– Monday Muse –
Dear One, this story as written in 2004 was told to me by my husband, Ron. ~ The day of my birth, in the spring of 1942, was not a happy occasion. I was a child who came too late. My grown brother and two sisters were all the family my mother wanted. I didn’t think Dad felt that way, but life was hard, and I wasn’t sure. Long ago, death claimed my parents, but not the memories.
I turned sixty-two today. And even after forty-years of marriage, sometimes my wife thinks that I’m still an ornery, old goat. But then she reminds herself that I didn’t grow up in a secure home, and she tries a bit harder to be patient with me. Saturday we celebrated my birthday with our kids, their spouses, my in-laws, and twelve grandkids with plenty of fried chicken, lemon meringue pie, my favorite, and a four layer cake to hold all the candles.
But life was different when I was a child in Lucas, Michigan, a quiet farming community which consisted of a one-room school house, a church, a potato house, and Fredrick’s general store. I made many bicycle trips between our house and the store never quite sure that Mom would be home when I returned. Mom disappeared for weeks or months at a time, usually to the Traverse City State Hospital. In those days adults didn’t explain psychological problems to children.
It was shortly after I turned eleven, when Mom was gone, that Dad disappeared. Even without the additional debt from frequent and sometimes lengthy hospital stays, financial responsibilities were a burden for my dad. Up until that day, he had done all he could to hold our family and small dairy farm together. I was still too young to understand that my dad’s emotional well had run dry, and that he would return once it was pumping life-supporting water again.
The day that Dad disappeared, I was told that I would stay with the Hamilton’s on the farm across the road until my grandma could come from downstate. Grandma quite often came to take care of me when Mom was gone, but Grandma blamed Dad for Mom’s problems; things were tense. Feeling alone wasn’t a new experience. I could handle loneliness, but being left alone was unbearable.
In my despair, I almost forgot that I still had Jack. Jack was my dog – a lively black and white collie. Well, he was only part collie, but he could herd cows like a purebred. Our farm was split by railroad tracks with the pasture on the north side and the crops on the south. The latch on one of the gates to the pasture was rickety and opening it was the most difficult part of getting the cows to the barn. But once I got the gate opened, Jack would bolt past the furthest of the thirteen cows and bring them in without a hitch. He worked those Holsteins like he was in a 4-H competition. We were pals. In good weather, when school was in session, I only rode the morning bus, because when the school day ended Jack would be waiting outside to walk me home.
On the day that Dad disappeared, just as we always had, Jack and I, in the late afternoon, headed out to fetch the cows. Another neighbor, Paul Bogart, said he’d help with the milking, morning and night. As I trudged the worn path, my skinny body seemed to weigh five-hundred pounds. I moved as slow as rust through the field toward the tracks. The warm sun was no comfort to me. With a heart heavy with the fear of abandonment, I inched down the lane simply overwhelmed. Many times Jack ran on ahead, and returned to me eagerly wagging his tail. Finally, I opened the first gate, and crossed the tracks to the second.
As I numbly struggled to drop the latch, it wouldn’t budge. I tried all my past tricks. It wouldn’t give in. It was too much. I gave up on the latch, gave up on everything, and fell face down in the trampled grass. While Jack nudged and whined, salty tears fell. I was alone, and like my dad, I couldn’t handle it.
In that lonely, desperate moment of clutching clumps of grass as though they would keep me from falling from earth, something amazing happened. A sense of deep calm engulfed me. As my grasp slowly released, something caught my eye. From the crook of my arm, I peeked toward the latch to make out an astonishing bright glow hovering over the gate. With it came hope, a wondrous hope. With an inner peace, like I had never known, I got to my feet, and moved toward the gate. The instant my hand touched the rusty latch, it fell open. I drew back the gate, and Jack lunged through.
As I watched Jack bark and circle, circle and bark, I thought of the picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, which hung in my Sunday school room. In the picture, Jesus was holding a lamb with children all around Him. On Sundays, whenever I looked at that picture, it made me think that Jesus cared about children. As Jack directed the cows through the gate, I realized that Jesus cared about me too. Jack didn’t know it, but I knew that Jack and I were not alone anymore. Jesus had come to help me. He loved me. Even me.
“I am the Good Shepherd and know my own sheep, and they know me,
just as my Father knows me and I know the Father;” John 10:14-15b Living Bible
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