(my imagined backstory for the neighbor characters in the much-beloved Mercy Watson series of books, as roughly told to D tonight)
Eugenia Lincoln wasn’t always sour. In fact, she had been a playful and curious little girl. She and her sister Baby had grown up on an apple farm in Wisconsin, a bucolic place, with rows of trees as far as you could see, and long summers spent roaming among the trees, exploring, and sitting in the grass, gazing up at the sky.
Eugenia was never the same after her father died, when she was 12. You see, they had been very close. Eugenia was born first, the eldest, and she had a special bond with her father, who taught her everything she knew. When he died, her heart broke, and it never mended. She carried her sadness with her wherever she went, and over the years this turned to anger, resentment, and fear–fear that someone else might do her heart harm.
She was a cloudy day, always threatening Baby’s rainbows.
Their mother was a charming and companionable lady who did her best to fill the gap left by her missing husband. But there came a year when a toxic fungus spread throughout the orchard, and half of the trees were lost. There was only a tiny crop of decent apples that fall, and so the mother was forced to sell the orchard. They moved into a small condominium in the city of Milwaukee, which at that time, was soot-stained and crowded with ugly post-war pre-fab houses on postage stamp sized lots.
The mother got a retail job in a rundown shoe store, and over the following years, became the owner, slowly converting it into a fashionable and expensive boutique. This was hard work, and so she was away most days for long hours. She only saw the girls after dinner, which was always prepared by Baby.
The girls were now young women, ready for college. Baby studied home economics there, as many women did at that time. She learned to sew, cook, and make minor repairs around the house. Eugenia decided attending a college was not for her, since she knew more than the professors there, anyway. She instead enrolled in a college correspondence course, where she received lectures and exams via post, and borrowed all the books she needed from the library. In this way she earned a degree in botany, which is the study of plants: how they grow, what they need to flourish, how they adapt.
There were no marriages for either sister, and no children came. Baby briefly dated a boy from her college, but he was a self-absorbed painter, who often forgot when he was meant to meet Baby for dinner.
Although it was a city, they did have a very small yard, and Eugenia managed to coax an apple tree into growing there. When she wasn’t scowling at Baby or complaining about this or that, Eugenia could be found tending the tree, enriching its soil, and encouraging the local population of earthworms.
The mother grew old, and sold her now-wildy successful business. She lived to be 100 years old. Before she died, she made her girls promise to stay together, no matter what, since they were all the other had in the world.
Life in the city had become unpleasant for two late-middle aged ladies. There was more traffic now, and noise. In fact the neighborhood was almost unrecognizable after 20 years. The condo had become very valuable and so it was easy to find a willing buyer. With the money, they bought the house on Dekawoo Drive, number 50, nestled in a picture-perfect suburban neighborhood (you’ve seen the house in the illustrations of the books so you know how nice it is).
Eugenia brought the apple tree with them. She dug it up very carefully, delicately handling the root ball, which she wrapped in canvas and tied well with strong rope. It transplanted well. Eugenia put a strong wire fence around it, so Mercy, that pig from next door, would not disturb it.
Many people don’t know this, but Eugenia is not her first name–it’s her middle name, that was apparently the name of someone in their family from long ago. Her first name is actually Rose. But no one ever called her Rose except her father, so this name died with him.
One night Baby had a dream that Eugenia was Rose again. She told Eugenia about this in the morning, but Eugenia just accused her of eating pie before bedtime.