Authors: Jamie Langston Turner
Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC026000
Jamie Langston Turner
Some Wildflower in My Heart
A Garden to Keep
No Dark Valley
Sometimes a Light Surprises
By the Light of a Thousand Stars
Some Wildflower in My Heart
Jamie Langston Turner
Â© 1998 by Jamie Langston Turner
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
The poem “Gifts from the Wildwood” by Archibald Rutledge was taken from the book
and used by permission from the publisher: R.L. Bryan Company.
Cover design by the Lookout Design, Inc.
For my parents
James Tyndall Langston
Carolyn Louise Thomas Langston
who planted and watered my garden
with faith, hope, and love.
The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure,
the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in its season,
and to bless all the work of thine hand.
Jamie Langston Turner, author of seven novels and winner of two Christy Awards, has been a teacher for thirty-eight years. Currently a professor of creative writing at Bob Jones University, she lives with her husband in Greenville, South Carolina.
I first saw Birdie Freeman at a funeral one hard winter day more than a year ago, but I did not meet her then. When she arrived in my life some months later, I had not the vaguest notion that I would one day write a book about her. Had someone suggested such a thing, I would have dismissed him as a fool.
Had I known that Birdie Freeman was to bring into my life drastic changes, I would have fled to a distant land. But I did not know. How misleading were her plainness and smallness, her quick smile and ready touch. When my eyes first lighted upon her face that January day, I could not begin to know the wrenching pain I was to undergo because of her.
“Love sought is good but given unsought is better.” Thus says Olivia in Shakespeare's
. Mine is a story of love unsought.
My passion is reading. I am haunted by phrases from things I have read and by things I have seen and done as well, though I prefer by far the haunting from things I have read. Many years ago I read a story by a German author named Heinrich BÃ¶ll that began with the words “One of the strangest interludes in my life.” I do not recall the particulars of the story from which I extracted this single, rather unremarkable phrase, but I have kept it these many years as a memento of the story and have thought of it upon several occasions, for I have had many strange interludes in my life.
Yesterday, while I was in my office cubicle in the cafeteria at Emma Weldy Elementary School, clearing off the top of my desk for the much-anticipated summer hiatus, it came to me that the phrase was a fitting summary of the past nine months. Indeed, it was one of the strangest interludes in my life, perhaps
strangest, and I must now take the summer before me to sort it out, to write it down as it comes to me. It is a story that demands a spare, straightforward telling, yet it cannot be rushed.
I am a great keeper of secrets and have many to keep, but the time is right for the sharing of them. I have no doubt that I can tell my story in such a way that will catch a publisher's eye. I feel prepared for my mission, as if my whole life of reading has been aimed toward this summer of writing. The fact that I am fifty-one and writing something of this magnitude for the first time does not give me pause except for a brief, encouraging reflection that many fine works of literature have been composed by writers much older than I. If it is true, as they say, that a man must walk through darkness before he can become a writer, then I am well qualified.
Perhaps I shall someday offer my finished manuscript to my husband, Thomas, who will likely stare at it in bewildermentâso many words!âbefore attempting to read it. Though he respects the written word highly, the spoken word via television is more to his liking. Indeed, it has been many years since Thomas has read the complete text of any work, excluding our local newspaper, which some imaginative soul in the early days of the township titled the Filbert
, a witticism that is lost upon the present generation, most of whom know only the peanut.
My thoughts are at sixes and sevens. Such is not usually the case. I made the decision yesterday upon arriving home from school that this summer I would undertake to write the story of the past nine months, and last night I purchased ten red spiral-bound notebooks at K Mart for this purpose. I find now, however, that writing a book requires a far greater leap than I had supposed, for I have no provocative opening.
From my many years of reading, I know that there are questions to be answered when one enters a story. A reader wants a speedy orientation as to the main character, conflict, and setting.
I shall therefore plunge in. The main character of my story is Birdie Freeman, a gentle and beautiful woman. I am not Birdie Freeman. I am Margaret Bryce Tuttle, and I am telling the story. The conflict, I suppose, occurs between Birdie and me, although the collision is one of will and philosophy more than of literal combat. You, the reader, must care about Birdie because what you conclude about her may very well change your life as it has changed my own. In truth, she may impact me in ways I have yet to discover. The story takes place in Filbert, South Carolina, five miles south of Derby and ten miles west of Berea.
You no doubt will object to the setting, for you already hear my voice, and it is not the voice of a native southerner. You are accustomed to drawls and affected twangs in southern literature, to gangling, loose-jointed sentences and quaint colloquialisms. An immigrant to the South from northern and midwestern cities, I do not speak in such a manner. Though I have grown to love the melody and pulse of the speech around me, I do not mimic it.
The truth is that for most of my adult life I have spoken aloud as infrequently as possible, although I have always possessed what my mother once called “a rich, voluble inner dialogue.” When I was twelve, my mother described my speech patterns as one part King James, one part William Shakespeare, one part Jane Austen, and one part Theodore Geisel, whose rhythmic cadences entranced me as a child and who was to become increasingly popular over my lifetime as a writer of versified children's stories under his pseudonym, Dr. Seuss.
But I must not stray from my purpose. Mine is truly a southern story through and through. Birdie Freeman is a southern woman, and Filbert is a southern town. As I said, I first saw Birdie Freeman at a funeral. It occurs to me now that the funeral may serve well as an entry into my story.
Though I have no living blood relations of whom I am aware, my husband, Thomas, has an intricate genealogy, and it was his elderly uncle Mayfield Spalding who bore the misfortune of dying on New Year's Day a year and a half ago. It was Thomas, in fact, who found his uncle collapsed on the floor of his bathroom on New Year's Eve and who called to tell Mayfield's only daughter, Joan, and Joan's three brothers that their father had suffered a severe stroke and was not expected to live. He did, in fact, die in the early hours of the next morning. Joan lives in Berea, only ten miles away, yet she had not spoken to her father for over six years and had been at odds with him for most of her life. Her brothers, grown men now, live in various locations of the Southeast.
Joan and her brothers asked Thomas to arrange the funeral since he lived in Filbert and, unlike the rest of the family, had always been on speaking terms with Mayfield. The arrangements proved easy enough, for on top of his uncle's desk, Thomas found a typed sheet of instructions with the heading
, signed and dated a few months earlier.
It was clear that death had not taken Mayfield Spalding unawares. Indeed, he seemed to have been expecting its arrival. He had purchased a burial plot eight years ago at the cemetery located halfway between Derby and Filbert, a large green acreage known as Shepherd's Valley, though it is no valley at all but rather a flat, level expanse with a grassy knoll at the entrance. We further discovered that in December, only four weeks before his death, Mayfield had driven to the Mortland Funeral Home in Derby and chosen his casket, an excursion that could hardly stimulate one's holiday spirit, although it had not appeared that Mayfield was more melancholy than usual that Christmas. He had prepaid all expenses, including what is referred to as the “family wreath” to adorn the top of the casket.
Listed first on the typed instructions, which were numbered from one to twenty-three, was
Call Brother Theodore Hawthorne at the Church of the Open Door in Derby.
Thomas did so immediately, and Mr. Hawthorne drove over from Derby to pay a consolation call. I told Thomas I would not be present under the same roof with a preacher, and for the first time in his life, he said to me quite sternly, “Margaret, you got to put all that baggage behind you for now and think about Uncle Mayfield.” I was so astounded by both his tone and his remark that I did not answer, and when Mr. Hawthorne arrived twenty minutes later, I was present.