Some Wildflower In My Heart, страница 1
Jamie Langston Turner
Some Wildflower in My Heart
A Garden to Keep
No Dark Valley
Sometimes a Light Surprises
By the Light of a Thousand Stars
Some Wildflower in My Heart
Jamie Langston Turner
© 1998 by Jamie Langston Turner
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
The poem “Gifts from the Wildwood” by Archibald Rutledge was taken from the book Deep River and used by permission from the publisher: R.L. Bryan Company.
Cover design by the Lookout Design, Inc.
For my parents
James Tyndall Langston
Carolyn Louise Thomas Langston
who planted and watered my garden
with faith, hope, and love.
The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure,
the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in its season,
and to bless all the work of thine hand.
Jamie Langston Turner, author of seven novels and winner of two Christy Awards, has been a teacher for thirty-eight years. Currently a professor of creative writing at Bob Jones University, she lives with her husband in Greenville, South Carolina.
Books by Jamie Langston Turner
About the Author
Something From Oak & Pine
1. Secret Chambers
2. Weak and Beggarly Elements
3. A Continual Dropping
4. A Shadow of Things to Come
5. Tutors and Governors
6. The Voice of Doves
7. A Tinkling Cymbal
8. A Live Coal
9. Night Season
10. The Fragments That Remain
To Be Forever Mine
11. The Handwriting of Ordinances
12. A Solemn Sound
13. No Pleasant Bread
14. Every Evil Work
15. A Far Country
16. An Expected End
17. Deepness of Earth
18. A Time Appointed
19. Everlasting Covenant
20. A More Excellent Way
When From These Woods I Part
21. A Little Oil in a Cruse
22. A Table in the Wilderness
23. A Watered Garden
24. Sweet Incense for the Holy Place
25. An Enduring Substance
26. Sure Mercies
27. Every Fenced City
28. Repairer of the Breach
29. A Could of Witnesses
30. Joy in the Presence of Angels
Something From Oak & Pine
I first saw Birdie Freeman at a funeral one hard winter day more than a year ago, but I did not meet her then. When she arrived in my life some months later, I had not the vaguest notion that I would one day write a book about her. Had someone suggested such a thing, I would have dismissed him as a fool.
Had I known that Birdie Freeman was to bring into my life drastic changes, I would have fled to a distant land. But I did not know. How misleading were her plainness and smallness, her quick smile and ready touch. When my eyes first lighted upon her face that January day, I could not begin to know the wrenching pain I was to undergo because of her.
“Love sought is good but given unsought is better.” Thus says Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Mine is a story of love unsought.
My passion is reading. I am haunted by phrases from things I have read and by things I have seen and done as well, though I prefer by far the haunting from things I have read. Many years ago I read a story by a German author named Heinrich Böll that began with the words “One of the strangest interludes in my life.” I do not recall the particulars of the story from which I extracted this single, rather unremarkable phrase, but I have kept it these many years as a memento of the story and have thought of it upon several occasions, for I have had many strange interludes in my life.
Yesterday, while I was in my office cubicle in the cafeteria at Emma Weldy Elementary School, clearing off the top of my desk for the much-anticipated summer hiatus, it came to me that the phrase was a fitting summary of the past nine months. Indeed, it was one of the strangest interludes in my life, perhaps the strangest, and I must now take the summer before me to sort it out, to write it down as it comes to me. It is a story that demands a spare, straightforward telling, yet it cannot be rushed.
I am a great keeper of secrets and have many to keep, but the time is right for the sharing of them. I have no doubt that I can tell my story in such a way that will catch a publisher’s eye. I feel prepared for my mission, as if my whole life of reading has been aimed toward this summer of writing. The fact that I am fifty-one and writing something of this magnitude for the first time does not give me pause except for a brief, encouraging reflection that many fine works of literature have been composed by writers much older than I. If it is true, as they say, that a man must walk through darkness before he can become a writer, then I am well qualified.
Perhaps I shall someday offer my finished manuscript to my husband, Thomas, who will likely stare at it in bewilderment—so many words!—before attempting to read it. Though he respects the written word highly, the spoken word via television is more to his liking. Indeed, it has been many years since Thomas has read the complete text of any work, excluding our local newspaper, which some imaginative soul in the early days of the township titled the Filbert Nutshell, a witticism that is lost upon the present generation, most of whom know only the peanut.
My thoughts are at sixes and sevens. Such is not usually the case. I made the decision yesterday upon arriving home from school that this summer I would undertake to write the story of the past nine months, and last night I purchased ten red spiral-bound notebooks at K Mart for this purpose. I find now, however, that writing a book requires a far greater leap than I had supposed, for I have no provocative opening.
From my many years of reading, I know that there are questions to be answered when one enters a story. A reader wants a speedy orientation as to the main character, conflict, and setting.
I shall therefore plunge in. The main character of my story is Birdie Freeman, a gentle and beautiful woman. I am not Birdie Freeman. I am Margaret Bryce Tuttle, and I am telling the story. The conflict, I suppose, occurs between Birdie and me, although the collision is one of will and philosophy more than of literal combat. You, the reader, must care about Birdie because what you conclude about her may very well change your life as it
You no doubt will object to the setting, for you already hear my voice, and it is not the voice of a native southerner. You are accustomed to drawls and affected twangs in southern literature, to gangling, loose-jointed sentences and quaint colloquialisms. An immigrant to the South from northern and midwestern cities, I do not speak in such a manner. Though I have grown to love the melody and pulse of the speech around me, I do not mimic it.
The truth is that for most of my adult life I have spoken aloud as infrequently as possible, although I have always possessed what my mother once called “a rich, voluble inner dialogue.” When I was twelve, my mother described my speech patterns as one part King James, one part William Shakespeare, one part Jane Austen, and one part Theodore Geisel, whose rhythmic cadences entranced me as a child and who was to become increasingly popular over my lifetime as a writer of versified children’s stories under his pseudonym, Dr. Seuss.
But I must not stray from my purpose. Mine is truly a southern story through and through. Birdie Freeman is a southern woman, and Filbert is a southern town. As I said, I first saw Birdie Freeman at a funeral. It occurs to me now that the funeral may serve well as an entry into my story.
Though I have no living blood relations of whom I am aware, my husband, Thomas, has an intricate genealogy, and it was his elderly uncle Mayfield Spalding who bore the misfortune of dying on New Year’s Day a year and a half ago. It was Thomas, in fact, who found his uncle collapsed on the floor of his bathroom on New Year’s Eve and who called to tell Mayfield’s only daughter, Joan, and Joan’s three brothers that their father had suffered a severe stroke and was not expected to live. He did, in fact, die in the early hours of the next morning. Joan lives in Berea, only ten miles away, yet she had not spoken to her father for over six years and had been at odds with him for most of her life. Her brothers, grown men now, live in various locations of the Southeast.
Joan and her brothers asked Thomas to arrange the funeral since he lived in Filbert and, unlike the rest of the family, had always been on speaking terms with Mayfield. The arrangements proved easy enough, for on top of his uncle’s desk, Thomas found a typed sheet of instructions with the heading My Funeral, signed and dated a few months earlier.
It was clear that death had not taken Mayfield Spalding unawares. Indeed, he seemed to have been expecting its arrival. He had purchased a burial plot eight years ago at the cemetery located halfway between Derby and Filbert, a large green acreage known as Shepherd’s Valley, though it is no valley at all but rather a flat, level expanse with a grassy knoll at the entrance. We further discovered that in December, only four weeks before his death, Mayfield had driven to the Mortland Funeral Home in Derby and chosen his casket, an excursion that could hardly stimulate one’s holiday spirit, although it had not appeared that Mayfield was more melancholy than usual that Christmas. He had prepaid all expenses, including what is referred to as the “family wreath” to adorn the top of the casket.
Listed first on the typed instructions, which were numbered from one to twenty-three, was Call Brother Theodore Hawthorne at the Church of the Open Door in Derby. Thomas did so immediately, and Mr. Hawthorne drove over from Derby to pay a consolation call. I told Thomas I would not be present under the same roof with a preacher, and for the first time in his life, he said to me quite sternly, “Margaret, you got to put all that baggage behind you for now and think about Uncle Mayfield.” I was so astounded by both his tone and his remark that I did not answer, and when Mr. Hawthorne arrived twenty minutes later, I was present.
I watched the preacher shake Thomas’s hand at the door and then approach me with a look of sympathy. I was sitting in my rocking chair, where I had been reading the last chapter of a book titled Beloved by Toni Morrison, an eerie story in which the ghost of a dead baby girl comes back as a young woman to live with her mother. I did not rise or extend my hand for shaking, and Mr. Hawthorne was not the pressuring, grinning kind, for which I was grateful. He spoke to me briefly, saying, “I’m sorry about your husband’s uncle, Mrs. Tuttle,” and I replied with a nod.
Theodore Hawthorne was not a tall man, perhaps five feet seven. Thomas showed him Mayfield’s sheet of instructions, and the two of them sat down on the sofa to talk. They were a study in contrasts: Thomas, seventy years old, tall and straight-haired, dressed in paint-stained overalls, and the young preacher, small and curly-haired, wearing a very white, very starched shirt, dark trousers, and a deep maroon paisley necktie. As they talked, Mr. Hawthorne wrote on a note pad. He stayed only fifteen minutes, during which time I pretended to read. As he took his leave, he apologized for his haste, informing us that he was to officiate at a wedding that afternoon and would contact Thomas the next day.
On the following Monday evening, Thomas felt that he should be in attendance during the entire three-hour visitation at the funeral home and again during the painfully long funeral ceremony on Tuesday. Since Mayfield’s family had rejected him in his lifetime, Thomas feared that they would not be gracious enough to rise above their grudges and rally around their father in his death. I suppose he saw himself in the role of mediator, though the dead hardly need a representative. As it turned out, Mayfield’s children were all present and behaved themselves with reasonable decorum.
Both the viewing on Monday and the funeral on Tuesday took place at Mortland Funeral Home on Holcombe Avenue in Derby. I doubt that anyone else in Filbert or Derby realizes the irony of a funeral home bearing the name of Mortland, the root of which is the Latin mors, meaning death. The owners and operators of the funeral home for the past three decades have been the Haskins brothers. I do not know who originally named it Mortland, but perhaps it was the same wag who named our local newspaper the Filbert Nutshell.
I was present only during the first five minutes of the viewing. Thomas had driven over earlier in his truck, but I waited until precisely five o’clock and then walked into the viewing parlor, as they call it. I stopped about eight feet from Mayfield’s casket, an inexpensive gray model that he himself had selected, and seeing Mayfield’s gaunt, waxy face clearly enough from my vantage, I had no desire to move nearer. I caught Thomas’s eye momentarily, then left and drove back home, where I spent the rest of the evening reading.
By now I had started Bailey’s Cafe by Gloria Naylor and was deeply moved that night when I read the story of Sadie and Iceman Jones. After one of my cafeteria workers at school, Algeria, had declared in my hearing—for my benefit largely—that white people had no idea what black people were “forced to go through,” I had set out to read all I could about what is referred to as “the African-American experience.” After I finished Bailey’s Cafe, I sat in my rocker and considered writing to Gloria Naylor and telling her another story to include in her next book. I would not tell her that I was a white woman and that the story of sorrow was my own. But I am getting ahead of myself. And I did admire the book, you must understand that.
The funeral on Tuesday was “something else,” to borrow the words of Francine, another one of my cafeteria workers. Whatever deviates in the smallest degree from the ordinary is, in Francine’s way of thinking, “something else.” The service was set for three o’clock, a convenient time for me since my lunchroom duties are finished by then.
For several years before his death, Mayfield had been attending a so-called “independent” church over in Derby—the Church of the Open Door—pastored by Mr. Hawthorne. During that time Mayfield had often attempted to proselytize Thomas and me, but without success. I had seen firsthand the dark underside of religion as a teenager, and even now I feel a churning of physical revulsion at the memory of certain phrases repeatedly intoned by my grandfather—“he that refraineth his lips is wise” being among those I heard most often. But I was a child. How could I have known the emptiness of my grandfather’s implied threats? By se
The reader must forgive me for wandering. I shall tighten the reins. It surprises me to find that in the telling of my tale, my thoughts, which are usually quite orderly, run to and fro as the eyes of the Lord. Strangely, that verse from the Old Testament Chronicles was not among those that my grandfather quoted to me, though he would have done well for his own sake, and surely for mine, to do so. But again I digress from my course. I am not being deliberately cryptic. Everything will be set forth in its time. Should I succeed someday in getting my manuscript published, perhaps an editor will repair the disarray of thought.
The funeral chapel was crowded. I must admit my surprise at seeing so many in attendance, for Mayfield was not known as a genial, popular man. Before his religious transformation five years ago, he had endured many personal failures, the most devastating of which had occurred more than thirty years earlier when his young wife had taken her own life after having given birth to twin boys, thus leaving him a middle-aged man with a four-year-old daughter, a two-year-old son, and infant twin sons. Grief had stamped its indelible mark upon the face of Mayfield Spalding long before I had met him. Even when he had tried to evangelize Thomas and me in recent years, reciting the numerous rewards of being “born again,” his jowls and eyes sagged mournfully. It was always a marvel to me that so thin a man could have jowls.
My initial response was that perhaps it was his sad history that drew people to his funeral, as a final act of human sympathy for one so beset by misery. Once the funeral was underway, however, an unknowing observer would have deduced that Mayfield’s life had been on an entirely different order, for the spirit of the service can be described only as abundantly joyous.
There were a number of testimonials from church members vouching for Mayfield’s integrity and generosity—I heard his daughter, Joan, snort softly at the word generous—his love of truth and righteousness, his faithfulness, and his assurance of a “royal palace up in glory,” as one elderly woman described it. This large and homely woman, who introduced herself as Eldeen Rafferty, had all the hallmarks of a raconteur. She warmed up the audience with a story of Mayfield’s anonymous donation of one thousand dollars to her family several years earlier at the death of her son-in-law and told, quite humorously, of the method by which she had divined his identity. When she had gone to Mayfield privately to confront him with the fact and to thank him for his gift, he had answered gruffly, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these” and had walked away.