Alden is well, and busy. There is such a need for him here.
And I have made friends. There is lots to do, for a small town, even for someone like me who won't join a bridge group or go to cocktail parties. There are good people in Branford.
Alden had me see a gynecologist in Portland, and the news was disappointing, I'm afraid. The same old tests that I had in Boston, and the same old results. The same "It is very unlikely, Mrs. Armstrong—" etc. The same "Have you considered adoption, Mrs. Armstrong?"
We have registered with an adoption agency, but they are just as dreary to listen to as the doctors. My lord, Tallie, the paper-pushing that goes on! They seem to forget sometimes that they're dealing with humans. And with babies. They call them "our placements." "'Our placements' have a very high percentage of success." Ho hum. I don't care about their placements and percentages; I just want a baby, for pete's sake. Alden is much more patient and understanding of all the bureaucratic nonsense, and he makes a good impression on them, I'm sure, but then they look at me and stroke their chins and I suspect that they are thinking "Hmmmm ... would one of our placements work with this crazy woman who wears jeans to an interview?"
And of course they cringed ... tastefully, of course ... when they asked about my family background. Turns out my education was what they call "unconventional." Can't imagine why! I thought having tutors come and go in Greece, France, Mexico, and Spain was great! Especially when they went, and left the three of us together and we all used to agonize over those schoolbooks and sometimes give up altogether. Remember when Stefan held a ceremonial Book-Burning of Algebra I when none of us could understand the fifth chapter?
Oh well. I wouldn't trade that for anything, but it is, apparently, making a "placement" difficult. In the meantime, I have left a small bedroom completely empty, waiting. I haven't given up hope, not at all.
But I would so like a child. A daughter, I confess. I daydream about holding her and singing some of those songs that you used to sing to me when I was small. Off-key, I might add.
Do come to visit. We could drink tea and sit by the fireplace and talk.
June 10, 1960
Isn't it wonderful that we are living here, right on the way to Ox Island, so that there was no way you could not visit en route?
I loved having you here; so did Alden. It will take me a week to catch up on the lost sleep, but I have needed someone ... especially you ... to sit up with and talk to.
No, there is no new news from my visit to the agency. We have been officially approved, whatever that means ... I suspect, from the way the woman looks at me, that they have stamped HIGHLY SUSPECT on our papers, but they do say that we passed all the necessary procedures, inspections, whatever.
But that seems to mean nothing, because then they tell us about the WAITING LIST, in hushed voices. Seems there is a LONG WAITING LIST.
Maybe I will just turn the empty bedroom into something useful, like a sewing room, or a place to keep plants, and try to forget that I wanted to hang bright pictures on the walls, and look in at night to see a baby sleeping there.
Oh, dammit, Tallie. You know, I try to be cheerful about it, but I want a baby so badly. Remember, when I was married, I said we would have one right away, and then another every year until there was a houseful? And now we have a houseful of emptiness, and I am so sad. Alden is so good, and says "Wait, wait," very patiently, but how can you wait forever for something you want so much?
I'm sorry to whine. But you will understand.
July 12, 1960
I don't know where to begin this letter. I have been sitting here in the kitchen drinking tea and smiling, all by myself. Pour yourself a cup of tea while you read this and then smile with me.
Alden has been told by a lawyer whom we know slightly that there is a possibility of our adopting a baby privately. Not just "a baby," but a real one that is already in the making, that already exists! It is to be born in the fall.
I haven't been able to sleep since we heard. Alden is as always much more circumspect. He is carefully considering all the pros and cons, as he puts it ... but I am quite, quite sure that we have already made the decision. He wants it as much as I do, and from what he was told, it won't be a surreptitious thing. All quite legal; just that we don't have to go through the long waiting period that the agency has been promising us.
Do you remember what it felt like to be waiting for your child to be born? This is no different from what it would be if I were pregnant. I am so excited ... so scared. I worry about whether the baby will be born safely, and be healthy. I lie awake at night and think of all the things that I have waited so long for ... to hold my own child, to teach it things, even to knit little sweaters, even though you know how undomestic I am!
I say "it" because I dont want to tempt fate, I suppose, but I feel very certain that it will be a little girl. Alden as usual pretends not to allow himself to be caught up by whims and emotions; he quotes statistics to point out that it is just as likely, more so actually, that it will be a boy. Then, last night, while we were having dinner, he suddenly smiled and said, "Let's name her for Tallie."
Will you like being a grandmother? Oh, how I wish Stefan were alive to share this with us all!
August 29, 1960
Thank you, thank you for the wonderful surprise. When the package came, I couldn't imagine what it was ... knowing that there are no stores on the island ... and knowing that you wouldn't leave the island to go shopping, not even for an impending grandchild!
And there was my own childhood, packed so neatly into the box! That book of fairy tales in French; I remember your reading it to me ... where did we live then? I was so small; I can remember the fireplace, and that there were blue bowls on a table, and that you had gold earrings that I used to reach for when you held me on your lap, but I can't remember where it was.
And those funny pictures that Stefan used to draw for me. I had no idea you had kept them! I am having them framed to hang in the baby's room. Some of them are quite indecent by Branford, Maine, standards ... a nude Red Riding Hood ... imagine! I remember laughing and laughing at that. Good thing the agency lady is no longer stopping by to check out our standards!
What fun it will be to share all of those things with my own child. Oh, Tallie, it is so hard to wait. I am knitting the most terrible sweater; the sleeves are different lengths even though I have ripped one of them out twice and re-done it. But it gives me something to do while the time goes by.
NATALIE CHANDLER ARMSTRONG BORN YESTERDAY HEALTHY AND STRONG STOP ALDEN AND I WILL BRING HER HOME IN FOUR DAYS STOP WE ARE SO HAPPY TALLIE STOP KAY
September 20, 1960
There is so much to say that I don't know where to begin, and I think I shall save most of it for when you come. When you close the house at Ox Island the end of the month, do plan to spend several days here on your way to Boston, won't you?
She is so beautiful that when I saw her, I wept.
Her hair is very dark, her features small, and her eyelashes quite long. Right now ... she is sleeping here in the kitchen beside me ... she looks exactly like the sleeping princess in the picture on page 16 of the fairy tale book you gave me; do you remember that picture, where the princess is waiting for the prince to arrive and wake her with a kiss? There was a time when I scoffed at that and thought it terribly over-romantic. But now I look at this beautiful child, sleeping, and realize that a whole world can lie before someone, if love is there when one wakes.
She is not at all like either of us, Alden or me, and I am glad. She will be her own person. It will be such a joy to watch her becoming that.
Natalie laid the letters aside and closed her eyes. She remembered the book of fairy tales, which her mother had read to her in French, so that the language was strange and musical, and the sense of the tales was there only in the pictures, enhanced by that mysterious sound of words she didn't understand. Somewhere, she supposed, the book was packed away again, and would be there for her and Nancy to have for their own children.
The drawings that Stefan, her grandfather, had made with pen and ink were still there on the wall of her room. What an irrepressible man Stefan must have been! He had sat, her mother had told her, evenings at their kitchen table and illustrated for her, with his pen, as he told her the familiar stories that all children hear. His marvelous, meticulous drawings made them seem newly invented. There was Red Riding Hood, the one her mother's letter had mentioned, walking through woods thick with trees almost tropical in their growth, laden with strange flowers, and lurking with snakes and strange beasts almost hidden in the intricate foliage created by his pen. Red Riding Hood was naked, innocent in a child's nakedness, and her cloak flowed around her as she walked barefoot on the patch of the forest and looked upward with wide and trusting eyes to the heavy growth that surrounded her. There was humor and warmth to the drawing; but the fear was there, too.
It is another dimension, Natalie realized, as she got ready for bed. I always knew how much my parents had wanted me; it was one of the things they told me so often, when I was little, as a way of explaining my adoption. It makes it different, though, reading the letters, and knowing for the first time my mother as a young girl, really.
It explains their hurt, in a way. It doesn't change things. But it makes me understand everything more. "She will be her own person," the last letter said, and—she looked at it again—"It will be such a joy to watch her becoming that."
Well, I will make the trip to Simmons' Mills, and it will be done. The whole summer will be left, so that their joy will still be there and they will have time to get over the small hurt.
She looked at Stefan's drawing again before she turned out the light. It was filled with hidden things. The wolf himself was in a corner of the picture, so carefully drawn that he was himself part of the forest. She always had to search for him, when she was a child; and then, when she had found him, felt sad that she couldn't whisper into the picture and warn the naked child who walked barefoot with her eyes so full of innocent pleasure.
THE ROAD to Simmons' Mills, beyond Bangor, as she had guessed from the map, was narrow, winding, and increasingly deserted. By five o'clock on Thursday Natalie was deep in the rugged, mountainous, awesome terrain of central Maine. The few drivers who passed her coming in the opposite direction were almost all huge lumber company trucks, heavy and noisy on the small road, their flatbeds piled with chained loads of massive logs from the woods.
She had filled the car's gas tank in Bangor, and was grateful that she had had the sense to do it, because there were no gas stations on this deserted road. No farmhouses. No tourist gift shops such as the ones along the coast, selling their plastic lobsters and varnished seashells. No restaurants. Twice she passed, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, general stores that advertised, in signs glued to their unpainted wooden walls, hunting and fishing licenses as well as Pepsi, beer, and pizza. She didn't stop, anxious to reach Simmons' Mills and find a place to stay before dark; the seedy stores disappeared into her rearview mirror and the woods closed around the road again.