The day my father first saw my mother he was driving a team of horses hitched to a wagon. Passing by a farm he saw a figure through a thin stand of trees. He leaned back, reining in the horses. The trees moved by slowly, allowing him to see a young woman bending over a rake. She was in a garden, close to the road. She was wearing a light-coloured dress but he was drawn to her profile. She caught him staring when she raised her head and looked back over across the shallow ditch. Dad said he remembered her face: shy smile, bright clear eyes, wavy long brown hair. “She was sure pretty,” he said, allowing himself a bit more candour.
When my father told this story the creases on his forehead smoothed out and his blue eyes deepened.
One day my dad stopped the horses, or the car, or whatever he was driving, and said Hi. A cracked and yellow-edged picture from their courtship shows Mom sitting on the front of a 1930-something Chevrolet. Dad has his arm around her waist and is leaning into her, one foot is raised and is resting on the running board. My mom’s face has that shy smile and those bright eyes that dad spoke of; and she seems light, ready to float up off the fender. They married, raised a family, and settled into the vagaries of farm life.
Mom’s faith was displayed in Bible verses: needle pointed, embroidered, stitched into pictures that hung on the walls. Most of all they were taped to her fridge. If she was worried, more verses would appear on the fridge door. The greater the difficulty, the more Bible verses. They also showed up in the tobacco pouch I thought I had hid well enough. During my high school years I think the entire New Testament passed across the refrigerator door.
It was her that welcomed me home, as prodigal. It was late afternoon when I stood at the stoop of our house after three years of almost no contact. I couldn’t just walk in like I had always done before, and I felt sad about this. I knocked on the green screen door. My mother answered and for a brief second stood before me without a sign of recognition. I couldn’t blame her. My hair hung in long strings over my shoulders half-way to my waist, and I was rail thin. I said, “Hi Mom,” and waited. Suddenly she reached out and pulled me through the entrance like she was pulling a drowning man into a boat.
The years evaporated and I was home, and, to Mom, nothing else mattered. The only thing that came between us was my own guilt at being absent all that time. She soon set about making me a sandwich and boiling water for instant coffee. And in between slicing bread and trips to the fridge she asked to hear all about my time away. I told her the things I could and then I said I was coming home to get reestablished. The words made it sound like I was implementing a career change. I was surprised at how I could still pretend in the face of all the contrary evidence. I was reaching for a bit of dignity. She nodded and knew what I meant and knew what I needed just then. She let me be and she was beautiful to me.
I saw her beauty in other unexpected ways. Being raised in an evangelical home we were taught a doctrine known as the rapture. It was preached about with some intensity and it made an impression on young imaginative minds. The rapture is the belief that before the great tribulation, mentioned in the book of Revelations, God will rapture, that is, take up, all true Christians from the earth.
I was nine or 10 years old the day it happened. It was Saturday and I had slept in. The morning was fresh and bright. But the house was still. There was no usual muted mid-morning clamour. No squeak in the floor that told me dad was leaning back in a chair. There was no little sister rustling around, no usual rattle in the kitchen.
I went downstairs. I stood at the landing and knew the rapture had happened. The door was wide open, they hadn’t gone through the ceiling, they were sucked through the door. I was left behind. And this amazingly bright day turned dark.
I ran outside in a blur. I turned toward the street — nothing. I ran to the back of the house, my mother was hanging up clothes. Oh no! Mom didn’t make it either! I stood blinking. Noises from the world around me returned, my sense returned, and I realized that if my mother was still here, nothing happened. She would easily have been one of the first to be snatched up.
The day returned to me in a blaze, twice as fresh and twice as bright, as a result of my survival. My mother was a vision, as radiant as an angel, beautiful as she stretched and stood on her toes pinning white sheets to the sky.
And to me, this is how she remains.
Berg, a freelance writer and poet, currently lives in Victoria, B.C., where he also volunteers at Our Place, a care facility for homeless people. His poetry and prose have been in staged performances and have appeared in such publications as the Edmonton Journal, Orion, Geez, and Earth Shine. He blogs at www.growmercy.org