When Buddy Jr. was two-and-a-half months old, Ruth told Idgie she supposed she'd need to start looking for a job.
"Excuse me?" Idgie looked up from the stick she was whittling at.
Ruth looked right back. "You can't think your family can support me 'n Buddy indefinitely." She rocked her chair gently on the porch, cradling her sleeping son.
"But you're no trouble," Idgie protested. "You hardly eat a thing and you have so many dresses I can't imagine you'll be needing more anytime soon."
"And Buddy will just love wearing them while he's growing up, I'm sure." Ruth closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the chair.
"My father would--"
"Your father is a good, Christian man. He and your momma have shown me charity. But it's been almost a year."
"So I cannot ask much more of them! I need an income, and soon." Ruth shifted, readjusting Buddy's head until his snuffly breaths evened.
"And just what is it you propose to do?" Idgie started on the stick again, frowning.
"Well I can cook well enough. And I can clean. I could advertise as a housekeeper, I suppose."
"You'd have to go clear to Virginia 'fore you find someone who wouldn't take one look at you and call up Frank."
"Then I'll go to Virginia."
"And you'll be suckling Buddy while you're making Sunday lunch?"
"If I have to."
"I'll do it." Idgie's hands never faltered. "I'll get a job. Keep Buddy in britches. How hard can it be?"
No one wanted her for a farm hand. Or for a laborer, or a barkeep, or a gardener. She tried to get Jimmy to teach her how to fix up a car, but his momma boxed his ears and that was the end of that. The stationmaster was willing to pay her to sweep up around the train station, but that ended the minute he discovered she'd let Old Dan sleep inside on a cold and rainy night.
Idgie thumped home to a four month old Buddy and his sleeping momma Ruth. She scowled. Buddy had been colicky for almost two weeks now, and no one had been getting much sleep--least of all Ruth. Ruth, who was more withdrawn by the day, appearing to wait for the moment when Papa Threadgoode would ask to have a sit-down about her situation. Or for the moment when Idgie would give up.
But she never would give up. Ruth and Buddy were hers, and she would do whatever she must to keep them.
As she left Ruth's room she was stopped in the hallway by the stout profile of her father. He turned his head to look at her, then beckoned her to follow. They descended the stairs and passed into a room she'd entered only once before (and earned a beating for it): her father's private study.
It was smaller than she'd remembered. Plainer, too. But undeniably weighty--the leatherbound ledgers lining the shelves to the right of the desk had spines marked with neat black writing ticking years that stretched back to a time over a decade before her own birth. There was only a small window, and the air felt close and musty, but Idgie breathed deep and nodded her head.
"Imogene," her father started, motioning for her to take a seat in the chair opposite his own. Idgie sat down. "Tell me what this job seeking business is all about."
Idgie blinked. "Well, sir," she started. She closed her mouth. She opened it again. "Well, sir, Ruth is... concerned that she is relying too much on your charity. She wanted to find a job herself, after Buddy was born."
"But obviously that's... it's impossible. Ridiculous. How could she be up half the night with a baby and working for some family during the day? So I told her I'd do it. I'd get a job and sort things out."
"Hm." Her father rubbed his chin.
"Only no one wants to hire me, on account of I'm a girl, and I'm a Threadgoode, because they're all afraid of--oh, I don't know, disrespecting you or momma or somethin'. I don't see how honest work disrespects anybody though."
That brought a chuckle out of him.
Idgie ran a hand through her hair and turned her gaze downwards. "If you don't mind me asking, though, sir, why do you want to know?"
He took a moment before he answered, clearing his throat and adjusting in his seat. "I've seen quite a change in you this past year, Imogene," he said. "You know you've caused your mother more than your share of grief in the past. I needed to understand what was going on."
"And what you've said is very interesting. Very interesting, indeed."
Idgie looked up again and met his eye. She waited for him to continue.
"But I don't think you're going to be able to get a job," he went on. "On account of you being a girl, and a Threadgoode." He raised a hand to forestall Idgie's protest. "That doesn't mean you won't be able to work, though. The Threadgoodes are a business-minded family. What would you say to the idea of going to work for yourself?"
"You mean like... like selling fish that I caught in the river?" She sat forward.
"If you like," he said. "Though I doubt that would generate the kind of money you're hoping to gain. I was thinking... bigger."
And he leaned back to start describing his idea for a little establishment that would very soon become the Whistle Stop Cafe.
To her surprise, Idgie took to accounting for a business like a duck to water. It wasn't altogether different from counting cards. As for cooking, though--for the first few weeks they served batch meals that Ruth could make up all in one go and Idgie could serve throughout the day.
Then they hired Sipsie on, along with Big George, and started up the routine that would begin to define their days. Pies baked fresh each morning, first customers at eight, breakfast til 10 and then a quick shutdown while they turned over for lunch. Produce came three days a week and dry goods monthly. They'd finish by making the crusts to chill overnight so they could became pies the next day. Ruth worked while Sipsie held Buddy, or Sipsie worked while Ruth did. They were closed on the Sabbath (for Ruth, Sipsie, and George) and Friday nights (for Idgie).
Idgie caught sight of her face in the glass of the pie display one day when Buddy was nine months old. She couldn't believe how pale she looked, or how little she'd missed running around out under the sun.
Frank came for Buddy Jr. the very next day.
Afterwards, Ruth found Idgie inside the darkened cafe.
"Believe me when I tell you I don't want you to move out." Idgie's words were even and sure. "You think you should move on? You think I need to settle down? What do ya call this?" She gestured at the walls all around her. "You settled me, Ruth. Just like my momma wanted."
Ruth's eyes were huge and her body still. "Not... like she wanted," she said slowly.
"No," Idgie nodded. "I suppose it's not exactly like momma wanted."
Ruth reached out to touch her hand. Idgie grasped her fiercely.
"I love you, Ruth Jamison." The words fell softly from her lips.
"I know," said Ruth, before she leaned across the table and captured Idgie's face in a kiss.