verity_forsythe: script: I tolerate this century, but I don't enjoy it (Default)
2010-05-15 03:17 am

Reliable

Mrs. Hutchens was our daughters’ favourite babysitter. She must have been in her seventies when my husband and I moved back here and she started sitting for our girls. She’d been my babysitter, once upon a time, whenever my parents returned to their hometown in the summer months; long before that, she’d babysat my own mother. So it felt immensely comforting to have her show up at seven every Saturday night, leaving us free to enjoy “grown-up night,” knowing the girls were perfectly safe and happy.

There were a few mutterings from friends of ours, who felt compelled to tell us she was too old and too forgetful. Admittedly, she sometimes called our girls’ by other names--but given the dozens upon dozens of children she’d cared for in her lifetime, that was hardly surprising.

What mattered to me was that she genuinely loved children; that she was quick to set aside her knitting to read a story, or kiss a bruise, or cuddle someone who’d had a nightmare. She was gentle, and her slow pace and soft voice made our girls settle with her easily, right from day one.

When she died, I was shocked and upset, and had no idea how to tell our children. My husband and I went to her funeral without our girls, and stood by the graveside in the rain, watching as she was buried. I’ve never been good with loss, but this filled me with particular horror. To think of that warm, kind body, now cold and stiff; to think of that beloved, huggable figure, being abandoned to the dark and the dirt and the rain. It was unspeakable.

I kept delaying the talk I knew we’d have to have with our daughters, because I had no idea what to say. Should I claim she’d gone to heaven? I didn’t even know what that was supposed to mean, so I doubted I’d be able to sound convincing. I couldn’t begin to raise the whole issue of bodies and burial; I was too sure my own distress would communicate itself to my daughters, contaminate them, scare them. They were five and three; what words could possibly work?

So I said nothing, and days after the funeral, they still didn’t know poor dear Mrs. Hutchens was dead.

Which is why, when she knocked on our door on Saturday night, our eldest daughter let her in.
verity_forsythe: script: I tolerate this century, but I don't enjoy it (Default)
2010-05-02 10:13 pm

The Underhill Baby

My great-great-aunt Catherine, the one I'm named for, had what they used to call an underhill baby. At least, that's what they used to call them in rural East Coast Canada; maybe they're called something else where you live.

See, Aunt Catherine couldn't have children of her own. So one night her husband Eli, the local gravedigger and general odd-jobs man for the church, brought her home a baby boy. The underhill baby looked just like any other little boy. If anything, he was sweeter than most children: kind and gentle. He loved nothing better than to cuddle up to his adopted mother. Catherine knew all the rules about underhill babies--back then, I guess more people knew about them--so that was all right.

Only thing was, once he got to be about two or so, he stopped aging. You can see it in the old family photos--there are only about five, mind you: Catherine getting older and older, but with the same little toddler in her arms. Creepy.

Eli died, and then, when she was an old lady of eighty-five, Catherine died too. They had her laid out in the church, and I guess someone had decided the baby should attend the funeral. The little fellow got away from whoever was supposed to be minding him, and wandered on down to the front of the church, where he climbed up into the coffin to nestle in her arms, the way he'd always liked to.

Everyone thought it was just the sweetest, saddest thing they'd ever seen. The new young minister went to take the baby out of the coffin, and that's when they found out Catherine's little boy was dead. Not recently dead, mind you: there was just a little set of bones in there with her, bleached white with time. They buried them together, of course. That's what you did with the underhill babies, back then.