“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The dogwoods bloomed white-hot that spring. Your great grandmother Katie found a kitten, suffocating and sick, tied up in a paper bag in a ditch running alongside the road she lived on. That’s where it began for her. It’s different for everyone, and most miss it completely. That was where it began to begin, I should say, because what 6 year old girl wouldn’t want to cuddle and nurse a wretched little kitten back to life? It only ripened when your great-great-granddaddy told her, “No, we can’t. Trust me, Katie-Cat.”
She rode with him to the vet to put the kitten down, it’s little neck wilting under the pressure of the head, pus oozing around its eyes swollen shut. She pet its ribs, trying not to hurt it. She was sure that enough hugs would make it better. And warm milk. Her Daddy was sure it would not, and the vet agreed. On the way home, he asked if she was mad at him, and she swallowed out a “No, sir.” They got an ice cream and went home, without talking much. She had been mad, but she knew she wasn’t going to always be, and that her Daddy was more to her. She trusted when she felt like dying.
Later, the boy of her dreams knelt and asked for her hand. But that wasn’t really very hard, either. What twenty-three-year-old young lady would balk at such a proposal? Just in America at that time, more than six thousand young ladies (usually) did the same thing every day. But at least half of those wilted away to pride, and many more got bulldozed later by some misplaced hope or chewed up by some self-serving appetite or another. But think about it, that six thousand is a lot of people plunging in everyday. But even of the ones that survive, not many endure raising five children alone. Katie’s Harry slipped into the coma a month and a half after Tim was born. For the next ten years, she tended to him and fended off doctors and family members who wanted him dead. For her sake, of course. Such a waste of resources. She was so young. Should think of the children.
She wasn’t sure she didn’t want it either, at times, but she remembered the words of her promise and knew he trusted her, somewhere within his vacant self, even while staring at the same spot on the ceiling, cracked lips unmoving, brain waves barely active, for ten harsh years. When he recovered, it wasn’t completely. Still, he used the speech- generating device on his motorized wheelchair to say he held on that blessed decade so he could help her with their children.
When Katie-Cat died, her youngest son Tim was in his late twenties. Harry had gone first, but Katie was just about a year later. Nine grandchildren flourished on their nurture. Four had plunged into their own families, nourished in the loam Harry and Katie cultivated. Tim married Liz the next April, even as The Baptism was catching on. They knew what it probably meant. They were the minority in the midst of a raging social conflagration intent on the removal of dissent from the dominions of the dominant. Six months later, Tim’s older brother and his family disappeared. Twelve months after
that, Liz and the baby were gone, and a condemnation notice and summons were tacked to Tim’s door when he got home one evening. He turned around and walked into the closest woods he could find.
He never saw his other siblings again, and only saw Liz and your mother again thirty years later. In all that time, he never stopped looking, even as he went into hiding. Only you of your siblings knew Liz and Tim before they finished their race. Your siblings will benefit, too, though, from what they survived. You are the only one that realizes (now that you’re here) the vast network of roots that crisscross the globe—cousins of varying degrees. Blown all over the place, the canopy begins to thicken again, as you see.
And, that’s why. When David married you, the sacrifice was irrigated a bit, but he needed more than just water. It’s different for everyone. He and little Jenny will be fine, you have to trust that. Even as you watch them now, visiting your grave, she doesn’t know it yet, but David is pouring into her the fibers of her future. And that’s why, without understanding completely, you don’t feel the sadness you expected.
No one can tell when or where or how the Light will make your little Jenny grow. Or even if. But you coming here when you did is an essential part of this old family’s continued growth. Some fall to enrich the soil. Others, that more Light may penetrate deep within. It is only our part to rise in response.
And see, there’s Jenny again, reading Ecclesiastes 3 to young George and Stacy in her living room, while her daughter Mary delivers her third back at her house. That boy will be here with us soon. It isn’t the same here as it is there at all. After a while—there I go again… “a while”—but after a while, which is really no time at all, the entire harvest is gathered and joy is all. Joy is all in no time at all when you are here.
Your granddaughter Mary and her husband Steve now feel they cannot go on, but they will, not because they can, but because the Light will shine brighter and deeper. That’s why Jenny is smiling now as she stoops on her ancient knees, working her garden. Because as she looks at the Baby’s Breath, she remembers the lost grandson, but also the strength Mary and Steve now have, and the two adopted children they love. And so it goes.
— Dedicated to the Chrisman Family —