A [girl’s] will is the wind’s will. —Longfellow
December, 1925. Maggie was born in rural Illinois on the shortest day of the year.
“That’s why you’re so short,” they used to tease her.
She thought it was remarkable that she was born on such a special day, and kept the thought of it tucked away like a treasure. Despite being shaped by the Great Depression and raised without a mother, Maggie radiated delight in the world around her. Daring and determined, she kept up with her older siblings and was protective of the younger ones. When her brothers and sisters staged a circus in the back yard for the entertainment of the neighborhood, it was eight-year-old Maggie who flew through the air on the handmade trapeze, her sense of adventure overriding any fear she might have had.
“One penny to see the Flying Wonder – Maggie!” they cried, drawing a sizable crowd.
Maggie loved the feeling of flying through the air and landing on the old mattress – the freedom, the thrill! It was the same feeling she had when she jumped from the hayloft onto the hay below, the same feeling she had when she rode her brother’s bike and coasted with her arms outstretched.
Maggie was four when her mother Eileen died after giving birth to twins, the last of ten children. Eileen’s body was laid out in the parlor. Narrow shafts of sunlight shone through the pulled curtains and mixed with the yellow glow from the lamps, creating for Maggie a confusing sense of it being neither day nor night. The cruelty of the tragedy was softened by the Irish keening and soft weeping of the relatives, and the murmuring concerns of the priests and nuns.
“What will they do?”
“Oh, the poor, poor children.”
“He can’t take care of them. They stand to lose the farm as it is.”
Maggie’s father stood silent, stunned.
Among the mourners, two black-clad factions took shape. The palpable anger of one side threatened to break through the wounded defense of the other. One side wanted to blame, the other to protect. For the doctor had warned Eileen against another pregnancy. Yet no amount of recrimination or stony stares could have increased the guilt and sorrow in Maggie’s father. The shadow of grief was never to leave his face. For fifty more years he was haunted by his wife’s beauty and love, and blamed himself for the loss that defined his life and the lives of his children. The thought of remarrying never entered his mind.
Maggie gazed on her beautiful sleeping mother and wanted only one thing – to be next to her. It had been days with no goodnight kiss, no one to add raisins to her oatmeal, no one to listen to her tales of the day. She began to climb into the coffin, and threw a tantrum when they pulled her away. She almost made it in the second time, and had one leg over the side. With tears on her cheeks and fierce determination in her eyes, she hid behind the potted fern in the corner. She would wait for them all to go away. Then she would climb in and once more rest in the arms of her mother.
Hours later, they found her curled up in the corner, and carried her up to bed.
For days and weeks she wandered around the house, looking for her mother, listening for her voice.
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