The Intent of the Heart

The Intent of the Heart

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

The Intent of the Heart

My grandmother loved her kitchen and hated her house. As a young woman, she and her new husband lived in an old farmhouse near a small town in the Kentucky hills. What fed her unhappiness with the house was the narrow doorways and small windows. Even though the house had been built in that way to conserve heat she felt constrained by the halls and doorways through which she had to constantly move every day doing her work. And because she was a woman who loved light, the awful, tiny windows that made the rooms so dark, distressed her.

She tried not to complain about the house too much because my grandfather had been lucky to find anything livable for them to begin their lives together. It was poor country and people who had houses kept them for their entire lives. My grandfather was a country doctor and had to have enough land to graze his two horses as well as raise enough food for his family.

But although she understood their circumstances, my grandmother began to complain. Eventually, my grandfather would leave the house when she began to vent her feelings. And, as a result, over the next year and a half they began to grow apart. She tended the house she hated, and he did the work he loved as best he could.

Often he would disappear in the evenings with his rifle. He would tell her that he was going to hunt raccoons, but he had only one dog, and she knew it was not good for much except sleeping and begging for food.

He began to be tired quite a lot of the time, and at first she was worried about his health, and then she began to be convinced he was up to something, and no good could come of whatever that might be.

She began to try to stay up until he came home, but after doing her sewing and reading for a time, she would inevitably fall asleep. When she woke she would find him in bed. She looked for the signs of guilt on his face and saw only peace.

So, uncertain of what to do, she tried to stop complaining about the house. But that produced the most peculiar result. If she did not bring up her unhappiness for a week or so, he would bring it up.

My grandfather would ask if she had gotten comfortable with the house or say that she must have grown used to it. That would always provoke what she called a mean face from her and the small noise of disgust that communicated itself so well. To her considerable consternation this often made him smile. And she decided that whatever it was he was doing away from her gave him unacceptable pleasure.

Finally, she could contain her growing anger no longer. At dinner one night she told him that he could not leave her alone in the evenings. She said that she was frightened to stay in that terrible house by herself, that she knew he was up to no good, that she expected him to keep his marriage vows and that she would not put up with his treatment of her any longer.

My grandfather looked at his young bride and said, “Tomorrow will be the end of it. I promise you.”

She went to bed that night inconsolable, certain that her husband had been unfaithful to her. He was telling her as much. She imagined the woman he’d been seeing, she imagined him telling her that he’d decided not to break his marriage, she imagined the tears and the parting. She was not able to sleep that night.

She did not speak to him at breakfast the next morning. The first cool weather had settled in on the mountain valley. The leaves had begun to turn, and she watched from her kitchen window as he saddled his horse and strapped on his two black satchels in which he carried medicine and instruments.

Then he turned back to the house and told her to come with him. When she asked him why, he told her that he expected to have to deliver a baby at the Wakin’s place, and he expected it to be a difficult birth. “I need you,” he said and smiled that wide disarming smile that had won her heart in the first place.

He helped her up on the saddle behind him and she put her arms around his waist. She had not touched him so intimately in quite a while and was surprised by the strength she felt in his body. They rode about four miles though the autumn woods, through the leaf-filtered light. He hummed a song he liked called “In the Gloaming.” She wondered what made him so happy about going to deliver a baby. But he loved children, and she attributed it to that.

At Sandy Creek he pushed his horse into a trot, and as they came to the crest of a gentle rise of land she saw, directly in front of them, the most beautiful house she’d ever seen.

“Oh my,” she said. “Have the Wakin’s built them this place?”

“No,” he said, “my darlin’. I built it. Me and a couple of men from Ashland. We built it. It’s for you.”

He helped her down from the horse, and as she walked she said, “It’s as if I weigh no more than a milkweed seed.”

He led her through her house with its many windows, its light-filled rooms, its lovely veranda and its wide, wide parlor doors. It was in that house they lived all their lives, raised their four children. And it was that house to which the entire family always came for celebrations, partly out of respect, but mostly because everyone had a better time there than any place they’d ever been.

My mother, to whom my grandmother confided this story once, asked her why the house felt so blessed. And my grandmother said, “It’s because he loved me. And because I loved him all of my life. Even when I thought I didn’t.”

My mother never forgot that, and neither have I.

Walker Meade

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