Saturday, June 13, 2009
Jenny used her purse to chase the rooster from the doorstep and warily watched for his return. His nervous strut indicated he too was uncomfortable with her presence here. She brushed the dust from her dress and exhaled deeply before rapping on the screen door a second time. Had anyone actually come to the door she would have fainted straight away. Earl Stevens was going on two years dead and his wife, her only daughter, had disappeared more than six months earlier.
The authorities called Jenny’s home to ask questions, but she could provide them no information. Her disappearance provided few details and eventually they concluded, although strange, her departure appeared to have come on her own terms. Ellen went where the wind carried her. Despite preaching against such rash actions of following hearts, Ellen became ‘her own woman’. At seventeen she left life in the city and moved to Kansas to marry Earl Hawthorn Stevens. The span since civil conversation between she and Ellen was something she rarely visited. They stood on separate islands; the years between them had become a fog, and details of hurtful conversations were often better left fuzzy and undefined. Under these strange circumstances Jenny was seeing her daughter’s home for the very first time. Perhaps the letter she held in her hand would indeed provide answers as it promised. Jenny knew no one in California, and it provided no return address, but the signature did appear to be her daughters.
Jenny entered through the screen door and consulted the map scratched on the back of letter. She ascended the staircase and found her daughter’s bedroom. In the southwest corner of the room she saw the picture on an end table. Jenny was but eighteen years old when the photo was taken and truly had forgotten how beautiful and full life had been. She placed the photo face down and moved the table aside. Beneath it she located the loose floorboard and lifted a dusty diary from its hiding place below.
Jenny had endured a four hour drive to reach her daughter’s home and her sciatic nerve kept tally of every bump. She wiped the dust from a rocking chair near the window and took a seat. Before the troublesome nerve had time to settle a cold chill traveled up her spine. She knew without question Ellen loved this chair.
June 16 Harsh words were spoken as my mother and I parted ways. It is not so much she believes she is right, but more she knows I am wrong. Too much time has passed and admittedly I am weak as I do not pick up the phone but neither does mine ring. I’ve found there are wonderful things beyond city lights, things I was encouraged to deny. Cycles of life present themselves more clearly as I work in the garden. As she has promised life is difficult on the farm, but there are things and people here that nourish my soul. Would she have rather kept my company while I became skin and bones before her very eyes? Odd as it seems I’ve placed this picture to stand guard over my innermost thoughts. It represents my mother when her heart’s voice spoke louder than the world’s.
Aug 12 The days we shared together ended at three-hundred sixty-seven; barely a year and not nearly enough. Since Earl’s passing the creaking and moaning of a century-old house no longer seems quaint. Its breath sounds eerily like his footsteps on the staircase. It is during these times I especially miss my mother as I wrestle with womanly desires. The cradle Earl refinished in anticipation of babies no longer represents promise. For a time it sat in the corner, but eventually seemed suitable for kindling as it spoke to me in unusually cruel ways. On certain very sad days I place a pillow beneath my blouse and dream of things that will never be.
Aug 27 After the day’s worries have expired along with the setting of the sun, I sit on the porch and speak with him. It seems much less complicated to pretend the accident never happened. Underneath a starry sky when he holds my hand I can once again believe in foolish things—like forever. His soothing voice minimizes the painful task of starting over again—this solitary life of one.
Dec 25 My mind is consumed with running, where I might escape these painful rats that gnaw at my and fingers toes. I wiggle them occasionally so that they see I am alive, but they know better. I phoned you yesterday, but chose to leave no message. If you did not recognize my voice or return my call it would be worse. Had we talked, I would have spoken to you about fear; fear of dark things. However, friends that come to feed are better than no friends at all, but soon they may tire of such trivial things as fingers and toes and move on to more tender things.
Mar 21 As I read the previous entry I am glad to have rid myself of the company of that woman; she was desperate, tired, and without hope; not at all what I wish to be. I have sold the farm ground and nearly completed renovations of the home. The bedrooms will soon be finished just as we had planned, suitable for two boys and one girl. It has taken several months but I have located and accepted the challenge of raising three mentally handicapped teenagers. Since this home has a renewed purpose it should also have a name. I’ve settled on the name Harvest House.
Apr 10 Mark, the most severely impaired of the three, remains content watching the world pass. His eyes see far more than most, but what he views prove too formidable to put into words. Even his own name represents a challenge; “Mork” is the best he can do. As his mother I regret that in a world defined by standards and measures, my Morkie’s life will likely be filled with a multitude of “best he can do’s”, but truly what more can a mother ask of a child. If consciences were laid bare could anyone deny the benefit of absorbing more and speaking less?
Despite her own handicap, Julia is consumed with ‘mother hen’ instincts. The satisfaction she derives from helping others, especially ‘Mork’, is evident in her infectious smile. Who else besides Julia would cry for hours when she learned the Grinch’s heart was two sizes too small? What a blessed gift to be unaware that mending the hearts of others fills her own with purpose.
Unfortunately Darren can best be described as illusive, like trying to capture a breeze with bare hands. I remind myself his autism feeds his desire for distance, but it breaks a mother’s heart when each time she reaches for him he only travels further away. The more determined my attempts to climb inside his head the more intrusive he perceives the trespass. Perhaps Julia’s assessment is most appropriate, “Can’t you see Momma; his happiness is found in freedom.”
May 5 Although there can never be blood connection, no share D.N.A., on rare occasions when I look deep into my reflection I see in my own personality each of them.
For three consecutive days there has been no sun. Some in the house are skeptical of its return. From dawn until dusk dark clouds paint the rural sky, but even imminent things fail to deliver on promises. Although they are unaware, the children at Harvest House are waiting for much more than rain. For now I am the only one who knows of the complicated matters that lend heaviness to the air. I must shield their childlike minds from reality; the precious dears have done nothing to deserve such burden.
June 6 This morning my mind was preoccupied with more than breakfast preparation. While the children were in tune with the aroma of fresh biscuits, I recognized the unmistakable smell of rain riding the lead edge of a storm. I sighed in relief as the sheets of rain sweep across the fields. Perhaps now the headaches would subside and the sun could shine once again.
Aug 15 Breakfast conversation seemed unusually slim and when the sporadic words did come Julia sensed they were forced. She asked what it was that worried me. In a rehearsed voice I attempted to reassure her, but she remained unconvinced. She said my voice was not perky and my sparkly eyes were dull. Naively she asked if one of them had misbehaved. In a wavering voice I told her that each of them were cherubs and angels can only bring hope and light.
Sept 13 I busied myself with such innocent things as counting cotton balls and tongue depressors, but I knew Dr. Morrow would return. His frown indicated the test results were not favorable. Up to this time Dr. Morrow had been supportive, but he lashed out at me when I mentioned the children. He said what I had done was unconscionable. It was true; I did know I had leukemia before I adopted them, but he did not understand the level of suffering (mine or theirs). I left his office in tears, torn by my greedy actions. He told me he would call child services and arrange to have the children placed back in homes. It would be better that way; my time left would be doubled if I didn’t have to care for them and they could receive the specialized care they needed. Momma, they need love, not to be tied in chairs for hours upon end. These children are not a burden to me, but a blessing. I have made my decision and our bags are packed. Please do not think badly of me, Mother. In my heart I feel I have given as much as was taken. Once you receive the letter the end is near. I trust your judgment in finding them families. My only request is that they not be returned to the homes they came from. Julia is the only one I have told and she has been instructed to call you once I pass. She will have directions to where you can pick them up.
No sooner had Jenny laid the diary down her phone began to ring. With hands that trembled she answered but was unable to find words.
“Grandma Jenny, this is Julia. Momma says it’s time.”