FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid Drage, mother of a small girl, is very happy in her household tasks and in the love of her husband, Tom, who has been promised the position of foreman at the factory where he works. Enid believes that the future holds great treasures for her and her family, but suddenly her world is darkened by the news that Tom has suffered a fatal accident.
The funeral was something Enid was to remember as one remembers a dream, hazy and unreal, yet paralyzing in its impact. And borne, somehow, though one knows not how. A strength beyond physical strength, a peace beyond any peace she had ever known had sustained her through the songs, through the kind, hopeful words of those who spoke, even through that last, horrible moment when she saw him for the last time.
Then she wanted to cry out, to seize him bodily in her slim, young arms, to run with him so that no one might ever take him from her again. But the power that had seen her through the rest held her through this. The agonizing moment passed and she moved like one anesthetized.
She found herself, together with the few relatives of Tom’s who had come from out of town, back at the house. The neighbors had cleaned it, put flowers about, and prepared an appetizing meal. Enid shuddered as she looked at the steaming food. She could not possibly have eaten though the others did, assuring her she needed strength. And when they had finished, they left, beseeching her to let them know if she needed help of any kind.
The door closed on the last of them and she stood, her back against it, staring at the two-room flat. It looked shabby and poor now … as it really was. The magic that had made it bright and beautiful was gone.
Sharon was with one of the neighbors who had offered to keep her that day. For the first time, she was alone with her grief. And for the first time, looking at the small crib, the dresser where Tom’s ties hung in one corner, seeing his shoes in the closet, she threw herself across the bed, buried her face in her hands and wept, copious, shaking tears that seemed to come from the very roots of her being.
After a long time she ceased her weeping. She lay still, staring into space. The twilight shadows were growing long in the room. She knew she should go and get the child, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Somehow, she dreaded seeing that face which was so much like another face. She resented it a little, too, found it almost unbearable that his looks, his eyes, the very cowlick in the child’s hair, which was like his, would go on while he would not be here.
She closed her eyes wearily while her thoughts, unbidden, turned back over the past years. She had been nineteen when she met Tom. Both of them had been at the university. One day in English Two she really noticed him for the first time, noticed his wide shoulders and his dark, slightly curly hair. As she was looking at him, he turned and their eyes had met. She liked the rather shy, quizzical way he smiled at her, and, flushing a little, she returned the smile. Somehow, it didn’t seem strange for him to be waiting for her at the door as she came out of class.
“You’re Enid Burton, aren’t you?” he asked with friendliness.
“Yes,” she admitted, “and you?”
“I’m Tom Drage. Mind if I walk down with you?”
She said, “No, I suppose not,” and they found themselves going down the corridor together. As it happened, neither of them had a class the next period so they walked out on the campus and sat under the beginning-to-be-green trees. It was spring then, too. Later than now and warmer, but there was the same scent of newness, of growth, in the air.
She could almost repeat every word they said, could hear him now saying the words. What a strange thing, memory! Like a moving picture of someone who has gone.
She had known in a peculiar instinctive way that someday she would marry him, that if he asked she would go to the ends of the earth to be near him. She had told him she was going to teach and he had grinned, murmuring, “Not you. You’re too pretty to be a school teacher. You’ll get married to some lucky fellow. It might even be me you’ll marry.”
They laughed as if it were a good joke. Yet, it was only a week or so later that he said, as they sat in practically the same place, “School will be over soon. I don’t believe I’ll come back next year.” She looked at him in shocked surprise, her heart sinking. She asked, “Why not?”
He bit on a blade of grass before he told her, “Well, there’s something mighty wrong with me. I can’t eat. I talk in my sleep. I can’t seem to concentrate … except on one thing.”
Her breath came quicker but she plucked at the grass, not looking at him. “It sounds bad,” she agreed.
“It is bad,” he assured her seriously, reaching over to take her hand. “Gee, Enid, I’m head over heels in love with you. Marry me, will you?”
“Oh, Tom,” she cried, “what about our plans for the future, your engineering and my teaching? I’ve got to pay Aunt Esther back for being so good to me. We’re so young.”
“I know all those things, but somehow they don’t matter. I’ve got enough engineering that I can make a living until I can save enough to go back to school. Someday, we’ll both go back. But now …” He drew nearer to her, his eyes searching her face. “Look at me,” he commanded, “try to deny that you love me.”
Her eyes were soft and shy as she looked at him, as she whispered: “I can’t say I don’t love you. I guess I knew it that first day I really noticed you.”
He laughed indulgently. “I’d noticed you for a long time before that. I was using mental suggestion on you. Finally, one day, you noticed me. Oh, happy day!”
She felt the touch of his hand on hers and it was like a sudden charge of electricity. He leaned forward, whispering, “Say yes, my dear.”
“Tom … darling,” she cried, in spite of herself, in spite of her reason, and she felt his lips upon hers, briefly, gently, wonderfully.
When Aunt Esther gave her consent and full approval they went ahead with their plans. They were married simply, but rightly, in July, and since he had a promise of a job in his home town, they had come here to live. She didn’t need to go over their days here, she couldn’t. They were too close, too achingly close.
It was darker now and she could hear the birds chirping in preparation for the coming night. She arose slowly, laboriously, and looked about the room. A great hunger for her child came over her. She took her wrap from the closet and started out to get her. The woman had said that she need only phone and she would bring her over, but Enid felt she would rather go out, walking, moving. The woman lived in the west part of town and not many would see her. Most people would be eating dinner, sitting around talking with one another, oblivious to the rest of the world … as, oh, so recently, she had been oblivious to all else save her own little world.
The wind whipped about her, stung her with a few drops of rain splashing against her face. But she hardly noticed. She walked with a steady rhythm against the wind, against the oncoming darkness, against the hard, steady pain that was gnawing in her being.
Mrs. Ranch, of the Relief Society, was very kind. She drew her into the warmth of her large, nicely furnished living room where Sharon was lying on the couch asleep, an expensive plaything still grasped in her little hand. Enid went over to her, stood looking down at her a moment before she sank on the couch beside her.
Mrs. Ranch watched her, compassion and kindness in her face, which, though not very old, was framed by completely white hair.
“My dear,” she said, coming over to her, “I am so sorry for you, but I know you have the courage and the faith to go forward, to make a good life for your precious daughter. You must force yourself to be brave.” She said other things, but Enid hardly heard them. Somehow, she managed to smile, to say, “Yes. I know,” politely. And, after what seemed an interminable time, with her child in her arms, she whispered, “Thank you so much,” and left, started toward home.
She walked slowly now, deep in thought, deep in sudden, overwhelming bitterness. “Make a good life” – that was easy to say, easy to do, when one had a beautiful home like this woman’s, when one had a prosperous and good husband. It was not so easy when one was suddenly left alone, with nothing. Tom hadn’t even carried insurance. Each week they had thought of taking out insurance but he would laugh and say, “I guess there’s plenty of time for that.”
No, it wasn’t easy, at twenty-three, to have the entire world dissolve under one’s feet, its music stilled, its hope ended, its beauty suddenly turned to ashes.
She stopped a moment to catch her breath, to put Sharon down so that she might rest before starting up the street. Then she noticed that she was beside the river which ran through the town. She stood looking at it as one mesmerized, staring at the heavy, black, churning water. Usually there was not much water in the river bed, but today the storms in the mountains and the melting of the snows had brought the water to almost flood proportions. Debris and rocks were being carried rapidly along, being tossed about as if they were nothing at all. The turmoil, the angry grumbling of the water, matched the bitterness and tumult in her own heart. And she was glad for it. She wouldn’t ever be hurt again.
She moved a step forward toward the water as one who is attracted by an evil power. She felt the darkness about her, clammy and thick and ominous.
As one is awakened from sound sleeping, she heard the voice of her daughter calling, “Mommie, Mommie,” felt the tug at her coat. The child looked up at her in need, in want of love and assurance.
She looked down into the lifted, trusting, beautiful face. In that moment all the dark bitterness within her became as mist before the morning sun. She dropped to her knees, gathered the child against her, whispered, “Oh, my darling, my darling, I still have you. I will make a good life for you. Daddy would want me to do that.”
The child repeated the word, “Daddy …” and pointed up the street. But Enid only kissed her, assuring her still, “Daddy isn’t there. But his spirit is, his faith and his courage. He left us those. Yes, we will go home now.”