Running Home: A Heart Without Understanding
My dad worked harder than anyone else I knew. Life on the poor farm wasn’t easy, but he always wore a smile through the most tiring of days. Daddy always carried himself with a sense of joy and pride for his family while never wanting us to feel like we were on a poor farm, and was known to never make a big deal over the smallest incidents. This was why I knew something was wrong and had been for about three months. He grew more tired with each passing day, and developed a severe cough, which I had never heard before.
As I woke up on that hot summer morning, I could see Daddy tucked comfortably in bed, with Mama tending to him. Her face was lined with a worried expression. I felt my heart beating fast in my chest. Della, the eldest, strolled past me, heading over to where Mama stood. Their conversation lasted several minutes before Mama leaned over, placed a reassuring kiss on Daddy’s cheek, and left without a word to us.
“What’s the matter with Daddy?” Will asked.
“We don’t know, but he’s not well. Mama has gone to find the doctor.” replied Della as she stood up to face Will and I. We glanced behind me and saw the rest of my brothers coming to join the three of us in the room facing the man we loved most. We all sensed this wouldn’t end well.
What’s going on?
There were very few doctors who would come to a poor farm. Daddy joked about how the only doctors we could count on were the honest ones. They were the only doctors willing to take what a farmer could afford to pay and sometimes that was in the form of produce, milk, eggs or pies. Even though city folk had the better doctors, they were a “dishonest bunch” who charged a lot of money for treatment. So, who got the better deal? Daddy would ask with a wink. That joke made me laugh every single time he told it.
“Mellie, run and get me some water!” Della shouted as Daddy began a frightening coughing fit. I ran to the pump for water while my other sisters dropped the clothing that remained soaked in the metal washtub outside and left the other articles of clothing messily dangling from the clothesline.
“Here.”, I replied, bringing the water over to Della. I poured the water into a nearby cup, and my hand shook as I passed it to her. Daddy coughed once more, as pain began to surface on his face. My heart ached for him.
“You kids don’t have to look so frightened. I’m doing just fine.” Daddy said in a strained voice, trying to sound reassuring. “Your Mama will be back with the doctor soon, don’t you worry.”
Daddy didn’t want us to live life in fear, but in contentment. It wasn’t easy, especially now. We were all afraid, including Daddy, though he tried to hide it.
Minutes seemed like hours before we saw Mama return with a doctor. Mama sat down in a nearby chair while the doctor examined Daddy, whose coughing continued. He was struggling to breathe.
“I’m Doctor Wood, it’s a good thing you asked me to come”. He looked at Mama grimly. “Your husband is gravely ill and will not recover. I give him three to six months if that.” The color drained from Mama’s face.
“Why?” Is there nothing that can be done? She asked, a tearful crack starting to form in her voice. Within seconds, tears were streaming down her cheeks, and her shoulders began to slump as she became inconsolable. Dr. Wood placed a comforting hand on Mama’s shoulder.
“Your husband has been fighting this for a long time without the care of a doctor. The state he is in leads me to believe he has advanced lung disease. There is no treatment that I can offer. I would make him as comfortable as possible.” He studied her expression intently. Mama’s face read of a broken woman; it was wet with tears, and her eyes filled with the pain of knowing that there really was nothing she could do. “I apologize, Ma’am. I wish there was more I could do.” With that, he turned toward the door casting her an easeful glance. “Call for me whenever you need me.”
Life began to change quickly as Daddy’s health continued to decline. We took turns caring for the man who once took care of us. Within just a few weeks, Daddy became a frail version of himself, losing his once hearty appetite, along with the trademark joyful glow he wore so faithfully. The love our mother cherished throughout all of her life, and the man we loved as Daddy was quickly slipping away. My mother was losing a piece of our family, and most importantly, a piece of herself. Every night she prayed with him as he would drift off to sleep. I began to pray too, along with my siblings. We secretly hoped things would turn around.
It was a warm August day when Mama rode to get the doctor to assess Daddy, as he drifted in and out of consciousness. The shortness of breath made him so weak. Mama woke us up early to say our goodbyes. She had been told that there was nothing that could be done to save him. His illness had progressed so quickly that death could spare him further pain and struggle. Why would God let this happen to someone I love? We all prayed. Wasn’t that enough?
Daddy died before mid-afternoon that day. It was a day that changed things forever.
We lost our Daddy and our mother lost her precious husband. John and Sylvia Harris were a great example of a true love story. Now the last page of that story ended. He was buried in the poor farm graveyard. From that moment, bitterness began to grow in my heart. I didn’t understand why someone so loving had to die in such a painful way.
Mama and I never had heart to heart talks. We never felt the need to openly express ourselves to each other. Sewing was the only way we ever bonded as mother and daughter. As I began to angrily work with my thread and needle, I noticed Mama watching me. After a few more minutes, she quickly placed her hand over mine to stop me from poking myself with the needle. I noticed that she had placed the clothing she was working on off to the side.
“Melda, what’s the matter?” She asked, provoking me for an answer. Mama could always tell when one of us kids were upset, and all we had now was each other.
“I don’t know,” I replied, as tears streamed down my face. “I don’t understand how this happened. I don’t know why God didn’t spare Daddy.”
“I miss him too,” she replied, reaching over to lightly hug me. “I don’t understand it, but that’s where our trust in the Lord comes in.” She said this with a soothing tone in her voice which was unusual.
My siblings appeared suddenly, and I realized our voices had woke them up. None of us were able to sleep soundly.
“I want to tell you all something, the Lord will take care of us. Things will be harder around here, but we have to trust Him and He will make a way!” Her soft voice held a sense of compassion as she eyed all of us kids, her brown eyes looking sincere. She loved God and knew that He would take care of our needs somehow. She wanted to raise her children to know and trust in Him in every part of life. Christ would get them through life and the children needed a strong example of what faith could do. “I need you all to help out more without complaining. We will have to find a way to make money however we can.” Mama knew that we children, as a family, couldn’t rely on our own understanding. We would have to lean on Him.
Mama looked worn out but the determination in her voice was a mixture of bravery and stubbornness coming from within her spirit. I didn’t understand how she stayed so composed. I would never be over Daddy’s death, not for a long time. I trusted Mama. I trusted her vision. I knew her stubbornness and her will to fight would somehow make things okay. I didn’t quite understand how everything would work out. I lost the best example of love that I knew, but I would have to learn to somehow have courage even throughout the darkest of times; just the way Mama did.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV)”