Solid Foundations

By
It’s been so many years, so long since I’ve been part of a family. To think, I touched so many people, or that I was such an intricate part of someone’s life is really something special. As I sit here, thinking of all the families who I was a part of, I remember what it felt like to have them be part of me.

I recall the day I met my first family. It was a bright April morning and the cherry blossoms had just reached full bloom. The sun was glistening through my stained glass windows, and a new coat of white paint covered the windowsills, upon which mockingbirds perched, mellifluously singing their delightful morning songs. The painters had been working diligently to ensure I was in perfect condition for the arrival of the family. I was buffed, polished, sanded, stapled, and painted from sunrise until sunset. The glow of the morning sun reflected off of my fresh coat of midnight blue paint atop my wooden siding. Daffodils had been planted in the two, rectangular wooden flowerpots that lay at the top of the stairs, painted white to match the windows. When their work was completed I remember the painters remarking, “Perfect, what a beauty.” Yes, I was quite something back in those days…..

The year was 1900, and I recall hearing talk of a brand new family coming into town. The McDaniels were a wealthy family moving west because Mr. McDaniel had decided to extend his lumber business, McDaniel and McDaniel’s Lumber Company. They had just given birth to a new baby girl, Ruth, and Mrs. McDaniel, or should I say Virginia, had carried her in tucked under a light pink, woolen blanket. The McDaniels were one of the first families around to have a car, although back then they called them automobiles. They were the talk of the town. Apparently they had arranged to have me built for them, wiring their design ideas through telegrams- although, no one ever told me there was already an owner; I was kind of hoping to pick one out myself. Houses do that, you know, we have a certain way of turning our charm on and off. Have you ever heard of wallpaper “accidentally” peeling off, or the basement “suddenly” flooding with water because the pipe just “happened” to be leaking? You didn’t really think these were unfortunate mishaps, did you? Anyway, I couldn’t complain about the McDaniels, I mean, after all, I was created in their own image and likeness- the same way God creates all people, as it says in the Bible. Funny I should mention God, it seemed the McDaniels had a complete disregard for religion altogether. It was kind of odd, them being from the South and all, that they behaved the way they did, but I’ll get to that later. So the McDaniels moved in on that April morning, finding nothing more than their dream home.
****

That little Ruth grew to be quite the young lady. She was bright, attractive and witty, her long, chestnut hair extending just past her waist. Her mother insisted she wore it up as all young ladies should. “Your hair is your crowning glory,” Mrs. McDaniel would say. Ruth had all the lessons wealthy girls did back in those days- etiquette and poise classes, piano lessons, ballet lessons, and so on. I remember many a day Ruth would walk through the halls attempting to balance a book on her head. “A girl is not born a lady, she must become a lady,” Mrs. McDaniel would tell her daughter, who was too busy trying not to stumble, to hear.

“Oh, Mother,” she’d say, “you’re so old fashioned. Nobody balances books on their heads anymore.” If anyone ever criticized Mrs. McDaniel, she would blow a gasket. Of course, she was trained to hold her temper in front of company, but when it was just she and her daughter, she spoke her mind in that manipulative voice of hers.

“I’m the Mother and you’re the daughter, and as long as you live under my roof you’ll do as I say.” A frown would appear across Ruth’s face, as she slumped in defeat. “Now, chin up, dear, chin up. It’s no wonder you can barely balance that book, what with wearing that hubble skirt and all.”

“Hobble skirt, Mother, hobble skirt. It’s the latest thing. All the women are
wearing it,” Ruth corrected her, gazing at her skirt in pride and admiration, “It’s all the rage in Europe, you know.” Her blue eyes met her mother’s as she put her in her place.

“Enough talk of Europe! Concentrate on what you’re doing, Ruth. It’s slipping dear, it’s slipping.” Around this time there was a war going on over in Europe. They called it “The Great War.” Well, Mr. McDaniel, like many other men in our area, volunteered to join the army. Naturally, it was expected of him, as he came from a family of war heroes. I remember him telling stories of how his father valiantly served in both the Civil War and Spanish American War. He saved an entire troop of men from a Yankee bomb single-handedly by firing the canon himself. His great-great grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War and received special recognition for saving twenty wounded men while under British gunfire. His father’s Congressional Medal of Honor hung on the maroon living room wall, just above the mantle, beside the family portraits and an oil painting of Mrs. McDaniel. Every time the family lit the new electric lights we had installed, the medal would proudly shine, reminding us of Mr. McDaniel’s tour in Europe. Prior to Mr. McDaniel’s departure, I was heated and lit with gas, but, like all wealthy folk in town, Mrs. McDaniel insisted we install that new electrical wiring everyone was talking about. Anyway, every time Europe was mentioned, Mrs. McDaniel grew angry. She puffed out her chest and pulled back her shoulders, her eyebrows drawing inward revealing two, ice cold, pale, blue eyes. She’d bark, “Enough talk of Europe,” and then heavily yet slowly exhale as to get a hold of herself. I often wondered why she reacted as she did- most women would softly daydream of their loves when Europe was mentioned, thinking of how admirable and brave they were, but not Mrs. McDaniel. I thought about this for a while, until one day I had discovered that when Europe was mentioned, she reacted not out of a longing for her husband, but out of guilt for what she had done.
****

In about November of that year I learned that the McDaniels were not as respectable a family as everyone had thought. During the war, most women wouldn’t dare look at another man too long, fearing romantic sparks could fly without their husbands there to tie them down. It was expected that the women in town be religious; every Sunday morning they dressed in their finest clothes to attend nine a.m. mass. However, Mrs. McDaniel was quite different- to every rule there is an exception. I can still recall hearing that man’s voice resonate off my walls- it was strange and unfamiliar. I could sense in his tone that he knew what he was doing was wrong. I’d never heard Mrs. McDaniel laugh so loudly in years- she almost sounded as if she were her daughter’s age. This strange man drew her close, brushed back her hair from her face- her hair was down, for once, in front of a stranger, which she usually felt improper. He stroked her in a way that made them seem a bit more than friends. She giggled and threw her head back, gently swaying her long, dark hair. “Virginia, oh, Virginia,” the man said in a soft, soothing tone. I hadn’t heard Mrs. McDaniel called Virginia since Mr. McDaniel left for the war.

“Oh, William,” she sighed. Something wasn’t right; I could feel it deep within my wooden frame. I knew Mr. McDaniel would not be happy if he found out. Mrs. McDaniel was such a fake- she was no fervent church go-er.

Then, suddenly, I heard the front door swing open and slam shut. Quickly, Mrs. McDaniel and that strange man, William, rushed to get dressed and make the bed. She squeezed into her corset as he fastened each notch, kissing her up her back. “Stop it, hunny,” she laughed, “Be quiet, I think someone’s coming upstairs.” They felt the ground shake as pounding footsteps flew up the stairs and ran to Mrs. McDaniel’s room. In the doorway stood Ruth, gasping at the sight of her middle-aged mother intimately being hugged by a man that was most certainly not her father.

“Uh… Ruth, hunny, we were… uh …. just…,” said Mrs. McDaniel, scrambling to maintain her dignity. She brushed through her matted hair with her fingers, attempting to calm the wild storm that had blown through it.

“I am your father’s business associate,” William quickly asserted, covering for Mrs. McDaniel, “We were just… discussing some of our lumber prospects for this coming winter.” He tried to act nonchalant, but his eyes darted back and forth, revealing that he was telling a lie.

“Don’t play the fool with me, I know exactly what you two are doing!!! How can you do this to Father? To me?” Ruth’s face began turning red, her sapphire irises sinking in the depths of her round eyes. Her posture shrunk, but somehow, Mrs. McDaniel failed to notice. Ruth’s face distraught, she stared at her mother in utter disbelief.

“Well,” replied Mrs. McDaniel softly, “we were hoping… he would not find out.” Her face appeared as though she’d thought of no other explanation; she was speechless, a first for a woman who always had something to say.

“I can’t believe you are doing this!” cried Ruth, tears beginning to stream from her eyes. “How long has this been going on?” She winced as voice cracked at the mere suggestion that her mother had been an adulteress.

“Well, hunny… it’s been… quite some time now….,” responded Mrs. McDaniel timidly. Her eyes shifted back and forth, thinking of what to say next.

“Mother, I’m ashamed of you, of our entire family. What will the town think of me now, the daughter of an adulteress, and with Father so bravely serving in the war? Oh, Mother,” her words started breaking off now between sobs, “how could you do this to us?” Her face was a giant mess of tears, nearly every inch of it was soaked in the salty liquid. Ruth stormed out of the room and, once again, pounded down the stairs. She grabbed the oil painting of Mrs. McDaniel and threw it in the fireplace, as she fell to the floor, overcome with emotion. The blazing flames reflected in her teary eyes as she watched her mother’s face slowly burned with the intensity of the rage she held inside her. “I hate you, Mother, I hate you,” she snarled under her breath, watching the fire swallow up the prized painting, “and I’m going to make you pay.”

Meanwhile, upstairs, Mrs. McDaniel was regretting ever starting an affair. “Virginia, don’t worry, really, I’m sure she’ll cool down…. Everything will be fine,” assured William, stroking her back; he seemed resilient to everything, as if he wasn’t disturbed by Ruth’s breakdown.

“I… can’t believe… what I’ve… done,” said Mrs. McDaniel, dismayed and shameful. She seemed so defeated, which, for her was unusual; she was always strong and demanding, barking orders left and right. William began rubbing her shoulders, “Hun-ny…”

“No-,” Mrs. McDaniel exclaimed as she pulled away from him in disgust, “This MUST end. I’m sorry, but we never should have started this. I don’t know what I was thinking. You have to leave,” she said, building up strength. She was beginning to sound like her old self again, “Get out. I don’t ever want to see your face again.” William stood there, stunned at Mrs. McDaniel’s transition in character. Her eyes suddenly bugged out of her head with her thick, black eyelashes curling upward, “That’s right, good bye and good riddens.” He stood there in, still, shocked with his mouth slightly open. “Go!” she demanded, throwing her arm in the direction of the door, “leave town for all I care. We are done!” And with that, that outsider, William, slumped down the stairs, his head in a fog, and went out the door, not saying a single word and or looking back.
****

The next couple of days were tense between Mrs. McDaniel and her daughter. They had just received word that Mr. McDaniel was wounded in battle and recovering in a French Army hospital. Both mother and daughter were worried about him, and worried about dealing with each other. Whenever Mrs. McDaniel entered the room, Ruth would stare at her in distaste and storm out. She refused to speak to her and often ran off to her boyfriend’s house. Ruth had been dating Tom for some time now. Many days he would ring the buzzer, anxiously waiting for Ruth to answer so they could go out to a restaurant or to see another one of those moving pictures that were the talk of the town. He seemed like a nice fellow, always bringing her flowers and chocolates. Sometimes they’d sit on my porch swing for hours talking about their love for one another. Mrs. McDaniel would always say, “They’re so foolish at that age, how can they possibly know they’re in love?” But they did. I’d see them fawning over each other from morning to night. He’d kiss her affectionately on the cheek as she melted into his arms. Who knew Mrs. McDaniel would use Tom as the hook to get her daughter back?
****

Finally one day, Mrs. McDaniel became exasperated with living in silence. She just wanted to talk to her daughter again, hear her voice, see her smile, and she knew the only way to do that was to suck up to her, cater to her needs. That morning when Ruth walked into the kitchen, and then turned around to leave at the sight of her mother, Mrs. McDaniel took the risk she had been dying to take. “Ruth- wait…,” she said desperately; her eyes stared off at the sight of her beloved daughter.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not speaking to you EVER AGAIN,” yelled Ruth storming off, her arms folded defiantly.

“Hunny, I just want to talk to you,” responded Mrs. McDaniel softly, following her; she was a woman determined.

“No, leave me alone,” her daughter huffed; she was so mad, you could almost see smoke coming out of her ears.

“But Ruth, I’m your Mother,” Mrs. McDaniel pleaded, her eyes glassy as she stared at her daughter in despondency.

“What kind of mother does a thing like you did?” cried Ruth, her anger beginning to die down; the wall she had put up cracked, “I can’t bear to look at you…” she said as tears filled her eyes, “… to know what you’ve done.” She started breaking down, “You’ve not only brought shame to me and Father, but you’ve shamed yourself. I can’t bear to hold my head up in public- look at you, you’re disgusting.” Ruth began sobbing, covering her face with her hands and slumping her posture, “I can’t be around you anymore…,” her voice broke off, “I’m- sorry.”

“Oh Ruth, dear,” said Mrs. McDaniel fleeing to her daughter’s assistance, throwing he arms around her. She was just happy to hear her daughter’s sweet voice.

“No Mother, no,” Ruth asserted pushing her mother away. “I can’t do this anymore. Tonight,” she paused in the suspense of the moment, “I’m moving into Tom’s house.”

“Wha….what?” said a dejected Mrs. McDaniel, startled; she was caught completely off guard, “but you two aren’t mar-”

“Yes, I know we’re not married yet,” Ruth cut in, “but he’s asked me to marry him and I’ve accepted.”

“Without even asking your father’s permission, and sneaking behind my back,” Mrs. McDaniel was trying to win back her daughter but sometimes she just couldn’t hold her tongue. Her brows drew inward at the notion that her daughter hadn’t properly arranged a marriage- a true gentlemen always asked the lady’s parents if he could have their daughter’s hand, before proposing.

“It’s for the best, Mother, really,” Ruth replied, drying her tear-stained cheeks, “You have to understand.” And that was it; that was Mrs. McDaniel’s hook, her way to get her daughter back; it was as though Ruth was a fish, her situation with Tom, the bait, and her desperation, the hook.

A newfound air of confidence swept over Mrs. McDaniel, “Alright,” she responded with that manipulative sparkle in her eye, “but Ruth, if you two are to be married, why don’t you live in our house?”

“Moth-er I already told you-“

“No, I mean, Father and I move out and you two live here, alone.” A smile appeared across Mrs. McDaniel’s face, her eyes gleaming, as she became sure she had won her daughter back this time.

“Oh….I never thought of it…like that,” responded Ruth, deep in thought. It appeared she’d really been fooled by her mother; the fish had taken to the bait.

“Oh, yes dear. You know, Father will need time to heal, after that injury and all, so living in this big old house won’t do us any good anyway.” I knew she was trying to persuade Ruth, but she didn’t have to bring me into it- I was hardly eighteen years old at the time!

“Hmmm……,” Ruth said to herself, beginning to fall under her mother’s spell, “I’ve always loved this home- I’ve lived here all my life. And it’s true; Father will have a difficult time getting up all those stairs. I wonder what Tom would say…”

“Why don’t you ask him?” Mrs. McDaniel butted in.

“Mother, I think this is a lovely idea. I’ll take the house, on one condition,” Ruth was young, but she wasn’t nieve; she had a bit of her mother in her. You know what they say, “like mother like daughter.”

“You and Father leave town,” continued Ruth, “I don’t want Father finding out what you’ve done from other people, and I certainly don’t want to see you.” Just as Mrs. McDaniel had thought she’d outsmarted her daughter, it seemed her daughter had won. Ruth had her mother all figured out, and she wasn’t going to let her control her life anymore. As surprised and as bothered by this idea as she was, Mrs. McDaniel agreed. At least her daughter would be happy, even if it meant she’d be miserable for the rest of her life.
****

For a couple of years, visits from an aging Mr. and Mrs. McDaniel were sufficiently awkward, to say the least. Mr. McDaniel had suffered a permanent limp that especially acted up when he came here. Mrs. McDaniel had succumbed to living a miserable existence. I can still feel their slow, heavy feet coming up my front steps and scuffling against the tiny grains of dirt on my porch. During these few years, Ruth hadn’t exactly held true to her word. She used her mother for everything, demanding she do whatever she asked. She knew she had her mother wrapped around her fingers, and each time she called on her, Mrs. McDaniel, desperate to get back the daughter she once had, would give in.

Tom and Ruth had become quite popular in the area. They hosted lavish parties that lasted through all hours of the night. I can still hear that old jazz music blasting from the victrola. I saw all kinds of people- flappers, musicians, blues singers and bootleggers- in fact, Tom was a bootlegger himself. This was during prohibition, a time when alcohol was illegal, and Tom found his job to be risky but lucrative. The played the stock market, as well, to increase their already enormous fortune, and invested all their money in the bank, as Mr. McDaniel had taught them. “It’s only right to play it safe,” he’d say. Mr. McDaniel had been saying that ever since he came back from the war- he really became miserly and dry after his arrival home. While running to get more ammunition from a neighboring trench, Mr. McDaniel had received a blow to his right knee. He hadn’t looked to see if the enemy had aimed their weapons towards them- he simply ran. However, his run sparked an all out attack from the enemy troops, costing many innocent Allied men their lives. He sort of felt the injury took everything away from him that made him who he was, and that it was a reminder of the deaths he caused. He couldn’t do any heavy lifting or play any sports; he felt less of a man. When you looked in his face there was nothing- a mere ghost took the place of a man who was haunted by memories of his past, and his limp was a constant reminder of the terrible thing he had done. It wasn’t until many years after the war that he actually told his family of what had happened on that battlefield. I guess he was too ashamed to admit that he, like his wife, had made a huge mistake.

I don’t think Mrs. McDaniel had ever told her husband of her affair, but from the
look of it, she was miserable in keeping the secret. All the life was taken out of her; her
face looked blank and worn, her eyes sagging with dark, heavy bags underneath. Gray streaks were beginning to grow amidst her black, wiry hair. Traces of the powerful and potent woman she had once been had vanished; she had succumbed to the wrath of her scheming daughter, and the power of the guilt she had hidden inside her.

Ruth really ran the show, whether it be with her husband or her parents. She knew exactly how to push Tom’s buttons, and how to win him over. “Oh Tom, dear,” she’d say, with the same manipulative sparkle in her eyes that her mother once had, “would you mind running into town for me. I’m just dying for one of those vanilla ice creams.”

“Ruth, hunny,” Tom would reply, completely blind to the fact that his wife was taking advantage of him, “I think the ice cream is going to melt.” Tom was a truly innocent guy. Everything he said was outright honest and thoughtful. It was very strange that he was a bootlegger- you’d think he’d be tough and cruel- but he was really a soft-hearted man, and bootlegging was just business to him. He was respectful of women, and head over heals for his wife. It almost seemed as if Ruth had him cast under a spell; he catered to her every need without a single complaint. The look in his childlike, brown eyes revealed everything- Tom was just a sweet, faithful husband that wanted the best for his family.

“Nonsense Tom, you’ll take the car,” she barked back, “and besides, it’d make me really happy……” A catlike smile would stretch across her face. She’d flip back her newly bobbed hair, her pale blue eyes, just like her mother’s, frozen with an icy cold shimmer.

“Alright hunny, if you insist,” he’d submit, walking over to the lounge chair, which she was sprawled across,” you know I love you.”

“And I love you,” she’d squeal, affectionately kissing his cheek, wrapping her arms around him.

So this is the way things went for a while. Wild parties filled with endless dancing and laughing, family and friends spoiling Ruth, just to win her affection. Yes, this is how it went for a while, until October 28, 1929.
****

Black Monday, it was later called; the newspaper headlines read that the stock market had collapsed. Banks closed, crowds of people gathered on streets, banging on the windows to claim the money that was rightfully theirs. I heard Tom say that when he went to the bank, the teller had told them all their savings were gone. It was a frigid, gray morning and Ruth had asked that Tom get some money from the bank to pay for their upcoming trip to Chicago. “Go dear,” she said, “I’ll be right here waiting when you get back.” Lounging on the sofa, she extended her arm as if to put him under her spell. Her fur stole draped around her shoulders as a chill from the morning air seeped through cracks in the windows.

“I’ll be back in no time at all, dear, no time at all,” assured the ever ingenuous Tom.

The next thing I knew, Tom came bursting through the front door, with all the might of the gushing windstorm that had erupted outside. He slammed the door, his brow soaked in sweat. His hair in disarray, his jacket only half on, Tom struggled to catch his breath. “What is it dear, I want to get leaving for Chicago by noon,” Ruth questioned, appearing as if she’d been disturbed by his entrance, as she pulled herself up on the sofa.

“It’s- it’s….” Tom struggled to find the words, gasping for air all he managed was, “it’s all gone.”

“What’s all gone, silly? Now come over here and calm down,” Ruth reassured him in a calm tone, extending her arm seductively.

“No,” said Tom pushing her away, the color had drained out of his face, as he stared off in shock and confusion. I’d never seen his eyes so troubled, so hurt and confused; they became large and bulged out of his head.

“Tom?” she cocked her head, “what’s the matter? Let me give you a back rub to cool down.” Ruth had always found ways to get her husband to relax.

“Ruth- listen, you have to listen…..enough of this foolishness. The money… it’s all gone…” Tom was desperate; he didn’t want to believe it himself. The pain on his face showed the difficulty he had with revealing the devastating truth to his wife.

“What?” inquired Ruth, “that’s impossible. Father ensured us it would be safe in the bank.” Ruth had grown accustom to living the life of the wealthy, and, in that life, nothing like this could ever happen- it was an impossibility.

Running his hand across his wet forehead, pacing back and forth, Tom yelled, “No, you’re not hearing me. Ruth, it’s all gone. ALL GONE!” His wet hair swayed from side to side as he struggled to compose himself. He was in sheer disbelief. Without the money, they couldn’t pay the bills, let alone go to Chicago. How were they going to live?

“How can that be? There must’ve been some mistake,” Ruth exclaimed, pulling herself into an upright position.

“No- listen dear,” Tom said, with a little more strength; he was beginning to make sense of it all. “I went down to the bank today and there was a sign on the door that said “closed.” There was a huge crowd outside, you should’ve seen it- people screaming, crying - something about money being lost; I couldn’t make out what everyone was saying. It was all too confusing. Some of the men were banging on the doors,” Ruth began to get frightened. She pulled her pink silk dress, tightening it around her waist and adjusted the stole. For some reason she began to believe him; her eyes were fixated on her husband as he continued, “demanding the teller give us all the money we’d invested. Then, suddenly, the teller came out, you know, Mr. Hughes. He looked scared and all- his face was white as a ghost. He told us the bank was closed for a holiday, only he didn’t sound too convincing.” Tom was pacing slowly now, attempting to remember the morning’s events, “Then, this big guy, a construction worker, pulled him up by the neck collar and yelled in his face, “If you don’t give me my damn money, I’ll take this here wrench and grind your face in.” Well, with that, Mr. Hughes ran back into the bank to get the boss-”

“Get on with it Tom, where’s our money?” Ruth was growing impatient, she was anxious to leave for Chicago.

“Well…. the thing is, dear…. the bank says… everyone’s money… is… gone.” Tom was distraught. He looked down at the floor, away from his wife, not believing the words that were coming out of his mouth. His soft brown eyes softened as they filled with hurt and tears.

“What do you mean gone? Honest, darling, banks don’t just lose somebody’s money- it goes against the whole system,” Ruth barked, growing angry; the two lines she’d drawn on as eyebrows angled inward, her face turned a light shade of red.

“I asked the guy about it- he said it’s an epidemic. Banks everywhere are closing. No one’s got money- it’s something to do with the stock market….,” his voice trailed off, “it’s like the end of the world.” His hair was now soaked in sweat, as he dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief; the funny thing about this was that it was the middle of fall.

“Well, we’ll simply pull our money out of the stocks we’ve invested in, and everything will be fine, I’m sure of it.” Ruth hadn’t understood the depth of the situation- her money was gone, her life style, over. She plunged herself into a hole of complete and utter denial- of course, this was done unconsciously; she was a victim of her lifestyle.

“Ruth, hunny, you don’t understand. Everything is gone,” he said sitting down next to her, “The stock market crashed- all the money we invested, all the money we saved in the bank, it’s all gone.”

“What? How can they do this to us? It must be some mistake. I trusted them, Tom- we trusted them!” Ruth was never one to take no for an answer- she had grown into the fiery resolve she inherited from her mother.

“I know, I know,” he replied, gently rubbing her arm, “I’m just trying to figure out how we’ll make it through the week….. we’ll have to forget about Chicago.” Tom looked so depressed- he was a man defeated, shaking his head in utter confusion.

“I just don’t understand- there has to be some way…,” Ruth had the glitter of determination in her eye.

“There’s not…” Tom quietly uttered; he had become a real sap.

“Mother! I’ll call Mother… I’m sure Father will know what to do.”

“Ruth, I don’t know if that’s the best idea… you’re father saved every penny he had in the bank… come to think of it, they’re probably worse off than us…” his voice again trailed off, to the point where you couldn’t understand what he was saying. Not listening to a word her husband said, Ruth, in a daze, darted into the kitchen and phoned her parents. To her dismay, she found only that her parents, in fact, were poorer than she.
****

As the months went on, Tom and Ruth went without food, clothing, and heat- sometimes without electricity. They sold their car, victrola, expensive jewelry and clothes, and anything they could get money for. They literally had nothing. I, myself, was saddened by the dramatic change of events- there were no more parties and excitement, no laughter and merriment- I became still and lifeless, as though I were made out of stone (I’m all wood, though), and like Mr. McDaniel when he returned from war. Sometimes it was so cold I thought my pipes would burst! Upon hearing the news from her parents, Ruth went a little crazy. Let’s just say she cracked. “I can’t trust anyone, no one,” she said muttering through the house. She had a crazed look in her eyes, rushing around- she seemed to be on a mission, “no one, no one, can’t trust no one…,” she murmured. Suddenly, she flew down the stairs, carrying with her a hammer and nails. All at once, she fell to the ground and attacked the floor, stabbing the unfinished wood with the hammer. Pulling with all her strength, she pried open a floorboard, flinging it across the room. In the floor she placed a tiny, aluminum box, which she wrapped in a blanket. “Tom, get over here,” she demanded, looking wild as ever, “this is where we’re going to keep our money from now on. I don’t want anybody I don’t know handling our finances any longer. Tell no one of this, do you hear me?”

“Uh… yea hunny, sure thing…” He was still in awe of his wife’s behavior.

“Now, here, help me with this piece of wood.” She placed the wood atop the gaping hole she’d made in the floor, “now, hold this still, here, while I hammer in the nails.”

“Uh, hunny…”

“Less talking, more holding. Watch it, Tom, or I’ll hammer off one of your fingers!” Tom submitted to his wife’s brief moment of insanity; after all, what choice did he have? Ruth, not knowing much about tools or handy work, hammered in the nails crooked on the left side of the board. On the right, she put only one, making the box easily accessible. In order to conceal the board, she proceeded to move the rug on top of it. It looked kind of strange, the nails made the rug stick up in that place, but, nonetheless, a crazed Ruth was pleased with her work.

After the moment of panic, Ruth grew severely depressed- some days she refused to get out of bed. I became dusty and unkempt, for there was no longer any money to pay the maid. Every day Ruth began looking more and more like mother. Her hair needed combing, her face needed washing- I longed for the days when she’d sit in front of the mirror for hours, counting each brush stroke she made onto her shining hair, and fixing her make-up until she looked just right. But those days were long gone, these were dark times.
****

I believe it was around 1932 when Tom announced I’d be up for sale. In the old days, Tom never really had to work. He and his wife came from wealthy families, and the money he made from bootlegging and the stock market was more than enough to pay the bills. Though, with prohibition having been repealed, Tom discovered he needed to find a real job. Back in those days companies were laying off folks left and right, because they, too, had gone broke. The only way he could find work was to go to the docks each morning, hoping he’d be chosen as a worker for that day. It was rigorous work, loading ships with cargo for all hours of the day, but he did it, wanting only to be able to feed his wife. This was tough on him, the days he didn’t work eight hours in the festering heat or bitter cold, he’d come home empty-handed, though, somehow he and Ruth managed to make it a few years; the money stashed in Ruth’s tin box was only for emergencies, and when necessary, they’d go without food. Sometimes Tom would walk around town, looking through people’s trash to find things he could sell. This particular day, however, Tom had not found work, and realized that there was no way they could live here anymore.

“Ruth, it’s time we talked seriously,” he said, sitting on the bed next to her; this was one of those days Ruth hadn’t bothered getting out of bed.

“What?” she asked in a monotone voice, staring off, disinterested and dazed.

“I’ve just been going over the finances. It looks like we… well…. we can’t live here anymore.” Ruth had never looked so defeated. She stared at the covers with a vacuous expression on her face; it was like she was in another dimension. “Ruth? Ruth, darling, did you hear me? I said we can’t afford to live here anymore.”

“Huh?” she turned her head to him, hearing only her name.

“Ruth, hunny, look at me.” He gently grabbed her shoulders, positioning her to look straight at him. “We need to put the house up for sale…we…just…well, we can’t afford this place…” It pained him every time he said it, and it hurt me, too. I didn’t want them to leave, I wanted to shelter them, protect them, but it was clear there wasn’t much I could do. At this point, they hadn’t the means to take good care of me anyway. Ruth was now facing Tom, but her expression was so blank it almost seemed as if she were looking right through him. “Ruth, hunny, you have to understand… I know you grew up here, but… well… we just can’t make it anymore… I’m sorry sweetheart…”

“Huh?” Ruth responded again, motionless. Her blue eyes seemed almost glazed over, her fierce and determined spirit had evaporated.

“Dear, haven’t you been listening? We… need to sell the house.” Poor Tom kept trying and trying to break the bad news to her, but his attempts were to no avail.

“What? But I love this house….” She answered, still in a stupor. Her hair had lost the beautiful shine it was exuded.

“I’ll find a realtor tomorrow morning and we’ll sell the house. Maybe we can move in with my brother Harry… you’ll see, everything will turn out fine.” He kissed her on the cheek and rubbed her shoulder, to which she didn’t even respond. Ruth was really in her own world; just like her father, she seemed “shell-shocked.”
****

Within the next few months, Ruth and Tom tried to sell me. There weren’t many buyers in the market- we were in what they called “The Great Depression”, and no one had money to spend. After a year or so Ruth and Tom declared bankruptcy, having no money left in the tin box. I suppose they move in with Harry, at least that was the last I’d heard, and I was left vacant. I’ll never forget my first family- they designed me, made me who I am. They’ll always be a part of them in me.
* ~ *

It wasn’t until about 1935 that George and Rose moved in. The Depression was still on, but folks were doing a bit better. George and Rose Marcelis were in their thirties. He was in finances, and, after his job relocated him west, they moved into town. George was one of the lucky ones- he had a steady job, and he hadn’t played the stock market. He had only gotten this job in 1930, so when the crash hit, he didn’t lose much of what was saved in the bank. George was a serious-minded Italian with a dark complexion. Light always seemed to bounce off his sweaty forehead, and his thin mustache was always shaved to a perfect point on each end of his mouth. He wore his business attire nearly everyday, and made sure his watch was set ten minutes early- he never knew when he’d be called into work, and he sure didn’t want to be late. Rose, on the other hand, had softer features. Her auburn bob that was beginning to grow out, sat upon her delicate fair skin. Her light brown, almond-shaped eyes held within them all the warmth of the blazing fire that burnt before her in the fireplace. She always looked as if she were willing to help someone, and always held a kind sparkle in her eye. If the eyes are truly the gateway to the soul, Rose’s soul was more pure than any I’d ever seen before. I’d always wondered how such a sweet and caring woman could wind up marrying such a cruel and unfeeling man.

George, to say the least, was short-tempered. His first true love, really, was his work. He was a kind of irascible man that needed to be happy before anyone else could be. Everyday from work, he came home frazzled and in a fog; he always brought the office home with him. If something wasn’t just right, he’d loose it. His temper would flare with the intensity of the summer’s heat that had everyone boiling. Not too long after they moved in, I began witnessing an explosion of his rage that became all too recurrent. One evening in particular remains ingrained in my foundation; it’s something I’ll never forget.
****

It was a cool August night and a light breeze blew into the kitchen, gently rustling the taupe shades that hung from the window. The wind chimes across the road jingled, breaking the otherwise deafening silence that would have existed. A light “pitter-patter” could be heard as tiny rain drops began to fall and the clouds thickened. It had been about three years since they moved in, and Rose was cooking George’s favorite dish, spaghetti and meatballs. She knew just how to prepare the sauce to taste rich and hearty, without being too spicy or thick. Rubbing the slight bump she had received from being three months pregnant, she stirred the delectable pasta on the stove, the aroma of tomatoes and garlic swirling through the air. Her auburn locks were resplendent as she cooked, radiating a “pregnant glow.” Just as she added a pinch of basil to the pot, she heard George storm in, slamming the front with a loud “thud.”

“Hunny you’re home! I’m making your favorite tonight,” Rose cheerfully called from the kitchen, bringing the wooden spoon to her nose and sniffing her delicious creation, “spaghetti and meatballs.” Rose was all a glow, her cheeks exuding a warm, rosy shine. The light reflected off her soft auburn curls, and her eyes twinkled as a smile spread across her face. She stood, beaming, peering down at the unborn child growing inside her belly, as she patiently waited for her husband’s response.

“Not now Rose, please…,” George barked walking into the kitchen, loosening his tie, “I’ve had a rough day… now, just leave me alone!” he yelled as he sat at the table. His forehead was beginning to show signs of perspiration, his hair almost soaking wet at the crown. Rain began falling faster as the light showers turned into a storm. Leaves rustled and the howling wind blew the wind chimes ferociously. They clashed together creating a powerful banging noise, and thunder pounded, shaking me with its brutal force.

“But dear… I prepared it especially for you,” Rose said, hoping to still entice her husband, “I know how you love it. Now calm down, just think, it’s almost Friday,” she said in a soothing tone, softly rubbing his back with her one free hand.

“Rose, God dammit,” George roared bolting out of his chair as lightening cracked in the black, evening sky, “I said LEAVE ME ALONE!” The chair flew to the ground, breaking one of the wooden pegs on the table, which, in turn, caused it to stand lopsided, leaning to one side, “can’t you get anything right?” George’s face turned bright red, resembling the tomato sauce his wife had been cooking. His eyes were fierce, piercing at his wife in hatred and disgust like two sharp, steel knives. His chest puffed up and he looked as though he’d burst with the anger that was building up inside him, like he was one, giant red balloon. Rose’s pleasant smile quickly dropped from her face as she feared what her husband would do next. “I mean, what kind of wife are you anyway, Rose? What’s wrong with you?” Thunder boomed again as a torrential downpour commenced, rain violently smacking the ground as George’s temper fumed.

“Wha-” Rose questioned, tentatively, as she slowly backed away from him, spoon still in hand. She looked stunned, but at the same time, almost as if she knew what was to follow; I could see in her face that she was bracing for it.

“DON’T YOU TALK BACK TO ME,” yelled George slapping her with all his might, across the face, “I’LL TEACH YOU HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE!” He punched her in the eye and she flew to the ground, whimpering in fear.

“Please…..I’m sor-” Rose cried, hoping to somehow tame her wild beast of a husband. Lightning bolts crackled and thunder shook the earth as Rose cringed from the pain.

“WHAT DID I SAY?” He began kicking her like a man possessed. Harder and harder were his blows as Rose laid on the floor, wailing. Curled up in a ball, she attempted to shield herself, but it was much too late for that; the predator had found his prey. Her face was soaked with a mixture of blood and tears, her pale pink dress ruined with blood stains. Mascara ran from her eyes and stained her cheeks. Her left eye had been blackened and her lip bruised and swollen. Her apron only half on and her hair in a knotted mess, she laid there barely able to cry, as even that took too much effort.

“SHUT UP, BITCH, I’LL TEACH YOU A LESSON,” screamed George as his wife lay motionless on the floor; he was completely oblivious to the damage he was inflicting, yet enjoying every second of it. He grunted and roared as his teeth grinded in a merciless sneer, pounding his wife, each time with more intensity. Thunder boomed as the wind shook the windows, and lightning lit up the sky in a tumultuous fury. George’s eyes exuded a malicious glow; Rose swore she’d seen them turn red. He appeared as though his mind was stuck in another world. “FILTHY, DISGUSTING WHORE,” he roared as he smashed her face. Rose had given up completely and when the abuse subsided, she didn’t dare move. Noises of the erupting thunderstorm filled the room as George left his wife, bruised and bleeding, lying on the floor. Her right arm was outstretched, still clutching the spoon.
****

The next morning Rose awoke in a blur. The sun shone through the window and birds chirped as her neighbors prepared themselves for the beautiful summer’s day. Rose, on the other hand, did anything but that. Her husband already gone for work, she slowly opened her eyes in pain from the blows she received the previous night. She’d fallen asleep on the kitchen floor, too weak to move and too terrified to confront her husband. “He doesn’t mean it, I know he doesn’t mean it,” she said to herself, running her fingers over her bruised lip, “he loves me.” But there was something about her tone of voice that didn’t make her sound too convincing. She gently sat up and brushed off her clothing. Untying her apron she noticed a large, dark red stain near at the bottom of her dress. Abruptly she rose, finding the blood had stained the entire bottom of her dress and ran down her upper thighs. She felt cramping in her stomach, her head pounding as though someone were violently beating a gigantic drum inside her. Quickly she hobbled into her room and dressed- something was not right.

Rose spent a half hour covering her bruises with make-up. She concealed her black eye by wearing sunglasses and a large, black sunhat as she walked into town. She was going to see the doctor to find out what had caused the bleeding.

The next thing I knew Rose burst in crying. Throwing open the door, she flung herself onto the couch and buried her head into the pillow. She wept for hours, until her husband arrived home from work. “Rose- Rose, where’s my dinner? I’m starving!” George looked exhausted, but calmer than usual. “What are you crying about? Oh, come on, you can tell me….,” he said lovingly, or as lovingly as a mad beast could sound, “is this about last night? Hunny you know I’m sorry. I didn’t mean all those things I did. You know I love you, right?” George rubbed Rose’s back in an attempt to calm her. “There, there Rose… now go and make me some dinner.”

“Hunny…,” she replied, lifting her face from the pillow, her cheeks tearstained and puffy, “it’s… about the… baby…”

“Well, what about that baby?” George snapped. He was beginning to get impatient.

“Well… the thing is…,” Rose struggled for the right words, “well… the doctor says I…. I…suffered… a miscarriage.” Just the thought of it made her break down. She crashed her head into the pillow, sobbing.

“What? What do you mean a miscarriage?” George exclaimed, his voice sounding shriller. Rose was too caught up with crying to hear her husband’s question. “Rose, ANSWER ME,” George demanded, shaking her. Rose’s eyes had the look of complete devastation in them; she was preoccupied with the loss of her baby, and thus, blind to her husband’s anger.

“George…,” she whimpered, “the baby… we lost it.”

“No, we didn’t lose it, you lost it. You’re telling me you lost my son! God, Rose, what’s wrong with you?” George yelled, his voice gaining intensity as his temper flared.

“It’s just that…. with everything… that… went on… last… night…,” Rose quietly responded, tears still streaming down her cheek. She huddled in the corner of the couch as George screamed in her face. He had turned beet red again and transformed into a monster unlike his normal self. His dark brows drew inward and his eyes bugged out, as beads of sweat trickled down the overly-pronounced creases in his forehead.

“WHAT? WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?” George was angry now; he hated when Rose mentioned the abuse. “I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T MEAN IT, BUT THIS I DO.” Powerfully he struck her on her already bruised skin. “I”LL TEACH YOU HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE!” Rose shivered in fear, attempting to get up from the couch and run, but George blocked her from doing so, angrily pushing her back down. She covered her face with her arms, for protection. “IF YOU TELL ANYONE ABOUT THIS… GOD HELP ME, I’LL KILL YOU!” As before, the violent abuse commenced, leaving Rose unable to move until the morning.
****

For the next week or so George seemed to follow Rose everywhere. He always wanted to know what she was up to, and always appeared to be one step ahead of her. Rose had rid herself of the idea that George actually loved her, thinking back to that Sunday when her sister came for a visit.

When Martha, Rose’s wise older sister, had come for visit and seen for herself the bruises her sister bore, she attempted to convince her she must leave. “Rose, he caused you to lose the baby! You have to get away from him,” she yelled. Martha was tall, meaty, and tough. Her brown bob lead to her strong build and muscular frame; she was anything but lady-like.

“Shh! Keep your voice down, he’s in the other room.” Rose huddled in constant fear that her husband would beat her again.

“Rose- look at how you live, in fear!” Martha made a good point, Rose tip-toed around the house all hours of the day. Her composure had completely changed. Her hair hadn’t shined and her eyes hadn’t sparkled in quite a while. Her perfect posture had been reduced to a hunched position, in which her eyes appeared sunken in both pain and shame.

“First of all, I do not fear my husband…,” a forlorn Rose responded, her stringy hair falling into her face. She tried to convince herself that there was nothing wrong with her life, but her appearance had deceived her.

“Then what about the baby? Isn’t that enough reason to leave?” Martha was both stubborn and determined, and she was the caretaker of the family; whenever there was a problem, she fixed it. She knew something was wrong with Rose before Rose knew it herself.

“Well, Martha, we don’t know for sure what caused this… the doctor said it could be any number of things…,” Rose replied, sounding helpless and depressed. She hadn’t gotten out of her bath robe in days.

“Rose, now I’m telling you for your own good… George is crazy- he’s never going to stop doing this to you,” asserted Martha, concerned. The two sisters were complete opposites. Martha was strong and well put together. She had a certain quality about her that let you know she was always in charge and on top of things. Rose, on the other hand, was the more delicate and beautiful sister. That day, however, she appeared broken. She was in no way pretty or feminine. It appeared as if she hadn’t bathed in days, and was losing interest in her life altogether.

“Doing what? Nothing’s going on with George,” Rose said, remembering George’s threat that if she told anyone what he’d done, he’d kill her. The whole time the women were whispering, fearing George would hear them from the adjacent room.

“Don’t kid yourself, I see what’s going on… your face, my God Rose, take a look in the mirror. Those sunglasses don’t fool anyone.” Martha knew her sister had been denying the abuse and she figured Rose thought herself lucky to have a husband like George, a man providing a steady income. She knew there was almost no getting through to Rose, but as her older sister, felt she at least had to try; this was the worst Martha had ever seen her. “You can pretend all you want but, Rose, we know this has been going on for a while. People in town are talking; they see you hiding your face with those sunglasses and that stupid hat, even on the rainiest days. Rose, please,” Martha begged, a desperate look in her big, brown eyes, “leave him. You’ve got to get out before he really hurts you.”

“Well, Martha, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rose replied, lifting herself up in her seat and adjusting her posture. Rose could deny and deny it, but eventually she had to face facts: she was a victim of domestic violence. She put on an act in front of her sister, but in reality, her sister’s words had begun to sink in.

Just then George burst into the room, “Well hello ladies, what do we have here?” His entrance was frightening and eerie all at once- Martha felt chills run down her spine.

“Nothing George, we were just talking, what’s it to you?” Martha snapped, her hand on her hip; standing up for her sister was something she felt more than necessary. That was the thing about Martha, it seemed like she feared no one. It was as though Rose’s resentment and hostility had been channeled to her sister, which Martha, in turn, expressed through her explicit honesty.

“Uh…,” Rose said, frazzled. She looked away from her husband, her eyes shifting back and forth as she thought of what to say next. “Martha was just leaving… weren’t you, Martha?” Rose had panicked as soon as her husband entered the room.

“Yeah, I was leaving alright,” Martha asserted, forcefully grabbing her bag and staring George straight in the eye. It looked as if she was saying, “I’m on to you” and cursing him off in her head.

George, trying to keep a steady, ‘warm’ smile replied, “Good to see you, Mar-tha.” The ring in his voice when he said “Martha” revealed that he was concealing his anger.

“I’ll see you to the door,” Rose timidly said as she scooted out the room.

“Now, remember, I’m always here if you ever need any help,” Martha told her sister as she left, looking her straight in the eye.

“Once again, I have no idea what you’re talking about…,” her voice trailed off as she attempted to hide her true feelings, “but I’ll keep it in mind.” She smiled and waved good-bye to her brave older sister. Rose couldn’t pretend forever and she knew that. Sooner or later she would have to face this, and when she did, she rested assured that her sister would be there to help her.

So, about a week after this, Rose had made up her mind- she was going to leave George once and for all. This was going to be extremely difficult, she realized, as he monitored her in everything she did. He now called five times a day from the office, and if she dared miss a single phone call, he’d jet home to check on her claiming, “I was so worried about you.” She’d have to find a way to answer all the calls and pack up and leave at the same time, and that, she knew, would be tough.
****

That Thursday, Rose phoned her sister Martha. “It’s time… I’m ready,” she said
confidently, “I need your help.” Martha already had her hands full with six children, but she was more than willing to take on a seventh- her sister, that is. Martha was to pick up Rose at the train station, her bags packed. About twenty minutes after that phone call, Rose heard the car door slam and quickly hid the bags she’d been stuffing full with clothes under the bed. Pounding footsteps ran up the stairs and she heard someone huffing and puffing, out of breath. A crazed George rushed into their room, “I was so worried about you, Rose!” cried George, “Why on Earth didn’t you pick up the phone?” His forehead was full of sweat and his dark hair appeared wet and greasy, as his eyes darted around the room in a fanatical manner. Rose realized he’d called when she spoke to Martha. She rarely used the phone for this specific reason- if she missed George’s call, he’d be after her like a hawk. “Did you call? I’m sorry hunny, but your brother, Tony, called and I was having a lovely conversation with him,” she lied. The bags under her eyes and paleness in her skin showed that she was exhausted with this whole ordeal. However, Rose was never too tired to lie to her husband- she didn’t want him catching on.

Well, Rose did eventually make it to Martha’s house, or at least I assume so since she’s never returned here. After she left, George only hung around for about a month. During that time, he’d been on a mad hunt for his wife- he’d be on the phone hours at a time looking for her, and drove many places, but I guess all Rose’s relatives and friends were willing to hide her. Finally, though, he got a tip from someone on the street that they’d seen her in the grocery store a few towns over. George quickly put me up for sale and decided to move out, hoping to win her back or something like that. I don’t know, there’s something strange about someone like George, who claimed he loved his wife and then proceeded used her as a human punching bag. I wonder what would possess such a man to demand that kind of control. What was so terrible about his life that he was forced to take his anger out on his spouse? I guess I’ll never know.
* ~ *

I was glad to see George go- I hated having all that negative energy cooped up inside me. Although I was on the market for a year and a half, the family that bought me next was really special; they were worth the wait. The Woodwards were truly a model family, having a husband, a wife, two children, and a dog. In fact, they were so picture perfect that they even put up a white picket fence. They really spruced the place up- they cleaned out the entire house from top to bottom and installed all new windows and doors; the only original windows that remained were my stained glass windows. Also, I was painted pale yellow, while the flower pots in front received with a fresh coat of white paint. Yes, the Woodwards had money and they really had it all.
****

December 7, 1941, a day of panic and terror- Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japanese airplanes, launching the United States into World War II. Could our country truly be under attack? Some thought it was the end of the world, while others believed we could fight off those “Japs” easily. Thousands of men rushed down to the local army office and enlisted, wanting to bravely serve their country. It was their chance to be a real hero, a chance that did not come very often. This was the mood of the early 1940’s, and this wave of heroism surged for quite a while, engulfing men of all shapes and sizes.

I clearly recall the day Mr. Woodward enlisted in the army. It was a crisp, October morning and leaves had begun change to shades of orange and brown. The ground appeared almost like a quilted blanket, covered with fallen leaves. The wind chimes across the road furiously jingled with the raging October wind; the cold was coming and we could feel it. Mr. Woodward hadn’t told his wife of his plans, he just tiptoed out of bed that Saturday, and rushed down to the army office. When his wife awoke that morning she simply believed he’d gone to the grocer’s- they were out of bread for that evening’s dinner. With the dog sleeping at the foot of the bed, Mrs. Woodward then decided to lie there with her children and read the morning paper, awaiting his arrival.

By noon that day, the children were starving as Mrs. Woodward became anxious. Her hazel eyes grew large and her gut told her something wasn’t right. The dog had begun pacing around the room, unsettled, which was never a good sign. Nonetheless, Mrs. Woodward assured herself her husband was fine, and decided the kids should get dressed for the day. The wind howled amidst the gray, cloudy sky, and the trees outside shook as, inside, her stomach churned, worrying about her husband. Then, a loud bang was heard, and merry footsteps as her husband called from the door, “Hunny, I’m home.” The dog raced down the stairs to greet his owner. Jumping up and down on his hind legs, the ecstatic animal danced at his owner’s arrival, and Mr. Woodward knelt to pet him. “Hey, boy! Good dog, good dog.” The dog licked him on the face in a euphoric frenzy.

“Oh, John,” Mrs. Woodward cried throwing herself down the stairs, her children scurrying after.

“Daddy, Daddy!” they squealed, squeezing past their mother and into their father’s arms. The dog frolicked around, amidst all the excitement.

“John, we were so worried about you,” Mrs. Woodward said, relieving herself from that anxious feeling that had built up inside her, “Where have you been all this time?”

“Well, hunny…kids… you’re gonna love this- I enlisted in the United States Army!” Mr. Woodward exclaimed, thrilled. He waved his arms in the air, as his golden curls shined from the grease he’d ran through his hair that morning. “Well, what do ya’ say?” Mr. Woodward noticed his wife was not all as thrilled as he.

“Well, dear, I… I… think it’s lovely… you wanting to fight for the country and all… but God, John, think of our childr-,” catching herself she knelt down to the kids, saying, “now run along and play while Mommy and Daddy talk.” They scampered out of the room as the dog chased them.

“Now, John,” she continued, “why on Earth would you want to put yourself in the line of fire when you’ve got a family to support? You’ve got everything you need right here.” Mrs. Woodward had that panicked look in her eye again, as she peered over her shoulder to check that her children were playing in the next room. Her beige skin had turned a bit pale, and she crossed her arms in discomfort.

“Kate,” John said with an exuberant smile still plastered on his face, “you’ve gotta trust me that everything’s gonna turn out fine. You know me- I won’t let anything happen while I’m gone,” he chuckled as he threw his arm around his wife and kissed her on the head. “Relax hun, everything will be a-okay.” He placed his two hands gently on her shoulders and stared her straight in the eye; he wanted to ensure he got through to her.

“Okay John….,”Mrs. Woodward replied, trying to go along with him. She liked seeing her husband so happy, but she couldn’t ignore this bad feeling she had, “It’s just that I don’t know about this- I mean, a man with a family shouldn’t have to go overseas. John, we need you here,” she pleaded. Mrs. Woodward was both a delicate and dutiful wife, but she was also one to speak her mind. If she felt something wasn’t right, she tried with all her might to change it, and this, she felt, was a huge mistake.

“I’m sorry, hunny, but what’s done is done. Now cheer up, you should be proud of your man!” John was beaming with excitement and pride. He’d wanted so badly to be a soldier ever since he was a kid; he’d often tell stories of his childhood fantasies to his children.

“Well… I guess you’re right…,” Mrs. Woodward said, forcing a smile on her face, “my husband, the solider- now, that’s something to be proud of,” she exclaimed, trying to get herself used to the idea, “When do you leave, dear?” she asked as they walked into the kitchen, their arms around each other. He grazed his hand across her thick, blonde curls, hoping to calm her nerves.

“Well… let’s see, I leave for basic training in January, and then… I think the guy said we get deployed in March.”

“Oh, John, how will I manage without you?” Mrs. Woodward was so in love with her husband. I’d catch her dreamily gazing up at him for hours, just thanking God she had found such a wonderful man. Unlike many of the wealthy, the Woodwards were honest and thoughtful. On Thanksgivings they’d serve food at the homeless shelters, and in December they’d donate their old clothes to charity. Mr. Woodward ran a clothing store with his younger brother, and they were known to never have cheated a customer out of a single cent. So, Mrs. Woodward, her heart breaking, gradually began accepting the idea that this perfect husband of hers was leaving for the war.
****

In March of that year, Mr. Woodward was allotted one week’s leave before departing for Germany. He came bursting through the doors happier than his children were at Christmastime. The dog barked, alerting his family of Mr. Woodward’s arrival, and jumped on his hind legs to greet his owner. “Kate, kids, Daddy’s home…,” he yelled, tossing his jacket on the coat rack and flying up the stairs, the dog chasing him.

“Daddy, daddy!” the kids chanted, overwhelmed with the joy of seeing their father again, “We missed you so much! Won’t you come play with us?”

“Of course, kids, but first Daddy needs to say hello to Mommy.” In the hall, Mr. Woodward scanned the rooms for his wife. Then, suddenly, he spotted her standing in their bedroom doorway, her hourglass figure pressed up against the wall. She appeared more attractive than ever before, her hazel eyes fixated on his handsome military uniform.

“John, I’ve been waiting for you,” she said seductively- her full, red lips had never looked more irresistible to him.

“Oh, Kate… Kate!” Mr. Woodward ran to his wife, throwing off his cap, passionately kissing her as they melted into each others’ arms. “Oh, my darling, Kate… how I’ve missed you!” He ran his fingers through her luscious blonde curls. In a passionate embrace they stood there, kissing for another few minutes until their youngest came up to Mr. Woodward. Wearing his father’s army cap that had been tossed to the ground, the toddler tugged on his father’s jacket.

“Daddy, Daddy… are you done yet?” Little Billy was nearly three years old, but he knew what his parents were up to. “Come play with us… please.” Mr. Woodward couldn’t resist his adorable son’s plea.

Peering down at their son, Mr. Woodward lovingly remarked, “Oh, Billy, look at you! Why, you’re a regular military man yourself,” Mr. Woodward laughed, scooping up his son, who couldn’t stop giggling.

“Look at that han





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