The Eames children could not bear to be without their mother. Simply losing sight of her would set one, and then all of the children to wailing. Even after she returned to the room it took a good ten minutes to assuage them.
It was a worrisome thing. You’d expect it from babies. They are so helpless. Their every need has to be taken care of by an adult, and often that was their mother. It stood to reason they’d think she was God. Plenty of adults acted the same way, come to think of it. When everything started to go sideways they forgot themselves and made it worse with all their worrying.
Perhaps it was because the children were so close in age that it kept happening, the self-reinforcing feedback loop. The boys were only a year apart. For Molly Eames it felt like she was pregnant two years running. She had no intention to make it three so she simply told Mr. Eames that there would be no sex for year (at least) until she felt like going through that ordeal again.
She’d not expected marriage to be like this. Her mother, either out of modesty or meanness, never told her where babies came from, or more accurately how they got there in the first place. She was horrified to learn the secret and was incredulous at first. How was that even possible? Much of her life was a mystery to her. Her parents were conservative on many fronts and had homeschooled her to keep her from being “infected by the disease of the world” as they so often informed her. It was for her own good, they said. It was like she was a time capsule, a frozen moment in a fictional time when everything was safe. Their greatest hope was that she’d be a beacon of light in the dark times they knew were soon to come.
Her lack of education chafed at her once she realized it. If she could get pregnant from contact with a part of her husband’s body, then what else could happen? What else had been hidden from her? After her first check up at the obstetrician she went straight to the library and got every book they had on biology. Three weeks later she returned them all and decided to start at the beginning of the nonfiction section and work her way through the entire collection.
She told no one in her family what she was doing, least of whom her husband. She even made sure to confirm that her library record was private when she got her card. She figured if her family had hidden important knowledge from her then they must think she wasn’t worthy of it, or that it wasn’t worth their time to tell her. So she decided it wasn’t worth her time to tell them otherwise.
Molly Eames couldn’t hold off from sex indefinitely, however. Her husband was becoming insufferable, acting as if he was a prisoner of war in his own home. If he’d had to endure what she had – months of nausea, clothes not fitting, and even swelling in fingers and feet (not to mention the painful and embarrassing ordeal of actually giving birth) he might have thought differently about sex. Ten minutes of fun wasn’t worth nine months of feeling possessed by an alien being.
Giving birth was the most difficult thing Molly had ever been through. It wasn’t joyful at all. She simply didn’t understand the chittering from her neighbors and friends who gushed about how wonderful it all was. Maybe they were lying. Maybe they were insane. Maybe the whole experience had turned them permanently crazy with no hope of recovery. The worst part wasn’t even the pain, which was so bad it created a whole new category of suffering. It became her new ten on the pain chart, a place formerly occupied by having her arm set without anesthesia at 12 after she fell out of a tree.
She never climbed a tree again after that. Just like with sex, the risk wasn’t worth the fun. It’s not like her husband was any good at it anyway. He called it “making love”, never “having sex” but it wasn’t lovely at all. It was sweaty and awkward and strange. Perhaps other people were used to being naked in front of others, but Molly wasn’t. There was nothing exciting about it. She was always trying to cover up with the sheets. She wasn’t trying to hide how she looked so much as not be cold. Her husband wasn’t much to look at either, and he only took a bath once a week, and then only if she insisted.
The “being naked” part of being an adult was a great shock. Her parts most certainly weren’t private when she had to go for her checkups when she was pregnant but at least that was just the doctor who saw. When she gave birth, it seemed like the whole hospital was staring at her nether regions. She briefly considered selling tickets to offset the bill.
Even though her two children were very clingy, she had agreed to produce three when they had that discussion before marriage. It was important to work out such things. Children or not, standard of living expected, minimum expectations of signs of affection – all of these needed to be negotiated before you said “I do”. Too many folks didn’t see marriage as the legal contract that it was, hoping love would right all wrongs and mend all wounds. Without clear agreements it caused more trouble than it cured.
But she’d promised three, so three it must be. There was nothing to it except to do it, so she determined her most fertile time from some of the research she had done and had sex once more to provide her end of the contract. Better get it out of the way, like ripping a Band-Aid off. To prolong the suffering was pointless.
Walter Eames wanted a picture of the children, but not of his wife. He was sick of who she had become – no longer meek or mild. She seemed more confident, more aware. She certainly wasn’t the person he had married – someone he could push around all day long with nary a peep. Not like he thought he was pushy, no, never. Being assertive and decisive had gotten him to where he was at work, but it was getting him nowhere at home. Debate and compromise weren’t part of his repertoire.
But there was no way to photograph them without her. The moment she would walk away from them, they’d set up a wail worse than a tornado siren. It was ridiculous. She couldn’t even go to the bathroom without them pitching a fit. It was embarrassing to go out in public with his family, so he didn’t. Far from being a source of pride as he had expected before he got married, he now frequently left them at home and went out by himself. Even though he’d worked all day and she stayed home with the children (that one attempt at day care changed any plans they might have had of her working outside of the home), he was happy to spend even more time away. This was not turning out to be the life he’d planned as an adult.
So when it came time to get a portrait made, he had to get creative. His parents had asked to see the kids for years. He refused to make the six hour drive with her, and his parents were too frail to make the drive themselves. A portrait would have to do. He looked around the studio and his eyes landed on a backdrop. “That’ll do!” he exclaimed, and snatching it up, pushed his wife into the chair, dropped the fabric over her, arranged the kids around her, and ordered the photographer to snap away. Other than the sound of the shutter release, the room was silent. Nobody other than him could believe this was happening.
In the Abbey at St. Meinrad’s, Indiana.
A stained glass window depicting the Tree and Adam and Eve becoming the wood that was the cross that Jesus was crucified on.
I was fascinated by the bells – they rang every 15 minutes. At the hour they went on for a long time and I made a point of going to find them. I’d hoped to see monks pulling the cords. Alas, that is all done by a machine.
Here are pictures of the hanging cross. It is suspended over the altar.
Here is the black Madonna. They’ve dressed her like a queen and put a necklace on her. The monks process as part of the service and stand and chant facing her. From their website, this is the “Shrine of Our Lady of Einsiedeln. The Black Madonna statue was a gift from Saint Meinrad’s mother abbey, Maria Einsiedeln in Switzerland, in 1954.”
The wall sconces.
The anointing oil container, which is near the reliquary. Three different oils? Perhaps for baptism, for healing, and for consecrating a person being ordained.
Here are further pictures of the outside of the Abbey.