“We slept on the summer porch last night. In the middle of the night one of those fast moving summer thunderstorms came up with a light show that no team of pyrotechnics could mimic. We had to roll the louvered windows in while the rain pounded swirled by the wind, accompanied by the crash of thunder and jagged shards of lightening. Nancy and I crouched together on her cot a bit frightened but it wasn’t like scared to death, it was like scared to wonder. After it passed we rolled out the windows welcoming the fresh ozone filled air into the room, listening to the drip of water off the roof and the sound of the frogs. We both knew in the morning the ditches would be filled with tadpoles as if it had rained frogs from the sky. I returned to my own cot, but neither of us were sleepy. It was then that Nancy asked me if I believed in God. I told her emphatically that I did not. We fought in whispers so we didn’t wake the rest of her family…what with every window open we very well could have. I don’t like to fight with Nancy, but I stood my ground. ” From Ellie Brown’s Diary, 1974
Clara had picked up the diary at random from the stack. Her mother would have been 14 in 1974. What she read and the maturity of her mother’s prose astonished her. Ellie’s faith had always been a rock that anchored Clara even though she had resisted embracing it, no she had rejected it. She remembered distinctly the last argument she had had with her mother about God, Ellie’s face when both of them ran out of words.
Ellie had paused, a small smile twisting her mouth, touched her daughter’s shoulder. Clara had stepped back, lifted her eyebrows and stared in disbelief. Having just point blank stated her absolute rejection of a personal God, of Christianity, of her mother’s Jesus fixation, she expected Ellie to be saddened, weepy, not well, what was it? Slightly amused, surely not. Ellie turned and walked away, leaving her daughter to stare at her retreating back. Just before she opened the door to her bedroom, she turned back to find her daughter still and staring.
“Clara, let’s have breakfast at Dilly’s in the morning, before you head back to school. OK?”
Clara had been unable to speak, so she nodded as she realized it was she who felt saddened as if somehow she had lost. It seemed as if her mother no longer saw any reason to save her self proclaimed agnostic daughter.
Suddenly she was very tired, but she reread the entry in her mother’s diary from August, 1974, ” It was then that Nancy asked me if I believed in God. I told her emphatically that I did not. We fought in whispers so we didn’t wake the rest of her family…what with every window open we very well could have. I don’t like to fight with Nancy, but I stood my ground.” Clara wondered how she could have missed knowing that there was a time when Ellie did not believe. Her mother never even hinted about it. Somehow it helped her understand her last battle over God with her mother, the amused expression when Clara expected exasperation.
She made a mental note to talk to Nancy to see if she remembered that night. Closing the diary, she rose and carried it with her into her old bedroom. It was then she noticed for the first time that Mandy had evidently come in while she was engrossed in reading and gone to bed without a word.
Delia sat at the small desk in their hotel room watching the regular rise and fall of Frank’s chest as he slept. As tired as she was the evening had left her with a thousand thoughts and feelings ping ponging around in her head. A cup of tepid tea sat next to her hand, she’d only had a few sips before leaving it to sit and grow cold. She fiddled a bit with the pen in her hand, stared at the opened journal’s almost blank page. She had managed to put the date at the top.
Journaling had been her Pastor’s idea, a way to keep prayer requests, prayer needs, blessings recorded. Delia knew his intentions were good, but she was not one to write things down. Years in the military and then in federal government that kept her security clearance high enforced in her a heightened mistrust of loose lips, loose pens, and in the later years before retirement of electronic communication. Coupled with her own tendency to be a private person, sharing little with anyone, she found her new faith particularly unsettling with its openness and emphasis on sharing oneself with others. Delia had observed in her Bible Study group, women talking about everything from losing a child to having an affair. Her closest friend in the church, Madge Blankenship came from a similar background, in fact she had worked for the CIA in the 1980s. Madge like Delia had accepted Jesus as her Savior in her sixties, but in doing so had or so it seemed to Delia shed her past like a snake sheds its skin. Not, Delia mused to herself that Madge was or had ever been a snake. Or if she had been it had been long ago.
Madge didn’t share secrets from her working history or much at all about that time, but she opened up quite easily about herself, her family issues, her frailties, deeply personal stuff that not only surprised Delia, but made her wonder about herself. No one in the group seemed to judge Madge or each other, but what if she opened up like that. Fear, she realized, kept her guarded. If the others sensed it, they did not pry.
Delia stared at the dated but empty sheet before her. The few pages she had written, she knew were as guarded as her conversations. Pastor had encouraged her to write from her heart, but even he did not know the depth of of her sin…only God knew that. Frank’s breakdown at the funeral home broke her heart in a thousand pieces…all those wasted years…all that time, she had kept him to herself, convinced him to build wall after wall between his daughter and himself. Delia despised Ellie from the first time she met her. Never did she see a motherless child needing love and nurturing. She saw a conniving rival.
She remembered one night clearly right before she convinced Frank to send her to his mother’s. Frank had urged Delia to come with him to tuck Ellie in. She stood back while Frank talked softly to his daughter, smoothed her hair back from her forehead kissing it gently.
“I love you, Ellie and Delia loves you, too.” Ellie’s eyes left her father’s face, meeting Delia’s. It was as if a charge of electricity passed between the two. Ellie’s eyes hardened against the coldness in Delia’s eyes. She looked back up at her father,
“No, she doesn’t.”
Delia wasn’t sure what Frank said to his daughter, because she turned and exited the room. Later, he found her standing in the kitchen, wrapped his arms around her and reassured her.
“She is just a child who hasn’t had her mom for a while. She knows you love her and she loves you in her own way.”
But Delia knew otherwise. She did not love Ellie. Children know. From that moment she began to drive a wedge between Ellie and Frank. Replaying the mental tape, she cringed, all those wasted years and now Ellie was gone. What a stupid vengeful woman she had been!
Suddenly the words poured out. She scribbled wildly on the page before her, so thankful for a forgiving God, but so needing to make amends, so needing to forgive herself.