We gathered around the kitchen table that Saturday morning: my mother , my sister, Elsie, and I. A breeze blew through the white cafe curtains. Sunlight slanted across the tea cups. “Now,” began Elsie, “who wants to be first?”
“Me.” I yelled.
“Wait,” my mother said, “I’m not sure about this. It doesn’t seem right.”
“Now, Leone, it’s perfectly respectable. People have been reading tea leaves for centuries. }l
“Oh. I suppose it can’t hurt anything.”
Elsie spread the loose leaf tea from the bottom of the cup on the saucer before me.
“Oh, I see a nice long life line, but this piece shows trouble with childbirth.”
“Childbirth?” I sputtered. I’m only thirteen. What kind of reading is that?”
“Oh, there’s more,” Elsie assured me.
Elsie came to visit her husband once a month for the weekend. He worked at the Army Ammunition Plant, and was one of my mother’s “war roomers,” as she called them. Since he lived up in Baron County, he stayed at our house all week. Then one weekend a month, he drove home, and one weekend his wife came to Baraboo. The war had disrupted us all.
It was impossible to find a place to live in our small town after the Plant opened, so many people were opening their homes to strangers. I clearly remember the day my mother broached the subject of having roomers to my father. He was a private person and was most opposed to the idea. He liked his quiet evenings and puttering in the garden and fishing after intense work all week as the city engineer.
“Well, it’s our patriotic duty,” my mother continued. “Don’t you think Bob would be proud of us?” Bob, my oldest brother, had enlisted in the Coast Guard at seventeen and was stationed somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean.
My father, the ultimate patriot, was caught. “Well, just for this one year,” he sputtered.
My sister and I had to pack up our personal things and leave our twin bedded room. We temporarily took over the second living room with two cots. I took my writing stuff with me and slid any finished piece under my pillow each night. I was going to be a journalist and had high aspirations. Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent was my idol.
We were intrigued by the different “guests”. Though we were admonished to never enter a “guest’s” room, we’d sneak in and take a peek when all were gone. One guy had an elaborate coin collection in a box next to his bed. We rummaged through it, but never took anything. We wanted to ask him about a couple of really strange coins, but couldn’t because then we’d be letting the cat out of the bag.
Another fussy type older man would wash out his sox and underwear every night and hang them in the bathroom. It was the first time my sister and I had seen men’s underpants up close. After all, we all shared the same bathroom.
Elsie Schiedel, bright red hair, slim, flighty and exuberant shared breakfast with us on the weekends she came to visit her husband. About forty, and we thought worldly, she brightened our mundane lives. Returning to my tea leaves, Elsie bent over the pile again. “Oh, I see adventure and travel in this group of leaves,” she announced.
I grabbed her, gave her a hug and ran from the kitchen. I’m on my way I thought. I will be a great international journalist, writing from all comers of the world. The leaves had spoken.