A work of fiction...
We just looked at each other. The boy and I. He had on shaggy pants and a shirt open at the throat. Two locks of black hair hung out from under his worn straw hat. There was a fishing pole over his shoulder. Then he smiled! That slow easy-going smile that I shall always remember.
“What’s your name?” I asked. “Dave,” he said, “and I’m seven years old. What’s yours?” “Penny. I’m just five,” I replied. Then he smiled again and said, “Oh, that’s all right. My sister’s just three.” We looked at each other with understanding.
“Say, I wouldn’t let my sister go fishing with me, but I bet you wouldn’t scare the fish away would you.” I shook my head in negative reply. “Well, if your mother would let you, would you like to go with me? You would be the first girl to ever go fishing with me,” he answered with a proud look. “I don’t have a mother and besides. . . .” I broke off there.
“Penny, it’s time to go home.” That was Nannie just appearing out of nowhere. Dave just stood and stared, his eyes bulging out, when Nannie picked me up off the rock where I was sitting with my feet dangling in the water, and sat me in the cushioned wheelchair.
Nannie hadn’t seen Dave and I didn’t say anything. I just smiled at him when Nannie pushed me away. He just swallowed hard and kept on staring.
That was the first time I met Dave Kendrall. Nannie chattered endlessly on the way to the lighthouse where I lived with her and my father.
Nannie was a big woman who carried me up and down the stairs. She looked after me and my father, who was the keeper of the lighthouse, but spent most of his time drinking. In an indirect way, that was the cause of my being crippled. You see, my mother was the daughter of the richest family in the little village of Bellport on the outskirts of which stood the lighthouse. My father was a dashing and handsome young man who drank too much. My mother fell in love with him and married him knowingly. But when the waves started roaring and crashing against the rocks below, my father would have to stay with my mother and comfort her because she was afraid.
It was during one of those terrible storms that my father went to town and got drunk and stayed all night. Because the storm was raging, my mother, who was pregnant with me, knew the light needed to be tended and struggled up the stairs. As she slowly climbed, all sorts of thoughts ran through her head: Should I just throw myself off the tower to save me and my child from this life? Should I run away and never return? Being one to try to make the best of things, she resigned herself to stay in this unhappy marriage and get back to tending the light.
Just then the door swung open. She struggled to get the door closed, eventually ending up out on the deck, when another gust of wind knocked her off-balance and she went over the railing.
Her scream pierced the air, and a traveler heard. They found her later that night. My mother had died. I was born. I felt I was born to be a cripple the rest of my life. My father didn’t drink after that for years. He had started again this year for a reason unknown to me.
When my mother died and I was born, her family sent Nannie to us to take care of me. My father didn’t see me or speak to me unless he had to. Nannie, who knew my mother when she lived at her home, said I looked just like her. My long blond hair that was usually braided and the features of my face were hers. I used to catch my father sitting and staring at me with a guilty look, and I knew I was reminding him of my mother.
The next time I saw Dave I was sitting in the yard looking out at the water. I loved the water and the sound of the storms as much as my mother had hated them. Dave came toward me and smiled. He asked Nannie if he might push me. As he pushed me, we talked of his school and his family. Then came what he had come to see me about. He sat down on the rock opposite me and with a very serious look on his freckled face, he said, “Penny, you know what?” I shook my head in curiosity. “I’m going to be a doctor when I get big and I’m going to make you walk again Penny. Would you like that?” “Oh, yes!” I beamed with my eyes shining. Here was my hero just like in the fairy books Nannie read to me. Then with his proud boyish look he pushed me back to the lighthouse and the last thing he said was “I will see you on Saturday.”
He came that next Saturday and the Saturday after that. He came every Saturday almost. We sat on the beach by the rocks and he told me how he was going to take care of me some day and make me walk again. We found a bird with its wing broken. Dave took it in his gentle hands and made a splint for it. The bird soon healed and was flying again. We learned the names and colors of many birds and learned their songs in order to recognize them when we could not see them.
Dave told me about school. He taught me all he knew. He brought me books and would read to me while we sat on the rocks dangling our feet in the water. Those Saturdays became the happiest days of my week. We gathered rocks of all sizes and shapes and put them in our secret hiding place among the rocks.
During the winter months, if it wasn’t too cold, Dave came as usual and we played in the lighthouse. Nannie invented games to play and she made fudge and popcorn for us. Dave and I would sit at the window looking at the waters rolling on the rocks below, fascinated by its splendor. My father would sometimes watch us with a curious look on his face.
The years rolled by and Dave and I grew up. He never failed to come on Saturday and I never failed to expect him. He told me of the sports at school in which he participated, and about his friends, both boys and girls. When he entered high school, we learned the fundamentals of science together. We experimented on any animals we could find that needed medical care. Dave was very handsome with his smiling face and black wavy hair. He would tell me of the parties he went to and the girls he dated. Sometimes he would fall pretty hard for a girl but I was never jealous. I knew there was only one girl for Dave – and that was me. I knew Dave knew it too.
When Dave graduated from high school, he went to college some distance from home. His letters were full of the school and what he was doing. We didn’t seem to have any secrets from each other, and that was the way it should be for both of us.
My father died that winter. He drank himself to death. On his deathbed as I sat by him, he looked at me with pleading eyes and in a very low husky voice, he said “Gwen, will you ever forgive me? Gwen, do you love me as much as always?” I answered yes, although I knew he thought I was my mother. Those were the last words he said before he slipped away. The lighthouse wasn’t to be in use anymore as it had become too old and beyond repair, so Nannie and I remained living there.
Then the War came and Dave wrote me of his intentions of going. I shall never forget how he looked when he walked in the door that day. His Captain’s uniform fit him perfectly and he was so handsome. He knew he had finished his training and that he was needed as a doctor over there.
We were married that night. We knew we were meant for each other, since he was seven and I was five. We had the happiest week of our lives together and stayed at the lighthouse for our honeymoon. No other place would have been appropriate. We relived our childhood days together and loved with a love very few ever experience. We had become as one. Maybe that’s the reason Dave never came home. Maybe the angels were jealous of our love and that’s the reason they took him away. I didn’t know the reason. All I knew was that I had lived for Dave to come home, and when they brought the telegram saying he was gone forever, never to return, there wasn’t any reason to live anymore. I didn’t have the nerve to take my own life because I knew Dave wouldn’t want that. But what was there to live for now that Dave was dead? At this crucial time in my life I received some very startling news. My mother’s parents were killed in a car accident. My mother was their only child, so their house and all their possessions were left to me.
Nannie didn’t seem surprised and assumed the responsibility for all the financial and business arrangements since I was still nursing a mental wound. She finally persuaded me to live in the Massey house. I didn’t want to leave the lighthouse but knew that if I was ever to find peace again, I needed to get away from so many of those memories associated with the lighthouse.
Nannie packed as I sat in a daze while we left the lighthouse that had been my home since the tragedy of my birth. The Massey home was on a hill overlooking the village of Bellport. It was a very large house and had a huge a lawn and a beautiful garden.
That night as I lay in bed in the room that had been my grandparents’ room I couldn’t sleep so I turned on the light. I glanced around the room, but what caught my eye was a huge family Bible on the table next to the bed. My thoughts of God were bitter. I felt He had been so cruel to me all my life. How could he be a just God? How could he expect me to thank him for my life when it was so full of sorrows?
Then, with a smile of resolution, I picked up the Bible, closed my eyes and opened them not caring where. Then my eyes caught the words. First I looked with interest, then with concern. I couldn’t put it down. I read and read and read. When I stopped, the sun was coming up and I felt in my heart a new light and love. The days changed, and me with them.
Today as I sit here writing this, I glance at the Bible on the table and smile as I hear the many voices in the house. Something new has been added to the house. There is a sign outside that reads “The Kendrall Home for Crippled Children.”
I will walk again too. Through these little crippled children, I will walk. You see, Dave really did come home again.
I can hear Nannie’s footsteps on the stairs and I know she is coming to put me to bed. But, now I can sleep because I am tired. You see, it’s been a very busy day!
About the author: Betty Jewel Ball was born in 1933 in Sherman, Texas. Growing up in a small, land-locked town, she dreamed of living in a lighthouse. As a 17-year-old freshman at Oklahoma Baptist University, she wrote “My Crippled Soul” in one sitting. Now 86, Betty lives in Lake San Marcos, California.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2019 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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