The Cooing of a Dove
June Huwa Whiting
Copyright 2012 by June Huwa Whiting
As she knelt there today, she cried softly and was comforted by the sound of a dove cooing in the distance. She spoke to the children, “Carl and Hanna, I love you so much and Papa does too.” She believed she had to defend the children’s father for his obstinate refusal to visit the cemetery. “You were both such beautiful children. Mama wishes she could hold both of you in her arms and smell that sweet baby smell that was the two of you. Papa is working at the store today, or he might have come with me. He said to tell you both that he will see you in heaven when his time comes. He is a fine man, your Papa, and works very hard. I love you both, and I will be back to visit you tomorrow. For now, I must go home and make Papa’s dinner.”
Eva and Frederick lived in Windsor, Colorado where Frederick worked in the mercantile. They had emigrated from Germany shortly after they married at ages 15 and 17. After trying his hand at farming, Frederick decided a life in town would be better for him and Eva and the children they would have. Farming was too risky and too difficult, and he was thrilled when Mr. Gerbrandt offered him a job in the store.
Two years after they arrived in the United States, Eva told Frederick she was going to have a child. They were both so excited, and she and Frederick would sit by the fire after supper and make plans for their son, for Frederick was certain the child would be a boy. “Mr. Gerbrandt has told me he will be retiring sometime in the next few years, and he will want me to take over managing the store for him when he does. I should be making good wages then, and we can live above the store, which will give us more room than we have here.” “What,” asked Eva, “should we name the child? I have been thinking if it’s a boy, I would like him to be named Albert, and if the baby is a girl, I like the name Hanna, after my mother.” “Nonsense,” Frederick replied, “the boy shall be named Carl, after my father. Forget about girl’s names, Eva, I feel in my bones the child will be a boy.” “Very well then, we shall name him Carl,” Eva chuckled, tucking away the name Hanna in her mind, just in case.
A few months later, little Carl was born, and he was a truly beautiful baby. All the folks in the church congregation at the time of Carl’s christening remarked on what a beautiful child he was. Mr. Gerbrandt was especially pleased and looked upon Carl as a grandson.
Frederick was so delighted he beamed every time he so much as looked at his son. He had such plans for the boy. He would attend school, perhaps even high school in Greeley, and after that, he would go into business with his father at the mercantile. Eva was amused by her husband’s ambition, for her son was so small, she could not even picture him in school, let alone going into business with his father.
On Christmas Day, 1902, Mr. Gerbrandt informed Frederick he was retiring, and Frederick was promoted to manager. He, Eva, and Carl soon moved into the spacious apartment above the mercantile, where Eva had no problem turning the apartment into a home they could be proud of.
The winter of 1903 was a hard one, and an outbreak of diphtheria spread through the town and the surrounding farms. Mrs. Gerbrandt died, as did Mr. Weinmaster, two of the Hoffman children, Mr. Markham, Mrs. Kern and one of the Kern children. In the Arndt household, Frederick was stricken as was little Carl. Eva was overwrought and overworked as she nursed her husband and child. She would be up most nights tending to the two men in her life. Finally, as Frederick began to recover, Eva came down with diphtheria and was no longer able to care for Carl. A neighbor, Mrs. Markham, temporarily moved into the apartment to care for the family during the day, and another neighbor, Mrs. Wacker, stayed with the family at night.
Finally, Frederick recovered from his illness and went back to his job at the mercantile downstairs. Eva, her resistance lowered by the effort of caring for Carl and her husband, took longer to recover. Mrs. Markham and Mrs. Wacker insisted on taking over Carl’s care until Eva got stronger. Within two weeks, Eva felt strong enough to care for Carl, and the two helpful neighbors continued to assist the family by bringing food in every day.
As the days wore on, little Carl’s health deteriorated even more. Dr. Mitzel came every day and offered comfort to Frederick and Eva but could do little for the child. In addition to the diphtheria, Carl developed pneumonia, and his fever refused to break. As Carl’s illness dragged on into the third week, Frederick became resolved to the idea he was going to lose his son. Eva, on the other hand, refused to accept reality and insisted Carl was getting better. Around midnight on September 21, 1903, little Carl took his last breath, and Eva took to her bed overcome by grief and fatigue.
Two days later, Carl’s funeral was held at the Lutheran church, and the mourners then made their sad way to the Windsor cemetery. After the final prayer was offered, Eva became hysterical and relied on the help of Frederick and a few of the churchwomen to walk back to the mercantile and trudge up the stairs to the apartment. There, under the care of Mrs. Markham and Dr. Mitzel, she finally fell into a drugged sleep. Within a week, she was out of bed and somehow managed to drag herself through each day. Every day, she walked to the cemetery and cried over Carl’s grave.
The townspeople noted that Eva seemed to have lost her spirit and commented on her dull eyes and her withdrawal into herself. Frederick was frightened and asked her not to return to the cemetery every day. “The child is gone,” he told Eva, “and your tears and daily visits to the grave will never bring him back. We must go on with our lives, Eva, and we will have more children, just you wait and see.” For Frederick, the matter was settled, but it would never be settled for Eva.
In late 1904, Eva was again pregnant, and her spirits began to lift. She hoped this child would be a girl and began to make plans for having a daughter. There were dresses to sew and much to be done before the baby arrived. During this time, despite her excitement, she became weaker and weaker to the point that Dr. Mitzel told Frederick and her she must remain in bed until this baby made its appearance. Hanna arrived on June 29, 1905.
From the beginning, it was obvious to all but Eva that Hanna was a sickly child, and Dr. Mitzel told the young parents the baby had a bad heart. Eva refused to accept this reality and continued making plans for her little girl. Summer turned into autumn, and the baby’s health worsened to the point Eva finally had to accept reality. Sadly, she would hold her baby daughter and sing lullabies to her as she hoped and prayed for a miracle. Hanna died on Thanksgiving Day, 1905.
Following their second child’s death, Frederick focused more and more on his job and less and less on his wife. Dr. Mitzel had told Frederick that Eva was not strong enough to have any more children. As his plans for a family eroded before his eyes, he withdrew from Eva. She, who had been such a happy, optimistic young woman, turned into a ghost of herself, barely able to make it through the day without screaming. The one thing that saved her and gave her a purpose was her daily visits to the cemetery.
Eva and Frederick went on like that for five more years until one January day in 1910 when Eva disappeared. Townspeople told Frederick they had seen her walking toward the cemetery, but she did not return home that day or the next. After a massive search, Frederick resigned himself to the fact she would not be coming home. Eva, he knew, was gone forever.
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It is August 27, 2012 as I stroll around the Windsor cemetery. I do not know exactly why I like to come here, only that I have a sense of history and often wonder about the people who lived before I was born. Today, I find an old grave with the inscription Carl August 16, 1901 - 1903 and Hanna June 29, 1905 – 1905. Their last name had succumbed to the elements and erosion of 107 years on the Colorado prairie and was no longer visible on the headstone. I wondered what became of their parents, whether they had any more children, and whether they had remained in Windsor.
A school bus drives by, a helicopter flies overhead, and, in the distance, I hear the cooing of a dove.
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