When Jerome died mom was only about three or four and the concept of time was something she really didn’t understand. So, papa (Archie) in his wisdom went down to the local clothing (ban cong) store, I’m guessing Sax and Fryer and purchased her a pair of coveralls. He kept them in the pantry and told her, “Doris when these coveralls fit Jerome will be coming home.” She said, “I tried those coveralls everyday.” The day the coveralls fit Jerome came home all right. He came home in a pine box on the train. Mom was never told she was meeting her brother’s coffin with him in it. She was never told she would see him at his funeral.
After mom’s death I started writing a story about this particular scene. While writing the story my imagination got away with me particularly because mom’s connection with Jerome and grief of his loss consumed her. As I wrote the story I wrote it in first person. Honestly, I could visualize it all in my head. I felt as if I was transported back into time. I wrote the scene like this.
I am taken back into a time of my childhood. A time of great unhappiness, I fault no one. Wait that is not true, I fault all that surrounded me. My mama, my so-called mama, my papa, and my so-called papa. I place the burden of my brother’s death on their shoulders. Jerome was such a sweet boy. He was my best friend. He was promised to me by my papa, but stolen from me by death. Nobody uttered a word that he would come on the train in a coffin. I was only a little girl. The thought of my flesh and blood joining me mended my heart. Papa said, “Doris I will hang these coveralls in the pantry on the hook, so you can try them on now and again.”
Well, I recall just that. I tried them on everyday. Religiously I tried them on. I tried them on before chores, before breakfast and sometimes before bed. I needed to know whether I had grown. There were times I would get up in the middle of the night and take the coveralls from the pantry. I would carefully place the legs and torso of the coveralls under the covers. I then would lay the collar on the pillow next to mine. This made me feel closer to Jerry. Sounds silly I know, but it made me feel like I was closer to Jerry. At times I would talk to the coveralls. Before dawn I would rush down the stairs and hang the coveralls in their rightful spot in the pantry. When I think back on this time, I am convinced Papa knew exactly what I was doing. Though he never said a word.
The day the coveralls fit was December 5, 1943. The sunshine warmed the house and the scent of freshly baked bread lingered from the kitchen. Murmurs of voices echoed the halls. The snow-capped mountains were one of grandeur. The majesty of the mountains stood clear in the Paradise Valley. It was as if they too were celebrating this most astounding day. Everything appeared perfect down to the fresh sheets in the guest room. The toys I had collected for Jerry were carefully placed in their rightful spots near the rocking chair in the corner under the window. I placed a peppermint stick that papa had bought me from the five-and-dime on Jerry’s pillow. This definitely was a great day! I was ecstatic! Jerome was coming home. Jerome was coming home! The anticipation of his arrival consumed me. I was driving mama and papa crazy with questions and what ifs.
December 8, 1943 was marked the day Jerome would be home. This was one of the most important days of my life. I wanted to remember it, so I asked Papa what the date was. After being told December 8, 1943, I scurried up the stairs as fast as my scrawny legs could carry me and ran into papa and mama’s room. I ran over to the bureau and grabbed papa’s pocketknife. I took the pocketknife to my bedroom closet and carved a heart. In the center of the heart I etched out the letters f o r e v e r t o g e t h e r. Of course this took many trips up and down the stairs, because I didn’t know how to spell. After etching the words “forever together” inside the heart. I etched the dates December 5,1943 and December 8, 1943 on the wall near the heart. I wanted to remember these dates. The date the coveralls fit and the date I learned Jerry was coming home. Perfect! I shut the closest door and returned the pocketknife. My spirit beamed. I had accomplished a most extraordinary thing just in the nick of time.
“Doris, time to get dressed.” Mama yelled. Mama dressed me in my Sunday best. I looked gorgeous. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. I thought how grand. How nice.
When we arrived at the train station I spotted all kinds of relatives. They too were dressed to the nigh. This is great! It’s going to be a great party. After the train came to a complete stop a feeling of anxiousness took control. I was so fidgety that papa started to scold me, but stopped himself. Passenger after passenger stepped off the train. Where is Jerome? Where is he? Watching the passengers getting off the train was quite spectacular. All the women looked so beautiful in their wool coats as the cold wind blew their carefully manicured hair. But where was Jerome? Where was Jerry? I started to cry. My heart was breaking. I looked up at my papa and tears were flowing down his cheek. Why was papa crying? I am confused. “Where is Jerry?” I asked Papa. He gently lifted me and held me tightly. “Is everyone off the train? I asked.
“Perhaps not.” He responded.
His comforting words stopped my tears. Then the conductor walked over to papa and mama requesting that they follow him. Papa lowered me to the ground. Took my hand in his and held it firmly. Papa usually held my hand gently. This is strange. I thought Jerry must be a special guest. That’s it. Suddenly we came to an abrupt stop. We were stopped in front of a car. It didn’t have passengers. What is going on? I don’t understand. We just stood there. Then two men carrying a small pine box approached us. We followed. What is going on? Where is Jerome? I looked up at papa. His cheeks were red and tears were streaming. Why was papa crying?
Why was mama crying? Why was everyone so quiet? Why was everyone so sad? Jerome is coming home. Why is everyone staring at the box? Papa looked down at me then knelt to the ground. His sapphire blue eyes were swelled with water. His Sunday clothes were soaked with moisture from the snow. He grabbed me with both arms and squeezed me. He was holding me so tight I could feel the warmth of his body. I whispered, “I love you papa, don’t cry.” He kissed my cheek. Stood to attention and watched the men lower the pine box onto a tarp. The conductor looked at mama, papa and me with great sadness and said, “May the Lord watch over you and yours in your time of need.” He gently placed his white-gloved hand on my chin, lifted my face and looked me in the eye and said, “Be strong child, God Bless.”
What was going on? Where is Jerome? I don’t understand. Why all the sadness. Everyone’s eyes were on the box. Everyone’s but mine. I was looking for Jerome. People were crying out loud. Then a silence. The only sound heard was the whispering of the wind. People were bowing their heads. What is going on? This is like church when the preacher recites prayer. After what seemed an eternity. The two men retrieved the box and carried it to a shiny pick-up. With great care they placed a tarp over the box. Got in the cab and headed west.
Papa swept me up. Mama held Dorothy and Jim’s hands and we walked towards the automobile. “Where is Jerome?” I asked.
Papa looked at me with blood shot eyes and said, “we have Jerome he’s come home.” We got in the car and drove home. Nobody said anything. I didn’t understand. After arriving home, mama demanded that I go to my room and change clothes. Without argument I did so. After changing clothes and still perplexed by the happenings I went into the closet where I had etched my heart. I took my finger and traced my markings over and over. I wondered would I have to change the date?”
Later that evening mama and papa came to my room. They sat at the foot of my bed and then scooted their way closer to my side. In silence they sat. Then mama cleared her throat and explained that we would be attending a viewing tomorrow. She explained that Jerome would be resting in a box. I still didn’t understand. What about the celebration? Perhaps the viewing is another word for party? Thinking this might be kind a neat. I closed my eyes and dreamed of my reconciliation with my brother Jerome.
Morning seem to come quickly. I was well rested and anticipated the day. Once again everyone dressed in their finest of clothes. Papa escorted us to the car. The drive to town seemed as if it took forever. When we arrived in town papa parked in front of Franzen Chapel. “Hey, this looks like a church?” I thought. “What is going on?” Upon entering the chapel the scent of freshly cut flowers left me gagging. The smell was strong. Hymnal music echoed the halls. Strangers were walking down a dimly lit narrow hallway and entering what appeared to be a private room. I wondered what was going on. Perhaps someone very important is in that room? I wonder who? I wonder if I’ll get to go in there? As one person entered another would walk out. They were not smiling.
How strange? Puzzled by the room I began questioning papa. Not wanting to answer, he took my hand and led me to the private room. We stood waiting for mama, Dorothy and Jimmy under the archway. After mama arrived we entered the dimly lit room. Placed in the center of the room with the backdrop of a beautiful stained glass window was the box. This time it was open. Something was in the box. What was it? As we slowly got closer I could see what appeared to be someone sleeping. It was Jerome. Why was he sleeping in a box? He was dressed in a blue suit with a white deer hunting shirt and tie. He looked different. He didn’t look normal. His cheeks had rouge on them. I didn’t care. I jumped up and kissed him. He was cold. He felt stiff. He was different. Everything seemed different. I tried to wake him up, but he wouldn’t wake up. I kept yelling for him to wake, but he just laid still.
That day I was forced to come to the realization that Jerome was not coming home with me to the ranch and that I would never know him. That day the song, “Dear Liza” papa and I sang with such joy became a song of sorrow. And a more appropriate name came to be “There’s a hole in my heart dear Jerome.”
write by Joyce