The following is an excerpt from April Vinding's upcoming spiritual memoir, Triptych, releasing this month.
One sunny afternoon while the hot dish bubbled and Dad was gone on errands, Mom took Megan, Mindy, and me out to harvest green beans. Well into motherhood by 23, she used the rhythm of her work—the garden, the house, us girls—as a ladder for climbing out of abuse. She’d left Cedar Rapids for college to escape the alcohol on her father’s breath and never moved back. Now, through motherhood and witness of my dad’s childhood homestead down the road, she was learning what it could be like to have a family. Each task, learning to can vegetables, sewing us dresses, bringing rhubarb crisp for church fellowship, was a rung toward normalcy, another proof there were things you could stand on.
This afternoon, she tied a kerchief behind her ears and, surrounded by tall sweet corn stalks, wandering cucumber vines, and curling bean bushes, she knelt on the soil and first pulled weeds. She bent into tendriled bushes, her brown eyes bright under the red kerchief. Megan and Mindy toddled in their pink overall corduroys, and I explored the towering cornstalks, bringing leaves and rocks for them to play with in their grassy camp.
I bopped between standing over their bonneted heads to boss their play and squatting my elfin body next to Mom’s nymphish frame. She showed me where to snap the juicy necks of the beans, right under their hats, and I listened to the crack of the fuzzy pods as the juice sprinkled my fingers.
When our bushel basket was almost half-full, Mom flexed her back, fingers draped over her hip, and looked up to shoo a fly. Past her hand she saw a white wall, blanking the landscape, swallowing the trees and phone poles.
She dropped her handful of beans, hefted the basket to her hip and scuttled us to the basement. She sat at the top of the stairs with the phone cord stretched from the kitchen, catching Dad at some register counter or in the FHA office negotiating payments. By the time she had told him what she’d seen, the storm churned like a titan tiller. She hung up when they lost connection, then started us on puzzles while we waited in the gloom.
When it was quiet, we went upstairs and outside. The ground was white. I stepped off the deck and started collecting ice balls in my play teapot and asked if we could keep them. Mindy started crying because she was afraid the kitties weren’t safe. Mom took us back inside and we put my filled teapot in the freezer and sat at the kitchen table stringing the beans. The sun came back out, brighter through the oak branches than at lunch. The trees in a seven mile stretch were stripped. The corn crop beyond them stood three inches high.
That night Dad brought roses, three for Mom and one for each of us girls, like there was something to make up for, either on God’s behalf or his. Photo credit: April Vinding
Triptych, Wipf and Stock
April Vinding is the author of Triptych, a spiritual memoir, and teaches writing at Bethel University. She received an MFA from Hamline University and lives with her family in leafy, literary Minnesota. More at www.april-vinding.com.
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