of Mother/ Sayward:
Hardship and work, that’s what his mother always
harped on. Once when at home he had refused to work on the lot, she
had said, "You’re going to live longer than I do, Chancey. Watch for
all kinds of new-fangled notions to take away folks’ troubles
without their having to work. That’s what folks today want and
that’s what will ruin them more than anything else." Could there be
something after all in this hardship-and-work business, he pondered.
He had thought hardship and work were symptoms of a pioneer era,
things of the past. He believed that his generation had outlived and
outlawed them, was creating a new life of comfort, ease and peace.
And yet war, the cruelest hardship of all, war between brothers, was
on them today like a madness. Did it mean that the need for strength
and toughness was to be always with them; that the farther they
advanced, the more terrible would be the hardship that descended
upon them, and the more crying the need of hardihood to be saved?
He had always felt a little scorn for those who came
to ask his mother’s opinion, especially grown men and women. Even
his father used to do it. But now there were just one or two
questions he wished he could put to her, not that he would accept
her answers as infallible or sage, no matter how matriarchal and
wise she looked lying there.
"Mama!" he spoke to her aloud.
She paid him no attention. He had half expected it
and yet at the experience an incredulous stunned emotion crept over
him. Why, he was her favorite, her pet, they all claimed. Massey had
written him once that if he only came home, it would make his mother
well just to see him. Now here he was by her bed and she took no more
notice of him than a chair.
"Her mind’s on another world," Manda said piously.
Standing there, Chancey observed that his mother’s
eyes continued to hang on some point off to the right beyond the
foot of her bed. He followed their gaze. All he could make out was
the narrow bar of light from the window where it had been opened
perhaps a foot and the shade lowered save for the same distance.
"It’s the trees," Manda told him. "We moved her bed
when she first took sick. She wanted to see the trees."
Again the strange feeling ran over Chancey. Why, she
had always claimed how as a girl and young woman she had hated the
trees. He remembered a dozen stories of her abhorrence and bitter
enmity for what she called "the big butts." And yet now all she
lived for was the sight and sound of those green leaves moving
outside her window. Was there something deeper and more
mysterious in his mother’s philosophy than he and his generation who
knew so much had suspected; something not simple but complex;
something which held not only that hardship built happiness but
which somehow implied that hate built love; and evil, goodness?
He bent closer to her. Something in him flinched at
her face shriveled as a mummy’s, at the ancient brown skin marked
with great purplish liver blotches. Were those blotches like her
faults, he wondered, part of his mother’s strength, like roughness
and hardness is part of an oak, and if you take them out, you
destroy the strength also?
"Mama!" he called louder.
There was no quiver of the eyelids. His mother only lay there,
silent and oblivious as in the majesty of death. He knew now that
she would never answer him again, that from this time on he would
have to ponder his own questions and travel his own way.