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October, 1889 (Okay, so I’m recording this in April. Sorry!)
Mother is so excited to share an October birthday with her new grandson, William John Wilson, and Melinda couldn’t be more thrilled to finally cuddle her baby in her arms. I promised to bring over a warm peach pie as soon as the baby was born, mainly as an excuse to ride into town and see my new nephew. After all, it’ll probably be a few weeks before Melinda can make it out to the ranch for Mother’s Sunday dinner, and even longer till she visits Memory Creek again.
For being the middle of October, the air still hung hot and stifling around Jared and me as we settled in the buggy for our trip into town. I looked up. Maybe, just maybe those giant, fluffy thunderheads gathering over the Sierras would make it down here to our little piece of the foothills. A rare fall rainstorm would be more than welcome. Right now, though, the sun shone down bright and hot, its rays creating patterns through the leaves of our spreading valley oak.
I wiped the sweat from my forehead, wrapped my peach pie in a dishtowel to keep out the flies and dirt, and tucked the pan beneath my seat. “Be careful where you swing your feet, little man,” I cautioned Jared, who lay half-asleep in the buggy. It was long past his nap time. I shouldn’t have had to worry about him accidentally squashing my pie. He would probably doze off against his mama two minutes into our journey.
Sure enough, no sooner had we left the Memory Creek driveway then his head slumped onto my lap. His eyes closed, and a stream of drool began to pool on my skirt. I didn’t doubt that he would sleep through the entire trip.
I’m so blessed. I smiled and brushed a gentle kiss across Jared’s dark, wavy hair. Thank You, God. I know I don’t deserve this handsome baby boy. I chuckled. Well, maybe he isn’t so much a “baby” anymore.
Jared had gone from being a small infant who snuggled in Mama’s arms all the time to a toddler who preferred walking (or riding his pony, Coco) to being held and having his own way in everything. The transformation had happened almost overnight.
My smile disappeared as I mused. A low sigh escaped. Why must babies grow so quickly? It won’t be long till Jared will be attending school and spending his free days working on the range with his daddy.
More than a long hour and a half later, I pulled the rig to a stop outside Melinda’s small cottage and gently nudged Jared awake. He lifted his head from my lap and blinked. A red mark on his cheek showed where his cheek had burrowed into my leg during the long ride.
“Hi there, little man.” I hopped to the ground and pulled him into my arms with a wide grin. “We’re going to see your new cousin, baby William.”
Jared smiled, the sleep vanishing from his face. “Baby?”
I nodded. “Yep.” Shifting the heavy toddler to my other hip, I awkwardly tied Ranger’s reins to the hitching post. Then I reached inside the buggy and withdrew my pie. The delicious aroma waft its way through the cloth that covered the pan and made my mouth water.
Balancing the pie in one hand and Jared in the other arm, I mounted the porch steps and set Jared down before he slid off my hip. He was getting to be a heavy boy! “You may knock,” I told him.
He curled his chubby fist. The bang, bang, bang sounded loud and clear. Mother answered. She put a finger to her lips and led us inside. “Melinda and the baby are sleeping,” she warned.
I set my pie down on the kitchen counter. Three days had passed since the birth, and Mother had been staying in town to help out, same as she had for Riley and me after Jared was born. Gratitude for my mother welled up, and I hugged her. “How are she and the baby doing?”
Mother beamed. “Just fine. Melinda has been talking about your pie. She’ll be so excited to hear you’ve brought it for her.” She lifted the dishtowel, and her smile grew wider. “Peach?”
I nodded. “The very end of the season and the last of the ones “Yes, the very last of the ones you sent over. They were a little squishy.” I cringed. But peach pie was Melinda’s favorite and I didn’t want to disappoint her. “Too bad we can’t store fresh peaches like we store apples.”
“You could have baked and apple pie, sweetheart. We’re up to our elbows in apples and applesauce out on the ranch.”
Before I could remind Mother that peach pie was Melinda’s favorite, Jared yanked on her skirt. “Up, Gra’ma.”
“Oh, little man, it’s much to hot for Grandma to hold you.”
“It’s never too warm to hold my grandchildren,” Mother disagreed. She swept Jared up in her arms and planted a kiss on his cheek. He giggled.
“Mother?” Melinda’s voice came from the bedroom. “Who’s here?”
“Andrea just arrived, dear,” Mother called back. She squeezed my shoulder. “You go on in and visit,” she whispered. “I’ll look after Jared.”
I didn’t have to be told twice. I grinned my thanks and made a beeline for the bedroom, forcing myself to walk slower as I came to the doorway. “It’s your favorite younger sister,” I teased, entering.
Melinda rolled her eyes. “You’re my only younger sister.”
“True enough.” I walked farther into the room, my eyes on the faint trace of color in her cheeks and the small bundle she clutched to her chest. “How do you feel?””
“Oh, Andi, I feel like I could turn cartwheels.” She giggled, a soft, happy sound and pulled back the blanket, revealing William’s pink-tinged face and dark wisps of hair. “Isn’t he absolutely beautiful?”
“He is indeed.” I lowered myself onto the bed beside her. “I brought your pie. Mother says you’ve been looking forward to it. May I hold him?”
Melinda’s eyes lit up. “Most certainly.” She extended the bundle in her arms.
I carefully accepted the precious parcel and pushed back the blanket wrappings further, admiring the small bare feet and hands. William’s smooth cheeks and rosebud lips brought back fond memories of another time, another baby. It’s hard to believe Jared was ever this little. I inhaled the scent of talcum powder and soap that came from a newborn. “He’s so sweet and tiny,” I murmured. Tears of memory pricked the inside of my eyelids.
“How did it feel when you first birthed Jared?” Melinda asked.
“Wonderful. Like there wasn’t a care in the world.” I smiled, reminiscing. “And then afterwards, when he’d cry at night or need a bath, I would handle him very delicately, sometimes doubting he was really mine to keep.”
Melinda’s lips curved up in a smile. “Then what I’m experiencing right now is perfectly normal.” She sighed. “It’s like I can’t get my brain to accept the fact that my little William is here to stay.”
As if recognizing his name, William let out a sudden loud squall, and Melinda took him back. As she nestled him down on her lap to feed him, she let out a breath. “You know, Andi, I was beginning to convince myself that it wasn’t God’s will for Peter and me to have a baby.” She shook her head and fingered William’s toes. “It was so hard seeing Lucy and Ellie have their babies. Then, when my little sister was blessed, well . . .” Her voice trailed off. “Peter and I had been married five years without one child.”
This peek into Melinda’s hopes and dreams and disappointments brought a lump to my throat. “It was probably heartbreaking,” I managed to answer. I couldn’t imagine life without my little man. Bossy and stubborn though he might be, Jared is my son and I love him dearly.
Melinda was not one to share her private thoughts, especially thoughts about babies. It’s like the subject of being in the “family way” was never brought up. This revelation from Melinda was news to me. She had never let on how badly she was pining for a child for so many years. She was always cheerful in my sight, smiling and content. She gushed over Jared the first time she saw him; not a smidgen of disappointment had shown in her blue eyes.
I should have guessed she was struggling. If our places were exchanged, I would have been a blubbering mess. No one would have missed my sorrow and discontentment.
“I have to confess,” Melinda was saying, “that I handled Justin and Chad having children, and honestly, Kate was not around for so many years that her children just sort of came with her.” She chuckled. “But honestly, Andi. It was a hard blow when my younger sister gave birth before I did.” She ducked her head. “It was at that point I began to think I might never have children of my own.” She stroked William’s small head and raised her eyes to meet mine. “It took quite some time to surrender this to the Lord.”
I squeezed her hand. “And then He blessed you with this adorable miracle.”
“Mm-hm.” She was growing sleepy. “I wouldn’t trade him for anything. His timing is perfect. That reminds me, though . . . where is Jared?”
“Mother has him,” I answered. Then I smacked a hand to my forehead. “Oh no, I forgot. Would you mind if he peeked in on the baby before we left? He was so excited to see William and his Aunt Melinda this morning.”
Melinda laughed. “That would be lovely.”
I pushed myself to my feet and scurried from the room, returning a moment later with Jared in tow. He clapped his hands when he saw William and stretched out chubby arms to hold him. “Not now, sweetheart,” I said. “The baby is eating.”
“Baby!” Jared broke out in a wide grin. He reached for me, and I scooped him up into a tight embrace. Then I leaned over to kiss Melinda’s forehead. “Jared and I had better go now. You rest up and enjoy your pie.”
She nodded, her eyes closing. “Thanks. I will.”
I started for the door, but stopped when Melinda called after me, “Andi?”
“Do you have any tips for me as a new mother?”
I turned, Jared’s arms hugging my neck and sending ripples of delight through my whole body. “Yes. Enjoy every moment of it.” I laughed. “Even the screaming fits you’ll no doubt experience.”
I ducked from the room, my heart fluttering in happy beats against the inside of my chest. I bid Mother good-bye, shifted Jared to my hip, and loaded into the buggy for the long return trip home. I hadn’t realized how late it was. Riley would be home expecting supper in less than two hours, and Jared needed to be washed up.
Almost at once, the familiar feeling of grumpiness welled up, but I swallowed it, remembering what I’d just shared with Melinda. The life of a beloved wife and mother was hard work, but every moment was worth treasuring.
Thank You, God, for my beautiful family, and for using this time as a reminder of Your goodness towards me. May I never take the blessings in this life for granted.