Heart Strings

"The midriff and heart-strings do burn and beat very fearfully, and when this vapor or fume is stirred, flieth upward, the heart itself beats…"  Richard Burton, 16th Century

A year after John and I married, I begged him to take me deer hunting with him. He was planning to go hunting with his friend, Bill, and I had never been deer hunting. It sounded like fun.

I’m the youngest in our family. My three sisters, Anastasia, Alexandra and Eftihia (Effie), were married with children. My brother, Frank, was also married and had a family. Demetrius never married. He came home a broken boy from the Korean War and ended up living at the Veteran’s Hospital in Salt Lake City until he died at 42.

My parents were not happy with me. I had married a Mormon. Both of them came to the land of the Latter Day Saints in the early 1900s from Greece. My mother was supposed to marry a friend of the family from California, but when she met my father, her heart was his. She refused to marry anyone else. I know all about that pull.

Friday night, on our way out of town, John and I stopped at my parents’ house. They were getting ready for dinner. My sisters were at the table with their families. Mom smiled a big smile when she saw us.

“Γεια, παιδιά! [Eeya, pethia] (Hello, children!) We are ready for have dinner. Won’t you join us?”

I can never say, “no” to my mama. We agreed to visit for a few minutes, but John insisted that we had to get to the Spanish Fork before sunset.

Mama got that worried look on her face when I told her we were going deer hunting. Then, suddenly, she disappeared. When she returned five minutes later, she was carrying a bright red sweater in her arms, like it was a baby. Determined to protect me, to make sure I would not be mistaken for a deer, she made me promise to wear it all weekend.

I put on the sweater and gave her a big hug. My mother’s heartstrings were sewn into that red sweater.

On our way out of town, I broke the news to John.

“I have something to tell you.”

“What’s that?”

“I found out why I’ve been feeling sick every morning. I’m pregnant!”

“Wow! That is great news!”

John married his first wife at 18, just before he enlisted in the army. His son, John Jr., was born while he was in the army. When he returned to Utah in 1945, little Johnny was already two years old.

I met John at the Saltair Pavillion after the war was over. He was separated from his wife, Doreen. I knew he was still married, but, as soon as I looked into his deep blue eyes, I knew we were meant to be. His eyes were as bright as the sapphire in my mother’s wedding ring.

I still think of Mama whenever I think about that night. She barely spoke a word of English, but her instinct was strong. She knew so much more than words could begin to describe. Mama was petite and very serious. She didn’t smile a lot, but you knew her love was pure and deep.  

It was getting dark in the woods and we heard a shuffling of leaves.

“John,” I said, as I pointed at the young deer and cringed a little when I thought about what that meant. The deer was going to die an untimely death in the woods. I was trying to tell him that the deer was too young. It was just a baby. But my voice cracked and the words got lost before I could speak.

John turned toward me and, suddenly, a bullet flew into my red sweater, right into my heart. My mother’s armor wasn’t enough to protect me--or my unborn child.

Did he forget where he was? Had he planned it all along or was it an accident like he told the police?

“The bullet was fired accidentally from a gun held by her husband, Jonathan Edwards Johnson, 24, who was just a few feet away. Investigating officers said Mrs. Johnson, her husband, and a friend, Bill Hardwick, 23, also of Salt Lake City, had come through some brush onto the road when a deer was sighted to the east. 

Mr. Johnson began throwing a shell into the breech of his rifle preparatory to taking aim at the deer, when his wife reportedly spoke to him. According to officers, he half turned to answer her and his gun fired. The bullet hit Mrs. Johnson just below the heart. She died instantly.”  

Also, according to the police report,

Mr. Johnson also had another wife at the time...”

What? He was still married to his first wife when we were married? How could that be? Was he planning to tell me? I now know that Mormon men did not believe in having affairs. If they fell in love with another woman, they married them as “spiritual” wives.

Until the day he died, Uncle Earl said it was not an accident. “He had been in the service. He knew, what the hell, how to handle a rifle. I still feel he knocked her off. No way to ever prove it. But that’s how I feel about it.”

John returned to Dora and they gave birth to another son. But his depression drove him deeper into his own pain and he left his wife and baby a second time. This time, he and his son, John Jr. moved to California to start a new life.

As I watch over both of our families, it’s like I’m watching a movie. Each generation knows my pain. There was no autopsy, but Mama knew I was carrying a baby. She just knew things. Two years after the deer hunting “mishap,” she died of a “broken heart.”

Now she is happy to be with me. We watch over all the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. They visit me at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, where the deer roam freely, each of them carrying some version of the deer hunting mishap with the bouquets they leave behind. Only my husband knows the true story.