A manilla-stuffed envelope is waiting for me as I hang my coat and put down my leather bag. “A package? And for me?” I mumble almost audibly. “Oh, right, Suzie mentioned she was sending something she found of Dad’s.” My fingers feel carefully to assess the size and structure of the object. “A book for sure.” He’s gone nearly ten years already and still things are turning up. My heart skips a beat as I consider opening it. Nothing about my father is without some measure of regret. I saunter over to open the frig looking for an immediate snack to cut my after-work cravings and decide what I can throw together for an easy supper. Nothing really appeals to me for snack or for dinner. I close the refrigerator and pick up an apple from the fruit bowl, take my first bite and move immediately back for the envelope. Picking up parcel, I sink into the sofa and tear open the end. The aroma of a dusty attic hits me as fills the room. I pull a leather-bound book from its envelope. “Oh yeah, now I remember!” I sigh. The top corner of the leather is torn and across the center is written in gold lettering, Holy Bible. My father’s name is written in the bottom right corner. “Engraved. Wow. That surprises me.” I looked over the old sacred book. Dad was a confessed Christian since his early days in the Mennonite church and remained more faithful to church over the course of his life than my mother did, yet he didn’t strike me as a man who kept notes in his Bible. He was a common sense, hands-on type who worked in the building trade all his life.
I attempt to flip through the first pages, but they are stuck together. I gently pull on the thin material hoping it won’t shred to pieces in my hand. Bit by bit they give way until the first page is exposed. The inscription reads PRESENTED TO: Levi on Father’s Day written in blue by my mother’s hand. There are few objects of affection given by either of them. And she went the extra mile to engraved it.” On the lines below, BY: “Betsy, Leah, Levi, Denise and Delmar DATE: June 20, 1965. “Oh, my! I would have turned 2 the next day.” I did the math. Fifty-five years have passed since that Father’s Day, and Dad was only 33 years old. From what mom has shared with me, he was working at Kraft Foods in their maintenance department in 1965.
Mom and I have been recording her story as we sit together from time to time. She shared these were the best years of our family. They were making an effort to create a home for us. We lived in a house that they picked out of a Sears and Roebuck catalog and it arrived as kit much like this Bible today. They worked together as a couple and with other in their Mennonite community built it right down to the inside finishes. Imagine, buying a house and it being dropped at the door like a package of coffee?
I drift off and am back in this blue house with a large picture window in the front and light steaming into the living room. These are my earliest memories as a little girl, standing at that window, looking out at all manner of weather: spring rains wishing we could go outside, my first snow covering the ground and trees, and an occasional thunderstorm. The other room I remember is the galley kitchen, where I often could be found plastered to my mother’s leg as she cooked. Outside, in the backyard, a small hand-built playhouse is situated at the edge of the yard. Leah, Levi and I play many afternoons after they get off the school bus.
I cannot help but stare at the page of this Bible and imagine our family filled with the hopes and dreams of a normal future. Dad and Mom were living under the rule of the church, yet each playing a role. I now know Dad didn’t know how to love Mom or his children beyond working hard to provide for them. Mom felt trapped, longing to be able to make her own choices and live her own life.
On this Father’s Day, Dad had no clue their disconnection was growing into gulf proportions. Mom, only 23, beautiful, working on an assembly line on the night shift at a local plant. She attracts the attention of an older, senior executive and became vulnerable to his pursuits. Her story shows what happens when lines at work are crossed; lines that can never be truly uncrossed. As I look at the list of names on this Bible page, one is missing. When she handed him this gift, a love-child is already conceived in her womb, a child many years later we discover is not my father’s. And this lovely picture of family recorded on these stained pages will break apart and the fragments deeply wounded.
Flipping through the Bible, I am comforted God showed up when we needed Him most. I have to wonder how different things might have been and regret that life give us the opportunity to be without the wounds that came later. But I take comfort in His grace and closeness to us as we navigate the ever changing waters ahead. My faith is deeper and richer because of this journey.
This blog post is based on a true story and is related to an upcoming manuscript yet to be published
. The names and locations have been changed to protect the individuals mentions.