Taffy and I cleared up what was left of the stew and headed back to the farm. When we got back he suggested that we go out and check on the animals, but I was tired, and a bit queasy from eating too much of my stew.
“Besides,” I told him. “I better start packing if I’m going to have to move.”
He told me he needed to look around a bit, and asked if I would be okay on my own in the house for a bit. I told him to go ahead. It was my house. I’d be fine.
I knew where everything was that I needed, but I went into Mama and Daddy’s room to see if I could find Daddy’s old hunting duffle he used to take on trips with Taffy. I figured I’d start by checking under the bed. I’d remembered lots of times I’d walked by in the hallway and Mama was always straightening out one thing or another under there. I didn’t see a duffle, but I did pull out about a dozen shoeboxes and put them on the bed. It seemed strange to me because I only saw Mama wear two pairs of shoes-simple black dress shoes for church, and white work shoes for every day. I opened the boxes and saw they weren’t shoes at all, but letters,
I assumed were all from Aunt Lucy–although there were too many to read every one. I sat cross-legged at the head of the bed and started looking through the Buster Brown box labeled “80-81” in black marker. The box had mostly postcards with pictures of the IDS Tower, small flocks of loons, or the Mississippi River. The only return address was a P.O. Box. The earliest day I found was September 22, 1980 and it read like this:
How’s life? Is the honeymoon over for you and Nate yet? I found Denny’s sister Susie and I’m staying at her dorm at the U. It is so BIG here! Susie’s as sweet as we remember and she knows a couple med students that can help me with my problem. I know you and the Lord don’t approve of me dealing like this, but being that the Lord
had very little to do with my predicament I have to do the best I can.
Just think, in no time you’ll be big as a house with your own. Kiss Nate for me and tell Denny I miss him. Second thought, just tell him I’m fine.
I pulled out another card dated January 15, 1981.
Thank you so much for the picture of Mary Jeanette. She’s a beauty and I cried nearly an hour when I saw her. Please send more whenever you can. I would come out and see her in person, but you know how I can’t bear being in Leifton anymore. It sounds like Mama and Daddy are really going to let you and Nate take over the
farm, and head for someplace warm. Good for them-no more winters. Maybe when Mary Jeanette gets bigger you and Nate can bundle her up and head to the big city to see me. I miss you.
I set down the cards and started looking more for the duffle. I couldn’t believe Mama kept in such close contact with her sister and never said anything. It seemed Lucy wrote at least once or twice a month and Mama just as often. I knew I couldn’t pack all the letters, but I was going to take what I could. It was the only way to find out anything.
Mama had never taken the bassinet out of her bedroom after Paul Martin died. Daddy said she needed to feel like she was checking in on him every day. It was right then when my best doll showed up missing. It was one
of those “real feeling” babies with water or something in its head so you gotta support it proper. She gave it to me a little before Paul Martin was born so I could practice being a big sister.
I had to roll the bassinet away from the closet to check for the duffle. I found it right away in the closet next to Daddy’s hunting jacket, hanging up there as if Daddy himself was going to pull it out and take a trip with Taffy.
I took it out and went to roll the bassinet back the way Mama had it. I looked inside at the brown painted swirl on the top of my old baby’s head. He was covered all nice and cozy warm with Paul Martin’s old blanket- complete with formula stain on the corner.
I put the duffle over by the door, went back to the bassinet, and lifted the baby into my arms. I sat back on Mama and Daddy’s bed and looked some more at the pictures, cards, and letters Mama had saved. I looked at the labels on the pictures: “Molly and Nate, Leifton Prom,” “Lucy and Denny,” “Mary Jeanette-4 days” “Nate and Mary Jeanette, 5 years,” “Lucy and Frank- wedding picture.” “Paul Martin-2 weeks.” (This one was when he was still
in the hospital in Mankato with little tubes connected to his chest and nose.) And another, “Nate with Jennie and Marty.” (Daddy must’ve labeled that one.)
I held the baby in one arm supporting his head and holding him up enough to keep his eyes open. I didn’t want him to miss any of the things I was discovering. Eventually I got tired and the two of us fell asleep right in the middle of all those cards and papers. I heard Taffy come into the house, but I pretended to sleep. I could at least stay out of some trouble if he thought I was sick and exhausted. I knew better than to sort through Mama’s personal things.
Taffy stood in the door two or three minutes before he walked through it. He was probably checking to see if I was going to stir. When I didn’t he walked over and picked up Aunt Lucy’s wedding picture. He looked at it a few seconds and tossed it back on the bed. He went to the closet and got Daddy’s hunting jacket and covered me with it. He leaned over and kissed the top of my forehead and ran the back of his calloused finger against my baby’s cheek the same way he had to me that afternoon.
“You look just like her, Mary Jeanette,” he whispered and he turned around and walked out the door.
End of Chapter 1
Chapter 2, pt 1
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