by Julie Franklin
Throughout his lifetime, my father was a quietly religious man, with a deeply rooted faith; he attributed this in no small part to his main occupation and love, farming, confessing that faith was easier to embrace when combined intimately with nature and the earth. He would admit to that faith of his being tested often, however. This is the story of one such occasion.
Bill and Margaret were both children of the land and when they married, there were lean times for them as farmers, as was often the case. The only job Bill could get was share-cropping another man’s land, supplemented with occasional bouts of grave-digging (arduous, backbreaking and low-paying) done by hand in those days.
The year 1950 saw them with one toddler born, and a second just birthed. It was time now, to leave the hospital, take this small one home, but the couple was sorely worried. The past year had not been good to them; last year’s crop had been poor and the spring’s stormy weather had caused this year’s planting to be delayed. Already it was mid-May, with the crops only recently into the ground. But food fit for a newborn was needed, and Margaret’s breast-milk was not yet in. And so it was, with a heavy heart, that Bill was forced, ‘hat in hand’, to approach the local drugstore owner, asking for the credit necessary to buy formula necessary for this baby. The charitable man, knowing Bill and Margaret from the local church congregation and aware of their humble circumstances, extended this so desperately needed credit. He knew Bill to be an honorable man and felt compassion for the young, hard-pressed family.
It was late when they returned to the farmstead, yet Bill still had much to do. After unloading the old, beat-up farm truck and helping Margaret indoors, he went to the barn. Knowing Margaret would need help with the children, he hurried to feed and water the landowner’s livestock. This pregnancy and delivery had been especially hard on his slight but courageous wife, and she was still weak. He worked quickly, determined to finish up outdoors and get back inside to help.
Finally, he returned to the old, ramshackle farmhouse, included with this share-cropped property. He pulled open the old warped, paint-peeled back door leading into the kitchen. Entering, he was immediately warmed by the wood fire he’d started earlier in the old black cook stove. Turning, his gaze came to rest upon his Margaret, seated at the scared kitchen table. Her head was buried in her arms, weeping silently and hopelessly. Try as she might, she had been unable to find any food to eat in the house. Even the milk had long since soured, what with them gone to the hospital for those three days. The toddler was tired, fretful and hungry – Margaret at her wit’s end. Sharp, angry words were exchanged.
Bill angrily flung himself back outdoors. Muttering to himself, casting jerkily about the forlorn farm yard, he searched all around him, frustrated, helpless. In despair, he looked from the cornfields on his left, all the way to Margaret’s newly planted vegetable on the right. No matter where he cast his gaze, he could see nothing in his power to do, to assuage the hunger of his young and desperate family. In that moment of utter desolation, he raised his clenched fist to heaven, shouting aloud, “Why, God? Why have you abandoned me – I trusted you!” No answer.
His desolation paralyzed him in such a deep thrall, he was unaware of his surroundings. Slowly, however, he became aware of a faint, rustling sound coming from the woodpile off to his left. His eyes followed the sound. He noticed an old, decaying log lying on the ground. Glory, those rustlings, louder now, seemed to be coming from that log. Warily, quietly, he bent down, glanced into the hallowed log, straightening quickly when he spied movement hear the center of the thing. Hurriedly, he propped a stone against the nearest end of the log, running to the far side to do the same. Then with great care, he extricated not one, but two half-grown rabbits from their hiding place. With renewed energy, he firmly grasped both and ran with them back to the house.
Later, after they’d eaten their fill of the meat Margaret had so gratefully prepared, after the children had been tucked into bed and, finally, after they themselves had retired for the night, Bill lay in the darkness of his bedroom. Holding an exhausted Margaret while she slept, his thoughts returned to the rabbits. He thought about what their presence had meant to his family…and he cried. They were cleansing, renewing tears. These were tears of thanksgiving, of the realization his God had not forsaken him in this his worst hour. Bill cried those tears for joy, in dawning awareness of what God had shown to him – God was indeed with him still – and forever.