At Julianna’s first shrill cry, Ellen wept tears of joy.
“Is she really Ok, Cal?” she asked. Her husband was a missionary doctor. He had insisted, though, they make the week’s journey from their jungle station to the larger mission hospital in Bangkok. He was assisting the birth.
“She’s a perfect little princess,” he said brushing a damp tendril from his wife’s forehead. “Fortunately she looks exactly like you.”
Missions work in the jungle of Siam in the 1920s was remote, dirty, difficult work. Yet, it was work Cal loved.
He began arranging for the trio to make the trip back to their post within weeks of Julianna’s birth. Careful planning for all the necessities of more than two weeks journey was necessary.
They would have to go over land, a much longer journey. The real danger didn’t lie in the length of the trip, but the exposure of a baby to insects and animals.
Ellen was not worried. She would protect Julianna with her very life, as she was sure her husband would, as well.
Local men, known as baggage handlers, would transport trunks and boxes of clothes and supplies on their backs and pack animals.
There were ponies for Cal and Ellen. One of the nurses who served the infant held the baby as Cal helped Ellen on to the pony. Ellen reached down for Julianna, but Cal took her instead.
“What are you doing?” Ellen asked surprised. “I can hold her on the trip.”
“Ellen, the baggage handlers have made a special carrier for our little princess.”
Ellen looked as he pointed to a bamboo cage covered with screening material. Above it was perched a large umbrella. The cage was attached to two long polls. A man would be stationed at each of the four corners to transport their precious cargo.
“I will not have my child put in a cage,” she cried.
“This is the best way for her to travel. She will be protected from insects, small animals and larger predatory animals. The baggage handlers will be there to protect her and ward off any intruders. The umbrella will keep out sun and rain. She will be treated as royalty surrounded by satin pillows. This is best.”
Ellen eyed the four Siamese men who would be carrying her daughter. What if they decided to bound off through the jungle with her?
As if reading her mind, Cal dangled a key in front of her. “I have the key to the lock on the cage. No one gets in to her unless I say so. No one.”
Ellen sighed and nodded. It did make sense. Julianna would be safe and comfortable and they would be nearby to attend to her needs.
The trip passed uneventfully. When they arrived at the village, Julianna was the center of attention. Cal paid the carriers to transport their belongings to their home leaving everything in the care of their house man, Dan.
When they at last brought their newborn to her home, Ellen was surprised to see the bamboo cage had been left with the other belongings. The polls had been removed, but the cage complete with satin pillows remained.
“Perhaps they thought we might need it to transport her elsewhere,” Cal said. “After all, I did pay for them to make it.”
The cage became one of Julianna’s favorite places to play. Ellen quickly realized it was a safe place to leave the child as insects were less likely to get to her and if a lizard or snake crawled into the house, it was impossible to squeeze in through the screen.
Once when a tiger was sighted near the house, Ellen screamed in terror when she saw the beast close to the cage. Julianna cried great tears howling for her Daddy to come and rescue her. He did, of course, shewing the beast away with much commotion. He then scooped Julianna up and held her close promising to always protect her.
“I’m so glad she was in the cage,” Ellen said. “Just think what might have happened if she wasn’t so protected.”
Cal was quiet. Every word spoken and unspoken registered with Julianna.
As she grew older, Julianna preferred her cage, dragging her dolls, pillows and blankets inside for an impromptu sleepover.
When she could no longer fit, she asked her father if he would take the bamboo cage apart and fashion it into a door for her room, complete with the lock to which she insisted he still keep the key.
He agreed feeling it gave her some memories of the comfort afforded in her childhood. When he finished he asked her why she wanted the lock on the door. “I want to always know I am protected. I will feel that way if you have the key.”
“Ok Princess,” he said. “You will always be safe.” Feeling she needed the security, he put the lock on the outside of the door.
When she grew to be an adult, Julianna preferred her room, which had become an enlarged cage. She had everything she needed. Any food she desired was brought to her by Dan. She had books to read. She had clothes and comfortable pillows to lounge on.
She never left her room. She never opened the door. A house maid came and went, emptying her bedside pot, gathering dirty clothes, bathing her as needed. Her mother came and sat with her every day. They laughed and chatted, but nothing was ever said between them about Julianna venturing outside the confines of her comfortable cage.
Each day her father came after a long day of work. His question was always the same, “Will you come out with me tomorrow, Princess?”
“No, Father. I belong here. This is my home.”
“This is no place for a Princess. You need to see the world.”
“But this is my world.”
“There is so much more world out there.”
“It is too scary.”
And her father would close the door to the cage and Julianna would feel safe and comfortable again. It’s all she knew and all she wanted.
One day, though, something happened.
Dan didn’t come to give her meals. The house maid didn’t come to do the cleaning. Her mother did not come to visit and at the end of the day her father did not show.
She waited another day and no one came.
On the third day, Julianna was totally out of water and desperately needed something to eat.
“I can stay in this comfortable cage and die,” she said. “Or I can try to break out. I know it is quite impossible, though, because Father has the key to the door because I asked him to always keep it. What if Mother, Father, Dan and the house maid are all lost or in peril and need me?”
For the first time ever, she went to the door of her room and pushed. To her surprise, it opened easily.
First, she ran through the house calling for anyone. Then, finding the water bucket she drank until she could hold no more. She found a stale piece of bread and ate it hungrily. Running out of the house, she stopped to take in the uncanny silence of the jungle around her.
She remembered her parents talking of the small clinic where her father worked being just down the road. She ran as fast as she could in a direction she thought it might be.
“What if I am too late? What if I stayed in my cage while my parents lay dying? Could I ever forgive myself?”
She arrived upon an old shabby building. Small brown people, many who looked as if they hadn’t had a meal in years, stood lined up outside the clinic. Children of all sizes and shapes cried mournful wails as if they might be their last.
She saw Dan ladling a spoonful of rice into each person’s hand. As he did he smiled at each person and they looked as if they had struck gold. They ate the rice a grain at a time. And her heart filled with a deep love for Dan.
Her mother came from around the side of the building carrying a bucket of dirty water and dipper. Julianna wanted to shout, run and hug her. Instead she watched as her mother went person-to-person giving them a drink of the putrid water and patting each one’s hand. And her heart filled with a deep love for her mother.
Before her mother could see her, she ducked inside the small building. It was filled with rows and rows of emaciated villagers. They lay, not on beds or pillows or comforters, but on simple straw mats on the dirty floor.
She gasped as she saw her father going from patient to patient. Some he gave a bit of medicine. Others he simply lay his hand on their head while looking them in the eyes and speaking reverently. And her heart filled with a deep love for her father.
He glanced up and caught her eye. With an imperceptible nod of his head he motioned for her to do the same only with those nearest her. She began to learn the art of giving herself away to those who needed her. And her heart filled with a deep love for the village people
She stopped thinking about her comforts, wants and protection and began living to relieve the suffering of others. She learned to take care of her basic needs only so she could be able take care of others. And her heart filled with a deep love for herself.
After the crisis of jungle fever passed, Julianna, her mother, father and Dan went back to their home each evening after working in the clinic.
She removed the bamboo door herself giving it to Dan to use for whatever purpose he saw fit as long as it benefited someone else.
“Princess,” Cal asked, “What took you so long to come out of your room?”
She hesitated before speaking slowly. “I was scared. Everything was so perfect here. I didn’t want to face the wild things in the world.
“I thought I was locked in, but when you, mother, Dan and the servants didn’t come back, I realized something must be wrong. I had to try to help. Good thing someone forgot to lock the door.”
“Mem,” said Dan, “the door was never locked, not once all those years, not even when the tiger tried to get you. You put yourself in the cage. Your father kept the key to an unlocked door.
“True love set you free.”
Her father hugged her to himself. “Princess,” he said. “I believe this is your coming out party.”
“Father,” she said. “Would you do me a favor?”
“Sure, Princess, what is it?”
“Please do not call me Princess. I am but a servant to you, mother, Dan and all the good village people. I no longer want to live in comfort and be waited on.
“Please call me Julianna only. I am not worthy to be called Princess.”
Ellen had been waiting to speak. “Daughter, you will always be your father’s princess as you were from the day you were born, but we will abide by your wishes. You are Julianna and I am proud to call you my daughter.”
“As am I,” her father said.
Dan simply smiled. He was older than Julianna and had seen her grow up to be a woman of worth and dignity.
He spoke quietly to her father who agreed.
Then Dan spoke to Julianna. She smiled slyly and shook her head yes. They were married the next spring in front of the clinic.
For many years Julianna, Dan and their children served alongside Cal and Ellen in the village. Though the story could go on through many generations, it is a sufficient ending it to say, Julianna learned to think appropriately about herself through the power of love.
It was she who held the key all along.
Teresa Shields Parker is a wife, mother, business owner, life group leader, speaker and author of Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds and Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Favor and Sweet Grace Study Guide: Practical Steps to Lose Weight and Overcome Sugar Addiction. Get a free chapter of her memoir on her blog at Teresa Shields Parker.com. Connect with her there or on her Facebook page.