Her Daughter's Dream - Excerpt
Trip called. Hildemara is back in the hospital. She had been there for nearly two months before they got around to telling me about it. But now they want my help. My sweet Hildemara Rose, the smallest, the weakest, the most dependent of my children. She has struggled from the beginning. And now, somehow, I must find a way to give her the courage for one more struggle.
I didn’t always see it, but recently the Lord has reminded me of all the times Hildemara’s courage and spunk have served her well. She chose her own path in life and pursued it against all odds (and against my advice, I might add!). She followed that husband of hers from one military base to another, finding apartments in strange cities, making new friends. She crossed the country by herself and came home to help Bernhard and Elizabeth hold on to the Musashis’ land, despite threats and fire and bricks through their windows.
And I needn’t remind you of her response when faced with the same kind of abuse that our dear Elise succumbed to so many years ago. She was smart enough to run. My daughter has courage!
I have been forced to admit that I have always favored Hildemara a little above the others. (Is any of this news to you, my dear friend? I suspect you know me better than I know myself.) From the moment my first daughter came into the world, she has held a special place in my heart. Niclas always said she looked like me, and I’m afraid it’s true. And we both know how little regard my father had for my plain looks. And like Elise, she was frail.
How could a mother’s heart fail to respond to such a combination? I did what I felt I had to do. From the start I determined that I would not cripple Hildemara Rose the way Mama crippled Elise. But now I wonder if I did the right thing. Did I push her too hard and, in so doing, push her away? She wouldn’t even let her husband call me for help until they both thought she was past the point of no return. I wish now I’d been more like my mother, with her gracious and loving spirit, and less like my father. Yes, that’s right. I see clearly that I inherited some of his selfish and cruel ways. Don’t try to convince me otherwise, Rosie. We both know it’s true.
Now my hope and prayer is that I can bring Hildemara close again. I am praying for more time. I want Hildemara to know how much I love her, how proud I am of her and her accomplishments. I want to mend my relationship with her. I want to learn how to serve my daughter. I, who have rebelled all my life at the very thought of servanthood.
I started thinking about Lady Daisy and our afternoons at Kew and tea in the conservatory. I think it’s about time I shared some of these experiences with Hildemara Rose. . . . I will make all the wonderful sweets and savories for Hildemara Rose that I once served to Lady Daisy. I will pour India tea and lace it with cream and conversation.
God willing, I will win back my daughter.
Your loving friend,
Hildemara lay in the darkness, her nightgown damp with perspiration. Night sweats again—she should be used to them by now. Her roommate, Lydia, snored softly. Lydia had been steadily improving since she arrived six weeks ago, which only served to depress Hildemara more. Lydia had gained two pounds; Hildie lost the same amount.
Two months and still no improvement, hospital bills mounting daily, crushing Trip’s dreams beneath their weight. Her husband came each afternoon. He’d looked so tired yesterday, and no wonder when he had to work full-time and then go home and take care of all her duties: laundry, cooking, seeing to Charlie’s and Carolyn’s needs. Hildie grieved over her children—Charlie on his own so much of the time, Carolyn being raised by an indifferent babysitter. She hadn’t touched or seen her children since Trip brought her to the hospital. She missed them so much, she felt physical pain most of the time. Or was that just the mycobacterium tuberculosis consuming her lungs and decimating her body?
Pushing the covers back, Hildie went to the bathroom to rinse her face with cool water. Who was that gaunt, pale ghost staring back at her in the mirror? She studied the sharp angles, the pallor, the shadows beneath her hazel eyes, the lackluster brown color of the hair around her shoulders.
I’m dying, Lord, aren’t I? I haven’t enough strength to fight this disease. And now I have to face Mama’s disappointment in me. She called me a coward last time. Maybe I am giving up. She cupped water in her hands and pressed her face into it. Oh, God, I love Trip so much. And Charlie and sweet little Carolyn. But I’m tired, Lord, so very tired. I’d rather die now, than linger and leave a legacy of debt.
She’d told Trip as much last week. She only wished she could die at home, rather than in a sterile hospital room twenty miles away. His face had twisted in anguish. “Don’t say that. You’re not going to die. You have to stop worrying about the bills. If your mother came, I could bring you home. Maybe then . . .”
She’d argued. Mama wouldn’t come. She’d never helped before. Mama hated the very idea of being a servant. And that’s exactly what she’d be—a full-time maid and washerwoman, babysitter and cook, without pay. Hildie said she couldn’t ask such a thing of Mama.
Trip called Mama anyway, and then he went down on Saturday with Charlie and Carolyn so he and Mama could talk things over. He’d come out this morning. “Your mother said yes. I’m taking a couple of days off to get things ready for her.” He wanted to repaint Carolyn’s room, buy a nice, comfortable bed, a new dresser and mirror, maybe a rocking chair. “Charlie and Carolyn will have the small bedroom. You and I’ll be together. . . .”
“I can’t sleep with you, Trip. I need to be quarantined.” She could barely absorb the news that Mama had agreed to help. “I can’t be near the children.” At least, she could hear them; she could see them. Mama said she’d come. Mama was moving in. Hildie trembled, taking it all in. She felt a little sick to her stomach. “I’ll need a hospital bed.” She gave Trip instructions about her room. No rug. A window shade rather than curtains. The simpler the room, the easier to keep sanitized. Trip looked so hopeful, it broke her heart. He leaned down to kiss her forehead before he left. “You’ll be home soon.”
Now, she couldn’t sleep. Rather than get back into bed, Hildie sat in a chair by the window and looked out at the stars. What was it going to be like, having Mama living under her roof, taking care of her, taking care of her children, taking care of all the chores that needed to be done so Trip didn’t have to do everything? Would Mama despise her for not fighting harder? Her eyes burned; her throat ached just thinking about having to lie in bed sick and helpless while Mama took over her family. She wiped tears away. Of course, Mama would do it all better than she ever could. That realization hurt even more. Mama had always managed everything. Even without Papa, the ranch ran like a well-oiled machine. Mama would fix Trip wonderful meals. Mama would be the one to give Charlie wings. Mama would probably have Carolyn reading before she turned four.
I should be grateful. She cares enough to come and help. I didn’t think she did.
When the night air cooled her, Hildie slipped beneath the covers again.
She wanted to be grateful. She would say thank you, even as she had to watch the life she loved slip away from her. She had fought hard to be free of Mama’s expectations, to claim her own life and not live out her mother’s impossible dreams. Even the one thing at which she’d excelled would be stripped from her before she closed her eyes for the last time.
Mama would be the nurse. Mama would carry the lantern.
Carolyn was happy that Daddy let her stay with Oma Marta in Murietta until Oma was ready to move to their house. If she had gone home with him and Charlie, she would have had to go to Mrs. Haversal’s across the street every day while Charlie was at school and Daddy went to work. It had been like that for a long time, ever since Mommy went away. But now, Mommy was coming home and Oma was coming to stay. It would be wonderful!
Carolyn played with the rag doll Oma had given her while Oma packed her suitcase with clothing and a trunk with sheets, crochet-trimmed and embroidered pillowcases, two blankets, and a pink rose tea set with tiny silver spoons. Oma put the suitcase and trunk in the back of her new gray Plymouth, and then she stacked two cushions in the front seat so Carolyn could sit high up and see out the window on the long drive home. Oma even let her roll her window down so she could put her hand out and feel the air.
They pulled into the driveway just when Charlie got off the school bus. “Oma!” He came running. Oma took the front door key out from under the flowerpot on the front porch.
Everything had changed inside the house. Carolyn found her bed and dresser in Charlie’s room.
A small table stood between Charlie’s bed and hers. She went back to her old room and watched Oma swing her suitcase onto a new, bigger bed. The pink walls were now bright yellow and new lacy white curtains hung over the windows. There was a big dresser with a mirror on top, a little table and lamp, and a rocking chair with flowered cushions.
“I’m going to be very comfortable here.” Oma unpacked her clothes and put them away.
Oma stepped to the window and drew the white lacy curtains aside. “I’m going to have to get used to having neighbors this close.” She shook her head and turned away. “I’d better get dinner started. Your daddy will be coming home soon.”
“Is Mommy coming home?”
“In another day or two.” Oma opened the door into the spare bedroom. “This is where she’ll be.” Leaving Carolyn in the bedroom doorway, Oma headed for the kitchen. Carolyn didn’t like the room. It felt cold and strange without a rug on the floor and no curtains on the window, just a shade pulled down to block out the sunlight.
Carolyn came into the kitchen. “Mommy isn’t going to like her room.”
“It’s exactly the way she wants it. Easy to keep clean.”
“Mommy likes plants on the windowsill. She likes flowers in a vase.” Mommy always had pictures in frames on her dresser.
“Mommy doesn’t like germs.” Oma peeled potatoes.
“What are germs?”
Oma chuckled. “You’ll have to ask your mother.”
Oma had dinner ready before Daddy came home from work. They all sat around the kitchen table. “When do you pick her up?” Oma set a pitcher of milk on the table and sat in Mommy’s chair.
“Day after tomorrow.”
“Plenty to be thankful for, haven’t we?” When Oma stretched out her hands, Charlie took one and Carolyn the other. Daddy took their hands too so they made a circle. He hadn’t said grace since Mommy went away. He spoke quietly now, calmly, said amen and sighed, a smile tugging at his lips. Oma asked questions about his work, and Daddy talked for a long time. When everyone finished dinner, Daddy stacked the dishes, but Oma shooed him away. “You and the kids go visit or play or whatever you normally do. I’ll take care of cleaning up.”
Daddy took Charlie outside to play catch. Carolyn sat on the front steps and watched.
Oma handled the baths that night, Charlie first so he could do his homework. She sat on the closed toilet while Carolyn played in the bubble bath. Oma gave Daddy a book to read to them, with Carolyn on one side and Charlie on the other. When he finished, he kissed them both and sent them to bed. Oma tucked them in with prayers.
In the middle of the night, Carolyn awakened. She’d gotten used to sleeping with Oma. Charlie didn’t have monsters in his room, but Carolyn worried about Oma. Crawling out of bed, she crept down the hall to her old bedroom and opened the door. Oma snored so loudly, she’d probably scared all the monsters out of the house with the noise she made. Scampering back to Charlie’s room, Carolyn dove into bed. Snuggling down into the covers, she looked at Charlie sleeping on the other side of the room, thought of Mommy coming home, and went to sleep smiling.
Daddy left for work right after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and fresh-baked biscuits. As soon as Charlie left for school, Oma tipped Carolyn’s chin. “Let’s go brush your hair and put it in a ponytail. What do you say?” She took Carolyn by the hand and led her into her bedroom. She patted the bed and Carolyn climbed up onto it. While Oma brushed her hair, Carolyn watched her grandmother in the mirror. She liked her white hair and tanned, wrinkled cheeks. She had warm green-brown eyes like Mommy’s. Oma smiled back at her. She brushed Carolyn’s long, curly blonde hair into her hand. “You look like Elise. She was my little sister, and she was very, very pretty, just like you.” When all the tangles had been worked out, Oma wound a rubber band around Carolyn’s hair. “There. That looks better. Don’t you think?”
Carolyn looked up. “Is Mommy dying?”
Oma smiled at Carolyn. “No. Your mother is not dying.” She ran her hand over Carolyn’s hair. “She needs rest. That’s all. Now that I’m here, she can come home and rest. You’ll see your mother every day.”
Carolyn didn’t see the mixture of emotions in Oma’s face that she had seen in Daddy’s. Oma didn’t look uncertain or sad. She didn’t look afraid. Oma wore glasses, but behind them Carolyn saw clear, warm eyes filled with confidence.
Oma told Carolyn they were going for a ride. “I need to get to know the area, find out where things are.”
“Grocery store, for one. You and I are going to explore!” She made it sound like a great adventure. “We’re going to find a library, where we can check out enough books to last a week. And I want to stop by the church, meet the pastor. Your daddy said you haven’t gone for a while, but that’s going to change.”
“Will Mommy go, too?”
“No. Not for a while.”
Oma drove fast, pointing this way and that, while Carolyn perched on pillows, taking in the sights. “Look over there. What do you know! A cheese factory! We’ll pick up some good Swiss or Gouda cheese while we’re in town. And there’s a bank.”
Oma took her to lunch at a small café on Main Street. Carolyn ate a hot dog and drank Coke. Before heading home, Oma wanted to wander through a department store. She looked through all the kitchen gadgets and bought a few. Then they went to the grocery store, and Oma filled the big basket. “Time to head home. We want to be there when Charlie gets off the bus.”
Oma pulled into the driveway just as the school bus disgorged boys and girls. “Perfect timing!” Charlie ran up the street, whooping. Oma laughed and told him he sounded like a wild Indian. She handed him a bag of groceries. “You can help unload.” She gave a smaller bag to Carolyn and carried in another bag and the package from the department store.
Charlie sniffed out the package of Fig Newtons like a bloodhound, opened it, grabbed a handful, and headed out the door to find his friends. Amused, Oma shook her head. “He’s like one of my Summer Bedlam boys.” Oma tore brown paper from the package and opened a big white box. “Look what I found when we were out shopping.” She laid out a small embroidered tablecloth and matching napkins. “You and I and Mommy are going to make high tea every afternoon. It’s been years since I’ve done it, but I have all the recipes right here.” She took a worn leather book from her purse and set it on the table. She got a dreamy look on her face. “We’re going to make this a special homecoming.” She glanced at her watch and suggested they sit on the porch and enjoy the sunshine.
When Daddy brought Mommy home, Oma stood, holding Carolyn’s hand. Mommy climbed out of the car, waved hello, and went straight into the house. Carolyn called out to her and followed them inside, but her father blocked her. “Leave your mother alone. She’s going to bed.” Mommy went down the hall into the cold room with the strange bed and closed the door. When Carolyn tried to go around Daddy, he caught hold of her and turned Carolyn around. “Go play outside for a while so Oma and I can talk. Go on now.” He gave her a push.
Confused, Carolyn sat on the front steps until Daddy came out. He went right past her, got back into his car, and drove away.
Oma came out onto the front porch. “Your daddy had to go back to work. You’ll see him this afternoon.”
“Can I see Mommy?”
“No, Liebling.” She shook her head and ran her hand over Carolyn’s head. “Do you want to stay out here or come inside and help me make lunch?” Carolyn followed Oma back inside.
Her mother didn’t come out of her room at all that day, except to use the bathroom. And every day after that was the same way. If she saw Carolyn in the hallway, she waved her away. Mommy didn’t sit at the kitchen table for dinner or with the family in the living room when they listened to Lux Radio Theater. No one except Daddy and Oma could go into Mommy’s room. Daddy often spent all evening behind the closed door while Oma took a book from the pile she’d checked out of the library and read stories to Carolyn and Charlie.
Carolyn often went outside after Charlie went to school. One day she picked daffodils that had sprouted up from bulbs Mommy had planted a long time ago. Mommy loved flowers. They made her happy. When Carolyn had a fistful, she went inside, crept along the corridor to Mommy’s room, and opened the door. Mommy lay on her side, sleeping. Carolyn tiptoed to the bed. She stood chin level with the top of the mattress.
“Mommy?” Reaching up, Carolyn touched her mother’s hand. Her mother’s eyes flickered open. A smile curved her mouth. Carolyn held up the daffodils. “I brought you flowers, Mommy, to make you feel better.”
Mommy’s expression changed. Pulling up the sheet, she covered her mouth. “You’re not supposed to come in here, Carolyn. Go! Now!”
Her lip trembled. “I want to be with you.”
“You can’t be with me.” Her mother’s eyes filled with tears. “Get out of here, Carolyn. Do what you’re told.”
“Mommy . . .” Carolyn reached out to give her the flowers.
Her mother reared back. “Mama!” Mommy started to cough. “Get away from me!” she choked out between coughs. When Oma appeared in the doorway, Mommy waved frantically. “Mama! Get her out of here! Get her away from me!” Sobbing now, still coughing, Mommy bunched the sheet over her mouth and hunched over. “Keep her out!”
Oma hustled Carolyn out of the room and closed the door firmly. Frightened, confused, Carolyn wailed. Oma picked her up and carried her into the living room. “Hush now! You didn’t do anything wrong. Listen to me.” She sat in the rocker. “Mommy’s sick. You can’t go in that room. If you do, she’ll go away again. You don’t want that, do you?”
“No.” Why couldn’t she go in? Oma did. Daddy did. Charlie stood in the doorway and talked to Mommy. Why did she have to stay away?
“Shhhh . . .” Oma lifted Carolyn into her lap and rocked her. Carolyn stuck her thumb in her mouth and leaned against her grandmother. “Everything is going to be fine, Liebling. Your mother is going to get better. You’ll have plenty of time with her then.”
Carolyn never went into Mommy’s room after that. The closest she came was standing against the wall outside the door when Oma took in a tray of food. She could catch a glimpse of Mommy then. When the weather warmed, her mother came out of her room wearing a pair of slacks and a sweater. She sat on the front porch, where Oma served tea, egg salad and dill sandwiches, and pecan cookies. Carolyn waited inside until Oma told her she could come out, too. She sat in the chair on the farthest end of the porch as far away from her mother as she could get. Her mother drew the blue sweater more tightly around her thin body. “It’s cold.”
Oma poured tea. “It’s seventy-three degrees, Hildemara Rose. You need fresh air.”
“It’s hard to keep warm even with the sun shining, Mama.”
“I’ll get you a blanket.” Oma put another sandwich on Mommy’s plate.
“No blanket, Mama. It’s better if we try to look as normal as possible.”
“Normal? The neighborhood already knows, Hildemara Rose. Why do you think they all stay away?” Oma gave a tight laugh. “Cowards! The lot of them.”
Mommy nibbled at the small sandwich. “You’re a wonderful cook, Mama.”
“I learned from the best.” Oma set her teacup in its saucer. “I learned from Rosie’s mother. They had a hotel. I’ve told you that, haven’t I? Chef Brennholtz tutored me at the Hotel Germania. He returned to Germany and got caught up in the war. Last I heard, he was chef to one of the ranking Nazis. After Warner Brennholtz, I worked for the Fourniers in Montreaux. Solange shared her French recipes. Lady Daisy’s cook, Enid, taught me how to make these tea cakes.” Oma talked about Lady Daisy’s love of Kew Gardens. Oma pushed her in a wheelchair, and they visited the park every day. “It was hard work, but I never minded. I love English gardens. Of course, it’s too hot in Murietta. . . .”
Oma and Mommy talked about Carolyn, too. “She needs a playmate.”
“Well, the mothers won’t want their children having anything to do with her.”
“I’ve been thinking. It might be good to get a puppy.”
“I don’t know, Mama. A dog is a big responsibility.”
“It wouldn’t hurt her to learn a little. It might make her less dependent.” Oma smiled at Carolyn. “She’s become my little shadow.”
Mommy leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “I’ll talk to Trip.” She sounded so tired.
That night at the dinner table, Daddy, Oma, and Charlie talked about getting a puppy. Daddy suggested buying a cocker spaniel. “Small enough to live inside the house and big enough that it couldn’t squeeze through the fence.”
“You don’t have to buy a dog.” Oma gave a short laugh. “People are always trying to give pups away. Any mutt will do.”
Charlie groaned loudly. “Not a mutt. Can’t we get a German shepherd, Dad?” He’d stayed overnight with a friend whose family had a new television set. “Roy Rogers has a German shepherd. Bullet runs so fast, he’s like a streak of lightning.”
Oma looked unconvinced. “And where’s he going to run? A big dog like that needs space.”
Charlie wasn’t about to give up. “We’ve got a yard in front and a yard in back.”
Dad kept eating. “I wouldn’t have to worry as much with a police dog around. He’d have to be trained, though. I know someone who can give me pointers.”
A few days later, Dad lifted a ball of fur with drooping ears and bright brown eyes out of his car. He handed the pup to Carolyn, who snuggled it against her chest. “Hang on. He wiggles a lot. Don’t drop him.” He laughed as the pup licked Carolyn’s face. “I think he likes you.”
After that, Carolyn spent most of the day outside with the puppy, which they named Bullet. When she went inside, he sat by the front door and whined until she came back out. Mommy would come out and sit on the porch while Oma worked in the kitchen, and Carolyn ran around the yard, Bullet on her heels, leaping, yipping.
Whenever Oma went anywhere, Carolyn went with her. Sometimes they drove as far as the strawberry fields in Niles, where Oma talked with the Japanese farmers and bought flats of fruit to make jam. Other times they went to the cheese factory by the bridge over the creek that ran through Paxtown. Oma would take her into the storage room with the old Greek gentleman, who bored samples from big wheels of cheese while he and Oma talked of their old countries. Oma ran all the errands for the family: she shopped at Hagstrom’s grocery store, picked up supplies for repairs at Kohln’s Hardware, and bought clothes for Charlie and Carolyn from Doughtery’s department store. Sometimes Mommy argued with her about that.
Every Sunday, Oma took Carolyn to the Presbyterian church while Daddy and Mommy and Charlie stayed home. Daddy always said he had work to do, and Charlie stayed home because Daddy did. Once a month, Oma took Carolyn with her to the farm in Murietta. While Oma talked with the Martins, Carolyn climbed into the tree house or fed carrots to the white rabbit or watched the chickens. Carolyn slept with Oma when they visited the farm.
Carolyn didn’t suck her thumb when she slept in Oma’s big bed. She curled up against Oma and felt warm and secure. She dreamed about tea parties with the white rabbit that ate carrots from her hand. He stood on his back legs, tapped his foot, and told her he wanted ice cream tomorrow. She giggled in her sleep.
Everything felt good and safe and comfortable.