Julianne Marguerite sat at the oval yellow kitchen table staring intently out the window and watching silently as the snowflakes were adding inches to the already winter white surroundings. She could see movement made by the figure of a small boy as he swung the axe down on the tree limb he was trying to split.
It was the winter of 1958 and at the age of just nine years old Julianne Marguerite’s brother Gabriel was busy doing a man’s job. Gabriel had been outside for a while now and she could see his small pile of wood growing. He continued chopping at the tree limbs until he had an armload of wood to bring into the cellar to lay by the coal furnace.
Even though Gabriel would have wished to be doing something else, something that was more fun to do, Julianne Marguerite could see the determination in her brother’s eyes to do what he could to help heat the house. Low on coal again, with the coal bin almost empty Gabriel knew what he had to do so we could be warm. He put on an extra pair of pants over his thinning blue jeans, slipped a woolen sweater over his stripped shirt, put on a woolen hat to cover his crew cut style hair and after putting on his hand-me-down winter jacket he draped a knitted scarf over his shoulders and tied it tightly around his neck. Lastly Gabriel then put on his mittens before braving to face the colder air outside our home.
As Julianne Marguerite watched her brother during these hard times they faced, it didn’t sit well with her to know that because of the dysfunction in their home, which was being created by their parent’s involvement in a four-way affair. Not only were the children facing various types of mental, physical and emotional abuses but they were also robbed of a healthy family life and childhood. Gabriel included.
Gabriel was a little boy with a man’s weighty responsibility on his shoulders. Getting wood into the home so his brothers and sisters would not freeze did not seem to me to be something someone so young should have had to worry about or have had it heaped upon him to remedy.
Another whack of the axe against the fallen tree limb interrupted Julianne Marguerite’s thoughts and she got up from her seat at the table and she went over to the stove to turn the flames on under a tea kettle to warm up some water so that she could make her brother a cup of hot cocoa. He would be coming in soon as the sun was starting to close up its rays and solar heat and it would be too cold for him to be outside any longer today. When Gabriel brought in the last armload of wood he had split Julianne Marguerite wanted the water hot enough to pour into his cup so that he could get started right away when he came in to warm up his insides that she imagined had to be nearly frozen.
Gabriel never did say much about this time in his life but there was a sense of pride radiating from the rays of hope in his eyes knowing he did what he could to provide physical warmth for his siblings as he placed another armload of wood by the almost broken down furnace.
As Julianne Marguerite watched her brother take off the extra layers of clothing and hung them on a hook by the door she wanted to thank him for what he was doing but she held back. The shame Julianne Marguerite harbored because of what she had already been through herself at her own young age prevented her from reaching out to her brother to let him know she was thankful for his efforts.
What Gabriel had done during those earlier cold winters were acts of love. He may not have realized it at the time but they were. These actions deserved to have been recognized and rewarded back with gestures of love that would have allowed him to know he had done something good. One sister, Julianne Marguerite wished she could have told him she loved him and that she appreciated his willingness to be a man at such a time when he should have been a little boy.