Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
When Miranda Gay is eight years old, she becomes aware, quite in passing, of a formal photograph showing her dead Aunt Amy. Miranda yearns to be beautiful when she grows up, as her aunt was in her wedding pictures. Her cousin, Isabel Rhea, is told that she rides horses almost as well as Amy did; her sister, Maria, is almost as fine a dancer. During her early years, the presence of the past enters Miranda’s conscious mind in a number of other ways. The girls are shown Amy’s wedding dress; another cousin, Eva Parrington, a Latin teacher, calls back celebrated events from southern history. Amy’s widower, Uncle Gabriel, sends letters from New Orleans, Kentucky, and other parts of the country as he pursues his calling of training racehorses.
The impressionable young Miranda thus is exposed from several sides to others’ recollections, and family history is assimilated piecemeal along with more remote visions of literary and historical figures from the past. The romantic aura surrounding death is evoked particularly by Uncle Gabriel’s verses, printed in gold on a mourning card, which commemorate Aunt Amy’s passing: “She lives again who suffered life,/ Then suffered death, and now set free/ A singing angel, she forgets/ The griefs of old mortality.”
Packets of letters discovered in a trunk lend credence to other rumors the girls have heard. Once during their courtship Amy returned from a masked ball, her dress disheveled and undone,...
(The entire section is 786 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
Maria and Miranda, aged twelve and eight respectively, had grown old beyond their years because they continuously heard stories drawn from the memories of grownups in their family. It was hard for them to realize that their father, or Aunt Amy, or Cousin Eva had ever been young.
Twice a year, their grandmother felt compelled to spend a day in the attic, where she opened trunks, read letters, looked at dresses, shoes, ribbons, brooches, and feathers. She cried quietly most of the day, but allowed the little girls to come and go and handle the treasures if they did not disturb her grief with questions. Not that they needed to ask questions. All their lives they had heard that their father’s sister Amy was the most beautiful girl in the South, the finest rider, the most graceful dancer, the best-loved belle of her day. Their father had told them that Amy’s picture did not do her justice. They wondered when they looked at it why older folks sighed over it. They also wondered, when they looked at the keepsakes in the trunks, why no one else saw how dowdy, faded, and misshapen they were.
Their father looked askance at his chubby, freckle-faced little girls and hoped that some miracle would happen that they might change into slim, beautiful creatures like Amy. When he thanked God that all the women in his family were slim and beautiful, he seemed to forget Great-aunt Keziah in Kentucky, whose husband refused to let her ride his good horses...
(The entire section is 1207 words.)