Robert Wallace Paolinelli
705 Vallejo St.
San Francisoc, Ca 94133
ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI
I am bleeding. As my mother bled, and my grandmother and her mother and her mother, all the way back through the generations of women bleeding every month since the beginning, so I bleed, also. I am not pregnant. How could I be? I have no man.
Today is a day of blood, for I slaughtered two chickens and bled them. They were hens; I kill my own kind. I collected their blood in a pail which I mixed with water. As the chickens cooled, I took the blood and water mixture to the plot of land I shall use for my spring garden. I poured the bloody water onto the earth; now the earth will be nourished by blood as all things are nourished by blood. It is the substance supreme, the liquid without equal in the bodies of humans and animals; plants and trees do not have blood as such; but I am sure they have something similar––but it is not red.
Through blood we are born, by blood is the unused egg washed from my body and the body of every healthy woman. Men do not bleed every month. They have no connection to cycles. We women are different. God made us different in many more ways than is outwardly obvious. God gave us special blood which leaves our bodies at predictable times. Is that not truly a mystery? It is, it is.
When I finished blood–watering the garden to be, I plucked the chickens, saving the feathers for pillows; but I let the cats have the long, wing feathers; they like to suck out the blood. Even cats live by blood. When the chickens were plucked, I gutted them. I found several undeveloped eggs. I put them aside. I gave the livers, hearts and gizzards to the cats and the intestines to the
dogs. They are all satisfied. Blood seems to satisfy everything.
After singeing the chickens, I put them to boil with the undeveloped eggs, some salt, garlic, onions, carrots and let them simmer. They were old hens; their meat tough. But by the time they are cooked, their meat will be tender and will fall from the bone. The blood that remained in the chickens seeps out into the water and turns brown in the broth; even blood makes the broth taste better.
Philip and Andrew have been gone for three days. They will be back before dark. It is always three days when they go to the market town: One day going; one day in town; one day back. They will be hungry, thus this chicken broth and vegetables I prepare. They will bring back the things I've needed: a bolt of heavy cotton cloth; a packet of needles; sugar, salt, coffee, cloves and a small keg of brandy. Some brandy in one's coffee of a cold morning or in one's evening tea is salubrious; and when I feel the heaviness of these gray days on me, a glass of brandy lifts my spirits.
Often, when I have my flux, I do not drink brandy, but make tea from the leaves grandmother showed me which takes away cramps and gives one strange thoughts and makes one lose all sense of time. I have no cramps today, so I do not make the special woman's tea.
My sons returned. Today is a day of blood. Philip and Andrew had been drinking, and they tried to ride the horse at the same time . But because they were drunk and were singing and yelling, they frightened our old horse and she reared, sending both to the ground. Philip hit his head on some sharp gravel and Andrew suffered similarly, only his right cheek was specked with clotted blood. They were sober when they arrived.
I washed their wounds. They are foolish. But they are young and work hard and deserve some respite from the farm's drudgery, so I cannot begrudge them their drink––but not when they are around animals. That is both stupid and dangerous and I told them so. I had to bandage Philip's head. The gravel cut deeply into his scalp. I washed the wounds with warm water, then applied a poultice which will both promote healing and draw out any dirt or slivers of gravel I failed to wash out. His head wounds started to bleed again. I had a little of his blood on my hands. So today I had my own blood, chicken blood and Philip's blood. Indeed, a day of bleeding.
As predicted, they were ravenously hungry and they ate the broth and vegetables with slices of my thick bread, and they all but ate both chickens. I have saved some meat for tomorrow. I gave the bones to the cats.
Before I went to bed I changed my blood saturated cloth. I washed it in a bucket of water and saved the water which I shall pour into the garden; even my own blood will nourish the soil.
Everything is blood: the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and rain must be the earth's blood. How could it be otherwise?
I am warm. The fire is hot and I've had to pull my chair back from the heat lest I get scorched. We were running out of split wood. I guess we just didn't understand how cold and stormy this winter would be. It has been storm after storm with some times just a few hours of respite in between. We have plenty of uncut logs stacked out behind the barn. But when I saw that we had only two cords of wood left, I told the boys we would take advantage of the break in the weather, hitch up the old horse to the wagon, and go out to the abandoned coal mine about three miles away. It would be a lot quicker to get coal than to cut up the logs and split them. As soon as we have another break in the weather we can do that.
We brought picks and shovels. Surprisingly, we made good time. The earth is hard and the old road leading up to the mine is passable. By lantern light the boys took to picking out coal from an old seam while I shoveled chunks of coal into the wagon. We worked up a sweat inside that old mine. We stopped for a rest and to eat some bread and cold boiled beef. We had unhitched the horse and pushed the wagon into the mine, so loading was not a hard chore. All the time I was loading the wagon I kept thinking about how warm the house would be once we started burning coal. My plants would surely die if they had to suffer any more wood rationing because of this dastardly cold. When the wagon was loaded, we hitched up the horse and headed back. Luckily the weather was still holding; but I had had an intuition that it would. On the way back we saw a few deer browsing under the snow. Philip was sorry he'd not brought his rifle. He is partial to venison. But we have plenty of meat.
We dumped the coal in the front yard as close to the door as we could; and, using buckets for the smaller lumps, we brought it into the house and hand–carried the large chunks, some as big as large melons. Within an hour the house was warm. I put coal in the cooking stove and it is now burning down to embers I shall use for cooking supper; but first I heated water so we could all take a bath, for we were filthy with coal dust. I let the boys wash first. I stayed in my room next to the small stove and continued my knitting. They are young men now and it would embarrass them and me to be within view while they bathed.
The coal burns very hot and in no time the shovel full of coals I put into my small iron stove in the bedroom had the room warm enough for me to remove my shawl. It felt good to be warm and to hear the boys splashing and talking; it reminded me of when they were younger and would splash in the old zinc tub. Those were hard days, but they had their moments of good, too.
While I bathed, the boys took the horse the apple parings I'd saved for her. They had cleaned the tub and had filled it for me. I appreciated that. The water was a little too hot, but I suffered it because it has been at least ten days since I've had a full bath and I was in need of a good long soak. Too bad the weather is so bad, otherwise I would go over the other side of the river to the natural hot springs and sit in one of the holes until I began to feel weak. But the old zinc tub was all I had and I took advantage of it.
I looked at my body. It is still firm and not fat. My hands are rough, but the rest of me is still womanly soft. I imagine that if I could keep my hands from doing rough work, I would have hands as soft as they were when I was a young girl. Farm work, washing, digging, cooking, even hauling coal as we did today, are not easy on a woman's hands. Nevertheless, I have a shapely body that no man has touched in fifteen years. I am now thirty–seven. I often long for the touch of a man––but there is not one I would take to my bed. Too many years have passed since Julian deserted me and the children. In the beginning it was painful and lonely; but as the years passed, one into the other, the pain diminished, and I became less needy; and in the place of physical desire for a man came a strength, not from my body––that I get from household chores and farm work, but a strength, I guess, in my soul. I am as soft and warm and compassionate as I have always been; yet my soul is strong, strong, and I feel I could withstand any kind of hardship or deprivation or tragedy just because my soul is strong. My body is strong because I use it all the time; but I can't ever remember using my soul––yet I know it, too, is strong. So it didn't get strong through prayer, for I don't ever pray, although grandmother raised me in the church, I never go and I never pray. I used to feel guilty about not taking the boys to church; but at least I had them baptized by the circuit padre who used to come by now and then. I heard he died a few years back. He even wanted to baptize me; but I declined. When he asked me why, I just couldn't seem to explain to him why. I stuttered and felt a little foolish because I could offer no explanation. However, he baptized the boys, and I gave him dinner and a silver dollar and he went on his way. I'll always remember that day because it was so cold and a storm was brewing. We stood in front of the fireplace while he poured holy water on their foreheads. I cried a little that night because I was happy Philip and Andrew had been washed by the holy water. Somehow that made me feel good. It was also that same night that I excited myself for the first time in many, many months. Afterwards, I got out of bed because I could not sleep and stood in front of the fireplace. Philip had banked the fire before he went to bed so there was no fire; but I could feel some heat and it seemed to go right to my loins, and I put my hand down there, and as I stood in my nightgown I once again excited myself. I put one hand on the mantle to steady myself. Without realizing what I was doing, I let out a moan which Philip, who had not yet fallen asleep, heard, and he came in asking if I was alright. My body was aglow with a soft warmth; but I know my cheeks must have turned red when I heard his voice. For a moment I was so shocked I could not respond to his honest question. I took a deep breath and lied: "I was feeling lonely for my mother. I'm sorry I disturbed your rest." He knows that now and then I let out a sigh for my mother whom I lost many years ago. I guess he believed me, for he said, "She's in heaven and at peace, mother," then he went back to his room.
When I was back in my own room I cried into my pillow because I had lied to my son––which I have never done, but I also cried because of the sweet sentiment he expressed about the grandmother he never knew––and he had said it thinking he was helping to soothe my troubled spirit––when the truth was his mother was moaning because of her self–aroused passion. I felt positively wicked because I had lied to him about the circumstances. I never ever excited myself again outside of my bedroom––except when I was alone at the hot springs or up in the hills picking the first greens of spring.
Now we have fire. The whole house is warm; my house plants will survive. When I look into a fire of a quiet evening, I feel ancient, as ancient as can be and I wonder why. I feel a connection I cannot put into words. The heat of the fire enters my body and makes it warm; the heat of fire cooks food; the hot food enters our bodies and makes us warm, so in a sense we are eating the fire. I am as connected to fire as I am to my sons. We are all creatures of fire, for we were conceived in heat and the heat of a mother's body keeps the baby alive and warm while inside her. And it is the heat of passion which drives us to procreate. Ah, the warmth of this evening.
I was looking in an old trunk for some lace I had put away a long time ago and I came across two old pictures I had all but forgotten I even had: One of Julian when he was seventeen, dressed in his militia uniform before he went off to the war. He is smiling that boyish grin I remember so well. I was just fourteen when his regiment went south. I was already in love with him. Grandmother did not approve, saying I was too young to be in love, and, anyway, he was going off to war and she said the army in general, and war in particular changes a man––and not necessarily for the best, either; moreover, I could well find any number of young men when I was old enough. I usually obeyed grandmother, for she had been both mother and grandmother to me; but I did not listen to her about the feelings in my young heart and my lover who was going off to war. She did, however, consent to let me go to the depot to see him and the other men from town off, and she was at my side all the time.. I could not get close to him, but we could see each other. He looked so small standing next to the long musket he was holding. I was so proud of him and I waved and waved until the train was out of sight.
Grandmother did not approve of our writing, but neither did she forbid me to answer his long letters from Tennessee, but she did insist on reading his letters and my responses which were most guarded. When I received word that he had been wounded in Georgia I wept for a week. I was certain he would die of his wound and I would never see him again. While he was in the hospital our letters flew fast and furious across the country. Grandmother became almost penurious about the postage. After General Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Court House, it was six more months before his regiment was mustered out and it took three more weeks to come home.
The first telegram I ever received in my life was from Julian, who sent it to me the day before he arrived. I kept it for years and always remember what it said: "Will arrive on the 5th. Meet me at the depot 3 P.M. Love Julian." For a sixteen year old girl whose soldier lover was coming home, that telegram had more meaning than all the letters of our two and a half year war correspondence. Grandmother was a bit short with me when she knew the message, for she said we would now be obligated to meet him and she did not wish to be obligated; but seeing that he was a veteran, a corporal and had been wounded, it was our patriotic duty to be there upon his arrival. I was almost faint with anticipation. The depot was crowded for the train brought not only Julian but other survivors of the regiment which had fought all through Georgia and into the Carolinas.
It took me a while to find him in the blur of blue uniform–clad men jumping out of the windows and jamming the narrow carriage doors. At last I saw him. I burst into tears. He seemed taller than I had remembered, his face was tan and he had grown a large moustache which made him seem older. There was shouting from all sides and the municipal band was playing and the crowd surged and my tears came in such a flood that I lost him. But he found me. Suddenly I felt someone take me in his arms and hold me so tightly it almost hurt. And through my tear–filled eyes I saw Julian, felt the scratch of his moustache and the strength of his warrior's arms on my young body. Then he kissed me squarely on the lips! Grandmother burst out: "How dare you, Julian Lampton? You may be a war veteran, but that gives you no right to outrage public decency! Stop that kissing instantly!" Her voice was strident and so unlike her. I was so humiliated I begin to cry. Obedient to her command, he let me go. Just then Julian's parents pushed through the crowd and he was lost to me for the rest of the day. Grandmother literally dragged me from the depot. When we got home she told me that I had disgraced myself in public and that she had not raised me to make public scandal; and, further, should Corporal Lampton come calling, I would not receive him. She sent me to my room and told me to pray for my blemished soul.
It was a whole week before I saw Julian. He was standing on the church steps as grandmother and I approached for the ten o' clock service. I could feel her stiffen when she saw him, but she was polite. "Good morning, Mr. Lampton, it is good to know that the army has not eroded your religious values." Her voice was cold, almost sarcastic and again I suffered humiliation on account of her. But he said something that made me proud and felt he had vindicated himself from grandmother's biting words: "Ma'am, I probably prayed more all the time I was fighting the Confederates than most folks pray in a lifetime. With your permission, ma'am, I would like to join you and Mary in your pew." And grandmother said, "Everyone is welcome in the house of God." And Julian responded, "I know that ma'am, but I'm not asking God for permission to sit next to Mary." Grandmother just about turned white and she jerked my arm and almost ran into the church and deliberately sat in the middle of our regular pew, making sure there were people on both sides of us. During the service, when our heads were bowed, Julian, who had managed to sit behind me, passed a note to me; I quickly tucked it into my glove and did not get a chance to read it until we got home more than two hours later. I was dying with anticipation to know what the note said. At last alone in my room, I pulled out the note, unfolded its many folds and read. "Darling, I want to marry you. What can we do? Your grandmother does not like me. I am aching for you. Send me a note the best way you can and tell me where and when we can meet. Love, Julian, your husband to be."
Julian's note surprised me, for in all the time he was away I never thought of marriage; my greatest wish was that he not be killed or terribly maimed. But now he wanted to marry me––and I, too, suddenly, wished to marry him. I did not know what marriage meant––only that two people who were in love would always be together, smiling, and laughing and doing things together. I was so naive. I did not know anything about being a wife, and I had only a fuzzy notion about physical intimacy between a man and a woman. I will not say I should have heeded grandmother; when one is naive, in love, and determined, no amount of wisdom will prevail.
Julian had been apprenticed as a shoemaker before the war; but when he returned, he did not return to the cobbler shop, but, instead, was taken on my Mr. Erickson, who had a small dairy farm at the edge of town and it was easy for me to get my note to Julian because the boy who drove the milk wagon passed our house every day and I knew him by name; and when grandmother was taking a nap, I ran out to him and gave him my note and five cents for his trouble. In my note I told Julian that this coming Sunday grandmother and I were invited to Mr. and Mrs. Bowes, friends of grandmother's, for an after service dinner. The bowes had a large piece of property on which was a small bridge spanning a wide creek and I told Julian to meet me at the bridge, for it was far enough away from the house and we could not be seen. I did not give him an hour and he had to wait a long time. I could not think of an excuse to go for a walk by myself, but Mrs. Bowes suggested I go for a walk while she and grandmother had a talk about something––that something was to determine my later actions.
Julian was at the bridge and when we saw each other we ran to meet and he embraced me as he had upon his homecoming and we kissed and kissed––Lord, how long did we kiss, for our kissing fairly took my breath away. We professed our deep and abiding love and he formally proposed to me; but good daughter that I was, I insisted he call on grandmother this very evening and ask for my hand. I was adamant and refused to kiss him again until he agreed. He agreed.
When grandmother and I returned from the Bowes', she said she wanted to see me in the parlor. That was rather unusual. I waited for her while she put our Sunday hats away. She sat opposite me very erect and proper, more so than usual, and I intuited that what she was about to tell me would effect my future. What she said was that Mrs. Bowes' sister was the headmistress at a small normal school for young women in Cincinnati, and that I was to go there at the beginning of the spring semester starting in January of 1866. I would board there and come home for the holidays. Grandmother would hear none of my protests––and protest I did.
When I realized my fate was about to be sealed by her and Mrs. Bowes, I blurted out, "Julian will be calling this evening to ask for my hand." Then grandmother did something she'd never done––she slapped me on the cheek. "Your impertinence has arisen only since that young man has returned and filled your head with nonsense. I shall close the door in his face. Now go to your room and stay there until tomorrow morning.
I heard Julian knock on the door. I heard grandmother tell him to stay away and to never return to our house. But he said that he would come again and again to ask for my hand. I heard the door slam––something out of the ordinary in our house. Grandmother came to my room to make sure I was still in it, then locked the door from the outside.
In the meanwhile Julian and I, via clandestine notes, contrived to elope. I chose Wednesday afternoon because that was when grandmother always visited the minister's wife and left me to shop and prepare dinner. We left on the train in the middle of her afternoon visit when she would least expect anything. Love had made me cunning.. We stood at the far end of the platform and did not board until the last minute. We managed to get to Kentucky and were married the next day. We sent grandmother a telegram directly after the ceremony.. And I thought I was the happiest of wives. Little did I know.
I put Julian's picture back into the trunk, but kept out the other one; it is very old, taken sometime after my father was graduated from West Point, which was in 1840. He is standing in full dress uniform with his gloved hands resting on his sword. He looks very young and very serious. Next to him, sitting, is my mother and two other women, friends of hers in her youth. They met in Washington where father had gone to see about a posting in the west. At a formal ball, he was introduced to mother, and as she told me, it was love at first sight. Thereafter, he called on her regularly; it seemed his posting was taking longer than expected; but being the resourceful man I believe he was, he pursued mother until he won her over completely––but not grandmother and, as I understand, not grandfather, either, for they had it in mind for mother (their only child and precious to both of them) to marry the son of a wealthy Baltimore banker, a long time associate of grandfather's. But the affairs of the heart are governed by a powerful force––and how well I know that. After several months of anxious waiting, father was offered a posting in Missouri, but not as an engineering officer, but would be assigned to the infantry.
He was a dedicated young officer and would go in whatever capacity he was assigned, for he wanted to go west. As his departure date neared, he went to grandfather and asked for mother's hand; he was politely refused. Mother was broken hearted. She was eighteen at the time, and she vowed she would not marry the banker's son––or anyone else's son and would stay a spinster all her life. I guess there is a stubborn streak in the women of the Clayborn family. I saw it in grandmother, and I saw it in myself, although my stubbornness has been transformed because of circumstances, maturity and common sense.
Father went west at the head of any infantry company. He brought the men safely to Missouri and began his routine. He wrote long pleading letters to grandfather trying to convince him to relent and give his permission for him to marry his daughter. Grandfather, being a polite gentleman answered father's first letter saying, "Virginia has been spoken for. Your persistence, although noble and admirable, is of no use. You would do well to seek elsewhere for a wife." But father would not give up. He wrote to mother, and she answered his letters; but she was soon told that it was unseemly for a young woman, already betrothed, to receive letters from another man. Mother, then persuaded a cousin in Washington to receive father's letters at her address and give them to her when possible and their correspondence continued.
When grandfather died suddenly, it was discovered that he owed a great deal of money to creditors and our ancestral home (as it were) and its property and much of grandmother's jewelry had to be sold to satisfy the outstanding debts left by grandfather who had had no head for business and was forever investing in enterprises which either failed or returned much less than the amount he'd invested.
Grandmother, upon getting grandfather's affairs settled, approached the banker and intimated that she believed the time was ripe for his son to marry her daughter; the banker, however, deemed it inappropriate that any son of his should be associated by marriage to a bankrupt's daughter. Grandmother was devastated; mother, however, was elated; and it was then that she began to put pressure on grandmother for permission to marry her true love. Grandmother, instead, moved to Ohio and moved in with an old widowed aunt. But removal or no, the correspondence between Lt. Buckworth and Virginia Clayborn continued. Father had now been in Missouri for over two years and he was to be reassigned, this time to New Orleans and he was to be promoted; he got permission to take three weeks leave and he went straight to grandmother and stayed most of his leave. Finally he wore her down and she gave her permission. He said they would marry once he was resettled in New Orleans. So a few months later, accompanied by grandmother, mother was chaperoned all the way down the Mississippi by river boat to New Orleans. Several days later they were married. Father invited grandmother to move to New Orleans and live with them. In spite of the rebuffs he had received from my grandparents, father was not one to hold grudges. She said she would come live with them when their first child was born, and she returned to Ohio.
They were happy, and after three years, mother was pregnant, and, at the same time, war was declared against Mexico and, naturally, father went off to war. Mother's first child, a boy, died a few days after birth. Grandmother, moved to New Orleans shortly before father left for Mexico. She was a great comfort to mother, especially after my baby brother died. Mother really never got over his passing; and I remember seeing her crying by herself, and when I would ask her why she was crying she would look at me with her tear and pain–filled eyes and say, "I weep for Andrew, who is now an angel."
Father came home from the war a physical wreck. Although he had not been wounded, he suffered many privations in the field, one of which was a fever which laid him low for many, many weeks and he would break into great sweats. He would have periods of what seemed to be recovery and no sooner would he be about as happy as a lark, when down he went again. Because of this malady, he was pensioned from the army and we stayed in New Orleans where father was able to work form time to time designing levees. It was during one of his periods of false recovery that I must have been conceived.
I was born (so mother told me) during one of the serenest nights that she had ever experienced in her life and that, she said, was the reason for my easy delivery.
My memories of father are hazy, for he was often abed, by now, he was almost an invalid. When I was five years old father passed away. I was not clear about mortality; and I thought he was just extra sick and had been taken away and would be back when he was better. It was at that time that a pet canary I loved, died. Until then I did not understand death; it was then that both grandmother and mother explained that Flower Song, (such was the name I had given to my sweet singing canary) and Daddy were now both in Heaven. At last the reality of understanding what death meant sunk into my child's mind and I fully understood, now, not only that Flower Song would never return, but that my dear Pappa, was also gone forever.
Grandmother now took control of our lives and with the decisiveness of the matriarch, she moved us back to Ohio, and there we stayed. I was made to go to school and grew up with a happy heart and a longing, however, to return to New Orleans, which had made a strong impression on my young soul. I'd even learned to speak some French, which I have all but forgotten.
Mother's health began to fail her and by the time I was eight years old, she was house bound with a terrible cough which would wrack her body. Then she started to cough up blood. Eventually she took to her bed and there she stayed. I went to her often and she told me all the events of her life which my eager mind retained,. I would ask her questions about grandfather, and father and she was always willing to answer my curiosities: what color hair did my father have? What did it mean to be a captain of engineers, and what was an army pension? I must have taxed her strength, but she was always willing to talk. She was beautiful and would smile and hold me and kiss me and tell me to always listen to grandmother for she was wise, kind and would show me how to be a proper young woman.
A week before my ninth birthday mother died in my arms. I was visiting her. She and I were holding each other. Suddenly I felt her body stiffen and a strange sound came from her, like a protracted moan; then I felt her slump and I laid her gently back on her pillows. I tried talking to her; but she did not respond. I shook her. Nothing. I ran from the room calling for grandmother.
We buried her in the churchyard. A few mourners attended. Everybody was very kind to me and grandmother. I felt mother's loss deeply; in fact, I do believe I never got over her passing, even after all these years. I had nightmares for months afterwards: Mother would die in my arms, then she would come back to life laughing her happy laugh, then die in my arms again. Grandmother had me sleep with her for almost a year and she would soothe me when the nightmare would frighten me awake. From the time of mother's death until I eloped with Julian, I was a most unhappy girl. In a way I still am.
It is the first day of spring and there is a foot of snow on the ground and it is bitter cold. Fortunately, the storm that brought the snow has passed on and there was a bit of sunshine earlier. Right after breakfast the boys took their rifles and some food and said they were going to go deer hunting, for Philip is convinced that the snow and cold would drive them from the high places and come down to the valley.
The cow has been milked; the butter churned; I gave the whey to the hog. The chickens have been fed, so too the horse and we've lots of fuel. I walked with the boys for a ways, but the cold drove me back and I stood in front of the fire place with a hot cup of water in my hands which I sipped for I was certain my bowels were half frozen. I don't know how the boys can stand such cold weather; but they are strong and full of vigor and they can walk for many miles without stopping, and in the summer they can run at least five miles before their wind gives out. they are my pride and joy. After Julian left I was ready to leave; but the longer I thought about leaving the less I wanted to leave, for I belonged here, and the children belonged here and I could not bring myself being a stranger in some new place and taking the boys away from the place of their birth as I was taken from New Orleans. Now that I think about it, I have been living in Colorado for so long that I can say I have lived here longer than any other place since I was born. After all these years, I wouldn't even know where to go––even if I had the opportunity. A place long lived in takes on a life of its own; it is as if one fed off of it––and I'm not talking about the food we grow or the animals we raise or hunt, but those things are part of this place, which has a tenacious hold on me. Last year, around September, I received a letter from Mr. Swanson, from the bank, telling me that the money he had invested for me had returned a large profit and that I could come to town to the bank and collect it, or, he could re–invest it for me, in that case, he would need my signature. But for the life of me I could not bring myself to go to town, so I had Philip go to town for me with a note telling Mr. Swanson to send me one–hundred dollars and to re–invest the remainder and to send whatever papers he needed me to sign with Philip.
The money Mr. Swanson invested for me was an original one–hundred dollars Julian had sent to me during the first months after his desertion. He sent it in the mail; ten, clean, almost new ten dollar bills, he said he'd won in a poker game in Denver. I didn't want it; but I put it in the bank for the boys. Periodically, Julian would send me money and I always put it in the bank. When the savings reached five–hundred dollars, Mr. Swanson himself came out to the farm to discuss investing it in some railroad or other. I only half understood; but he said he was certain I would prosper thereby. I gave him my signature and forgot all about that investment. That was about ten years ago. After the railroad business, he convinced me I should invest in a shipping company that brought coffee from South America and after a couple of years I started making lots of money and was amazed that it came so easily and in such abundance; and to think my father, who loved the rich life was living in an illusion, borrowing from one to pay off another; selling a piece of land here to invest in a venture that would fail, All I have done is give Mr. Swanson permission to invest my money and half the time I don't know what he's talking about.
Being in this place has made me rich, not only in pocket, but in spirit, for every time the weather clears and I am able to see the mountains, my heart skips a beat. Winter, summer, spring, autumn––especially autumn––the mountains stand out in their awesomeness and they make me a little afraid. We went to see the aspens last fall and they stood out among the conifers like golden haired women surrounded by green chaperones. On the hottest summer days, I can always see a bit of snow on the distant peaks and it makes me feel a bit cooler.
Every place has its magic––if that be the correct word; every place has its spirit––for good or bad. Not far from the hot springs I go to, there is another hot springs, but there is such a foul smell of sulphur in the air that not even the birds go there and what plants do grow there are sick looking and stunted. I went there once out of curiosity; I stayed for ten minutes or so and never went back. So the spirit of that place is foul smelling and not compatible to life; yet a quarter mile away is the hot springs I have dubbed "Lazy Pools," because whenever I go there I just want to sit in the hot pools forever––but fifteen or twenty minutes is about all a body can take. I didn't know that and stayed a long time soaking the first time. When I was ready to go home, I could barely manage to crawl out of the pool and had to lie for a good half hour in the cool air to get my strength back.
There is a peace in the country; just like the peace, I guess, beyond understanding spoken of in the scriptures––or at least I believe it to be. Even when the wind is howling and the snow is spinning in vortices there is peace; when the snow lies quietly on the land after a storm and there is no wind, there is peace. When the boys were younger, they would rush out after a storm and immediately build snowmen––a whole group. Andrew, I feel has an artistic bent, for his snow men were always so well sculptured. He piled the snow into a tall column––just like a piece of marble, then took his knife to it and carved the most amazing things: a bear, a deer––but he had to use some pine branches for antlers. He even carved a likeness of me which took my breath away. But then the sun came out and by the end of the day my likeness had melted. But I was thrilled nonetheless, When I am old will my physical beauty melt as did my snow likeness? I guess, in spite of every thing I am still a little vain. But why not? I am the personification of all the natural beauty around me; and my sons are beautiful; they are part of the beauty that surrounds me. They were born here, in this very house; I nursed them, nurtured them, watched them grow in this place. How important has this place become for me. I believe that if Julian had never left he would have become as much a part of this place as I have. But he was always restless. Perhaps it came from the war, always moving from one place to the next, often staying only a few hours, then marching off to some where else. In between there were skirmishes and then forward, forward, forward, relentlessly forward. Grandmother was right about one thing: the army and war change a man and not necessarily for the best.
The boys returned with a deer, a young buck which they dragged across the snow with a rope tied around its antlers. I fried up the liver for them immediately and they fed the rest of the intestines and organs to the dog, whose days, I am sure are numbered. Old as he is, Pip still gets around. He stays pretty close to home these days, but in his youth, he would be gone for days at a time. We never knew where he went; the boys tried to follow him once, but lost him in the trees beyond the abandoned coal mine. I guess he had a special place, just as I do, where he used to go to be quiet and at peace––if indeed dogs long for peace as do we humans. Yes, I'm sure his special place was a peaceful one. Pip belongs here, for it was just a mile or so away that we found him all alone and trembling; he was perhaps a couple of months old. We were coming back from town and the horse shied when the sweetest puppy I ever did see jumped out of the bushes and stood on its tiny legs and started barking at the horse. There was no question about taking him with us, for he gladly let Andrew pick him up and snuggled close to his chest, and he's been with us ever since.
A place has its own spirit. Whence it comes is a mystery. But a spirit can also leave a place and it will never be the same place afterwards. When Julian and I first moved here, I sensed something. What? I cannot say, but it was something and I felt comfortable and something told me I would be here the rest of my life. In the first months of living here I was always singing, for the happy spirit of this place touched me deeply. Julian, on the other hand, became morose and started drinking heavily. He had wanted to be a farmer and I was willing to be a farmer's wife. I didn't know much in those early days about farming, but I learned because I wanted to belong to the land and its cycles. As much as I could, I kept in rhythm with the seasons and when it was planting time I planted. Julian did things only because they had to be done. He milked the cow only because she needed to be milked; I milked her because I loved that beast and genuinely enjoyed receiving her milk and making butter and cheese and drinking it. Julian only planted to eat, never with the notion that he was participating in a great cycle of fruition. When I wanted to plant a dozen apple trees, he couldn't understand why. But I said then we could have bees, who would drink from the apple blossoms, and then have their honey and sell both apples and honey when we had a surplus. He could never think farther than planting one tree and eating a few apples. He never understood the spirit of this place, and that is why he is no longer here. He also never understood how dedicated I was to this place and how much it meant to me. Why he got it in his head to be a farmer is beyond me. But, then, so much in this life has been incomprehensible to me.
I am so tired; but I cannot sleep. I am ever amazed at the capacity of a human to endure sleep deprivation. Last night was windless, and the snow fell in a gentle, lazy way. Large flakes fluttering to the ground––lazy––that's the only way I can describe them. When I became aware of the snow fall and seeing how gently it fell, I put my heavy shawl over my head and shoulders and went out into the brisk night air and watched the flakes glide to the earth and pile up. When I started to feel the cold, I returned inside and made hot tea lacing it with brandy, and, with mug in hand, I sat before the fire place drinking my toddy. The boys had long since gone to bed. I read for a while and the quiet night, the fire and the brandy put me into a gentle sleep. I can't say at what hour I dozed off in my chair, but I do know what time I was awakened: 1:30 A.M., by a loud pounding on the door and someone calling, "Senora, Senora Lampton!" My eyes popped open. I looked over to the clock. The boys heard the knocking, too, and were out of their room faster than I could get myself moved from my chair. Upon opening the door they found standing in the snow, all bundled up, our neighbor, Mr. Melendez, who owns the parcel next to ours. He apologized profusely for disturbing our household at such an hour, but his wife, Gloria, was due and the midwife could not be fetched on such short notice, and would I please (he was so gracious) attend his wife. She had been having pains and there was so much he did not know, and could I come and help. They were both young and this was their first child. I could not refuse. Of course I would go; even Philip offered to go; but I told him that it wouldn't be necessary.
Gloria Melendez was abed and calling out when we arrived. When she saw me she said in Spanish, "Gracias dios una mujer," Thank God, a woman. I didn't know her too well, but having been in travail myself, twice, I understood her predicament. I held her hand and spoke to her, telling her what to expect and showed her how to breathe when proper breathing would be necessary. We waited. Mr. Melendez kept his distance by his own decision; however, now and then he would poke his head into the room to see how his wife was doing. I could tell that he was worried; but I couldn't think of anything to say to allay his fears.
When the baby crowned, I had a feeling all would be well; and in not too long a time Gloria was delivered of a healthy girl who must have weighed about seven pounds. When I announced the gender to the father he began repeating the phrase, "Ave Maria,"over and over; he must have chanted a full ten minutes.
In the meanwhile, as the infant suckled at her mother's breast, I waited for the placenta to stop pulsating. When it did, I tied it off in two places, then with Mr. Melendez's straight razor, which I had him strop, then pass over the fire a few times, I severed the umbilicus, and the infant was now part of the manifest world. The young mother indicated a bowl and told me to put the placenta therein. Then she called out to her husband and said something very rapidly in Spanish, too fast for my ears to comprehend; but he immediately took the placenta–filled bowl, put on his jacket and went outside and did not return for quite a while. In the meantime, I cleaned up the mother, the infant, the birthing bed, changed the linen, then made Gloria some herbal tea I had brought along for postpartum nourishment. She was beaming with the joy only a woman can know who has carried a child to term and felt it suckle her swollen breasts.
How well I remember when Philip was born. Oh, it was such a mystery that I had been carrying a boy inside me who would grow to manhood. By the time I was pregnant with Philip, I understood how babies are conceived and something about gestation. Nevertheless, one moment there was nothing within except potential and when Julian had spent himself, our blood and spirits were joined in the great mystery of the reproduction of the human race. I felt like an especially selected woman, selected by cosmic lot to hold life within me. All the months of both my pregnancies I felt somehow closer to the source of the nameless cause of the arising of all life. Of course, pregnancy had its bad side, too; nonetheless, I accepted all the inconveniences, and had the same complaints most woman do. In that matter I was no different.
During partuition, I had the feeling that I was being
initiated into a secret society to which only women can belong. Often I got the feeling that I was carrying all of humanity in my womb instead of one child. I thought I would feel differently when I was carrying Andrew; but the impression was even deeper the second time. I would have liked to talk to other women about these thoughts, but I had no women friends with whom I could open my heart. I have yet to have a woman friend, but I am friendly with most of the women in the area and a few shopkeepers' wives in town. I have, however, kept my thoughts to myself.
I stayed up the rest of the night with Gloria. She slept a long time. I stayed awake for the sake of the child; but the little girl slept when the mother slept and the few times Gloria awoke, only to look at me and smile, the child awakened, too, and would begin to cry; but the young mother would present her breast to the newborn girl and sucking, she would fall asleep. It was touching to watch over them. With the first hint of dawn, Mr. Melendez, who had slept in a chair by the stove, woke up and said he was going to fetch his cousin and would I mind staying until he came back. While he was gone, I made some coffee, fried up some bacon and potatoes and finding a basket of eggs, cooked a couple for myself, for suddenly I had an enormous appetite and I ate four pieces of their good bacon, most of the potatoes and two large eggs and drank two cups of coffee. I rarely eat so much.
When I heard my name being called I went to Gloria who was sitting up. She looked tired but beautiful. I held the baby while she got out of bed to relieve herself. The infant was so small; I haven't had a baby in my arms in years and just holding her for a few minutes made me think of how fragile all life is. Yet we don't hold the fragility of life as dearly as we should, otherwise there would be no war, no violence, no fighting among men; no anger, gossip, rumor mongering, deceit, greed, hate or other forms of destruction. Too soon we meet our end after our allotted time and we should treat ourselves and others the way we treat fine porcelain and other delicate objects. That infant represented all the sweetness, all the love and understanding of peace and harmony in the world. How strange that something so small should have such profound symbolic power, and, at the same time, not be a symbol, but the living expression of all the best qualities of life.
I sat on the edge of the bed and held a plate of potatoes and eggs while Gloria nursed her child, holding her in the crook of her left arm and eating with her right. I held her coffee cup up to her lips. I felt I was feeding the mother of humanity.
Mr. Melendez returned with his portly, ebullient cousin who immediately took charge and I was free to go. Gloria kissed me and hugged me and I kissed the baby and the cousin kissed and hugged me and Mr. Melendez hugged and kissed me. I felt so loved and appreciated I started to cry. Before I left I was invited to the baby's baptism and told to bring the boys, too.
All the way back home, riding in Mr. Melendez's wagon, I was fighting tears. When I finally got home, I sat at my kitchen table and broke down. The boys were very concerned, but I told them I was fine and to leave me alone. I realized during my weeping that I wept for all the sorrows infants will have to live through as they evolve from innocence into the world of conscious pain, tribulation and ignorance. But then I started to smile and thought of all the joys of life and the appreciation of the good things and events in life and I pulled myself together and went in search of the boys. When I found them mending some harness, I hugged and kissed them both and looked each of them in the eyes saying how fortunate I was to have such good children; then I broke into tears falling on Philip's shoulder and wept for reasons I cannot say. But I guess now and then a woman just needs to cry.
I received a letter from Julian which was a shock to me. The letter was two weeks old and was from El Paso. he said he was very sick, had very little money and that he didn't know how much longer he would live and would I mind if he came to stay with me and the boys and, at least die around his own people. At first I did not say anything. I just read the letter over and over again until Andrew asked me why I was reading such a short letter for such a long time and why was I holding the letter so tightly. By that time I was ready to burst into tears because Julian was sick and (perhaps) going to die and the only place he felt welcome was here on this farm (where he had not wanted to be) and with people he had abandoned many years before. I felt kind of cheated that he would wait for his end to want to come back to us.
But I am a soft hearted woman and I read the letter out loud to the boys. When I was finished, they both looked at each other and then turning to me said––almost with the same words: "We need to go to El Paso and fetch Father." That is when I broke down and cried for I did not think the boys felt anything for their father who had deserted them and they never knew him. Nevertheless, I was so proud of them and I gave them my blessing and some money and I hitched up the wagon while they packed a few things and I took them to town. We were able to buy tickets for the train which left the next morning for Albuquerque, thence to El Paso. We stayed the night at the hotel. In the morning I went about doing some shopping and I also stopped off at Doctor Colter's office and told him that my husband who had deserted me many years before was sick and perhaps dying and would he kindly look at him after I had settled him in.
While I was out feeding the chickens I heard a wagon and when I went to see I saw the boys. They waved to me from a distance and I waited for them in front of the house still holding the can of chicken feed. I had not expected them back so soon. However, while they were gone I had moved my things out of my bedroom and took up residence in a small guest room I seldom had an opportunity to use, for guests were rare, but I always felt we should have a guest room, nonetheless. Now I was the "guest," and Julian would be in the bed he left. I didn't mind putting him in the big bed. If a man is going to die, he might as well die in comfort.
Julian was dressed in a dark, wrinkled, dirty suit. He had on a pair of shoes which had seen better days. He had no collar and the shirt he wore was dirty. He was grey beyond his years. He had a few days growth of beard which made him seem older than he was, and his hair was long and unkept. In short, I barely recognized the man whom I had loved and with whom I had lived with and had had two sons. Standing before me, being held up by his two sturdy sons, was a skeleton, a wisp, a spectre of what was once a healthy and robust Julian. I took immediate pity on him and told the boys to bring him to the bedroom at once.
We all three helped to undress him and put him to bed. During all that time none of us spoke. I did, however, finally ask him if he was hungry and he said he had a little appetite, but more than anything he wanted to sleep because the train ride and the trip from town inside the wagon had exhausted him. We left him to sleep and we went to the kitchen where I made the boys some breakfast and asked them to relate something of their trip, but they said they were also tired and wanted to sleep. So they excused themselves and went to their room and I was left to myself to ponder this visit from the father of my children––legally my husband, but I could not bring myself to call him husband, for husband was a term which implied intimacy, and we had not been together for many, many years.
Dr. Colter came out to the farm and examined Julian. He was with him for about an hour. We stayed in the kitchen. When Dr. Colter came out he asked for some coffee and while he drank it he was very frank with us, saying Julian was dying of some kind of liver problem most likely cancer and hadn't much time left to live––maybe a month––if that long. There was nothing to do. He left a bottle of laudanum and instructions on how to administer it. Dr.Colter finished his coffee, bid us a good day and went on his way.
We three sat at the table in quiet shock. I had my eyes closed. When I heard whimpering I opened my eyes and saw both boys trying to hold back tears. I had let go of Julian many years ago and though the news of his impending death saddened me, I did not shed a tear for I believed I had shed all the tears I would ever shed over him. But the boys were young and had sentiments for their father I could understand but not share. I got up and put my arms on their shoulders and encouraged them to cry and get out all what they had been holding inside them for all these years. They broke down at the table and their tears moved me, also, to weep, but not for Julian, but for the pain my sons were experiencing for the father the never knew but who was now in their presence and about to die. When I collected myself, I told them that they should do all they could for him and get to know him as best they could before he got too weak to talk.
They took over nursing Julian; I did very little. I did visit with him; I even read to him now and then, but Andrew and Philip were his constant companions. As the weeks passed and his strength started to ebb, they sat with him and listened to him as he related stories from his soldiering days with General Sherman and how Julian had seen General Sherman and had been "Close to him as you are to me now." That seemed to be Julian's oft repeated statement during his last days: that he had been close to the famous General Sherman during the campaign in Georgia. I felt so sorry for Julian. Many a night I wet my pillow for the great sorrow I felt. But the more I thought about my tears the more I realized they were not because of sorrow for him that he was dying. No; the tears, I finally had to admit, were the tears of the young woman who was still alive in me; the young woman who had loved Julian and now her lover was dying. When I had that realization I stopped crying but when I looked at myself in the mirror the next morning I saw an old woman––or so it seemed.
The boys had to administer more and more laudanum until the dosage did not matter, for the pain was even greater than any drug could tame. The day Julian died the boys were at his side. He had drunk a few sips of hot coffee early in the morning, then he said he wanted to sleep. He closed his eyes, then suddenly he arched his back, let out a long, agonizing cry, then silence.
We buried him on the knoll just this side of the apple orchard––the orchard he did not want to plant but which now was his resting place. The boys insisted on ordering a head stone with all his particulars. I did not object and told them to order the best which I would pay for with the money I had in the bank. After all, Julian had sent me the original amount which I had spurned, but, nonetheless, invested. How ironic life is.
When we buried Julian, we buried him in the nightshirt he had worn during his illness. A few days later I remembered his suit and shoes which I thought would be best if they too were buried––but far from the house and unbeknowst to the boys. I took it upon myself to do this. I walked about a hundred or so yards from the house with a shovel while the boys were busy elsewhere. I picked a spot and dug a hole and was about to toss in the clothes when I decided to check the pockets. I found a piece of paper and opened it. The piece of paper was a telegram form and it was dated several years back. It had been folded and unfolded many, many times. It was addressed to me and it read: Dearest Mary Stop I still love you and the boys stop I miss all of you terribly stop...it was unfinished.
I refolded it and put it in my apron pocket and buried the clothes. When I got back to the house I took the old telegram form and burned it, then sat in my chair and had to let out the last tears I would ever shed for Julian. I don't know what demons were haunting him, but had he sent that telegram I would have answered: Julian Come home Stop Mary. But he never sent it, and that has made the difference in all our lives. He now lies buried where he sdidn't want to be and our lives must go on.
Today, on my way to bury Julian's clothes, I saw the first apple blossoms on the trees. In a few weeks the orchard will be a sea of white blossoms and then the bees will come It is only our memories which keep us linked to the past. The cycles of life continue in spite of everything––even the death of someone you once loved.