Claudia Freeman married young and resigned herself to a life of child rearing and servitude. She was a buxom woman by her late thirties, not at all corpulent, and her hands by then already betrayed expertise in occupations domestic and horticultural. She could remove a sheet pan from a hot oven with a threadbare mitt but without much ado when the pan’s hot metal met the leathery skin on her hand; this was no concern to her. Cottony skirts, washed to a fare thee well, and pressed and starched on Sundays, concealed Claudia’s legs in billowy folds. Could you but steal a glance at them, their impressive musculature would not escape you. She possessed an admirable collection of embroidered handkerchiefs; seamed white gloves, one pair with lacy trim; and a pair of hats she was proud to rotate from one special occasion to the next. A dog-eared bible had been given to her by her mother, and her mother’s mother before her; it bore the names of family members going back four generations, lovingly scrawled inside its front cover in pencil. Claudia kept it on her nightstand on top of a tatted doily, along with a Mason jar for flowers and a small folding fan. She was a devout enough Christian, but had her doubts about a verse of scripture here and there, where she questioned the intentions of an ostensibly loving God: These were notions she dared not utter to a single soul. The blossom of youth had faded from her, but in its place lived and breathed a woman beloved by many, feared by some, and considered by most to be a force of nature: This persona, uncontrived, became her.
But at 17, Claudia was a lean and sinewed young woman with pale green eyes, a taupe-y velveteen complexion, and hands so soft and as yet unsure of the world. She made Cecil Freeman weak in the knees and loved him for it, but later would grow to love him more for his fierce determination and resolve, in matters of his working life to be sure, but also for the intense and powerful love he showed the two children they bore together. Claudia found life to be difficult mainly, and cruel occasionally, but unbearable in the face of ignorance. Claudia and Cecil Freeman refused to raise ignorant children.