Heileen - Ch. 6
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.