Benjamin was just past eighty. It was a good-health, frosty 1884 autumn day and a slow walk. He had wanted to take the air and see if he could again make his way to this favorite vista. His bristle hair was white, his gray eyes were paled. The cold froze into his joints. He was bent, but still able. And, the curse of every grandchild to be, he had those outrageously huge protruding Irish ears.
She had a sweet side. Her hair, Irish red beside white, was still soft. Her face was even, pleasing, with a humorous smile and her movements were smooth and flowing. She had a calming air.
Avoiding garish displays she preferred modest apparel. She didn't care that her hands were house-work-reddened. This morning, with her homespun dyed-black wool cape, she was dressed in a basic white shirtwaist with a little hand-made lace on the collar and a shortish brown calico skirt, no bustle.
But Elizabeth hid an inner turmoil.
The house was sold and her family's belongings packed. The few parcels destined for travel were already at the train station. To get to this point she had set her mind with numb determination. In the past six months Elizabeth had blindly sifted through a twenty-two year collection of memories and belongings, giving nearly everything away. She knew it was wrong, but she tended to blame husband Thomas for this upheaval. But in truth, all events leading to this point had been her doing.
It had begun a little over a year ago (winter, 1883; an horrifically icy winter that hadn't really ended) when it became clear her little Mary was failing. Dr. Lavell had showed her the letter from his New York colleague, that Edward Trudeau. “Consumption is best dealt with by a dramatic move to a place open and clean-aired.” Having already suffered the infant death of Charles Hugo in '76 (a fast but horrific death, bilious intestinal inflammation with high fever), Elizabeth was resolutely doing everything possible for Mary. It was Elizabeth who had determinedly informed Thomas of Lavell's opinion and Elizabeth who had set the decretum: "Mary's health depends on drastic action." Thomas had peered at her long, hard but had conclusively agreed. He had, however, accepted little debate concerning the plans for their massive move.
Anger flashed through her again. Devastation exchanged places intermittently with expectation, unleashing a storm of anxiety and irritation. Dark thoughts surfaced. Thomas was already gone. He had left six months ago to set up a "home" for them in that far foreign-named Los Angeles. Elizabeth did not want to move so far. It would, she smokedly mused, be the worst and most inferior scenario possible. Why had Thomas decided on such a remote place on the furthest end of the train line? Why not try a simpler move over the lakes to Charles' family in New York or to their other kin in Wisconsin? And why not send Mary to the new Sanatorium set in those New York Adirondack hills?
Near explosion, Elizabeth stopped her mind. These feelings were mainly unwarranted. Thomas for the most part had good judgment. New York and Milwaukee had meagerly work prospects. The sanatorium was too rich. The winters had become insufferable. California was the place of new opportunities. And she knew Thomas meant well for her and the family. But returning to negativity she mused over the hard-to-believe California tales. Perfect weather. Unparalleled and glorious farm crops. She raised an eyebrow and murmured inwardly, "At least we won't be pannin' gold with Will in those Placer hills; cocksure, adolescent nature of that child."
Silence widened even greater as they looked over the water expanse. In time, Elizabeth's eyes filled. She offered up her last farewell.
"I won't be seeing ya agin," she announced, and with a grand pause added, "Ever."
Irritation, understanding, agreement mixed with the desire to comfort and correct prompted Benjamin.
"No, now, we don't know that is sure." This was administered as a softly firm, fatherly dictum. The old voice creaked.
Elizabeth smiled wryly through her torment. She could have guessed he would do this.
"Ya always shove ya 'pinion right over everyone else's!" Then she snorted a laugh. Who was she to judge his attempts to make everything right? Did she not do the same to her own children? And he was way too old to be scolded.
He smiled in return. "Ye'r n' Thomas are doin' this for the best; you know it to be true. It is your best choice for the child."
Huge silence. Immense relief accompanied this reminder. But inside she needed to keep up the attack.
"Oh God, why did he always side with Thomas?" She irritatingly wondered if he could even remember Mary's name; he had so many grandchildren.
Benjamin finally spoke the words he was holding. They escaped in a wry, hopeful tone.
"Ye could stay."
Silence again. Resolve.
"Nay," she laughed.
She was bound South away from Canada. East away from home. Far Away from comfort, friends, family, and her own history. This was final. There would be no return. This was their goodbye.