She Cannot Forget You

Reverend Mrs. Clute carried a secret. Or rather, it was a secret growing inside her. To be clear, it was not her second child who was indeed growing inside her and becoming obvious to others. No, this baby boy was not her secret, and yes, she was certain it was a boy–she had had a girl and a boy already, and the differences in her pregnancies were distinct. Yes, this was a boy. But no, he was not her secret. Within a month or so, she would be talking openly about him, and most of the nurses in the hospital had already discerned her pregnancy.

Her secret kept growing through small instances of grace that she received in these terrible times. The Sunday before Easter, she had sat with Miss Kate Cumming of Alabama under a sprawling live oak while her husband, Reverend Robert Clute, had preached a sermon on the Trinity. What she heard, what she believed, was that the Holy Trinity’s most important characteristic was perfect unity. Three forms, one God, totally united in purpose and wanting to bring all people to themselves in oneness.

When Reverend Clute had finished, Miss Cumming had said, “It was a great and needed sermon, Mrs. Clute. I hope you will convey that to your husband.”

“I surely will,” Mrs. Clute had said.

But Miss Cumming had appeared troubled as they talked. Mrs. Clute had then said, “You seem troubled, Miss Cumming. Is it your work at the hospital?”

“In a manner of speaking, I suppose it is,” she had replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Mrs. Clute, I fail to see why we must be in this conflict and why we must have so many of our young men in the very flower of their youths struck down as they are at present. If we would but remember the unity of the Trinity, if we were to learn what your husband has spoken of today and take it to heart, why, our antagonists would surely set down their weapons and we would live in peace.”

“Indeed, Miss Cumming,” she had said.

“Now take, for example, a young man I met this week,” Miss Cumming had said. “He is a federal from Indiana, and I have a very hard time with the federals in our care. I have even told one how I would prefer that they were all out of this world and not bothering us.”

“I remember,” Mrs. Clute had said. “You mentioned that fellow.”

“But this young man, why, he’s nothing more than a baby. He’s eighteen years of age, and when I said to him, ‘Where are you from?’ so as to make conversation while I tended to him, the poor young man’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Indiana,’ he said. And I said, ‘You are a long way from your mother,’ and he positively wept and talked with great love about his mother and I was so moved by this that I could think no evil of him.”

“Of course not,” Mrs. Clute had said.

“And I thought how terribly wicked it was that the warmongers of the North had split this boy up from his mother and sent him here to afflict us and that he might have killed some of ours and we might have killed him. Surely, the God of Heaven will pour out his wrath upon those who would do that.”

Mrs. Clute had nodded and pondered these words. The day had been warm, and she had been fanning herself as wounded soldiers well enough to participate milled around and her husband moved among them talking to them and shaking hands. “I think if we understood the love of mothers for their children and applied that to all our relationships, these conflicts would end. We would surely cease to kill and subjugate the children of mothers we know and understand.”

“I could not agree more, Mrs. Clute,” Miss Cumming had said.

Mrs. Clute had noted, then, how her husband had wandered to a handful of black servants who had been in attendance. They had sat together and away from the white soldiers, doctors, and nurses. Several of them had children in attendance, and they had brought these children to see Reverend Clute. Mrs. Clute knew what this was–they were presenting their children for baptism, and the reverend was asking if their masters had assented. Most masters would assent–it was good for the children of Ham to come to the knowledge of their Savior, and most planters seemed to understand their stewardship in bringing along the unschooled servant class.

Mrs. Clute had rejoined her husband and attended with him the baptismal services that he had then held. Then, they had headed back to the hotel where they were staying.

That whole week, she thought on that conversation with Miss Cumming and pondered the mother-child bond, turning over and over in her mind the boy from Indiana who just wanted to be home with his mother. Her third baby now felt like bubbles within her–not quite the movement she would feel later in pregnancy when he was bigger and pushing hands and feet into her ribs, but still his movement nonetheless. Elizabeth had said that her baby had leapt within her when in the presence of the pregnant Mary.

Was pregnancy not a form of trinity? Were there not three involved–mother, child, and the Holy Spirit or the breath of life?

This was what she pondered through the Holy Week. She read and reread the appearance of the angel to Mary, the interaction of Jesus and Mary at the wedding feast, Jesus speaking to Mary and Joseph after he taught in the temple, Jesus commending Mary to the care of John from the cross. She also studied Mary Magdalene and Jesus as well as Mary and Martha with Jesus. And who could forget that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene even before He had ascended to his Father?

On Easter Sunday, she attended her husband’s service at the small building in town. She observed one of their soldiers in his uniform, his left leg amputated just above the knee. He sat alone on a bench throughout the service. When her husband administered the eucharist, he did not partake. After the service, while her husband mingled with the rest of the congregants and soldiers, Mrs. Clute turned to Miss Cumming and asked, “Do you know the soldier yonder? The one alone on the bench with his left leg amputated?”

Miss Cumming said, “I have seen him in my rounds, but he is not one of my patients. He is fortunate, though. He survived his surgery and his recovery so far. I expect that they will send him home soon.”

Mrs. Clute nodded and wandered over. “May I sit?” she said to him.

He shrugged and pulled his crutch out of the way. “Suit yourself, ma’am,” he said.

He had dark brown eyes and brown hair speckled with gray. His beard was short, brown, and speckled with gray as well. His nose was narrow, and his eyes tightened sharply when focused.

“Where are you from, soldier?” she asked.

“Corporal Martin,” he said. “Tennessee. Don’t expect I’ll be a corporal much longer.”

“You expect to be sent home shortly?”

He nodded. “Doctors are about done with me. Gonna send me home.”

“Your family will be happy to find you alive, no doubt.”

Corporal Martin blinked and shook his head. “Ain’t never had a steady girl. Pa died in a farm accident when I was young. Ma don’t think much of me. Always said I was a ne’er-do-well. We didn’t speak after I decided to join up. Said she knew I’d leave her high and dry.”

“Have you no brothers or sisters?”

“Two brothers,” he said. “One done got hisself killed up yon on the Peninsula in Virginia. Ain’t heard from the other. Think he’s in Kentucky or on the coast somewheres.”

“I see,” said Mrs. Clute. “So she is alone at home.”

“Yes, ma’am. I don’t expect she’ll welcome me neither now that she done run everything herself for the last year. Ain’t got no need of me and I ain’t no help neither, what with my leg and all. Just a mouth to feed.”

Mrs. Clute touched his arm. “Surely your mother would have compassion on you. Especially in light of the sacrifice you have made for your country.”

“Beggin your pardon, ma’am, but that just ain’t how Ma is. She don’t care none at all about no country. Truth be told, I don’t much neither. I just don’t want no Yankee down here tellin me how to live.”

Mrs. Clute nodded and lowered her eyes to look at the floor for several long moments. She thought of all she had been reading, all she had been pondering, and she thought of the knowledge that was growing within her. “I think your mother loves you more than you suspect.”

Corporal Martin tapped the floor with his crutch. “Ma’am, you don’t know nothin about Ma.”

Mrs. Clute took a deep breath. She nodded toward his leg. “You have scars that will commemorate the sacrifice you have made for all of us.”

“I reckon you could call them that,” he said with a sigh.

“Your Ma also has scars from you that she will carry her whole life. She cannot forget you.”

Corporal Martin chuckled. “I know what yer tryin to say, ma’am. But I ain’t got no love for the feller that took my leg off, and Ma ain’t got no love for the boys that done give her her scars.”

Mrs. Clute blushed. This was not what she was trying to get across. She was so clumsy with words! If only she could speak like her husband but know what she knew! She doubted he would ever know, but she was more like Moses than Aaron–she didn’t have the words to convey her knowledge.

“I am sorry, Corporal. I meant no ill. You gave your leg for all of us, and we love you for it. Your mother gave something of herself for you, and I hope the two of you could love each other for it. But even if she does not, Jesus also marked you on His body and I trust that He will go with you and make the way for you manageable.”

Corporal Martin looked around. “It’s Easter, ma’am. I come here cuz there ain’t much to do in that ole hospital, and all anyone is doing today is churchin. But I don’t follow none of it. I ain’t got no call to hate it, but I don’t believe the ole book or much else that folks like y’all preach. No offense, ma’am. It’s just how it is.”

Mrs. Clute sat back, feeling awkward and inadequate. What good was her belief, her knowledge, if she couldn’t convey it, couldn’t help people in their suffering? Oh, she was so inadequate! But it was not the weakness of her sex. She knew better–the scriptures helped her to know better, even if the men around her could not understand. No, it was just her own weakness.

“I take no offense, Corporal. I have not been of service to you today, and I hope you will forgive me that. When you are forced to consider that leg, I hope you will remember my gratitude for your sacrifice, and I hope you will forgive and forget my clumsiness. You will always be in my prayers.”

Corporal Martin nodded. “You’re a good woman, ma’am. I s’pose I’ll find out about Ma one way or another. Not really sure where else I’d go. But I appreciate your kind words. I’ll surely keep them in mind.”

***

Mrs. Clute tried never to complain about their home, especially in these troubled times when so many were giving their lives and their all for the cause. But when the hospital had been moved south to Okolona and the Clutes had returned to their home, they had had Miss Cumming join them for dinner and a discussion of the scriptures. And Miss Cumming had remarked near the end of the evening, “You do such good work, and this community has been greatly blessed by the Lord. It is not fitting or proper that they have not better supported you.” Mrs. Clute knew it was the modesty of their home, their single-level wood house nearly overwhelmed already by the two children they had. But the servant was worthy of his hire and was not to ask what he should eat or drink or even where he should lay his head, for the Lord would provide, as He did for the lilies of the field. And He had thus far provided this humble place that had sheltered them and allowed their family to grow. And they had been spared the worst of the war’s ravages, but had been in position to succor the countless wounded soldiers flowing back from the front.

The summer was grueling and miserable, especially in her pregnancy. But this was the experience of all Eve’s daughters–the Lord had expanded their size in conception and caused sorrow to come upon them. This was the heritage of the woman, and who was she to complain of it? She was required to bear the children, required to bear the sorrow of pregnancy, required to pass into the valley of the shadow of death as she gave life to the Lord’s creations. Death and life were bound up in her womanhood.

And did this not make her like Jesus? In fact, did it not make Jesus more like all of Eve’s daughters than any man could suppose? He had, in fact, born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Men could not see, could not understand. It was always about fire from heaven with them. But Jesus had made Eve and her daughters like Him. This is what she reflected on through that grueling, hot summer as the baby inside her swelled and made house labor and heat nearly unbearable. Sometimes, she would cool off in a creek. She would touch the stretch marks she had from her previous births, look at where they had expanded to now with her third. She liked to think of Jesus in the River Jordan with his cousin, John the Baptist, liked to consider that a man must be born again of water and of the Spirit. Do you see? she wanted to shout. It is Jesus who births us into the Kingdom of Heaven! We daughters of Eve birth all life into this world, and He births all life into the Kingdom of Heaven! What we do is a type of what He does!

She liked to reflect on how the Lord could not forget His children. What was His comparison? Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, the rare woman could forget, but Jesus, He who would birth humanity back into heaven, could not forget, had graven thee upon the palms of my hands.

Even as the small life grew within her, even as she considered how she joined with the Lord in giving life, the slaughters around the western theater continued. She could hardly keep track of the rumors and news that descended on the town every few days, but stragglers, the wounded, and the displaced continued to pass through the town, some headed toward the fighting, most away. Her husband kept ministering to them, while she shared as much of the little food they could offer. She also spent time at the hospital with Miss Cumming and assisted her in helping the dying make their peace with God.

As the fall came on and the edge came off the heat, rumors swirled about action coming in northern Mississippi. The baby was large now, pressing against her bladder, ribs, and lungs. Her lower back hurt constantly, and her feet were swollen. Frequently, she wore no shoes, as she tended her children and ministered to the wanderers coming through.

By October, she knew she was days away. The baby woke her up frequently at night, and during those silent hours, she prayed that the Lord would bless her as she joined with Him in creating life. Then, as practice contractions began to happen, as she took to bed to ward them off, word went throughout town that battle had resumed in Corinth–just sixty miles north and where she had spent so much time nursing and ministering to the wounded. Over two days, rumors swirled everywhere with reports that they were giving it better than they got while others said that the federals were dug in and not yielding. On October 5, they heard without doubt that Rosecrans had defeated Van Dorn who had allegedly been drunk and had fled so quickly that he left thousands of wounded without care. By then, though, Mrs. Clute could not indulge in the rumors or even speculate–she was in hard labor.

No doctors could attend her, as all were involved with the army, so a planter sent over a local black woman, Huldah, who was reputed to be the best midwife in the area. As Mrs. Cumming worked through her labor, she tried to think of the Lord’s labors that had started as early as the Garden of Gethsemane. As the involuntary contractions gripped her, as the sweat beaded on her head and body, as her vision blurred and turned white, she tried to separate herself from her body, tried to think of the necessity of the pain and sorrow of giving birth. Of course, she knew she could die or that the baby could die–she had known different women who had indeed passed on during childbirth. But were not all things paired with an opposite? Life and death? Pleasure and pain? It did not escape her, either, that even as the Lord was receiving thousands of souls to himself in the fighting further north, He was sending a soul to her.

Because of her thoughts, she made no complaints and barely made noise. When at last she pushed out William Green Mercer Clute, Huldah tapped him gently to induce crying, started to wrap him, and remarked, “Ain’t never seen no woman bear her travail so well as you, ma’am. The Lord Jesus Himself couldn’ta done no better.”

Mrs. Clute smiled softly at Huldah and said, “The Lord has spared both me and my baby today, and He has given our family this shining hope of life in the very hour that so many of His children are slipping the bonds of this mortal life and traveling home to His bosom.”

“A mighty beautiful thought,” Huldah told her. She finished wrapping the baby and wiped his face with a damp, warm cloth. “I gives you Master William,” she said as she passed him to his mother.

***

Mrs. Clute tried to remember that Jesus was raised during the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, that He too lived under the privations of a foreign government and military tyranny. She tried to remember that He, too, had siblings and that His mother had to give heed to all of them, had to figure out how to feed and clothe them. At one point, she had even lost track of Him for three full days while He lingered to teach in the temple.

She tried to remember this because food was hard to come by, purchasing clothes was out of the question, and just keeping up the house was all she could manage through 1863 as death and destruction swirled around them. In 1863, a cavalry patrol destroyed all the legal records of the city.

Then, in January 1864, the war finally came home. There wasn’t even a militia that could offer resistance, as Sherman’s men swept into town. It was late evening and cold when the fracas started outside, and the cries went through the streets that the Yankees were here. Her husband stepped out into the night, as the children slept. He returned a few minutes later and said heavily, “There are fires blazing outside town already.”

“What are they burning?” she said.

“Grain,” he said. “They destroy grain everywhere they go, and they take all the animals.” Within half an hour, they heard screaming, crying, and glass breaking. Mrs. Clute joined her husband as they stepped outside briefly. The whole sky seemed ablaze. Reverend Mr. Clute pivoted left and right to see what directions the fires came from. “The depot,” he said at one point. “They must be burning the depot.”

“Why?” said Mrs. Clute.

“There are one hundred thousand bushels of corn there,” he said flatly. “Many people will starve.”

He looked another direction and watched a fire arc high into the night. “I do believe they are burning Rose Gates College.”

“What could they want with the college?” Mrs. Clute said.

“It is a hospital for the wounded,” said the reverend.

“Are they murdering the wounded?” she said.

“They are utter barbarians, if so,” her husband said.

Against the backdrop of the flames, she saw figures moving up the street toward them–a couple of horses with riders and dozens of men surrounding them. Her heart rate quickened.

“They’re coming,” she said and clutched her husband’s arm. Men fanned out from the street and began pounding on doors. “Do they mean to desecrate and desolate our home?”

Reverend Clute shook his head. “We are in the hands of the Lord.”

Moments later, a detachment of six men with muskets approached.

“Evenin,” said the bearded man in front of the group. “Sir, ma’am, do you have cause to be out?”

Reverend Clute stood still. “This is our home. We are not partisans. I am a minister. We were looking to see if we were needed anywhere.”

The man sergeant’s stripes. He shrugged. “We’re going to show ourselves in.”

“To our home?” Mrs. Clute said.

“Yes, ma’am,” the sergeant said as he and his men began to move toward them.

“We are not partisans, though,” Mrs. Clute said.

“No one ever is,” said the man as he walked between them and stepped into the small home.

The children were soon awake, and they rushed to Mrs. Clute as the men rummaged through the kitchen grabbing food and handfuls of utensils. “They don’t provide well for you in this town, do they, Reverend?” said one of the men.

“We have what we need,” said Reverend Clute as he stood with his hands on his hips.

The sergeant stepped into the children’s room with another man, then emerged a few minutes later with arms full of children’s clothes.

“I would tell you that we’re sorry to awaken your children,” he said, “but it’s best for the country if they remember this night.”

“You are taking their clothes?” Mrs. Clute cried.

“We are requisitioning material for the use of the United States army.”

“The United States army needs children’s clothes?” Mrs. Clute said, her hands trembling and tears forming. In particular, she noticed a small pair of boy’s trousers hanging from the top of the pile the sergeant held. They were William’s and she had sewn them herself. What could they need with a one-year-old’s trousers?

“Fraid so,” said the sergeant.

Minutes later, he and his men disappeared, leaving them with no food and only the clothes they wore. Mrs. Clute stood shaking in her small front room, the tears coursing down her cheeks. She whispered over and over, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”

***

Carlos was the ray of light that shined into their lives as the war reached its cataclysmic end. He was born in early 1865, and days later, the Union army swung through the town again and burned all of it to the ground with the exception of the churches and a small handful of dwellings.

The Clutes lost their home, as well, and they gathered with others of the homeless in the church building. They wore clothes that had been donated by other church members. They had no money, little food, almost no clothing. Throughout this time, Mrs. Clute reminded herself that Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. If she were suffering, so too had Jesus before her. And this deepened the knowledge that had been growing within her. It was more than faith now, more than the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

By now, she knew who would win the war. She also knew nothing would be solved until true knowledge swept over the people, until they understood what the Lord had been praying for in the intercessory prayer and until they understood His true nature. This was, after all, life eternal, correct? To know the only true God and to know Jesus Christ!

News of Lee’s surrender swept through in April. Soon after, it was Johnston. Soon after that, the countryside was full of soldiers and vagabonds, white and black, wandering through in search of whatever was next. Like everyone else, the Clutes were rebuilding. Despite the hardships, the children were growing.

On a particular afternoon, Mrs. Clute put Carlos in a donated stroller, gathered some letters, and headed to the post office. She was nearing the door when she saw a black woman coming out, a small boy walking beside her, holding her hand. She paid no attention at first . . . until she caught sight of the trousers. Her mind flashed back to that blazing night when Union soldiers had seemed to walk straight out of the flames and into their home–a home that would ultimately surrender to flames. What need had the soldiers for children’s clothes?

Mrs. Clute stopped suddenly and stared. The black woman met her eyes once, then lowered her eyes and stepped past. Mrs. Clute turned. “Excuse me,” she said.

The black woman froze but didn’t turn around.

“Excuse me,” Mrs. Clute said.

The black woman turned slightly, still not meeting her gaze.

Now, Mrs. Clute stood speechless. What should she say to this mother of a young boy? She had nothing she could demand, little she could offer.

“Ma’am?” the black woman said, her eyes still low.

The words came to Mrs. Clute as though someone had whispered to her: if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

“I, uh, well,” she stammered. She glanced down at Carlos in his stroller. She had placed a small hat on him to shield him from the early summer sun. She took the hat from Carlos and handed it to the woman. “I saw your boy and thought he might like this hat.”

The woman held the hat and stared at it. “Your son’s hat?”

“It goes nicely with his trousers,” said Mrs. Clute.

“Yes, ma’am,” said the black woman. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“Have a good day,” said Mrs. Clute.

“Yes, ma’am,” said the woman, and she turned, placed the hat on her son’s head, and said, “It do look fine, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”

The next morning, the three other children woke her at first light. Reverend Clute was already sitting at a small desk studying the scriptures by candlelight. The two boys brushed past him to her.

“Are you awake, Ma?” said Robert.

“I am now,” she yawned.

Rosalie stood near the door. “Ma, you need to come see Carlos.”

“What for, Rosa?”

“He ain’t movin, Ma. Won’t wake up.”

Mrs. Clute thought little of it, moved slowly out of bed to ease her aches. She passed quietly across the room, touching the reverend’s shoulder as she passed. He responded by catching her hand and giving it a small squeeze.

Carlos was on his side in a fetal position. His lips were blue, his skin cold, his body still. Mrs. Clute screamed. Mr. Clute ran in. He checked quickly and went to hold his wife, but she grabbed Carlos and pulled him into her arms. She cradled him and cried and Mr. Clute wrapped his arms around her and the three other children stood nearby and Rosalie wept and hugged Robert and William yelled, “Mama!” over and over and over.

***

Mrs. Clute did not want a funeral. She insisted that only she and her husband bury Carlos. They bore him to the Citizens Cemetery and, with permission, dug their own small plot for him. As the sun set, they finished the plot, and Mrs. Clute personally lowered the box containing Carlos’s small, wrapped body into the grave.

She felt the terrible piercing sensation of grief strike her chest, and she cried silently.

“Do you wish me to say a few words?” said Reverend Clute.

Mrs. Clute shook her head, then was still.

Then, with great clarity, she heard a familiar voice say, “A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”

It was time. She looked firmly at her husband. “I do not need you to say anything. I need you to listen. Hearken is what the scriptures say.”

He tilted his head slightly. “Ok.”

“Jesus is not a man,” she said.

“He is God,” said Reverend Clute.

“I told you that I do not need you to say anything.” Her tears glistened on her cheeks, but her eyes were focused and intense. “I said it wrong. Jesus is part man. And He is part God. He is spirit. He is flesh. He is God. He is human. He is man. He is woman.”

The secret was out, now hanging heavily in the air between them just over the body of their son.

“I’m sorry?” said Reverend Clute.

“He is not a trinity,” Mrs. Clute said. “He is more than a trinity. He is not the right word for Jesus. Neither is she. Neither is they.”

Reverend Clute held her gaze and shifted from left foot to right foot. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“I am sure you do not understand,” she said. “I am sure you do not know our Lord, as good as your heart may be. I am sure there is not a man alive who knows our Lord like I do.”

“I do not think anyone can comprehend God. His ways are not our ways,” said the reverend.

“It is life eternal to know God,” said Mrs. Clute. “And you do not. This does not make you a bad man. It makes you like any other man.”

He was quiet, and Mrs. Clute saw the evening light illuminating the Mississippi dust in the air.

Finally, he said, “Diana, we have been through so much. You have been through so much. No one can comprehend, no one can know. I pray–”

She shook her head. “No, Robert. No. I know. You do not.”

She stared at him, and now, she saw not his patronizing bewilderment, but a dawning realization, his eyes welling with tears, his hands trembling, his lips quivering.

“What shall I do?” he whispered.

She was like Peter on the day of Pentecost, the thousands who had heard the Gospel preached in their own tongues standing with the same open question.

“You must humble yourself. You must pray. You must seek a new heart. You must pray that the scales fall from your eyes. You must see and know Jesus the woman.”

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