I had been waiting to share this story on the first day of spring. But due to travel, I missed it by a day. Oh well, happy spring!
Growing up, I always wanted the same kind of life my parents had. Their love for one another was like a river, to an observer it looked calm and maybe even boring but just underneath the surface it was powerful, with a current strong enough to carry them through every rock and obstacle they encountered. Together they ran the farm, raised five children and had enough love for everyone.
I was a bit of an odd child but my parents never treated me as such. I spent a lot of time with the animals on the farm and a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen. Cooking was her favorite thing to do for her family and I found it peaceful to watch her work. I’d sit and talk with her while she pitted cherries and rolled out dough, stealing little tastes here and there. My brothers and sisters always seemed to be doing something else. I was never outgoing enough to keep up with them. It didn’t bother me though, I always spent my time exactly where I wanted to spend it.
One day, when I was about nine or ten I noticed odd, fuzzy, colors on my mom’s chest. I thought at first she had spilled something on her shirt. When I asked her about it she had no idea what I was talking about and looked down at her blouse repeatedly trying to dust off whatever she thought I was seeing. I thought maybe something was wrong with my eyes and told her to nevermind.
Throughout the day my brothers and sisters wondered through the house and I saw nothing strange on them, but when my dad came in I was shocked to see the same fuzzy colors on his chest, exactly the same as mom’s. I didn’t speak of it and for weeks I just watched. The colors never faded or changed and over time I began to see colors in front of other people. It was years later when I realized I was seeing love.
My older sister began dating a boy when she was seventeen and I saw new colors start to appear on her chest just over her heart. Not long after, whenever her boyfriend came by I saw the same colors and pattern forming on his heart as well. I observed their relationship quietly and watched as their colors became brighter until one day when hers started to fade and new colors began to form in another place on her heart as she fell in love with someone else. Each love left its mark.
I knew people with multiple colors on their hearts from many loves had and lost, and so the day I saw the fuzzy hue of pink and violet forming on the chest of my best guy friend I knew he was falling in love with me. I hesitated to let our love grow because I had made it known I wanted to stay close to where I grew up and run my own farm as my parents had done. He on the other hand had always dreamed of being a business man in a city away from the Appalachian mountains we called home. In spite of our concerns, our love deepened and when he proposed he assured me he would be happy on a farm as long as he was with me. And for a while, he was.
It seemed like everything we tried to do was an uphill battle. Getting the loan for the farm was a nearly insurmountable feat, as was restoring the old farmhouse we bought. Then working the land itself. Bills piled up faster than the crops could grow but I stayed optimistic. I was so sure our love would see us through this rough patch of life and once we were through it, happiness was just around the corner.
Even though times were hard we still loved each other and through that love, we had two daughters who brought me joy like I had never known. Along with joy though, children bring responsibility and a need for steady income. My husband worked hard on the farm spending daylight to darkness working his fingers to the bone, sometimes almost literally. Anytime I tried to help him in the fields or barn he sent me back to the house, saying that work wasn’t cut out for me. I appreciated the concern but I knew I wasn’t as fragile as he believed.
It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over years. It happened so slowly I was able to steady myself for it coming. I watched the colors of his love for me slowly fade as he began to resent me. I had my contentment in our daughters, but he was always out on the farm and his little time with us was spent hurridly gulping down meals or falling asleep in his chair before bed. This was never the life he wanted. Maybe I should have tried harder to make him love me again, but I didn’t. Maybe I should have told him to leave sooner. But I thought I couldn’t make it without him and so I watched his love for me die and I let it, until one day when our colors were just a scrap of what once was.
I wasn’t surprised when one morning I woke up in an empty bed. He was often out and gone when I got up in the mornings, but this morning something was different.
I started the coffee pot and looked in on the girl’s they were up already playing with their dolls.
“Have you all seen your dad?” I asked.
They told me he came in their room and kissed them on the head before daylight. It was what woke them up.
A short time later, a knock at the door confirmed my suspicion. It was Hal, one of our farm hands. He was wondering if my husband was sick since he hadn’t made it outside yet. I did my best to choke back my tears but a single one escaped and rolled down my cheek.
I was quiet for a minute as I thought about what to say, what to do. I straightened my spine and pulled back my shoulders and did the only thing I could do.
“Hal,” I said. “He’s not here, and I don’t think he’s coming back. I need you to show me how to run the farm.”
His eyes widened with surprise and he started to apologize. I put my hand up and shook my head.
“I’ll be fine.” I said as the last tear I would shed over my husband slipped down my cheek.
The first two weeks were the hardest. My body wasn’t used to that kind of work and it ached in ways I didn’t think possible. My hands were calloused and bloody, my neck sunburnt and my back was in knots, but I made it through.
When the girls weren’t in school they usually came outside to play and talk with me or Hal while we worked. Whenever they asked about their dad I just told them he was gone and they never asked anything more, they were old enough to understand.
One evening I realized they hadn’t been outside that day to visit. I had heard them giggling and making a racket in the house so I knew they were fine, it was just odd they hadn’t been out. So I finished up my work and went inside. To my astonishment the house was clean and dinner was on the table.
My girls smiled and fixed me a plate. “We thought if you were having to do dad’s job, we should do yours.”
I stood there staring at my beautiful daughters and cried. I wasn’t missing a husband, I wasn’t missing anything.
One morning, a couple of months later, I finally recieved “the papers”. I stood by the tractor while I read them. He let me have the farm, house, and everything that went with it. The amount of child support he agreed to was less than I deserved but I’d be happy to get it, so I signed just to be finished with the whole thing. I was hurt and angry. So much was left unsaid, but it was too late now.
It was once again the time of year to plant the flower bulbs of lillies and tulips for the greenhouse that opened in the spring. This had been the one part of the garden I had tended to every year. This year, I was having trouble digging the holes for the bulbs. The ground seemed more rocky and hard than usual. Nearly exhausted after digging three holes, I still had rows and rows to go. I stopped to wipe the sweat from my brow and heard Hal’s voice behind me.
“You’re fighting the earth, you have to work with it.” He said. He knelt down beside me and took my tools. He gently dug hole after hole for me with ease and I followed along behind him dropping in the bulbs.
“You have to think about working with the elements, the earth, rain, sun, how they all nourish the things we plant and harvest and how we appreciate that. If you fight against the elements, like you have some kind of control, they’ll fight you back.” He laughed.
That was the first moment I really looked at Hal. I had known him at least ten years but now instead of a farm hand, I saw something else. Every morning since my ex-huband left Hal had shown up at my door, coffee in hand, to show me how to run this place. I had made his days longer and work harder but he never once complained.
After we finished planting the flower bulbs I walked over and hugged him. He was caught by surprise to say the least. He half laughed but hugged me back.
“Thank you.” I said and kept my arms tight around his neck.
“Why, you’re welcome. You would’ve gotten the hang of all this eventually.” He said.
“Maybe, but you have made it so much easier for me and the girls.”
“You and your girls are my favorite people.” He said.
Slowly, I began to fall in love with the farm again like I had when I was a child on my parents farm. Once I knew how everything was supposed to run and the money started coming in, even more than before, I relaxed. The girls pitched in wherever they could before school and they came to love living there just like I did.
I woke up every morning and had my coffee on the porch with Hal and we’d talk about the things we needed to do for the day. Sometimes we’d sit quietly and breathe in the fresh scent of the garden and damp coolness of the dew. If you were up early enough, you could watch a light mist hover over the grass as the sun rose up behind the barn. There was a stillness and magic to our farm that I never tired of.
One morning Hal sat across from me and for the first time I saw his heart, maybe it was just the first time I truly looked. There were several faded colors and patterns of love in his past and a new one growing.
I felt a heat in my own chest spreading up to my face at the idea it could be me he was falling in love with. But I wasn’t sure it was about me, and I didn’t know how to ask. So I did the last thing I would expect myself to do. I told him about what I could see. I told him about it all from the very beginning and being in the kitchen with mom, to watching my husband’s love for me die. And I told him how every love leaves it’s mark on the heart. When I was finished he sat thoughtfully for a minute and then laughed.
“If every love leaves a mark, my heart probably looks like a patchwork quilt.” He said. There was no judgement, no disbelief, he just sat and sipped his coffee.
I reached over and took his hand, my fingers curling around his. He nodded without ever looking right at me and said. “You can see it, can’t you?” He smiled.
I moved in a little closer to him and laid my head on his shoulder. “I love you too.”
Hal and I grew a love on that farm that was as strong as my mom and dad’s. The next spring, when all the flowers he had helped me plant were in full bloom we were married by the garden. He loved my girls like his own and oh, how they loved him. In time we had a son and then our family was complete. Our patchwork hearts were complete, painful scraps of memories stitched together with faith and hope then finished with love.