‘I Drank From A Cup With This Likeness Long Ago’

‘I Drank From A Cup With This Likeness Long Ago’

THE GRAVE of Elinor Junkin Jackson, first wife of Thomas J. Jackson. She died in childbirth and the child was stillborn.

‘I Drank From A Cup With This Likeness Long Ago’
‘I Drank From A Cup With This Likeness Long Ago’
‘I Drank From A Cup With This Likeness Long Ago’
‘I Drank From A Cup With This Likeness Long Ago’

Editor’s note: This past October, we asked our readers to write and send in short stories inspired by the objects on display in the Visitor Center at the Jackson House Museum. All of them were good, but we have now chosen the three from the adult category that we thought were the best. Now you may read for yourself. The first place recipient is Annette Bedell for her story “Miss Prescott’s Gift.” In second place is Phyllis Rogers with “The Sewing Bird.” And in third place is Lisa Samia for her story “The Letter.” Congratulations to all the winners! We will run the sole entry in the children’s category next week.

Miss Presscott’s Gift

“Girl! Girl!! Girl!!! I want my tea!”

The kitchen girl listened from the bottom of the steps, steaming cup of tea in hand. Miss Prescott, the hospital’s oldest patient, was not the most loved ‒ especially this Christmas Eve. As the girl climbed she punctuated each step with an insult. “Crone. Hag. Old biddy.”

“Late again,” Miss Prescott greeted her. “Give me my tea.” One taste brought more complaints. “Bah. Tepid. You skimped on the sugar. Bring me another.” The girl, fighting tears, caught the rejected cup thrown at her and rushed back to the kitchen.

“I want my Christmas,” she inwardly sobbed. “I want to go home.” At home Mam, Da and Granny would be readying tomorrow’s feast: a goose stuffed with potatoes, generously buttered brown bread, a pudding to be doused with Irish whiskey. She slammed the kettle on the stove and reached for a fresh cup. An old one, dustcovered, different from the others, sat apart from the rest. Not the best but good enough. Again the trek upstairs. Again the mantra “I want my Christmas.”

“I’ll just put it here.” The girl hoped to leave quickly but Miss Prescott’s unexpected cry stopped her.

“This cup! I drank from a cup with this likeness long ago. Here when this place was a home, not a hospital. I was just a girl. The woman who lived here, Miss Mary Anna. offered me tea in a cup as elegant as this one. A slice of lemon floated on the tea, a slice thin as glass, delicate as lace. I always hurried then ‒ wanted to be somewhere else. When I sipped too fast the lemon kissed my lips and Miss Mary Anna and I laughed. ‘Slow down,’ she advised. ‘Time chips away at life. Be happy where you are.’

As she spoke Miss Prescott traced the cup’s rim with her bony finger. She quietly mused, “In years to come this chip will spread into a web of lines and the cup will crackelegant no longer. Brittle. Broken. Useless.”

“I’ll be going,” the girl interrupted. She bounced down the steps chanting “I want my Christmas. I want my Christmas ...”

She grabbed her coat then flung the door open. A blast of ice crystals invited itself in along with joyful noise.

Miss Prescott’s voice meandered down through the din, over church bells chiming, sleigh bells tinkling, in chorus with carolers, cushioned by children’s laughter.

“Thank you. Thank you, my dear.”

And the girl knew. She knew what she had been given.

She latched the door.

She put her coat in its place.

She moved to the kitchen where a bowl of lemons rested on the table. She examined each lemon carefully and chose the best.

Miss Prescott would have her Christmas.

Submitted by Annette Bedell

The Sewing Bird

Laura Jackson Arnold sat in the chair by her sewing bird, gently placing ribbon through its cold metal beak. The bird, a brass creation with movable beak, wings and tail, was used to help hold sewing notions, like thread, needle, or ribbon for the woman doing hand sewing. The tail was spring loaded and caused the beak to open when pressed, thus gripping the ribbon placed in its mouth. It acted as an extra hand, as it were. It was fitted on a rod with a screw clamp and was screwed to the table edge.

Laura truly enjoyed the sewing bird because it had

belonged to her mother. She liked to play with it as a child and stroke its shiny head. She pretended that it would one day take flight and leave to find a home of its own. Later, she had learned to sew by her mother’s side as she learned to use the bird for its intended purpose. The sewing bird was beginning to creak just a little now because of its age and continual use. To Laura, the sounds were a bit like music for an old song. Today’s was a sad song.

Usually, on a day like this, sunny and warm, Laura would have been outdoors walking, taking in the spring air and sunshine. Instead, she chose the comfort of her old friend, the sewing bird, and absentmindedly began to create a trim for her bonnet. Laura’s thoughts were not on her sewing as tears filled her eyes. Only hours ago she had received news that her brother, Thomas, had died in Chancellorsville.

She and Thomas had been at odds about the war from its beginning. She, a Whig, was Unionist and he was for the Confederacy. She had not wanted her beloved Virginia to be devastated by the fighting. Now it was split in two. Her home was in West Virginia. She, her husband and their four children lived miles away from Thomas who had lived in Lexington, in the home he and Mary Anna had purchased not so many years ago. Now he would never return to it.

She had shut herself off from Thomas. They had not spoken since he left to fight for the Southern cause. Now he was dead. They would never have the opportunity to make amends. This thought alone brought more tears. Thomas and she were the only two of her original family left. She and Thomas had been so close for so long. The ache in her heart was really cutting. The memories of her early life came back in a flood of sorrow.

Laura was no stranger to pain and loss. Fingering a ribbon from the bird’s beak, Laura thought about those days of loss and sadness. First her father, then her mother and grandmother were all taken away from her in death. She even had a sister who, like her father, was taken from her before she was even born. She had lost touch with Warren, an older brother, after their mother died. He had been sent away to live with other relatives and they’d written little to each other. She and Thomas were reunited with their father’s brothers. She had less connection with their half brother, William. Thomas and she stayed together. He had been her connection to their family. He was her family until she married.

The sewing bird stood nearby silently waiting on her to remember, silently witnessing her grief. Laura wiped her eyes and looking up, her eyes fell on the sewing bird. The bird had been a part of her childhood. Her mother had used it for her sewing, one of the few things she could do in spite of her illness. Laura had taken it with her when she left her grandmother’s house for the last time. She had gone to live with her father’s family. Its head was worn smooth and shiny from her caresses. Laura loved the thought that her mother’s hands had touched the bird’s head and she felt like there was still some essence of her mother’s touch on the cold metal.

Her trembling fingers stroked the head, the wings, even the feathers. How she wished she could fly away from all this pain and grief. Laura, like the cold brass bird, was attached securely to this world and could not get away. Her only recourse was to go on alone. But, in that moment a warmth emanated seemingly from the bird. Was it the sunlight on the bird’s head? Was some essence of her mother? Was it the love she never doubted had been her gift from her mother? Laura couldn’t say exactly. Whatever it was, it worked its way into her heart, warming it with peace. She smiled, sadly at first. Then as the memories of their mother, Thomas and herself in happier times grew, her smile broadened. Yes, she and Thomas argued and fought like brothers and sisters have always done. Yet, it did not quell the love they felt for each other. She remembered the quiet words of their mother’s admonitions and felt consoled. Even the sadness of death could not break the love she felt for her brother and their mother.

Laura stroked the sewing bird once more. Then she unscrewed it from the table and carefully, gently, put it away. She thought of the wonderful things she and her mother and Thomas had talked about and done together. One day she, like all those before her, would “cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.” Now was the time to enjoy the sunshine.

She called to her youngest, “Laura Zell, come go with me.” Today was a day for walking, taking in the spring air and the sunshine. Hand in hand they, mother and child, walked out of the door into the sunlight.

Submitted by Phyllis Rogers

The Letter

Dearest Ellie,

As I sit here by the firelight, eyes consumed by tears and my soul crushed, how is it that I should draw breath while you and our still born child rest under the cold earth? The outline of your grave, my love, is still fresh and within my line of sight, oh that God should burn this scene from my eyes! Tis October and all the leaves are bright with the splendor of God’s handiwork resplendent in shades of amber and crimson gold. How it is you are not here with me? How is it that God has taken you and our son, who never even breathed life into heaven’s glory and leaving me here without you? For all my life, I have wanted a family to call my own, a wife and children to fill my heart and my home and that joy has been shattered by the will of God. It is not for me to question that which the Creator has destined our lives to be, and while my faith in Him and only Him is my salvation I fear this loss shall test my resolve in our Creator. For are we not told that to be chosen to carry a cross is a blessing from God, that this bearing of the cross will bring us closer to the Almighty. Yet, I am bowed down with grief, God help me. Dear wife, come back to me!

I feared when they laid you and our son under the earth I should join you my love, for how shall I go on even one day living and breathing while your life has ceased, cut short by the trials of childbirth? See here, my love, I hold your wedding ring and yet I cannot fathom why you are not here wearing it. It should have been for all time, my love, the gold worn thin with the passing of time, yet this ring has been so little worn, only over a year’s time, not long enough for the gleam of gold to grown dull with time. I slip it on my finger remembering when I slipped onto yours. And now this ring of yours is a part of my hand, never to be taken off until such time as we are reunited once again.

Ellie, the house is so quiet this time of night, only the waning cracking fire interrupts the deafening sound of silence. I walk the floors now my footsteps echoing like an empty chamber of a great house, as if waiting for the arrival of a loved one to fill the house with laughter and joy. I look for you hither and through, yet the silence remains steadfast and unrelenting. I pause now to remember a time that for a moment moves my lips ever so slightly away from grief. Do you remember Ellie, that time of that walk when I tried to state the conditions of my heart and stumbled my way with words? Words that are now flooding my soul, like yesterday it was walking thought the advent of spring, though a labyrinth of woods and flowers that seemed to bloom and guide our hearts? The dogwood trees alive with life and our favorite Virginia bluebells that guided our path. It was there I tried to tell you of my heart, remember dear wife?

Ellie, you have taken my heart

Washed over me never to part

In a lifetime I could seek and never find

A woman of grace and love and kind

I was shy with my words, yet you loved them so! I think of his now as a smile breaks my lips only for a moment as the silence again invades my heart. I am on bended knee remembering that day and as I raise my head to God above, I know you and our son are waiting for me, perhaps you have crossed over the river to God and are resting under the shade of a tree. Wait for me dear wife, I am coming soon.

Your ever-loving husband,

Thomas

Submitted by Lisa Samia

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