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Just Mary | Effie M. Williams

Signing the Report Card

After the subsiding of the storm the thermometer began to drop, and when morning dawned the ground was frozen and winter had set in in earnest. Thanksgiving found the streams all frozen, and shortly after came snowfall, which never entirely melted away until the spring thaw. Many times in the winter the roads were impassable because of the drifted snow. For days in the rural districts there would be no communication with the public. Fences were hidden, trees were laden with their heavy weight of snow, and briar thickets took on the appearance of huge mounds. This continued for many weeks, and in the rural districts schools were closed until the roads could be opened to traffic. After each heavy snow there would be severe cold, and where one could get through, sleighing and sledding were good, and the sleigh bells were heard along the public highway. The highway leading past the Harmon home was a succession of hills and hollows, but after the heavy snowstorm it looked like one level stretch of road, and so for weeks was impassable.

All this time Roy and his father lived secluded lives, unable to get away except when the snow hardened and they could walk over the fences and over the drifts. What a lonely life it was without her who had meant so much to the household! Roy’s grief increased as the days lengthened into weeks, and the deep snow kept them penned in through the long, cold winter. How he longed at times to be able just to visit the cemetery, but in this he was disappointed for the roads were impassable! He felt that just to be near her would ease the aching in his heart. He mentioned this to his father one evening as they sat beside the fire. As the father drew his chair near that of his youngest son, his own voice trembled with emotion. He said, “Roy, do you not remember the night when you received your diploma from the hand of our county superintendent, stating that you had finished the course prescribed by the common school law?”

“Surely I remember it,” replied Roy, “but what has that to do with me now? It brings me no comfort in the loss of Mama,” and, burying his head in his arms, he sobbed aloud.

Father Harmon was so overcome that he could not speak for some time, and the two were silent save for Roy’s sobs, but with all the effort that he could put forth Father Harmon spoke again, “And do you remember how proud your mother was of you that night after you delivered your oration at the commencement exercises, and then framed your diploma for you and hung it in your room?”

Roy nodded his head, and his father continued, “How would you have felt had she wept and cried when you received your diploma and sat about grieving and weeping because you had finished the graded school and had she refused to sign your report card?”

Roy looked up into his father’s face with a quizzical expression in his eyes, as he asked, “Papa, why do you ask me such questions when you know that Mama could never have done such a thing as that?”

“I know she would not have done such a thing as that,” replied Father Harmon, “but what would you have thought had she done such, and how would you have felt?”

“I should have felt very bad, I am sure,” said Roy, “and would have thought she didn’t want me to finish high school, but that is not to be thought of, for it was so unlike Mama to do any such thing as that.”

“Did you get any pleasure when you received your diploma?” inquired Father Harmon.

“I should say that I did,” replied Roy, “for I felt that I was walking in the air when I stepped down off that platform carrying that roll of paper in my hand.”

“I thought so,” said Father Harmon, “but what would it have been had your mother refused to sign your report cards?”

Roy straightened himself in his chair as be said, “Papa, why do you talk like that when you know that she never felt like she wanted to return my card unsigned, for I always made good grades; and she was pleased to sign my cards?”

“I am sure that she was,” replied Father Harmon, “and will you be pleased to sign hers now?”

“I do not know what you mean by saying that,” said Roy, in a perplexed tone of voice.

Here Father Harmon laid his arm on his son’s shoulder and, while his voice trembled with emotion, he said, “I mean just this, son: your mother has finished in the great school of life to receive her diploma from the great Master’s hand, which is a crown of life. He has presented her report card to you for you to sign, and are you ashamed to do so?”

Roy laid his head on his father’s shoulder and sobbed aloud as he said, “Oh, no, no, a thousand times no. I am not ashamed of the report of her life, for it was perfect.”

“Will you then sign the card?” inquired his father. “All that you have to do is to say, ‘Amen, Lord, Thy will, not mine be done.’ In this way you can enter into the joys and pleasures which are sure to be hers in the great commencement of Eternal Life, and although it does not fill the vacancy left, it does ease the heartache. Will you do it, son?”

“I will do my best,” replied Roy, as he gazed into his father’s face.

And he did, for from that time on there was a sweetness attached to the death of his mother which he had never gotten before, and although it did not dry the tears which would often start when thinking of her who meant so much to him, he surrendered and submitted it all to Him who understands all things, and in this he found great comfort. The conversation between father and son on that evening around the fire also brought them closer together, and some of the companionship which had been between mother and son was now transmitted to father; so that many pleasant evenings were spent together during the long, cold, wintry nights.

There had been no mail delivery at the Harmon home for the past two weeks, and then came three letters from Elsie. These were opened according to the date of mailing and in each she informed them of her physical condition. It seemed that she had begun work too soon after the birth of baby Otis, and she could gain no strength. In the second letter opened she told them she meant to go to a specialist the next day and would write more when she knew more. So the next letter was to contain the desired news of her condition, and Roy opened it quickly and began reading. It stated that the specialist had found her tubercular and he also found that baby Otis was blind. He was not qualified to examine the baby’s eyes perfectly, as that was not his specialty, but they meant to take him to an eye specialist and see if it really were true. This was done; and another letter later told of the hopelessness of the baby’s ever seeing anything, for he was born without vision and would have to remain that way so long as he lived. Elsie also stated she was getting weaker all the time and having those dreadful night sweats. Each letter contained news of Mary’s progress in learning to spell and to read and write. Occasionally there would be a short note written to Uncle Roy, in her own hand.

Thus the winter wore away and spring came with its warm sun and its heavy rains, and the entire community was mud and water bound, for in many places bridges were washed out by the heavy, swollen streams. But in the Harmon home there were many pleasant evenings spent together, for father and son had come to understand each other and were drawn to each other as never before. Roy desired the company of his father above anyone else, and Father Harmon likewise. A real companionship existed, and Roy felt that “Papa understands,” while Father Harmon often remarked to others, “Roy is certainly a level-headed boy, and I can reason with him just like I can with an old man.”

David came home occasionally, but he found nothing on the farm now to keep him, and he spent most of his time in town. His father often tried to advise him about some matters, but he would resent it and inform his father, “I am making my own way and think that I can get by all right.” He did get by, but in his getting by there was a breach made between him and his father and also between him and Roy.

April came, and with it the busy time of farming. It kept Roy and his father busy on the farm to prepare meals and then do the work about the place, but as a great deal of the farm was in pasture, not much plowing needed to be done in the spring and this Roy did, leaving all the lighter work about the place for his father to do.

The latter part of April brought news to them that Elsie could not get well and her time was short, as she was failing fast; so Father Harmon and Roy went to her. David could not be persuaded to go, although Elsie begged to see him. He had told his father so often that he was making his own way, that when he did not have the means to take him to her, he refused the proffered help of his father. So it was only the two who went.

They remained with Elsie until, in the first week in May, she passed into eternity, leaving Mary aged four, and baby Otis aged eight months. This was surely a hard blow for Dan, for who would want to take care of a blind baby?

But baby Otis was a lovable child and of a pleasant disposition. Like all blind unfortunates he had a keen ear, and what he failed to possess with his eyes did not escape his ears. And he was a merry little fellow. Mary loved him to adoration and was never too busy in her play not to stop when she could do something to amuse her baby brother.

The death of Elsie brought Roy and Peachy together again and with the same love as before. All could see that Roy had not the feeling for baby Otis that he had for Mary, and many remarked about it. Roy tried to enjoy Otis, but many hours were spent with Peachy listening to her read or trying to teach her something new, and as she was eager to learn. This was a pleasure to both teacher and pupil.

But there must be another separation, for Roy must return with his father to their own home. It was a pitiful sight when the “goodbyes” were said, especially between father-in-law and son-in-law. The great loss had meant much to each of them, and Father Harmon knew the loss that Dan sustained in the death of Elsie far exceeded his loss of her, for where is there such a loss as that of a bosom companion?

As Roy clasped Dan’s hand, he said with quivering voice, “I cannot do anything now for Elsie’s children, but I mean to some day and you may count on me for it, too.”

Mother Dennison came to aid Dan in taking care of the children, and she took special interest in Mary, teaching her many little rhymes and children’s songs, and also giving her some light duties about the house which were hers exclusively. She filled the wood box, carried kindling, dusted the furniture, and did many other things about the place until she was called “Grandma’s Little Helper.” Baby Otis was not neglected in any way, for Mary and Grandma took special care of him; and Dan seemed to live only for his children. He had seemed fond of them before Elsie’s death, but now he seemed to lavish all his affection on them. Each evening found him with one on each of his knees, singing to them, or romping with them on the floor. He prepared each of them for bed and dressed them in the mornings. When Grandma Dennison spoke to him about it and said she could do it very well, he replied, “All the pleasure I have now is in my children; don’t deny me this.” So no more was said about it, and thus the early part of Mary’s childhood was spent with an adorable father.