Maggie had been a romantic all her life. When she was younger, around 10, she began to read from the “grown up” section of the library, the young adults area. She was always an advanced reader and devoured books. She discovered Anne, the orphan girl adopted by a brother and sister. She learned new, big descriptive words reading about Anne.
Maggie fell in love with Gilbert, a sweet, romantic, caring boy who was “fathoms deep” in love with Anne upon first meeting. She yearned, despaired, and was elated when Anne and Gilbert were finally joined together in marriage. She read of Anne and Gilbert’s children. Of Rilla, their youngest who was in love with a family friend. He went off to war and her heart was broken. She cried and mourned along with all her beloved characters. When she finished the books, she began again. She became obsessed with the love the characters had for one another.
The words she read were poetry to her young soul. She needed more. The librarian observed how often Maggie was borrowing the same books. On one of her trips to the library, when she was 12, the librarian, a “kindred spirit,” showed Maggie to the literature section. She suggested a few new books she may find interesting and Maggie’s eyes lit up. She borrowed Emm a and Sense and Sensibility.
Oh … being lost in the stories of yearning love, hardships, misunderstandings, broken engagements, and true love realized, made her heart soar. She wished that she could live in her books, to know these characters, to attend balls and dance through the night.
She felt a thrill when she discovered the word ‘soulmate.’ A soulmate. It was a word she fell in love with immediately. She rolled it around and around in her mind. To think that there was someone out there destined for her, her other half, made her stomach do flip flops. She read when true soulmates had found each other, there was an unspoken understanding between them. They would feel unified to have finally found the one they had, wittingly or not, been searching for. They would be together in unity and no other happiness or joy could ever compare. Oh, how those words and thoughts had thrilled her, down to her very soul.
Reality came calling, however, no matter how a person may romanticize the world around her. Her father felt reading, especially books far beyond her age, was a waste of time. He found it “foolish for a girl to be doing, especially the books she was reading. Stories about love and romance filing her head full of frivolous unattainable things. A handsome man racing up on a horse to save her, or dying for one's true love.
Try as she might, there was no reasoning with her father. Her mother was a meek woman and she complied with her husband. Maggie’s trips to the library became obsolete. She was told to focus her attention on other things.
Her parents were devout Catholics and her time for confirmation was approaching. She was to attend the classes and study what her faith would prepare her for in her future- a life devoted to her faith, husband, and a family.
Although she obeyed, she felt that a part of her was gone without the chance to read her books and become lost in their stories. But after her confirmation, she began going to parties and meeting people. New girlfriends to gossip with, share lipsticks (of which none of them were allowed to even possess), even try out smoking, and laugh about which boys they would like to kiss.
She loved the thrill she felt being in a group of boys and girls, seeing if she might feel a spark with of them. She had not given up that she had a soulmate out there somewhere looking for her. There were boys she felt an attraction to, but it was not the same as that deep desire for a soulmate.
Then when Maggie was 20, her mother passed away. She was left with an empty hole in her life. Her father took her mother’s death extremely hard. He began to drink heavily. He was moody and depressed. But at times he was kind and emotional. During those times, he spoke of his love for his wife. How beautiful she had been, how she could light the room with her smile, how much he missed her, how lost he was without her, how he loved her from the moment he saw her, how he wished he told her more.
Maggie sat in shock. Of course she knew her parents loved each other, she was not stupid. But this ... especially from her father, left her speechless. He was tough, quiet, closed off. She had no idea he was capable of feeling that way. How naive she was, how childish in her thinking.
She was an adult, but she was still much like a child, believing love was something a person longs for, pines after, or has to suffer a huge loss to find. She saw and learned of true love, of actual soulmates that day. Not the silly little girl version she had imagined with music sounding and “happily ever after.” This was a love that ran deep and true and real.
She was emboldened by this revelation. She made a firm decision. She would not let her father drink the rest of his life away. Her mother’s memory did not deserve that disrespect. His love for her needed to be stronger than the ease at which he grabbed the bottle for comfort.
It was not an easy task, but she got him to quit. She learned things about herself during this time. Patience, understanding, and extreme empathy. Her grief was raw, but her father’s was devastating. Spending time with each other, expressing their grief, had brought them closer together. She always felt a disconnect from him, as though he did not care for her as her mother had. As they learned from each other, her heart warmed with the discovery that his love was simply quiet. He was proud of her, loved her, and wanted the very best for her. He did not say it with words too often, but his eyes and his smile told her every day.
When Maggie met Bill, she knew right away he was a good man. He was somewhat like her father-quiet, serious, stoic. Under his outward presentation, though, he was sweet, funny, romantic. He was rational and cool headed. He would be a good husband, provider, father.
She loved him, immensely, but it was not until she had Bill Jr. that she realized how much she needed and relied on him.
She was sick throughout her pregnancy, never truly gaining much weight. She could not get the baby to feed very well once they were home. She was not sleeping, had not showered, the house was a mess, and she could not stop crying. She felt like a failure as a wife and a mother.
One day, a knock sounded at the front door. Bill Jr. had just spit up all over her last clean shirt and also managed to soil his last clean diaper. Maggie felt like lying down and giving up. She did not care about the person at the door, she just wanted to sleep, cry, or scream. Maybe even all three.
The knock sounded again and a muffled voice called out, “Mrs. Scully? My name is Evelyn McCreary. Your husband works with my husband. He asked if I could look in on you. He wanted to be sure that you were okay and didn’t want you to be alone.”
Maggie began to cry. From exhaustion, embarrassment, but mostly from the caring her husband showed by asking for help for her. She would never have asked on her own. She was a navy wife now and needed to keep that stiff upper lip. As she cried, she caught a whiff of both herself and the baby. It was not a good combination.
Her pride worn down, she walked to the door. She did not look at her reflection in the mirror by the door. She knew she looked like death warmed over. If this woman was truly here to help, she was going to see how big her job would be.
Opening the door, she found not a young woman, but an older one. White hair set in a fetching style, clothes and makeup perfect. She even had a pair of gloves in one hand and her purse in the other. This woman? She was going to help?
Maggie almost closed the door in her face. Close the door before she ruined the clothes of this poor well meaning woman. She had probably thought that Maggie was simply bored and was looking for someone to gossip with and drink some tea, maybe something stronger. Well, Maggie thought, that sure ain’t the case. She stared at this immaculately dressed stranger with a look of defiance.
The eyes looking back at her were soft and understanding. She took in Maggie’s spit up covered shirt and could smell the baby’s soiled diaper. She smiled kindly at Maggie and put her gloves in her purse with a snap as it closed.
“Well,” she said with a square set to her shoulders. “It looks like we have our work cut out for us. How about you invite me in and we can get started?”
Maggie was completely floored. She expected this woman to be aghast and walk away. When she did neither, she could not do anything but allow her in the house. Evelyn set her purse down on the crowded dining room table and turned to Maggie.
“First things first,” she said with determination in her voice. “You need to get cleaned up and I will take care of this adorable baby.”
“No,” Maggie said with more force than she actually felt. “First things first. You tell me who you are and why exactly you are here.” Evelyn smiled at her, just as kindly as before, and clasped her hands together.
“My husband and your husband have become friends. They have recently worked together and have taken a liking to one another. Your husband mentioned that you had recently had a child. My husband, Philip, had asked how you were doing. Bill was honest with him and said it had been hard. My Philip told me, and I knew I had to come right over. You see, Mrs. Scully,” she said with a brief pause as she took a breath. “I know how hard it can be. How you can feel ... alone and no one understands. I have had six children and I was unprepared for each one of them.” Maggie balked at her. Six children? God. That sounded exhausting.
“My husband and I married young,” she continued. “My mother had passed when I was a girl and I never learned about ... well many aspects of marriage.” She laughed and her cheeks flushed. “When I discovered I was with child, I was terrified. I had no idea what I would do.” She smiled at Maggie kindly and reached out to touch the baby’s foot.
“My husband was wonderful to me the entire time. He was tickled that we would be having a baby. He boasted to everyone how happy he was to be a father. How he loved that I would be giving him that honor. But then the babies came ...” she became quiet for a second, lost in her memories. Maggie shifted uncomfortably, aware once again how terrible she smelled.
Evelyn gave a little shake of her head and then smiled at Maggie. “Mrs. Scully,” she said kindly. “I would love to tell you my story when you have had a chance to clean up a little. I can imagine you don’t feel so wonderful at this moment.”
Maggie’s eyes filled with tears at the kindness in her voice. “I can’t get cleaned up,” Maggie said with a sob. “There is so much laundry to be done, and I don’t have any more clean shirts.”
Evelyn reached for the baby, and this time Maggie let her take him. She brought her hands to her face as her tears began to fall faster. Evelyn tucked Bill Jr. into her side and drew Maggie to her with an arm around her shoulder.
“My dear,” Evelyn said softly. “Please lead me to the bedroom and we will get you sorted out.”
Maggie tearfully led Evelyn toward the bedroom. She set the baby down in the bassinet that sat in the room. Evelyn walked into the bathroom and started the shower. When it was a comfortable temperature, she turned to Maggie and told her to take her time and get cleaned up. Maggie sobbed and began to unbutton her shirt. Evelyn walked out and closed the door behind her.
Maggie left all her clothes in a disgusting heap on the floor and stepped into the warm steamy shower. She let the water wash over her and cleanse her body and soul. She was so bone tired and this shower was the best experience she had in days. She stayed under the spray and felt her muscles relax. She cried and cried. Let all her anxiety out in that shower. Felt it wash away down the drain.
She washed her hair and body twice, exhilarated by the feeling of being clean. Erasing the stench of milky baby vomit and soiled diapers. She stayed in the warm cocoon until the water began to cool. Finally she had to turn the water off and return to real life.
A towel had been placed out for her and her disgusting clothes were gone. She had not even noticed Evelyn return to the bathroom. She grabbed the towel and wrapped herself in the fluffiness. God, she felt like a new person. She dried her hair with an extra towel until it was just slightly damp.
Maggie walked into her bedroom and found that Evelyn had put some clothes on the bed for her. A button down shirt of Bill’s was laid out beside a pair of pajama pants. She slipped them on, no underwear available to be worn. She did not care and she doubted Evelyn would either.
Once she was dressed, she walked out to find Evelyn in the dining room. She had cleaned up the clutter on the table and changed the baby. He was laying in the bassinet that she had moved from the bedroom.
She looked up and smiled as Maggie came in the room. She walked toward her and put her arm around her shoulder, leading her to the table. Maggie sat and Evelyn disappeared into the kitchen. She came back with a two cups of tea and set them down.
“Do you take cream and sugar?” Evelyn asked kindly. Maggie shook her head. “I was able to find one last diaper for the baby, but he will be needing more. I placed a call to a friend of mine and she will be dropping off some items for you as soon as she can,” Evelyn said as she sat and drank her tea. “I have also started washing some clothes in your washing machine. Such a wonderful invention. Things took longer in my day. Once those clothes are done, I will hang them for you and start more clothes.”
Maggie was silently crying, looking down at her teacup. She was overwhelmed by everything, but especially by the kindness this woman was showing her. She did not know her, but she was here and she was helping. She had already done so much in the short amount of time she had been here.
She lifted her eyes to Evelyn. She could not talk around the lump in her throat. She shook her head, trying to fight back her tears. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak.
“Before you say anything,” Evelyn said softly, setting down her cup and taking Maggie’s hand. “Let me tell you my story. Drink your tea and just listen.”
Maggie took another deep shuddering breath and nodded. She did not know what she was going to say anyway. That she was fine? She clearly was not. She did not need any help? It was obvious that she did. She just needed to say something. Instead she took a sip of tea and waited for Evelyn to speak.
Evelyn placed her hands on the table and folded them together. She told Maggie of her hardships with her babies. How she had been wholly unprepared for caring for them. She did not know anything about children and she felt like a failure every day. She cried more in that time than any other time in her life. When the babies cried, when they spit up, when dinner was burnt, when her husband’s shirts were not ironed, or worse, when they too were burnt.
But through it all, her husband had been there for her. He was always encouraging, always positive. He ate the burnt dinner, smiling through every bite. He hid his scorched shirts beneath jackets, kissing her goodbye and thanking her for seeing that he looked respectable and loved. He was her champion, her cheering squad and she loved him immensely for it.
They moved to a new base when she was pregnant with their fourth child. Two of the children were in school during the day at that time, so she was home with only the youngest child. She was thankful for that because the fourth pregnancy had been her worst. She was sick almost throughout. She could barely eat, she was not sleeping and the housework began to suffer.
There were not scorched shirts anymore, there were simply none ready at all. Dinners were late as they had to wait for her husband to cook them and he worked late shifts. She would cry as she sat holding the youngest one and her husband served the older children soup and toast, grilled cheese, eggs. Whatever was on hand and easy to make. He would make them laugh with silly voices and songs he made up. Then they would help him clean up and head to bed.
He would come to her and wipe her tears. Tell her he loved her, she was the only person he would ever love in this lifetime and the next. He would take the little one and bathe her, put her to bed, and come find Evelyn still on the sofa, crying. He would take her to their room, help her get her night clothes on, and brush her hair. He would sing to her as he did, telling her how beautiful she was. How her hair was like spun gold and it shined brighter than the sun. He would hold her as she cried when they went to bed.
It had been two weeks and this had become their routine, until she heard a knock at the door. She opened it to find a dark skinned woman with the biggest smile she had ever seen. She told Evelyn that her husband had run into her, literally, and helped her pick up the items she spilled.
He struck up a conversation with her and found she was looking for work, but no one wanted to hire her. He said that was ridiculous and he hired her on the spot. Said he needed someone to help his wife because he loved her so much and seeing her breaking down the way she was, was breaking his heart. He cried for his wife, cried for her suffering, and asked, begged, for her help.
Her name was Tanzie and she was a godsend. She helped with anything and everything. She washed, cleaned, cooked, ironed, and cared for the children. But most important, she became the friend that Evelyn needed. She cared for her. Cooking bland foods that she could hold down, offered up advice her mama had for pregnancy, remedies that were a wonder for Evelyn.
Tanzie helped her get back to herself and her family. She was the best friend Evelyn ever had. They shared secrets, dreams, and their lives.
“Mrs. Scully, without the love of my husband, and the care of others, I would have crumbled. I would have given up. I am a lot older than Tanzie was when she showed up that day, but I would like to be here to help you as she did for me.” Evelyn said kindly, looking into Maggie’s eyes.
Maggie sat in rapt attention, tears running down her face, through the whole story. Listening to Evelyn’s story of love filled Maggie with hope, with happiness and such immense love. She read of soulmates, saw it through her father’s eyes, knew she found it in Bill, but Evelyn’s story ... it was pure love and devotion.
And now Evelyn sat there, in a dirty house, with clutter and laundry piling up, offering her help because Philip heard about her need from Bill. A loving heart reached out to another loving heart. As a result, without hesitation, Evelyn came to help Maggie. To offer what she could, however she could.
Through her tears, Maggie smiled and nodded. “Please, call me Maggie,” she said as she grasped Evelyn’s hand, reaching out for the lifeline that had been sent to her.