ANGELS DO ABIDE
Papa went his last step when the train appeared in the distance, it's pug nose slowly getting bigger and the whistle whining it's squeal to the engineer's tug. Three blows later it arrived at the ramshackle station that had been built in the late eighteen hundreds. Papa's life had been so adsorbed with Mama's sickness that his body was becoming a pale version of his former zest and brawn. Our weeks are filled with waiting for the train to return from Okawa Township where Mama had been getting medical care for the past few months. The tumor had been removed from her neck and she had to receive rounds of treatment for a while longer. My sister Adelaide took on the task of traveling with her since she was the oldest girl in the family and could help Mama more, being a female, with all the sickness that the treatments would cause her.
"Gina, is the car ready for your mother? Did you spread the blanket out on the seat? I wish I could have driven up closer to the station." Papa was tired from the walk and would have to pack Mama to the car that was parked on the other side of the track. He had worked at Silor's Mill for most of the day only stopping at home long enough to eat and wash up before the trip to the train station. Papa had become increasingly thin lately and weak from working all day at the mill. At least, that's what I told myself.
Adelaide stepped through the train door and looked around the station trying to spot us. I waved my hand to attract her attention and yelled "Hear we are Dell....over here!"
Without leaving the door of the train, Adelaide motioned for Papa to come her way and pointed inside the train. "Mama is lying on the seat by the door. She's been sick to her stomach."
This had been the normal routine for four weeks now since the tumor was removed. Papa moved toward the steps and took hold of the rail to move inside the train ready to carry his wife out when Adelaide touched his arm. "Papa, Mama wants to try to walk this time. She seems to be stronger and, as long as she feels like it, I think we should let her." Dell had relayed their mother's concern about Papa being so tired and weak when they came home last Friday and I knew that was the reason for her attempt to walk.
With Papa on one side and Dell on the other, Mama took slow short steps down off of the train and across the track basically being carried by the two of them. I followed behind carrying the suitcase that held Mama and Dell's clothes they had packed to take them through the week in Okawa Township where they had been staying with Mama's sister June to be closer to the hospital there. Two weeks of treatment and two weeks off and then to see if the treatments had worked. These were her last ones after the surgery and now a waiting period to make sure no tumor came back. Dell had phoned Wednesday with hope from the doctors that Mama's tumor could be gone for good. With hope that our lives could be normal again.
We were all filled with our own thoughts on the way home. Papa, at the wheel, had been silently glancing Mama's way where she was lying in the back seat as he observed her pale and thin face with desperation in his eyes. I could tell that he had on his mind how he could make her feel better. That was his desire.....to make her feel good and better and loved. Mama was his life, had been for twenty-two years.
When Dell and I and our brothers Tommy and Ben were small, Papa and Mama would gather us all together in our car for a Sunday ride and Mama would take pleasure in window shopping as we slowly passed through the town and gazed at it's big windowed stores. But, as we drove the ten miles to our home, Mama only remained still with her eyes closed.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and Dell and I had begun to be able to breathe with Mama getting better and Papa showing better strength and some needed rest. Our days became more normal with our friends by our side coming and going as we made trips to town together for shopping or a quick soda and burger. All was well; or so we thought it was.
Papa came home from work early one day complaining of a headache and when the young man, Buddy Briton, brought him home Dell and I overheard him tell Mama that Papa had had a nosebleed. When he saw the worried look on her face he said "It wasn't bad, June, it stopped in no time." Passing through the living room, Papa made his way on into their bedroom.
With Papa out of hearing range, Buddy added "It may have stopped quickly, Mrs. Dinning, but it bled a lot before it did stop. That's the third time it's happened this month. This time was the worst. He needs a doctor to check him out. Mr. Silor wants him to be checked out before coming back to work." Giving Dell a look of sympathy, he said "Let me know if I can drive you all there, Dell. Mr. Silor said if you needed me the day Thomas goes to the doctor, that I could have the day off."
Dell looked at Buddy grateful for his offer. Even Dell's secret love for this young man could not overshadow the fear of what might be wrong with our father. Too many hospital visits with Mama had caused the fear to emerge so quickly.
My heart was pounding inside my chest and the feeling in my stomach could only be explained as a sick empty feeling. My fearfulness had not come quickly but had been topped with Papa's news from the doctor......cancer. Oh, how I hate that word! How I hate what it is doing to our family. The carefree stability that we had only half a year ago was now overshadowed by fear and uncertainty. The words I recall hearing were "The worst kind" and "Fast growing"to describe the kind of cancer he had. My heart was so much in pain but I couldn't let them see. They needed me to be strong; after all, I was strong when Mama was sick....wasn't I?
I knew Papa was weak but I thought it was from his concern over Mama. The thought of him having cancer or any illness had not been there. But now I'm sitting here listening to Dr. Shaw tell us what to expect and what Papa will experience during his treatment. Like Mama, surgery first and then the rigorous and cell killing radiation and chemotherapy that would be required. I took no joy in thinking of my father as an even paler version of what he was now. And there was Mama who was just recovering from her own bout with the illness. I could see the life that had regained it's spark be squelched by the news about her beloved Thomas and the knowledge of what he would be going through.
I could not remember the ride home that day. All I knew was the moment that we arrived I only wanted to run, run somewhere, and I didn't know where to go. All of my seventeen years of life, I had felt like I had control over what I did and the feelings I had, even holding my tongue when I was targeted by another child about the way I looked or dressed or talked. But this was too much for my heart to absorb and hold onto. I needed to cry. I needed to cry and sceam "Why God, why?"
From childhood, the place I went to get away was the big June apple tree in Papa's cornfield over the ridge from our house. There I ran and there I fell on my face not knowing what I was to say or what I was to do. All I could do was cry. The tears flowed with silence and my heart reaching out..........but what was I reaching out to? God had seemed so far away from us all. Our steadfastness in church had been taken for granted that all would be well because we presented ourselves there every Sunday. I thought all I had to do was be there and God would count that to my credit and keep us safe from trouble. This was not what I expected. God would not allow this to happen if he loved us. If he loved us he would let us live a worry free life without trouble and only feel happiness and joy. Why were we having to go through this?
I awoke with my face still wet from the tears and grass had adhered to my left cheek where I laid against the ground. The quiet and peaceful sound of my surroundings made a fresh wash of hope come over me. The creek that ran on the right side of the field echoed the tinkling of it's water flowing toward the end of our hollow where it ran into Big Sandy Gap River below our house. Upon my awaking, I could see the beauty in this world God created. But like the waking up from a sleep after we hear a loved one has died; even so, now the memory of Papa and his cancer the tears renewed. But I don't have the privilege to let them remain. The sun hang low in the sky and Mama and Dell would need me at home to help with the supper.
By the time I arrived back at home, I heard the clanging of dishes and pots and pans. Stepping upon the porch, I could see Dell standing at the kitchen sink and she seemed to be by herself. I opened the screen door and stepped inside. There was Mama sitting at the table with a solemn look on her face. "Where's Papa?" I said with concern.
"He's lying down Gina. Tired from the trip and the day." Rising from the table, she stepped toward me and held me by my arms and said "Gina we have to have faith that he'll be alright and that God will do what we need him to do for us. He brought me through it, Gina, and I know what he can do. We need to hold on to the hope.......Do you hear me?" because her voice cracked with emotion, I said yes and went over to the sink to help Dell finish the supper dishes. But I only said it to satisfy Mama because my faith had become even less than what my seventeen year old heart could understand in the first place.
On the day of Papa's surgery, Buddy Briton offered to drive us there and stay with us during the procedure. It took four hours to complete it with the post-op and then the actual surgery. He stayed in recovery for two hours before taking him to a private room. His blood pressure had gotten very high during surgery so he was watched closely before letting him go to a room. Mama stayed as close to him as they would let her. We had to vow to stay the night with him by sleeping in the recliners that were in Papa's hospital room. Buddy took Mama and the boys home and came back the next morning to check on us. I could see he felt the same way about Dell as she did about him.
Papa came home a week later with a schedule for the treatments to begin later on in the month. It became a repeat of what we had to do for Mama. I tried to have hope by reading the bible at night while no one was around to see. I was searching for the faith my mother told me to have. But I could not see faith when my father began getting even sicker from the treatments and I saw him almost become a skeleton of the man that he once was.
After his first round of treatments, Papa was scheduled for an evaluation to make sure all the cancer cells were cleared away. I kept searching and searching God's word to help encourage my heart. David encouraged himself so why can't my faith open up to me and help me be encouraged? The waiting for the results wasn't any help either with trying to go about our normal living. But normal for us had become the worry and strain of whether we can have next week back or next month or even the normalcy of taking a Sunday drive to window shop, or go to Kelly's Diner for milkshakes and burgers. I missed the laughing together. There was no laughter and no joy in our house anymore. Only the quiet waiting.
I had begun to take my bible with me to the big June apple tree in the cornfield and searched for God's promises. I remembered Preacher Campbell giving us a sermon on God's promises and I had been reading the passages where he had preached from. But all I was doing was reading the words. I read all the passages I could find where he healed the sick of all kinds of diseases but I was just reading. Then the name Hezekiah entered my thoughts. My mind kept repeating the name and I searched the bible's concordance and found where to read and turned to the scripture and as I read how he had been stricken with an illness that was to lead to his death but when he found it out he turned his face to the wall and wept. God sent him a word from the prophet that he had seen his tears and that he would heal his sickness. Fifteen years were added to the life of a man that had been told he was going to die. As I read the scripture, I was absorbing the words because I had been led to read this very scripture. The one that fit the situation that we were going through.I could feel a cloud lift off of my heart.I felt a lightness in my step as I made my way back to the house. I could breath again because God had sent me a word of hope. Hope that I thought was gone.
With the passing of the days came the news that all was clear with Papa's cancer. With annual checkups in both my parent's future, I could still have faith that everything would be alright because God had heard my cry and He had seen my tears and He will regard the broken hearted to bind it up and help it recover. There is laughter in our home again and a newness of faith in my heart. Knowing that God cared enough for me to help my faith when I was so low made me understand that He was there right in the middle of our trial trying to help us along. I don't know if He would have answered me in the way that He did without my continually reading His word.
Buddy and Dell are due to marry in Spring. Another good thing that came out of all this is that we all gather into our church on Sundays and, after church, Papa drives us around the town and we window shop and look into the big windows of the stores as we pass by.