“Daddy, why do Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline live in a hole in the ground? Wouldn’t it be better if they lived in a house like us?”
A little dark skinned boy runs up behind the little girl and taps her hard enough to make her stumble and yells, “You’re it!” before running off. The girl just rolls her eyes and continues to walk beside her father as her siblings dart this way and that between the trees.
The father looked down and thought just how much she had turned out like his own mother, even her looks, which caused him a twinge. Since she was waiting for an answer he said, “I grew up in that ‘hole in the ground’ … or at least until I was about six or seven.”
“Is that when Poppa finished the house where we live now?”
“No, that was only a little place. Poppa tore that down when he built the big house we all live in now.”
“But why don’t they come live with us now when Poppa and Mawmaw are gone? Aunt Leena lives with us now.”
“Aunt Leena and Uncle Adam are only visiting until they get their place finished. Now that Uncle Adam is finished with all of his training he is going to start his own medical practice on this side of the ridge while his brother keeps the one going that his dad started over in A-Town.”
“But doesn’t Uncle Daniel want to live with us anymore? He used to. Did we do something wrong? I miss him.”
The father smiled. “No Sweetheart. My Uncle Daniel is … well he needed his own place. All the noise and ruckus up at the big house doesn’t always set too well with him. Aunt Pauline is the same way. And out here they are closer to the plants and animals they like so well.”
“’Cause Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline are special?”
The man asked abruptly, “Where did you hear talk like that?”
“I heard a lady at church say it. She said it real funny like she didn’t mean the word like the word is supposed to mean.”
“Now you listen here young lady. Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline are a little … different … eccentric maybe … but God made them just like He made us and I better not hear another thing about it.”
Properly subdued the little girl said, “Yes Daddy.”
The father, regretting how forcefully he’d reacted added, “I know you don’t mean anything bad by it Vickilynn but words have power and using the wrong words can be hurtful to people. Folks like Uncle Daniel might take the long way around to get someplace or they might have a totally different way of looking at things, but that doesn’t make it wrong.”
Reassured the little girl said, “Yes sir.” After a pause she asked, “But why do we come out here every day? Why don’t they come to us sometimes?”
“’Cause Uncle Daniel is real busy this time of year and your Mawmaw made me promise when she went that I’d keep an eye on them just in case. Besides, this is your Uncle Daniel’s and Aunt Pauline’s anniversary, they’ve been married five years. Your momma will skin me if we don’t get this cake delivered and get back to the house to help with the garden and J. Paul.”
“Daddy, is J.Paul like Uncle Daniel?”
The man paused and then nodded, “A little bit. Your Mawmaw swears he’s quieter than Uncle Daniel was at that age though.”
The little girl looked completely unconvinced and asked, “You sure?”
The man laughed and reminded her that her grandmother was never one that liked being questioned so if she said Uncle Daniel was noisier than J.Paul is they’d just have to believe it.
The man stepped into the clearing and looked around at the place that hadn’t changed much since he’d been a child running as free as his own small children were doing now. Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline were sitting on stools he’d made them for last Christmas shelling beans, something they seemed to have endless patience and energy for.
He watched each of his children begin to settle down as they knew that if they wanted their Uncle Daniel to show them some new and interesting thing he’d found in the forest they’d need to play by his rules of staying calm or he’d get fed up with them and tell them to come back some other time. They also knew not to startle Pauline and he was grateful that they were careful with her even if they didn’t know the whole of it.
Pauline had been a slave during the Starving Years and had nearly died before being rescued by the militia in that area. Then several well meaning people had paired her up with a man that had turned out to be an abuser. By the time he’d died – been killed in a brawl actually – Pauline was like she was and there was no changing it. Uncle Daniel had met her one time when they were taking some goats to market and for some reason known only to God and Uncle Daniel it was love at first sight for both of them. The man’s mother had done what was necessary and Pauline had come home with them and the rest as they say was history.
He leaned against the tree and thought about his own childhood and about his sister Leena … and about his other siblings as well, all of them seeming to have outgrown the wanderlust and finally decided to return to the home they couldn’t seem to wait to escape when they were young and raring for adventure. He was the youngest and the only one that had never seemed to feel the need to see what was “out there.”
He looked up to see Aunt Pauline quietly waiting for him to notice her. He took off his hat and said, “I beg your pardon. I was wool gathering.”
She gave a small smile and said, “You miss them don’t you Jeff.”
He nodded, “Yes ma’am. I sure do. But it had to be the Lord’s work that they were able to go together. There’s no other explanation for how things happened the way they did.”
His parents had been gone three months and it still caused him a twinge but he knew where ever they were they were happy just to be together.
On the other side of the world the old woman stopped to empty a stone out of her shoe. The hike had been lovely but tiring too, especially on the heels of the big ceremony dedicating the memorial to the men and woman that had left Spain at the behest of the UN and never returned. “Reckon the children are doing all right?” she asked the man at her side.
“Jeff will have things well in hand Querida. And Daniel is there to help if need be.”
Dacey nodded. “I know, I know. Time I cut the apron strings. Just he’s the youngest and … well, as much as I’ve had fun seeing your old home Abel, I miss the noise of our own around us. I’ll be glad to start back tomorrow. It was nice that you found some of your cousins still alive but, I feel like such a stranger around here.”
Abel smiled and said, “Yes, me too. It is so quiet here. I thought …”
His shrugs were still as eloquent as ever. “Perhaps to find a piece of myself I had left behind.”
Curious she asked, “Did you?”
A rakish grin partially hidden by a mustache and well-trimmed beard preceded his cocky swagger in her direction. “No Querida. I realized if you had not come with me that would have been the piece that was missing.”
Dacey smiled realizing age didn’t change as much as she thought it would. “So, did you like the ceremony?”
“Eh, it was all right. Too many in the audience didn’t seem to really understand what the memorial represented. I saw very few people our age except in the special visitor stands and of them, I saw very few who seemed happy to remember only that they survived. It was a spectacle. I am glad my cousin got us those passes so that I could tell the story of those that had died with honor but I’m not sorry to be returning to where I now belong.”
“To be expected I guess. Not a whole lot of us old timers around, or at least not in any shape to do a bunch of gallivanting around like we’ve been doing.”
The swagger had drawn him very close and he whispered huskily, “You still … gallivant … quite well.”
That caused Dacey to laugh out loud. “Honesty Abel, that ceremony was supposed to be serious and here you are … well … acting like you’re acting.”
Abel smiled and then leaned against the tree while his wife finished tying her boot. “I can think of no better affirmation of life than that and a prayer of thanksgiving. We’ve already said our prayers, so why not now the other? We lived through seven long years of the Heart Rot. To have survived it was a miracle, a blessing from God above. And the recovery afterwards was just as long and nearly as hard as the Starving Time as the world tried to find its way. Then the war … but it is all done … at least until the next crisis and there are children and grandchildren and hope.”
“Why Abel Montoya … there’s always hope.”
“Si Querida, there is always hope,” as he swooped in for a surprise kiss that had her laughing all over again.