Monday, August 25, 2014

On the Death of Mother, Anne

Today is the day we switched from opening windows for cooler air in the evenings and at night, to opening windows and doors for warmer air in the mornings. A touch of the next season is upon us.

Elias Pitzer Williams was the insurance man's great, great grandfather, and a pioneer of Oregon. He led a fascinating life, and I have written a series of stories from his life, and have decided to share them here occasionally. The following is story #2...enjoy!

On the Death of Mother, Anne

     Ten year old Elias hurried through the house and up the wooden stairs to mothers' bedroom. His steps slowed with anxiety as he approached the opened door. A small oil lamp was burning low on the table beside her, and she lay against several pillows, hardly making a dent on the mattress, so small and frail she looked. The red, green and yellow quilt she had made for her marriage covered and engulfed her. She heard him and turned her head so that her big eyes looked full at him. The love in her eyes pierced Elias' heart as he rushed to her and fell on his knees. He laid his head on her quilt, and his tears dripped slowly.
     "Mother...mother...," he choked out.
     "Hush, Elias," she soothed, her voice little more than a whisper. She lifted her hand weakly and placed it on his cheek.
     "My first born, my only son," she breathed out with a sigh. "How I have loved to see you grow, and I am proud of you. I wish to tell you what large burdens will be on your shoulders. You must help father to  take care of your sisters and help him to bear the sadness."
     "Mother, I will help him, you know I will. But how are we to stand the sadness?" He raised his head to hear her answer. 
     "Elias, son, God has given us this good land, our good family, and His blessings. We can trust Him now in the hard things."  
     "But I will miss you so," he sobbed into her hand, even as the thought crossed his mind that he should be too old for crying.
     "Will you get my bible, son?" she asked, her voice faint.
Elias stood while brushing his cheeks, and wiping his eyes. He looked around the room for her small Welsh bible, and saw it lying on a table beneath the window, in a patch of moonlight, beside a low burning candle. Picking it up he felt the soft, worn leather in his hand, and returning he brought it to mother before sinking to his knees once again. 
     "Elias, find Romans chapter eight, from verse twenty-eight to the end, where it says God has good plans for us."
Elias had to lean close to her lips to hear her words. Turning frayed pages he found the verses she wanted. He looked at her, and her eyes encouraged him. She wanted him to read them to her he knew, as he had often done before. She had taught him to read Welsh, her native tongue from this little book. 
     "And we know, that all things work together for good..." his voice left him as he wondered how her sickness could work for good, and he waited, until presently he tried again.  
     "to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." She nodded, and he continued slowly reading the words until he finished chapter eight with "neither death, nor life, nor angels nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." He looked up at her.
     "Do you really believe this?" she asked him. "Do you believe that God has purpose for me and you?" Elias struggled for an honest answer.
     "Mother I do believe, but I don't understand the sadness. It hurts too much to see you sick and weak, and know you are leaving us."  
Elias closed the little black bible, then got up and sat beside her on the edge of the low bed, picking up her work-worn, blue-tinged hand. Mother spoke only a few words at a time between short breaths. 
     "You are my big son now, and must find faith and strength to believe. The words say that nothing shall come between us and the love of our God, and nothing will come between our love for one another, not even death. God will go on being good, and I will be safe, with Him. Remember forever that I have loved you, but God loves you more, and He will be with you. It will be your choice now to trust Him."  
     She moved slightly, and motioned Elias closer. Slowly, she brought her arms up around his neck, and Elias buried his face in her shoulder, feeling the sharp bones press into him. They stayed together for long moments until her arms dropped away.  
     "You must take my bible," she whispered into his ear. "Father will have the big family one." She closed her near hand over his on the lined leather. 
     "Read it and love it and think of our good times when you do. Now, please Elias, to send father in."
Elias got to his feet, his face wet and his nose running. 
     "I love you mother," he said one last time before turning away and walking to the door.
     He quietly closed it and carefully holding the precious bible, he went down the narrow stairs, feeling a painful knot tight in his chest. After telling father that mother wanted him, he ran outside into the blackness. The darkness of the night matched his insides. He was no longer hunger, he just wanted to be alone.
    After a time he found his way to the barn. Putting the bible down on some hay, he went back to the unfinished work of brushing down Rob, their big work horse. He put all his strength into each stroke, trying to work out the knot in his chest. He felt some comfort in the familiar routine. When all the horses were contentedly munching on forkfuls of fresh hay, Elias slid to the packed earth floor and sat for some time with his head between his knees. He heard the barn door open and felt father sit down beside him. Only soft animal sounds and the occasional creaking of barn wood disturbed the quietness between them.
     "Son, yer mother has gone," father said, choking on the words as he said them. Elias remained silent, burdened by his own pain.
After a while, father got up and went back outside. Elias finally gave in to his grief and lay on the floor sobbing until he was cried out. Sleep found him there, and held him the rest of the night.

     The next morning Elias woke at daylight, as bright rays of sun picked their way through cracks in the barn walls. Someone had put a blanket over him in the night, probably father. He all-too-quickly remembered that this day would not hold his precious mother in it, but he also felt his empty belly growl with hunger. He sat up and reached for mother's bible lying next to him in the hay. Looking around he saw a good hiding spot between some cream cans on a wooden shelf. After safely tucking it behind one, he started on his chores. Although he was hungry, he knew it was too early for breakfast to be ready. Somehow doing what he always did helped him not to think or feel. Father did not appear, and that made everything strange, because he could not ever remember a time when father was not doing chores alongside him. When he was through with the chicken house, he went to the pump to wash up. His sister Mary came out and stood beside him. She didn’t speak, but just looked at him with her soft brown eyes, as if waiting. He dried his hands, and then put his arms about her. They communicated and shared their pain without saying a word.
     Resolutely they turned, climbed the stairs and entered the kitchen. His Aunt Carys was busy over the stove, and his cousins Drystan and Brin, along with Elias’ younger sisters, five year-old Martha Claire and two year-old Cecelia, were already eating at the table. The girls were too young to understand that their mother was gone for good, but the feelings of grief about them had subdued the children. Aunt Carys turned to Elias and Mary and told them: 
     “Yer fadder has gon to tak car of things, and yer ta eat nohw. Yer modder will lae in da box in da parlor later, an folks will be comin. Yer ta cleen up and be widd yer fadder.”
     Aunt Carys’ Welsh brogue was thick, but they both understood. Elias had a feeling of dread rush over him at the thought of seeing mothers' body, and he quickly sat down. He ate his porridge rapidly, filling his empty stomach, and  thought his Aunt Carys a good cook. He guessed they would not be going back to the farm for a few days, and that his uncles would be there taking care of the work. After finishing her breakfast, Mary rose to clear the table and clean up the little ones. Elias turned and escaped back to the sky, trees, and sun.
     All day people came and went from the house. The parlor and kitchen were full of food and people. One of his aunts took Martha Clair and Cecelia to her house, while Mary helped to provide for their guests. Just before supper Elias came back to the house, knowing father expected him, and went upstairs. He changed into clean church clothes, then went to the barn and got down mother’s bible. He held it, and sat on the back steps. He ran his finger over the well-worn cover and thought of her giving it to him. He decided he would keep it with him no matter where he went. It would be his connection to mother. Father came out the back door to find him.
     “Elias, son, you must come in to see Mother, and pay respects.”
     “I don’t want to see her gone,” Elias told him.
     “I know, but you will have to trust me tis good, and will do yer good,” Thomas replied as he sadly and knowingly laid an arm across Elias’ shoulders.
     “Death is a part of life, and yer need to learn of it. God is wise and takes as He gives. Come now.
     Father led Elias through the crowded kitchen to the parlor. There were only a few folks standing there, and the wood coffin seemed to entirely fill the room. Thomas left him, knowing Elias needed to be alone to grapple with death. Elias slowly approached, and felt himself gasp as he viewed mother’s face. She was so peaceful and pretty, the way he remembered from when he was younger. Suffering had left no marks, and her pain was gone. Tears started to choke him, but he swallowed them down. He was done with crying. He walked nearer and studied her face, trying to etch every detail onto the slate of his memory. He stood there for a long time, not wanting to touch her, not wanting to feel the difference. He desperately wanted her to open her eyes and smile at him with her special look, to get up and hug him, but he knew that would never happen again. He wondered what it would be like for her now in heaven, and if she could see him here with the body she had left behind. That thought brought a small easing of the knot inside, and he somehow knew he could carry her with him. In the end he clasped his hands and bowed before mother, showing his respect and love. Acknowledging the finality, he whispered his good-bye and walked across the room. Father came up to him.
     “Elias son, I am sending you to the farm tonight to do yer grievin’ there. I know how ya love the farm, and I will be there in days to come. Yer Uncle will take you after supper. Work hard, I am counting on ya.”
     Elias was glad to be going. Now that he had paid his respects to mother, and was carrying her in his heart, he wanted to be away from this room, from sickness and death, and this house. He went upstairs, changed back into his farm overalls, then went to the barn and retrieved mother’s bible. It was his bible now, to carry with him always.
In memory of:
 Anne Goodwin Williams




Friday, August 15, 2014

A Saturday in August....1847

 Elias stopped while putting a night crawler on his hook and looked up long enough to watch the geese flying south in their customary arrow-shaped pattern, honking back and forth boisterously and flying just over his head beneath a clear blue sky. The hot sun on the water before him drew lots of bugs which helped attract the fish, and made him glad for the coolness here under the tree branches along the bank of the river. He looked back at his hook, finished baiting it with the fat worm and cast it into the river, watching it drift around in the eddy. He sat, leaned his back against a cottonwood trunk and relaxed. He dug his toes into the damp mud feeling happy and quiet after finishing his day’s work. This was his favorite spot, where the river eddied and formed a kind of pool and the bigger fish lay quietly in the depths. He eyed the cottonwood branches over him, thinking that this was the perfect time of day, the sun slanting its last hot breath across the river before fading into the hazy purple of twilight. Small water noises and the droning of bugs were all around him.
          Elias held his new pole with pride. He had turned ten last month, and his father had given him this pole after work that day. Elias knew his father had no time to spare, but the gift was his way of letting him know he was proud. His father had cut a good cottonwood branch, shaped it and set it up with string and a real hook. It was a reward for doing his work well. For a while his thoughts drifted back to that wonderful day, then he sat up and checked that his line was still free and bobbing along in the current. Satisfied, he settled back and grew drowsy with the humming of insects in the early evening.
          Today had been one of the rare ones where he had worked in their sawmill, getting lumber ready to sell. Elias enjoyed those days. He liked the smell and feel of raw wood, he liked working with his father, and it was much cooler working inside. Father said they had the only sawmill in all of northwestern Ohio. These days there were more and more people buying land around them and they all needed lumber to build houses and barns. The town needed their lumber too as more buildings went up. He knew he was old enough now to really help and that felt good.      
         Other days he worked out in the fields, where father grew oats, corn and hay. Father bought this land for farming just before Elias was born and he had told him many times how fertile their soil was and how he could grow about anything. On most days, though, he worked with his uncles, cleaning out the barns, working with the cows, pigs and chickens, or hoeing weeds in their large garden. Whatever the day held, Elias liked best to be working alongside his father. He liked being the only son and being needed.
         Suddenly Elias jumped to his feet as he felt his line jerk sharply. It felt like he had a big one, and he pulled up hard on the string to firmly hook the mouth. This was the moment he loved, when the fish tried with all its strength to win the battle of wills. He let the fish fight him for a while, and then he slowly backed up to bring the fish to land. It flashed at the surface then jumped a couple of times, and Elias could see that he had caught a blue catfish. His mouth watered as he thought about fried catfish for supper. In a short time Elias emerged victorious, and the fish flopped about on the grassy bank. Pulling his hook from the fish’s mouth, he put more bait on it and threw it back into the river. He turned and noted with triumph that the fish was one of the bigger ones from the bottom of the eddy, a good catch by any standard. Tossing his fish further up the bank, he slid back down to his spot against the cottonwood tree, and all fell silent once again. Elias was free to return to his thoughts. 
           One thing Elias didn’t like about staying on the farm was being away from his mother while she was sick, and he frowned as he thought about it. He missed mother, who was at their small house in town. He knew father felt the same. In winter father and Elias spent every night in town, and sometimes part of the days. But during spring and summer the work and chores were never ending at the farm. Father drove the two of them into town whenever possible, and they always spent Sundays with mother and the girls. Once in a while father would leave Elias in town to help mother with the chores there. This burden had become larger and larger for Elias of late, as mother was able to do less and less. Now his thoughts became worried ones, thinking about mother and how she had grown weaker, and as often before, he asked God please to make her stronger.
           Suddenly he started, as a hand came to rest on his shoulder. He had been so absorbed in his thoughts he hadn’t heard father approaching. He looked up into his worried face, and knew instantly that something was wrong.



Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Rain

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and the heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Not a Waste of Time

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time."                
                                                                                                             John Lubbock