It would be easy to accept this book as 'another adoption story' that is until you read it. From the first words the reader is caught up in the account, enthralled by not just the tale but the telling of it. Ms. Shiveley Welch's talent reveals the journey to love, her decision, her new and wonderful child and most of all her earnest desire and steadfast belief that everything would come to pass.
Debra gives an overview of the book:
So much of what we are depends upon who our mothers were as individuals and who they were with us. So much pain, or joy, sadness or happiness springs from the relationship we have with that singular person in our life – our mother.
Surrounded by his family, Bussy spent his last minutes on earth telling them goodbye. They knew that he would be leaving them soon and so pressed close to his bed, some taking his hand, some standing and weeping quietly. For a moment, it appeared as if Bussy had made his flight to heaven when he smiled and eyes stretched wide in wonder exclaimed, "I see children – I see beautiful children! Don't worry. She'll be all right! I'll be there! I'll take care of her!" Perplexed, his siblings bent forward in the hope of understanding their brother’s message, but Bussy was gone. Their dear, sweet brother, happy, musical, smiling Bussy… was gone. One of the people there was his 15-year-old sister Reva, my mother and your grandmother.
Losing Bussy was heartbreaking, but life had to go on. Cows must be milked, chickens fed, pigs tended to. Life on a farm was hard work, but within the completion of duties was the reward of healing. Watching the corn grow tall, seeing the animals flourish was its own medicine. Reva survived, and thrived, and in her young womanhood, she fell in love and married.
In the fullness of time, Reva found she was as fertile as the ground she helped her parents work. She had returned to the farm just days before, to share those special moments mothers and daughters look forward to when a new life is on the way. There were dresses to make, diapers to hem, bonnets to sew.
Reva had been feeling agitated all morning, and the simple task of preserving the fruits and vegetables that the farm produced, had not eased her restlessness. Removing her apron and flinging it over the back of a kitchen chair, she pushed open the screen and stepped out the back door of the summer kitchen. Pressing her hands against her back, she stretched and stood for a moment, eyes closed, enjoying the slight breeze that carried the smell of new mown hay. Shielding her eyes with her hand, she gazed passed the old oak tree whose ancient, spreading branches cast shade upon five mismatched metal rockers, their painted surfaces showing rust through the chips and nicks of last year’s coat of paint. Within a few hours, she would find herself seated there with her mother, sipping iced tea, and shelling peas or stringing beans or shucking corn for the evening supper.
Stretching beyond the tree was the kitchen garden, guarded by a simple barbed wire fence, which kept the pigs and cows from entering the enclosure. Adjoining was the pasture whose endless expanse undulated to the horizon, golden in the early afternoon sunlight. Crossing the garden, and locking the rear gate carefully, Reva walked passed the pigpen toward the spring, which not only supplied the house with water, but fed into a trough for the cattle as well. The cold, clean water bubbled in the large basin, adding a pleasant sound to the cacophony of birds, bees, and lowing cattle. There was a white enameled tin cup, which hung on the stump of a branch, placed there so that her father, known to everyone as Pawpaw, could refresh himself on hot summer afternoons after a hard day’s work in the fields.
The spring held a secret that Pawpaw thought was his alone, but wife and children had discovered it years ago. Deep within the recesses of the spring hung a bottle of whiskey, tied to a strong piece of bailing twine and kept cold by the subterranean water. Here Pawpaw would sit “of an evenin’” as the cows slowly made their way to the waiting security of the barn, and sip a “drap” of the amber liquid in celebration of another day’s work well done.
Reva came here often, when in need of privacy or comfort. The gurgling water, the distant sounds of farm animals, the twitter of birds, the smell of sun-warmed earth and clover, always brought her comfort. Today, however, would prove to be different.
She finished her descent to the naturally formed bowl, which held the spring, and sat upon the large, flat, sun-warmed rock where as a girl, she had spent so many hours thinking, planning and dreaming. Placing her hand upon her swelling belly, in an unconscious gesture of protection, she felt the kick of her six-month fetus. Tilting her face to the sun, she closed her eyes, softly humming “Baltimore Oriole,” an old Hogey Carmichael tune that her father loved to sing in his beautiful baritone.
Reva heard a fly buzz…irritating, invading. Eyes still closed, she swatted at the intruder, annoyed at the encroachment upon this special, peaceful moment. She felt the earth tilt. Quickly placing her hands on either side, and bracing herself, she opened her eyes and looked around the pasture. Nothing had changed. Birds continued to sing, bees buzzed and hummed a few feet away, cowbells clattered in the distance. Nothing had changed. She looked toward the sky as if for a sign…it was then that He came.
She did not know how she made it back to the large white farmhouse. All she could remember was that her mother was in the kitchen, where she always was when not in the garden, the barn, or barnyard. Tears coursing down her cheeks, Reva walked up to her mother, and laying her head upon her mother’s sturdy shoulder, she mourned: “My baby is going to die...”
It was November and the upstairs bedroom was icy cold. An impression of heat from the pot-bellied stove below wafted up the stairs; teasing the inhabitants with a promise of warmth should they descend the narrow, splintered staircase. A blue and white pitcher sat upon an ancient dresser, the water within it rimed with a thin skin of ice. In spite of the cold, Reva lay, bathed in sweat, writhing in the throes of flesh-tearing labor. The pain was excruciating, bone crushing, relentless. Gripping the vertical bars of the iron bed, she strained, sweat coursing down her temples, her forehead, running into her eyes, dripping from her chin. The sweat-soaked feather mattress beneath her was disarrayed, its feathers pushed aside by the thrashings of her tortured body. The baby would not come!
Nita died seconds after birth. Despairing of his patient’s life, the elderly country doctor was ill equipped and without the resources of a modern hospital to deliver the infant successfully. He had crushed her head in order to release her from the tortured body of her mother. The baby had been deformed, her enlarged head unable to break through the iron grip of her mother’s pelvis. Sobbing weakly, Reva held out her arms toward her child, as she watched a tiny hand slowly relax and still.
Reva had longed for this baby, had ached for it, her life centered on the birth of this child, who now lay at the foot of the bed, her tiny body motionless in death. All of the pain, the joy, the waiting, had come to nothing. Reva thought about Bussy’s prophecy and prayed that he had been referring to his newly born niece, and that her uncle in heaven would meet Nita. This was the only way she could bear her loss. The only way she could live through this death.
The following years were difficult. Sitting at bus stops, she would see a mother with a baby, and her arms would ache. Thrusting her hands beneath her armpits to imprison them, she would fight the urge to run and grab the bundle. She longed to hold it close to her heart, smell its sweet baby smell, and somehow assuage the tearing pain within her heart.
Stricken with grief, it was a while before Reva realized that she was once again pregnant. The timing was poor; her marriage was falling apart. Her husband had started drinking while in the Army during WWII. At first, it had not been too serious, but as the years passed, his drinking increased, until he seldom came home sober at night.
In spite of her marital problems, she was thankful, even ecstatic. She vowed that this pregnancy would not go wrong. This child would live no matter what! This child must live, and she would fix her eyes and heart on the birth of her baby.
Her pregnancy advanced without incident, until once again six months pregnant, she awoke in the middle of the night, to find her husband standing above her as she lay in bed. He was drunk, drunker than she had ever seen him. Weaving, barely able to stand, clothes dirty and awry, he had slurred, “This baby isn’t mine, you whore,” and collapsed onto the floor. She was devastated and got little sleep that night.
She arose early to make her husband’s breakfast. It always amazed her how he could awake with no hangover, no memory of the night before. She realized that he had not meant what he had said, but the words tore at her heart. She felt trapped. This was not the man she had married – not this drunk, this sloven.
Eddie had always been a sharp dresser. Witty, fun-loving, always ready for a laugh, he had won her heart one night, in the same back yard through which she would pass two years later to descend to the spring. He had arrived with her sister Roma’s future husband, Lee, and upon seeing her, had gone straight into a handspring, landing directly in front of her with a bow. He was magnificent! But the sights of WWII, the terrors of Mittelbau-Dora, the concentration camp in Nordhausen, Germany, D-Day and other battles, had damaged him for life. Slowly, slowly, his memories would erode his spirit, and he would drink until he fell into a stupor where he would not dream.
Reva thought of these things as she washed the breakfast dishes. She didn’t want to think, didn’t want to dwell on the disintegration of her marriage. It was a beautiful, if windy, day. Perhaps some exercise would help. It was a tragic decision. Dazed from lack of sleep, and still in her bedclothes, she decided to go to her back yard to rake and burn leaves. Her long robe lifted in the wind, a spark, a whoosh and she was a pillar of flame.
In a flash Reva remembered her paternal grandmother who had died by fire. She had been milking, and had accidentally overturned a lantern onto her skirt. Hysterical, she had run past a barrel full of rain.
Gritting her teeth against the unbelievable pain, Reva carefully walked to the back door of her landlady. Knocking, she asked the astounded woman who answered the door, to wrap her in a carpet. Pointing, Reva cried. “There, Doris, there! Your carpet!” Doris, fighting through her panic, grabbed the rug and rolled Reva in it. Her injuries were profound, some burns revealing bone.
Lying in her hospital room that first night, racked with pain, in labor and terribly frightened, Reva felt a stillness come over her room, as if all sound and movement had been suspended. She looked toward the night nurse, who was dozing in her chair, as though frozen in time. Turning her head to the left, Reva noticed a shaft of moonlight streaming through her window. The shaft of light shifted, moved, and shimmered. As she stared at the beam in wonder, thinking that she was hallucinating, Bussy stepped out of the light, his hand held out to her. Smiling, he approached her bed. Returning his smile, Reva’s heart lifted with happiness. Bussy was going to take her home, with her baby, and the pain would end. She and her baby would be together, with Bussy, forever. She extended her hand toward his, and their fingers touched. Still smiling, he said to her, "Don't worry, she'll be all right! I'll take care of her.”
Reva laid there, her hand extended to meet her brother’s, and felt a warmth rush through her body. Her pain abated, and the labor pains stopped immediately. She felt as if a moonbeam had wrapped around her and the light was penetrating every fiber of her being. Bussy continued to smile, backing away slowly, his arm still extended, until he disappeared into the shaft of moonlight. Slowly the beam ceased to shimmer, the light softly dissipated, and darkness filled the window. Reva said “Goodbye” to her brother a second time, once again with tears, but filled with gratitude that he had remembered his promise of ten years earlier.
Her pregnancy continued without further incident. The doctors and nurses were perplexed as to how this phenomenon had come about. Worriedly, her doctor fussed around her, positive that this turn of events foretold coming tragedy, and his young patient would again lose a child. Despite his fears, I was born three months later with all my fingers and toes, and only a shock of gray hair to bear witness to my ordeal. It was December 2, 1952. Your mother was here.