Molly grew up on a farm in Indiana, on a dusty road between the country store at Bartoni and the little town of Lynn. The family farm was the only place next to Heaven where the air smelled like freshly mown hay and the creek was as clear as sparkling, liquid crystal. Even the clear sky in the wide Heavens above her farm home seemed more blue, and the graceful, overhanging boughs more green than any other place on earth. It was as though the whole world grew fainter beyond that one epicenter. The creek bank and flowing pool were havens for Molly Crammer.
In spite of the peaceful, radiant beauty, as an only child, Molly found farm life to be very lonely. She grew up among the silky milk weeds near the tiny pond beyond the barn yard. That was one of the few places that brought her some measure of comfort from the isolation. She also spent hours in the drafty red bank-barn, playing with the cats that nested in the hay mow above.
AIf you’re going to the barn, first cover your dress with a pinafore,@ her mother would say. Mother didn’t want cat hair in the house.
The barn smelled of mellow, golden hay and the rich tanned aroma of harness leather. Molly believed that her nostrils actually flared from the sweet fragrance the minute she stepped over the foot-high wooden threshold across the barn doorsill and entered the peaceful sanctuary of the barn. The red jersey cows chewed on their cud while they eyed Molly and her family of felines. No place could be more quiet and serene than the old barn on a cold, crisp autumn morning. The breath of the animals seemed to take the chill out of the nippy air.
For human companionship, Molly would run to the far edge of the barnyard, where the fence row stood tall with golden sun flowers and velvet morning glories, far to the north of the orchard. From there she would call for Willard Stuckey to come out and talk to her. She would remain in her yard and he would stay in his. Her mother=s admonition had been, ADon’t leave the yard.@ And, she didn’t. Although far from the house, she had still been on her own family farm, still obedient to her mother=s orders. Always obedient - always close by.
Occasionally, Daddy would find some Indian arrowheads as he turned the rich soil in the back forty near the old woods. Molly liked to remember that those rich old hickory trees, maples, and oaks were standing there when her ancestors migrated into the Ohio Valley, near what is now the Indiana and Ohio line. She would pretend that she could hear the faint sound of moccasins as little twigs snapped behind her when she walked through the woods. Or, at least, her imagination allowed her to Ahear@ them.
Years ago when Anthony Wayne signed the Treaty of Greenville just a ways to the east, her ancestors had already been living in their cabin for many years. Grandpa Crammer=s farm, a few miles away, was really the magical one, where they buried Tecumseh=s brother, Blue Jacket, in a secret grave—Awhere never a plow would turn,@ as her grandfather often told her.
When Blue Jacket died in battle, no one in the area wanted him buried on their land or in their sacred cemetery. But, Grandpa Crammer was a Christian man and wouldn’t=t allow anyone to go unburied. So, he permitted the Indian=s grave to be on his farm.
Molly liked to believe that she knew exactly where they buried Blue Jacket. She would pretend that the Indian=s unmarked grave was in Grandpa’s woods, since those acres were never touched by plough or spade. She would wander around under the green leafy canopy and tunnel through the rambling bramble thicket with its sharp thorns, looking for any sign that someone lay beneath the mossy damp carpet. Once she found a flat rock, securely embedded in the dark muck, and tried to pry it up but … no luck.
On one sunny summer afternoon, as long sheathes of light pierced the woods with golden beams like the Revelation of the Glory of God descending to the earth and bouncing back to the blue heavens, Molly chanced upon a tiny pool. A fine mist of frothy bubbles from the previous day=s rain had washed out a small rock out-cropping and gathered at its base like the baptismal basin at the Bartoni Church.
AThis must be it,@ she shrieked, half to herself and half to the great cloud of witnesses around her—her knights on tall white horses and imaginary friends who would romp and play when she was especially lonely. But again … it wasn’t=t the right spot either, although, Molly was never able to prove or disprove that particular site.
Still, the search was the goal, not the finding. Searching kept her belief in the hope that there was something waiting for her out there. Something had to be buried there. If not ….
Molly dared not imagine a day without searching. The present would be too much to bear if there were no tomorrow—if there wasn’t something “out there”—something exciting to look forward to beyond Randolph County and the same dusty road, where every pebble was named, between Lynn and Bartoni, Indiana.
Darke County, Ohio, and Randolph County, Indiana, had been home to Molly=s families, her mother=s and her father=s, since the first settlers moved into the valley. The very first pioneer baby born in Darke County was an ancestor of Daddy=s. Native Indians inhabited the land before John Quincy Adams signed the parchment that deeded over the land to her ancestors. Why would anyone want to leave? It would be like leaving her family, her ancestral home.
She remembered it all; but, that was then. Her farm home and acres of isolated playground were miles and years away. She was now smack dab in the middle of 1932. Now, she was no longer a child. She no longer played with her rambunctious cats, Sugar and Honey, in the familiar, warm barn. The farm was eighty miles away, and Willard Stuckey was even farther, not hanging over the farm fence just beyond the apple orchard and its fragrant blossoms. The sweet hay and scented petals seemed only a faint memory, not three short years past.
All of her confidants, her friends and family, seemed to have abandoned her. But, the fact was, she’d left Randolph County eagerly, on her own. Randolph County had not left her.
Now, there in Dayton, Ohio, Molly would not be able to have someone else make her decisions for her. She couldn’t sit in the large farm kitchen near the wood cook stove and lean on her mother=s strength, an old dependency that was usually reciprocal. Besides, she wasn’t asking her mother anything; she was trying to inform her mother of a decision she’d made on her own.
Sarah and Charlotte, her school friends, weren’t waiting for her in the school library where Mrs. Frahm stood vigil, peering through round black spectacles. They weren’t a short stroll down the road to the little grocery that smelled of pickles and fresh vegetables, the only social gathering place in Bartoni, Indiana. There was no one to help her compose her letters. She had to write the notes herself.
She sat on the bed in her room at Mrs. Wiggens’ boarding house on North Main Street in Dayton, Ohio, and struggled with the piece of paper that lay frustratingly fresh and unblemished in front of her. No matter how long she sat there, the paper remained pristine. What was she going to say, Molly-of-the-weekly-letter-home? What would she write on that blank paper that stared back at her with widened eyes?
Molly wasn’t the kind of young woman, like others of her day, who was trying to make the earth-changing decision of what bank to rob or whether to come clean with her Asordid past.@ A choice not to steal or bear false witness would have been an easy choice for her to make, indeed. There is little honor in choosing the obvious.
Molly=s choices were much harder to recognize, let alone make. This wasn’t a battle between good and bad. She was choosing between good and good. She was deciding between the more subtle forms of distorting-self, to play life according to the safe rules outlined by her mother in some unwritten book or to break free from Bernice Crammer=s concept of who Molly was and become the individual whom God had always intended for her to be. She couldn’t begin to be who she was until she stopped being who she was not.
She hadn’t even decided what she was going to tell Gilbert. He’d been patient for so long, regardless of his behavior toward her.
Had she led him on? She certainly had in the last several months. It mattered not if she wore his ring or hid it in her dressing table drawer—she had promised. No matter what words she mentally rehearsed, those clichés drummed loudly in her head and seemed a dissonance to her deeper, truer longing. She couldn’t get her pen to form the simplest words on the paper.
Molly wanted to make everyone happy, with no discord or clanging tones. Especially, she didn’t want to disappoint her mother. But the silence of the page was more than she could bear.
She simply couldn’t plummet into the emotional depths of her own heart where only melancholy melodies had ventured. She had managed to keep everyone an octave apart, brushing off genuine intimacy with a laugh, a sarcastic remark, or a silent pause. How could she pour out her regret to Gilbert, when regret dwelled deep within her where sorrow, love, passion, and yes, anger shared residence? How was she going to explain to her mother what she didn’t totally understand herself? What had changed and how did it happen so quickly?
Molly agonized over the exercise like a child groans over piano scales, hating to begin but longing to be done. She picked up her black fountain pen and poised it over the page like the prelude to a grand concerto, then paused with her hands poised in mid- air as though she were beginning an important recital. She began to write in bold, staccato strokes, with forte in each line. As spontaneously as she’d started to wade through her feelings, just as quickly she stopped.
Molly closed her eyes and lay back on the bed. She had to think. In many ways, her next letter, Gilbert=s letter, would be the easy one to write. But, what of this one? Again, what would she tell her mother?
She turned her thoughts back over the pages of time and took a look at how she had gotten where she was. Words of a familiar song bubbled across her memory and sang again in her heart like a distant phantom searching for a way home but not knowing in which direction home lay.
APlaymate, come out and play with me,
And bring your dollies three,
Climb up my apple tree.
Look down my rain barrel,
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends
But, Molly had no playmates as a child. Most of what she could remember, growing up on the farm, was loneliness. Only the piano in the parlor and the sheets of new music her mother brought home from the dime store provided her with a path out of the vacuum and emptiness.
As time went by, music became the only key that could unlock the symphony of emotions that waited within her. Oh, don=t misunderstand, Molly didn’t have an unhappy life for her first twenty-one years. It simply lacked color, expression, brilliance, a legato—the deeper expression of the emotions of life, a self-awareness of whose she was. And, now the letters lay like sheet music with no notes or lyrics, just manuscript paper. It was too much for today. She’d write the letters sometime next week. Tonight, she would think of Zeb.