The Flowers Fade

by Debra Dian

Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

Gladys tied back the white linen curtains and opened her bedroom window to breathe in fresh morning air while brushing her hair. Golden rays of sunlight sparkled on the glass covering an embroidered scripture that hung on the wall, directing her eyes to gaze upon the keepsake from her great-grandmother.

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8

The beautifully framed Bible verse, adorned with embroidered flowers, reminded her of the wildflowers her fiancé, Greg, had given her several days ago–now dried and discarded. A sudden sense of uncleanness invaded her soul. She pushed back the dark feelings with busyness, bathing and preparing for the day.

It was graduation day for Gladys and her friends from college. After graduating from high school, class of 1917, they had made a pact to not marry until after they had graduated from college. Now, along with their diplomas, they would be rewarded recognition for being the first women to graduate from Fairmount College. So this grand day commanded all of Gladys’ attention.

The graduation party to be hosted by her future mother-n-law, Mildred Greyson, the event of the year it seemed, was only second in importance to her son’s wedding just a few months away. Mrs. Greyson was proud of her future daughter-in-law, Gladys, whose college education elevated her in measure with the Greyson’s elite family heritage and renown in banking. Yet Mildred, who could feel at ease at an impromptu lunch with the President was as down to earth as any of the local farmer’s wives.

Gladys and her friends had decided the celebration would not be traditional cake and punch. Instead, they rented the Uptown Soda Fountain and served ice cream and root beer to their guests on Sunday afternoon.

The four friends, standing in a reception line near the door, had already been greeted by many friends, family and former teachers in the community. Gladys whispered to Ethel, who stood next to her. “I can’t wait to get these heels off my aching feet.”

Ethel, the motherly one of the four friends, softly scolded. “You should always wear new shoes to church a few times to break them in.”

Ethel and Gladys had been best friends since they could remember. They had grown up in the same neighborhood, their backyards adjacent to each other. Together, they had often played games outside, studied school homework and attended church. Occasional disagreements, usually sparked by envy, didn’t keep them apart for long.

Gladys squeezed Ethel’s hand. “You’re always right.” Then she pointed to a large jar full of coins and bills. “See the Women’s Scholarship Fund–good idea you had to put out a collection jar!”

Ethel gleamed proudly. “I saw a couple of checks in there too!”

Molly returned to join the others in line. “What are you two whispering about?”

“Stay in the reception line like you’re supposed to and you won’t miss the conversation,” said Ethel.

“I had to check on Greg and the ice cream,” chided Molly. “Wanted to be sure there’s plenty of ice cream.” And then she whispered, “And taste a bit too. Ha!”

Gladys pretended to be jealous. “You stay away from Greg and the ice cream!”

Of the four friends, Molly was like the baby sister always getting into trouble and drawing attention to herself. And rounding out the four, Hannah, quiet and thoughtful, listened attentively to the others especially when they were disturbed about something. Today, at the end of the line, Hannah, had been listening to her Aunt Josephine prattle on about the value of being a good teacher. Her aunt determined that her niece should carry on the family tradition and become a teacher.

As Aunt Josephine moved on to have ice cream with the other guests, the four honorees relaxed and chatted amongst themselves. However, as soon as Mr. Goldman walked in the door they stood alert, smiling with pride, honored that he came to greet them.

“Ladies, good afternoon!” Mr. Goldman extended a hand of congratulations to each one. “Very proud of your accomplishments.”

Almost in unison Gladys and her friends said, “Thank you.”

“And how is Mrs. Goldman?” asked Ethel.

“She’s resting with a headache. Sorry she couldn’t be here.”

“Hope she’s better soon,” said Ethel. “Please have some ice cream and root beer.”

“Oh, uh, no thank you. I want to present a check to you. Mrs. Goldman is giving a donation to the Women’s Scholarship Fund and she’s so happy to do this in honor of your graduation.” He handed the check to Ethel.

She gasped as she looked at the check. “Oh, my!” Then she shook Mr. Goldman’s hand again. “Thank you so very much. This will go a long way to help future Fairmount women.”

Mr. Goldman blushed a bit. “I remember when she first heard about your endeavor to graduate college and start careers. She remarked that she would like to find a way to reward you for your success. And now the time has arrived.” As he turned toward the door to leave, he smiled, more relaxed now that he had accomplished his task. “Again so very proud of you ladies and now must return home to check on Mrs. Goldman.”

“Tell Mrs. Goldman we are greatly honored,” said Ethel. Gladys waved goodbye and added, “And we’ll drop by to see her soon.”

The Goldman’s, although elderly, were very active in the community and worked hard to develop local interest in the arts. They had recently opened an art gallery for local artists and touring artists. Also, plans were underway for building a theater for professional drama productions and classical music concerts hoping to bring talent to Fairmount College.

Soothed by the sound of gentle rain, Gladys slept late Monday morning, relieved from the stress of college and celebrations as she rested in future plans. Marriage, a new home in the country, her fiancé’s banking career, and even the number of children they would have, had already been planned.

However, a sense of uncleanness interrupted her sweet sleep, as well as feelings of emptiness and insignificance. A longing for serenity overshadowed any happiness she had felt from the preceding days. Rising up out of a puffy cloud of down quilt, she stopped by the window to watch it rain. Her somber mood was quickly lifted with the delightful thought of walking out in the rain. Quickly, she wrapped a blanket over her head, walked out to the back yard and sat on the bench under a canopy of oak trees. She thought of childhood Sunday-School lessons teaching about God the Creator. As she watched the clouds overhead quickly dissipate a ray of sunlight burst through. Birds nearby chirped and a squirrel clucked, celebrating the sunshine with her. Then more sunlight broke through as the clouds rolled away.

What a beautiful majestic sky. Brilliant blue and billowing, rolling clouds. God created the sky on the second day…

Her thoughts were interrupted by Mother coming out the back door. “Gladys, what on earth are you doing out here in your nightgown with a blanket on your head?”

“Just thought it would be fun to sit in the rain a bit. Getting chilled though. Think I’ll go in now.”

“Come inside and warm up–I’m making a pot of coffee–I’ll heat up the biscuits I made earlier and we’ll have some apple butter Mrs. Ellis made.”

Mother wrapped one arm across her daughter’s shoulders as they walked inside together. “Go put on your robe and slippers while I hang up this wet blanket to dry on the clothesline.”

Gladys, with robe and slippers, returned to a warm kitchen, the wonderful aroma of biscuits and brewing coffee, feeling like a little girl again with her mother doting on her. Mother enjoyed preparing scrumptious meals and Gladys being the only child was always tempted to eat more than necessary. She had learned to put off indulgences by asking Mother to make a plate and save it in the ice box for later. And many times she gave the plate away to Greg or one of her friends.

Mother set before Gladys a hot plate of biscuits, eggs and bacon she had saved from breakfast and then sat down to sip a fresh cup of coffee. “Went to check on Mrs. Ellis this morning while you slept. She said to apologize for missing your graduation.”

“Is she feeling better?”

“Just a little cold it seems. She’s drinking hot tea with lemon and honey and napping with a hot water bottle on her chest.”

“I’ll drop by in a few days and thank her for the apple butter. It’s delicious with the butter and biscuits you made Mother.”

Mrs. Ellis had been their close neighbor since Gladys could remember. She liked to garden and often visited with neighbors as they walked by. And in summertime if you walked by on Sunday afternoon, you got an invitation to sit on the front porch and drink lemonade and perhaps, eat fresh baked cookies too. Mother had said Mrs. Ellis treated everyone in the neighborhood like family since she had no children of her own. Gladys remembered her mother saying that she didn’t know where Mrs. Ellis was from, but that it didn’t matter, because Mrs. Ellis had lived on Rose Lane long before they had moved to the neighborhood, so seemed like she had always been there. In most recent years, Dad and some other men in the neighborhood had helped Mrs. Ellis with cleaning the chimney, painting the house and fixing the water pump when it froze. They never complained since Mrs. Ellis was a joy to be around–kind and wise, she sometimes walked about humming hymns or quoting Bible verses when she thought it helpful to someone.

Mother and daughter quiet with their own thoughts while drinking coffee heard the sound of Dad coming home for lunch. Gladys walked to the living room and gave him a quick hug while he hung his hat on the coat rack near the door. “Looks like someone slept in this morning. Just having breakfast, when it’s time for lunch?”

“Yes dad, you caught me being lazy this morning. Just this one time though. The rest of the week, month actually, will be too busy to sleep late.”

“Alright then, just this one time, I’ll let you off the hook.”

“I’ll let you two have lunch now. Mother made chicken sandwiches while I finished off the biscuits from this morning.”

Dad usually came home for lunch, since he worked nearby as the editor for the Old Town Newspaper. The trolley could get him home and back to work in just a few minutes. Mother and Dad enjoyed each other’s company and rarely argued. Any disagreement that erupted usually quickly ended with Mother giving in to Dad’s wishes. Although, occasionally Mother quietly stood her ground and eventually Dad was the one to compromise. Secretly, Gladys thought perhaps Mother should stand her ground more often. However, she had observed their family life seemed to work well this way. Gladys felt dearly loved by both parents and well taught with Mother’s focus on good manners, social graces and church attendance while Dad focused on education and school achievements.

Dad, although not quite arranging her marriage, had a significant influence with her choice in marriage partner. Gladys had met her fiancé, Greg, and his parents at their church’s ice cream social. The Greysons had moved to town a few years earlier to open a bank while their son finished college in New York. After graduating, Greg moved to Old Town to work with his father at the bank. Dad and Mr. Greyson had become good friends and in time, the mutual agreement that their children would be a good match led to the arrangement for Gladys and Greg to meet at the church social. And shortly thereafter, to Dad’s delight, Greg and Gladys were engaged to be married after she graduated from college. Gladys had been fascinated with Greg and his discussions with colleagues about stocks and investments. And how could she resist a proposal which included a promise of a new house in the country with all the modern conveniences of 1921.

Gladys had felt fortunate to receive Greg’s proposal and gladly accepted. Later, in retrospect, she compared her feelings for Greg with the short-lived infatuations of her teen years. The excitement of just catching a glimpse of the boy of her daydreams, the racing heartbeat, stomach flutters and dizziness were all missing. Instead, with Greg, she enjoyed a feeling of security, but questioned if this was best. Yet, content to proceed with future plans. Recently, on pleasant Spring days, especially Saturday evenings, Greg and Gladys had enjoyed walks after dinner with friends Ethel, Molly and Hannah strolling along behind them. Often, they had played chess in the dining room while her parents listened to the radio in the living room. And the past month he had helped her prepare for final exams. And although, her initial goal of graduating college and then teaching at the school had changed, the achievement of receiving a college diploma sufficed for now. She had not the time to think otherwise. Her life seemed firmly arranged for the next month.

Gladys, Mother and Mildred went about planning the wedding, the final fitting for her bridal gown, making dresses for the bride’s maids, choosing florals and candles for the church and meeting with the minister. They had planned to meet with Pastor on Friday afternoon. Gladys had never been in Pastor’s office before and to her surprise, although the shelves of Bibles and reference books took up the entire wall behind his desk, the other walls had several stained glass windows with the afternoon sunlight making a golden glow in the room.

Now seated in chairs in front of Pastor’s desk, anticipating simple discussion about the ceremony, Gladys became astonished as Greg fidgeted in his seat.

“Frankly,” said Pastor. “I know you two came to discuss the details of the wedding ceremony and we’ll get to that. But first, I want to discuss something much more important.” Pastor paused as he collected his thoughts. “Marriage is a serious commitment, a covenant between a man and a woman to become one as God intended. Even more important is reconciliation with God, by faith in Jesus Christ.”

Pastor then handed a Bible to Greg. “I have an assignment for both of you. Over the weekend sit quietly with God and read the book of John in the Bible. I hope each of you will accept his gift of Salvation, then you will be prepared for a lifetime commitment to God and each other. Come back next week, same time and we will discuss the wedding ceremony.”

Speechless, Gladys and Greg rose from their seats. Greg shook Pastor’s hand, saying, “Thank you.” Then humbly, they left.

Both walked silently for several minutes, each not knowing what to say to the other. Then they both spoke at the same time.

“You go ahead and speak first,” said Gladys.

“We could have the marriage ceremony at our new home. It was going to be a surprise, but I hired a gardener to make a beautiful garden with an arbor and flowers in the back yard. I can imagine it would be even more beautiful with you in your wedding gown.”

Greg’s surprise and flattery captivated Gladys. “Sounds wonderful! Let’s go see it.”

“I want it to be as much of a surprise as possible. So let’s go ahead and plan to have the ceremony there. You can see it then.”

“I just hope the weather is nice, what will we do if it’s raining?”

Greg continued confidently, methodically planning. “We could have the ceremony in the gazebo if it rains–the dance in the barn and a barbeque on the patio under a canopy. We could have canopies on the lawn for shade over chairs if it’s sunshine or for shelter from rain. And besides, I suspect that if it rains not as many guests will come in on muddy roads.”

“True. Though, I hope for the sunshine. I can’t wait to see the garden you’ve made and I think everyone will enjoy an outdoor wedding party much more than being indoors on a summer day.”

As they walked, they talked about all the details of changing to a garden wedding. Coming up to Mrs. Ellis’s house, they observed two woman who were just leaving. Gladys recognized these woman from the university, where they had been speaking to a small crowd about the evil of alcohol and making the sale of alcohol illegal.

“Good day, ladies.” Greg said as the two women walked away in a huff.

“Mrs. Ellis, How are you?” Gladys asked as she walked up to the porch. “Is your cough all gone?”

“My cough is all gone now and my voice is back. However, I don’t think my visitors liked my voice just now.” Mrs. Ellis laughed, a unique laugh she was known for–a laugh mostly with her eyes and a very faint sound.

“Whatever, do you mean?” Gladys asked.

“Now Mrs. Ellis, were you mean to those ladies?” Greg said in jest.

“No, just honest. They wanted me to join a rally they have planned to speak out against the sale of alcohol. I explained I don’t have time to be doing that. People drink alcohol because they have no other comfort without Jesus. They have to numb the pain of sorrow and sin with drink. So let the poor souls have their drink if they don’t have Jesus. I would rather tell them about Jesus who can take away their need for alcohol.”

Greg was amused. “Mrs. Ellis, you amaze me.”

Gladys blushed and proceeded to change the subject. “Mrs. Ellis we’ve changed the wedding to a garden ceremony at our new home!” She waited for affirmation of approval for a garden wedding instead of a church wedding. Instead, Mrs. Ellis responded with a blank look and awkward silence.

Gladys hid her disappointment, yet felt pressured to carry on. “Let us know if you would like Dad to take you to the wedding in the carriage Mrs. Ellis,” said Gladys. “I need to get home now and discuss all the changes with Mother and Dad too.”

“A carriage ride in the country sounds fun…tell your Dad I’m grateful. Will be praying for you two…and God’s good plan.”

Saturday morning came with soft rain showers starting Gladys’ day with thoughts of a garden wedding at her new home. She imagined beautiful roses, irises, tulips and perhaps geraniums nourished by the gentle rain.

Then she thought of the reason for the change in wedding plans–Pastor’s challenge to read the book of John in the Bible. Why had Greg not talked about Pastor’s suggestion? Gladys had been in such shock after meeting with Pastor that she blindly followed Greg’s alternative plan. Gladys never questioned Greg about following Pastor’s assignment. Yet, now with curiosity, she took her cup of coffee back to her room and read from her own Bible, a gift from Mother at age twelve when attending confirmation class at church. Soon after, Mother called her to breakfast, which she quickly gobbled down, refilled her cup with coffee, cream and sugar and then returned to her room to read more from the wonderful book of John. Some scriptures were familiar and some were difficult to comprehend, but she was content to read half of the book with plans to read the remainder after church service on Sunday. And then she would ask Greg if he had read the book.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

Sunday morning church bells rang as Gladys and others from the congregation walked inside to the sanctuary and took a seat in their favorite pew. Gladys saved a seat for Greg, but when after songs and prayers he had not yet arrived, she began to worry. Worries about Greg and little notes from Ethel distracted her so that she couldn’t remember what Pastor had talked about. She had told Ethel about the change in plans for the wedding ceremony as they walked into church. Now, Ethel, too excited to wait for further explanation, passed little notes to her asking more about it. After the service ended and church was dismissed, Hannah and Molly, who were seated behind them asked to be let in on whatever secrets were being shared in the notes.

Glady stood commanding the attention of her friends. “Now that all my bride’s maids are here, let’s have a little meeting about a change in the wedding ceremony.” Gladys had put off worry about Greg while discussing the garden wedding with her friends. Then a man Gladys had never seen before, shyly walked up to them and asked if they knew of anyone named Gladys. Molly laughed and pointed to Gladys. Gladys politely said hello and with curiosity asked why he was looking for her.

Humbly, holding his hat in his hand the stranger introduced himself. “Sorry to interrupt Gladys, I work for the Greysons doing landscaping and carpentry. Greg wanted me to drop by and let you know he couldn’t come to church services today because he’s been called to attend a meeting in New York City. He had to take the train out this morning. He should return next week.”

“Thank you very much for delivering the message. I was worried about him.”

As Gladys and her friends walked home they visited with the gardener, who had introduced himself as Clay. They talked about his work for the Greysons and also his work preparing the garden at her future home. Molly maneuvered her way to walk beside Clay, expressing a common interest in gardening and her secret dream of starting a small floral shop in Old Town. Gladys and Ethel shared mutual looks of amusement at Molly and the gardener walking ahead of them, while Hannah quietly observed them all.

For the next several weeks, wedding plans proceeded in precedence. Mother and Mildred, although initially perplexed about the change to a garden ceremony, quickly adapted. Greg insisted that Gladys not be allowed to see the garden until finally wedding day arrived.

A gorgeous sunny day in June, washed by gentle rain the night before, with the road to the country house lined with cars and the barn full of horses resting from their carriages. It seemed that most everyone in Old Town had come to the Greyson wedding.

As guests arrived they were seated in wooden folding chairs on the lawn in view of the arbor. Behind the arbor to the left, a small bridge over a stream led to a gazebo where the parents of the bride and groom were seated. Judge Brooks and Greg waited there too until the singing began. From the patio door of the house Ethel, Molly and Hannah walked the cobble stone path leading to the arbor as they tossed rose petals from their baskets to the ground. They wore mid-length rose chiffon dresses and matching hats with a brow veil. Then the parents, the Judge and Greg joined the bride’s maids in front of the arbor. The wood arbor was wide enough for two to walk through comfortably. It was painted white including the gate and fence on both sides. Purple floral vine cascaded along the top and down along the sides of the arbor, with hedges of roses on each side of the gate along the fence. Wildflowers bloomed on the other side of the stream where the gazebo stood and even further out to the barn.

Gladys stepped out from the patio door when her friends from the college choir began singing in acapella the Song of Ruth, a traditional wedding song taken from the book of Ruth in the Bible.

♫ Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live.

Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.

Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.

Today we two, vow to live our lives, together as one…

Gladys carried a simple bouquet of white flowers tied with rose ribbons as she walked gracefully in a full length white chiffon dress, veiled in lace and a headband of pearls. A train of lace attached to the back of her dress flowed over the rose petals on the ground as she walked down the path to meet her Greg. The bride fixed a smile upon her face, barely able to speak or remember the rest of the day–overwhelmed with the sobering reality of the life changing moment.

Photo by Micah Boerma on Pexels.com

Now after two months she had accepted the transition of being a free spirited college graduate with endless opportunities to being a country wife. All the extra duties hardly seemed a burden while enjoying the beautiful house, garden, the orchard, and the tree lined fields adorned with wildflowers. And Greg seemed to be a good man. However, she was concerned about his nightly habit of taking a shot of whiskey after arriving home from work and then smoking a pipe of tobacco after dinner. He had not done this before when they had dinner with either her parents or with the Greysons on Saturday evenings. He had noticed her disdainful looks and remarked that a little whiskey and a smoke was common practice among his colleagues back east. And lately, she was also concerned about the nausea she felt in the morning. Greg suggested she visit the doctor, but Gladys decided to visit her mother first.

So the next day, Greg, while driving to work, dropped Gladys off at Mother’s house. Gladys walked in the front door like she still lived there. “Mother brew a pot of coffee. I brought some cinnamon rolls I made yesterday.”

Mother with arms wide open, hugged Gladys like she hadn’t seen her for years. They talked for more than an hour, catching up on news from family and neighbors. Finally, she told Mother about the nausea. “Lately, I’ve been feeling faint and upset in my stomach, but only in the morning. Greg said I should go to the doctor. What do you think Mother?”

Mother smiled and asked, “Have you missed your monthly too?”

“Oh–yes–I have–I’ve been so busy–I didn’t think of it.” Slowly, Gladys began to think of the reality. “Maybe I’m pregnant.”

Mother smiled sweetly. “When I was pregnant with you, I never had morning sickness. Though my sister and other women I’ve known had morning sickness. But only when they had baby boys.”

Gladys felt embarrassed and ashamed so changed the subject. “Oh I’m probably not–just too much country air. There’s so much work to do outside. More than I realized. I take care of the garden, the horses and then there’s just the everyday cleaning and cooking to do. You know Mother, much more than this lazy school girl is used to.”

Mother laughed, “Country air is good for you and the hard work too. If you ever need help, let me know.”

Mother and Gladys worked on a quilting project the rest of the day until Greg arrived to take her home. Mother sensed that Gladys didn’t want to talk about the nausea anymore so she didn’t mention it again until it was time for Gladys to go. “Let me know how your doctor visit turns out.” Gladys hugged Mother goodbye without comment.

With winter just around the corner Gladys started several projects to prepare the household for colder weather. She cleared the vegetable garden and stored the last of the tomatoes, potatoes and onions in the pantry. Then she mulched it with leaves that had fallen on the ground. She placed on the porch a pumpkin arranged with sheaves of wheat tied with orange and brown ribbons. She trimmed the hedges, cleaned the barn and had hay and feed delivered for the horses. Over the summer, Greg had been storing up wood from tree trimmings for use in the fireplace. But they also had another big supply of coal delivered for the cook-stove.

The morning nausea gradually faded away but the stirring of life within the bulge of her tummy reminded Gladys of more important things to tend to. She discussed it with Greg one evening taking his hand and placing it on her tummy. Greg smiled proudly upon feeling their baby move and insisting that his wife visit Doctor, he took her into Old Town the next day. Doctor was elderly, wise and kind, confident that Gladys and baby were in excellent health. Doctor recommended Mrs. Ellis as midwife to assist with the birth and suggested that they may want to have her close by during the last few weeks of the pregnancy, just in case the baby came a little earlier than expected.

Mrs. Ellis was so happy when Gladys and Greg dropped by after their visit with Doctor. Especially with the news of their first baby on the way in a few months and even more excited about assisting with the birth.

“Missed seeing you both at church. Mrs. Greyson said you haven’t been feeling well Gladys. Good to know it’s a little blessing on the way instead of a serious illness.”

Greg, accustomed to communicating as a professional banker, presented a request to Mrs. Ellis as a business prospect. “If not an inconvenience to you Mrs. Ellis, would you reside in our guest room until the baby comes? Mother and Dad will watch over your house while you’re away. And then Mother will probably join us later when the baby arrives to help out too.”

“I would love to stay with you.” Mrs. Ellis clasped her hands together as if to pray. “A privilege to help the little one get a good start in life.”

“We’re grateful Mrs. Ellis. Sets my mind at ease knowing Gladys will have someone with her when I’m away at work. We’ll provide everything you need and generous pay for your services.”

“I trust the good Lord to see to it that everything works out just fine.”

“Good!” Greg confirmed the deal. “We’ll be celebrating the holidays soon and would love to have you as our guest at the family Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.”

“I’ll be counting the days. And making more apple butter–Peanut brittle and fudge too.”

Gladys added her part. “And I’ll be working on the baby’s room. Dad is bringing the family rocking chair. Going to paint it and make new cushions and quilts for the new crib.”

Mrs. Ellis rose from her chair to make coffee in the kitchen. “I’ll crochet a baby blanket too! You can never have too many blankets.”

While Mrs. Ellis served coffee, the women chatted for a while about baby things, Thanksgiving pies and Christmas trees and Greg stepped out on the porch to smoke a pipe of tobacco.

After the arrival of yet another snow storm in February, Gladys was thankful she had worked hard to prepare for winter. The baby’s room was ready and Mrs. Ellis was planning to move into the guest room the next week. Greg shoveled a path to the barn and then to the road so he could ride the horse to work the next day. Gladys had made a pot of stew and was waiting for two loaves of bread to finish baking in the oven. Greg would be coming inside soon to warm up and so she brewed a fresh pot of coffee. She sat to rest awhile to relieve pressure from the weight of baby. As she rested she thought of her Bible and the unfinished reading Pastor had recommended several months ago. She poured herself a cup of coffee, retrieved the Bible and started reading from the book marker, the tenth chapter of John. Some of the verses intrigued her, some were confusing, but captivating.

Again after dinner with dishes done, instead of quilting she settled in the rocker near the fireplace and continued reading. She thought about the connection between obeying God’s commands and relationship with him. In the past she had always thought of God as someone far away and not very concerned about common daily life. But now, after reading the Bible, she learned about the Lord’s compassion–he cared about the everyday needs of people. Tired, she would think more about this tomorrow. As she got up to go to bed, the pressure on her lower abdomen was so intense she clasped her hands under her belly to try to somehow relieve it, but it didn’t help. She went to the bathroom and there baby’s water gushed out and then birth pains began. Greg heard her moan and came in to see her on hands and knees on the floor to relieve the pressure. He gently lifted her up and helped her to the bedroom to lie down. The pain subsided.

Gladys began to panic. “Greg I think it’s time. The baby is coming. What should we do? Mrs. Ellis isn’t here to help us. It’s too late to go for the doctor–and the roads are bad.”

“Do you think you can hold on, or baby will wait till I can get out at daylight?”

“I don’t know,” she softly cried as tears came to her eyes. “This is the first baby, I have no idea what it’s like. Do you think God is punishing us?

Greg looked annoyed. “Look at you. Read the Bible for a few hours and now you’re talking foolishness.” But then he felt sorry for scolding her. “I’ll bring you a cup of milk to help you relax.”

When Greg returned with the glass of milk, Gladys could smell a bit of whiskey on his breath.

He fluffed the pillows and sat beside her. “Try to sleep–I’ll go to town at daylight.” And even though his voice was a bit gruff he tried to reassure her. “Everything will be alright.”

Another birth pain came. Greg held Gladys’ hand and rubbed her arm to sooth her. He brought more pillows. He brought towels and put them on the cabinet nearby. An hour went by and another birth pain came, but more intense. She thought of stories told among the women in her family about “troubled” births and either the mother or baby dying. Gladys was frightened, but tried not to show it. After twenty minutes another birth pain came. Because of all the pillows surrounding Gladys, Greg sat in a chair beside her, holding her hand. Although Greg found it difficult to empathize, he tried his best to comfort her. He talked about buying a pony for the baby, setting up a savings fund for baby’s college, having Clay come and help out in the spring, since she would be busy with baby. Then he smiled and whispered in her ear, “We’ll even have another picnic in the meadow this spring.” She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth with yet another even more intense contraction–remembering the picnic in the meadow many months ago had led to these birth pains.

She changed her position and asked for extra pillows, but the pain increased. Silently she prayed through the pain of another contraction. God please forgive me. Forgive us. Please God.

Gladys followed the natural instinct to push hard with each contraction while she prayed through each excruciating pain. God please help us. She was exhausted but the pain urged her to keep pushing even harder with each contraction as they came more often.

“Keep doing what you’re doing Gladys. The baby’s head is appearing. Baby is just about here.”

Gladys smiled and glowed with joy. She rested a bit. Then with a few more agonizing, piercing hard pushes, along with prayers and Greg’s help, their baby boy took his first breath and announced his appearing with his first faint cry.

“Gladys its daylight. You and baby rest. Going into town to get the doctor or Mrs. Ellis.”

“Be careful. Bring both if you can.”

Gladys and baby could do nothing but rest and wait. But she had peace that God had heard her prayers.

After a few hours, Greg returned with Mrs. Ellis. Doctor had gone over to New Town to check on some patients but couldn’t get home because of the snow. Mrs. Ellis went right to work taking care of the baby and Gladys. Then she took care of the household while Gladys and baby slept.

Soon baby began fussing and Mrs. Ellis gave Gladys instruction on nursing the baby which was exactly what baby needed. “Mrs. Ellis, thank you for coming out here. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“Sorry I wasn’t here to help with the birth, but somehow you managed fine.”

Gladys whispered. “Greg thinks he’s the one who came to the rescue, and he was great, but I was silently crying out to God too.”

“God can certainly help and direct like no other. Now that baby is finished feeding, he’ll sleep well for a few hours. We’ll wrap him up cozy in blankets over here in the cradle. So now you should sleep for a while too. Don’t worry about him, he’s right here, you’ll hear him fussing a little when he wakes. So you rest.”

Greg came in to take a nap too. Sweet sleep for the Greysons for a few short hours.

Baby John was now the center of attention in the Greyson household, and rightly so–twenty-four hours focus on baby’s needs first and any other task came second. Mrs. Ellis helped the Greysons adjust to the change and establish a workable routine during the first week. Doctor came to check on Gladys and baby too. He remarked that baby John was fully developed, good weight and seemed very healthy for being born a month early. There was an awkward silence and no comment from either Greg or Gladys. Greg returned to work with assurance that Mrs. Ellis would stay another day to help Gladys who was still weak and needing help with the household.

One morning the new mother and her helper took a quiet break while baby John was napping. “Mrs. Ellis, Mother is coming to stay for a few days, so if you need to go home Dad will take you, but you’re welcome to stay. You seem like part of the family.” Gladys poured coffee into their cups, and put out cream and sugar on the kitchen table.

“Good to be here, but missing home. Think I’ll go on home with your Dad tomorrow. Your Mother will be good help. I’m sure she’s ecstatic about meeting her new grandson. Anyway, I need to prepare Sunday-School lessons for the kids at church. Some hands-on craft things I need to work on too.”

“Mrs. Ellis I’ve been thinking about God more lately. Reading the Bible. Feeling guilty about some things. I want to know more about God and spiritual things. Seems like I’ve known stories about Jesus and how God has worked in people’s lives, but he hasn’t been real to me–until recently.”

“Didn’t you dedicate your life to Christ when you went to confirmation classes?”

“Well, yes, but I think I just went along with everything because my friends were in the class. I never told anyone, but I never felt any different about God after the classes. Until this past week, God has just been someone far away out there who doesn’t really know or care about what I’m doing.”

“So what changed this week?”

Gladys hesitated with embarrassment. “When Greg and I were all alone with no one to help with the baby’s birth, I was frightened and thought maybe I would die. I thought God was punishing us. So I cried out to God to forgive me.”

Mrs. Ellis thought for a moment and began to put everything together. “So I think you’re saying you’ve felt guilty about breaking one of God’s commands and thought you were being punished.”

“Yes. I think he forgave me and helped us. But I want to be sure.” Gladys began weeping. “Oh Mrs. Ellis I’m so ashamed. Mother and Dad will know. And my friends. Everyone will figure out just like Doctor that baby wasn’t premature.”

“Gladys, I’ve known shame too. But Jesus is such a wonderful Savior. A friend of sinners like you and me.”

“You, Mrs. Ellis? What could you be ashamed of? You’re such a good woman!”

“I’ve watched you grow up and I think you can keep a secret. So I will tell you.” Mrs. Ellis took a deep breath and began her story.

“Long ago when I was about your age, I lived in a big city. I had gone there to meet a man I had written letters to for two years. We became engaged and he had invited me to come to the city and we were to be married as soon as I arrived. My parents forbade me to go, but I secretly left on my adventure anyway. When I arrived to meet the man I was to marry, I found out he had been killed in a street brawl. I was devastated and too proud to go back home. So I stayed. Got snared into what seemed to me the only type of work I could do. And I had a house to live in with other ladies doing the same work. It all seemed exciting for a time, but then I began to loathe myself and drink alcohol. Then one night an elderly man and woman came into the saloon where we served drinks to our clients. They had a handful of fliers and they gave one to me. They both looked at me with smiles and sparkling eyes. They said won’t you please come and hear a life changing message. We would love to have you there. They were so sincere and full of love I couldn’t resist going. I heard the truth about sin and rebellion and the need for cleansing and healing by believing in Jesus. I’ve been clinging to truth about Jesus’ cleansing blood ever since. He made me a new person. I left that big city and came to Old Town. Bought the little house on Rose Lane. I was one of the first to live there. God has been so good to me. He’s taken care of me and given me a new life.”

Gladys remained silent not knowing what to say, but thinking she could never imagine Mrs. Ellis being other than the Mrs. Ellis she had known forever.

Quickly, Mrs. Ellis continued her story. “Jesus is reaching out to you right now Gladys. So just come to him and tell him you want that new life that only he can give. Ask him to cleanse you of your sin. We’re all rotten sinners. Every one of us. God became a man, Jesus. Fully human but without sin. He died willingly to provide the sacrifice needed to bring reconciliation between people and God. It’s what God designed. Only by faith in Jesus can you be healed of your sin nature and become part of the family of God.”

“I want that–to be cleansed–to be part of the family…although I already love you like family.”

“And I love you like my child–now go ahead Gladys–pray to Jesus now.”

“Jesus please cleanse me of sin. Heal my soul. I want to know you and live to please you.”

“Dear Lord, hear her prayer of faith in you Jesus. Accept this child into your kingdom–thank you for giving her new life.”

Weeping with joy, Gladys stood and hugged Mrs. Ellis.

Mrs. Ellis patted her new daughter on the back. “Welcome to the family.”

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This story is a fictionalization. Although, historical events, people and places are used fictitiously, details of the time period have been portrayed as accurately as possible for authenticity. All characters are fictional unless otherwise noted.