It was a charmed summer, that summer of 1975, even more so because we didn't know how peaceful it was in comparison with the one that would follow.
"Ring the lunch bell for Scott-o," Helen called out the window to Mama. She liked to add an o to everyone's name. Eli-o, Suz-o, kiddos for the kids, Puss-o the cat. We were the closest she had to children.
As the bell chimed, Helen took my small hand and turned it upward in hers. The kitchen was warm, but her skin cool and leathery. Mama returned with Heidi as I stood long-hair-braided and 6-years-brave, holding my breath. We knew about Helen that when she didn't have something interesting to say, she'd change the subject. She smoothed my palm with her thumbs and looked down at it, her cropped granite hair holding the dusty smell of old books.
"Tsch, what's this?" she asked of the marks I'd made with Papa's red Magic Marker.
"A map," I told her, proud of the artistry on my fingers. "A map of our farm."
"Pshaw." She tossed my hand aside like an old turnip from the root cellar.
So she read Heidi's palm instead. Heidi was a blue-eyed 2-year-old, "an uncontainable spirit," everyone said. Even she held still, mouth open, breathing heavily, snug in the sling on Mama's back as Helen smoothed out her little fingers.
"Short life line," Helen muttered, bending toward the light from the window, then paused as if catching herself too late.
"What do you mean by short?" Mama asked, brown eyes alert, mother-bird-like. "Thirty, 40 years?"
"Oh, it doesn't mean a thing," Helen said, and began to mutter about the overabundance of tomatoes in the garden.