(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)
Hastings, Nebraska, May 1955
[Five years later Lars Jacobsen dies and the Jacobsen family returns to fight old battles. Kate is conflicted about how she feels about her father’s death.]
Kate awoke with a start and opened her eyes. Outside, darkness enveloped the world except for a street lamp at least a block away. Inside, she could see only inches in front of her. Where am I? she asked herself. Someone snored beside her and she jumped at the sound. Who’s that? she thought. Then slowly her mind adjusted. I’m not at home in Las Cruces. I’m in my bedroom where I grew up in Hastings. That’s Al beside me. She got up and reached for a flashlight on the nightstand. She grabbed her robe, hanging on the end of the bed, and slid into her slippers. She silently opened and closed the door, and Al never stirred. Using the flashlight beam to see in front of her, she walked down the stairs into the living room. A small night light at the foot of the stairs glowed and guided her, but it was a familiar room to her and she could probably find her way blindfolded. Her parents had bought new furniture after she had married, but they had not changed the arrangement of a single piece.
“Kate? Is that you?” Lizzie’s voice came from the shadows.
“Oh, Mother, you startled me! What are you doing here?” Kate looked in the direction of where her mother’s voice came from; as her eyes continued to adjust, she realized she could see an outline of her mother, sitting in her chair near the fireplace. Like Kate, she wore a robe and slippers. Her feet were curled up under her to keep them warm.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Lizzie said. “I kept thinking about your father.”
“I couldn’t sleep either.” Kate sat down on the couch and looked at her mother. She continued to hold the flashlight in her hand, though she had turned it off. “What time is it?”
“Not yet even four, I think. Maybe 3:30.” Instinctively, she looked up at the clock on the mantleplace, but it was too dark to see it.
Kate sat back on the couch and also curled her feet up under her. “You should go back to bed, Mother. You’ll need your strength for the funeral tomorrow.” Lizzie shook her head, but did not speak. Kate asked, “Are you all right?”
“Of course. Your father’s death was unexpected, Kate, but I’m not going to miss him.” Lizzie uncurled her legs and sat up in the chair.
“Mother! How can you say that?”
Lizzie waved her hand in dismissal. “Don’t judge me, Kate. You, more than perhaps anyone else, know what your father was like. I’m not going to miss him. Sometimes he was very mean. I lived with that man for thirty-nine years, and now I feel like that character in Kate Chopin’s short story: free!" I won’t miss his mistresses, his drinking, or our fights, Lizzie thought. And, in the end, I’ll get all the money.
Kate looked through the shadows towards her mother. It’s true, she thought, I won’t miss him either. “Why did you marry him, Mother?”
“Because I thought I loved him.”
“And you didn’t love him?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Kate thought about Al and her four children. Do I love Al? she asked herself. I don’t know. Am I glad I have the kids? Of course. “What was good about the marriage?” she asked her mother.
“Very little. But your father made good money, especially after he bought the brickyard from the Schaefer brothers. He provided a home, I have three wonderful children. I enjoy having my friends here. He will have left me comfortably off, as well.“ With a sudden change in topic and tone, she asked, “What about you, Kate? Are you happy?”
“No.” Kate said it with no inflection.
Lizzie leaned forward in her chair. “Why not? What’s happened?”
“Nothing really. Too much. Some of it you’ve heard before.”
“Tell me.” Lizzie got up and crossed over to the couch. She sat down next to Kate and stroked Kate’s hair, something she had not done since Kate had been a child.
Kate pushed her mother’s hand away. “Oh, Mother, it’s complicated. There are people who hate me, people who would hurt the children to get back at me. There are people who judge me and deceive me. I have to maintain control over all of this. Al doesn’t support me. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him about these other people. I have to be on my guard all the time.”
Lizzie frowned. “Kate, what on earth are you talking about? People who want to hurt the children? Why?”
“Like I said, it’s complicated. But I have to be careful. I have to be on guard all the time, and I’m so tired because I often can’t sleep. I’ve told Al I want to leave Las Cruces.”
“But you haven’t been there that long — what is it? Seven years? Why move again?”
Kate placed the flashlight on the couch beside her; she twisted her hands together in front of her. Lizzie put her hand on Kate’s and tried to make her stop the movement. “Only six years, but it’s not safe there any more.”
Lizzie sat back on the couch and looked at her daughter. Kate began licking her lips. “Kate, Las Cruces seems like a nice place to me. It’s a growing community, the university is professional and Al likes it there, Al’s working on his Ph.D., and you’ve got your Masters, the kids are all healthy and apparently enjoying school, you’ve got a teaching job, you’ve just bought a home. What’s not to like?”
Kate chuckled. “Well, you weren’t there when we first drove into the place. I tell you, Las Cruces might as well be at the end of the world.”
Lizzie shook her head. “Well, it’s got little to do with your situation in Las Cruces. Being in one place is not much different than being in another.”
“You don’t understand, Mother.“ In the darkness, Kate could sense her mother’s disapproval. Nobody ever understands, she thought. “Las Cruces is — well — backward. It’s almost like living a frontier life. We lived in that horrible old house at first, and Al said we had to have the ugly Jeep to drive on the roads.”
“But you have a new car now, don’t you? And a new house. A yard and a lovely flower garden. And the university brings culture into the community, doesn’t it? And you and Al attend that nice little Presbyterian Church. It seems to me that it’s much like Hastings was when your father and I first moved here. People like us made it into an important place.“
Kate stared at her mother. I’m not getting through to you, am I? she thought. “There are even people in the church, Mother, whom I can’t trust. And the house is going to take years of work to make it liveable. Al will have to do it all.”
“But he’s good at that sort of thing, isn’t he?”
Kate shook her head. “Mother, you don’t understand. There are so many things wrong.“ She waved her hand in dismissal. “Oh, I just can’t explain it to you!”
Lizzie chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. “Well, honey, you know I’ve always told you to look at the good side of things. At least you don’t get much snow.”
Kate rolled her eyes. “When I first went there, I felt as though my life was a tabula rasa. But, things changed quickly and now I don’t trust anyone, Mother. Why don’t you believe me?”
Lizzie shrugged her shoulders. “I believe you, Kate, but it seems to me you always find the worst in things, wherever you live. Women have to adapt. It’s what is expected of us. That’s what your grandmothers did. That’s what I did. I suspect it’s also what Al’s mother did. Your grandmother Jacobsen had a very difficult time with your grandfather; he was much like your father. And do you think I was always happy with your father?”
Kate’s eyes burned with curiosity. Oh, to ask the questions I want to ask, she thought. But all she said was, “No, of course not.”
“That’s my point, dear. Your grandfather and your father were very much alike. Both were taciturn and controlling. Women must endure. That’s our job. My mother warned me when I got married that I was making a mistake, and she was right. But I never dared admit it to her. At least you have a job. Don’t you like it?”
Kate nodded. “Yes, I do. The children I teach are so needy — many of them are new immigrants from Mexico. I feel useful. I‘ve made one good friend, a teacher. I keep the money — though I make only half of what Al makes. I put it in my own account. Al can’t have it. I buy things for the children and myself.”
“That’s good, Kate. I so wish I could have done that. For years, your father gave me an allowance for groceries and household goods, but I managed to keep some of it for myself. So, you see, things aren’t as bad as you thought, right?” She smiled at Kate and again stroked her hair.
Kate shook her head. “I have to watch Al like a hawk, Mother. I don’t trust him.”
“Why? What does he do?”
“Women like him too much. They touch him. They sit by him at meetings. A woman asked him to sing a duet with him at church. He sometimes comes home late.”
Lizzie frowned. “Do you think he’s having an affair, Kate?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s better not to know. Trust me.”
Kate shook her head. Nobody ever believes me, she thought. “You’ve not changed much, Mother.”
Lizzie raised her eyebrows. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that you are always willing to look the other way. You never believe me.”
“I have no idea what you mean.”
No, you wouldn’t, Kate thought. You always looked the other way when Dad came into my room at night. “I tried to tell you once, Mother.”
“You tried to tell me what?”
“What about him?”
“You still won’t admit what you know, will you?”
“Kate, what are you talking about?” Lizzie stood up again and crossed back to her chair. Darkness still enveloped the room, but she could see the shape of her daughter in the darkness. I can never quite reach Kate, she thought. What is the matter with her?
“Oh, just forget it, Mother. Tell me about Dad. What happened?”
Lizzie seemed glad to change the subject. “Your father had had a busy morning at work and had attended a luncheon meeting with the Public Works Board. He came home after the meeting, not feeling particularly well, and decided he was too tired to go back to work. He had a few drinks and then laid down on the couch to take a nap.“
“Not an unusual routine, was it?”
“No, it wasn’t,” Lizzie agreed. “He told me he thought he would be fine in a few hours, and he asked me to wake him up in time to go to his Elks meeting. He laid down on the couch — right where you’re sitting — and slept all afternoon, but he was quite restless.“
Kate looked at the couch where she was sitting and imagined her father lying there, dying. She shook her head and tried to get the images out of her head.
“Once,“ Lizzie went on, “he woke up and asked for a glass of water. When it came time for him to go to his meeting, he was still feeling unwell, so he decided to stay home. I encouraged him to go upstairs, undress, and get into bed, but he refused. I was quite concerned by then.“
“Did you suggest that he go to the doctor?”
“I did. But you know your father. Stubborn as a mule.” Lizzie paused and looked at Kate and then said, “I went to bed about midnight but I slept restlessly. At about four o’clock, I came downstairs to see how he was. He was sitting up and complaining of a pain in his chest and left arm. He looked quite pale and so distraught that I called Willy. When I came back to the living room, Lars was lying down again. I went over to him, and I knew immediately that he was gone. I just sat with him until Willy got here.”
“So, do the doctors think he died of a heart attack?”
“Yes, apparently. I’m sure that was what it was.”
“Considering his lifestyle,” Kate added, “he certainly could have had other things wrong with him.”
“What do you mean ‘considering his lifestyle’?”
“Just what I said, Mother. You know that Dad drank and ate too much.”
Lizzie shook her head. “Yes, he liked a drink, but his death had nothing to do with his drinking. He was a social drinker.”
Kate laughed lightly. “Oh, come on, Mother,” she scoffed. “You don’t need to look so grim. Dad’s gone. The truth is the truth. He drank too much. He ate too much. He always did. Frank and Willy would both back me on that.”
“You should not speak ill of the dead,” Lizzie remonstrated her daughter, “and especially not your father. I know he wasn’t perfect, but now is not the time to say it. We will be burying him in a few hours.”
Kate stared at her mother through the darkness. You never helped me when I needed it, Mother, she thought. Dad was wrong — what he did to me. “Yes, Mother, we can still play that game if you want to. I think I’ll go back to bed. You should, too.”
Lizzie frowned. “What do you mean ‘play that game?”
“Nothing, Mother. Just forget it.”
“Oh, I’m tired. Maybe I can sleep now.”
They got up together and climbed the stairs, Kate turning right into her childhood bedroom and Lizzie turning left, down the hallway to the master bedroom.
Kate crawled back into bed and fell asleep. A few hours later, she awoke to Al’s mild shaking. “Kate? Time to get up. I’ve got a cup of coffee for you here.”
Kate sat up in bed and stretched. She took the cup of coffee and sipped. “Hmm, that tastes good. Thank you, Al.”
“You’re welcome. How are you doing? Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, like a log.”
“Good. It’s going to be a long day. How are you feeling?”
“What do you mean?”
“Sleeping here — in your old bedroom.”
Kate stared at Al. “It’s all right.” What do you know? she wondered.
“Are you thinking much about your father?” Al asked.
“Not much. Why?”
“Kate, I don’t want to say bad things about your father, but you know what I thought of him. In the twenty-two years I knew him, he was difficult, argumentative, bombastic, arrogant, and cruel. He was the antithesis of everything my father stood for. And I will never forgive him for the way he treated you. And us. I don’t feel any loss at your father’s death.”
“Nor do I,” Kate said, as she sipped her coffee.
“I think your father did you irreparable harm, Kate.”
Kate stared at Al. How much does he know? she wondered again. How much does he suspect? “Why do you say that, Al?”
“He gave you mixed messages all the time. He’d say ‘Don’t lie‘, but when the phone rang he told you to tell his creditors that he wasn’t home. Things like that. You were bombarded with his mistrust of you.“ And he created your paranoia, and your terrible fears, and your mistrust in men, Al thought, but I don’t dare say that to you.
Kate finished her coffee and got out of bed. She began to dress. She had chosen a plain black dress with white pearls. As she put on the matching pearl earrings she said to Al, “It’s true. He was a terrible father. I won’t miss him. Neither will Frank.”
Al, already dressed and ready to go, stared out the window. “Yes, I had a conversation with Frank yesterday, shortly after we arrived.”
“What did he say?”
“He thinks that your father has left the business to your mother and Willy. Your mother will have 51% control.”
Kate turned and looked at Al. “What? What about Frank and me?”
“I don’t know, Katy. I’m just telling you what Frank said.”
Kate shook her head. She felt her face get warm with anger. “Oh, my father! He causes trouble even after he dies!”
Al snickered. “No surprise to me.”
Kate and Al finished dressing without much conversation. Al had awakened the children earlier, and he had told them to go down to the basement to play with their cousins when they were ready. Kate and Al descended the stairs together and found Lizzie, Frank and his wife, and Willy and his wife, all in the living room. The children could be heard in the basement, playing some sort of game of tag.
“Is everything ready for the funeral this afternoon?” Kate asked.
“Yes, nearly so,” Lizzie answered, “though I must go over to the church this morning and speak to the organist about the music and make sure that the casket has arrived.”
“Oh, Mother, Al and I will do that.”
“I want to put some things in Lars’s casket.”
“What?” Kate asked.
“His Masonic fez and his rings.”
Everyone looked at Lizzie with stone faces. “Doesn’t that fez have a fourteen-karat diamond in it?” Frank asked.
“Mother, that’s silly,” Willy argued. “Dad doesn’t need the fez or his rings. And they’re worth a lot of money.”
“I know your father would have wanted that.” Lizzie looked at her adult children and her in-laws and she wondered if she could stand up to all of them.
“Fine,” Frank said. “Give him the fez without the diamond.”
The discussion continued for several minutes.
Lizzie finally relented from the onslaught of her children’s complaints. “All right! I’ll ask the undertaker to put the fez in the casket without the diamond, and I’ll keep his rings. Let’s just don’t talk about it any more!”
Al nodded and felt a sigh a relief. So did Kate.
Lizzie took a breath and then explained the rest of the funeral plans. “Dr. Ames will be officiating. Lodge No. 50 is going to conduct part of the service. The casket will be open before the service, but closed during the service. We’ll be going to the cemetery for the burial afterwards.”
For several hours, everyone was busy, and when the time came, they piled into their cars and drove to the church. The services were solemn and formal, the church filled to capacity with the many people who had known Lars Jacobsen. Al particularly sensed the hypocrisy. This man deserves none of our praise, he thought. He was an abusive drunk, a womanizer, and a lousy father. Yet, here we are, treating him like he was a king.
After the service, they gathered at the cemetery. Kate stood at her father’s grave and watched as they lowered the casket into the ground. Her mind went in a million directions at once. Part of her wanted to jump in the hole with her father and tell him not to leave her. She wanted back the daddy who sometimes let her sit on his lap and stroke her hair. But deeper in her consciousness was the knowledge that he had done something to her that was very wrong. Part of her wanted to jump on the casket, open the lid, and demand that her father admit to all those who were present what he had done. And she wanted to turn to her mother and demand to know why she hadn’t stopped it. But none of this happened. As her mind struggled to remember the details of what she wanted to forget, the casket was covered, the mound of dirt sculpted, and the flowers placed on top. The last bouquet placed on the pile had a ribbon with the words, “To Dad from Kate with all my Love.”
- Continue to Chapter 27.
- Refer to Family Tree to keep relationship of characters in mind.
- Return to Family Legacies Table of Contents.
Disclaimer: While it is true that my characters were inspired by my own genealogical study, I could not and did not know my ancestors with the same intimacy that I have created in my characters. Therefore, let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.