Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Lincoln Cole's Family

Gilda Griffith Brown


Sitting up straighter in the big green faux-leather chair, Anna peered toward the bed where the emaciated figure of Lincoln Cole lay. After pulling at the cover, the blue eyes closed again as he once more sank into the blessed relief of a restless morphine-induced slumber. Watching him a moment longer, Anna soon eased her tired body back into the chair before closing her eyes in a sleepless rest.

She had been here in this room for three days and nights. Someone had to be here, and she was the only one left. Maybe this was her reason for being born--to take care of the great man, she thought in an almost resigned manner. She managed only a half smile at the irony. Anna Cole, AKA Mrs. Lincoln R. Cole, Jr., his greatest disappointment in life, was now the only family he owned. Of course, Lincoln Cole would never admit to such a weakness, that of being disappointed. He would never show any regard or thanks for her efforts to care for him, either.

Anna, a tall dark-haired woman of no special beauty, thought of the first day she met her father-in-law. Of course, she had seen him in the office before, even spoke briefly on the phone to him many times. It was all to do with business, though, because her boss, Jim Everett, was Lincoln Cole’s attorney.

Unfortunately for the wealthy Delta landowner, she met his son, Link, at a wedding reception one day. Liking each other, even drawn one to the other for no particular reason, they began to date. After a few months, the relationship turned serious.

Hearing rumors of a possible engagement, Lincoln Cole arrogantly walked into the law office one day and announced that he would be taking her to lunch. Any excuse that Anna might have made in order to decline his invitation was swept away by her boss’s smiling acquiescence.

It had not been an enjoyable experience. Everything seemed to have been going well until he found out that she was a widow and unable to have children of her own. It was not her state of widowhood that made her ineligible. In fact, to his way of thinking, her first husband’s death in the service of his country was a plus in her favor. Her plain appearance didn’t even come into play, he assured her in his usual plain spoken and high-acting way. No! Her inability to provide a bloodline heir and carry on the family name was the disqualifier. Adoption was not an option, he had informed her.

“My mouth’s dry.” The mumbled complaint came from the bed, and Anna was snatched back to the present. She hurried to her feet before reaching for the ice pitcher.

“Maybe this will help,” she said, as she raised the cup of ice chips to his dry and cracked lips.

As he looked at her in a hooded manner, she thought that she briefly saw something different in his eyes. Though she was unable to give it a name, it was an expression that she’d seen several times since he had been admitted to the hospital and placed in this room.

“Guess you never thought that you would have an old man like me to care for when you married Link.” His words were more of a statement than a question.

“If I had known the future, I would have insisted that Link not go on that business trip, but I didn’t and he died.” She said this as she always said it--starkly, cruelly, as if to pound into her own brain the reality of her loss. Sometimes, she still could not believe it though it would be eight years in July that Link had crashed his small plane while flying over the Piney Woods of Texas.

Lincoln Cole said nothing, just closed his eyes as they glazed over with the familiar pain.

Changing the subject, Anna picked up a “get well” card from family friends and began to read the standard cheery sounding verse.

Irritated, Lincoln shook his head, causing one side of the oxygen tubing to come loose from behind his ear, displacing the cannula from one nostril and decreasing his already compromised intake.

“Why are you here?” He asked this with characteristic abruptness, causing Anna to steel herself for a verbal confrontation.

“You’re my husband’s father. I’m doing it for him,” she said, as she put the tubing back in place.

“Well, Link’s dead, so he won’t know if you walk away.” As he spoke, some of the old fire lit up his blue eyes, but it just as quickly turned once more to that new and unnamed look before disappearing into some secret dwelling place. “Jane, Angela, and Harvey are all dead. No one will know if you walk away. No one living would blame you, Mrs. Cole.”

He had always called her that with derision, as if to remind her that she was an imposter, that she had stolen the place belonging to the forever unknown mother of his unborn grandchildren. Now, here in the isolated confines of this room, the name sounded like any other name or title--without the usual veiled meaning.

“All the blame that has come my way has come from you, Mr. Cole.” Unlike her father-in-law, Anna had always addressed him in a formal but respectful manner.

“You knew that it wasn’t going to be easy when you married Link against my wishes," he replied. "I’m an old man now, and my son and daughter are dead along with the only grandchild that I’ll ever have.”

Anna winced when she thought of little Angela who died before she had ever lived, just a baby. She died along with her mother and father in a head-on auto crash a year after Link’s death.

“If Link had left children, I would not now be dying without family,” he continued.

Anna sighed, defeated that even now everything still came back to this. It seemed as if her whole life, past and future, was rejected by this flaw, a flaw that he had invented and judged to be fatal and unforgivable.

“Do you think that I chose to be barren? That I would not be happier with his children at my side, now that he is gone?” The question came from deep inside her, causing a tearing pain with its asking.

Agitated, Lincoln began to cough, his breathing becoming more labored. Just before Anna pushed the button to summon his nurse, she, at last, recognized the new strange expression in his eyes. It was the look of fear.

He began to settle down again after the nurse suctioned him and administered more pain medication.

The disease, caused by years of smoking, was the reason for the pain, but the lack of oxygen was worst of all. The room, once more, became still and his breathing slowed somewhat. The morphine had done its job, but it seemed to take more these days to keep him comfortable.

Looking at the now sleeping face that looked so much like that of her husband, Anna reached her pale hand out and smoothed the white hair back from his forehead.

“I’m doing it because you are family, Lincoln Cole. There are no other reasons. It is so simple, you see,” she told the sleeping form, before once more taking her watchful place in the chair. Her place, she thought with resolution at long last. It was not the place of some ghost of a woman that had never even existed, but it was her place. It had always been her place.

***

Gilda Griffith Brown is a retired nurse living in Canton, Mississippi. Besides writing for Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal, she has written for USADEEPSOUTH. She has also authored, compiled, and published The Scofield Letters: Texas Pioneers, a history that is based on some old family letters.

© Gilda Griffith Brown

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012