Thursday, May 23, 2013

...Just Ten Miles Away...

Source: saavem
When Marie gazed out her kitchen window, she felt a bubble of indescribable joy grow within her.  Her kitchen window in her house was a portion of the joy.  Too long all windows belonged in a distant cousin’s house, where she was paid to clean, cook, and care.

Lewis emerged from the barn, a laughing two-year old son on his shoulder.  Her husband and her son.  Marie’s heart burst at the sight of them. 

Dinner was steaming hot on the table when Marie finally sat down next to Lewis.  A six-month old baby girl Minerva tugged at Marie’s breast, as Lewis dished out a plate for Bobby, his little boy.  If a photo could have been taken, it would show a glow around the table, ringed with laughter and great happiness.

It was the summer of 1922, a glorious summer when the crops were good, Lewis and Marie were rejoicing over their life together, and the children were healthy.

Marie Cardiff holding baby Minerva; Lewis Cardiff holding Bobby; their dog, Spot

Like a summer storm rolling across the flat fields, diphtheria moved over towns and farms all across the country.  Over 100,000 children would die that year from this horrible disease. 

Bobby woke up feverish one morning, coughing, and crying, “It hurts, here!” pointing to his throat.  Immediately baby Minerva was sent away, to a relative’s farm out in the countryside, away from town.  Doctor Edwards was summoned and confirmed the worst fears of diphtheria, which was affecting too many children in the area.  The next seven days were text-book in the progress. 

For all those nights and days, Marie worried over little Bobby, with Lewis at the foot of the bed.  His face was a mask of pain, remembering the death and dying behind him in France.  Day by day, Bobby struggled to breathe, his throat swollen and his eyes desperate.   Finally, his little heart gave out. 

Bobby Cardiff,  b. 1920- d. 1922

Folks said that Marie’s screams could be heard a mile away, but then, a lot of mothers were heard screaming during that long month.
In a day or so, Lewis boarded the train, carrying with him a lead-lined coffin containing his dead little boy.  Taking the four hour train trip to his family’s home cemetery in Oakford, Illinois, Lewis sat in the cargo boxcar holding the coffin under his arm.  Slowly teardrops covered the top of the lid.

When Lewis returned to his farm after five days, Marie was stone-faced and quiet, so quiet.  Her breast milk had dried up, requiring that Minerva be fed by a friend.  Marie’s dark hair had started turning silver white.  They sat side by side on their marriage bed, holding hands, silent.  They would not talk about Bobby again, until 1941.

Her home and her family, Marie had to hang onto them even tighter.

Add captionSource: EveBlackwood

Monday, May 6, 2013

What happens now?

Theodorus Peck, 1927?, during Good Times

Over the decades after Theodorus had died, my father spoke very little about his own father, hardly at all.  It was a door he had nailed shut, never opened unless a sudden flash of a memory appeared. 

The photos of him growing up and changing into a man showed how he and his siblings handled grief by never allowing themselves to grieve.  The three of them posed for photos, three wooden soldiers with hands to their sides and awkward half-smiles pasted on faces.  The gray photos never permitted them to touch each other, to hold on to each other. Their eyes were still, frozen where grief had met them the day their father did.

Aunt Helen is the tall girl in the back row.  My father is holding the basketball.
“What happened to your pa?  Why’d he die?”

Those questions had been asked throughout my own growing years and answered only with a few words, usually provided by my mother.  So, it was only when grief had struck my father’s house twice more that my father allowed tears to fall and feel the bereavement long denied to him. 
Robert Peck 

First, death stole in, when my older brother, Robert, died at age 46 years with a brain tumor.  Then two years later, death returned like a thief and took a second younger brother, Bill, at age 44 years with blood poisoning.   
Bill Peck

My father aged in front of us and finally, nearly 70 years after Theodorus Peck died, Dad began to talk about his pa.

It was summer, a hot summer when we sat out on the back yard and listened to the night crickets start their songs.  Still dusky light slanted over the porch roof and bathed us in silver, black and white. The porch seemed to take a deep breath as a silence settled over us, heavy and filled with long held sorrow.  Mom’s hand snaked through Dad’s arm and interlaced his silver fingers with hers.
“My pa....” Dad began, and then paused, searching for words that were choked back before he could speak them.  Finally, he spoke, his voice a stranger’s voice.  “The night he died, my sister and I were upstairs in my Grandma Peck’s house.  The phone rang and I looked at her and said, “Sis, Pa’s dead.  They’re calling to tell us that he’s dead.”  
"She didn’t believe me, but I knew it as sure as I knew what day it was.  I heard Grandma say that they’d wait to tell us the news in the morning.”  Dad raised his head, his strong angular face lit with moonbeams, and we could see a slow snail trail of tears.

Mom’s hand squeezed his, as he continued to speak in that stranger’s voice.  “I got up as soon as it was light, went out to the back porch to watch the sun come up.  Pa’s work boots were there, where he had taken them off not two days ago.  I lifted them up, smelling Pa’s smell on them yet.  A piece of mud, dried in the sole’s instep, fell into my hand.  When he last wore those boots, the mud was soft.”  Dad’s head ducked down into the black night as he continued.  “I wrapped that piece of mud up in a handkerchief and ran home with it.  I kept it in my drawer for years....”  And the story ended.

Memories folded up in that handkerchief and drawer slowly crept out over time.  Not big memories, but ones speaking about the loneliness of a ten-year old boy trying to harvest the corn field by himself.  Such loneliness and despair swallowed up his youth.  And when his sons died, something had to break free.

My father slowly released parts of his grief over the remaining years of his life, but I know that when he closed his eyes at night, the images of his pa and two sons were the last to leave when sleep came. 

My father in about 1944