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Essay

 

New Plymouth

 

WHAT DROVE SUCH PILGRIMS across the sea of southern Idaho, dry plain, sage and antelope? Doesn’t any place hold God, smooth stones to pillow dreams of angels, one rock fitted upon another, raising the pilgrim’s testament: I have come as far as here? How did the displaced, one by one, know they had reached the limit of abstraction? And having reached the end and recollecting praise, did they laugh and pray, then set to building suitable shelter and later step off a grid of streets, prophesying here the general store, the school, the church, confirming a congregation to fend off wolves and coyotes, cougars, the emptiness behind, the emptiness to come?

What led one family to this farm at the edge of Idaho, a mile from the nearest neighbor, the house painted blue, cerulean, a match for the sky when no forest or range fires discolor the atmosphere, the white latticework fence like the top crust of an apple pie, the porch encircling three quarters of the house, roses climbing the fence, the barn just back of the house, red? Here they would not suffer much encroachment, could live, content with a few stray cats, two shepherd dogs, a horse easy with children.

Here, generations still gather at the dining room table centered before the picture window containing the front yard, the fallow field just across the long, seldom-traveled road. In the corner beside the window, a grandfather clock keeps the pace, deep-voiced, easy ticking. And on a shelf attached to the wall as if the shelf were a mantle above a fireplace, two Grecian-columned clocks, passed down from parents to children, harmonize with the tock, tock of the grandfather clock, each one chiming the hour seconds off.

 

 

 

Jack, First-born Son of Jacob

 

He took to the road early, setting out from the home place in Iowa, heading to Oklahoma, looking over the lay of the land, times being bad in Iowa, and worked a season, spending what he made, then walking back home. His father had not been watching daily for his son’s return, did not run to embrace him, nor kill the fatted calf. Jack told his father to go to Oklahoma, then headed west. To Idaho, 1912.

He lived among the people deep in the bush, Salmon River savages, most wanted by the law. They taught him to hunt Idaho game. He made the deal for the first forty acres of what would be the family farm, but he had no desire to be a farmer. He wrote one letter to his father, one sentence: “Game and land plentiful.”

He died of tuberculosis shortly after the family arrived, hunting all the time he was dying, camping along the river, not wanting to infect other people. A traveling salesman came through shouting and waving his arms like a preacher, hawking bottles of medicine. Jack bought a good supply. He knew it wouldn’t cure him.

 

Jacob

 

In Oklahoma, he was tall, giving the appearance of money—the farmer with the two-story house, dormer windows, wraparound porch, the mail-order swing, slat-back rocking chairs, embroidered cushions—Home, Sweet Home. A show barn, deep and wide, fallow storehouse he would never need to tear down, build bigger.

He was, to speak kindly, an entrepreneur. One morning, 1919, his neighbors woke to find him, his family, packed and gone, the one-word note bobby-pinned to the screen door—Idaho. The neighbors shook their heads the way people do and said he just always believed grass might be greener.

 

Adam, Jacob’s Younger Son

 

He was the one who knew how to doctor animals. It was nothing for someone to come to the door, middle of the night, get him up to heal something.

When Adam was sixteen, he came down with rheumatic fever. His father had moved the family to Oklahoma with the people who came in the Indian rush. They lived in a dugout that first winter. Adam became ill but lived through it and went on to Idaho with the family, worked his father’s farm, twenty-hour days, married, worked like a plow horse, a farm dog, raised a big family.

Even when he was ill and mostly confined to the house and bed, when his daughters found an ailing lamb, they took it to their father to ask what was wrong. And when it came time to sell, they drove the grown lambs past his bedroom window to let him know all was well.

A subsistence farmer cannot afford the luxury of rest in the day bed beside the bank of parlor windows. His place is straddling the furrow opened by the middle buster plow blade pulled behind a mule almost too old for turning the earth from dust to darker dirt, encouraged by the farmer’s long-familiar voice, what one might almost take for love, gee and haw, and an almost inaudible clucking, the soft slap of the harness.

A farmer with a large family, most of whom are girls, must rise up early and begin again the cultivating, sowing and gathering and sowing. Praying and waiting. Nothing new under the busy old sun’s coming up and going down. The joy of eating and drinking and lying down. The sleep of one who labors.

 

Eunice, Adam’s Wife

 

She expected her daughters to comport themselves as ladies. Her family came from far back in the hills of Missouri. She was a smart girl, went to normal school, earned her teacher’s certificate and taught her daughters that working a farm did not mean they shouldn’t be ladies. She was into propriety. Girls were supposed to be ladies at all times. She did not enjoy farm life. She accepted it. It wasn’t what she had in mind.

She stood just over five foot tall, dressed in black for family photos, and even when she was old, had a throwing arm a major leaguer would be proud of. The family took her to the county fair, stood back and watched as she presented herself before the baseball throwing booth. The hawker, a different one each year, would hand her three balls, a grin on his face. Then the fun began.

 

Idaho Farm Family

 

The first time Adam was down with his heart, he was the only able-bodied male of working age on the farm. His older son, James, was recovering from an auto accident. Adam’s younger son, Tom, was only five or six, useful for chores, attending to the birth of calves and lambs, hunting rabbits.

It seemed to some acquaintances the farm could not produce. Sarah went to work at a creamery. Dorothy, a teacher, abhorred farm work but on weekends helped with the manual labor. Martha, sixteen, took charge of the farm, directing all activities, from milking to planting, to supervising farm crews. Hanna, twelve, was the little house mom, cooking and washing in addition to milking. She could birth a lamb, cook dinner, dress and go out on a date. Eunice worried.

One record cold evening, Martha and Hanna held the head of a sick horse, about a mile from the house, needing to pour a mixture of castor oil and liniment down him. They had a bottle like a wine bottle. Tom held the lantern. Just two girls and a child, and it was cold, blowing and dark, and here they were, wrestling this horse on a ditch bank. The horse was down, but had he gotten up; he was big enough to hurt the children. The family could not afford to lose the horse.

 

Sarah, Adam’s Ornery Daughter

 

Most of the men were still at war. Sarah had just turned twenty-five and came home weekends to cook for the family. They ate well once a week, no one else cooking like Sarah. She spent her week earning enough money to feed the family. She worked for Dairyman’s Creamery in the testing room. It was a job she liked. If they hadn’t decided to go union, she might have stayed, but Sarah wasn’t going union.

In the summer of 1945, she decided to do something different and walked into the ranger station, said she needed a job and stood there, hands on her hips, until they agreed they could send her to Bear Valley, the White Hawk lookout. The rangers built a new gravel road to the lookout, their only concession to the pretty young woman. Sarah didn’t care; she only planned to be there for the summer. She was not expecting visitors.

July, about the sixth or seventh, Sarah went to White Hawk. She and her parents and Tom drove up there, and the family left her and her dog Pariot, a female puppy with a lot of German shepherd in her the way she behaved. A Heinz dog. A funny little dog who ate green peppers and tomatoes and all kind of stuff, because the only meat she got was when somebody would bring in an illegal piece of deer meat or a sheep or something, so the pup learned to like tomatoes and peppers. She died soon after Sarah returned from White Hawk.

Adam and Eunice did not appear concerned about their daughter being off by herself on top of a mountain in Bear Valley. With their lifestyle, it never occurred to anyone that Sarah might be in any danger. They just thought, hey, that’s a good job. The family missed Sarah’s cooking for a summer.

The lookout was not a tower but a one-room house with a large, round table, a stove, a bed at the apex of the mountain, an elevated porch almost encircling the room of glass, its wide band of windows. The fire spotter’s job was to record and call in fires. On the table was a map of the forest, oriented so the spotter could sight along the swinging arm, record the azimuth when she saw smoke or someone she wanted to identify.

Sarah came to know each ridge and creek and gully. She knew each path to the valley. She was not afraid of fire or lightning. The lookout was on one end of the summit, this big tree on the other. It was barely daylight when the storm went over. Lightning hit the tree, curled right down the trunk.

She was seldom lonely. The Forest Service personnel would check on her, and she got along well with the Basque sheepherders in the valley. She knew the Basque to be brave and proud, passionate outcasts like those other shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the hills above Bethlehem. When the sheepherders built fires along the hillside, the rangers would warn them to be sure and put the fires out. The sheepherders built the fires to bake their bread. And to keep warm. Nights are cold in Bear Valley.

 

Grizzly

 

Sarah remembers it as a grizzly. It came into the Basque sheep camp. A young man was tending the sheep, and he had put out a trap, and the bear got in it, and instead of leaving the bear alone, the boy walked up to it, and it killed him.

This happened a long time ago. It was a foot trap, baited with a dead sheep, and the bear stepped in the trap and lay down as if it were dead. And this boy, a young man, eighteen or nineteen, he just walked up to it, and the bear wasn’t dead.

 

Adam

 

A father’s duty is to size up his daughters’ suitors, call them pretty close: How they shake his hand, how calloused their palms and fingertips. How their eyes move up and down his daughters, where they rest their hands. Do they drink anything stronger than milk? Do they balk at church, move their lips as if singing? Do they keep both hands on the hymnal?

Can they kneel before a shepherd farm dog, massage behind its ears, scruff of the neck, the dog forgetting its concern over strangers, offering its belly, its exposed throat? Can they go to a lamb bewildered on a ditch bank and bend down, gathering it onto their shoulders, carry it, speaking in a voice of green pastures, still waters, back to the fold?

 

Mother and Child

 

A young mother holds tight to her daughter, this child she will not give up to keep a man who values only jewelry, his red Buick, the pistol tucked in his pants between belt buckle and belly. Of course he drives away.

And the child grows strong in spirit, increasing in wisdom and such grace and favor as permitted the daughter of an abandoned mother living just outside the community—descendents of pioneers who crossed the desert of sage and wind, southern Idaho, and being people of faith, scooped out irrigation ditches and prayed for rain, arms and eyes raised toward heaven as if at any moment they might lift off this mortal coil.

 

Sarah’s Daughter

 

A beautiful, blonde child with perfect manners, an alluring smile, the darling of fire and ranger crews, the older men adopting the child as one of their own.

Once, when she was four or five, Becky slipped out and licked salt with deer come in to the horse corral. She knelt down beside the block of salt, no pillar of disobedience, no symbolic female transformed by the judgment of God. Only a child. Only deer, who suffered the child, making room.

 

Becky’s Father

 

Becky prides herself on reading people, recalling her mother stopping work, staring at something or someone a long way off, outside a window, an open doorway, then gathering her daughter into her arms, squeezing a little too tightly, as if someone might arrive, might already be present, to try to take away the soft, blonde child, explaining to the child’s mother, for her own good, the inadequacies of love—how impractical, how selfish of a young mother, alone, tempered by the Depression, a western Idaho farm family of sisters, a father with a rheumatic heart, a mother preferring society to bloated sheep and cows and gardens that regularly failed, a landscape red and cracked, too much space for a lady orderly as china figurines in a parlor.

Bearing a child is so much easier than keeping one who must be lifted from play or nap or sitting among Australian shepherd puppies, another face to lick and nuzzle. So much easier than having to explain why a tall, thin mother needs to hold her daughter and say don’t worry, all is well, all is bright, and carry her daughter to the rocking chair and sing lullabies as if she were still nursing the child now old enough to entertain herself, understand not to ask her mother what is wrong, but lay her blonde head against her mother’s breast, permit the song, the tick-tock rhythm of the slat-backed rocker.

And when her mother remarries, this time it is to a man whose voice is so quiet his wife must lean in close to understand his needs, the wishes he seems embarrassed to voice, having learned to live without an expectation of women, a woman who undresses before him, who slides the overall straps off his shoulders and with her long, deft fingers unbuttons his blue cotton shirt, starting with the button tight against his throat. This man, she knows, will stay the course, which helps her almost pay no mind to what happened with her first husband, helps her prepare for the day she will have to walk into the pasture with her daughter and explain what she can about the child’s father. How he returned from the Pacific an artist with a camera as if he wished to capture all plants and animals growing wild on a prairie no one would think fecund, a desert fertile with sage, antelope, and, if cultivated, iris beds, climbing roses, a trellis of vines and morning glories, a woman single, strong willed, but needy, pretty of course, even glamorous through his lens, his darkroom, his touch.

And marrying against her parents’ wishes, Sarah brought upon herself this artist who scoffed at wedding gigs, family portraits. He looked to his wife for money, an inheritance only an artist would think was coming from a farmer with a weak heart who took no stock in any word sliding oily from the corners of a son-in-law’s mouth always about to grin as if everything were a joke about to be played. And this son-in-law had a red convertible, a pistol he would shoot just to hear its reassuring bark, the tin can popping up and back, spinning off the post like a uniform, man-made world blown out of orbit.

Nobody worried he would kill himself with car or pistol, least of all his wife who kept his seed alive to root and grow until her belly swelled so he couldn’t help but see she had chosen to bring a child into this world against his warning. Knowing nature offers many miracles, she ignored his either/or ultimatum. He left a note and his social security card on the kitchen table for her to find the next morning and took the camera, convertible, and pistol to Alaska. Sarah never heard from him again except by word of mouth and by proxy—two bearded, long-haired grizzlies who showed up when the child was almost three, and before Sarah could bar the door, snapped photographs of her blonde, blue-eyed daughter and wrote on a scrap of paper the child’s name, Becky, and that of the town closest to the house.

It was only then that Becky’s mother filed the papers, the only condition no rights for the father, and moved to the Sawtooth Mountains to cook for Forest Service rangers, ski resort ladies and their fat, bratty children, and, months later, question the quiet builder of National Forest campgrounds whether she understood him to be asking her to marry, and when he nodded what she took for yes, said okay, both for herself and for her daughter. And years later after Becky had married, herself a mother, four sons, and had almost come to believe the agreed upon answer, dead, to any question about her father, she asked her mother how she might make contact and took the social security card and found the man more easily than he ever could have believed.

Her mother’s youngest sister, Hanna, who still had a crush on this man who would have looked especially appealing to a high-school girl destined for cooking and mopping and early risings to milk the cows and gather eggs and birthing twins to be buried, accompanied Becky to Salem, Oregon, to the iris show and one meal with a father Becky had never met, but knew the stories—his German and Sioux ancestry, his growing up on the reservation in South Dakota, leaving at fourteen with a little help from a shotgun blast. Becky noted Hanna’s eyes and smile when the tall old man waiting outside the restaurant flicked his cigarette onto the sidewalk and spread both arms to enfold his daughter, his sister-in-law, and announce of course he’d know them anywhere and tucked a hundred-dollar bill in his daughter’s hand, mad money he called it, and wouldn’t take it back, palms held up in front as if to show he was clean, nothing hidden.

At the table, he lavished tens and twenties on the hostess, the wine steward, the waitress, even the passing busboys, and laughed the loudest at his own jokes, Hanna smiling, turning toward Becky as if to ask if it were appropriate for her to laugh, her niece staring down this father who had ordered his wife to terminate her pregnancy, who flashed another hundred as if to say, no hard feelings? She saw he was trying to work his con, find the key to how to read this woman he could see was his daughter, but without her mother’s forgiving nature, and told the stories of his life separating people from their money as if it were his gift, his calling, and oh my, look how the time has flown…and certainly he would write, and how good it was to see you again, Hanna, and no mention of Becky’s mother.

When word had gotten around that the man with the red convertible had run out on his wife, the jeweler to whom the man owed five thousand dollars, a year’s wages in 1947, offered to take, in lieu of the money, Becky, he and his wife unable to have children.

Becky received one letter after the meeting in Salem. She waited until her stepfather had gone to bed, then, standing outside on the porch, unfolded the letter and, as if she were studying a face, read it to her mother.

 

John, the Kind of Man a Woman Marries to Raise Her Children

 

Back when, a Boise National Forest ranger didn’t have anything to anesthetize a deer, so he would have to go in and bulldog the deer to a standstill, staple a tag to its ear. It was kind of like a dog pen. The deer would go in and a door come down. You didn’t forget going inside the cage.

A ranger worked a lot of forest fires in Bear Valley, building fire lines by hand. When a fire was running, firefighters couldn’t get in front. They were only supposed to work the sides of the back where it started, hoping to kind of catch the fire out. Back when, they didn’t have all these airplanes and helicopters that drop the water and the retardant and all that stuff. Some time ago, a crew of firefighters went into an old mine tunnel to get away from this big fire. It’s hard to remember how many were lost.

 

Sarah and John

 

They met at one of the camps while Sarah was watching over her daughter in the Sawtooth Mountains and earning a living cooking for the Forest Service crews. It was a romance that grew until they just decided to marry. Forty-seven years.

Only weeks ago, Sarah, standing on a stool, securing a light fixture, fell, breaking her leg. She instructed the doctor to pin that thing, moving with the aid of a walker and the young physical therapist who, having learned better, keeps her opinions to herself.

The doctor, not Sarah, insisted on physical therapy, her husband the only companion Sarah needs walking beside her, Sarah setting the pace to the barn and back twice a day. If the pretty, young therapist wants to tag along, let her stay out of the way. Sarah herself was once pretty and young. She remembers what it was like and tells her therapist not to bother with an old woman.

 

Becky, after the Accident

 

Moose, armadillo, sloth, crustacean—each day an easy naming in the garden, a kind of memory accumulating like firmament separating the waters above from the waters below, a world parceled into shapes only God imagined: seed-bearing palm and date tree, lion and lamb, darkness and light again and again, and yesterday and the day before. And each day and night good, the saying of word on word without end.

That was long before western Idaho, a fully loaded grain truck meeting head-on the family car, before the miracle of Becky, born a second time at fifty, hearing again the names iris, trout, sage, antelope, attaching mother to the woman laying her hands upon her daughter’s face, husband to the man who meant a sudden stirring in her belly, sons to those boys she thought of as playmates. The doctor who saw Becky pulled from the narrow opening spread by the Jaws of Life, took one last drag on his cigarette and flipped it to the pavement, extinguishing with his boot any chance of fire, believing last rites more pressing than morphine.

Now, she only sometimes says Bear when she means garden, short train for cheap, as if either runs to that spot west of McCall, a little south of the town of Bear where she can look across Hell’s Canyon, see one hundred miles into Oregon, not Utah, not California, her dream spot where she just might build a house portioned into recognizable rooms for kneading bread, baking apricot cookies, for lying down beside her mate, space to stand at a window filled with the wild huckleberry patch dripping with berries, heavy when cupped in both hands lifted to the lips, the mouth opening to receive such language.

 

Becky, in Shadow

 

Becky’s hill is covered with buttercup blossoms, but her mother’s sister, Martha, has a mild cold and has curled up in bed the last few days. Yesterday, Becky convinced her to come out, look at the flowers, promising Martha she could remove the dead leaves from the iris if she felt better today. Today the sky is overcast. Martha went back to bed, but waking from a short nap can seem the next day if your niece tells you it is, and the woman still inside you somewhere wants to believe the haze has lifted, that two sweaters and a wool toboggan can be discarded on the stroll with Becky. Martha came back begging her niece to let her work on the iris.

LBD stands for Lewy body Alzheimer’s, what Becky’s grandmother brought to the family line—six daughters, two sons, all gifted with failing to see signs, observe traffic honking and shouting, all unsafe, driving too fast, too slow, all getting lost. Hallucinations rise early: a dark forest, a candy shop, the roof of an underground house, human forms—complete and talkative. A stranger who wanders up could be…someone.

Forty years, unheard of, Becky’s grandmother settled into this position, an intelligent woman, a teacher. Every day she almost reassured herself with the times tables, conjugations of verbs, the newspaper crossword puzzle. Often caregivers are blamed for the victim’s gray hair, dirty socks, missing toilet paper, a child lost at birth, a husband lost in the tundra. This is called the evil son or daughter syndrome, whoever shoulders the cross of parent. When the victim attributes to the caregiver her own sloth, bullying, compulsive stacking of newspapers, cleaning and cleaning the kitchen counter, sharpening knives, it is called projection of the shadow.

Of Becky’s generation, fifty percent will wake one day to Thursday which is Saturday, the water and electricity bills having just come in the mail, plenty of time to pay before Saturday, before renewing the driver’s license for the Studebaker Dad passed down to his teenage daughter. Thursday…when the letter from children living elsewhere has not arrived gathering dust on the entryway tile beneath the mail drop in the door no one is home to open. Before the iced-tea glass leaps against the fireplace, before the explosion—slivers of light settling to the floor. Another glass flies. Another. It’s Thursday.

How nice for Becky’s mother to have a husband who can keep track of medications, the name of the new assistant pastor, can clarify the sound, the smell, the almost familiar shape appearing in the night. He pulls her to him in bed, strokes her hair, her cheek, and whispers, “Shhhhh, it’s all right. It’s just a dream.”

A distant relative was a college English professor. Lewy body Alzheimer’s retains good verbal skills. It didn’t help. One of Martha’s older sisters, a public school teacher, trusted her lesson plan made out before she lost the days of the week. She had written her students’ names in the roll book, alphabetical order, placing a checkmark beside each name she called, erasing it the next time through. Retired, she moved to West Texas. Her husband liked to tell how she laughed that no one there would recognize the difference. LBD victims retain their sense of humor. Reminded, they can laugh at themselves.

When Martha’s sister-in-law, ill since Martha could remember, took that last deep breath through her open mouth, then let it out, Becky laid out Martha’s Sunday clothes while Martha answered the phone call from her sister, the one still able to live without someone attending to the list of when to eat and bathe and call Martha who answers her sister’s question with, “I don’t think so, but just a minute. I’ll ask Becky” and places one hand over the receiver and turns to her niece, now wiping light dust off black paten shoes, and asks, “No one in our family has died recently have they?”

And riding back from the funeral, Martha suddenly sits up as if she has just noticed something out the windshield and asks if Dorothy, the older sister, the teacher, is still alive. She has been dead three years. Martha settles back, folding into herself like a succulent blossom, the sun almost below the horizon. She tugs at her dress gloves and says, “At least we have our minds,” as if she knows to comfort herself, console her niece who came back from the dead, rising from the coma of car crash victim. The surgeon said Becky would never open her eyes to her husband and sons and parents with new names, new faces to be recollected again and again until she could greet each day, each long lost friend and relative with, “Yes, of course.”

 

Martha, Lewy Body Alzheimer’s

 

Her hope is to become nothing less than a child distracted in the woods behind her grandfather’s house, having followed first a small, hopping bird and then a squirrel darting tree to tree, scolding herself as if she can’t remember where it was she hid those acorns, and then the thin, sandy creek, its whisper of welcome to the child—Come unto us. Be not afraid. To be such a one means she will recognize the human voice, her niece’s late-night radio voice, “Mood Indigo” for all the newly married wives fanning the home fires…yesterday…long time past…minutes ago…before the shadow lurking at the rim of sight steps closer, closer. She has learned to believe her niece calling her back from the creek where she has removed her shoes and socks and is dipping a toe into the clear water.

The trip back is a path of forgetting the slow circling of the hawk, the bright color of his tail feathers fanned out, steady wavering upon the rising thermal. Or was he the circus performer she almost recalls placing one slippered foot and then the other on the taut wire stretched from one tiny platform to another high above the sawdust floor? Wings…no, a long pole balanced, tips rising and falling like the chest of a child sleeping throughout the night, sometimes a shiver, a sudden sigh.

Her niece chooses the word muddled, as if for a child just awakened from a dream she is almost certain was pleasant. Next trip, Martha will take a small notebook, a pencil she can slip into an apron pocket. Where can she write this down? She feels a scritch of anger rising through her fingers gathering her shirtwaist into a ball, a fist…. Her niece is opening one by one each petal of this bud into…a flower, a tiny Dutch iris…blooming into an open palm, thumb and long fingers lifting to the light, examining what now seems the ochre and sienna and many-shaded green jigsaw puzzle piece…a cardboard table set up in the parlor…always…the garden…yes, her fingers sifting…placing…patting.

Autumn and winter are the worst. The quilts bloom patchwork fields, each tiny square of fabric a history she knows she is supposed to know—her mother, her sisters, her own story tucked beneath the bedding her niece layers upon her…cold…the coming cold…flannel pajamas…wool sweater upon sweater…mittens…. Take no thought, the preacher says, for what you will wear, for the body insubstantial as the lily in the field, neither toiling nor spinning, whisper-boned as songbirds already shivering on a leafless twig, neither sowing nor reaping…today…tomorrow…take no thought.

Where, oh where, has Martha been? Never much of anywhere. Her niece brings the photo albums to the bed. Here is Mountain Home, Moscow, Boise, the Big Wood River, the farm in Wilder. And now a surprise for the long nights of hibernation—an infinite number of puzzle pieces only a child has time to piece—Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Sierra Madres, Jesus suffering the little children…. Come.

Spring and summer are the best, the garden drying, Martha walking without sinking, just happy to be out…this, the earth…this, the sky. And look…a red-tailed hawk…the first Dutch iris, its sudden blooming.

 

Becky’s Dream Place

 

A huckleberry patch. A house next to it.

For now, Becky settles for beautiful days in western Idaho, perfect for long walks through the foothills with her husband. Just the other day, they found a whole hill of phlox. Becky wished she had taken a picnic lunch. It’s not every day you see a perfect, pink hill.

 

Sarah’s House

 

Sarah and John are having mint tea and apricot cookies, looking at photos in the family album and recalling stories with Sarah’s younger brother, Tom, and Tom’s wife, Louise, and Sarah’s first-born daughter, Becky. Tom has just stood up from the dining room table. He and Louise still need to visit Hanna, who is in the hospital. Becky insists they take some cookies. Louise quickly arranges everyone for a photo. After the flash, Tom leans down to his sister. He hopes they didn’t make her too tired. Sarah is staring at a place more distant and nearer than anyone perceives. Slowly, she brings her focus back to Tom. He says again he hopes they didn’t make her too tired. Sarah smiles, reaching out to pat Tom’s arm like a mother comforting a child gathered with the others at her bedside.

 


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