to one of the glass display cases. Inside is a teensy-tiny portrait of a woman, strung on a fine chain like a necklace. Only the woman's head and shoulders show, but it's hard to see the details. Honestly, I don't know why an artist would go to so much trouble.
“What good was such a little portrait?” I ask.
“This miniature was painted in 1775—right around the time of the American Revolution,” Grandma says. “Imagine what life was like before photographs and videos. If people were going to be separated for some reason, these tiny portraits helped keep memories close.”
Grandma didn't say that the miniature might have been painted because the lady was so sick her family thought she might die, but I wonder if that was the reason. After my mom died it would have been nice to have a portrait of her, looking the way I want to remember her. Dad and I stopped taking pictures of Mom after she got really, really sick. And the night she died Dad put away every framed photograph of Mom we had. I guess it hurt him to see her looking all happy and healthy, but I wish he hadn't done it.
Grandma closed the case so the portrait couldn't get dusty. “Well,” she says, “shall we go upstairs and cook dinner? We're having spaghetti.”
“Is it OK if I don't come up for a little while?” I ask. I take a special cleaning cloth from the stack under the counter, pretending I'm going to do chores. The truth is that between thinking about puppies and thinking about Mom, I'm half-mad and half-sad. I really need some time by myself.
“Of course,” Grandma says. “I'll call you when dinner's ready.” She locks the front door, puts the “Closed” sign in the window, and goes upstairs.
At least Grandma trusts me to dust her antiques, I think. Even if Dad doesn't trust me to do anything.
I give the case holding Grandma's new miniature a swipe. Then I open the door and lean closer, studying the lady. She's very pretty. And even though her hairstyle and clothes are old-fashioned, there's something about her expression that reminds me of Mom.
My throat closes up like it does whenever I think of my mother, and I get this tight feeling inside. Suddenly I miss Mom so much it's hard to breathe.
Before Mom died, I knew I was going to miss her. But I didn't realize how much was going to die with her. Mom was giving me guitar lessons, but now my guitar is hidden under the bed. Mom and I used to bake butterscotch brownies a lot, because my dad loved them, but I can't make them anymore because it makes him sad.
And mom was the one who really encouraged me when I told my parents I want to be a veterinarian one day. She said she knew I could learn everything I need to learn if I set my mind to it. Dad doesn't discourage me, but he's a lot more interested in history, like Grandma.
Dad hardly ever mentions Mom, so I don't either. But everything would be different if she were still alive. I never felt as if I were being treated like a baby when Mom was around.
Gently, very gently, I pick up the tiny painting. The woman in the miniature portrait looks kind and understanding. It seems as if she's staring right into my eyes.
But something's wrong. The painted colors blur. I start to feel dizzy, so I squinch my eyes closed. The floor tilts beneath my feet. Everything whirls around. I know I mustn't drop the miniature, so I clench it in my hand. I'm really confused, and scared too. What is going on?
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