Mother Love

I think, but I don't remember, that this piece of writing is entirely fiction. That is, I don't remember hearing it from my grandfather or anyone else, for that matter. I was working on a story based on a vague memory of my great grandmother's funeral. This piece didn't make it into the story, but I must have been thinking about including it. The names are all the same as my great aunts and uncles - or mostly, anyway. And I might have heard a story about a Lutheran minister refusing to confirm a group of kids that had gone square dancing. And cards were the devil's own gateway to hell for my Norwegian Lutheran ancestors.

So, with apologies to everyone now dead and gone to whatever reward they merited, here is a bit of family history, and if it isn't quite true, I suspect it is true enough.

"Well, she's gone. She was a righteous woman if there ever was one."

"Pastor Clausen looks nervous."

"He's probably afraid she'll sit up and criticize his eulogy."

"Remember when she insisted that he refuse to confirm those kids that had gone square dancing?"

"I remember the day mother found a pack of cards behind the coal box in the cellar. She stood us all up and demanded that the one who hid the cards step forward or we would all get a switching. Well, nobody would admit to it, and she got out the switch and started in, one by one, from Henry on down. She switched Henry and then she switched Lloyd and then she switched me. Well, those had been my playing cards and I was scared, but I figured that a switchin' divided up would be better than one big switchin' all by myself. 'Sides, Henry and Lloyd had known all about it. I brought 'em home and we all hid out in the cellar and pretended we was playing poker, like the men down at the store, you know.

"But there stood Isabel and Mamie, just crying their eyes out already, Isobel so thin you know, backing up in a corner, and Mamie just a little chunk of a thing. Well now, you know Mother couldn't think that the girls had anything to do with it, but she was laying hands on Isabel already and I just couldn't stand it anymore, so I said, "Ma, don't switch the girls. It was me. Ben Tolly down at the store gave me a deck of old, worn-out playing cards and I brung 'em home. I'm sorry, Ma. Don't whip Isobel and Mamie." And you know what she did?

"She said, 'Oliver. Only God can forgive sins. Only God can save others from sin. Maybe you did it. And maybe you're trying to save your sisters. If it was you brought those playing cards into this house, you are guilty of sin. If you're lying to save your sisters, you are guilty of a double sin.' And she whipped the girls anyway and then she whipped me again and I had to go without supper for a month.

"I can't look at a deck of cards to this day without running a hand over my behind."