My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother’s story began in a way that I didn’t expect. It’s as far back as I could trace in my genealogy, but it was still more than some people got. Junie Kay was her name, and it meshes well together in a country nostalgic type way. She was as country as they came. It had been in her from the moment she was born, and the small town she grew up in didn’t help it. Her family had been in the little town for at least a hundred years, and everybody knew everybody. People were able to predict their children’s future spouses like they could tomorrow’s weather. Junie didn’t hate living where she lived. She had always felt comfortable having her life planned out. She wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest. The churchgoers admired her modest dress and lack of makeup, and she knew that eventually a spot was going to open up for her as a teacher at the elementary school. By the time she was twenty-three, her mother had taught her most of her best recipes and many of her friends were settling into marriage, some even starting families.
Junie was waiting patiently for a proposal from her beau, James. While she had her eye set on the school, James hoped to become a lawyer like his father. When he got accepted into law school the town drowned him in compliments and she stood by his side, feeling lucky to have any part at all in his life. His success, however, was their demise. His dreams had always stretched out much further than hers. Where she enjoyed a simple and predictable lifestyle, he was yearning for something new. She found this out as they were taking a walk one day, not too long before he had to leave to go out of state to law school. She remembered it clearly. The sun was shining and there were no clouds in the sky. Birds were chirping and spring was just starting to make itself apparent in the form of blooming flowers. Junie felt the grass crunch beneath her feet, and she smiled to herself about the inevitable. She was marrying a wonderful man, she would have his children, she’d been an upstanding member of the church and the community, and they’d die here.
“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” James asked her, his mouth curved downward while she continued smiling to herself.
“Oh, you know. Our future. I’m so proud of you. You know that?” she asked, looking into his eyes. He glanced at the grass as she kept talking.
“I figure that after you finish school, you’ll come back and we can start a family at some point,” she continued. “I think I’d like to get married one day in the spring.”
At first, things were silence. Then James decided to speak carefully and cautiously.
“If you’d like to get married in the spring, you should do it,” he responded, staring down at her face, studying her. She didn’t know why he was analyzing her, and she didn’t like it.
“You wanna stop staring at me that way? What’s wrong with you?” she asked with her country twang. Something wasn’t right, and she felt an anxiety that she’d never experienced before. James was acting weird. He’d always been distant, but she’d always assumed it was in his quiet and calm nature. He was intelligent and introverted, and she liked to think that she would get him to open his heart to her eventually. Instead, he was moving away from her at light speed, and now he wouldn’t even look her in the eye.
“James?” she muttered in a barely audible tone.
“Junie,” he said in a formal tone. So cold. “I think…. I know our time is up. You were a great first love-“
“NO!” she screamed at him. He continued the speech, something he’d obviously rehearsed. The words came out too well and formal for them to be spur of the moment and full of emotion. He was getting rid of her like she was an object rather than his first love. Was she his first love? Was the love there? Junie supposed it had been, but never full-fledged. Not the same way she’d felt. She let him finish his speech before she marched home in tears. The birds chirping now seemed ugly, and she realized that she hated spring. It was between winter and summer, not fully committed to either of the seasons. No, she didn’t like spring at all. Her mother was waiting for her at the door, but Junie didn’t feel like talking about this. It was too raw and too sudden. The maternal instinct in Greta Kay welled up and she couldn’t help but to intervene.
“Not now,” Junie snapped before her mother could really form a sentence. She wiped her tears on the back of her hands and went to the kitchen to begin cooking. She needed something in her. Her body and soul felt empty, and whether she found a bowl of ice cream in her lap or some warm chicken noodle soup trickling down her throat, it would feel like something real inside of her. Greta wanted to tell her daughter what the town had been thinking, and what she already knew. Truth was, Junie was a plain Jane. Not that Greta didn’t love her daughter, but she knew her daughter was naïve and had idealized the simple life. Not everything could be predicted, even here. All those times James had been in the spotlight, everyone else felt like it was a matter of time before the couple split. Junie was a sweet girl but they weren’t a compatible match, and his mind was already in some big city. Greta wanted to ease the heartache and instill some common sense in her daughter, but how could she tell her little girl the harsh realities of life and love? That sometimes men didn’t love you the same way you loved them, and that love was a serious risk?
“That boy broke your heart, didn’t he?” Greta heard before she even realized the words had come from her lips. Junie didn’t respond. She just glared at her mother through her tears. It’s not that she was angry specifically at her mother, but there was something about this that was humiliating. Junie didn’t like how her mother was so calm and un-shocked. She had guessed it! Junie was at a loss for words. She just nodded and continued to glare.
“It’s for the best, Junie,” Greta insisted, looking at the ground before looking back up at her daughter. Junie was mortified, silently furious now. She began scrubbing at an invisible stain on the counter. She wanted to be nonchalant but her whole body would shake and tremble if she had to turn to her mother and respond to that lie she had just spewed.
“James isn’t your type. He’s got ambitions that will take him out of this small country town. You, on the other hand… this is what you’ve always wanted. The heartache will easy but never completely fade. Eventually, someone will truly love you like you want. I promise,” Greta said before leaving her daughter alone for a while. She wouldn’t be able to talk Junie out of this one. Little did she know that she wouldn’t be able to talk Junie out of anything. The girl moped around for a week or so, locking herself away and staring at objects. Then the same day James left for school, Junie walked out of the front door, got out of her small town, and she didn’t let anyone know where she was going.