The Family Re-union

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


THE FAMILY RE-UNION

 

Fern moved unsteadily across the room and laboriously lowered herself onto the stool in front of her old vanity mirror. She sat for a long time studying the old lady reflected there. Seventy five years of hard work had left her stooped. Gravity had eroded her skin and time itself had grayed her hair. Arthritis gnarled her joints with pain and Parkinson's disease added a noticeable tremor to her image. But, the two deep lines etched between her eyebrows had been installed by the contempt she harbored for Harold, her first husband!

It had been forty years since she divorced him. Forty years of resentment and although she was a “church goin' woman” she had to admit she hated him! God knows how hard she tried to be a good wife to him but, he was just a rogue and a drunkard – no use to anyone but himself. He hadn't cared about her. He didn't even care enough about his kids to help support them! As she sat, the two lines deepened and the next words exploded toward the mirror. “All he cared about was whiskey, dancing and floozies!” Although Fern, knew she was alone, she automatically looked around to see if anyone had heard. Her thoughts continued. “Floozies! There were always plenty of floozies vying for his attention. Rumor had it that every time Harold lost a job, some woman or another would support him until he found a new job.” She sneered, “ – and he was never in a big hurry! As if drunkenness and debauchery weren't low enough, he'd sunk to gigolo!

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This town wasn't big enough to avoid the gossip but, it was big enough that she rarely saw him. When she did, she avoided eye contact and conversation but, if words were necessary, she spat them like daggers – hoping they would pierce him! Oh yes, she despised him!! Of course, after those thoughts, she asked Jesus to forgive her. She knew that it wasn't Christian to hate, but, Harold had stripped her of everything – everything that is - except her pride.

In fact, the only things that kept her going through those impossible years were her contempt of him and her pride. Pride had empowered her to rout those self-righteous biddies when they tried to bring a Christmas tree and presents into her house. Pride had gotten her through all the pitying glances from acquaintances or her friend's unsolicited advice about seeking welfare! Did they think she was some hopeless vagrant? Or worse – an Okie? She was from Oklahoma but vehemently fought off that stereotype. 'No Sir, she had never taken a hand-out from anyone and never would.

A quote from the bible slipped into her mind – something about pride “cometh before a fall” but, with a shake of her head, she immediately expelled it. As far as she was concerned, pride had cometh after a fall and it had kept her head high and her eyes dry as gossip about Harold's exploits circled around her. In fact, it seemed as though the neighbors derived some bizarre pleasure from his antics. Fern decided they were garnering excitement into their own dreary lives by living vicariously through his.

It was true that, everyone liked Harold. In his youth, he was the handsome, mischievous life of the party. His joie de vivre was magnetic. When Fern

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was in his presence she felt alive and attractive!

Harold was the exact opposite of herself. All she had ever known was work. Her mother, having died in childbirth, left a teenage Fern to raise her siblings, help with the farm and tend to her father. There was no longer time for a social life nor even school. The moment she met Harold in her mid-twenties, she thought the pall had been lifted and life would now be good!

“Hell, he sure was dapper - but he had no more idea how to be a good man, husband or father than a boar pig did. She had tried to make him a good husband by showing him the error of his ways. She had talked. She had shouted! She had threatened! She had even cried! It was useless. The harder she tried, the more time he spent at the bar. She felt as if she were living in a battle zone between fear and anger. One night as she lay waiting for him, she felt the familiar fear. “What if he doesn't come home? How can I support six youngsters with only a third grade education?” Suddenly, Fern had a new thought, “I'll bet he's making fun of me to humor his friends!” That thought became the last straw! Later, as Harold stumbled up the stairs and tried to crawl into bed, Fern's anger won the war! She threw off the covers, jumped out of bed and without a word ran to the closet. Scooping together his few clothes she hurled them at his head - hangers and all. Before he could get his inebriated brain round that, she had emptied the contents of a drawer on his feet – undershorts, undershirts, long-johns, socks and ties. Fern had covered him in nearly all of his earthly possessions. Finally she broke the silence as she

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shouted at the top of her lungs, “Now get out and don't never come back!”

Since then, she'd done laundry, ironing, house cleaning, all kinds of menial labor – anything to provide the barest of essentials for her family. There were no frills. Every cent was accounted for. In reality, it was a life of scrimping to keep them together in a hovel with the meagerest of meals. In fact, sometimes she could hear their little bellies rumbling at night and she wept. “I'm doing my best! What more can I do?”

It saddened Fern to realize that she barely knew her youngest child because she had been forced to go to work shortly after Judi was born. As the children grew, they tried to help but, their earnings were mere pittance. The first five left home early but, the girls too entered bad relationships and returned with their own offspring in tow. So at age six, Judi was charged with tending her nieces and nephews while the women worked. It was not a good life for any of them and Fern fervently believed it was all Harold's fault. If he had been a decent husband and father, the children would have had good role models. Things would have turned out better for all of them!

Fern remained single until her after the last child left home. Then, she met a relatively nice man named Jim and married again. However, her hatred of Harold had hardened her heart and she just didn't love Jim as she thought she should. Yet another reason to blame Harold! Although she was a “God-fearing woman”, the expletive “Damn” formed in her mind and again was ejected toward the mirror. The force of it shocked her. It was the most energy she had exhibited for weeks. Her age and her illnesses had kept her in Page 5

bed not caring if she lived any longer. The truth of the matter, she had begun to look at death as a much needed rest. But, today she asked God to get her through the next few hours!

There was a soft knock on her bedroom door. That would be her daughter who had offered to fix Fern's hair and help her dress. Well, she'd keep Judi waiting for a few moments before answering – just long enough to cause concern. Fern was angry with all her children for putting her through this ridiculous reunion and they were going to know it! She was sick and weary. The very thought of all the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren running and screaming around made her feel faint. As if all that wasn't bad enough ---- her children insisted on inviting HIM! Why would they do that? How could they be so insensitive? Didn't they understand what he had done to them? They said they wanted a relationship with their father. Why? Hadn't they listened when she told them about him? Did they think she lied? Did they hate her so much that they wanted to revel in her final mortification? And then, adding even more insult, they had also invited his current wife – Helen - “Aww, ain't that cute – Harold and Helen!”

Positive that Judi would be sufficiently worried by now, Fern finally bid her to enter. She was pleased to see the look of concern as it trailed from her daughter's face. Fern feigned weakness although she felt stronger and more alive than she had for months. It was her determination pulling her through one more time. After much frustration, Judi had Fern's hair looking quite lovely despite the gray. She then helped her mom don the new ensemble. Page 6

Fern turned to check the reflection in the mirror. “Hmmm!” she thought as she added the finishing touch – her pride! The image was of a rather sophisticated, elderly woman – very straight of back and shoulders. Judi commented on her mothers posture then offered the walker that stood next to the bed. Fern shot back a look of total disgust. She could not believe that her daughter would even suggest it today of all days. The matter was dropped like the proverbial potato as they started very purposefully toward the bedroom door. Fern paused only once – turning for another glance in the mirror. She thought, “Not too bad, if I do say so myself!” Turning back toward the door, she inhaled deeply as if pulling in extra strength from the air around her. It worked-----she straightened even more – then opened the door.

What a grand entrance! Many of her family were awed at the vitality she exuded. She walked like the grand lady as she took the arm of her husband. Jim was delighted to see his wife looking so healthy and lovely after the weeks she had refused to participate in life at all. They grandly proceeded toward the backyard where the dreaded encounter awaited her. What seemed like hundreds of people were congregated. Fern wondered, “Is it possible they are all related?” She fought off a tremor and a chuckle as she thought, “When God said 'Go forth and multiply', he wasn't referring only to my brood! Surely, these couldn't all be my progeny!” However, names began forming with each face she perused.

Suddenly, as if on cue, the crowd parted like the waters did for Charlton Heston and …... there “HE” stood!

Page 7 “Lordy, how'd he get so old? How long had it been since I've seen

him?” Fern furtively glanced toward the woman seated beside Harold and was relieved to see another old woman returning her gaze. Fern had envisioned some “spring chicken” fawning all over him, but, luckily that was not the case. She felt his eyes on her and briefly returned the look. “Oh! Oh! No! What was that? He winked!! It was the same wink that so long ago had made her heart flutter! Without realizing it, her eyes betrayed her and for the briefest of seconds, they twinkled back at him. She quickly pulled her cloak of pride more tightly around her and inhaled aloofly as she lowered herself quite gracefully into the chair across from him. Harold sat down too, but spent much of the time looking at her. Though it made her terribly uncomfortable, she had to ward off the urge to keep checking. She, of course refrained because, God forbid he should catch her doing so.

The afternoon was flying past. The four sat shaded by a picnic umbrella which had been installed for the event. The children ran and played causing a cacophony of ridiculous noises. The parents, trying to keep them in check, added to the clamor. There was laughing and banter which kept the small knot from having to engage in too much conversation. Harold sought her attention by asking which of his children particular little ones belonged to. He mentioned that one of the pretty teenage girls looked just like Fern had when they met. She couldn't believe that her resolve to be cold and spiteful was failing her as a blush warmed her cheeks.

Preparations began for the meal. The men congregated around the large Page 8 barbecues. Those not actually cooking offered their opinions and expertise

while the chefs fought hard to keep their composure. At one point, Fern thought a BBQ brawl was about to break out but was relieved when it was averted by a young man who told a ridiculous joke and diffused the situation. There was much flutter among the women as they brought out their favorite epicurean delights and the children continued to get under foot. The four seniors were not to participate in the preparations since the party was in their honor. Truth be told, Fern would have loved the distraction but doubted her strength – it was taking all she had to keep her hands steady in her lap. Without distraction, they found themselves unexpectedly alone for a few minutes. The conversation was stunted and embarrassing because, Harold directed most of his questions and remarks to Fern. She, fearing she might appear friendly, answered with clipped and vague replies.

The meal was delicious. Fern ate more in this one meal than she had eaten all month. It was over almost before she realized it. The tables were quickly rearranged. Someone produced a record player and a huge box of records. Fern felt her energy waning after the meal instead of feeling energized. She wished this event was over and she could return to her bed but, she would not show it. The music started and Harold took his wife's hand leading her onto the designated dance area. He made a remark to the gathered throng about showing them how to “cut a rug.” They all laughed and smiled as Harold and Helen glided and dipped. Fern felt hot and angry. “What is this?” she thought. “Could it be jealousy?” She retained a Page 9

genteel smile but, it was so ingenuous, the effort was making her face

muscles ache. She feared a twitch coming to the side of her mouth. Jim noticed the distressful look and inquired as to her well-being to which she snapped, “I'm fine!” and resolved not to slip again.

After a slow dance, a jitterbug and the twist, the couple returned to the table. He was flushed and winded but his eyes were still dancing and the smile on his face was so genuine, Fern could hardly maintain her disdain. Then Harold committed a most outrageous act! He lightly navigated around the table and put out his hand to his ex-wife!

An inaudible gasp ran through the crowd. Everyone held their breath expecting the old matriarch to unleash her tongue and spew forth all the venom she had been building for forty years. The moment didn't seem to pass. It was as if it would be frozen in eternity and no one would ever move or breathe again. In actuality, it was only a few seconds that Fern stared at the outstretched hand, as a multitude of fears raced through her mind. She was afraid that she didn't have enough energy. She was afraid she had forgotten how to dance. She was afraid if he held her too tightly he might feel the tremors she was trying to control. But, she was more afraid that all her descendants would like him better than they liked her. He was being very cavalier.

Graciously, she took his had and rose from the chair, careful not to use his support at all. Reaching the dance floor, Harold pulled her close. A silent gasp escaped as he placed his hand in the small of her back. He had always

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led so expertly, that even a novice dancer like herself looked good. And, this

felt good too! Her body betrayed her as she relaxed against his still surprisingly hard body. Pride began to dissolve. Fear began to disintegrate and resentment vanished. She was just not strong enough to maintain them any longer........and so they danced.

They completed a waltz and a fox trot before she begged to sit down. He guided her toward two chairs on the opposite side of the dance area and gently lowered her into one of them. Moving the second chair closer and more directly in front of her before sitting down himself. Every eye stole glances in their direction.

It was appalling! Fern's husband tried to engage Helen in conversation to break the awkwardness of the situation. She didn't seem interested. He asked if she'd like something to drink. She replied with a tense smile, “No thank you.” He even went as far as to ask Helen to dance. That was his supreme sacrifice because, he hated to dance and knew he was a lousy dancer but, the situation called for an extreme measures! He heaved an audible sigh of relief and she threw him a slightly insulted look.

Of course, it was Fern's children who were the most affected. They had been poisoned daily by their mother's opinion of the man she was now conversing and laughing with! They were outraged as they watched this old couple kind of flirting. They were behaving like teenagers! It was disgusting! It was making a travesty of everything their mother had drilled into them.

Page 11 Fern briefly caught the disdain in her offspring's eyes but, having no

desire to end the moment, returned her attention to Harold. They talked about the forty years they had not shared. They even talked about the years they had shared, carefully avoiding the bad times. Suddenly, Helen ruptured the small, warm universe they had created. “Are you ready to go?” she asked rather curtly.

Sadness crept into Fern. She had not allowed herself to experience that emotion for a long time. Her resentments had overshadowed all else and now they were gone. Harold stood but seemed reluctant to leave. He smiled down at Fern then started across the lawn to begin his goodbyes. A new record began. A song that was popular when he and Fern were courting. Harold whispered something to his wife, then returned to Fern and again extended his hand. She smiled and accepted it. They danced their last dance together and as the strains drifted off into memory, he bent down and brushed his lips against her cheek. Almost inaudibly – as if it were a sigh he said, “I'm so sorry”..........and then he was gone.

Fern stood alone in the middle of the yard, barely aware of the embarrassed flutter that was going on around her. She began to sag slightly and was ever so grateful that her daughter appeared. Judi supported Fern's arm as they slowly walked back to her room. She was too tired and confused to try to explain to her daughter what had transpired that day. She looked forward to her bed and a chance to digest it herself.

It did not take long to shed her attire as her frustrated daughter fought Page 12 hard not to bombard the octogenarian with questions and bitter remarks.

As she tried to tug the sheets up under her chin, Fern's hands surrendered to the quakes she had fought against during the day. She nestled into her bed and before exhaustion overtook her, she reflected on the day.

After all those years, how had he broken through the girdle she had worn so tightly around her heart? How had she surrendered so completely in his arms? Suddenly, she thought, “Is it possible?” “Could I still love him?” Then she realized that despite everything, she did! She had always loved him. Without the intensity of that love, she could not have felt so much hatred. Without the shame of losing him, she would not have needed her fortress of pride. A converse thought wormed it's way into her failing consciousness - “maybe - if I hadn't been so prideful when we were married, things might have........” she quickly rejected that concept! But, as sleep enveloped her, she knew that she would never be able to rekindle her hatred of Harold.

Fern lived a few more years. It would make a lovely ending if she had become kind and considerate as the result of that evening; but, what works well in fairy tales, is often not consistent with real life. Even from her sickbed, Fern continued to control her family with anger, guilt and shame. It had become habitual. She often refused to speak to them if they defied her wishes. The truth of the matter is that her vengeance did her in.

Her major caregiver, Judi, was given the opportunity to go to Europe nearly free for a couple of weeks. Fern was furious! Her husband and other Page 13 daughters promised they would provide all that she needed in Judi's absence

but, she was unrelenting. Fern threatened that if her daughter abandoned her, she would not be alive by the time Judi returned. This trip was a chance in a lifetime and Judi chose to go. Fern viewed that as abject defiance and in her own, Fern stopped eating! The end result being that she weakened her already failing body. Shortly after Judi's return, Fern indeed died - it was her ultimate revenge!

As she lay dying, no longer able to summon the strength to speak, she retreated to a not too distant past:

Remembering his wink – her heart fluttered.

Remembering their dance – her heart softened.

Remembering her love – it stopped.


Submitted: August 05, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Sherry Lynn Moore. All rights reserved.

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