|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Anne of Green Gables, My daughter, and Me
What My Favorite Book Taught Me About Grace, Belonging & the Orphan in Us All
By Lorilee Craker
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Lorilee Craker
All rights reserved.
A Couple of "Severe Mental Jolts"
We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they're not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes. DAVID PLATT, RADICAL
ON A SMALL CANADIAN PENINSULA protruding into the Atlantic Ocean, the little village of Avonlea was experiencing something of a ripple in the usual flow of things. Matthew Cuthbert, a man who literally never raised eyebrows, including his own, was supposed to be sowing his late turnip seeds at this hour of this day, like every other God-fearing farmer on Prince Edward Island. And yet there he was, at midafternoon, driving out of the village of Avonlea.
What is more, he was wearing his best suit and driving the buggy led by his chestnut-colored horse, as opposed to taking a less formal method of transportation. From this set of clues laid out for readers on the opening pages of Anne of Green Gables, Mrs. Rachel Lynde "betokened" that he must be going a long way. This was no common errand her bachelor neighbor was on, and she would not rest easy until she knew where he was headed.
Mrs. Rachel marched out of Lynde's Hollow and walked the quarter mile to Green Gables, the spacious house where the Cuthberts lived, to obtain answers to her burning questions. The home was set so far back on the property that it was scarcely detectable from the main road. Not only was Green Gables hidden, both the house and the yard were painfully clean. "One could have eaten a meal off the ground," we are told, "without overbrimming the proverbial peck of dirt."
Mrs. Rachel Lynde did not approve of such an austere, reclusive house. In fact, in her opinion, inhabiting such a house wasn't living in it so much as staying in it.
Little did she know that soon enough the staying would melt into living, and this hermetically sealed dwelling situation of which she disapproved was about to bust wide open. No one in Avonlea, including her, would ever be the same.
* * *
Though not fixed in as picturesque a setting as Green Gables, the bungalow I was brought home to as an infant was nearly as immaculate. It was in that house, located on a humble street of Cold War–era bungalows on Winnipeg's northwest side, that a beauty supply salesman named Abe phoned his wife from work, broaching the subject of adoption. A man he worked with at Monarch Beauty Supply had recently adopted a baby with his wife. He wondered out loud if this might be a solution to their childlessness, now approaching three and a half years since their September wedding day. His wife, a nurse named Linda, said little before replacing the black phone on the wall. The notion was startling, but not unfamiliar. As a labor and delivery nurse, she had cared for many newborns who had been surrendered by their birth mothers. Might one of those babies come to belong to her and Abe? New hope bubbled like a current under her skin.
Linda set a dish of crab apple preserves on the table for supper, picked from their tree in the yard and canned by her own hands. Adoption. She tasted the word in her mouth. It wasn't unheard of in broader society; in fact, she knew all those babies at the hospital were adopted by childless couples. But in their culture, their world, it hadn't been done yet. Linda couldn't think of a single relative (and she and Abe had hordes of them) or anyone in their church community who had adopted a child. The baby would not be a Mennonite, ethnically, for Mennonites were more than a denomination; they were a peculiar people, set apart by history, culture, language, and shared beliefs. But did that really matter? Some folks might think so. Some folks might think this was risky business for sure, raising someone who was not your natural child. Who knew what kind of person this baby might grow up to be?
But somehow, Linda didn't care. She knew Abe didn't either. She remembered the excitement in his voice on the phone. They were ready to open their hearts.
Their house, 542 Kingston Avenue, was tidy and small. Much like Marilla Cuthbert's yard, on Linda's watch, "one," too, "could have eaten a meal off the ground without overbrimming the proverbial peck of dirt." Its amenities included a patio; a huge, gnarled poplar tree along with several crab apple trees in the backyard; and a weeping willow tree in the front. Though only four years old, the house had its quirks already — the chief being a bomb shelter in the basement. The previous owners may have built it to protect themselves from Castro or Khrushchev, but the Mennonite salesman's wife used it to house mason jars of crab apples, tomatoes, and cold bean salad. In the future, her children, procured in an unusual way, would become very familiar with the cold, damp space. "Could you please go down to the Bomb Shelter and bring me up two jars of beets?" she would call down the stairs, where they were flopped on the shag rug, watching Gilligan's Island. She never failed to refer to it by its given name, and in capital letters. Bomb Shelter.
In present day, the kitchen smelled of bay leaves and cabbage, of rhubarb and plums and canning spices, their shared tradition and heritage, 443 years of Mennonite foods and folkways expressed in a kettle of borscht and fruit platz with streusel topping.
There were just two empty little bedrooms across the tiny hallway, but castles of space were available in their hearts. Why God had not answered their prayers for children yet was a mystery, a painful reality, yet they believed that He knew best, that His unknowable ways were right and good. Doctors had no answers for them, so they kept praying, together with hands clasped at the supper table, and all alone when nobody knew what they were thinking. When Abe got home from work, they would have a new conversation, the kind in which the old passes away and new life comes.
* * *
Mrs. Rachel Lynde was silent for a full five seconds when she heard the reason for Matthew Cuthbert's extraordinary errand.
A little boy.
From Nova Scotia.
It was almost impossible to find the words to form the whys and wherefores, but Mrs. Rachel was noted for always speaking her mind and finding the words to do so. Usually, she tacked on the words "that's what" to her declarative sentences to add a note of inarguable finality.
We are told that Matthew's going "to meet a kangaroo from Australia" might have been a less flabbergasting development. We are also told that there was a dish of crab apple preserves on the table, already set for Matthew's return with the orphan boy from Nova Scotia.
As Marilla, Matthew's sister, ticked off her reasons for adopting an orphan from the asylum, Mrs. Rachel could only stare in horror. Mrs. Alexander Spencer, a respectable woman known to them both, was going to adopt a little girl at the same time. She was charged with selecting a boy for them and bringing this boy to them on her way back home.
At age sixty, Matthew was troubled by his heart and therefore challenged to do the farm work that a hired hand might help with, if hired hands were easy to find, which they were not.
Matthew and Marilla had come to the conclusion that adopting a boy to help on the farm would pose a solution to their problems. If they got a boy around ten or eleven, he would be the perfect age to accomplish chores right off, and young enough to be raised up proper. They meant to give him a respectable home and schooling. The brother and sister had received a telegram from Mrs. Spencer that morning. The orphan boy was on the 5:30 train that very afternoon, and Matthew was on his way to pick him up.
Mrs. Rachel was rendered all but catatonic by this news. She received, we are told, a "severe mental jolt," and felt that nothing would shock her after this. Nothing!
In Avonlea, one good verbal thumping deserved another, and Mrs. Rachel pelted Marilla with disapproval, all but bopping her about the head with reasons why she had clearly gone insane. Marilla Cuthbert, she of hard angles and graying hair brought up in a stiff knot with two hairpins jammed through it, of restricted experience and straitlaced morals, of the saving grace of a mouth that suggested a sense of humor, took the onslaught like a chief.
She was expecting Mrs. Rachel's disapproval and had thought through some of the same talking points her neighbor brought up. This is because the talking points Mrs. Rachel brought up are the same viewpoints, worries, and opinions that have been brought up about orphans since time immemorial. According to Mrs. Rachel and home pundits over the centuries, adopting an orphan is foolish, reckless, risky, and unsafe because of the following:
You're allowing a stranger into your house and home.
This stranger has an unknowable temperament and hails from a mysterious ancestry. (Why, he could be from a family of lunatics! Hairy people! Circus people! Grits! Tories! Democrats! Republicans!)
Mrs. Rachel, like so many others, allowed her imagination to mosey down a long dark alley of possibilities, where she was jumped every few steps. How many potential mothers and fathers and families allow themselves to be taken hostage by the unknown (and mostly untrue)?
She continued with the nugget of the thing: You don't know how this little stranger — this potentially deranged fire-eater who supports the wrong political party because it is in his very blood — will turn out, that's what. You don't know what the outcome will be, that's what. (Obviously, people over the centuries have been able to predict with 100 percent accuracy how their genetic posterities will turn out.)
And that is the deal breaker for most people, including Mrs. Rachel.
Not that she took a breath, but I believe Mrs. Rachel might have noted that Marilla seemed unmoved by her theories and that's whats. So she pulled out the big guns, the horror stories, the tales of orphans past that should have caused those two hairpins to pop right out of Marilla's tightly wound head.
Just the week before, Mrs. Rachel said that she read in the paper how a couple had taken in a boy out of an orphanage. The boy set fire to the house at night — deliberately! That innocent couple was nearly fried alive in their own beds.
She knew of another case (of course she did) where an adopted boy sucked the whites and yolks out of eggs, just slurped the ever-loving dilly out of them and could not be broken of the vile habit. (On the bright side, he did not have a protein deficiency.)
"If you had asked my advice in the matter — which you didn't do, Marilla — I'd have said for mercy's sake not to think of such a thing, that's what."
Marilla, with hairpins still intact, remained unmoved. Mrs. Rachel saved the pièce de résistance for last, a story she must unleash for Marilla's own good.
"Well, I hope it will turn out all right," Mrs. Rachel said in a way that suggested there was no way it would. She then begged Marilla, "Don't say I didn't warn you," should she find herself burnt to a crisp in her bed or possessed of hundreds of vacant eggs, unusable for custard pie.
But there was a worse fate than these, and Mrs. Rachel laid this one on her friend with all the righteous indignation in her being:
The Case of Strychnine in the Well.
Strychnine, you ask? A darling of literature (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie both made great use of it in their literary murders), strychnine is essentially rat poison that is often fatal when ingested. Mrs. Rachel told Marilla she had heard about an orphan asylum child in New Brunswick who had poisoned a well, leading an entire family to die in appalling anguish. (One can assume that Mrs. Rachel's tone left no doubt that she feared the siblings Cuthbert would shuffle off this mortal coil in similar, appalling fashion.)
"Only it was a girl in that instance," she added, just to be fair.
A girl. Marilla and Matthew had distinctly asked for a boy, not a girl. So, really, there was nothing to be concerned about, was there?
* * *
I know something of Matthew's astonishment when the stationmaster informed him that the orphan he'd come to pick up was in fact the earnest little girl sitting on a stack of shingles and not the boy he had expected. My surprise came in a sterile hospital delivery room on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the day my second baby boy was born. That was the same day that I imagined a baby girl with gemstone clarity for the first time.
The ultrasound technician had told me this infant was a girl, in utero. And so the baby's closet was crammed with pink footie sleepers and other girlie loot, every befrilled outfit given as gifts from others. Doyle and I had chosen the name Phoebe for our expected daughter, a name we both thought was the bee's knees. To us, it was golden, not too popular, and not too weird. We wanted to unearth a vintage treasure, a biblical name that meant "bright shining star." I was still somewhat hung up on Ruby, my other favorite at the time, and waffling a bit, but Doyle insisted.
"Phoebe is the name of a bird, too," he said. Doyle digs birds. That somehow sealed the deal. Plus, the ancient Phoebe mentioned in Romans 16 was a leader in the early church and the apostle Paul's emissary to the Romans. I dig that, a lot. A Titan in Greek mythology, a bird, a bright shining star! We would bestow all of this on our daughter's tiny shoulders, a mantle of history, story, and meaning.
Yet here was our second son, screaming blue murder, enraged yet exquisite. His older brother, three-year-old Jonah, was in the safekeeping of his doting Grandma Pat and Grandpa George at that moment.
I must have known somehow that the ultrasound technician was off when she had said she thought most likely we were having a girl. "I can't get a perfect shot, but as you can see —" she pointed to a nebulous blotch on the screen — "I'm pretty sure we are having a girl here."
Doyle and I nodded as if that amorphous blob told an indisputable story. We bobbed our heads in agreement to seeing something we did not see. She was the one wielding the squeeze bottle of ultrasound gel, after all.
Obviously, she was misinformed.
I wanted a girl, a daughter, with every cell of my being but had not allowed myself to totally surrender to the possibilities. On some level, I knew. Even as I wrote thank-you notes to people, and laundered and folded flowery wee ensembles, I was aware that something was skewwhiff with the girl theory.
Dr. Grey's announcement "It's a boy," then, was not the severe mental jolt it might have been. Oh, we were definitely jostled, just not completely rattled to our foundations. Doyle and I both shot each other wide-eyed looks.
"Whaaaaaat? A boy?" It still gave us a good few minutes of quaking.
My first thought was that now I could use the boy name I loved. I'm not a name freak for nothing. I had a grand boy's name tucked away just in case my instinct was right and this baby did not turn out to be a Phoebe. Ezra. Ezra Finney Brandt Craker. Ezra, because it was poetic and robust and still original in our neck of the woods; it was also old-fashioned, rare, and biblical, like our firstborn's name, Jonah. The name possessed a certain offbeat quality and zest for life we liked and hoped to impart to our new son. Finney was after Doyle's beloved Grandma and Grandpa Finney, and Brandt was my cherished grandma's maiden name. A one-of-a-kind name for a one-of-akind boy. I adored him to the moon from that first quaking moment.
In that delivery room at Metropolitan Hospital on Grand Rapids' southeast side, we were expecting a girl and received a boy instead. It was the exact opposite of Matthew and Marilla's situation.
The difference is, in my case, I also received a daughter. My next thought, after the boy surprise; the name delight; and the love for him that broke over me like a surf, was a revelation. We were going to adopt a girl someday.
An old African proverb says that children have two birthdays: the day they are born, and the day when they are first envisioned by their mothers. December 19, 2000, the day we welcomed our baby boy into the world, was also a birthing day for Phoebe. I settled in with Ezra, holding his warmth and sweetness next to my skin and put thoughts of another child aside for the time being. I didn't know who, and I didn't know when or where, but a radiant knowledge had taken root: A bright shining star was coming to us all.
Excerpted from Anne of Green Gables, My daughter, and Me by Lorilee Craker. Copyright © 2015 Lorilee Craker. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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Table of Contents
"All 'Spirit and Fire and Dew'": An Introduction ix
1 A Couple of "Severe Mental Jolts" 1
2 "I Love Her Best When She Is Asleep and Better Still When She Is Awake" 11
3 Vanquishing Josie Pye 21
4 A Kindred Spirit 37
5 He Shouldn't Have Called Her "Carrot," But Oh, That Gilbert Blythe! 53
6 Finding Clara Macneill 67
7 Bereft, Left Alone, and Left (Two Birth Mothers and Daughters) 81
8 Dispatches from the Land of Morning Calm 99
9 "Lawful Heart, Did Anyone Ever See Such Freckles?" 113
10 I Love My Adopted Child Biologically 127
11 Reunion Vignettes 133
12 Raspberry Cordial and Redemption in a Bottle of Ipecac Syrup 151
13 Finding Walter Shirley 163
14 Dear Tom 179
15 (He Did Not Say Dear) Lorilee 187
16 Twenty Pounds of Brown Sugar and a Garden Rake 195
17 A Bend in the Road 207
Discussion Guide 229
About the Author 239