The quest to understand my great Aunt Hallie continues to drive me forward. With the discovery of each small thread of information, there is a new piece of the history uncovered leading to the better understanding of this amazing lady. And so it happens that on this particular morning I have a handful of new leads. It’s time to call my mother-in-law.
Hallie – Chapter Two by Ritchie Hale
“Hey, Mom H., I need to go to Clifton Forge for a few days to do a little research for my Hallie book. You want to go? We’ll make an adventure of it.”
In her typical manner of responding to questions regarding going anyplace, she pauses only momentarily – probably for dramatic effect.
“Well, let’s see….I don’t really have anything planned for the next few days. It might be a lot of fun. When are we leaving?”
“Day after tomorrow. I’ll pick you up and we’ll be off.”
She laughs – perhaps a little nervously – but says, “Okay, I’ll be ready.”
A PLACE OF BEGINNINGS
I hang up and ponder with amazement that my ninety-four-year-old mother-in-law is still able to take trips with me and enjoy “adventures.” She has accompanied me on several of these trips in the past as I have sleuthed out details of the life of Aunt Hallie, and so it’s fitting that she go with me to the place of beginnings. Hallie Beatrice Rogers was born in Clifton Forge, Virginia on November 19, 1892. Those are the facts – and that is almost all I know. I want to understand more. I need to see with my own eyes the place where her mother and father welcomed her into the world – the place where she spent the first few years of her life – the place she went to church, the house she lived in, and the town she called home.
The hours of research, phone calls, and trips to libraries have all led me to dead ends. Diaries, letters, postcards, photographs – all these give me wonderful clues, but are a tease in their ability to almost answer questions only to raise new ones in their wake. I simply must go to the place and see it for myself.
OUR ADVENTURE BEGINS
On Monday morning at daybreak Mom H and I begin our journey. We have decided this will be a wonderful adventure and we’ll let the trip unfold hour by hour. I know we have a long days drive ahead to reach our destination, but we must also enjoy the journey.
As the new day arrives, we marvel at the beauty of the sunrise pricking tiny holes through the clouds, allowing light to escape and send rays to the earth in all directions. Of course, what’s a beautiful sunrise without a camera to capture it? I have to stop and take yet another picture.
Mom H with the slightest edge of teasing mixed with concern says, “Ritchie, if you keep stopping to take pictures, we’ll never get there. It’s beautiful, but can we admire it as we travel?”
“Yes, ma’am. But it’s just so beautiful!”
“Okay”, she says. “I agree, but maybe we can keep the car moving and remember the beauty in our hearts.”
We banter good-naturedly for a while about my addiction to taking pictures. The beauty continues to unfold and I long to capture it, but see the wisdom in keeping the car in motion. We have a long drive ahead of us.
Of course, we have to stop to examine this place of beauty. Mom H is as excited as I to get out and walk across the bridge, sit for a while beside the cascading creek-bed, and listen to the birds singing their welcoming morning songs.
It is there that we first begin to discuss the Hallie book.
EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL
“Mom H, as I sat beside Hallie’s bed that day in 1986, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how she could say she was wonderful! I know for a fact that she hurt all the time. She was unable to care for even the simplest personal care routines. She was at the mercy of her caregivers for every part of her daily existence. Her physical ability and personal autonomy had been surrendered to the care of someone other than herself. How could she say she was ‘wonderful’?”
Mom H is quiet…so quiet that I have to wonder if I am opening doors which are clearly labeled, “Do Not Disturb.” I know she herself is in pain much of the time, and I know it is much on her mind that her body is wearing down. Perhaps it is inappropriate for me to discuss this part of my book with her.
WHEN INDEPENDENCE FLEES
Instead of heeding my thoughts and changing the topic, I press on with the thoughts that are racing unleashed in my heart.
“As I watched Hallie lie there in that bed and saw the rise and fall of the blankets in a steady rhythm – my emotions were anything but steady. And even as I think back to that day, I have the same questions I had then. When my freedom to manage for myself vanishes away, will I have her grace? Will my attitude become sour and obnoxious if I can’t paint another picture, type another story, create another project with a child…or sing another note? Will I have the precious trusting spirit that I saw in her life? Where did she get that, and how can I find that quietness of soul that she so obviously had discovered?”
We sit quietly for a while listening to the creek, the birds, and the silence of unanswered questions stirring in our hearts.
Coming Soon – Chapter Three