By Karen Brode
Mother and I had never had church people over for Sunday supper. I knew my she did not like to entertain, but we had been over to other people’s houses so much that she felt she had to reciprocate.
It was still light when evening service was over, but there was already a chill in the air that promised a long winter. It was a beautiful autumn evening, and the colors of the leaves made them look as if they were on fire.
Our house was secluded, surrounded mostly by woods. Mother had given up trying to explain to Mr. Thompson how to get to our house. She had asked everybody to form a caravan so she could lead all of them there. Mr. Thompson was right behind us with his wife, Millie, and his mother, Pauline. Five more vehicles followed behind him. I could tell they were all anxious to see our house.
Mother was a little nervous because Mr. Thompson drove way too close behind us. She was not a natural born hostess. She worried over silly little things like whether or not she had dusted the mantle of the fireplace.
She seemed to be going over in her mind how the house would appear to people who had never seen it. It seemed almost spooky to me, nestled in the woods with no lights on, and the setting sun reflected in the upstairs windows.
After all the cars pulled up onto the gravel driveway, Mother went to the Thompson’s car and helped get Pauline into her wheelchair. It had to be carried in the trunk of the car. Pauline was in her eighties, but had been very sharp mentally until just lately when her mind had begun to slip. She lived with Millie and Fred. Millie didn’t like the arrangement, but she felt helpless to change it.
All of the Babcock family spilled out of their car–all seven of them. Mrs. Babcock unbelted the youngest’s carrier seat and lifted the baby out. There were five children in all. I had heard Mother whispering to Donna at church that she thought Mrs. Babcock was expecting again! Donna had looked horrified, but it wasn’t really her business. It would mean, however, that she would have to put together another baby shower.
All of the church families entered the house.
“Just sit anywhere for now,” said Mother.
Fred and Millie chose the couch with Pauline’s wheelchair next to them. All the other families sat on chairs. Several of the guys sat on the fireplace threshold.
Mother went into the kitchen. She set the plates and utensils on the kitchen counter before she got the food out of the refrigerator.
“Would any of you like some iced tea?” she hollered from the kitchen. They did.
Being the responsible 10-year-old that I was, I very carefully carried a big round tray with all the glasses of tea on it. I felt like a waitress in a restaurant and wished I could carry the tray above my head without spilling everything.
“This is such a beautiful home out here in the woods,” Fred hollered from the den so Mother could hear.
“We just fell in love with it the minute we saw it,” she answered.
While the people sat in chairs and couches, I went to the window and pulled the curtain back. Fred asked me what I was looking for.
I looked back at the group of people sitting in the den and then a little beyond toward the kitchen where Mother was finishing everything up for the buffet supper.
“Please don’t tell my mother,” I said. “It upsets her too much. But it’s been almost two years and sometimes I can’t believe that they are really gone.”
Everyone in the room leaned forward as I told them how my father, uncle, and two brothers had gone off before dawn to go hunting one fateful morning. Normally, they returned by mid-afternoon, but on that day, they didn’t come back. Mother had paced and worried and wondered. Finally, police cars and search dogs had scoured the woods all around to find them, but there was not a trace of them anywhere. It was a terrible day. Mother was not ever herself again.
I peered back out the window and continued. “I get this feeling every night at about this time that maybe they will come back. I can’t help looking out the window and just hoping.”
There were sighs of great sympathy and disbelief as I stood there looking out the window.
Millie Thompson and Mrs. Babcock got up and stood by me. Millie put her arm around me. It was hard for me not to cry with all that sympathy coming my way.
“It was a night just like tonight,” I continued. “And sometimes I even think I see them coming. But I know they couldn’t come back after all this time.”
Slowly, I walked away from the window, leaving the curtain cracked enough to see through the window. Before I got halfway across the room, Mrs. Thompson screamed and said, “It’s them! They’re coming out of the woods!”
I feigned great surprise and ran back to the window. “It is them!” I said with a gasp.
Fred grabbed his Mother’s wheelchair and headed for the front door. Everyone tried to get through the door at once. The Babcock children hovered close to their parents as they exited.
I smirked as I listened to the car doors slamming and the engines starting. My Mother raced into the den, worried and curious.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Everyone said they had to leave. They saw the hunters coming out of the woods and it just scared them all to death.”
Mother looked out the window and saw that her son, Jimmy, had not worn his cap as she had told him to do that morning. Daddy, Uncle Bill, Jimmy and Robert traipsed toward the house in apparent hunger and exhaustion. They had not eaten since early that morning.
At least she had supper ready for all of them.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.