My relationship with Paul had strengthened over the months. After the forced chastity following Robert’s birth, we rediscovered our bodies with renewed passion. Sometimes I felt bemused: at the time nobody talked to young girls – or boys for that matter – about sex. You got the impression that it was a necessity brought about by marriage, and that you had to accept it and live with it as best as you could. It was a man’s need, and nobody had ever told me I would enjoy it. Of course we all loved to read romances, or watch those wonderful movies where love was paramount and won over everything, but that was not real life. Men and women married and had children and that was that – what else? Well, I found out with utter joy that there was so much more to it, and that that “much” could be well enjoyed! It was a pleasure to see him come in from the door after work, and a delight to sit with him and little Robert on the couch before sleep. I couldn’t wait for the chance to spend some moments during the day alone with him – to exchange a kiss in the field or the barn, or simply to feel his touch on my shoulder in passing. And of course to sleep with him. It was a fortune Robert was nursing vigorously, or I would probably have gotten pregnant again already! As it was, we were very happy to take pleasure in each other.
We were also making plans for the future. As promised, Frank was paying Paul for the work done on the farm. It amounted to only about two hundred dollars a month, to which you had to add the money earned during the winter. It was not a lot, but we didn’t need to spend it and could well save it. We wanted to have a house of our own. We hadn’t even started to look for one, of course, but we had our own views about it. For instance, we would have liked to remain outside of town. That was probably going to be more expensive, though, unless we could build a house of our own, or refurbish an old one. The more we thought about it, the more it seemed feasible: why not extend and renovate the cabin in the wood to make it fit our needs? It was the property of Paul’s family already, and had a special meaning to us. We could work on it at our own pace, and it wouldn’t matter if it took a long time. We had all the time in the world. This line of thought kept us dreaming for many days. We would meet in the barn or somewhere else around the farm and talk about the number of rooms we needed, or where exactly the kitchen should be. At night, we would lie in bed after having made love, and the discussion would go on to window orientation, or the color of the curtains. We would talk ourselves to sleep without having made any progress, but happy about having a project of our own to work on.
Our first anniversary was drawing near, and we wanted to do something special. Mostly, we felt the need to be on our own. Not that we minded the presence of others generally, and it would be very ungrateful of me to say I wanted to do without Ann and Frank’s company. They were doing so much for us! It’s just that we felt the need to stress the existence of our family in itself, and that meant just the three of us. The choice of where to go lay in front of us, and was clear from the very beginning. There was still a while to go, and so we planned our retreat to the wood carefully. Our base would be the cabin, of course. We did not want to camp out with little Robert. Conditions in the cabin were primitive enough – without running water and electricity. Besides it would be a great occasion to be on the spot and asses the location for the works we were planning to do on it. From there, then, we could roam the wood on horseback during the day, and come back to the cabin at night. Since the weather would be cool in mid-August, though, we planned an earlier visit – say around the end of July – in order to enjoy the best the season had to offer. Besides, we did not doubt our parents were planning something for the occasion, too. We didn’t want to make them feel let down. It was only right that they be included in the festivities.
The work on the farm was proceeding well, and was employing three other laborers, besides the members of the family. It was with some difficulty, thus, that Paul could take four whole days off, around the last weekend of the month of July. A mild June had given way to a warm July. July is the warmest month of the year in the area, and this is one more reason why we chose to leave then. The wood would lessen the heat of midday, but the temperatures should remain high enough during the night. We would take the horses – Champ and Pearl – and Bobby would ride with me. Ann had sewn a baby sling, made of different patches of cloth; I had tried hanging it from my shoulders on the front, so that Robert would be comfortably cradled on my belly. It was not very common at the time, and I was very happy we had had the idea, which I found very convenient. Some days before, then, Paul had taken some supplies and the baby carriage to the cabin, so that Robert could have a place to sleep in. The carriage had actually already become a little too small for him to be comfortable, but we thought it would do for another few days. When we were in town, we would use the stroller to carry him around, but it was difficult to use it on the farm, where I generally used to carry him on my arms. He was growing heavy, though, and I couldn’t wait for him to finally start walking, so that I wouldn’t have to carry him so much. I wondered whether the idea of the sling could also work for our strolls around the farm, since I would not be sitting on a horse. I promised myself I would try.
We left on a Tuesday morning, riding eastward from the farm. The weather was sunny and the air of the morning was already warm. Ann waved us goodbye from the door; Frank and the others were already in the field, and we waved to them in passing. Broomstick was with us, of course, trotting alongside the horses. I felt elated; I rode for the first half hour as in a dream, trying to take in all the sights and sounds I had so much missed. Paul had to put a hand on my shoulder in passing to draw my attention. It was so beautiful! After that we rode in comradely silence for quite a while. The horses were walking slowly, and we’d let them pick the way for us, steering them only in a general direction. Both of us knew the wood well enough not to get lost. Little Robert had fallen asleep a few minutes after leaving the farm. He seemed to have accepted his new means of conveyance, which looked very comfortable to me. And it was so for me, too. I could feel his warm, soft and soothing weight on my belly.
Around the middle of the morning we stopped by the stream. The baby needed to nurse, and it was a good occasion for us to rest a little and let the horses drink. So we slid down from the saddle, and I made myself comfortable in the shadow of a tree. Paul sat next to me, enjoying the particular moment of intimacy when a baby feeds at his mother’s breast. The look in his face made it clear he wished to be there in his place, or – at least – in mine. There were so many things he would never be able to experience personally, as far as having a baby is concerned. Later in the years he wouldn’t be so curious, but with his first son it was as if he needed to know how it felt like, and I was at a loss for words; the best I could do was to let him watch. Once, when Robert was a few days old, I had held Paul to my breast, and he had sucked some milk. He had told me later that he had felt a little guilty, but that it had been a wonderful sensation – as if he had gone back in time and had been for an moment the child at his mother’s breast. He stroked little Robert’s head now, and the child opened his eyes for a second, to close them immediately in the abandon of feeding. He then kissed me gently on the lips and smiled. We rose to go some minutes later. I had changed the baby and washed the clothes summarily in the water of the stream: I would wash them properly at the cabin.
We rode on until midday, when the heat of summer made us look for the shelter of a thicket. We dismounted and Paul set about to building a fire. We had brought sandwiches for ourselves, but Robert had started to eat solid food, and I needed to prepare some rice meal for him. He didn’t like this change in his diet very much and would have wanted to go on breast-feeding, but I was planning to switch to cow milk soon, and he needed solid food, anyway. In general it took me a long time to feed him with the spoon. Today, though, he was so taken by the new surroundings that he seemed not to notice; he just kept opening and closing his mouth at intervals. After this welcome change of attitude we settled comfortably on the blanket we had brought, eating our sandwiches, chatting, and holding each other. Robert fell asleep very soon on my lap, and I laid him on the blanket next to us. Broomstick spent the time running around and chasing birds and little animals; I wondered where he could find so much energy, after having walked beside the horses all morning. Thus we enjoyed our first day in the wood. We did not ride further, but lay lazily in the shadow, until it was time for us to ride back.
The horses recognized the place, and were content enough to be tied to their posts and be able to eat and drink. After Paul had lighted the fire and collected water, I set about to cooking a warm meal and washing the baby’s clothes. It’s incredible how much work there was to do before disposable baby diapers came in use. The baby’s nappies had to be changed and washed frequently, and they tended to leak a lot, making it necessary to wash also the other clothes the baby was wearing. I had settled Bobby on the bed, and he was looking at me intently, while holding his favorite toy – a rag dog his cousin Mary Ann had given him. I had been a little sad to see that he had not even taken Windy into consideration: I had been so fond of it (and still was) that I had taken it for granted he would love it from the beginning. He was now trying to pick up his toy; he would hold it and then let go, admiring his hands in the process. Babies could be very funny sometimes. He used to spend a lot of time admiring little “common” things, like the movement of his hands, the rays of the sun coming in from the window, or a particular reflection in the mirror. And he bore such an intent expression; I could barely keep myself from laughing. After dinner we went to bed – little Robert in his crib – and fell asleep quickly, wishing to enjoy – with Bobby’s help – all the rest we could get.
That’s more or less how we spent the following day. We left in the morning heading east again. This time we were more to the south than the day before, and we kept going east for the whole morning. The day was great and it felt wonderful to be in the sun. It was not too hot – just perfect. We stopped in the middle of the morning, and then again for lunch. This time we found yet another stream, and Paul sat by it after lunch. He was able to catch three fish, and we decided to carry them home. We came back in the evening, when the sun was setting. We ate the fish for dinner, and then lay long on the bed holding each other in silence. At the end we made love, the fire burning low in the fireplace, and little Robert snoring softly in the carriage by the bed. We hadn’t had time to think of the works on the cabin we had so much dreamt about, and we resolved to leave the last day – a Sunday – for that. We had thus one more day in the wood.
The next morning we decided to ride northeast. This was the part of the wood I knew less, but Paul had been there more than once on hunting expeditions with his father and brothers. There was no particular difference, nor did I expect any. Thickets gave way to clearings, and vice-versa, with no discernible pattern. The ground was sloping down as I had expected, and I was curious to see whether we would reach a developed area soon – we were, after all, in the general direction of the urban area. The morning was hot and humid, and we tried to keep to the thickets, so as to find some coolness. There was none to be had, though, so we rode along in silence. I could feel little Robert twitching in the sling, and I felt clammy where his weight rested. At midmorning we stopped at a pond for the usual break. It was a relief for both of us to take the baby out of the sling and away from my belly. We sat longer then usual, even after he had finished feeding, and moved on later in the day. Around midday we saw some clouds forming in the north, and we welcomed them heartily. At the next thicket we stopped and laid our blanket. This time the fire Paul had built would serve also for the food we had brought along. I prepared Robert’s meal while the fish was cooking on a stick, and didn’t have trouble feeding him again. I mentally resolved to find a way to distract him also at the farm (maybe I could move the chair outside?) until he got used to eating from the spoon. After lunch we lay on the blanket, and went to sleep. After disposing of the leftovers from the fish, also Broomstick curled at our side. It was a little cooler in the shade, but I had to admit the clouds were not doing much to mitigate the humidity. After a while we all fell asleep.
I was awakened much later by a loud thunder. It had started to rain, and we were thoroughly wet. I quickly checked Robert, who was screaming, and changed him in the shelter of the blanket that Paul was holding over our heads. Since there was no way to escape the thunderstorm, we resolved to go back to the cabin as quickly as possible. The weather was cooling considerably (my prayers had been answered somewhat too enthusiastically!), and Robert was at present the only dry one among us. Paul helped me to mount, and wrapped the blanket around us, to keep us warm. So we rode back as quickly as we could. There was a terrible noise from the storm, and Bobby could not keep still and kept screaming. There was not much I could do for him, though. Also the horses seemed frightened, and we had to hold on to the reins and spur them on. Broomstick was leading the way. He seemed the only one to know exactly were he was going, and we relied on him to lead us home. Visibility had dropped, and it was pouring. It was hard to follow him, and he had to stop at intervals, barking and retracing his steps until we could spot him again. It looked to me we were not making any progress. How far had we gotten before stopping at the thicket? It couldn’t have been very far, since we had rested longer at midday, and had stopped early. I had no way to judge the time, and did not dare look at the watch for fear of falling down the horse. I did fall down eventually; I fell on the side, and quickly turned on my back in order not to hurt Robert. He was not hurt at all, fortunately, but he had gotten wet, and I had no spare clothes anymore. Moreover, my leg hurt badly, and it was with difficulty that I sat on the horse again.
We arrived at the cabin late in the afternoon. The sky was utterly dark, and it was still raining hard. Paul helped me down and into the house, and I lay on the bed, quickly taking care of little Robert, while he was seeing to the fire and fetching water to be heated. The baby looked exhausted; he had stopped screaming some time before, and he was now hiccupping. His face was pale, and he was cold to the touch. I quickly undressed him and – moving awkwardly because of the pain in the leg – dried him as well as I could; I then wrapped him in a blanket and laid him down on the bed. It was time to take care of myself; my teeth were chattering, and I was shivering with cold. I too undressed quickly and got into bed, pulling Bobby close to me. He was still cold, so I held him tight to my bosom and offered him my breast. He had to be hungry, because he had missed his afternoon meal. Instead of suckling, though, he remained motionless and simply kept looking at me. After a little while he fell asleep.
Paul had come in and had set the water to boil. He was now mixing hot and cold water in a pail, so that we could wash the baby and ourselves; the fire was burning brightly and sending a welcome heat. The wind outside was strong, and the shutters were banging loudly. I rose and sat close to the fire with a blanket around my shoulders and Bobby in my arms. It was time for Paul to undress and warm up; he looked very pale and was – like me – very cold. The touch of him reminded me of the baby in my arms. He was still cold, so I put his blanket aside and laid him gently in the warm water. He didn’t stir for a little while, and I was starting to seriously worry, when he finally opened his eyes and began screaming again. So I dried him, and I once more offered him my breast. This time he suckled vigorously, making small gurgling noises. He was also warm – finally – and sending off a nice heat. Paul had undressed and was sitting in front of the fire with his feet in the hot water, so I drew near and imitated him. Oh, it felt so good! We sat there for a long time, holding each other’s hand and slowly warming up. The baby had stopped feeding and had fallen asleep again, so I laid him in his carriage with an extra blanket. My leg was still hurting, and my ankle had swollen noticeably. I knew cold water would have helped, but I couldn’t bring myself to using it right now. The damage didn’t look bad, though; it was probably just a sprained ankle. Paul had poured water in the kettle and tea was brewing. We had some vegetables, and I decided to cook some soup. I was not hungry myself; I felt exhausted, and I just wanted to lye down and sleep. I felt as if I had been awake for days. Also Paul didn’t look well. He rose, though, and – putting some clothes on – went to tend to the horses. He had tied them to the post, where they were partially sheltered by the slanting roof of the house, but they needed to eat.
I had forgotten about Broomstick! He was lying on the floor, discreetly close to the fire – head on his paws – and was looking at me. Tears overcame me. It was thanks to him that we had found our way back. He had led us home – never faltering and never leaving us behind. His fur had dried, and he looked none the worse for wear. I stroked his hair gently, and he stretched luxuriously, wagging his tail. I started talking to him, telling him a thousand things and yet nothing in particular. After a while he licked my hand and rose. I fed him, taking care of being particularly generous. Paul had returned in the meantime and had undressed again. We sat companionably sipping tea and waiting for the soup to be ready. We barely kept our eyes open until the end of dinner, and then collapsed on the bed and promptly fell asleep.
I was awakened in the morning by a low crying. The weather was still bad; it had stopped raining, but the wind was strong, and it looked like the rain would soon start again. I rose and walked to the crib. I picked little Robert up, and took him to bed where I could nurse him. He was very hot to the touch, and badly needed to be changed. He had had diarrhea in the night. So I washed him and changed him, rekindling the fire. I woke Paul up, because I was very worried. His eyes were watery, and he was crying lowly – like a kitten, I thought. I held him to my breast, but he drank very little milk. And he was so hot! Paul was worried, too. Bobby had always been in good health. True, he had had diarrhea a couple of times before, but it had been nothing serious, and Ann had been there to give advice. I wished she were here now; she would know what to do. I thought I remembered that children must be kept warm and given a lot to drink, so I tried giving him some water with the spoon. He drank some, but not much. He was restless; he kept moving his arms and legs back and forth, and crying. I held him on my lap, and put cold compresses on his head to bring down the fever. We took turns in holding him, so that we could both dress and have some breakfast. By midmorning the situation was the same – maybe worse – and he still would not nurse. We needed help and fast, but we couldn’t risk taking the baby outside in this weather. It had started raining again, but the wind had let down. So we decided that Paul would take the horse and ride to the farm, from where he could come with the truck to pick us up.
He left soon after, and I sat by the fire holding Bobby – and watching him slowly die.
It was not a quick thing. I kept rocking him and whispering endearments to him, until Paul and Ann arrived. We drove immediately to the hospital, and he was still alive when we got there. He died of pneumonia a little later. I just knew. I don’t know how, but his imminent death had become clear to me, as we were alone in the cabin. He had stopped moving, and then crying, and simply kept looking at me; he had difficulty breathing, but I could not help him. I could just rock him, and tell him that everything would be all right. But it was not all right, and would never be again. He was just six months old; he hadn’t grown his first tooth yet. He would never walk, never talk, and never scamper around the house, like I had envisioned him a thousand times. And I would never see his charming smile again. I kept thinking these things while Paul was talking to me. I must have looked really pale, because the doctors had me sit down and visited me; they also took care of my ankle. Then we went back home.
December came, and with it the lights and colorful shop windows downtown. Putting aside for once my unwillingness to move from the house, I spent a couple of afternoons walking around the streets with Trisha – and later with Paul – and enjoying a bit of social life. Together we went to the movies, ate at one of the soda shops, met with friends, and did some shopping. The windows were all decorated for Christmas, bulbs flashing. Garlands hung from the walls, and wreaths from doors. Many shops had one of those new transistor radios going, or – better yet – a brand new stereo music recorder, and I remember my favorite rock and roll songs playing alongside Christmas tunes. It had finally snowed, and a white thin mantle covered the streets. I was jolly and merry, and would have hopped my way around had my bulk permitted it.
We bought some presents for the members of the family. There remained for me to find a gift for my husband – but what? Upon much thought, I resolved I would make him a shirt - no small accomplishment for an unskilled teenager. It was difficult, all right! Not just for the actual making of it – Ann helped me a lot, as with everything. The difficulty lay in keeping it a secret from Paul, who – luckily – was away from the house most of the time. So I carried it with me to school – taking advantage of recess to work – and I worked at home before he came back in the evening, or at night, when my back – or my bladder – forced me to get up. I would then sit on the sofa in our little sitting room, and concentrate on my stitching. Broomstick would get up with me on those occasions, and curl at my feet – a very nice thing since the house was colder at night. I had asked Trisha to buy a length of checkered woolen cloth, and had used one of Paul’s old shirts as a model. Now I just hoped I would finish it in time. Christmas was exactly four weeks after Thanksgiving, and I regretted not having thought about it before.
But before Christmas it was time for Mary Ann’s birthday. She was born on 12 December 1957, and this was an important day for her. It was on a Friday, so it was decided we all meet on the next Sunday at Mike and Laura’s house. We spent the day there, arriving slightly before lunch, and staying for dinner, too. The three grandparents fiercely contended with one another for the baby, who – of course – was more than happy to take advantage of it. She had grown quite tall for her age, and was beginning to walk. She would grab a chair in the living room – which was carpeted – and would push it forward, using it for balance. In a few weeks she would certainly run around the house! Paul and I had bought her a small rag doll that she kept carrying about and showing to people. She didn’t talk yet, but uttered the cutest noises, that only her mother – sometimes! – understood. To me it was like going forward in time, when it would be Wanda’s turn to scamper around the house and try to talk.
Preparing for Christmas meant again a lot of planning and work; three important occasions in less than five months – and all at our house – represented no small accomplishment. The weather was cold and it snowed almost every day – although always lightly – so that it was nice to stay indoors. And with all the cooking going on, the kitchen was warm and cozy – the windowpanes covered with steam. Paul and Kevin decorated the Christmas tree that year. Kevin and Frank had gone to the wood a couple of days before, and had come back with a medium size fir tree, that was now standing proudly in our sitting room. There were plenty of bulbs and plastic globes in the attic, and I had a thing or two I had brought from my house that I wanted to hang from the tree. And of course we had decorated the whole house, putting a wreath on the door and garlands on the windows. Mother and Father arrived on Wednesday evening and stayed all through the weekend. The next morning was spent in church, of course, and then the guests started coming. They were the same as the last time, except for Brenda, who would have lunch at her house with her relatives.
Mary Ann was making steady progress, and would now scuttle around the house on her two quick legs. She would also spend a lot of time under the tree, either tugging at the decorations, or trying to open one package or another, and had to be watched at all times. She had woken in the morning to find a present under the tree at her house, but she knew there were more for her here, so she couldn’t – obviously – keep still. As for us, we were as curious as she was, and we barely waited for everybody to arrive before unwrapping the presents. That day I received a lot of things for the baby. Mom and Dad presented us with a brand new baby carriage. I knew it must have cost quite a lot of money, and was dumfounded. Paul gave me a wonderful little poodle carved in wood. Poodles were the fad of the time. You could see them everywhere, and every girl had at least one poodle skirt – that is a skirt with an appliquéd poodle on it. I had had one myself for a couple of years. I wondered whether I would wear it again in the spring – or would feel it to be too frivolous for my new status. Paul was very happy to receive his brand new shirt. I had finished it just the day before, and I must say I was proud of myself. Even Broomstick had his present – in the form of a bone so big he could barely lift. With that in his mouth, he retired to a corner in the kitchen, where he happily spent the rest of the day chewing on it.
After the opening of the presents it was time for lunch. Ann was kept busy going back and forth from the kitchen with the dishes. As for myself, I remember I did not feel well. The baby had been restless all night long – making me restless as well as a consequence – and I felt strained and edgy. Everybody could see that something was wrong, and kept asking about my health, but their kind concern was making me even more nervous, if possible. I did not want to leave the table for fear of appearing unkind, but I knew I could not last long in that condition. Eventually I did stand up from the table, and was accompanied by Paul to our room, where I lay down for a while.
Mom found me there a couple of hours later, when she came to look in on me. I had just woken up, and was lying on the bed with my hands on my belly. The contractions were coming and going at long intervals, and I spent the rest of the day in my room, with people going back and forth, inquiring about my welfare and giving advice. Paul was by my side most of the time, and left me only to say goodbye to the guests. I must admit I was taken by surprise. Even if I knew that the baby could be born anytime now, I was not ready for it. I guess nobody is the first time. And the pain… If it’s true that over the years the body tends to forget how intensely painful labor can be, labor it was anyway – and a very long and slow one at that. As time passed, I was not nervous anymore. I just understood that things were going very slowly and relied on Mom and Ann to do what was needed. It was a long night. As the last of the guests departed, Paul came back to me and spent the night holding my hand. I would grasp it as the contractions arrived, and let it free again as they ceased; I must have left indentation marks on it, so hard I was squeezing, and I remember Paul complaining about the pain in the hand a few days later. After some time I grew tired and even managed to doze off intermittently – at least I think I did. Also Mom and Ann spent the night by my side, while their respective husbands were trying to get some rest. Broomstick was banished from the room and kept whimpering in front of the door, which was kept shut most of the time. We went to the hospital in the morning, when my contractions were judged close enough to one another. By then I just hoped it would be over soon.
Robert Thomas Bothwell was born on 26 December 1958 at 11:50 in the morning. He had arrived a couple of weeks in advance, but was healthy and full of energy. After all the waiting and wishing the baby were born soon, I did not feel ready to cope with it, and I must admit I even felt a bit left down – I had so much gotten used to calling him Wanda, that it was now hard to realize he was actually a boy. His father was of course very proud of him, and could not wait for the time when he was brought to me for nursing, so that he could hold him in his arms and admire him. What enthralled him most were his tiny feet – so small and yet so perfectly shaped. He would remove his little socks and lose himself in contemplation. It was difficult for me at first – my breasts were small, and so were my nipples, and it was hard for the baby to suckle. Moreover, at first I had little milk of my own, and I hoped I would make more soon. Baby formulas were not common – the first ones were being developed just then – and I hoped there would be no need.
After three days we were both back home. Mom and Dad had left the day before, with the promise to visit again as soon as possible. Mom had spent a lot of time with me, giving all the advice she could think of, and I could see she envied Ann the privilege of being with her grandson. Paul was a very apprehensive father. Probably we are all so with our first child. He would get up at night and stand over the crib to catch the baby’s breath, or would hold him and rock him long into the night after his last meal, even when I felt it was time for Bobby to lie in his crib – and for me to finally get some sleep! We had put the crib next to our bed. The day we had come home, I had taken Windy from its place on the shelf and had put it next to the baby. I was a Mom now, and did not need a teddy bear anymore. It would be his first toy.
I recovered quickly from the birth, but was always tired. That’s what I remember most of that period. Even when children are good and sleep at night, they still wake you up a number of times. They need to be fed frequently, and washed, and changed. And you have your own life to live, and work has to be done around the house. Even with Ann’s help, the first months were difficult. With what I hoped was the correct nutrition, I managed to produce enough milk for Robert, who was growing well and fast. Mostly – though – I seemed to have lost all sense of time. There never seemed to be enough hours in a day to do everything and still find time to sleep properly. At the same time, the days – if taken one by one – all looked the same and seemed to slowly drag me along.
I was so taken by my new duties as a mother that I completely forgot about my birthday. That year the tenth of January was a Saturday. Paul had invited some friends to dinner – among them Trisha, Paula and Mark – but I thought nothing of it: maybe they just wanted to see the baby, or spend some time with us – it was a weekend night after all. After dinner we all gathered in the sitting room in the back, where we could be closer to Robert, who was sleeping in his crib in the bedroom. After a while Ann rose and went to the kitchen, coming back a few minutes later with the cake and seventeen candles. I felt so grateful tears came to my eyes. I hadn’t realized I was living just for the child and forgetting about everything else. This instead was just for me – a seventeen-year-old girl who tented to take things a bit too seriously.
Going back to school was very difficult. I have to admit that, were it not for Paul’s family, I would have probably dropped out. It was a strange situation: I was a married woman and a mother, but – in most respects – remained the teenager I had been a year before. As such I was quite subject to the will of others – notably my parents and Paul’s. And so I went back. I did not mind leaving the baby with Ann for a while – I knew I could trust her – but I felt as if too much was being asked of me. I would wake up in the morning and nurse the baby, squeezing my breasts afterwards to collect some milk for the eleven o’clock feed. I would then rush to school, come back for lunch, feed the baby again at three, do my homework, work in the house, feed the baby at seven, have dinner with Paul and the others, nap a while on the couch, feed the baby at eleven o’clock at night, go to bed, and nurse again at three in the morning. If you felt breathless just by reading the sentence, imagine how I felt! I doubt I could have made it without everybody’s help. Paul was a very good father, and did everything to help me whenever he could, but he was there only at night, so much of the work fell on Ann. As time passed – though – things settled into a kind of routine, and it was easier for me. I think it is safe to say that by the end of February things had gotten definitely better. Robert needed now to eat five times a day; in a couple of months he would soon go down to four, and then I could start to wean him. Paul and I had lost the awkwardness that comes with inexperience, and I had learned to take things with less stress.
I was beginning to understand what Mother had meant by saying that only becoming a mother yourself can you understand what it means. You have to experience it all, starting from morning sickness – going through backache and swollen ankles – to the pain of labor and the following tiredness and sleepless nights. At the beginning I think you do it out of ignorance of the cost, and because that’s what’s always been done. After a while – though – there grows a link with the being in you, and you don’t mind the pain anymore (well – maybe some of it!), nor the sleepless nights. And when the biggest part of it is over, then maybe you feel ready to start it all over again. That’s what my mother would have liked to do and couldn’t; perhaps it was going to be different with me. I promised myself I would write her a long letter as soon as I had time, and tell it all to her. I never finished it tough, and it never got in the mail.
Trisha and Paula began to spend many afternoons at my house, taking turns with the baby, and helping me with the homework. It was fun studying together – the three of us in the sitting room in the back – little Robert in his crib, and Broomstick on the floor next to him. He had grown a lot in those few months – putting on weight and muscle – and it was hard to see in him the thin hungry puppy he had been on Thanksgiving Day. He was very fond of his new little friend. He would spend a lot of time next to the crib, and later – when Bobby would dangle a hand from its side – he would be there to lick it.
At the end of March it was finally time for us to visit my parents. What with the work and the winter weather, they had not come back to our house anymore, and were eager to see their grandson again. As for myself, I was more than curious to see their house. It was, after all, the house where I would have lived had nothing happened. So we left on Good Friday afternoon. We planned to stay over the weekend, and come back on Monday. I packed everything for the baby and Frank accompanied us to the bus stop in town. It was hard to convince Broomstick that he could not come with us, and he stood for a while on the curb, looking at the leaving bus and barking furiously. My parents’ was a nice two-story house just outside the city. There was a small garden around it, where my mother had planted rosebushes and other flowers, and a garage in the back. The house itself consisted of a kitchen, a large living room and a bathroom on the ground floor, and two bedrooms and another bathroom on the first floor. We would sleep in the second bedroom, which – as it was not going to be my room after all – my parents had transformed in a small sitting room with a sofa bed. That’s where we slept, leaving little Robert in the baby carriage next to our bed.
My parents were delighted to see the baby, and were thrilled to see how much he had grown. He was now three months old and was starting to smile at people. He had the most charming smile; you could forgive him everything because of that smile, even the most restless night. And he was good – even on the bus he had slept almost all the time in my arms. Mom and Dad insisted we leave him with them for some time, and so we had time for ourselves, which we spent exploring the city. The town was the seat of the University, and it attracted a lot of young people, who came to study. That’s where Dad had started college, and Mom had had her nurse training. We went to visit the campus, and I must say we felt attracted to it. It was all very strange. Until a few days before, I hardly felt like going to school and get my diploma. Now, though, after seeing the library and the different classes – and all the young people who were staying at the campus – I understood that studying might not be the boring activity I had thought it was. These people seemed to really have a purpose in life. Moreover, they seemed to enjoy what they were doing. The city itself was lively and very interesting. There were more things young people our age could do, like going to the theater. There were many movie theaters – not just one as in our town – and dance halls, bowling rooms, museums. My parents told us that it was not difficult to find a job here, and that many were doing so. I was beginning to understand that maybe they had been right in moving, and that they had wanted me to have a different perspective on life – a better one in their opinion. They introduced us to their neighbors, many of whom were young couples with small children, and we spent time with them talking about our experiences with children. It was very instructive. In the evenings we would gather in the sitting room – Paul and I on the couch, Mom and Dad on the two armchairs – and we would talk about the past months. Mom wanted to know everything about Robert: if he slept at night; how much he ate; if he had had any fever. She encouraged me to tell her everything, reliving in tiny detail the days spent nursing and rocking him to sleep, and the nights – luckily only a few – when he had kept us awake with his crying. Dad – on the other hand – wanted to know everything about the farm. He had been a farmer most of his life, and now missed living in the country. They had left less than a year before, but it felt longer to him. Paul had to do his best to recollect the details. Mom and Dad had kept in contact with the Tailors, of course, but it was not like running the farm themselves. The animals had been left there – except for Champ, who had been mine to start with, and who was now living in the stable next to Pearl. Here there wasn’t even a small patch to plant vegetables in – they had become citizens. Of course that had been what they wanted. Thinking about it, I wonder how I had never noticed they were planning to leave. A move like that takes time to organize, and surely they must not have rented the house without seeing it first! They told me they had been thinking about it for at least a year, before getting in touch with people in the city and applying for jobs. And they had taken advantage of my weekends at Trisha’s house (now that I though about it, I had to admit I had spent quite a few nights at her house) to drive here and assess the situation. The house hadn’t been hard to find. The company Dad was working for had suggested the name of the owner, who had been happy to rent it out to them. The move itself had taken quite some time, and it had been hard for them since they were working already, but the people on the farm had been of great help. And the neighbors had helped, too. There seemed to be a very strong relationship with the families living nearby, although they were in general of a different age. Some of them had come in during the weekend to clean up or do some chore or other while Mom and Dad were at our house, and many had helped Dad with the little works that had to be done around the house. All in all, they were happy with their new accommodation. They liked the work they were doing. Dad used to drive to work every morning, accompanying Mom to the hospital on his way. The company he was working for was a fairly big one, and he worked together with other four colleagues in a large office. Mom was very happy about her job; she said it made her feel useful – something that had never really happened to her. Also, she felt somewhat in control: although she was just a nurse, she felt she could have power over disease or pain in some measure.
We left on Monday morning with the wish to see one another more frequently. Frank picked us up in town, and Broomstick delightfully wagged his tail back and forth and frolicked round us in welcome.
As the weather turned warmer Paul stopped working in town and remained on the farm again. So he would pick me up at school, and it was common to see him and the baby waiting for me outside. He would come with the truck, and Broomstick would ride in the back as always. He would then put little Robert in his carriage, and walk with him for some time, while waiting for me. They made a nice trio – the two of them and the dog. Everybody knew them, of course, and many parents – the ones who had come to pick up the younger children – would stop and chat with him, enquiring about the baby’s health, or my progress in school. The older students, then, would come looking for us on their way out, and stopped to say hallo to their former high-school friend and admire the child. If we had time or were in the mood, Paul would drive to town and stop at Michael’s house. We would have lunch there, and then drive back with little Mary Ann with us. Other times I would be invited to Paula’s or Trisha’s house. He would then drive me there and leave Robert with me, and would return home and work on the farm. I would walk home from Trisha’s house in the evening, or find a ride from somebody.
Even the mood of the school seemed to change along with the weather. I found myself talking to people that had snubbed me before, and even Mr. Bartlett – could you believe it? – was so kind as to let me change place in class and move closer to the front. I was working hard to prepare for the final exams, even if my grades remained somewhat low. Sometimes I found it hard to concentrate on a difficult lesson. On those afternoons, when it was difficult to commit any notion to mind, I would rise from the desk in our sitting room, take Robert with me and walk with him for a while around the property. We would go visit the animals in the barn, or say hello to Dad in the field; sometimes he would even give us a ride on the tractor. After an hour I could return to my studies with a lighter heart and greater peace of mind. Also Mary Ann would spend more time with us. She was very fond of her cousin, and liked to stay by the crib and simply look at him. She was walking now, and with the good weather it was nice for her to stay outside and enjoy life on the farm. Laura would come to us for lunch or right after it, and leave her daughter with us until the evening. That meant more work for us, because a toddler needs a lot of attention, but Ann loved it. She was a very good grandmother. As soon as the time was right, she started to work in her vegetable patch again, which was promising an even better yield then the years before. She also kept herself busy with the preparation of cheese and the baking of cakes. She had become very active in the community, and it was not uncommon to see her outside the church on Sundays selling her products for charity. And then of course there was always the market on Saturdays. She used to go there maybe three times a month. A friend of her had a stall, and she was welcome to occupy a small corner of it. The people in town appreciated her cheese and yogurts, and it was a very good occasion to chat and spend a few hours away from the house. Robert was still too young to be kept long at the marketplace, and so I would accompany Ann, but then go back to the house. As time passed, though, my visits to the marketplace became more frequent.
Paul turned eighteen in April. The family gathered for the occasion on the porch in the evening – a very mild one for the middle of April – and enjoyed yet another of Ann’s many delicious cakes. I was getting the hang of it myself, and would bake some on occasion, although mine would never rival with Ann’s. Mike and Kevin were with us, of course. Kevin and Brenda seemed to be getting all the more close to each other. We wondered when they would announce their marriage. Also Mark was there. He had a new girlfriend, Sara, who never left his side and kept whispering endearments to him. We thought she was rather too mellifluous, and judged they would not last long as a couple – he was generally very straightforward and didn’t like this kind of behavior.
I could not wait to go back to the wood. I was too busy now to be able to do it – what with little Robert and the school. Moreover – although the winter had been mild, and spring was promising to be so, too – I felt it was not time yet to venture far from the house with the baby. Later, though, when school was over and the weather warm, I promised myself I would find time for it. I really missed the long walks I used to take; it felt good to be alone with myself and in communion with Nature. I was sure Robert would love that too. I felt I needed to show him the places I had known. Sometimes, when we were alone, I would talk to him about the wood. Of course he could not understand what I was talking about, but it was good to open my heart to him. It’s so much easier to talk to young children; you don’t expect them to understand or give an opinion, and so you don’t feel embarrassed by what you say – your thoughts can wander, and you can let them out freely. Wood or no wood, I could still enjoy the warmer weather, and did so whenever I could. I would open the back door to let fresh air in, or, later, move the desk outside and do my homework there. Ann had taken on her more work than she was supposed to, so that I could take care of Robert and study properly. And I can’t deny I really needed that; I hardly had time for anything else as it was – I wondered how I would have managed without her.
And so June arrived, and, with it, the end of school and the final exams. Later, after the years spent in building a family, I have felt somewhat guilty of my grades, which were none too flattering. At the time, though, I was happy it was all over, and that I could go on with my life. I was after all the wife of a farmer; what did I need good grades for? Trisha and Paula – who had the advantage of being just teenagers – managed of course much better than I. They were now looking forward to a well-deserved carefree summer, before they started to think seriously about their future. They were very busy these days with their new boyfriends, and their visits became less frequent. I must admit I resented that a bit. I had gotten used to seeing them around the house. They were my only source of distraction, and I missed that. Also Robert seemed to miss them, mostly Trisha – whose presence he was very accustomed to. Little Mary Ann, then, would frequently enquire about her – blabbering “’Isha, ‘Isha” incessantly. Sometimes I wish I were like her – free to call out single-mindedly to my friends.Copyright 2003-2012 Adriana Oberto
As it had happened with our bodies, we had to discover each other little by little. Paul and I had been dating for over a year and had become lovers, but living as man and wife was a totally different thing. Married life is sharing intimacy at different levels. It has to do with the little things – the toothbrush on the washbasin in the morning or the discarded pair of socks in the evening, for instance. That’s how two individuals become a couple, and we had to get acquainted with each other. Moreover, I loved to get to know particular things about him that I hadn’t had a chance of noticing before. Like what kind of food he preferred (which turned out to be duck roast), or which one was his favorite shirt (and woe betide who ruined it on washing day!). He could get up very early in the morning for instance – didn’t mind doing it if there was work to be done – but needed some time to wake up. He had to linger in bed for five to ten minutes, slowing drawing back the curtains of sleep, to face the day with renewed energy. Wake him abruptly, and you’d find yourself regretting it all day long, with him going about his work grumbling about the unfairness of life. In the evenings then he enjoyed spending some time sitting on the sofa. It could either be reading or watching television – that wonderful apparatus that had so taken our imagination – as long as it was on a sofa. It was his way of relaxing his body prior to bed.
Looking at it from the outside – in particular from Trisha’s perspective – it was all very romantic. To her, I had achieved all I had wanted, and she proudly looked up to me. It was after all what girls our age expected to find in life: true love and marriage. And I had been stubborn enough to fight for it and wise enough to find the right man to fight with. If that involved missing part of the fun of teenage life, it was no big price to pay. Even at the end of the fifties, when the world was beginning to look smaller and television to deeply influence our lives, the expectations of young women in our rural neighborhood had not changed much. My husband was handsome – dark and strong – and had readily accepted his responsibility as a father, rescuing me from a future of gossip and unhappiness. And he might not be rich, but he had a starting point in life – that being the farm he was working on and that would one day be – at least partly – his.
A few days after our marriage Mother sent me a letter. She had never done that – had never needed to in fact – and it was with a strange feeling that I opened it and read it. I was of course very happy for it. There was a phone in our house that we used only for emergencies – because it was uncommon to talk on the phone, and because it cost. So we had to rely on letters to exchange information. She did not speak of the new house or her new life. It was rather heartfelt mother-talk.
Wednesday, August 20, 1958
My sweet Heileen,
I have so many things to say I don’t even know where to start. Sentences keep drifting through my head, and it’s difficult to sort through them.
I sit at home and marvel at the many things that have happened in so short a time, You have gone from being the carefree young woman I used to know – and whom I keep seeing in my mind – to being a wife and future mother. If it’s true that your generation is living faster than we used to, then you seem to have broken a couple of records!
Not that you’re the only one in your condition. Passion alone has produced more children than we care to count. It’s just that – as your mother – I see the speed of events and am baffled by it.
I see the two of you and feel your love for each other. I’ve seen the resolve in Paul’s eyes, and wish you both strength and determination, because you’re going to need both of them in the near future.
Don’t get me wrong. Having a child is a wonderful thing and the fulfillment of a couple’s life. It’s just that I wish you had had time to do other things – all the things people your age generally do. I would have liked to see you finish high school and think about College – getting an education is very important, you know that. And you would have gotten together with the girls in the neighborhood, like you used to do. You would have dated boys – of course – or the relationship you and Paul have would have eventually evolved into marriage. But enough of that! I am sure you’ve been thinking these same things, and you must have come to your personal conclusions.
And I also wish our respective families had gotten to know each other better. I have deep faith in the love Paul’s family is giving you – I trust they’ll be wonderful grandparents and uncles to your child, and that they will help you when you need it most. The more I think about it and the more I grow fond of your husband. I have a special place in my heart for him – he has shown strength of character uncommon in men his age. I am sure he’s worth of you as you are of him. You’ll make a wonderful couple.
I wish I were near you in this moment of change. Mothers are supposed to stand by their daughters and help them. And I do stand by you – at least in spirit. I’ll always be here for you, and – if you look well – you’ll see a friend as well as a mother.
As the days pass you’ll notice changes in your body, of course. What will be harder to see – and you’ll realize it little by little – is that those physical changes help shape the mother that’s in you.
Only when we become mothers ourselves do we really understand what it means, and what it has meant to our own mothers.
The warmest of hugs and thousands of kisses,
I was very happy to receive it – as I have said – but did not know exactly what to make of it. Most of all I did not know how to answer. I have never been good in writing letters and have felt much better in later times, when it became much more common (and so much easier!) to talk on the phone. So I did not answer at all, keeping to myself any comment I might have. Maybe it was just as well. I suppose all that Mother wanted was to make me think. And to let me know that she was thinking of me.
After our weekend in the wood life went back to its normal slow pace. September was drawing near and – with it – school.
Given the happenings of the last days in June, I was somewhat worried as to the kind of reception I would be met with. True, I was married now, and many of the people I would see at school had come to my wedding less than a month ago, but still… Some of the teachers I had – men mostly – had acted very coldly and had looked embarrassed in my presence, as if unable to determine what to make of me.
Paul accompanied me on the first day. I was entering the last trimester of pregnancy, and it was showing all right. We walked in hand in hand, saying hallo in passing to our friends. He kissed me good-bye then, and left me in front of the English class, where I had to spend my first hour.
Mr. Bartlett, the English teacher, was short and tubby; tidy in the gray suit he used to wear at school. We used to tease him about that (not in his presence – of course!): it looked like his only possession as far as clothing went, and I don’t remember seeing him in anything that was not gray. His hair was gray, too, and he used to comb it from time to time, even in class. He was in his fifties, but was still unmarried, and lived alone in a small house close to the school. He was the most fastidious man I’ve ever met – always careful of appearances – both his and his belongings’, as well as other people’s. That must be the reason why he asked me to sit at the back as soon as I entered, and I found myself sitting in that corner every day for many months. I was happy with it, as it allowed me to observe the people in my class. I knew all of them already, with the exception of a small girl.
Upon inquiry I found out she was exactly my age, but her low height made her look much younger. Her name was Paula, and she had moved to town with her parents less than a week before. That meant that she did not know anybody yet, and she kept looking around the room shyly. Apart from her height – which had struck me as odd as soon as I had seen her – she was rather plain looking. Her hair was light brown – almost blond – and she had brown eyes. She did not look stunted, though; her body was well proportioned – she was just small.
Among the other students was Trisha, who was looking for me and smiled as soon as I entered. Knowing she would be there, I had looked forward to seeing her, because I knew she was on my side. She was sitting closer to the front, but rose and came back to the desk next to mine. We began chatting in a low voice – as everybody else was doing – until the lesson started.
This pattern repeated itself during the day. Trisha and I would always sit close to each other, of course, and – although it was common for the students to drift into small groups – it soon became clear that many were unmistakably keeping away from us – whispering surreptitiously and casting severe glances in our direction. After a while also Paula came closer and smiled at us. She probably hadn’t even noticed what the matter was – what with the excitement of her first day – but felt reassured by us. So we welcomed her into our group, and we became very close in a matter of days.
The only class I would not attend was P.E., because of my pregnancy. I did not mind missing it – I had never gotten used to the idea of working out in a closed room. I would practice some kind of sport after the baby was born. I liked volleyball for instance and had been part of the school team in the past years.
Paul would always accompany me to school in the morning, and be there at the end of classes. Frank would lend him his pick-up, which he also used to run errands or carry products. I would then spend the afternoon at home, studying and helping Ann. Trisha would come to our house once in a while, and we would study together; sometimes I would have lunch at her house, and Paul would pick me up later in the day. As time passed and I became heavier, I tended to stay at home. The days were growing colder, and it was nice to sit by the fire in the evenings chatting and sewing.
Since I liked to stay at home, we invited friends at our house over the weekends. Trisha and Mark were regulars, together with Brenda and Mike’s family. Mom and Dad came once or twice in those months, and had invited us to visit them. I hadn’t seen the new house yet, but now I didn’t feel like driving the three hours it took to get to the city, and so I kept putting it off. Paula was less of a regular, but became more so as the months passed. She was very shy and felt awkward in the company of other people. Her parents had invited us to their house once, since she had talked so much about me and our friendship. Being newcomers, they did not have many friends in our community, and they related well to Paul’s family, who had encountered the same situation a few years earlier. They were nice people – as small as their daughter was – and very lively. It was good to be in their company, and our families grew closer as time passed.
We had readied everything for the baby, but I liked to sew or knit for her. We had decided it was going to be a daughter. Obviously we could not know the sex – there were no such things as ultrasound scans then – and we would welcome our baby anyway – boy or girl – but we liked to think of it as our little Wanda. She was doing well. She had finally begun to kick vigorously, to Paul’s delight, and liked to do that often. There was a rocking chair in the living room that I found particularly comfortable, and that Frank kindly relinquished to me; I would be sitting in it – resting my feet on the small table before me – and all at once my belly would start moving, its shape changing. Everybody in the family would then look at me mesmerized, and Paul would run to get his hand on mine and feel the movement. The men had finished working in the tool shed, and Wanda’s little crib was waiting to find its place next to our bed. They had built it from scrap – the crib Paul and his brothers had slept in had been given away long before – and had carved the wood on the sides and at the headrest with tiny hearths. Ann had sewn small sheets and blankets, and we had embroidered them with small animals, flowers, balloons, and – of course – little red hearts.
In the few moments I was able to keep for myself – what with the school and subsequent schoolwork, and then the housework – I would sit in my chair and silently talk to Wanda. I would tell her of myself and her father – describing in profusion of details what we looked like, what were our interests, what we had done the previous day, and so on. And I would make plans for the future, envisioning my dark sprightly daughter running around the house ready for mischief.
As if on cue, other letters from my mother arrived. She was writing – as always – exactly what I was thinking or needed to hear, and I felt again the unique connection that existed between us.
Wednesday, September 17, 1958
…I remember the surprise of feeling you inside me for the first time. It was like the quiver of tiny waves, or maybe more like a butterfly finding its way under my skin. And I knew the sensation was mine only to behold, until a later moment when such movements would become apparent to others, too. I also remember that I was reluctant to speak to your Father about them – I knew I would have never been able to explain exactly what I was feeling. How can you explain to your man how it is to be a mother? More or less in the same way he can tell you how it feels being a man, I guess! And so I did keep it for myself, until my belly became bigger and movements were clearly visible. He would then come to me and rest his hand on my midsection, marveling at the strength in those movements...
Thursday, October 2, 1958
…Do you ever speak to the child in you? I used to do it when I was expecting you. It was soothing in a way, and it established a connection, that I felt was very important. I would sit on the porch or by the fireplace – depending what month I was in – and put both my hands on my belly. I would then close my eyes and words would come to mind. I was probably speaking to myself, rather than you, and the words were silent words – I never spoke them out loud. But I felt you could hear them in a way, and I imagined silent answers to my questions. It was always words; I did not sing child songs to you then – I kept them for later, when you would ask for them. They were thoughts about life and nature, or the description of a particularly remarkable natural object or sensation. That’s when I began scribbling my notes, the ones your father collected a few years ago and had printed. I think that was a nice idea – it’s good to go over them now and relive past experiences. I haven’t stopped taking them since, putting on paper my feelings and my emotions, always thinking about you and the family in general – keeping that connection alive…
And so the months passed. Summer turned into fall, and the fireplace in our house was kept all the more busy. We did not have to rely on it to heat the entire house, of course, but it was still the best way to keep our living room warm and cozy. I suppose it’s because of the sweet memories I have of that particular fireplace that I keep one in my house even now, in a time when technology has made them obsolete. There’s nothing better to me than sitting in front of the fireplace with a warm drink in my hand – and maybe a book in the other. Halloween came and went. Mary Ann being still too little to go from house to house playing Trick-or-Treat, it went by with little notice on our part.
Tuesday, November 4, 1958
…I was never sick during pregnancy – not even in the first months, when it is so easy to feel nausea or heartburn, and those movements – however strong in later months – have never bothered me. Oh, I did feel shapeless and very plump in the end – finding it hard to move around the house, and bumping into the furniture. But I treasured every moment of it, and I would have loved to repeat the experience. I wanted to have many children, and it was only fate that hampered me…
Soon it was time to think about Thanksgiving Day. It was of course a big occurrence, and all the family started well in advance to get ready for it. The first thing we did was to buy a nice big turkey. That was accomplished by going to the Connelly’s, who had a farm on the other side of town and raised them. We wanted to keep it with us for a while, feeding it on our farm next to the geese and chickens we owned. That’s how it had always been done. Ann would kill and pluck it herself – teaching me the art of it for future occasions. Secondly, the women of the house – and that included Ann and me, of course, together with Laura and Brenda – started chatting about it on every possible occasion, bringing up the subject whenever it was possible, in the intent of discussing a particular recipe or finding out a new one. In the evenings then, we would share our discoveries and talk at length about this or that particular change in the menu, that would make this year’s Thanksgiving lunch better than the last. Ann kept a regular flow of letters to Mother – even writing once every two days if necessary – so that everything would be ready and she could do her part. And third, the house was swept from top to bottom to make it ready for the several guests who would come. There would be the five of us, plus Brenda, Mike, Laura, Mary Ann and Mary – Laura’s mother. She was a widow and didn’t have close relatives except for her daughter and granddaughter. Mother and Father would come, of course, and then there were Paul’s grandparents – all four of them. They lived a couple of hours away. I had met them on our wedding day and had fond memories of them. Since there was no room left in the house, they would stay at aunt Jeannine’s house – she lived in town by herself and was, of course, invited to lunch. That brought the total up to…seventeen. I couldn’t believe my ears the first time they told me! There used to be very few of us on Thanksgiving Day, and then my grandparents had died and my aunt had gotten married and moved to another state. This was going to be the first big Thanksgiving lunch in my life.
As with our marriage, we must have started cooking a week in advance, making preserves, for instance. It had been decided it was going to be a lunch, rather than a dinner, for several reasons: Mary Ann was little and would not be able to stay awake till late; the grandparents were old and didn’t feel like staying up too long, either, and I was tiring easily lately. But it was on the day before that the bustle of activity became more apparent, with the baking of bread and of the numerous cakes and tarts, and the killing and plucking of the turkey. On Thursday Ann and Brenda stuffed it with the filling they had prepared the day before. Mom and Dad were leaving that same morning with the car, so they wouldn’t be at the farm much before lunchtime, but they had taken Friday off from work, so that they could spend the weekend with us. As for me, I did my best to be of help and – at the same time – to keep out of everybody’s way.
I was huge – well, on second thought maybe I wasn’t so big, but I thought so at the time. I must have put on about twenty-five pounds, and there was more than a month to go yet! I felt bulky and unattractive, and kept bumping into the furniture. I had had to ask for a particular desk and chair at school, because I couldn’t fit in those the school provided – the ones with the chair connected to the desk. I did not feel depressed – mind. On the contrary, pregnancy seemed to give me energy, but now I also had to contend with backache and swollen ankles. All in all, I was happy to be left to myself, and contemplated the proceedings at a safe distance, keeping an eye on Mary Ann, who looked very interested in the goings-on.
While the women were working in the kitchen, the men moved the furniture in the living room to the sides to make room for a big table in the center. Since the kitchen table was needed in its place, they assembled a number of smaller tables – more or less as it had been done for our wedding – lining them side-by-side. They also took the couch in the back and carried it to the living room in the front, so as to have enough sitting accommodations for our guests. Paul’s grandparents arrived at mid-morning and settled down to it, chatting and admiring little Mary Ann – and relieving me from my duty as baby-sitter.
So I had time to go and find Dad. He was reserved by nature – relying on very few words to express his opinion. I had had little occasion to talk to him since I had run away, other than the occasional greeting or exchange of words at table. I recognized it was my fault. I knew how possessive he felt about me – and how hurt he had been by my running away – and I hadn’t had the courage to go and talk to him before. He had tried to lighten the mood the day I had come home, and I was very grateful for that, but still… Now that the table was ready and that the men didn’t have much to do, he had walked around the house, finally settling down in the armchair (the only one left!) in our sitting room in the back. He rose when he saw me, and asked whether he could be of any help – maybe Mother was looking for him? I said no, and I drew closer, slightly caressing him on the cheek, like I used to do sometimes when we were alone. Since there was but one seat, we moved to our bedroom and sat on the bed. And I started talking, telling him how it had happened and apologizing for what – I knew – must have hurt him a lot. We must have lost track of time, deep as we were in our conversation, because at a certain point Paul came looking for us. The door was open, but we were sitting with our backs to it, so that he had to knock on the doorjamb to make his presence known.
“I was worried. It’s late and the table’s all set already. Will you come to lunch, Heileen? Sir?”
Dad stood up and moved to where Paul was standing. If words between us had been few up to now, there was much more left unspoken between them. He turned around to wait for me and – as I stood up and approached them – he put his left hand on Paul’s shoulder. Passing his right arm around my waist, he started forward.
“You’re right, son. Let’s not keep the others waiting, shall we?”
We went back to the table to take our seats. I was sitting next to Paul, with Mother and Father on my right. On Paul’s left was his mother, and – next to her at the head of the table – his father. On the other side were Kevin and Brenda, and then Mike’s family, who thus happened to be in front of my family and me. If I mention this it is because this same pattern would repeat itself with little variation in the years ahead – the table growing longer or shorter as new members were added to the family or older ones died.
The lunch was a success, and it went on until well into the afternoon. The atmosphere in the house was alive with chatter and laughter, and everybody had the time of their lives. I must admit I felt really tired after the first two or three hours, and had to go and put my feet up for a while. Paul accompanied me to the back, but did not stay long. He was very happy about my father’s gesture of affection, and did not want to miss the opportunity to be close to him. So I lay on the bed for a short nap. I must admit I was sleeping quite a lot lately, nodding off at intervals whenever I had some time for myself. True, I had trouble sleeping at night, and would awake every couple of hours, either to go the bathroom, or because my back ached. So I couldn’t rest well, and I needed – obviously – to make up for lost sleep during the day. I was beginning to wish my pregnancy ended soon. I couldn’t wait to hold the baby in my arms.
I went back to the living room about an hour later. Lunch was over for good, and people were lounging around – sitting on the couches or taking a stroll outside. Mary Ann was on her grandmother’s lap, and was doing her best to charm everybody in the vicinity. Mom was helping Ann in the kitchen; Dad was nowhere to be seen, and so was Paul: they must have gotten out together. I went to the kitchen to offer help – which was kindly but firmly turned down – so I sat on a chair. Although we were not far away from the living room – there was actually no real wall between the two, just a low counter – it was much quieter here – the voices somewhat softened by distance. It was calmer. It must have been around six o’clock in the evening. The table had been cleared, so that now a lot of dishes lay on the small table in the kitchen. Mom had Ann had washed many, though, and were getting ready to set the table again to offer some dinner – should anybody want any. Talk fell on the imminent snow. We were at the end of November and it would snow soon. To the farm it meant less work to be done – the animals had to be fed and tools repaired if need be. Mostly, though, the months ahead would be quiet and easy. If the weather kept fine, and snow wasn’t too abundant, I would have no trouble going to school. Our truck could handle it quite well. Besides, there was less than a month to the Christmas vacations, and then Wanda would be born soon. We had made arrangements for my teachers to assign me more work over Christmas, and to show what lessons would be covered in the weeks after, so that I could study at home and be able to catch up with the others. And then I had Trisha and Paula, who had promised to come in every day and help.
Paul and Kevin had found work in town. As there was less work on the farm, they used their free time to earn some more money – which was always welcome. Although at the end of the fifties we were living in an age of unprecedented prosperity, this was slow in reaching rural areas like ours. It was better in the towns, where people were moving – and that’s why my parents had decided to leave, too. There the shops were full of the new products, that were so much advertised on television. Even the small town where Mike and Laura lived enjoyed the new boom. For us, though, life was as it had been for years, and it was hard to make ends meet. The family needed every extra dollar – and Paul needed to save for our future. He worked downtown as a delivery boy in the mornings, and at one of the soda shops in the afternoons, Mondays through Fridays. He used to come home at seven o’clock in the evenings – hardly in time for dinner! This also meant that he could accompany me to school only in the morning, and I had to ride the school-bus back home.
Paul and Dad walked in through the back door. They smelled of straw and animals – they must have walked to the barn. They retrieved some chairs from the living room and we all sat down to a cup of tea – careful of the many items still on the smaller kitchen table. There was a lot of food left. Ann had placed it neatly on different dishes – to be eaten later or stored in the refrigerator for the next days. The turkey had been huge, and I knew it would last for days – we would have to devise every possible recipe to recycle what was left. The sweets – four pies, two tarts and three cakes, no less – had been mostly eaten by our ravenous guests, and I now helped myself to a slice of the apple-pie Mom had made. Having retired before lunch was over, I was now enjoying what was left. And of course I did not plan to eat dinner! I failed to understand how I could start all over again, having finished only a couple of hours before. True, I liked to eat and was very fond of Ann’s cooking. Moreover, even if I had already gained a lot of weight, I felt reasonably free to eat as much as I liked – didn’t I have a baby to feed beside myself? Today, though, I had amply taken advantage of all the food prepared for lunch – tea and apple pie was all I needed to feel at peace with myself.
So it was that I did not join the others at table for dinner, preferring to sit nearby or help Ann and Mother. At about ten o’clock the guests started to leave, and Kevin relinquished his room again to my parents. When everybody had left, Paul and I retired to our rooms. Since there was no couch, we sat on the bed, as we used to do sometimes before going to sleep. He was silent, and it looked like he was ruminating on some particular thought. He did not look serious, though – on the contrary, his mouth twisted into a smile.
“Today your father and I took a walk together and – since it was cold – we ended up in the barn. We were talking – we talked of a lot of stuff – and he didn’t notice that Kevin and Brenda were there already. You can imagine for what purpose… It took all my self-control to steer him in another direction while they hid in the straw. They must have remained there for the whole time – and we did chat a lot!” I smiled too, hoping that my pregnancy had at least taught them to take precautions. “While we were there we saw something move from under the straw in a corner. It was a small dog. It must be a puppy. It was scared, and looked terribly hungry, so I fetched some milk for it. I’ll show it to you tomorrow.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t sleep knowing it there! Let’s go an fetch it now”.
We went out from yet another door – there was one that from our sitting room opened on the porch. We turned around the house until we got to the main entrance, and from there proceeded to the barn. It was very quiet; the animals were all sleeping, but stirred at our entrance. The puppy was next to the milk bowl – now inexorably empty. He was a male, and terribly skinny. His fur was light brown – the hairs slightly curly, as those of a golden retriever, but he was one of those crossbreeds that wander around the country, begging for food wherever they can. I must have mentioned already that I love animals. It did not take me much to feel pity for him. I picked him up and held it close to my bosom. He was warm, and smelled of curdled milk. We walked to the house together. This time we entered from the front door, going straight to the kitchen to look for some food – no difficult task on a Thanksgiving night! We fed him leftovers from the turkey, and even a small piece of pie for dessert. He looked so full at the end that he barely had the strength to follow us to the back and collapse at the foot of the bed. We undressed and got into bed ourselves, kissing goodnight before turning the light off.
“Broomstick”, I said.
“What?” enquired Paul.
“That’s his name. He’s so skinny; he looks like a broomstick. Let’s call him that.”
And so Broomstick became my inseparable companion. He had the run of the house, once he was properly trained – and I must say that did not take long, fortunately – and slept in our room at night. He went wherever I went – jumping on the back of the truck in the morning when Paul drove me to school, and riding back with him later. We were never able to turn him into a guard dog. He would persistently frisk around people, familiar and unfamiliar alike, and he was good – even too good sometimes. And I was very happy with him. I had had a dog when I was younger – I used to play with him after school. He had died two years earlier, and I had missed him a lot in the following months. Now I was happy to have a four-legged friend again, and I was sure little Wanda would love him, too.
And so my life changed, and I became an integral part of Paul’s family. There were five of us: Ann and Frank – Paul’s parents, Kevin – his brother, Paul and I. The two brothers worked with their father on the farm all day long. It was not a big property, but they had animals. There was a man – Andrew – who came in every morning, and – seasonally – they hired other people to help with the harvest. Kevin was twenty, tall like his brother, but stouter. They shared the same deep black eyes, which I had found so charming in Paul.
I used to stay home with Ann. She was a soft-spoken woman. Smaller than her husband, she nevertheless communicated authority, and I understood that, beneath the quiet surface, there burned a will that kept everybody at bay. She was the head of the house all right. She taught me a lot of things. My mother had showed me how to cook, but I must admit I had not paid much attention to her teachings; I could make do, but was just a beginner. Learning things with Ann was great. She’d show you and then let you do things by yourself. She was never reproachful, and it was hard to do something wrong with her, anyway. Keeping the house was an all time job, and I wondered how she had managed to do it all by herself. We also took care of the small livestock – chickens and geese – and of the vegetable patch in the back. These provided most of the food in the house; milk came from the two cows they had, and she made cheese and yogurt out of it – some of which was sold at the market on Saturdays. There was also a small orchard that provided cherries, apricots and apples. She made a lot of preserves that the family consumed over the winter months. And she could make the most delicious cakes I’d ever tasted! She would make a different one every Sunday, and bake more on occasions. Some of them would be sold for charity on religious holidays.
I slowly settled into my new life.
We did not go out much in the evenings, enjoying instead one another’s company on the porch of the house. Kevin was the only one to leave the house. He had a girlfriend – Brenda – and they went out rather often together. We saw very much of her. Weekends were the time for visiting. Then we would see Mike – his oldest brother. He was married to a girl named Laura; at the end of the previous year they had had a daughter, whom they had named Mary Ann, after the two grandmothers. Mike and Laura lived in town and he worked there as a clerk. They used to come in the evenings – generally on Fridays. Since he didn’t work on Saturdays, they could stay as long as they whished. Mary Ann would naturally be the highlight of the evening, passing from lap to lap until she eventually fell asleep. And my parents would come – driving up from the city on Saturday mornings and leaving on Sunday afternoons.
Mom and Dad came back to the house every weekend for at least a month. They had received some offers, and were now ready to take their last belongings to the city; The Tailors would move in in a day or two. It was the middle of July, and the weather was hot. I didn’t mind that. The baby was beginning to show, but not much – you had to know where to look – and I enjoyed the sun and warmth. And we would get married soon. The date was set for the tenth of August. I would be four and a half months gone by then, and Mom’s wedding dress would have to be let out. She wanted to do that, of course, but it would have to wait until the last days, because of my growing waistline. She and Ann used to talk a lot about the wedding, making plans for the event.
Paul and Frank were working together in the tool-shed lately, and I knew they were getting something ready for the baby – probably a crib. Since they wanted to keep it a secret, though, I pretended to know nothing about it. Also Ann and I were working for the baby, unpacking used clothes that Ann had kept and knitting new ones. Mom had taught me to knit, and now it came in very handy. I had begun a woolen blanket with the baby’s name. Of course we didn’t know whether it would be a boy or a girl, but I had resolved to write both names on the blanket. Upon much thought and some mock-up quarrelling we had settled for either Wanda – that had been my grandmother’s name – or Robert. His parents had had a fourth child, who had died at age four of an accident with the wheel tractor; Paul had been very fond of him, and so wanted his child to bear his name.
After the new tenants had settled, Mom and Dad had of course no place to stay when they came to visit, so they’d sleep in our bed. Paul would go back to sleep in his old room with his brother, and I would use the couch in our little living room. Paul’s house was smaller than ours, which had been built to accommodate a large family. This was one of the reasons why they had chosen to go. The income from the farm had fallen in the past years, and it was getting more and more expensive to hire labor; moreover, the maintenance of the house cost a lot of money. The Tailors were certainly making good use of it, what with all the children, grandchildren, and other relatives. There was a liveliness to the place that hadn’t been there in years, since my grandparents had died and my aunt had gotten married and moved.
My grandparents had wanted their children to receive an education, so that they could always choose to be something else than farmers. And so my father had had some college, enough to get him hired part-time as an accountant when he was still unmarried. My mother’s family lived in town, and her relatives had all held white-collar jobs. She had gotten nurse training just before getting married.
As the tenth of August drew closer, the house was in a ferment. Ann had worked, in the preceding weeks, with needle and thread. Of course I was used to seeing her in the evenings – sewing-box on the table – with somebody’s socks or other garment that needed to be stitched. What was going on then, though, was something of much bigger proportions! As everybody wanted to look well on our wedding, clothes and suits were taken out of the closet, and everybody turned to her for a last-minute outfit. She had sewn herself a new blouse, which would go with the green skirt she used to wear in Church during the summer. Frank’s and Kevin’s suits were those they had worn on Mark’s wedding, but they were going to sport brand new shirts, too. And then there was Paul’s suit to think about. He wanted to look his best and had gone as far as to look into fashion magazines over and over (I still remember how embarrassed he felt about it, because those magazines were “women’s stuff”, and he would never have dreamt – not until now, at least – of touching them!). In the end – and with Ann’s help of course, he had picked up some length of cloth at the store in town, and his mother had made him a brand new suit out of it.
The only one, whose dress was not ready yet, was me. It was still at my parents’ house and would arrive with them over the wedding weekend. It was Mom’s wedding dress; she had made some modifications to the bodice, adding some lace here and there. She had waited, though, until the very end, because of the baby growing inside me, and she would finish her work just the day before the wedding. And I was going to wear some wax flowers on the head, which were not part of the original dress.
Also the other women in the party – Trisha, Paula, Laura and Brenda – were also getting ready for the occasion; even little Mary-Ann, who was just a few months old, was going to look very pretty in her pink little outfit.
There were also the preparations for the receptions to think about, and we were all kept very busy. It was going to take place at the Family center, and the whole community (or so we hoped) was going to attend.
Mom and Dad arrived on Friday night and, for the occasion, Kevin went to stay at a friend of his, so that we would not have to relinquish our bed – my parents could use Kevin’s room. Mom had cooked all week long – as had done Ann – so that now everything that didn’t need to be prepared at the last minute crammed our refrigerator and every shelf in the house. Tablecloths and napkins had been washed and ironed, and the best silverware had been taken out of the cupboard. The whole family was there to help, little Many Ann watching the proceedings from her high chair or a blanket on the ground. On Saturday afternoon we went to the Family center to get everything ready; the men hung the decorations while the women set the tables and arranged the flowers. By the end of the day we were utterly worn out, but everything was ready. My dress was ready, too, skillfully sewn into the proper proportions by my mother, who had stayed up longer than the others to finish it.
And so the big day arrived. We woke up and waited for Paul to leave. I had sent him to sleep on the couch the night before (keeping up with tradition!), and now we had to avoid seeing each other before the wedding took place. As he disappeared upstairs to get ready, I stayed in the back with my mother and Ann, who helped me with the dress and did my hair. Never had I felt so nervous in my life! Even at the birth of my children I had been able to retain some semblance of calm. I think it is safe to say, that all that I had envisioned could possibly go wrong went right instead, and I found myself entering the church on a wonderful sunny day.
Paul had gotten there before (of course!) and was waiting for me at the altar, the whole congregation already sitting in church. Trisha and Mark – a friend of his – were there with him. It had not been hard for me to choose Trisha as my maid – there were no others as close and as dear to me as she was – but Paul had met with some criticism of his choice. There were some relatives – cousins mostly, but also his brother Mike – who thought the honor of being best man should fall on them. And it was in part to avoid a very difficult choice within the family that he had looked outside of it – to the boy who had become his closest friend since he had moved into our neighborhood. I remember seeing them hanging around on several occasions, and I am sure Mark was in on Paul’s secrets as much as Trisha was on mine.
I was escorted by my parents and Paul’s mother, and made my entrance beside my father, who walked me down the aisle. I must admit to a certain amount of shaking all through the ceremony, but my voice was firm and clear as I made my vows. The ring slid on my finger with a perfect fit, and I removed the school ring and placed it on the other hand – I still wear them both. It was a short but touching ceremony, in which the minister did his best to welcome the Lord’s stray lambs back into the flock, to the contentment of the other parishioners. They had all been invited. We had hung a note on the door of the church the previous Sunday, stating that we would welcome anybody who was ready to celebrate the happy couple with an open heart. Ours was a small community, and we all needed reconciliation.
The reception was a big success. There were many guests from Paul’s family and some from mine. Many of the people who were in church had come, too. Some were shy at first, hardly feeling comfortable; some were bolder and the younger ones even ventured ribald jokes on our behalf. I was beaming and did not really hear any of those. Everything had turned out for the best, and I couldn’t wish for more. The revelry went on through the day. We ate, drank, laughed and danced to our heart’s content.
We did not have much time to ourselves the following day, busy as we were with the clean-up. Mom and Dad had taken a day off from work, but they had to leave in the afternoon. Kevin took Brenda home, and Mike and Laura left with the baby. It felt as though the house had never been so silent. The men spent the evening on the porch, while Ann and I cleared the last things.
In the last month and a half I had slowly gotten used to my new family as they had to me. I think we felt then that we truly belonged together, as if it had always been so. Besides, this was a turning point in my life; my parents were no more close to me, I was married and was soon to become a mother. Mom and Dad were now living in another town, and would not come back on every weekend as they had done before. My bond with my previous life had been severed. And my name had changed! As strange as it may appear, it did seem peculiar to me to be addressed as Mrs. Bothwell – Mrs. Paul Bothwell. I kept repeating the name to myself – rolling it with my tongue – slowly savoring it. It gave me a sense of completion, as if I had been able to turn a childish adventure into a grown-up accomplishment. And I was really trying to think and act as an adult now – difficult as it was to me sometimes. Also my look had changed a bit. I had filled out because of pregnancy, and my curves had became softer. My hair had grown, too, since I hadn’t cut it – I felt more womanlike.
I had seen very little of Trisha in this period, taken up as I was by my parents’ move and the wedding arrangements. Now I could devote more time to her, and we would visit each other during the day. She would come up to our house in the afternoons, or I would walk to hers, and we would spend hours chatting. Trisha’s parents had known me since childhood and were good friends of my family’s. As such they could not avoid my associating with Trisha – much as they probably wished to. I had not failed to notice their cold stares when we had met once outside the school, and of course I had seen them in church. All in all, I think they were happy we did not see much of each other, what with the all the planning and such. They had come to the wedding – the whole family had come: Trisha, her parents and her two younger sisters. Reflecting on their behavior now – with the experience that comes over the years – I must admit I can hardly blame them. They had three daughters to bring up, and they must think I did not set much of an example. Now that I was married, tough, I had recovered part of their favor, and they did not object to our frequently seeing each other. With her I still felt the carefree teenager I had been half a year before. We would chat for hours at a time, and I would often invite her to dinner. I knew Paul would not object to accompanying her home later. She was very curious about my state; she wanted to know how it felt being pregnant; if the baby was moving inside me; if I was worried about the birth, and so on. And she told me about her life – her latest boyfriend, the other girls, the summer in town. That was the life I had left behind.
I had actually felt the baby move inside me somewhat before the wedding. They were very light movements, which would startle me at a given moment and then disappear as quickly as they had come. I had told Paul, but he had not been able to feel anything yet. He used to stroke my belly every night before falling asleep, clearly wishing the baby would kick. Ann had told me, though, that more consistent movements would be felt later; he would have then enough time to enjoy them. She had accompanied me to the doctor in town. I had never needed this kind of visit, and I felt embarrassed, but it was good to know that everything was all right and proceeding well.
It had been a peculiar summer and it was now coming to an end. I was used to spending my holidays hanging around with friends; trekking in the wood I loved so much; even taking a short vacation with my parents if that was possible. I had not been able to do any of that, and I missed it a little, mostly in the light of the future months – the baby would be born in the new year, and there would be no time then for vacations. Moreover, we had had no honeymoon. There had been no time for it – the work on the farm being quite intense in this period of year, and we hadn’t planned any. I didn’t mind it, of course – we had very little money and no house of our own to speak of, how could I dare think of it? People did not go away for long on their honeymoon then – mostly simply returned home to their work – but it was usual to go and visit some relatives for instance, and spend a couple of nights out. There was one thing I could still do, though – go to the wood. It had always been my favorite retreat, and it was only natural that it meant so much to me. That’s where my new life had begun. So I talked it over with Paul, and we planned a weekend by ourselves. I would show him the pond where I had caught my first fish, and the cave I had found and never used. We could camp for a night in the open, or we could go to the cabin and stay there.
Two weekends after our wedding we set out with our backpacks; Paul was riding Pearl, and I had Champ – a gray gelding. Being on horseback made our way much easier and faster. We retraced my steps to the first clearing and the hollow tree close by. We dismounted for a short rest, letting the horses graze by themselves, and taking turns to enter the tree. The wind had carried leaves inside – it looked uninhabited as it had been before I had used it – and I removed them again. After a while we climbed down the slope to the stream, shuddering at the coldness of the water. We then filled our water bottles and rode on.
It took me some time to find the tree that bore the cut. Unable to estimate distance on horseback, I had ridden past it, and we had to go back. We turned left and got to the cave. That was also still unoccupied, although I don’t doubt it could have become the winter hiding of some animal. We walked in together and explored it with the torch. It did look comfortable enough, and would have proven a good hiding place, had I been more experienced with life in the wood. As it was, I would not have lasted long there – I would have had to go back soon even if Paul had not found me first. With a few clothes, no food, a far away source of water, and the constant problem of building a fire, it was actually amazing I had not given up earlier.
We moved on to the pond, where we stopped for lunch. We had taken some meat with us, and it was easy – with matches this time! – to build a fire. The weather was fine – not too cool for late August, but we knew that the night would be much cooler. Starting from the first clearing and ending our ride to the pond, we had silently agreed to spend the night at the cabin – rejecting the idea of staying there at the clearing or using the cave. So we lingered there for quite a while, walking around. There were fewer ducks on the pond – I wondered if some had already left – and they didn’t seem to mind our presence much, as they had in the previous occasion.
It was mid afternoon when we mounted our horses again and rode to the cabin. This time we kept more to the north – as I had done on the second day – fording the stream and turning right at the hollow tree. The cabin was as we had left it. It was nice to walk in again and go back to the routine we had worked out in those few days. While he tended to the horse, hauled water and collected wood, I cleaned up a bit inside. I had brought clean linen for the bed, and I removed the old one, which we would take home. So the cabin would be ready for other visitors – maybe his father and brother would come in the fall on a hunting expedition. Or maybe we would use it again in the following weekends – who knows?
This time I was more versed in the art of cooking, and I did my part. We had a real meal – not just canned food. The fire was burning cheerfully and sending out a welcome warmth. As we had foreseen, it had grown cold outside – a stark contrast to the coziness inside. I had Mother’s book with me. I had taken it down from its shelf in the morning, and I settled down on the bed to leaf from page to page. It caught Paul’s attention, and he inquired about it. I told him its story and we started reading through it together.
“You are my heart
As I am yours;
Together we are one.”
Not bad for a start. We looked into each other’s eyes smiling.
“We hold the future in our hands.
We will work hard to make it good,
So that our actions will be remembered.”
We were young – very young. We did not feel it much then – wrapped-up in the recent events as we had been. It was with the boldness of the young, though, that we were starting out.
And when one and one makes three
We have not forgotten logic.
Nine months is all it takes
To break the rules of maths.
Well – we had broken more than a single rule. He stroked my belly. The baby didn’t move, resisting his wish once again. He was lost in thought for a while, then he looked up again; in his eyes was a commitment: “Let’s make the future good for our baby”.
We closed the book and snuggled comfortably under the covers. We would soon be three, but – for now – what mattered was just the two of us.