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  • Mj Pettengill

Grateful to Be In It

EXCERPT

Evelyn Casey, Fall River, Lewis Hine Collection
Evelyn Casey, Fall River, Lewis Hine Collection

Sarah Hodgdon

September 5, 1872

Ossipee, New Hampshire

Over the years, memories of my mother’s funeral appeared in fragments, only to quickly vanish into limitless gray clouds. I questioned the substance of what was real and what was an illusion. The only possible comfort existed in my hushed inner world. From the time of Papa’s death, it was as if no time had passed. I slipped through that hidden door to the place where nothin’ else existed.

Through my tears, I was able to see that the sad and shadowy event of her death had brought the town folk together, somethin’ that a small community required from time to time in order to remain intact. It was my mother who taught me to find the lesson in everything, so for that, I was grateful.

If my sister and I had been unable to lean on each other, it would have been impossible to endure. Incapable of hearin’ Pastor Leighton’s words, and for once, able to ignore the clumsiness of his wife’s organ playin, I drifted into my inner sanctuary. Without real success, I tried to imagine my mother’s blackened remains—her ash-clad body—lyin’ in the coffin. Until she was returned to the earth, I simply could not begin to accept her fate.

I wasn’t bothered, but found it odd, that Weston Jones was overly attentive to my sister. However, it heightened my sorrow to witness the blatant show of affection between Silas Putnam and Jessie, the new girl in town. If it were true that Abigail was with child, he would have no choice but to share the blame and own his wickedness. If it weren’t a somber occasion and if there were room for it within the walls of our grief, I would have brought about a quarrel. But, Abigail promised that she would tell him of her news, and I took her for her word.

Followin’ a large gatherin’ at the Blake’s farm, Abigail drifted in and out of piecin’ together the events of the night and how it came to be that our mother was dead. Of course, she blamed herself. After all, she did sneak out to meet up with Silas, and if she had stayed at home, it wouldn’t have happened. However, I believed that it was no fault of hers, as she had such urgent news that needed sharin’.

It was I who was to blame. I had left Mother in despair, dismissin’ her screams with a gentle wave of the hand and continuin’ down the tracks as if she mattered not. If she were not in such a state, she would have had the mind to escape the fire.

Again and again, we went over the story and assured the other of our blame, dismissin’ the other’s claim. Just before daybreak, we finally surrendered to sleep. The nature of the circumstances provided me with a disturbin’ buzz of energy, promptin’ me to carry on. I knew that returnin’ to Fall River was of the utmost importance, but I found myself to be unstable and in helpless need of prayer.

Followin’ a full day and night of driftin’ between my sanctuary and into the bitter surroundin’s of where my mother was no more, I knew that it was not a time for idleness. Although the Blakes and Abigail urged me to stay longer, I dismissed their pleas. I saw no purpose in dwellin’ in a place of desertion and sorrow. It was my solemn duty to leave.

It was absurd to think that I could remember all that Mrs. Porter asked me to relay to her daughters, but I assured her that I would not forget a word. Bein’ tenderly attached, I found it in my best interest to refrain from lookin’ into my sister’s eyes. In addition to her gravely broken state from the fire, there was the woeful condition of her bein’ with child.

After a tearful goodbye and the rejection of any and all emotion, Moses took me to the train station, where I no longer feared gettin’ on the wrong train. I could travel anywhere, knowin’ that whatever transpired would work out. Much to my dismay, I was eager to board the train.

It was a bright day, the kind of day that typically reminded me of how grateful I was to be in it. The slight breeze was busy erasin’ earlier signs of the torrential rains that accompanied our tears when we buried our mother. When the sun warmed my face, I stopped a smile from risin’ up to my lips. Perhaps it was too soon to show anything but unrelentin’ grief.

I took notice of the green pastures tucked into the slopin’ mountainside. I was wise enough to pull my cape completely over my face before even a hint of the remains of our farmhouse came into view.

When it was safe, I looked towards the cemetery. “Moses, will you please stop?”

He pulled back on the reins, slowin’ down the cart. “At the cemetery?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I s’pose we could stop, but not for long. You have a train to catch.”

He drove the cart up the hill towards the fresh grave. I reached behind me and fetched my case.

“Whatcha’ got there?” he asked.

There was no need to answer when he saw my cornet. I blew into the mouthpiece to warm it up a bit.

“I won’t be long,” I said while hoppin’ down from the cart.

Undeterred by the risk of hurryin’ over the wildly uneven ground, I made my way past the poor people’s graves and over to where my parents were laid to rest. Drawin’ a deep breath was more difficult than anticipated. I realized that it may have been hopeless to play a note under such conditions. I was unable to move until I heard a faint rustlin’ comin’ from within the pine grove. I saw the vague silhouette of a woman. I gasped when she parted the branches. It was the old Indian woman who roamed about town. We held our gaze while my breathin’ slowed, and I gathered my senses. She gave a nod, and with my eyes closed, I played “Home Sweet Home.”

The first note was shaky, almost apologetic. I was sure that I would sink beneath it. I took another gulp of air, and with a much-divided heart, I played. I must confess that I had never played for such a vast and diverse audience—on both sides of the fence—it mattered not that they were, in fact, dead. I knew that Mother and Papa heard the sweetness of my notes as they spilled from the bell of my horn.

A shiny black crow ruffled its feathers and looked down from its perch—a long jagged branch—above where the old Indian woman stood just moments before. I strained to see her, but she was gone.

When I returned to the cart, Moses quickly turned away so that I would not see that he had shed a tear. The Angels' Lament Book Two Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series Mj Pettengill