ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CHERYL JOST
The car fell silent as we started down Kansas Highway 150. M y husband and children had accompanied me to the Kansas Sampler Festival in Ottawa, where I had done my duty as a member of the Hillsboro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Now, we were making our way home, our van laden with boxes of tourism brochures and “Spend the day in Hillsboro” displays.
Over the course of last Sunday the Jost family, along with fellow CVB member Sonya Fisher, had spent hours talking to a thousand people or more promoting Hillsboro and the rest of Marion County as a tourism destination.
But now, as we entered the Flint Hills at sunset, the car became still and soundless. My tongue was tired and my throat had grown gravely over the coarse of the day. But the silence came not from the overuse of my voice, it came from an overwhelming sense of sadness.
The morning before, our phone rang in the early hours before any of us had ventured out of bed. My husband answered, speaking in hushed tones and then he was up and out of the house.
I remember thinking he probably had something to attend to at the farm as I drifted back to sleep. I didn’t know that he had just received news of the Richard Thayer family being caught in a fire that not only destroyed their home and its contents, but took the life of Richard’s wife, Mary Esther, and five of their precious children.
Later he told me he let me sleep so as to shorten the time I had to deal with the shock and sadness. As it happened, it wasn’t until I had gotten into town to do some Saturday morning errands, that I heard about the tragedy that had occurred.
I had just gotten back to the house when Keith came home and walked into the kitchen to tell me about the Thayers.
“What will I ever say when I see Richard?”my husband agonized. “‘Sorry for your loss’ just doesn’t seem to be enough.”
We aren’t close friends of the Thayers, not even true neighbors. But Richard had been instrumental in helping us find another Amish family who worked for us on our farm. It had been Richard and his sons who brought the Keipfer family to our home for introductions and chocolate chip cookies. And it was Richard and his sons who filled in during milking when we were short staffed.
A relationship had started and now the occasional meeting would bring cheery hellos and snippets of conversation.
And now, such tragedy had befallen this lovely family.
It was almost too much to take.
As we rode through the Flint Hills on that Sunday evening, I stared out the window and offered a prayer to heaven on behalf of Richard and his remaining children, the faces of his little girls popping up in my mind as I spoke silently to God.
I remembered the last time I saw Richard and Mary Esther together. They were walking down a street in Hillsboro, hand in hand, without any of their children tagging along behind. I remember they were speaking to each other, looking into one another’s eyes and sharing something that seemed to have tickled their funny bones.
Now my heart ached for the loss. The loss of wife, the loss of child, the loss of home. Each one crushing in itself, now the grief magnified by the loss of so many.
And the silence in the car seemed right to me. A poem by W.H. Auden sprang to mind and, even though the last line has always troubled me, it captured what I was feeling at the time-the enormous pain, the stifling questions of why these tragedies happen. In the face of such sorrow, it seemed only right that everything should just stop. Everyone, even nature itself should stop and grieve.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mary Esther and her girls stand in Glory today. They are at peace with their Lord-there is no pain, there is no fear. And life here on earth will continue.
God will bless us with healing. But for now, there is crushing sadness.
I leave you with this poem instead of a recipe.
* * *
by W.H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let airplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead.’
Put crepe bows ’round the white necks of public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.