The Quiet Courage Of All Our Mothers...
“Won't you come in? Mother will be here in a minute.”
Before I could sit down in the chair she offered me,
the miracle happened; one of those quiet moments that
clutch the heart, and take more courage than the noisy,
excited passages in life.
Antonia came in and stood before me; a stalwart, brown
woman, flat-chested, her curly brown hair a little grizzled.
It was a shock, of course. It always is, to meet people
after long years, especially if they have lived as much
and as hard as this woman had. We stood looking at each
other. The eyes that peered anxiously at me were--simply
-- Antonia's eyes. I had seen no others like them since
I looked into them last, though I had looked at so many
thousands of human faces. As I confronted her, the changes
grew less apparent to me, her identity stronger. She
was there, in the full vigour of her personality, battered
but not diminished, looking at me, speaking to me in
the husky, breathy voice I remembered so well.
“My husband's not at home, sir. Can I do anything?”
“Don't you remember me, Antonia? Have I changed
She frowned into the slanting sunlight that made her
brown hair look redder than it was. Suddenly her eyes
widened, her whole face seemed to grow broader. She
caught her breath and put out two hard-worked hands.
“Why, it's Jim! Anna, Yulka, it's Jim Burden!”
She had no sooner caught my hands than she looked alarmed.
“What's happened? Is anybody dead?”
I patted her arm.
“No. I didn't come to a funeral this time. I got
off the train at Hastings and drove down to see you
and your family.”
She dropped my hand and began rushing about. “Anton,
Yulka, Nina, where are you all? Run, Anna, and hunt
for the boys. They're off looking for that dog, somewhere.
And call Leo. Where is that Leo!” She pulled them
out of corners and came bringing them like a mother
cat bringing in her kittens. “You don't have to
go right off, Jim? My oldest boy's not here. He's gone
with papa to the street fair at Wilber. I won't let
you go! You've got to stay and see Rudolph and our papa.”
She looked at me imploringly, panting with excitement.
While I reassured her and told her there would be plenty
of time, the barefooted boys from outside were slipping
into the kitchen and gathering about her.
“Now, tell me their names, and how old they are.”
As she told them off in turn, she made several mistakes
about ages, and they roared with laughter. When she
came to my light-footed friend of the windmill, she
said, “This is Leo, and he's old enough to be
better than he is.”
He ran up to her and butted her playfully with his curly
head, like a little ram, but his voice was quite desperate.
“You've forgot! You always forget mine. It's mean!
Please tell him, mother!” He clenched his fists
in vexation and looked up at her impetuously.
She wound her forefinger in his yellow fleece and pulled
it, watching him.
“Well, how old are you?”
“I'm twelve,” he panted, looking not at
me but at her; “I'm twelve years old, and I was
born on Easter Day!”
She nodded to me. “It's true. He was an Easter
The children all looked at me, as if they expected me
to exhibit astonishment or delight at this information.
Clearly, they were proud of each other, and of being
so many. When they had all been introduced, Anna, the
eldest daughter, who had met me at the door, scattered
them gently, and came bringing a white apron which she
tied round her mother's waist.
“Now, mother, sit down and talk to Mr. Burden.
We'll finish the dishes quietly and not disturb you.”
When I told her I had no children, she seemed embarrassed.
“Oh, ain't that too bad!”
from My Antonia
by Willa Cather