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The face in the storm (03/27/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

English has always been my passion. Math was my downfall in school, yet, I've been a bookkeeper for thirty-six years. Oh, the twists and turns of fate!

I recall an English assignment for Mrs. Kalmes' high school class. I wrote a theme paper about a true and horrifying experience, at a crybaby, whimpering age. Gallivanting back in time, once again, I recount a town girl's cherished recollections of my mother's Bethany homestead.

While Uncle Hilbert and my two aunts Alma and Ellen resided there, Wollin's Whitewater Valley dairy, our family's hospitable second home, came to be affectionately dubbed "the farm." (A no brainer!)

My sisters and brother and I spent a great deal of duff time out on "the farm." The spacious house was actually two in one; years back my mother's grandparents lived in a separate section. Fastened to one of three outside porches, a clothesline often came to life with color-splashed, home-sewn quilts, patched bib overalls, and flowered aprons.

There, a back bedroom was separated from a large living room by a curtain. Used as a prop, it was opened and closed as we performed our lively, contrived skits, along with youngsters visiting with their parents during frequent birthday and card parties.

That section of the house became a majestic "playroom," complete with an upright piano, outdated books like "Little Women," National Geographics, and a toy closet chock-full of nostalgia. (A "stereoscope" and a shabby box of three-dimensional cards is now enjoyed by my grandchildren.) That's where we nincompoops hung out, when coaxed inside from a fertile, rambling outdoors.

My story is all about a glorious daylight turning to a country-wrought darkness, heavy as metal during wind and rainstorms. That night I slept (briefly) in the antediluvian back bedroom. Lightning made an appearance near midnight, thunderclaps causing me to shoot upright in bed with the heebie-jeebies and silent screams.

Shadows of tree branches, whipping hysterically, made surrounding walls come alive. Bolts slashed a familiar picture, which hung beyond the foot of the bed, depicting Christ at twelve years of age, wearing a white smock.

Strangely, this black and white semblance had caused me to pause often, to reflect upon the divine face, a clairvoyant image. That stormy night, as rain pelted glass, and my heart danced the two-step, I was too agitated to be comforted.

While the storm eventually petered-out, as I eased back fitfully into the feather pillow, another sound set my heart racing anew. A relentless scratching conjured up images of rats, shrews, bats, and the ever-dreaded werewolf.

Dawn's light brought childlike relief. The picture on the wall seemed to radiate the calm after the storm. As I dressed the scratching returned, but it didn't seem threatening in the grips of sunshine. After breakfast, I gingerly made my way to the east side of the house where last night's torture chamber was situated, facing my aunts' bounteous garden.

A plump robin was busying herself in the eaves along the house's roof. I watched as she left to collect building materials, likely to repair a wind-ravaged home. A vivid imagination can be a real pain!

The memory returns! In my forties, as I browsed through an antique place in Winona, I gasped when I spotted it! A black and white picture of a serene-faced, young Jesus, in a frock with brocade trim, framed in old, varnished wood.

I turned it over, where tattered brown paper covered the back. A dusty shoelace had been knotted as a hanger. It was without a doubt, a replica of that picture! It has hung on my bedroom wall ever since. (We lost track of the Wollin picture during their homestead auction years later.)

The painter had not imprinted a signature...but then, creations of true artists speak for themselves.

Through the years, I've come to embrace the spirit watching over us all. May Easter's truths and peace see you through the storms. 


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