“I don’t think I can bear it if we lose our lovely dogwoods and white birches.”
Moms loved all of the trees and shrubs almost as much as she loved her children. She had cared for a great many of them herself from the day that Dad had brought them home from the nearby nursery.

from The Mystery Off Glen Road, page 39, retro edition

The wind howled, rattling the windows and shaking the old house. Huddled under a blanket and a quilt, Helen Belden shivered. She wasn’t particularly worried for the house. Crabapple Farm had withstood many, many storms over the years, and had never sustained significant damage. Peter always made sure it was in good repair. But the trees…

She turned over again, careful not to jostle her sleeping husband. In an attempt to distract herself, she focused on the pleasant anticipation of Brian purchasing his first vehicle. He more than deserved it, she thought. Really, she couldn’t think of another young man who would take the responsibility of car ownership so seriously. And, though she would always worry a little, she knew that Brian stood good odds of being able to handle any unexpected break-downs that could happen when he was out driving on his own.

Her smile faded when she realized that it really wouldn’t be long at all until Brian graduated from high school and struck out on his own. She had complete faith in him to handle the responsibility—but, oh, did it hurt to think of one of her children leaving home!

The sudden pang of sadness was assuaged when Peter edged closer to her in his sleep and placed a large, heavy hand on her hip. She let out a deep breath and tried to relax, but the howling gale had her eyes popping open again before she could doze off. Her children were safe and sound, she reminded herself. And the house wasn’t going to fall apart.

A distant snapping noise sent her bolting straight upright. Another tree, she realized. Another tree was gone.

She shifted out from under Peter’s hand and threw off the blankets. Shrugging into her robe, she moved to the window and stared out into the dark night. Though she couldn’t see the driveway clearly, she knew that every last one of the ancient crabapple trees were gone. But the newer crabapples, the ones Peter’s parents had planted, were still standing strong. And the dogwoods…

The wind picked up speed, and Helen watched as the remaining trees in the yard bowed under the pressure. She couldn’t see the dogwoods, but it was almost certain that at least a few of them were damaged. The sob came so quickly and unexpectedly that she had to clap a hand over her mouth to muffle its sound. Shoulders hunched, she covered her face with her hands and cried for the loss. The trees weren’t her children, but they were reminders, the closest things she had to—

She jumped as warm arms circled her. Peter held her close, running his hands up and down her arms and nuzzling her neck.

“Oh, Peter!” she whispered, lowering her hands from her face to stare out the window. “The dogwoods aren’t going to make it, are they?” she asked, wrapping her arms around herself.

He kissed the top of her head before responding. “At least one is down already,” he admitted.

She’d known he had been hiding something from her when he came in from stopping at Mr. Lytell’s. “Which one?” she asked, her voice trembling.

“Does it matter?” Peter turned her so that they were face to face.

No. It didn’t matter. Each tree was beautiful, unique, and perfect in its own way. And she loved all five of them equally. She buried her head against his chest and held on tight.

“The trees were supposed to help,” Peter said softly. “A physical reminder of the beauty of life. A way to remember…”

“They did help,” she assured him, looking up into his dark eyes. “In the spring when the dogwoods blossomed and came to life, it helped. In the fall, when they,” she swallowed, “died, it helped. Because they weren’t really dead, of course, and I knew that they would come back in spring.” She reached up to touch his face, running her fingers over the stubble. “They reminded me that even death isn’t forever. And now they’re gone!” The tears flowed from her eyes, but she made no move to wipe them away. It was appropriate to grieve, she realized, with the only one who would ever understand. And when Peter swallowed hard, she knew that he was grieving, too.

“Four children on this side of the sun,” Peter said, his voice low.

“And five on the other.” Helen completed the mantra. The numbers had changed over the years, but the sentiment had sustained her during the most difficult periods in her life. From the first loss of an unborn child when Brian was only nine months old, to the three between Trixie and Bobby, to the last one when Bobby was two, the planting of a tree had been a way to remember the lives that would never see the light of day.

“It feels like they’re being ripped from me again,” Helen said, choking on the words.

“Nothing can make you forget,” Peter soothed, holding her closer. “The trees were only a reminder. You hold them in your heart everyday,” he reminded her. “We hold them in our hearts every day.”

She pressed her head against his chest and listened to the steady thumping of his heart. And, as long as their hearts continued to beat, she knew that their lost children would be remembered.

Author Notes

In June of this year I challenged myself to choose a character and learn more about his or her past. Even as a child reading The Mystery Off Glen Road for the first time, I was struck by the depth of emotion in Helen Belden's reaction to losing trees during the hurricane. When I asked why, this is what I discovered. It was my goal to approach this topic with sensitivity, and I hope I was successful.

Thank you to MaryN for editing, graphicing, and encouraging me to actually post this. *hugs*

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Dogwood image from istockphoto.

Copyright by Ryl, October 2011. Graphics copyright 2011 by MaryN.

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