Family Stories

Hester

The day was November 7, 1938. She had turned 39 in August and was in her twelfth year of marriage to an uneducated but hard working farmer who adored her. It was never clear if she really loved him or if at the advanced age of 26, she had just given in to the fear of becoming a spinster and finally agreed to marry him when he asked her for the sixth or seventh time.

She was a tall, pretty woman with hazel eyes, a thick head of wavy auburn hair and perfect white teeth. She loved jewelry and china and books and beautiful things. Her own mother ran off and left the family Hester_1
when she was ten-years-old, leaving her to help her father raise her three younger siblings.

At an early age, she had made the unconventional decision to forego marriage and children in favor of working as a housekeeper for a wealthy doctor in order to have the nice things she loved so much. Marrying Allen Rhodes had put an end to her life of pretty things and was the beginning of a life of hard work and worry that was the lot of the farmer’s wife. Together they had five children ages 11, 8, 6, 4 and 5-weeks.

She had been suffering since the birth of the baby with severe abdominal pain and after more than a month she could bear it no more. Her father, Hiram, who had come to live with the family several years earlier, begged Allen to get help for his daughter and so the decision was made to take her to town to see a doctor. In those days, few things were more terrifying to country folk than doctors. Such a radical decision says everything about the degree of desperation and pain she was suffering.

As she stood to leave for the hospital that November afternoon, her feet must have felt as though they were made of lead. She kissed her infant daughter over and over cradling her downy soft head up to her cheek, closing her eyes and listening for the sweet purr of baby’s breath circling in her ear. She placed the baby into Hiram’s waiting arms and then kissed each of her other four children taking a long time to look into the face of each one. If there was any question of her love for Allen there was no question she loved her children more than anything in the world. In spite of the crippling pain, she couldn’t bring herself to turn away. Allen gently pulled her away and lead her to the door.

Three separate times she made it as far as the car only to return to kiss her children good-bye one more time, kissing them and weeping over them at the same time. When she turned away for the last time, she intuitively knew that she would never return.

Allen settled his sick wife in to the car for the long journey into town and waved feebly at his father-in-law as he put the car in drive. Hiram stood at the door of the farmhouse with the baby in his arms and tried to nod reassuringly. He watched the car carrying his daughter pull away, then dip and disappear into the rolling hills of corn. When there was nothing more to see but endless rows of corn, he clutched the baby tight to his chest, hung his head and shook and shivered, silently releasing all the tears he had been holding back his entire life.

As the car bumped down the country road, perhaps she bore the unbearable in silence, wordless and brave. Perhaps she gave in and beat her breast and howled long and bitter and helpless as an injured animal does when caught in a trap and left to die. Allen never spoke of it.

She never returned to the farmhouse again. She died in the hospital 12 days later. Her name was Hester. She was my grandmother.

44 thoughts on “Hester

  1. How sad this story was. I had tears in my eyes. All I could think of was the sadness she felt for her children. All I could think of were my children. What a strong, brave women.
    I know you are so proud of her. A great tribute you wrote.
    Jen

  2. That was amazing. I wondered who she was…how beautifully told. That was glorious and sad. The images were vivid. Thank you — I know there is more and I hope you will share it. Which one of those children were either your mother or father? I have so many questions!

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your Grandma, and what a brave and wonderful lady she must have been. My heart was breaking as I read about her going back a second and third time to say goodbye to her children. Oh, so sad.

  4. I love, love, love family stories, even when they are sad. Our families are such a huge part of us. You told her story so beautifully.

    I didn’t know my maternal grandmother either. She died when I was less than a year old. I don’t know how I can miss someone I never knew, but I do.

  5. Which child of hers was your mother? I loved this it touched my heart. I have no heritage and it is always touching to me to hear others. Please elaborate on this, like what happened after her death? Where was your mother in the line up?
    This was so beautifully written and so sad, for her babies.

  6. Eloquent and strikingly posed, AM. I do believe you inherited some of that determined love from her. Thank you for opening the door to your past tiny bit and letting us see from whence you came.

  7. How do you DO that???? How do you craft your words to make us feel exactly what you feel??? This is why the word genius keeps coming up in my comments.

    Seriously…you should publish this stuff.

  8. Beautifully told. Only mothers can know the depths of love women have for their chilren. How awful to know in your heart that you are kissing them goodbye.

  9. Beautifully written AM. I felt her pain and wept for her. How awful to *know* you will not see your beautiful children again. My heart just aches for her and all the mothers like her.

  10. Reading your words was like watching a movie. I can picture it and feel it too. Glad you shared that; reminds me of what I take for granted.

  11. What a tragic story…but yet a wonderful tribute to a brave, loving woman.

    By your discription and the photograph, I almost feel as though I know her. She stands so elegantly, as if she was meant for better things than to be poor. Yet, she obviously loved her family and treasured them beyond jewels.

    Beautiful story.

  12. AM, I will echo the refrain: Hester’s story was beautifully and powerfully told. My heart is aching, and I do hope you will tell us more of the story.

  13. As sad as this story is, I was so totally caught up in the emotion I hated for it to end. I wonder if you have any idea what a talented writer you are.

  14. You write so beautifully.

    What a heartwrenching story. I can’t even imagine her emotional pain, leaving those children that day…

  15. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. That was well told. I could relate a similar story about my great-grandmother, but I would never be able to tell my story so well. Thank you for sharing Hester with us.

  16. We are so touched by modern day tragedies. . .mom’s with cancer, “freak” accidents during birth, etc. We forget that in the not-to-distant past childbirth was the number one killer of women. What a long way we’ve come. . .what medical “miracles” we enjoy in these modern times.

    Thank you for the story. . .it is because of women like Hester that we are reminded exactly how blessed we are.

  17. I just came by here on the recommendation of Veronica Mitchell and I am in awe. I sometimes have a short attention span with storytelling on blogs, but this one was totally compelling from beginning to end. I have a lump in my throat.

  18. ok.. lurker confessing and coming out of closet….
    There are tragic, heroic, real stories in every family and they fade from memory as each generation passes… if only they could be told, and retold, and written as well as you have written this one!!! Hester lives in your words.. and reaches our hearts and we are changed.
    Thank you.

  19. My grandmother died of leukemia when my mom was a little girl. She left behind 5 children, including one who was just 6 months old. Her death impacts her children to this day, more than 50 years later. This post makes me cry so much I’m almost afraid to send it to my mom…
    Anyway, if I get to heaven someday, I really hope to meet my grandmother. It sounds like she was a really neat lady. Thank you for reminding me of her.

  20. I’m sitting here sobbing. My maternal grandmother (Miriam/Mary) died in childbirth when my mother was 5. The baby died as well. My grandfather never spoke of it–it was too painful. I miss her and I never knew her. Your tribute to Hester captured so much of what I feel. Bless you for sharing.

  21. Oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine having to go through this as a Mom. What she must have been thinking as she drove away from her sweet children. Wow, that really made me tear up!

  22. Oh God, AM, how she must have felt to know that she would never be there for her children again… I almost cried from office reading this, I have tears welling up as I write this.

    Sad that both your grandmoms (haven’t forgotten Ruth)had such sorrow in their lives– one who longed to die, but lived, and one who longed to live, but died. AM, am feeeling all teary again…

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