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
"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