It had started innocently; Mama took an evening job in town sorting seed corn as it arrived from the local farmerís fields. It was to be a short-term job that would provide extra Christmas money for our young family. By November 1, the fields would be harvested, and Mama would return home to take care of her house duties and care for her four children.
Nobody dreamed she would meet another man while working. There were problems in the house between Mama and Dad. Dad had started going to church, and Mama didnít want anything to do with Dadís new found religion. Dad was sleeping on the couch or on the roll away bed next to the heater in the kitchen, while Mama was alone in the bedroom.
She left quietly; I remember no words being said; one day mama was gone. For eleven years she had cooked for us, bathed us, washed our clothes, and scrubbed our kitchen floor on her hands and knees.
It all happened in the spring: the milk cows were freshening; the garden had just been plowed; Dad was preparing to go to the field; the four children stayed in school. I didnít share the news with my teacher; as a kindergartener I didnít understand why Mama was gone.
Grandma showed up one day that spring. Dadís mom was small, wiry, and straight from the hills of Missouri. She brought her sewing basket, her small leather suitcase, and a bonnet for working in the garden. Grandma put in that yearís garden, canned the fruits of her labor, and returned home to Grandpa before the first frost.
Mama never showed up for the court date to decide the fate of her four kids; Dad was awarded full custody with no visitation rights by Mama. Mama never contested the judgeís decision.
Dad did not let us see Mama for years; she had left with another manís baby in her womb, and Dad, with his new found faith, wanted to protect his four young children from any disgrace and Mamaís potential influence.
Dadís sisters gathered around us with extra care and evening phone calls. We were not given gifts of trinkets or toys, only love and care: food, mending and a gentle touch or kind words.
A couple years passed, and our family moved from the farm; perhaps it was the memory of Mama; perhaps the farm was too much for Dad; perhaps Dad was weary of milking cows, putting in the crops, and caring for the kids by himself. Our move to a little village provided a caring church family, along with neighbors and friends who could check up on four children while Dad worked the day shift at the local factory.
Christmas break came; I was able to reuse the Christmas tree left over from our second grade class room. Though I was only seven years old, I proudly drug the barren tree for six blocks from the school house to our rented house: four kids set out to create colored paper chains and strings of popcorn. There was still silence from Mama. No gifts or no calls. Dad carried the weight of creating a merry Christmas.
The village provided my dad more than just neighbors and a church; he found his second wife there too. Dad saw her in church one Sunday. Her mom was the local postmaster; Dorothy was home from her college teaching job in Wisconsin to visit her family. She had a masterís degree in math, while my dad barely graduated from eighth grade.
I could call my stepmother, ďMomĒ with my mouth, but not with my heart. I was embarrassed to have a stepmother, so I called her mom to my friends, but I called her Dorothy when I spoke to her. I went through grade school knowing that I had the only stepmother in the entire school.
As we grew older, we had more and more contact with Mama; she attended our graduations, our weddings, and visited her grandchildren occasionally; she was always tenderhearted and cried when we parted.
A brain aneurysm silenced Mama suddenly in 2002; she went to her grave with her secret of why she left so quietly 42 years before; we never knew if she had shed any tears then.
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