“Yes. I was applying for scholarships so I could go to a good school, and get away from the ranch. It was Christmas again, and I wanted to see Renée so badly. It was impossible. I had Lydia bring a gold locket with both of our school pictures in it over to her parents home. For the rest of her life, Renée only took it off to bathe, or swim. On January 7, 1959, she gave birth to a little boy. She never even got to hold him. I’ve never seen him. I hitch hiked to her house the day I learned she was coming home. She was clutching that teddy bear like a baby when she got out of the car. I hadn’t seen her in four months. My heart was pounding as our eyes met. She looked weak, pale, and tired, but still beautiful. She was distant toward me for a little while thinking I had abandoned her after I quit visiting her parents. I explained why, on my knees, and begged for her forgiveness. She thumped me on the forehead, and we were back together.”
Beth smiled thinking of how she would whack Jeff with a pillow. “Did your parents know?”
“Oh, no. No way. My parents couldn’t know we were back together. I’d been dating who they wanted me to date, to keep them off my back. Same old, same old. I could use the T-Bird to date Lydia, because she was one of the ‘right’ girls. She wanted to party elsewhere, so we covered for each other. She was in a similar situation as me, only she was dating a biker called Animal. I’d drop her off where she wanted to go, then I was free to go see Renée. I promised that I’d be faithful to her. I was. I assured her that I loved her with all my heart.”
Beth was shaking her head. “Tom, I just can’t imagine. I just can’t. As angry as I have been with Jeff in the past, I am so grateful that I didn’t have to give our baby up for adoption. I can’t imagine my life without Jason in it.”
“Oh, it wasn’t easy. She cried hard, and a lot, missing the baby. I’d hold her close to try to calm her down. By Valentines Day, we were hot at it again. She’d learned about birth control at the ‘home’. Then, her parents caught us having sex… in her bed. That time they went nuts. I told them my intentions were honorable. If they would give their permission, I wanted to marry Renée as soon as I could. I sold an 18 karat gold I.D. bracelet, my stereo, and some other stuff, then bought her an engagement ring. They still wouldn’t allow us to ‘do it’ under their roof. They were right, we weren’t married. We set a date. When she came back to school, there was all kinds of gossip going around about her. She got stared at, and pointed at a lot, but I stood proudly by her side. I held up her left hand, and showed off that diamond. I carried her books, and walked her to every class.”
“Where did you get the bracelet?” Beth wondered.
“Oh, from Lydia. We thought it was a good idea to exchange Christmas gifts. Our parents had high hopes for ‘us’. I gave her a watch that she exchanged for a man’s to give to her ‘friend’.”
“Tom Ericsen! You were awful! How devious!”
Tom laughed for the first time. “It gets better. About a month later, in March, I was of legal age. I sold two of my horses, and married Renée. Her parents had to sign for her to get married, she was only fifteen. We were still in high school. I didn’t tell my parents. I told them there was a basketball camp I needed to attend for the weekend. We skipped school on a Friday, got married, and had a three day, two night honeymoon. Renée was finally my wife, and I loved her so much. I gave her parents almost all of my allowance each month. They didn’t want to take money for Renée to live in her own home, but I insisted. She was my wife, I felt responsible for her. She still cried a lot for our baby, so if I could find any excuse to stay away from the ranch for a whole night, I would spend the night with her at her folks home. Marriage had some other advantages, too.” He grinned.
“Tom, um, after you were married, when you lived with your parents, um, did you still date?”
“Beth!” Tom laughed again. “I didn’t date, but… well, let’s see how I can explain. I told the folks, that I thought women were nothing but trouble, and all I wanted to do was study, so I could apply for scholarships. They told me that I didn’t need scholarships, we were rich. I told them they were rich. I was just a regular kid in public high school with no money, and no car. They increased my allowance, and gave me back my car. I didn’t argue about the allowance, but I told them to keep the car.”
“Because it had their name on it, and that would mean the next time I didn’t date the right girl, they’d take it away again. They sold me the car for a dollar, you could do that back then. Once the title was in my name, I sold it and bought a blue, little Nash Rambler. Were they ticked! With that car, I could pick up Lydia and Animal, then we would go get Renée. If any one saw any of us together, well, we were all covered.” Tom smirked.
“You were rotten!”
“True, but I was with my wife. Now, she got dinner, the movies, and sex. I applied to every college that was a million miles from home. When I would get a letter of acceptance, I’d tell them I was going to visit the campus. Renée and I would have a romantic weekend alone. After basketball season, she got a job babysitting after school. They were nice enough to understand our situation, and kept it quiet. We managed to keep our marriage a secret from my parents until after I graduated high school, and was sure I got my scholarship. Then we told them. They didn’t go off the wall, as we had expected, but they never welcomed her into the family either. I used the extra money from selling the T-Bird to pay for an efficiency apartment. Folks did help with my education by paying for my books, but they paid nothing toward our living expenses. Our first apartment was smaller than my parents foyer, and that is no exaggeration. Renée got a job part time after school at the hospital when she got her working papers after she turned sixteen. If we had trouble making ends meet, I’d sell something, a horse, or a piece of jewelry, rather than get a job. I needed to keep my grade point up so I didn’t lose my scholarship. On Christmas break, I’d get a job at a department store. Spring break I’d find some landscaping work to build up a little cash reserve. I took summer classes in order to graduate sooner. Renée got her high school diploma, then worked full time as a nurses aide. She wanted me to continue on to get my EE degree. Finally, I got a break. I found a full time, entry level position with the company I’m still with. They paid for the rest of my classes, and I could finish my education by taking night courses. It didn’t bother me one bit that my parents had nearly cut me off financially. Renée felt worse about it than I did. Not because of the money, but for the family aspect. All during our marriage, Renée would often dream that she’d heard our son cry. She’d sit bolt upright in bed, crying her eyes out for him. I missed him, too. I think together we cried a river for that little boy.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be cruel. But, Tom you said earlier that your baby died, didn’t you?” Beth was thinking about how this whole conversation began.
“Yes, I did. But, not our son. He was adopted, and we don’t know who adopted him. Beth, this part is so hard to talk about.” His eyes filled with tears. He stopped to get his composure again. “After I got my degree, I was promoted within the company. We were financially in good shape. We bought a three bedroom, two story Cape Cod style house with a big back yard, and a white picket fence out front. I asked Renée what she wanted to do since my schooling was complete. It was finally her turn. She went back to school to become a pediatric nurse, and a fine one she was. But, no matter what she did, she never was good enough for my parents. After working for three years, she wanted to have another baby, and asked me what I thought. Whatever she wanted was fine with me. She went off the pill, and I think she was pregnant before I had my shoes off. She wanted to quit work so that she could fix up the nursery, and make baby clothes. Renée was so happy, so beautiful, and she just glowed throughout this pregnancy. She was barely showing when she left for the ‘home’ while she was carrying our son. I hated to leave her, even for an overnight trip this time. I wanted to feel how the baby was growing, and feeling her kick set my heart on fire. I was visiting your area for the company when I turned around, and met you at church that Sunday when you were expecting Marianne. I remember noticing how pretty you were, and I felt guilty for thinking it, knowing I had a pretty, pregnant wife at home that I adored. I had a Sunday business luncheon to attend, and then a special meeting. It was quite late but, I decided to come back to Centerville to be home with Renée.” Tom completely broke down.
Beth didn’t know what to do, or say. She thought of how Jeff wouldn’t allow himself to cry in the most emotional of circumstances. She sat staring at the horses.
“I knew there was a problem the minute I walked through the door. I could hear water running. Water from the faucet had overflowed the bathtub, soaked the carpet in the hallway, and was still flowing down the stairs. I ran upstairs as fast as I could, and found her body slumped over the tub as if she were adjusting the water temperature. Her body was cold.”
“Oh, my God! Tom what happened to her?”
“She had a massive aneurysm rupture in her brain. They found no water in her lungs at the autopsy, so it was determined that she died instantly.”
“Did you know about the aneurysm prior to her death?” Beth wondered.
“Not really. Renée had been suffering with severe headaches. Being a nurse she knew they could be serious in nature, but she thought she’d wait until after the baby was born before they ran any tests.”
“Oh how awful. The baby, oh my God.”
“Our little girl, my baby Ann Marie was stillborn. I always felt God took my family from me because of my sins. Whenever I would see you in church sitting alone, and still pregnant, I remembered what Renée looked like, and would imagine how she would look. Then you had Marianne. As I watch her grow, I think of how big my Ann Marie should be.”
“Tom, I’m so sorry about the loss of your wife, and daughter. I can’t imagine the pain and suffering you’ve had to endure.” Beth wiped her eyes. “Have you ever tried to find your son?”
“Yes, several times. We tried soon after we got married. They treated us like dirt. Probably because we were so young, and had already had a baby. They told us the records were sealed. January was always hard for us. We’d both wonder if our son was adopted into a good family. And we wondered what he would look like, how big he was, and we wondered when he started walking and talking. Later on, we tried again after we bought the house, before Renée went to nursing school. Still no cooperation. I tried myself right after Renée passed away, they’d relaxed the rules by then, but one of the conditions that my parents enforced was that she put father ‘Unknown’ on the birth certificate. It’s highly unlikely that I will ever locate my son.”
Beth had a tear roll down her cheek after hearing that, thinking how easily it could have been her in that home for unwed mothers. She was never so grateful that Jeff loved her, and was able to marry her. She thanked God for her young son, and her baby daughter. Although her life was in shambles, she silently prayed that it could be put back together.
Back at home that evening, Beth held Marianne in the crook of her left arm and sat with Jason snuggled under her right arm. He would turn the pages of the story book she was reading to him before tucking him in for the night. When she was done reading, she kissed her darling boy’s forehead. She told him how much she loved him, and how sorry she was that his life was disrupted, and she wanted to make things better for all of them again.
“That would be nice Mommy. I love you and Daddy jus’ the same an I know you jus’ gotta love each other. Ya jus’ gotta.”
Beth kissed his forehead again, turned out his light, laid sleeping Marianne down in her crib and walked down the hall toward the kitchen to make a cup of hot tea.
There was a soft knock on the door.
“Beth.” Jeff whispered. “I know it’s late, but can I come in? Please?” His eyes were strained, and his face was pale.
“Jeffrey, baby, what’s the matter?”
Jeff slipped his arms around Beth’s body and held her close. “There was an accident at the cabin. Seth is dead. I’ve already submitted my paperwork to leave the Air Force. Now I don’t know if I even have a job. I’m just a friggin’ mess, and I can’t think straight. Just hold me Beth, please, just hold me.”
“Shhh… Jeff, it’s okay. Shhh…”