It wasn’t long before the police and social worker came into the house and started discussing what to do with me. Taffy finally broke in and offered to take me. The police and the social worker looked at each other as if it were
the craziest idea they’d ever heard.
“She’s known me her whole life,” Taffy argued. “She’ll be comfortable at my place, and we’ve got to get her off the farm.”
“Has she ever stayed with you before?” the social worker asked.
“She has,” Taffy told her. “A couple years ago, Molly and Nate had to stay out in Mankato when their baby was born. Jennie stayed with me then. Father Oliver at St. Anne’s would remember; you’re welcome to check. Molly
insisted I take Jennie to Mass.”
“There’s another child?” The social worker looked around.
“Paul Martin didn’t make it. Daddy said he was born sick. It was nobody’s fault.”
The officer looked at the social worker. “I remember that myself,” he said. “The baby spent the first month of his life in the hospital, finally got home for a couple weeks and suffered heart failure in his sleep. It’s a hard thing when a baby dies, takes its toll on the whole town, especially someplace like Leifton.”
Losing Paul Martin had been hard on everyone, especially Mama, who had miscarried two other little boys before Paul Martin managed to make it all the way into the world. Daddy was especially happy when they were finally able to bring him home. He was named for the saint, Paul, and Martin Luther – pioneer of the protestant church. Daddy called him Marty.
Daddy had gone through the motions of becoming catholic in order to marry Mama, but he made sure afterward that she knew it wasn’t in his heart. She could go ahead and name the children after whatever saints or holyfolk she wanted as long as he had say over our middle names, and what we would be called every day. Mama said fine, as long as the Lord knew me by Mary Jeanette and Marty by Paul Martin we’d have a fighting chance that all would
be square with our souls.
Nobody in Leifton expected Paul Martin to make it, even before he was born. They noticed her moods got especially bad once he was gone. People said losing Paul Martin was the last straw for Mama. I’d been calling him Marty right along with Daddy, but once he passed neither of us were allowed to refer to him by anything other than Paul Martin. “Marty” was an earthly name, and Paul Martin belonged to heaven.
Mama got very nervous and would start crying if I said anything wrong. Daddy would take me into the field with him as much as he could, and sometimes I’d wonder if I got in his way. I’d overhear the kids talk at school–the ones with older brothers–and they’d say how the older boys were always off helping their Daddies. I helped Daddy as much as anyone–especially when Mama was grieving over Paul Martin.
He told me it was especially hard for Mama since she’d almost died herself having Marty. (Daddy called him Marty just to me when Mama was out of earshot.) I asked if they were going to try to have another boy. He told me the doctors didn’t want to risk what might happen if Mama had another baby, so they tied up her insides so babies couldn’t fit through anymore. I asked Daddy if he was sorry he wouldn’t have boys to help him in the field.
“You’re a strong girl,” he told me. “I expect you’ll help me as good as any boy.”
“Well, sure,” I said. “I’m fine with feeding horses and chickens and fetching eggs and stuff, but I don’t know anything about working all those big machines.”
“And you think boys are born knowing all that? They’ve got to learn like anybody. How about I show you how to work the tractor?”
I was thrilled. Daddy and I went out to the wheat field and he sat in the seat of the John Deere. He boosted me up on his lap and started the engine. We had only moved about ten feet it seemed when Mama came running and screaming from the house.
“For the love of God, Nathaniel! What are you doing riding on that deathtrap contraption with Mary Jeanette? Haven’t we sent enough of our babies to the Hereafter?”
“She’s fine,” Daddy assured. “I’m right with her, Molly.”
Mama didn’t even respond and nearly pulled my arm out of the socket dragging me to the house. She sat me at the kitchen table and gave me a slice of bread and a glass of milk while she put a large teakettle on the stove.
“From now on Mary Jeanette either you or your Daddy’s to stay within an arms reach of me. You understand?”
“Yes, Mama, “I said, although it was far from true. I had come to realize that Mama often didn’t make sense, to me or Daddy. I knew if I told him, he’d tell me not to let it worry me. It was one of Mama’s moods and we’d have to get through it best we could. Questions seemed to make things worse, so I’d learned not to wonder too much out loud.
I had begun to seal my mind from Mama’s episode when her voice broke back through.
“And another thing, Jennie,” she said throwing me off a bit by calling me by my common name and not the one from the Lord. “I am never to see you climbing on any man’s lap ever again.”
This time I could not resist my protest. “But Mama, he’s my Daddy!”
“Especially your Daddy,” Mama burst in. “Thank the Lord that engine sounds like all heaven throwing a temper tantrum. God knows what might have happened to you.”
Mama grabbed the whistling teakettle and told me to follow her upstairs to the bathroom. She ran me a bath and added the kettle water to be sure it was hot enough. I didn’t say anything or cry until I could do so quietly
in my room after Mama and Daddy were asleep. If Mama noticed, she never said anything. Daddy peeked in once, and I told him I was missing Paul Martin. I figured that was the best thing to say.
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