Trip called. Hildemara is back in the hospital. She had been there for nearly two months before they got around to telling me about it. But now they want my help. My sweet Hildemara Rose, the smallest, the weakest, the most dependent of my children. She has struggled from the beginning. And now, somehow, I must find a way to give her the courage for one more struggle.
I didn’t always see it, but recently the Lord has reminded me of all the times Hildemara’s courage and spunk have served her well. She chose her own path in life and pursued it against all odds (and against my advice, I might add!). She followed that husband of hers from one military base to another, finding apartments in strange cities, making new friends. She crossed the country by herself and came home to help Bernhard and Elizabeth hold on to the Musashis’ land, despite threats and fire and bricks through their windows.
And I needn’t remind you of her response when faced with the same kind of abuse that our dear Elise succumbed to so many years ago. She was smart enough to run. My daughter has courage!
I have been forced to admit that I have always favored Hildemara a little above the others. (Is any of this news to you, my dear friend? I suspect you know me better than I know myself.) From the moment my first daughter came into the world, she has held a special place in my heart. Niclas always said she looked like me, and I’m afraid it’s true. And we both know how little regard my father had for my plain looks. And like Elise, she was frail.
How could a mother’s heart fail to respond to such a combination? I did what I felt I had to do. From the start I determined that I would not cripple Hildemara Rose the way Mama crippled Elise. But now I wonder if I did the right thing. Did I push her too hard and, in so doing, push her away? She wouldn’t even let her husband call me for help until they both thought she was past the point of no return. I wish now I’d been more like my mother, with her gracious and loving spirit, and less like my father. Yes, that’s right. I see clearly that I inherited some of his selfish and cruel ways. Don’t try to convince me otherwise, Rosie. We both know it’s true.
Now my hope and prayer is that I can bring Hildemara close again. I am praying for more time. I want Hildemara to know how much I love her, how proud I am of her and her accomplishments. I want to mend my relationship with her. I want to learn how to serve my daughter. I, who have rebelled all my life at the very thought of servanthood.
I started thinking about Lady Daisy and our afternoons at Kew and tea in the conservatory. I think it’s about time I shared some of these experiences with Hildemara Rose…I will make all the wonderful sweets and savories for Hildemara Rose that I once served to Lady Daisy. I will pour India tea and lace it with cream and conversation.
God willing, I will win back my daughter.
Your loving friend,
Hildemara lay in the darkness, her nightgown damp with perspiration. Night sweats again --- she should be used to them by now. Her roommate, Lydia, snored softly. Lydia had been steadily improving since she arrived six weeks ago, which only served to depress Hildemara more. Lydia had gained two pounds; Hildie lost the same amount.
Two months and still no improvement, hospital bills mounting daily, crushing Trip’s dreams beneath their weight. Her husband came each afternoon. He’d looked so tired yesterday, and no wonder when he had to work full-time and then go home and take care of all her duties: laundry, cooking, seeing to Charlie’s and Carolyn’s needs. Hildie grieved over her children --- Charlie on his own so much of the time, Carolyn being raised by an indifferent babysitter. She hadn’t touched or seen her children since Trip brought her to the hospital. She missed them so much, she felt physical pain most of the time. Or was that just the mycobacterium tuberculosis consuming her lungs and decimating her body?
Pushing the covers back, Hildie went to the bathroom to rinse her face with cool water. Who was that gaunt, pale ghost staring back at her in the mirror? She studied the sharp angles, the pallor, the shadows beneath her hazel eyes, the lackluster brown color of the hair around her shoulders.
I’m dying, Lord, aren’t I? I haven’t enough strength to fight this disease. And now I have to face Mama’s disappointment in me. She called me a coward last time. Maybe I am giving up. She cupped water in her hands and pressed her face into it. Oh, God, I love Trip so much. And Charlie and sweet little Carolyn. But I’m tired, Lord, so very tired. I’d rather die now, than linger and leave a legacy of debt.
She’d told Trip as much last week. She only wished she could die at home, rather than in a sterile hospital room twenty miles away. His face had twisted in anguish. “Don’t say that. You’re not going to die. You have to stop worrying about the bills. If your mother came, I could bring you home. Maybe then…”
She’d argued. Mama wouldn’t come. She’d never helped before. Mama hated the very idea of being a servant. And that’s exactly what she’d be --- a full-time maid and washerwoman, babysitter and cook, without pay. Hildie said she couldn’t ask such a thing of Mama.
Trip called Mama anyway, and then he went down on Saturday with Charlie and Carolyn so he and Mama could talk things over. He’d come out this morning. “Your mother said yes. I’m taking a couple of days off to get things ready for her.” He wanted to repaint Carolyn’s room, buy a nice, comfortable bed, a new dresser and mirror, maybe a rocking chair. “Charlie and Carolyn will have the small bedroom. You and I’ll be together…”
“I can’t sleep with you, Trip. I need to be quarantined.” She could barely absorb the news that Mama had agreed to help. “I can’t be near the children.” At least, she could hear them; she could see them. Mama said she’d come. Mama was moving in. Hildie trembled, taking it all in. She felt a little sick to her stomach. “I’ll need a hospital bed.” She gave Trip instructions about her room. No rug. A window shade rather than curtains. The simpler the room, the easier to keep sanitized. Trip looked so hopeful, it broke her heart. He leaned down to kiss her forehead before he left. “You’ll be home soon.”
Now, she couldn’t sleep. Rather than get back into bed, Hildie sat in a chair by the window and looked out at the stars. What was it going to be like, having Mama living under her roof, taking care of her, taking care of her children, taking care of all the chores that needed to be done so Trip didn’t have to do everything? Would Mama despise her for not fighting harder? Her eyes burned; her throat ached just thinking about having to lie in bed sick and helpless while Mama took over her family. She wiped tears away. Of course, Mama would do it all better than she ever could. That realization hurt even more. Mama had always managed everything. Even without Papa, the ranch ran like a well-oiled machine. Mama would fix Trip wonderful meals. Mama would be the one to give Charlie wings. Mama would probably have Carolyn reading before she turned four.
I should be grateful. She cares enough to come and help. I didn’t think she did.
When the night air cooled her, Hildie slipped beneath the covers again.
She wanted to be grateful. She would say thank you, even as she had to watch the life she loved slip away from her. She had fought hard to be free of Mama’s expectations, to claim her own life and not live out her mother’s impossible dreams. Even the one thing at which she’d excelled would be stripped from her before she closed her eyes for the last time.
Mama would be the nurse. Mama would carry the lantern.