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Little Sunflower

I cut my teeth writing on Hubpages back in 2009. I've written 17 novels, numerous songs, and short stories since. I love to write love.

Taken by my 10 year old Granddaughter Ella.

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Letters

It was such a good feeling that morning to walk barefoot on the cool wet grass. 22-year-old Orlena Cora Pennings had just found out the day before that she was with child. Even the mailbox was covered with Eastern Kentucky dew as she watched drips fall from the lid when she opened it. Still no letter from her husband Preston who was overseas, fighting in World War One. He had been gone for a month. She did receive a postcard with a picture of a sunflower on the back three weeks prior from New York where he left to sail to Europe. He'd written, "Made me think of you my sweet light. Love Preston."

The spring of 1918 was such an unsettling time for Orlena and many other young wives. A quarter-million American Soldiers serving under General John Pershing had joined the British in fighting the Germans. Orlena would talk with other wives and mothers of soldiers at Erkley's General Store. Some would read letters and those who had pictures showed them. Many tears were dabbed away with handkerchiefs, hands held, prayers were said and hugs happened with greetings and goodbyes. They were times when every word in the newspaper was read. A telegram was the most feared piece of paper. It was how families were informed their loved ones had been wounded or had died in the war.

In the fall of 1918, the Spanish Flu caused death to walk the streets and roads across the country. Thousands had already died and many more deaths were to come. Orlena did all she could to protect herself and her unborn child. She had gotten only six letters from Preston the entire time and they were filled with terrible descriptions of war but always ended with romantic and sometimes poetic words for her. On two of the letters, she could smell the smoke of the battlefield. He had to write, fight, write and fight. She worried about the bloodstains on the corner of his last letter. He noted it was from barbed wire scratches.

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The baby.

Orlena would read aloud the sweet parts of his letters over and over. She would feel the baby move and kick every time she read about his love for her. It was a Friday when Orlena went to the General Store for some salt, flour, and baking soda. Two of the usual ladies were there sitting in cane bottom chairs. It was Omah and Jewel. Jewel was crying. Orlena stepped up on the store porch and asked what was wrong. It was hard to understand Omah through her face covering as she answered, "Jewel just found out her son Raymond died at Fort Riley in Kansas. He died of the flu."

Orlena stepped up to them, patted Jewel on the shoulder, and said, "Oh Jewel, I'm so sorry. Raymond was such a nice boy." Jewel sniffled and cried, "This damn flu is going to kill all of us." Omah helped Jewel stand and they stepped off the porch. Orlena watched the two women walk away crying together, holding each other and the sight made the cold seem even colder. She went into the store and got her groceries along with a stick of licorice she'd been craving. It was Preston's favorite flavor. The baby was due any day. Orlena had made arrangements with a midwife named Lucy Jane Combs to stay with her. Lucy was a sweet elderly lady who'd helped deliver many babies in the county. Lucy had given orders for Orlena to drink a pint of milk every day, sips of brandy for morning sickness, and never look at a full moon. Orlena had just received a letter from Preston that he'd been wounded in his right leg and was on his way home.

It was the morning of November 11th. when the cramps came and Lucy prepared the bedroom with hot water and boiled clean cloths. Snow was fluttering outside the window and Lucy was packing the potbelly stove coal. Orlena curled up on the bed and screamed out in pain as the first wave came. Lucy had Orlena lay on her back and try to be as comfortable as possible. Lucy held Orlena's left hand and began softly singing "Just a Baby's Prayer at Twilight. Orlena growled, "Mommy needs silence!" Orlena arched upward and screamed! Lucy snapped, "You have to calm down Orlena...you must calm yourself to ease the pain." Orlena glared at Lucy and snapped, "Pain...pain, and calm do not belong in the same sentence!"

Lucy checked Orlena and saw the child would be coming soon. She had her position herself to give birth. Tears of pain turned to tears of joy when Lucy laid the baby in Orlena's arms. Lucy grinned and said, "What a sweet and healthy-looking little girl. What will you name her?" Orlena smiled and said, "When Preston comes home, we'll give her a name. For now, she can be Baby Pennings." Two weeks later, Orlena was in bed with the flu. Lucy moved in with her again. Friends Jewel and Omah came to help with the baby and care for Orlena. Preston was just about to board a train in New York when he received a telegram that Orlena had died. He was devastated.

Leaving New York

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Coming Home

The December moon of 1918 saw a soldier crying through the window on a southwest-bound train. He had walked into hell as a young man and returned from hell as a widower and a father. He kept closing his eyes and remembering Orlena's beautiful smile. Lucy knew that Preston was on his way home. She had closed off the bedroom to keep Orlena's body cold. Many local women helped by donating milk and other needs for the baby.

On the freezing day when Preston walked in the door with his cane, Lucy cried as she handed him the baby. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he said, "She looks just like Orlena." Three days later Orlena was buried. Preston stood by her grave, holding their baby. He spoke, "My sweet Orlena. I survived that damn war. I saw many men fall. My spirit was broken in every battle. I prayed to just get home to you. You have left this world but you will never leave my heart."

He kissed the baby on her forehead, looked at Orlena's grave, then to the clear blue sky, and said, "You have left this child with me to care for. I will love her and you for eternity. Our daughter and I will visit and speak to you, always. I named her Baby Sunflower Pennings. We love you my sweet light.

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Another sunflower photo by Ella.

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© 2022 Tom Cornett

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