The early fifties. Her high-society parents had her future already planned. She was supposed to attend a good school, marry a respected boy, she would be a success.
Success. That’s what good little girls were supposed to want.
She grew up taking piano lessons, going to parties, learning to eat with the right fork.
She got pregnant.
She was sixteen; he was sixteen. He was a boy who cut down trees for a living. He was tall, skinny, big ears. No high school.
Her uppity friends shunned her. Her parents forbid her to see the boy. Her father threatened to send her to a boarding school.
Then. Late night. Her mother woke her. She told her to get into the car—nightgown and all. They drove dark highways through the woods. Neither of them speaking.
There was a man waiting outside a laundromat, smoking a cigarette. He wore a white lab coat and carried a medical bag.
“He’s gonna take care of your pregnancy,” her mother said. She insisted it was for her daughter’s own good. Insisted that her very success depended on it.
The girl jumped out of the car. She ran through the woods. Crying. She hitched a ride to town.
And she would never forget this night.
She moved in with her boyfriend’s family. Her stomach grew bigger. She gave birth in a bedroom with the help of a white-haired midwife. A sweet woman who told her how much God loved her.
They became friends. The midwife took her to a country church. The girl started playing piano during weekly services. She married the skinny boy, he gave her two more girls.
They began a new life. It wasn’t much, but theirs was a happy house. She washed laundry in tin tubs. Her kids didn’t wear shoes unless company came over.
She hadn’t spoken to her parents in years. Her old friends quit calling. People can be cruel.
One Sunday morning, she arrived early to church. She sat behind the piano, like she did every Sunday. The pews were empty.
Except for a woman in the back row. The woman’s head rested in her hands. She stood. The woman walked the aisle. It was her mother.
They embraced. They cried. They put years behind them. And I understand it was quite a sight.
Anyway, I could tell you the rest of the story, I guess, but there’s not enough room. I could tell you about the girl’s beautiful family, about the people she helped.
I could tell you about the hundreds she taught to play piano. Or about the thousands of mouths she fed in a small fellowship hall, over the years.
I could tell you about her husband, and how they were married for fifty-nine years. I could tell you how she was the best damned midwife in three counties until she passed.
About the pregnant teenagers she saved. About the births she performed on kitchen tables, living-room sofas, and back bedrooms.
But then, her life isn’t what most folks would call successful.
Success isn’t everything.