By Alice J. Kinder © 1984
Issue: December, 1984
When Big Papa was killed by a falling tree as he cut timber, Mama comforted her mother. And when Papa died of a heart attack, we children knew Mama needed help. As a family we had learned to be aware of our interrelationships and our need for each other.
This morning I prepared to drive to town to see the doctor, also to get some medicine for Mama. As I opened the door, I observed that last night's cheerless world with its crisscross shivering rain and barren fields had overnight assumed a breathtaking loveliness beneath a spread of snow. It was a still, white scene that made me pause and with reverence sense anew God's creativity. A bright sun and blue sky bade me "be still, and know."
Driving into town, I recalled other wintry days similar to this one. And then in the waiting room I looked up at the snow scene in the large photograph on the wall almost identical with the scene outside. In the picture snow lay in soft, heaped-up mounds, and beside a tall mound near a hemlock tree stood an old lady whose hair resembled the silvery whiteness of the snow.
On previous trips I had often whiled away moments by noting various reactions to that picture. Some persons did not so much as glance in its direction. A few eyed it with momentary curiosity. Yet there were certain people who studied it with an intuitive understanding of love and an awareness of beauty in the commonplace.
An elderly man beside me coughed into his handkerchief, and I remembered the year when Papa had been ill.
On a cold winter day Papa had finally admitted he would not be able to finish his teaching term. Since the first killing frost in October, he'd been sick with the hacking cough which had been with him since his seesaw fight with the influenza epidemic of 1918. The doctor had often warned that his lung condition might give him future trouble. Now it appeared that old Dr. Wainwright's prediction had come to pass.
"Slack down there a bit, Will," the doctor said.
"But how can I?" Papa asked wearily. "With three boys in college now, I must continue teaching. The farm won't pay for everything. Jerry now has enough credits so he could enter the second semester, too. But I don't see how he can just yet."
"Well, you could get a loan and buy a secondhand Ford. That would do away with riding horseback all those miles to school in the winter." Doc had retorted. "And just how would I repay the loan?" Papa asked testily.
Yes, it was quite true that Papa did not have money to invest in a car, either new or secondhand. But also, he invariably shunned all "newfangled inventions" and the chief one against which he had especially declared a private war was none other than the invention that had made a millionaire of Henry Ford.
So Papa continued to ride his horse the 10-mile round trip to school and back each day. But now we knew he would ride no more that year.
Christmas was just around the corner. Already Mama had baked huge stacks of fruitcakes to be stored on the pantry shelves. I'd cracked walnuts and hickory nuts for her after school. Mama had made other cakes, too, which I decorated with bright red cinnamon berries.
Together she and I had knitted socks for the boys and a warm muffler and heavy socks for Papa. Little Cousin Rell was with us that winter, and Mama had made a big stuffed rabbit for him from quilt scraps. Sending him down to Big Mama's on Saturdays to get the boy out of the way, Papa and I had made a sled for the little tyke. Uncle Bartley had given me a can of red paint, and I had really made a showpiece out of the little coaster.
On Saturday nights after Rell was asleep, Papa had taken a little wooden guitar from the closet and carved by the firelight. He used strands of wire from an old screen door for the strings. Little Rell set such store by music. Even as a five-year-old, he sang the hymns in church. He'd practiced singing "Silent Night" as a solo for Christmas.
I noticed, however, that my brother Jerry didn't sing at his chores as he used to do. Neither did he tease me as in former days and he'd stopped playing checkers with little Rell. Mama was worried about him. I often saw her eyes on him when she knew he wasn't looking.
Jerry told our parents he really didn't wish to enroll in college until next September. But we knew better - Papa and Mama and I.
"Uncle Bartley wants me to help around the store in January,” Jerry said. "He may need me for a full-time worker by summer. Why, I may just end up going into the store business with him."
"And give up your dream of being a doctor?" Mama had asked, her blue eyes filled with alarm.
"Oh, well," Jerry had answered dejectedly. His voice trailed out like our path to the barn gate.
The boys came home from college for the holidays. Clayton kept us laughing as he told jokes and lifted Mama high in the air under the mistletoe. John preached the Christmas sermon in our church on Christmas Eve. Jim sang a solo - "O Little Town of Bethlehem." I was one of the angels in the shepherd play, and Rell was the little boy left behind to tend the sheep.
On Christmas Day our hearts were overflowing and joyous as the family sat down to eat. Papa managed to say grace without coughing, but John read the Christmas story from the Bible. It was the first time I could remember that Papa had missed reading the story on Christmas Day.
Christmas night the whole family gathered around the hearth. The older boys were much concerned about Papa's illness and about the problem of Jerry's entering college. They discussed various ways each one could help. We lacked money, I knew, and other things also. But sitting there with our family in the firelight glow, I felt rich and warm inside, thinking of the Christ child and of God's goodness in bringing us together again.
The next morning our outside world looked miserable, begging for sympathy. Amid the mournful, persistent pattering of rain Big Mama, bundled up in an old raincoat, came to check on Papa. She and Mama had a long talk by the kitchen stove. I was reading in the little lean-to room and couldn't help hearing them.
"Well, Mama," my own mama said, "we're edged against the wall this time. None of the boys must quit college. I won't permit that. All three are barely squeezing by with their expenses, working part-time. We've still got a little corn money left and some of Will's last check. I'll be paid next week, too, for the Kentucky Garden quilt I pieced for Minerva Harris."
Big Mama rocked away, her lips held tightly shut.
"Well, Betsy," she spoke at last, "the Lord provides, one step at a time, for those who help themselves. Plenty there be suffering about us, you know, with the cold winds killing all the fruit last spring, the drought in the summer, and the mines shut down this fall. We've plenty of company in our distress if that's any comfort," she mused.
"Betsy, she said after a lengthy pause, "you go ahead and sell all the quilts you can. I've got a little egg money and a few sales in mind for decoration flowers. And, well - Jacob Trelawney stopped by last week. He wants to buy Rose Petal."
"Rose Petal, Mama! But you can't sell Rose Petal. She may be just a COW, but you know yourself you always treated her like your own children."
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't," Big Mama said. "Be that as it may, Rose Petal is up for sale. And the money she brings goes to Jerry, and Jerry alone. Why don't you remember how he saved her that time after she had Butternut? None of the men could help her a mite, and there was little 14-year-old Jerry, who brought her back to life and made her want to live again."
By this time Mama's eyes were misting over. She looked out the window.
"Yes," said Big Mama. "Rose Petal goes and the money goes to Jerry. Sure, and I've got Lilly Bloom left, haven't I? She and the other stock are more than enough to keep an old woman like me on the move."
"But why can't Jake take Lily Bloom? Mama, we can't let you do this for us. Will and I can manage somehow. We should be able to look after our own children."
"There are times for help and times to let folks tote their own burdens. My helping, you wait and see, will not be charity. In the years to come it will prove a sound investment and fall on fertile ground. Give Jerry a push to start him, a dose of faith in himself, and I'll guarantee he'll make the future steps on his own':
"Listen, child," my grandmother's voice grew soft and tender as the apple blossoms in May, "you accept God's gifts every day - the air you breathe, the sunlight rays, the rain for crops, and strength to work for your family. You accept God's greatest gift, His Son, whose birthday we celebrated yesterday. You've brought up your children to accept Him, too."
Mama's eyes filled with tears.
"Then why can't you let your own mother help along life's pathway when the climbing grows too steep to walk alone?"
Mama and my grandmother were silent for a long moment.
"Jake won't take Lily Bloom. He said he wouldn't buy a cow in this county unless it be Rose Petal." Big Mama's voice, spiced with a brisk note of pride, was back to normal now. "So Rose Petal goes tomorrow. It will never be said that a grandson of mine couldn't continue his education to become a doctor just because of a little matter like greenbacks blocking the path."
The next morning gave birth to a lovely snow-wrapped world - our delayed Christmas snow, little Rell called it. Jacob Trelawny came to visit Papa; and when he left, Mama, Big Mama and I walked down the road with him.
My grandmother didn't utter a word all the way to her house. But when Jacob led Rose Petal from the barn, she placed a hand on Mama's sleeve. She turned aside to wipe the tears away. "Betsy," she said, "does Will have any more of those picture rolls left in his Kodak box? Do you reckon you could take a picture of Rose Petal and me?"
"Good afternoon," a brisk, hearty voice interrupted my reverie in the waiting room. A tall figure in white picked up the list on his receptionist's desk.
"A most beautiful day, don't you think?" the doctor asked the crowd. "Our Christmas snow is not belated this year, is it?"
For a fleeting instant the young man's eyes turned to lock questioningly with mine.
"Mr. Linwood, first. Please follow me," said the doctor efficiently.
The tall stranger must be new in town. As he rose from his seat, he took a last lingering look at the picture of the snow scene and the silver-haired lady whose courageous, lined countenance nestled against the face of a cow.
"Doc," said the stranger, "that picture there, would you mind my asking about it?"
The doctor reached his long fingers to the picture. He straightened it a fraction of an inch.
Then proudly my brother Jerry told the stranger, "Mr. Linwood, you are now being introduced to my grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Texas Greenleaf Tanner. Because of her faith in me, because of Rose Petal, you are entering my office today. The sale of Rose Petal was my delayed Christmas gift."
On the radio a clear young voice began singing "Silent Night.” Outside the sun shone bright and glorious across the snow.
Jerry looked at me again. He closed the door behind himself and the stranger. So this was now the fifth time. Five persons had now asked Jerry about the picture. Each time the occasion had been on Christmas Eve.
Besides writing Mama's Kitchen Window, from which "The Sale of Rose Petal" is taken, Alice J. Kinder has written 3 other books, Papa's Neighbors, Mama's Pathway to Heaven, and Old-Fashioned Mountain Mothers. The 4 books are $3.50 each or any two for $6.00. As a special holiday bonus, the complete set may be ordered for only $10.50 from Mrs. Alice J. Kinder, Rt. 6, Box 666, Pikeville, KY 41501. Includes postage and handling.