Chapter 16: Calm Before the Storm
I had thought and hoped that the drought was ending when Hannah was born. We all did and the rains had returned. Unfortunately, the rain stopped again and Sheardin River got lower and lower. With each passing month, more people left town in search of something better. At home, we did the best we could. The field was struggling but staying alive. We tried to keep things as normal as possible for the girls.
After our school teacher left, I taught the girls at home. They were wonderful students and picked up on things quickly so I was able to give them work and still get work done around the house.
Hannah was about 10 months old when I started feeling ill. I thought it was an illness, I convinced myself I just had a lingering illness that would pass before long.
Meanwhile Wesley kept the crop going as best he could. He carried water if necessary both for us, the animals and the field but soon it became obvious we would have to make some choices.
Most of the animals were gone one way or the other before Hannah's birthday. Some were sold, some were shared with our less fortunate neighbors. We were down to about half the crop we had when she was born and a sense of bleakness had settled over most of the town - those that had stayed at any rate. I decided to only have a family gathering for Hannah's first birthday; I made a small cake for her and we gathered around to celebrate.
By then it was becoming obvious that my lingering illness was something more. It felt like a horrible time to be having another child. I wasn't sure how long we could keep holding on to our lives here and yet leaving was never something I seriously wanted to consider. We tried to find joy in having another baby, even if Hannah was still so young and times looked desperate. When our babe wiggled inside me, I couldn't help but smile and the feeling was infectious.
As the pregnancy progressed, I found myself exhausted more often. School with the girls became less and less and I found myself drifting off while sitting on the couch most afternoons. Sarah and Rachel were wonderful; particularly Rachel, who did what she could to keep Hannah from interrupting my afternoon naps.
As I got closer to the end of my pregnancy, the drought wore on. Wesley left before I woke every morning and came home after I was asleep most nights. We barely seemed to see each other but when I saw him, I knew he was strained. I was determined one night, just a few weeks before Christmas, to wait up for him so we could see each other in waking hours. My determination, however, did not match my body and exhaustion won out as I drifted to sleep.
I dreamed about Christmas, only it wasn't the upcoming Christmas but one that hadn't come to pass...
"He said he would be here." my older self said fretfully looking between Wesley and the girls. I smiled seeing my three daughters grown up. They were all beautiful.
"He will be darling." Wesley said trying to calm my older self. I couldn't figure out who they were talking about until a young man walked in the back door. My older self didn't see or hear him approach. She didn't see him indicate to Wesley and the girls to remain quiet. Wesley was struggling to keep a smile off his face and my older self eyed him curiously. "He will be here, I have no doubt." Wesley said.
Then the young man placed an arm on her shoulder and she nearly jumped out of her skin. When she saw his face she jumped from the chair. "Oh Alex, my dearest boy!" she said rushing to give him a hug even as he rushed to give her one as well.
"Alexander" I whispered to myself watching the reunion. "My son." I added as all the pieces came together. Instinctively, my hand rested on my belly wondering if this babe was the man before me.
I watched the family - my family - sit down to a Christmas dinner and all the tension eased from my body.
I was awoken from the dream by sharp pains that were becoming very familiar to me by now. I stumbled out of the bedroom and into the living area, hoping that Wesley would be home by now. We walked in as I was doubled over by contractions.
Labor was short and intense. Neither of us had the time to prepare any further as the time became evident. I delivered a beautiful baby boy in the early morning hours. We named him Alexander Gabriel; even as I said the name aloud I thought of the handsome blond young man from my dream.
Our joy of having a healthy baby and boy was short lived as the drought continued. Each day it seemed like Christmas would be a desolate affair.
"What are we going to do Wesley?" I asked him one day in the sparse field of dying crops.
"We'll survive Lizzie." he said not looking up from his work. "We'll survive." he repeated softly. I could tell he was beginning to wonder himself.
"Wesley..." I started to say but was cut off as he stood abruptly.
"No Lizzie. I promise, we will survive this and we will survive it here." he said angrily. I knew the anger wasn't at me but at the situation. It still stung a bit to have those pained eyes looking at me.
"Wesley." I said calmly.
"I promised I would take care of you, and I will Lizzie. This. Will. Pass." he said regaining himself, the anger seeping from his face to be replaced by determination.
I nodded. "Okay." I said taking a deep breath and trying not to look around. We weren't in trouble yet, even if all the crop died now, it could be replanted and we would survive the winter at any rate. "I need a turkey for Christmas, will you go hunting for one?" I asked.
Wesley nodded. I could tell he was relieved that I wasn't continuing to push this topic. "I will get you a turkey." he said giving me a kiss.
And he did. Much like the Christmas in my dream, I served my family a wonderful Christmas dinner; never betraying to the girls that anything was wrong.
After dinner we sat around the Christmas tree and the girls played with their toys, many of which we'd already had and only brought out to fill out the tree, while Wesley read The Christmas Carol aloud to us.
In spite of everything, it was a wonderful Christmas.