TRUSTED NEWS LEADER FOR COTTONWOOD, CAMP VERDE & THE VERDE VALLEY
Sat, Sept. 21

Going Home (with dialect)

"Brother, come and see the baby afore it gets all the way dead," said the solemn little girl, wise and wizened beyond her years. "'Cause when it's all the way dead, daddy will take it down the holler and bury it in the hole with the rest of our babies."

She took her little brother by the hand and pulled him from the corner where he had been huddled, watching his mother stroke the tiny bundle that lay next to her on the bed. "We's the lucky ones," said the little girl. "Us done stayed alive when we wuz babies."

The mother watched her two children walk toward her. The baby at her side was already dead, but she had held it now for more than an hour, touching its tiny hands and patting its lifeless form.

"Sister, the baby won't be buried in the same hole as the others," said the mother as her children reached her side. "Yore daddy digs a special hole for each of the babies when they die." The children regarded her, and their dead sibling, with big eyes and no emotion. Though they were barely more than babies themselves, they'd been through this before.

The front door opened and the children's father came in. His step was weary and his eyes averted. "Is it done," he asked. "Yes" said the mother, her arms tightening just a little around the precious bundle. "Chirren, you say goodbye to your baby sister."

The children stood silently. The little girl touched the baby's head. Her brother watched but didn't move or speak.

"Say goodbye, Jack," said the mother.

The little boy mumbled goodbye, his eyes downcast.

"You chirren go sit by the fire," said the father. "Go on now."

Two little bodies walked toward the fireplace. The little girl looked back, but the little boy didn't.

Without a tear, the mother handed the still warm bundle to the man. It was wrapped in a newly crocheted blanket. The man took his handkerchief from his pocket and laid it across the baby's face.

"I'll be back," was all he said.

He took the baby under his arm and walked down the holler toward the small grave yard that his family had filled with hand-dug graves over several decades. There was a small hole next to three other wooden markers, each of which said "Baby, born dead," along with the year; in three years, three small markers.

* * * * * * *

Though dead, I felt my daddy's strong arms hold me, conveying me to the place where my body would lie for eternity. I wasn't afraid. Being dead gave me great freedom: the fear I had felt being born, and the cold of the world around my mother weren't comforting to me, so being dead was welcome, a relief.

I'd lived a short life, only a day or two, but the place into which I'd been born was awful, sad and cold. The room never got much light so this walk down the hillside was the first exposure I'd ever had to the brightness of this world. Perhaps I would have lingered longer if there had been light where I'd been born.

I felt the handkerchief over my face slip with each step my daddy took. Before we reached the grave yard, it would fall away. I wondered if he would notice or if he would just keep walking, his eyes on the trail, shoulders slumped.

Just as the handkerchief fell, Daddy stopped and grabbed it in midair. He laid it gently back over my face after spending a moment looking at me. "Goodbye Sister," he said. "You didn't ask to come here so I don't reckon that you much mind leaving."

He was right. In the brief days I'd been alive on this earth, I'd been taken to the edges of the next life by a nice warm light before being brought back with a jolt into the cold bed with my mother. In those moments of near death, I had a grand impression of warmth and experienced an incredible luminosity. That was what attracted me, the brightness. I could still see it. It was surrounding everything now. Everything but my daddy. His countenance was dark, ambling, sad.

When we reached the grave yard, he walked toward the hole he had finished digging just before he returned to the tiny, cold cabin to get me. "Goodbye Sister," was all he said as he wrapped the blanket around me a little tighter, tucking it under my tiny form. He cradled my head for a moment, covered as it was by his handkerchief. When he let my head down, he patted it once.

I felt him begin to throw the dirt back into the hole but I wasn't worried. In fact, by this time I was rising from the tiny body and being pulled sweetly upward. As he threw in the second shovelful, I passed his shoulders and reached out to touch his face. He seemed to feel a brush of air and stopped. He looked to his right but I was already far above him by that time.

The brightness was warm. Wonderful arms held me gently, rocking me. I heard cooing and a sound unlike any I'd heard when I was near my mother. A burbling sound, a happy sound. No longer interested in watching my daddy at his work, I turned my face toward the brightness and felt myself become part of it. It didn't seem strange, for surely I had just left the luminance a few days before to spend several cold uncomfortable days struggling to be born and lying sadly in my poor mother's arms.

But now I was free, returning to the source. Great happiness and a peace that neither I - nor any other of us - could explain with human words filled me. This was my life, my being, my all. Happy now. Home.

"Mother, you need to sew me 'nother hankerchiff," said Daddy as he trod slowly back into the house.

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