Chapter 3

8th month, 1st day, 1957:

The letter to Thomas must have gone astray, and I am here, finally in Costa Rica, but in San Jose for nearly a week, unable to get to Monteverde, close though it seems on the map. What little money I have is nearly gone. For two days I haven’t eaten, my money is so small, and must be saved to pay for the room. Though I am partly recovered, I am still a bit weak. But I give thanks that I’m alive. I am much improved.

I have no idea what to do after tomorrow, when there won’t be enough for another night in this hotel, inexpensive though it is. The problem pales compared to my yearning for Thomas and the children. How I have longed for them during all the endless waiting, the days spent in bed listening to the undecipherable chatter of the Mexican nurses, with nothing to do but watch the clock. Each day was another infinite round, each day longer than I ever thought a day could be. Once a week, a newspaper, and I read every word, again and again. Writing letters, but knowing that my family hadn’t arrived yet, and only getting a letter from them the day I left, the day they arrived. All is well, but Thomas is not one to put words on paper. And we have never been apart a day in our marriage, until now. An awkward letter, full of love. Even little Ada signed her name. Soon we will be together, and I will never be parted from them again.

9th month, 12th day, 1957:

I have been unable to write. Thomas arrived the morning my money was finished. The mails are slow. The letter took several days to reach him, and he left immediately. The truck broke down on the way.

I was ill on the trip home (here, Monteverde, which is home, where Thomas and the children are). The roads were abysmal, much worse than I could have imagined, and the jolting of the truck over the stones and into the holes was torment. I saw the concern on Thomas's face when he looked at me, but I couldn't reassure him. I would have groaned if I’d opened my mouth. I gritted my teeth and somehow managed not to make any sound, I will never know how. The trip took all of two days and part of a third. In Alabama it would have taken a few hours. The jolting was almost worse than the labor in Mexico. Certainly worse than the hospital. I had to be helped out of the truck when we arrived. I was barely able to embrace the children. Then I had to rest. Ada threw herself on me and refused to let go. The girl is five years old, but she wanted me to pick her up and carry her. It tore my heart to see the hurt on her face, so hopeful when she first saw me, so disappointed when I couldn’t lift her up. She couldn't bear it. That night she insisted on sleeping next to me. Thomas gave up his place and slept on the floor. How I love him. He never puts himself first.

The next day, all the time I was in bed Ada was sitting next to me and reading, looking at me, trying to reassure herself. What could I do? Certain things are incomprehensible to the very young. I tried to explain that I knew how she felt, but that I hadn't left her, that I'd been near death, that I would be with her sister, in Mexico. She was unable to reply, only barely to nod, then to weep. Finally she said,

"I'm afraid, Mama. I'm afraid."

"It's all right now. I'm getting better. I promise, I will never leave. You don't have to worry. I promise. Soon I'll be well and I will never leave. You don't have to be afraid."

And I will be well, with the help of the Lord. Every day I'm stronger. Soon I will be up, and assisting the men (am I already thinking of young Henry as a man? He seems to have grown so much, he is so capable). Soon I will be able to help.

. . .

3rd month, 12th day, 1958:

How difficult our little utopia is. Did our ancestors face these problems when they came to America? Are we repeating their troubles? Should we? Henry has taken to this place without question or hesitation, but Ada is altogether opposite. Our daughter is doing her best, and her best is more than one could expect. But I see her wondering: Why did we come here? We can only hope that with time she will understand, but we can't be sure. She may never. She yearns for home, and thinks this place is not her home.

The beauty here is extraordinary, and we will be able to do here what we never could have there -- live in peace, honestly and simply. Of course Thomas says little of this, he's as quiet as always. It never seems to occur to him to speak of what he wants or what he thinks, only to work, but he is deeply relieved. He had changed when they finally freed him. There was always a pall, of sorts, over him. Now, finally, it is gone. He is the Thomas I have loved since my girlhood. For that alone, these thousands of miles, this strange place is worthwhile. It's hard here, but right. It is right for my husband, who seems, finally, to be again not lost. (Not because of this place, but rather because of not being in that place, where he was treated as a traitor, as a criminal, when he was only trying to follow the inner voice. He is such an innocent he will never understand their motives, will never understand that they thought they were acting correctly and honorably.)

Naturally I wouldn't go home now, seeing the change in Thomas. Yet I worry about our girl, so different from our boy, or from her father and me. She loves to look at things, simply to look. Her curiosity is endless. I've never seen a child teach herself to read so young. When there are no new books she chafes, and asks when the box from the other Friends will come. And always the questions about words, always asking what the words mean, and never forgetting them. What a memory this girl has. And she watches the birds, and all of us, in the way she reads. That insatiable curiosity. That detached quality. Sometimes she's as distant as a being from another world. As if she were sent here to learn something, but she doesn't know yet what, and is absorbing everything with the intent to find out what her assignment may be.

. . .

4th month, 29th day, 1965:

Much of the work is too heavy, or too skilled, for a small girl, though Ada continually surprises me. She is afraid of nothing. She will try anything, and she learns quickly. She has become our seamstress since I am confined to bed so often now. She does what she can to help.

But she has so little joy, she is so serious. Perhaps it's that she has no playmate but her brother. There were no children her age in our little group, and Henry being four years older is more grown than she. She has the special tree, of course, with the room inside it, where she goes to read. And Henry takes her around the forest. Those times, she's excited. While she tends me she tells me about their adventures, how Henry climbs trees to add birds' eggs to her collection. She is thoughtful of the birds, she never collects from a species she already has, and she always tells him to take only one egg. Then she brings it to me and describes the bird, and adds the egg to the collection in her room inside the tree behind the barn. She keeps her bird journal there, with the names of all the kinds she's seen. She keeps her other little curiosities as well -- hummingbird nests, that sort of thing. Her great prize is a quetzal feather. She showed it to me with such reverence, she was like a Catholic with a holy relic. That room of hers in the tree, what would she do without it? Not only her precious things. She needs to be by herself. She reads and studies there. I have never seen a child so obsessive.

She seems lost. She often asks me about "home", though she's the only one who refers to the United States that way. She longs for it, and thinks it her secret, but she isn't able to conceal what she thinks. She's transparent. She seems not to hear what I say, when I tell her all that's wrong with the place. If she ever returns, she will be disappointed. She has learned to work, at least. She does the cleaning, and some of the cooking, and much of the washing. Remarkably efficient. She cares for the horses. She copes well with the mud and the damp. And she insists on being the one to tend me. I have become a burden.

Henry is as different from his sister as it's possible to be. He lives in the physical -- he likes to farm, to make things, to tinker with and drive the Land Rover. He spends what time he can spare poking around the forest, learning about the plants and animals. He likes to explore; when he hears of something new, like the golden toads, he goes to find it. That menagerie of his -- the long-tailed weasel, the variegated squirrel, the spiny pocket mice, the bats. He tried to tame them all, but they failed to thrive, or were uncontrollable, or died. Now he contents himself with trapping them, watching them a little, and letting them go. His only successful pet is that horrid little capuchin monkey, which accompanies him everywhere, riding on his shoulder. He would bring it to meals and to school, too, but I insisted that Thomas forbid it. Surely it will give the boy some disease.

. . .

1st month, 18th day, 1968:

The girl came to me last night and confessed her shame. She said she feels selfish, that she knows her father works as hard as he can, so hard he falls asleep sitting up at the table after dinner. She thinks she isn't helping enough, but she wants to learn, to go back "home", as she calls it, to get an education. She feels set apart, different, ashamed of her selfishness, and won't be reassured. She made me promise not to tell her father. I sent her to Mrs. Scattergood, who told her of a scholarship for birthright Friends living outside the United States. The girl's gratitude was profound. She has applied for the aid, though she's not yet sixteen. Thomas will drive her down to San Jose next week. She will take the test at a private school there.

5th month, 9th day, 1968:

Thomas tells me that Ada now goes with him every time he drives into the village. She is waiting for the reply from the committee deciding who won the scholarship. He tells her to be patient, that they have to grade all the tests and read the essays (she worked on hers every day for a month), and make their choice. That it all takes time. But she is restless, unsure, fearful. She says she knows she won't win, but she tried this year as practice for next year. Poor child. She will be crushed if she fails. And if she succeeds? She remembers nowhere but here, and a few trips to San Jose. How can we prepare her? We will have to teach her how to use money. We will have to tell her to make a friend, and ask for help. She won't know what to do. Even here she feels different and set apart. What will it be like for her there?

6th month, 12th day, 1968:

Every time, there was no letter. Every time, Thomas reassured her. Months have passed this way. Always she was disappointed. Then today Renaldo handed a beautiful white envelope to her father, and he looked at the return address, and gave it to her. He told me that she turned it in her hands all the way home, reading the address, inspecting the envelope, weighing it in her palm, holding it up and trying to see through it in the sunlight. Once here, all three of them came to my room so I could share in the news.

"I can't read it," she said. She gave it to Henry.

He opened the letter with his pocket knife and took out the sheet of paper and read.

"You won!"

"Don't pretend," she said.

"But you did! You won. Here." He handed her the letter.

I was pleased to see that he wasn't jealous of her. Only happiness showed on his face. He is like his father.

She read in silence, then read it again and with her hands trembling handed it to me. The first words were of congratulation. Then there was a mention of her high score on the examination, despite the small school and few resources available to her. Her mathematics and science were weak, but everything else had been exceptional. Her writing ability far exceeded that of any other candidate. I thought of how hard she had worked on that essay.

"We should give thanks," I said, and we shared a few minutes of silence. Then we congratulated her again, and I suggested that she take her horse and see Mrs. Scattergood, that she thank her for telling her about the scholarship.

Thomas told her not to hurry home. "There will be a lot to talk about," he said. "Stay as long as you like. Don't worry about your chores."

Perhaps it was a mistake. Ada came home worried. The woman had talked to her about how different it would be. The girl feels unready. Exactly my worry. Thomas will talk to the woman tomorrow, to do what can be done so our girl can manage matters when she's in college. She has been asking me about advertisements, and the makes of cars, and alcohol and cigarette brands. She saw these in magazines Mrs. Scattergood showed her. Also aircraft carriers and satellites and hair styles. One day, and her questions are already tiresome. She doesn't think she can live in such a "complicated" and "dangerous" place.

7th month, 23rd day, 1968:

My time is near. Poor Thomas. He will suffer so. My only regret is leaving him alone. What a troubled and paradoxical life this is, that the transfusions that saved me should have condemned me to this long death. I never knew that this hepatitis was lying inside me, eating up my body. All the years I felt normal, and worked every moment of the day with Thomas. The years we farmed, and planted coffee bushes, and milked the cows and made cheese, and expanded the house and barn. If we were awake, we worked. In the evenings we worked by lamplight. And finally we had made a place here for ourselves and our children, and no longer had to work as hard, and I was struck down again. At least the illness held off until we’d established ourselves. At least there was that blessing.

Henry will be fine. He is made of something more durable and tough than the rest of us, and he lives here as if born to the place. Thomas I can do nothing for, he has been formed and will go on. Ada is my deepest concern. She’s not made for this place. Now that she has her scholarship, she can go where she needs to be. It’s good that I die now, so she’s free. She will no longer have to take care of me. She can leave without regret. I will be delivered from this pain, and Ada can go to college. She has always seemed so alone to me. I pray she will find her way out of that. She is so serious, so earnest, but so young, younger than her age. I pray she’s ready.