It was a long few days before they finally saw it; the “Welcome to Iowa” sign. Trevor honked his horn as they passed it so his mother could hear his joy. He was so ready to be done with the endless driving. Vivian honked hers in return. Never had she been so glad to see a welcome sign. The kids whooped and hollered, their final destination was closer than ever. Vivian’s confidence had increased on the drive. She was so unsure in the beginning about her skills driving a SUV with a trailer behind it; turns out she did just fine. She was also uncertain about checking into hotels and figuring out rooms without Thomas’s help. To her surprise, it went smoothly. By the time they made their way into the state, she was feeling more competent than she had in years. When had she lost confidence in herself? That question needed an answer, but there was no time to contemplate it now.
Lawrenceville. Seeing the word filled her mind with memories; it had been at least a decade since she’d walked the streets or the corn fields. If her memory served, Thatcher was a toddler and she’d flown up by herself with him for a wedding. Lawrenceville, what do you hold for my hurting family this summer? It was a daunting question that only time could answer. “Lawrenceville 86 miles,” she spoke to her passengers. More whooping and hollering. “Trace, call Trevor and see if he and Tatum are okay. Do they need a bathroom break or can we make it all the way without any stops?” Trace did as he was asked and got the all clear that they could make it.
Vivian’s stomach began to tighten as she thought of her life on the farm so many years ago. It was a happy life and she sincerely thought she was marrying into a happy life. And, honestly, it had been happy at times. She had missed the farm on occasion over the years; not because she loved the long days or the smells of the animals, but because she always felt God in the surety of the seasons. Summer and harvest, spring and winter, as sure as clockwork. She missed the feeling of safety that came with the routine of farm life. Mile after mile she reminisced about late night bonfires, community dances under a starry summer sky, ice cream socials and familiar faces; events and people she hadn’t thought of in years. One thing she could count on in Lawrenceville was seeing familiar faces, she wasn’t sure if they still had dances or bonfires, but the faces? She knew there’d be familiar ones. Until that moment she hadn’t thought about what seeing those faces might mean; looking those people in the eye. What would she say? She was so ashamed of how life had turned out for her family. When she left at nineteen, she was hopeful, full of dreams and a bit naive. And now, here she was driving back into a place that held all her secrets. Vivian could feel her throat tighten and her eyes filled with hot tears.
Perfect submission, perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love
There it was again. The old song she’d grown up with in church. “Lord, I need your mercy and whispers of love.” She spoke quietly so she wouldn’t be heard.
The miles went quickly and before she was ready there it was.
Welcome to Lawrenceville
Again Trevor honked from behind and she returned with a hearty laying on the horn. They’d made it! She couldn’t have been more grateful the long, hard trip was behind them. Just about six miles or so and they’d reach the driveway of the farm where she’d grown up. The place where’d she’d cut her teeth and had her first crush, where she’d helped deliver a calf and rode Happy until she was giddy. It really was a wonderful place to spend your childhood. “Text Grandma Mae and tell her we’re almost there.” She spoke to Trace. She couldn’t help but smile as they turned their caravan into the long dirt driveway. The rows stretched out before them and you could just see the green stalks starting to emerge from the black soil. She remembered many a time she’d rode in the tractor with her Daddy as they plowed the earth into straight lines. Her heart felt a strange warmth, maybe she’d missed this place more than she realized. All she knew for sure was this is where she was supposed to be for now. Once the house was in view Thatcher spotted Grandma Mae standing in the front yard, waving a kitchen towel as though she were on the sidelines of a parade. Thatcher and Trace rolled down their windows, stuck their arms out and waved back wildly. Trevor honked the horn and the chicken coop came to life with all the commotion.
Vivian put the SUV in park and climbed out placing her foot firmly on the Iowa dirt. Thatcher had already jumped out and run to Grandma Mae who wrapped him up in her arms. Vivian made her way to the pair, her knees cracking from the hours of sitting. “Hey, Mom,” she was smiling big now, she really couldn’t help herself. Mae hugged her daughter close and praised the Lord for her safety. By this time all the kids were gathered around and Grandma took the time to hug each one of them individually. “My how you’ve grown!” “Look how handsome you are!” Your blonde hair reminds me of your mother’s!” On and on she went as she led the clan into the house. They were road weary and tired, but seeing Grandma Mae somehow made it all better.
Grandma was wearing her gingham apron over her blue house dress. She was stocky, “plenty of me to share,” she liked to say jokingly. Her laugh was high pitched and sincere and her smile would light up any room. But, what she was known for all over the county was her famous rhubarb pie. “Kids, I’ve made a fresh pie and you’re just in time to have a piece.” Cheers went up as they piled in the front door. Vivian always felt so at home here with the dated furniture and lace curtains; it felt like stepping back in time, nothing much had changed. Even the smells of the house were familiar. “Go wash up.” Vivian spoke in a cheery voice. And all five headed toward the bathroom. When the room was clear for a moment, Mae looked at Vivian, “how are you dear?” “I’m better than I thought I’d be, Mom.” Vivian could see the relief on her Mother’s face. Thatcher was first to make it back, he grabbed Grandma’s hand and lead her toward the kitchen. The others were right behind.
“Best pie ever,” Trevor spoke first. “Yeah, thanks Grandma,” Tatum agreed. “Would you like some help with the dishes?” Tatum, always willing to help, asked. “No, honey, I can get them. You guys have plenty of unloading to do.” Vivian was a little uptight at the prospect of seeing the house they were to stay in, but she knew they needed to get the shock over with and start making it home. “I think we’ll head out to the house now, Mom. You’re right we have a lot of unloading to do and the kids barely remember what it looks like. I’d like to show them around myself if that’s okay?” “Of course, dear.” Mae handed her the key to the front door and told them dinner would be ready at 6:00. Fried chicken, corn, green beans and cornbread. Vivian’s mouth watered thinking about it. There’s nothing like a home cooked meal.
Vivian led the way on the short walk across the back yard to the house behind the main house. It was much smaller, but it did have a certain charm. She knew the kids would feel the cramped space first thing, having a room of their own was a thing of the past. She could hear the older ones murmuring as she put the key into the door knob and it creaked open. A thousand memories burst into her mind when she saw the living room. In her mind, she could see Grandy and Granny sitting on their old orange tweed sofa; she was between them as they read a children’s Bible story book to her. Grandy was especially animated and brought the Bible characters to life in an effort to hold the attention of a five year old. She remembered Rosco, their faithful Border Collie, running to greet her when she’d tear through the door. She could almost smell the fresh bread Granny made every Sunday. Vivian would sit at the kitchen table and Granny would knead the dough and let her help. Looking back now, Vivian wondered if she was really helping; Granny was so patient with her attempts. Inside these walls she’d always felt loved unconditionally. The memories were from a lifetime ago and, yet, it felt so fresh. Vivian stood in place for a long moment, walking into the old place felt like her past and present had collided.
The kids came in behind her one at a time. The carpet was green and worn and the orange sofa still sat in the same place. The brown worn recliner sat next to the sofa both facing the fireplace that had kept the small house warm for a lifetime of winters. Vivian kept walking from the living room down the hall to the three small bedrooms. The kids were standing in the different rooms whispering to one another. Vivian broke the awkwardness of the moment, “well, what do think?” No one said a word. They just stood there in silence staring at the walls covered in brown paneling and the windows with white lace curtains. Trevor was the first to speak, I think Timothy and I could share this room.” Timothy looked at him startled. He and Trevor barely spoke and now he was supposed to be his roommate. But before he could say a word Trevor was standing beside him with his arm draped over his shoulder. Trace shot across the hall, “Thatcher and I can share this one!” Thatcher stood by his mother without making a sound. “Tatum,” Vivian spoke next, “you and I could share the room next to this one.” Tatum hadn’t expected to share a room with her mother, but she was too tender hearted to say anything but “yes, ma’am.” “Okay, then it’s settled. We all have our room assignments.” Vivian left the bedroom and walked back down the hall toward the kitchen. She was amazed the furniture was the same as when she was a child; it really was a time warp. The kitchen was small but adequate; there was an oven, stove and all the essentials. It was a small stove with four eyelet burners, unlike the large fancy gas stove she’d left back in Palm Beach. The counters were green, Vivian guessed someone was trying to match the carpet. The cabinets were brown with green and white knobs on the doors. It was all very weathered but fully functional. “It’ll do just fine.” Vivian measured her words knowing five people who desperately needed her to be strong were watching. She walked over the kitchen sink and looked out the window; there was a perfect view of her parents’ house and the corn fields beyond. How many times had she seen Granny at this very sink quoting Bible verses and singing old hymns? Again, Vivian’s heart felt warm. The love in this house lived on long after the ones who’d lived in it, she could feel it everywhere. She only hoped the same love would wrap her little family up and keep them safe as they faced the storms that were surely coming.