Passing the first few months in a new location, Dee Anna had, somewhat to her surprise, found herself growing comfortable returning to the less formal worship style typical of North Woods Chapel. There were times she still missed the quiet elegance of Eastside, but all in all she had been pleased with the congregation and with her adjustment. She was sharply disappointed to miss the beginning of the Christmas season at her new church.
She had arranged for a retired minister to preach and to be on-call for the next Sunday. She had lined up readers and candle lighters for Advent and distributed the appropriate scriptures. She had determined that Madeline would be able to stay with her best friend's family for a few days and had called the Halvorsens to cancel their Thanksgiving plans. She had called Brother Young right away, and he had reassured her that if she needed someone to come up to Little Big Foot for a longer period of time, he would work something out. She told him it would probably only be a few days, adding, "You know how my mother likes to make everything a major disaster."
Dee Anna took a deep breath as the engines of the 757 grew louder and her hands involuntarily clenched as the wheels of the airplane left the ground. The most dangerous times in an airplane, she knew, were the take off and the landing. She slowly breathed out and relaxed her hands. It is safer to fly in the sky, she reminded herself, than drive on the highway. At least that's what they say.
A few days. "Oh Lord," she prayed silently, "please, please let it be only a few days." Then, feeling ashamed that her thoughts had been about her own discomfort, she added, "And, God, please let Daddy be all right. Please let Mom..." What should she even ask? "Please help her, God." She closed her eyes and added, "And please help me to act like an adult woman and not a ten year old."
She took another slow breath and smiled at the man next to her who was nodding kindly, his large mustache curving upward in a second smile. "No need to worry, young lady." He launched into an explanation of modern aircraft, adding that he was retired from Boeing Aircraft. Dee Anna listened enough to nod at the right times, but her thoughts were already taking her to the small brick house set back from the highway, the house in which she had spent the first 18 years of her life.
She saw the stiff, coarse Texas grass, brown now in the winter cold. She heard the squeak of the windmill, long past functioning, but still turning in the wind. She pictured her mother, red hair twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck, green eyes piercing. She pictured her father, shaving and singing on a Sunday morning, round face red and shining.
How long since she had been home? She thought back, feeling a mixture of sadness and shame. A long time. Three years? Four? It hadbeen just before Madeline was to enter kindergarten at Eastside. Michael had come too, at her mother's insistence. She remembered the phone conversation in which her mother had scolded her for not bringing her new husband home for all this time. Her mother, she knew, had been hurt by her apparent rejection. What had she been afraid of?
Ah, she knew exactly what she had feared. She wanted her little family, Michael and Madeline, to know nothing of the world of her childhood. She feared Michael's opinion of her parent's house, the church, her mother's religiosity, her good-ol'-boy father, her brother--all of it. She winced inwardly as she recalled her father's jovial racism, her mother's stubborn insistence that Michael needed to revise his view of a certain television evangelist, Madeline's innocent questions that had led to disapproval, and conversations that had left her exhausted and angry.
She was aware that her parents had disapproved of her marriage to Michael, believing him to be a near apostate, and she had hoped he would never have to deal with any of it. That had been a foolish desire, of course.
Her seatmate stood to visit the airplane lavatory and she leaned back gratefully, closing her eyes and pretending to be asleep. When he returned she kept her eyes closedm and he remained silent.
Her thoughts drifted back to her family home. On the morning they were scheduled to depart, her father and Michael had carried the suitcases to the rental car, and stood talking in the early-morning Texas sunshine, watching Madeline chasing a butterfly. Inside the house, there was a short but bitter exchange with her mother who was disappointed that her daughter had chosen to continue to live "up north, disapproved of how she was raising Madeline, and most of all disappointed in her choice of a husband. She had, Dee Anna knew, hoped her daughter would return to Texas, renew a slight high school romance and marry their pastor's son. It had left Dee Anna mortified to realize that both her husband and her father had come back into the house and so heard every critical word.
There had been no more visits with her parents. There had only been very occasional phone calls. She had tried, over the years, to keep in touch with Phil, but he seemed to grow more and more distant. What little she heard was not encouraging.
Dee Anna had always known the day would come when she would return home once again. After all, she couldn't stay away forever. But her parents were both healthy and she had expected they would both live a long time. And as for her brother, Phil...
Her thoughts were interrupted by the stewardess asking Mustache Man if he would like something to drink. She kept her eyes closed, and in a few minutes she was actually asleep.