Miriam Hope (I called her “Little Mim“) became my life for nearly a year after Mim died. I can’t say I was the ideal surrogate grandmother, and, as you know by now, I’m not the motherly type. I’d expected to help Rachel with the baby for a few weeks until Rachel was well enough to handle all three children on her own, but I found I was still spending part of every day at Rachel’s even after Joshua started kindergarten in the fall of 1948, and Dagmar went to nursery school two mornings a week.

Hans and Sidney kept the art gallery afloat, while I drifted through the days. What got me out of bed in the morning was the thought of holding Little Mim. Hans coaxed me into bed at night. Then, in early 1949, two events helped to anchor me back among the living.

ChristinasworldFirst, I got a letter from my friend Reginald in New York—do you remember that Mim and I visited him in 1934? Be that as it may, I had written to Reginald about Mim, and he wrote back to say how sad he was at my loss. He told me about a new painting that Andrew Wyeth had exhibited in New York, called “Christina’s World,” and he enclosed a color photograph of the painting.

Suddenly there was Mim on canvas (on panel, actually, but you know what I mean). She was the emaciated Mim I knew in her last months. I felt as if I was standing behind her, and we were looking toward that farmhouse and barn together. Our world. The world we had created despite whatever limitations life had thrown at us. A world she wanted me to join again.

And then in late February I read that a cow had managed to squeeze herself into a silo on a farm in Yukon, Oklahoma. There she was, all 1,200 pounds of her, stuck. The farmer asked for advice in his local newspaper, and suddenly poor Grady (some reporter dubbed her that) was big news. Over the next five days, that cow ate the goodies in the silo, making herself even bigger, and the task of freeing her even more difficult. I thought, here I am stuck in my grief, and making it harder on myself and everyone around me. As I recall, the farming editor from The Denver Post came up with the solution—axle grease. And so I said to Hans one evening, “Axle grease. If you push and Sidney pulls, I think I can make it out.”

wawona-tree-crop-tintHans kissed my fingertips. “We Dutch know how to rescue cows,” he told me. “They fall into canals all the time.” The next day he announced that we had made reservations for a week at the Wawona Hotel. We were going to Yosemite in April for my birthday, right after the unveiling of Mim’s gravestone. He showed me an old publicity photo of the giant sequoia named the Wawona Tree. “You are feeling old and worn out, liefje, and so I will put you next to a 2,000-year-old tree, and you will feel young and full of life.”

Hans stood by me when we gathered at Mim’s grave. Rachel held Ephraim’s hand, and the whole family was there, except for Caroline, who was watching Little Mim back at Rachel’s house and was getting a luncheon together for us all. Caroline was pregnant with her second child. I remember that Benjamin told me his mother was so fat because she was growing a baby inside, and then she was going to barf it up, and then he’d be a big brother and get a Hopalong Cassidy gun-and-holster set. What’s not to like about that story?

The character that came back from Yosemite was nearly her old self, much like the character who’s telling you this today. I went back to the art gallery and recrafted my life. Mim stayed with me—we’d been friends for fifty years, what do you expect? I limited my visits to her grave to only once a month, because she would want it that way. I told her about the huge Queen Charlotte Islands earthquake that shook the Pacific Northwest in August. I told her about Paul and Caroline’s new baby boy, Mitchell. And I promised Mim that I would give her prayer shawl to Rachel.

“Little Mim is doing beautifully,” I told her. “Do you really think that one day she’ll wear that prayer shawl the way you did? How can I possibly explain that to Rachel? I know, I know. I promised, and so I will. But don’t you think I ought to wait until Ephraim has…joined you?”

I wish she had said no.

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