Pearl (Peg) Abigail Eggleston Berryman had her beloved daughter, Priscilla. No matter how unsettled the rest of her life had become, no matter how many times she had to pull up stakes and move, no matter how many times her husband changed his chosen career, she had Priscilla.
Through the desolate years in Oklahoma, the contented but too-brief time in Virginia, the happy days spent at her parents’ home in Oberlin on their months-long visits, and now, living with Robert’s parents in Lima until they could make other arrangements, Priscilla nourished Peg as much as Peg nourished the seven-year old.
When a friend of Peg’s asked if Priscilla could spend the night, Peg said, “I can do without Robert now and then, but I could never stand a minute without Priscilla.”
Her life had been so perfect until Oklahoma, and then so shockingly bad in that bone dry wasteland of dead grass and starving sheep. But that was just her living circumstances. She had her adored Robert, and then Priscilla. That was all she really needed, anyway.
Robert toiled day and night to make the ranch work, and there were no neighbors for miles. It was lonely there, but Peg had Priscilla, and she poured all her love and hope and dreams into the bright child.
Then the sheep ranch failed. The farm experiment in Virginia didn’t last. They returned to Ohio to regroup, rethink their next move, what they wanted to do with their lives.
Maybe it was time for Robert to use his innate gifts, his intelligence and mental dexterity. No more of these adventures. First the Philippines, then Oklahoma, then Virginia; it was time to move back to the society they knew. But how, and what? They had to think of something soon, because Peg was pregnant, nearly ready for her second baby to come, and they needed a home for the new baby and Priscilla.
Then Priscilla got sick, horribly sick. She vomited, cried out in pain, sweat with fever, and sometimes stared blankly at her parents and would not let them touch her, or slept and could not be awakened.
Her parents sent for the doctor, but there was nothing he could do. Priscilla had spinal meningitis, and it was too late, and she died, right there, at her grandparents Berryman home, on December 22, 1915.
The baby came two months later. But the virus was still present, and baby Roberta didn’t live more than a few weeks.
Like many workers around the country in 1916, gravediggers were on strike. It was the birth of America’s labor union movement, and Robert had to dig the graves for both his daughters himself.
Peg was inconsolable. Her heart was broken, she felt only numbness, then pain. She gave away Priscilla’s fine dresses, her little doll and her books.
Grandfather Eggleston neatly folded the letter Priscilla had recently sent him, the one with the poem about the little seed, and he placed it alongside his own poetry.
Peg packed away the christening gown, and the silver baby’s drinking cup engraved with Priscilla, and she swore never to have another child, ever.