In this chapter Tom remembers the story of his and Savannah’s birth. They were born during the worst hurricane in almost fifty years. Sara Jenkins, a former slave and a midwife, delivered them. While they were being born, their father’s father (Amos) paced the floor; he knew the storm was bad. Luke slept in a cradle. Their mother and grandfather had received news that the children’s father had been shot down in the war (World War II) and was presumed dead.
Because the river was rising so quickly, their grandfather decided that everyone was safer in the loft in the barn. He and Sara moved the babies first--Sara hurt herself on the way. When Lila, the children’s mother, reached the loft, she was hemorrhaging badly. The grandfather held rags between her legs to stop the bleeding. Sara held the babies against her bare breasts to keep them warm. In the morning, Lila had stopped bleeding and Sara was dead.
Meanwhile, in Germany, their father, Henry, made his way into a German church. At first the priest, Günter Kraus, told him he must leave because it was too dangerous. Henry threatened him with a pistol and the priest agreed to help him. Henry and Günter got along very well, especially after the Nazis found another American soldier in the area who they presumed was the survivor from the plane crash--Günter was more at ease. Henry hid in the bell tower as he healed from his wounds. When he was well enough, Günter gave him some provisions and a hoe and told him how to get to Switzerland. The hoe was to fool anyone Henry met into thinking he was a farmer. Günter told Henry that he once had the chance to help a Jewish family, the Fischers, who came to him for a hiding place. Günter was scared and turned them away. The whole family died in work camps. Günter was haunted by that decision, and that is why he agreed to help Henry. Before he left, Henry asked Günter to give him communion. Günter was hesitant, but Henry vowed to raise his family as Catholics. Günter gave him the Eucharist and blessed him. Henry made it safely to Switzerland.
After the war, Henry returned to Günter’s church. He was greeted by a young priest who told him the Nazis had searched the church and found the bloody uniform of an American solder (Henry’s uniform), which Günter had saved as a memento. The Nazis hung Günter from the bell tower and left him there for weeks.
Tom relays this story to Dr. Lowenstein. He tells her that, just before he married Sallie, he went to Europe to see all the sights of his father’s tale. As he was meeting with the mayor in Switzerland, with whom Henry had stayed, the mayor retold the story. Henry had never told the children one part of the story: in a barn one day he strangled a pregnant woman; it was the first time he ever killed someone up close.
The main purpose of this chapter is to offer insight into the character of Henry Wingo and to create a mythological beginning for Savannah and Tom.
Throughout this novel Henry is, essentially, a bad guy. He is thoughtless and cruel. He is simpleminded and shallow. This glimpse into his history develops his character. He is no longer the stock character villain. In the story of Henry’s actions as a soldier, he is a warrior capable of survival and compassion. Unlike the violence he commits against his family, he is ashamed of killing the woman in the barn--that is why he never tells his children. Furthermore, Henry’s traumatic experience in Germany may explain a little bit about why he is a violent man.
This section also sets up a dramatic and allegorical birth story. Tom refers to himself and Savannah as “children of the storm, the twins of Bathsheba”(109). Later, he says that their “one unforgivable crime [was] being born in the first place”(109). The biblical Bathsheba was impregnated by David in an adulterous encounter. The pregnancy brought about the death of her husband, Uriah, when David had him killed in battle. The child did not survive, but David took Bathsheba as one of his wives. It is important to note that the story of the children’s birth is intertwined with the story of their father’s near death. While Henry survives his ordeal, he returns home a different man. Catholic theology dictates that when a person is baptized he is spiritually reborn--it is as though the person’s former self dies. Henry was baptized by the priest. It is as a new person that Henry kills the woman in the barn. This murder is obviously a turning point for Henry. He returns from the war a brutal and cruel man. The next time we hear about Henry is when he is beating his children on the mountain before he leaves for the Korean War. The children feel like they committed a crime by being born--they suffer for the sins of their parents. Unlike the biblical Bathsheba’s child, the children of the storm of Bathsheba live. However, they are robbed spiritually of a childhood.