Porcelain (Part 37)

Back in Hiawatha, it had in fact been a rather long journey over to the graveyard from Harriet’s house on Shawnee.  By the time they arrived, John Davis’ nose was bright red from the cold, Jimmy had pulled a blanket over his head, under which he was silently sipping whiskey, and Harriet had lost most of the feeling in her fingers.  The ceremony itself was brief and respectful, the usual words being said, and then Henry McClinton had walked over to assist in lowering the casket into the hole.  As they began, Harriet stopped them, kneeling down and placing her right hand on the top, soft words of farewell being said as mist rose from the warm earth of the grave.  Once that was done, she stood up and began the walk back, the hard set of her face deterring any offers of a ride from John.

Once home, it was a simple process.  Harriet selected a plain grey dress and a more formal cream colored one, packing them away for the time, if it ever came, when she chose to emerge from mourning for her daughter.  These days the proper social etiquette as it applied to children seemed to have been left up to the individual parents, but Harriet was unsure if she would ever again feel it proper to dress in anything but black.  The remainder of her clothing was placed into a large pile on the kitchen floor and she began the process of dyeing all of it as deep and dark of a black as she could achieve.  After setting up her wash basin and placing the clothing in it to soak, she packed all of Olivia’s belongings into a large trunk and then hung a black veil over the one image she had of her daughter.  It was a simple drawing, done years ago by an artistic man who had briefly lived in Hiawatha, setting up a small shop a few doors down from Leaders.  It was a flattering sketch, one that seemed to capture energy that had faded from Olivia even back then.  Knowing that the doctor would stop by later, driven by social custom and perhaps friendship, she wrote out a list of the things she would need weekly from the store in town, as she was certainly not going to be ready for any regular community interaction for some time to come.  Tucking a small amount of money into an envelope, along with the list, she placed them both on the small table by the door.

Harriet passed the remainder of the day with her dyeing process, her hands and forearms becoming a dull grey from the laborious process of moving and stirring the garments.  As she sat down to eat that evening, Harriet was struck by how white her fingernails had remained, standing out starkly against her oddly colored fingers.

They continued to distract her the next morning, both as she sat on the porch, repairing Claudia’s torn dress, and later while composing a letter to her brother.

November 15, 1883

My Dear Wyatt,

So it has come to pass – Olivia died on the twelfth of this month, just a few days ago and I buried her on the fourteenth.  I see no reason to pass this sad news onto Claudia, who hopefully can keep some faint memory of her mother in a happy way.  Perhaps one day she will ask and I shall leave it to your judgement on what to tell her at that moment.  It is about Claudia that I write to you.

I know you have likely traveled already and perhaps are already overseas; I have only your one reference to Germany as a guide to where you may be going and I hope that your travels, if you have already begun them, go well.   How is my granddaughter taking to her new home?  Has she had any difficulty adapting to life in a different county?  What has she learned about?  Has she grown?  

I realize that our distance apart is great and that news travels slowly.  I would, however, greatly like to hear about Claudia when you have time to write me back.  I will hold this letter until you send word of where I may post it to, as you had stated you would in your last telegram to me.  Please write back soon, 

With Warm Regards From Your Sister,


She placed that letter in the drawer of her nightstand, hopeful that Wyatt would be good on his word to forward his address information, and then retuned to the process of dyeing her clothes.  The doctor, who had shown up dutifully the day before and taken the envelope without a word, retuned to the house in the afternoon with the supplies he had purchased.  Offering her the envelope back, Harriet responded with an upraised hand and a soft, “for next time,” before dismissing him with a nod of her head.  He left, an offended look on his face, and Harriet leaned back in her chair.  Mindful of the traditions she had been raised with, she was determined to remain as apart and distanced for society and societal interactions as it was possible to do.  The doctor, and anyone else, would just have to understand that.

It was much later, December tenth, when a messenger finally appeared at her door with a telegram from her brother.  Reading the message quickly, Harriet asked the man to wait while she retrieved the letter, addressing it before handing it to him with a request that it be forwarded overseas.  After glancing at what was written on the envelope, the messenger had delivered a short lecture to Harriet on the many complications inherent in getting a piece of mail delivered to such a faraway location.  He summed it up briefly as, “I doubt this will ever arrive ma’am.”  Harriet, unwilling to engage in any kind of longer discussion with the man, had simply handed him five dollars and stated, “just see that it is done.”

Porcelain (Part 33)

Harriet had waited after that final breath, just looking at her daughter’s face.  She held Claudia’s torn dress in one hand and her fingers played with the ripped cloth as her heart, which had been hammering away for the past several minutes, slowed back down to its normal rhythm.  Finally she stepped away into the hallway, stopping in her own room to place the dress upon her bed before walking over to the doctor’s house.  She may have told him to stay away when he departed earlier that day; however, there now was nothing more to argue about in regard to Olivia’s care.  She also knew that in modern times such as the ones she now lived in, a doctor’s confirmation of a person’s death, at least in a town setting such as Hiawatha, was almost a requirement.  That, and she was going to need assistance again, as much as she was reluctant to admit it.  Closing her eyes briefly before doing so, she knocked on the doctor’s door.  As persons in that profession seem able to, he had sensed the situation without asking as soon as he opened the door, grabbing his medical bag and then Harriet’s arm as they walked back toward her house.  After confirming the death, he turned toward Harriet.

“Not exactly unexpected but rather abrupt.”  His eyes asked an unspoken question.

“Yes, well, I think we all know that she was in rapid decline.  It surely did not seem abrupt to me.  I feel as though she has been sick for ages.”

The doctor did not reply, continuing to look down at Olivia’s body on the bed.  Slowly his eyes wandered toward the nightstand, where the tea cup sat slightly off the edge, awkwardly balanced and threatening to fall.  Several seconds later Harriet stepped over and picked it up.

“I’ll just clean up in here then before I take care of her body.  Can you arrange a carriage for me doctor?  And ask Hank to send a casket over with them?”

“I don’t suppose you will let me send the undertaker then?  They can embalm,”

Harriet held up her hand.  “Let’s not talk of that foolishness.  I will wash her and dress her, just as my family always has, and then I will walk with her body down to the cemetery.  Now, can you arrange the other?”

“Very well.  I have to go out and see John Davis today, his wife is ill.  I’m sure he will spare the time to drive a carriage over.  I’ll have him stop at the general store for the casket.  What time?”

Harriet shook her head.  “Not today.  It’s late and anyway that wouldn’t matter.  I have to sit with her tonight of course.  Tomorrow morning at ten a.m. will be fine.”

Doctor Warren paused before leaving, looking down once again at Olivia’s body.  “Very abrupt,” he commented slowly, before turning and walking out.

It took the rest of the day for Harriet to clean and prepare her daughter for the grave.  As she had seen her own mother do, and had  done herself more times than she wished, she began by undressing Olivia and washing her body thoroughly with a sponge and warm water.  Standing up to go prepare a light oil infusion with juniper, she also took the clothing Olivia had been wearing out of the room with her.  Returning after giving the body time to dry, she rubbed the oil lightly over it and then carefully dressed her daughter in a dark blue, high-collared dress with long sleeves and lace cuffs.  Crossing the arms over the stomach, she slipped sprigs of rosemary into the sleeves before tucking Claudia’s picture behind the left arm.  With that work done, Harriet set the tea kettle on the stove and made a light lunch for herself before returning to sit with Olivia’s body.  She stayed that way, through the evening and night, falling asleep in the chair sometime after one a.m. and being awoken by the light of the morning.  With a slight flutter of her heart she looked over at the bed, seeing that all remained as it had been the night before.  Her daughter truly was dead.

Preparing herself for the walk to the cemetery, Harriet put on her mourning dress and veil, along with a pair of boots suitable for the walk and the weather.  Although little snow had fallen and the streets remained clear, the air was cold and regular shoes were not going to provide enough protection.  Donning a coat, and grabbing a cup of tea, she went to sit on the porch to await the carriage, which pulled up a few minutes before ten o’clock.


county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

John Davis had driven a simple affair for the mission today, a county-style wagon with a covered driver’s seat and plenty of room for the pine casket that sat in the back.  He had another man with him, one that Harriet did not know, but the extra muscle would be useful today.

“Good morning ma’am.  Are you set then?  And don’t you have someone to go with you?  A relative or friend?”

Harriet rose and straightened out her dress and coat.  “No, no I do not.  I shall be walking by myself, but thank you.”

John glanced back at his carriage and gestured toward it with his thumb.  “You’re welcome to sit up on top with me.  Jimmy can sit in the back.”

“I will walk, as my family has always done on days like this.”

Shrugging, John looked up at the sky.  “Cold enough, but at least it’s sunny out.  I stopped by and spoke to Henry McClinton.  He says the ground was fairly easy to dig, so he’s ready for us anytime.  Is she, well, I mean, may we go in then?”

“Yes, yes you may.”

Harriet remained standing while John and Jimmy hauled down the casket and then went in to bring the body out, affirming with a slight nod their adherence to her other requests that the body leave feet first and out the back door.  As they passed by her she motioned them to stop, rearranging the dress on Olivia’s body and then securing the picture behind her folded hands.  After they had affixed the lid and placed the casket back in the carriage, Harriet walked down and stood behind it, head bowed and hands clasped over her heart.  As she nodded up at John she overhead, but ignored Jimmy’s mumbled comment.

“It’s gonna be one damn long ride over to that cemetery.”

…to be continued