Their home was surrounded by trees like maple, ash, beech and walnut, which allowed him to create innumerable pieces and sell them. Again, he provided for his family with his hands, taking pride with his work but never acting too proud. That was another talent of his. He was humble. His humility encouraged people to flock to him whether in town, at church, at town hall meetings, and especially at home. Each child in the Sterling family loved their Pa. His death struck them all hard.
It had started with a rainstorm and ended when lightning hit a tree. Meredith had collected all the children and gotten them situated in the house then realized Pa was not there. Ma was busy nursing the baby so she asked her mother if she could go out and look for him herself. Although Ma was worried about Pa, she made Meredith wait until the thunderstorm ended . As soon as the drops stopped drilling on their corrugated metal roof, she looked at Ma and when Ma nodded, she shot out of the house like a rocket.
Meredith loved her father more than anything or anyone else in the world. She felt worry growing in the pit of her stomach though and knew something was wrong. When she didn’t see him near the part of the forest where he usually found his favorite pieces of walnut, she hurried farther in. There in the middle of a grove of white oak, she found him. Alive but injured. His body was trapped by a large white oak. “It was struck by lightning and fell quicker than I ever could have imagined,” she remembered him whispering. She spread herself down by him, asking urgently yet gently what she could do to help him. He sighed and mumbled to her his last words. Words that would stick with her forever, words that she could never tell her mother because she knew her mother would not want to know about his suffering. She would have wanted his death to be quick and painless, but Meredith learned very quickly that day that death had no timetable. Death just took what it wanted and when it wanted.
“It hurts, Meredith. Oh, goodness, it hurts something awful. Please, will you pray. If God wills it, I would like to leave this mortal shell behind as quickly as I can. I’m sorry to be such a coward, child. I love you and I love your mother and all my babies. I am sorry. I am so sorry. I love you.”
His last words told of love and that meant more than anything to her. She was still not sure if he heard her murmurings of love for him but she knew he already knew he was loved. By her and her sisters and brothers and of course her Ma. But somehow he sensed that she needed to know of his love for her, that it was the only thing that would help her find her way out of the misery surrounding this devastating accident. And he took those last few moments before Death took him to reassure her. Oh, how she loved her Pa.
Too soon, the sky darkening too quickly, she realized she would need to leave her father’s body there in the forest, alone, while she went to get help. This was the beginning then, the beginning of leaving him behind as she struggled to move forward with her life.
First she would find her neighbor and then, only after her Pa’s body was moved from the darkening elements, would she go and find her mother. And then, she would break her mother’s heart.