Needlework, The Novel
Julie completed the first draft of her novel, Needlework, in 1997. After discussions with her agent and a publisher, she began revising that draft until her illness made it impossible to continue. I have compiled the latest versions of Needlework I found in her files.
I am publishing that compilation of her novel, a chapter at a time in serial fashion, on AllanShowalter.com. All posted portions of Needlework can be accessed at Needlework – With Links To Published Portions.
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.
Needlework – Chapter 13: PDF Download
To download a PDF version of Chapter 13 of Needlework by Julie Showalter, go to Needlework: Chapter 13 – PDF
Needlework – Chapter 13: Manuscript
Needlework – Chapter 13
Daddy was in the living room at Granno’s house. “Let’s go get your Granno’s car,” he said.
I hesitated. I still didn’t want to be alone with him. “Come on, Jan,” he spoke sternly. “I can’t drive two cars by myself.”
But once we were driving, he turned away from town on a road I didn’t know. “What about Granno’s car?”
“We’ll worry about that later. Right now you and I need to talk.” We needed to talk, but neither of us said a word.
Daddy turned down a farm road and after another five miles, pulled over to the ditch and stopped. Soy beans were planted as far as I could see on both sides of the road. In the distance off toward the left were a few farm buildings. Daddy got out of the car and leaned against the front fender. I joined him. “It doesn’t look like much, does it? That barn and shed over there is where I grew up. They tore the house down, but it’s the same barn.” He knelt down and picked up a clump of dirt and crumbled it between his fingers. “Your Aunt Baby’s told you some things, I guess.”
I looked away from him, not knowing what to say. I nodded. He waited. I cleared my throat. “She said Uncle Clete was my father.” I looked at him. “I guess that’s why you never liked to be around me very much.”
He shook his head. “Clete thought he was your father. I never thought that. I’ve always believed you were mine.” He picked up more dirt and crumbled it. “All I can say about the way you were raised is that your mother didn’t want me involved in a lot of things.”
Anger made my voice tight. “Why did she get to make the rules? She was the one who slept with your brother.”
“It’s not black and white, Jan. Nothing ever is. I hope you can see that. I don’t want this to change the way you feel about your mother.”
“Of course it changes how I feel. She’s never been honest with me about anything.”
“One thing she never lied about — you are the most important thing in the world to her.” Daddy had crumbled all the dirt away except for a hard core. He threw it arching up and away over the soy bean field.
“What you have to understand is that this was mostly my fault. If I hadn’t hurt your mother it would have never happened. She told all her friends we were getting married. She quit college”
“So why did you do it? Why didn’t you marry her when you were supposed to?”
“I don’t know. Things were happening so fast.” He shrugged. “I was scared. Maybe more scared of telling Mama I was getting married than of the Japanese. Like I say, it was all so fast. A month before I’d been working for Clete. A month later I’d in the South Pacific.
In between I was supposed to get married. There were all these rest-of-my-life decisions and I was so damned young. So was your mother.”
He squinted at the sky, “We’d had sexual relations.” I could feel my face flush, saw the same flush rising up the back of Daddy’s neck. “She was a nice girl. Even if I hadn’t loved her, I should have married her. There’s no excuse for what I did.”
Miss Soy Bean Fields, jilted and damaged goods besides. The plum suit, the straight seams, the swish of her silk stockings. “So what did she do? Look up your brother and screw him?” Daddy winced at the word.
“I don’t think that’s what happened. I think she was scared and hurt. She ran into a man who looked a little like me, sounded a little like me.” The pony tail, the saddle shoes, the innocent face swollen from days of crying.
“So how did you get back together? She confessed and you forgave her?”
“No. As soon as I got to San Diego I knew I’d made a mistake. I tried to call, but she wouldn’t talk to me. Paying me back, I guess. So I wrote her a letter every day from December 30, 1944, to January 20, 1945. On January 20, I got a message on ship that someone was looking for me. When I came off, there was your Gramps. He said he and your mother and Granny were staying at a hotel and that your mother had decided to forgive me. We were married the next day.”
I counted on my fingers. “And I was born eight months later.” “That’s right. You were an early baby.”
“I weighed over six pounds, and my head was so big it tore Mother up inside. Remember? That’s why I don’t have brothers and sisters.”
“If you weren’t early, you were a little late, from the time when your mother and I were together in Canyon.”
I thought about it a while. “When did she tell you about her and Uncle Clete?” “She didn’t. Clete told me after we got back to Eunice and he recognized her.” I
remembered Aunt Lila’s story of our homecoming. My mother pale enough to faint. Uncle Clete with a sudden flu.
“Why didn’t he leave it alone?”
“A lot of reasons, some of them pretty confused. Mama brought us up believing that there were girls like our sisters — good girls. And there was another kind of girl. Clete couldn’t believe that a girl could make a mistake one night, get drunk and do the wrong thing.”
“In other words, he thought Mother was a whore,” I said.
“That’s a little strong. He didn’t think she could be a good wife.” “What other reasons?”
“Here’s the complicated part that I kind of had to figure out. Clete felt guilty about not going to the War. When he heard that your mother was pregnant — of course, he didn’t know he knew her then — he wrote me that if anything happened to me, he would take care of the baby like it was his own. Then I nearly got killed, and I think maybe he got to thinking about the baby being his to take care of. Once he saw your mother, he was positive you were his. He felt guilty for what he’d done with your mother, guilty about the War, guilty about the way he cheated on Lila all the time. He felt like he had to confess.
And like I say, he was certain he was your father. You did kind of look like him.”
I counted the days again, backwards from my birthday, September 15, 1945, to the last of December. Eight and a half months. Brothers and sisters have I none. “When were you and Mother together in Canyon?”
“She left to get ready for the wedding December 5.” Nine months and ten days to September 15.
“And you got married January 20?” Almost eight months. This man’s father. . . “Jan, there’s no way to be certain from the numbers.”
But Mother would know when her periods stopped. “What does Mother say?” “I’ve never asked her.”
Of all the things I heard that day, this shocked me most. “How can you know something like this for almost twenty years and never talk about it?”
“There’s nothing to talk about. She doesn’t know I know.” He stood up and dusted off his hands. “As far as I know, nobody’s talked about this from the night Clete told me until this week.” The Hopewell rules: you talk about facts, sometimes about opinions, never about emotions. You don’t talk about things you can’t change. “Clete told Baby, of course, but that wasn’t really breaking his promise.”
“He promised me he’d never talk about it or say anything bad about your mother, or show you any special attention.”
“So you just forgave them? Just like that?”
He smiled at me and shook his head. “You and your mother. Zap, you decide as quick as lightening the way a thing is. Never stop to think it through.” He dug at the ground with his toe. “Of course it wasn’t ‘just like that.’ I thought about it for a while. Thought about having a scene with your mother. Thought about cutting out. Then my daddy died, and I began to understand what things were important. I wanted to put it all behind us. Your mother had her reasons, I knew that. And I’d gone through twenty-seven missions thinking I had a wife I loved and a baby on the way and that if I could make it through I was a lucky man. It didn’t seem to me like anything had happened to change that.”
“But don’t you want to know?” “Know what?”
“Know more. Know the facts.” Know if you’re my father.
“I had a wife I loved and a baby girl I loved. I’d come through a World War alive. Seemed like enough to know.”
“So you just let it go.”
“Yep. I just let it go. Until this week when it came back and grabbed me.” He reached his arms over his head and stretched. “We need to get back. People will wonder about us.”
After he turned the car around, he said, “I’d like for you to make me a promise. I want you to do what I did, think this through before you do anything about it. I don’t mean think it through for an hour. And I don’t mean for a day. I mean think it through for as long as it takes. Don’t talk to your mother, don’t say anything to anybody until you’ve had time to think it through.”
I was already imagining a confrontation with Mother, watching her crumble, asking her, “When you said ‘you know how your father is’, exactly who did you mean?” I wanted to make her pay for the barriers she put between me and Daddy, for telling me Daddy was unfaithful when she was the unfaithful one, for not letting me know Uncle Clete. I wanted to punish her for making me believe she was the one I could trust. I wanted her to squirm. But Daddy was making me think farther ahead. What would happen then? How would any of us survive? How would we ever be a family again? “I promise,” I said.
Daddy nodded. “I want you to think about your mother’s point of view in all this. I think she’s always been afraid of being found out. And I think she never really trusted me after I hurt her so much. Things might have been a lot different if she’d gotten past that, but she didn’t. I don’t want to make excuses, but it’s hard for a man to live with a woman who’s always waiting for him to stray. He reached over and touched my arm. “Anyway, I think your mother did her best. I think her conscience bothered her, and you don’t have to feel guilty if you can stay mad. I love your mother, but she’s not perfect. Nobody is.”
We were on the outskirts of town. There was only time for one more question. “Why did you let all this come out now?”
“That’s simple. I had to promise Clete so he could die easy.” “You could have lied. No one would have known.”
“I never lied to Clete.”
Hopewell Rules, the Jimmy Ray version: Keep the ones you love from pain. Honor your commitments. Think things through. Forgive.
He pulled up next to Granno’s car. I sat for one minute more. “You really believe you’re my father, don’t you?”
“I know it the way you just know some things. Like I know that God wouldn’t let you not be mine.”
I leaned across and hugged him. “I love you, Daddy.” “I love you too, Little Carpoli.”
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you? In all our letters before you were born, that’s what we called you — our little carpoli.”
“What’s a carpoli?”
“Oh, that’s just something I made up. It’s like a tadpole, I think, but cuter and a whole lot smarter.”
I got into Granno’s car and watched him drive away.
I wanted to be Jimmy Ray Hopewell’s daughter. I was left handed like Uncle Clete. I got his red hair. But that didn’t mean he was my father. Even if I looked just like him, he could still be my uncle. Traits can move sideways through families.
How had Daddy lived with this? He could worry a puzzle to death, but he didn’t try to work this one out. Maybe because there was no way to figure it out for sure. If he asked Mother, she would say I was his. But that wouldn’t prove anything. What else could she say? I’m sure she had all the dates figured out before she showed up on January 20, 1944, ready to marry him. She could probably spew the dates out right now if anybody asked.
He’d just have to wonder if she was lying. No, this wasn’t a puzzle to solve; it was something he took on faith — I was his daughter. I smiled. It was another of Daddy’s all- or-nothing leaps. You can’t jump halfway over the canyon. You can’t half-believe you have a daughter.
And you can’t half-believe you have a father.
I took Uncle Clete’s ring off my necklace and put it on the middle finger of my left hand, next to my engagement ring. Two rings — one where Uncle Clete said I could see the past, the other which showed my future. The past that Uncle Clete wanted me to see — the one dark night, him and Mother — that didn’t have anything to do with who I was. I took the ruby off and put it in my pocket.
The solitaire diamond sparkled a stable and predictable future. The giant walnut trees, the open lawn, Richard coming in from the barn, the curtains blowing in the window. But they weren’t the curtains I chose, and maybe I wasn’t the right woman to stand at the window.
Did I love Richard? Yes. But I didn’t need another father now. I almost laughed. If there was anything I didn’t need after this trip, it was another father. What would I tell him? I couldn’t say it was about curtains, but in a way it was. It was about orange and yellow parrots flying free.
I put the engagement ring in my pocket too. I started the car and headed for Aunt Lila’s.