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Going Home to Mother and Dad
Dr. Aitken made it possible for me to get my visa. He also made up the deficit in my funds to pay my fare. As he promised, on Thursday at 1:30 P.M. he arrived to take me to the train depot.
It seemed that the sun indeed shone upon my life again. Rays of hope beamed forth like specks of gold from the bottom of a crystal stream. Life was really going to be worth living, after all.
Mrs. Gardner has sewn extra money in my clothes as a precautionary measure against pickpockets. In case I was careless enough to lose my purse, I would still have a little money.
With warnings of what to do and what not to do, and where to change trains, boats, etc., and amidst tearful farewells. I boarded the train never again to see those who had been my ministering angels. I tried to tell both the Doctor and the old couple that I was sure my mother and father would reimburse them, I was well aware of the fact, however, that I could never repay these dear loved ones in dollars and cents, even if my parents were millionaires! They had saved me from death and my soul from Hell!
With my brand new suitcase lodged in the rack above me, and holding on to my purse for dear life, I sat down in the cushioned chair of the train for my ride homeward. I rolled merrily along, gazing out the window at a new world. Everything was beautiful to me: the cattle grazing on the hillside, the crops that would soon be harvested, the tiny quiet villages and the happy looking faces. Even the water wasn’t rough, but it was marvelously placid and peaceful as we crossed.
The old train wheels seemed to be singing a chorus, “I’m going home, I’m going home!” I was so excited and so happy it was hard for me to remain seated, as admonished by the conductor, while the train was in motion.
After several days of traveling, my body grew weary but my spirit remained vivacious. Evidently the doctor had explained my past life to the first conductor and asked him to watch overt me carefully. He often strolled through the coach and talked with me. Upon one occasion he presented me with a silver dollar. It was my very first one, and I prized it. He saw to it that I remained on the train until we reached the port of entry and there he helped me through Customs and directed me to the very coach that was to carry me to my parents’ home in Falls City, Nebraska, where I had spent my childhood days, just a few miles from my birthplace in Iowa.
It was impossible for me to remain calm and composed when I heard the conductor call out that the next stop would be Falls City, Nebraska, I hadn’t forgotten the warning that I was to remain seated while the train was in motion, but my heart was beating like a trip-hammer. The seat could no longer contain me. I jumped, grabbed my suitcase and marched to the train exit. When the train stopped, I hastened down the train steps. I lifted up my eyes and saw a new depot. The old familiar depot was gone. That gave me a bewildered feeling. I walked up to the ticket agent and asked him if he knew where William Eckler lived. He walked out of his office to the sidewalk and pointed down the street and told me it was five blocks straight down.
I refused to let anyone carry my luggage, nor did I want a cab. I walked briskly toward the old homeplace I recognized the lot where I had placed as a child. But where was the familiar two-story, white frame house? In its place stood a beautiful brick structure, dignified and resolute. I was greatly puzzled. However, I walked up to the door and knocked.
An old gray-haired man with stooped shoulders and slender body answered. I asked him if he could tell me where I could find Mr. William Eckler. Throwing back his shoulders, which seemed to add inches to his height, he gazed at me until I felt he fairly viewed my soul. (As the old saying goes, he looked a hole through me). Still staring at me, he asked, “And who are you?”
“I’m Charlotte Eckler,” I meekly replied.
His body trembled. His hands vibrated as with palsy while his eves became misty with tears. With tremulous voice he blurted out, “Hookie is it you?” (Hookie was the pet name dad had given me when I was a small child).
I cried. “Dad, is it you?” I remembered my father as a well-built man. tall, shoulders erect with dark and curly hair. Everything about him looked different then. Twenty-two years made a drastic change Of course, he was almost seventy years old then, and all things considered, he climbed the ladder of time remarkably well.
In about the next breath I asked about Mom, I wondered whether she were still alive. He evaded my question and asked why I was there. I told him I ran away from the convent and that I would never go back, that I would take my life first.
My dad said, “Hookie, I can see you’re a sick girl, but when you get well you will have to go back.” It would have been far better had my dad never made that statement, for I had to much hatred and poison in my system for him to even insinuate that I would ever return to that hellish place!
The conversation changed, however, and he invited me into the house. He immediately took me into the sun porch which had been turned into a bright, cheerful bedroom. There on a hospital bed laid a tiny figured, weighing much less than a hundred pounds. She seemed to have very little more than skin stretched over her bones. She didn’t speak when I entered, and she never moved a hand or foot. Her eyes rolled to one side and caught me in her glance. Dad broke the ghastly silence by telling me that was my mother! He said she had been an invalid for about seven years. After two strokes, her body was left totally paralyzed. Her beautiful, long hair had been cut because of her bedridden condition. Her mind was still normal and she could hear and see although she was not able to answer or express her feelings except with her eyes. She did not recognize me and it was very difficult to make her understand. Finally, however, her eyes announced to Dad that she knew it was Charlotte.
Evidently the long and arduous trip, the shock of seeing mother in her paralytic condition and the stone-like expression on my father’s face when I said I would have to go back to the convent, were too much for my weak body. I felt ill and asked if I might lie down. Dad took me to a bedroom and said that it would be mine as long as I remained there.
Mother’s nurse was summoned to my bedside and after she took a look at me she said that dad had better call a doctor for me. A pain in my stomach had become very acute.
In walked a doctor about Dad’s age. He started towards mother’s room, but Dad called to him and asked him to come to the guest bedroom, (This doctor had been our family physician for years). When father asked the doctor if he knew who I was, he merely looked puzzled and answered that he didn’t think he did. Dad said, “This is Hookie. Remember? You brought her into the world about thirty-seven years ago.”
The doctor said he could scarcely believe that, but that he had a way of knowing. He asked the nurse to remove my clothes so that he could examine me. He told Dad that he remembered a birthmark on my back, which resembled a smoking pipe. He said if it was still there he would believe it was Hookie, otherwise he would not. He found the birthmark, which was about the only part of my body that resembled the little girl with blonde curls three decades ago.
Uncle John, my father’s brother who lived about five hundred miles away, was contacted. He expressed delight at having me come. He was a very lonely man since he had buried his wife, Aunt Maime, just a few months previous. He said I would be real company for him.
Uncle John was a real father and pal to me. I recuperated quickly while in his charge. He was the real dose of medicine I had need of Being wanted and loved aided my speedy recovery.
He spoke as if that was really my home and as though he wanted me to stay forever. My very soul was delighted with the privilege of waiting on him, fixing his breakfast before he went to the office in the morning and supper in the evening when he returned from work.
I also enjoyed the freedom he allowed. His company was my company. If it was only a visit to a neighbour, I was invited to go along. We became inseparable pals — Uncle John and I.
He ordered that I be admitted to the hospital immediately. The diagnosis: I had a complete nervous breakdown! Various doctors and specialists treated and examined me and, after some time, I was released to go back home.
I was given the exclusive privilege of sitting in Dad’s big armchair by the table and bookcase. A stack of magazines was placed within reach, however, I found it impossible to read or concentrate on anything. Dr. Henshaw advised my father that I should be sent away to a completely different atmosphere where I could fully recover.