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Braking Points

Pausing in the midst of Life to ponder, pray and find footing to continue.

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October 2014

Porch Story Chapter 9

Chapter 9

“Well, I learned today from Miss Ann that their house started out as a couple of rooms and grew up and out as the family grew. Sometime in the 1940’s I think she said, Mom and Pop Stewart pulled the whole octopus together by connecting the porches, but they still called the section at the front, the front porch and the section off the kitchen, the kitchen porch and so on. Every section has its own name, personality and history. Mom and Pop Stewart, Miss Ann and Mr. Henry, Nancy, Pete and Dewayne all live together there. I expect when Nancy marries and she will, even though she says she won’t, that they will raise their family there also. I feel safe and loved with Granny, but I feel alive at the Stewart’s.” From Ellie Brown’s Diary, 1976

Jessie panted, having to stop and brace her hands on her knees to rest before crossing through the hedge to Les’s house the second time that day. She waited there a moment for her two sisters to catch up. Both of her parents had gone out to the unemployment office, leaving her with babysitting duties. Megan and Cindy arrived, winded and hot but ok. She would have to trust them with her secret plan.

Into Les’s yard she saw the others gathered under the large oak that provided some reprieve from the sun and heat. Their faces all appeared glum, which did not surprise Jessie, but she thought Macy and Richard looked mad. They watched her approach with her sisters, not one of the group speaking or even waving until she drew up close to them when Les spoke.

“It’s not going to work, Jessie. Whatever your idea for the trees just isn’t…well..” he looked pointedly at Macy, who groaned out loud.

“Richard and I threw ours away.” The bite in her voice seemed to say ‘don’t give me any trouble about this.’ But Jessie couldn’t hold her tongue.

“You threw them away! Why? Miss Ellie gave us those trees to plant…together. How could you?” Her pitch rose, her feet stomped, almost before she knew what she was doing her hands were on Macy’s shoulders and then both girls were on the ground, screaming. Almost as quickly as they hit the ground wrestling, Sally Burton’s arms dove between them, pulling them to their feet, scowling at both girls, but leveling her eyes with Jessie’s, she asked,

“What is going on? Jessie, you asked your Sunday School class to get together and then you pick a fight? Do you think that is what Ellie would have wanted? I know about the discarded trees and that’s a shame, but, Good Lord, girl, punching it out won’t recover the trees and it won’t bring back Ellie either.”

Sally’s voice trembled, tears filled her eyes threatening to spill over. And then, they did, joined by the tears of the gathered ten year olds, who sobbed unabashedly. She reached out and gathered them in around her and each other, held them tightly together, while praying silently for each one of them by name, including herself.

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After the tears and the hugging, Sally fixed lemonade while the children mended their own fences the way children often did in Sally’s experience. These children had been close friends since kindergarten except for the two younger Adams girls. They had survived rivalries and hurt feelings before. Sitting them all at her circular table in the enclosed porch, which was sun room in the winter and air conditioned retreat in the summer, she suggested they talk about Miss Ellie and decide what they might do in her memory since some of the trees were gone.

Sally did not fancy herself a child counselor, especially not a grief counselor, but she knew keeping feelings inside did nothing but create a pit of despair. Lately, she knew she had been doing way too much of cramming her fears, anger and grief under the surface, trying so hard to be positive for any on lookers as well as for Paul and Les. And well, God had been no help at all, just leading her to that passage in I Thessalonians 5 about being ‘thankful in all circumstances’. She just could not do that, not yet, maybe never.

******

Nancy sat on the porch off her bedroom, the shadiest porch with the ceiling fan running at full tilt, her laptop perched on her lap, her Bible next to her, writing nothing. She’d read some, thought some, even placed her fingertips on the keys, nothing. So hoping for divine intervention, she was playing Spider Solitaire, even that mindless activity rendered tangled combinations that she could not unravel, the losses in everything were mounting. The ice in her tea had melted and the liquid warmed. What she wanted was to call Ellie.

Perhaps she could begin with that. Her fingers typed, ‘If I could only call you, Ellie, we could figure out together what I want to say about a friendship lasted more than forty years.” Sighing deeply, glad she had finally started, inspiration evaporated and she again sat, not playing Spider, just sat and stared across the yard to the fields beyond. She reached down to her Bible, extracting Ellie’s letter from it. Again she studied it, hoping for answers, her eyes falling on the words ‘I really need both of you to go with me to visit my Dad and Delia.’ Clara would not arrive for a couple of hours and they had not discussed this portion of the letter. She knew the Colonel and Delia had been notified, but that was not very personal.

Her experience with them in the past had been, well, awkward, both of them so cool toward Ellie and Clara. How long had it been since she had seen them? Surely, they had been around since Gladys Brown’s funeral in 1995. Yes, she vaguely remembered two or maybe three visits since then and Ellie had gone to visit with Clara at least twice a year. Nancy did not have their address and phone number, but she knew they lived in San Antonio, Texas. Were they coming for Ellie’s Celebration of Life service? Were they going to stay at Ellie’s house? Rising with new purpose, she headed back inside.

After she fed Pete and Dewayne their lunch, she would head over to Ellie’s, find their phone number and try to contact them. She could also get the house in order for Clara and perhaps her grandparents. Besides that it would give her an opportunity to ferret out some of Ellie’s journals. Darn it, she still had a eulogy to write.

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Porch Story Chapter 8

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Chapter 8
Bound together by a scarlet thread
An unbroken ribbon flowing bright red
From the foot of the Cross, where Jesus bled.
Basing my life on the strength of that thread”–From Eleanor Brown’s Journal

Finished with loading her luggage into her car, Clara poured her coffee go cup full. She had consumed two glasses of wine during her long conversation with Nancy the previous evening. Predictably, because she had a low tolerance level for fermented beverages, she had slept poorly and risen grumpy. Emptying the remaining coffee in the pot down the drain, the grounds into the trash, she unplugged the pot. No telling how long she would be gone, although she hoped only a few days, she wanted to leave things in order. Lastly, she shoved her mother’s last letter into the side pocket of her carry-on/purse. Unsure whether she would want to read it again on her flight to Oklahoma City, she didn’t want it too hard to reach.

She felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. Checking the ID, she answered.

“Hey, Brian.”

“What time does your plane land in OKC?”

“Elevenish, your time. Why?”

“That’s do-able. How about I pick you up and you ride home with me?”

“I don’t know, Brian. I was going to rent a car. I may be stuck down there for a while and I need a vehicle. Mom only had the one car.” She felt the choke in her voice and wished she could hang up.

“We can work that out. Let me do this, Clar.”

All Clara could think was, I have got to get off this phone now. “Ok, Brian. I will text you when I land.”

“Good.”

“Bye.” She pressed END before he could reply. Pressing the phone to her chest, she let the tears come. So much kindness, I do not know if I can handle that.

********
The letter bothered her, not just the contents, the whole concept. It was as if Ellie had a premonition. Or, more disturbing, was it a suicide note left open ended, in case she changed her mind? Why had she not realized Ellie was ill? She hated thoughts like that, hated that she would even give them space in her mind, hated that Ellie had driven in front of a train, and God help her, hated the part of her that groaned under tasks assigned by others. Had she always been that way? A quick inventory assured her she had. Balking at bossiness, people demanding she perform, ‘buck up’, ‘be a lady’, ‘stand up straight’, she could get her back up as Ellie often informed her over the least little thing.

First, Nancy reminded herself, Ellie would never contemplate suicide, even with the grim prognosis she laid out in her letter, Ellie would not go merrily into that dark night. While Nancy had always been grounded in faith, her disposition bordered on morose at times. She had always considered the possible consequences in all their gory details, a glass half empty girl. While she had always maintained she was merely being realistic by seeing the worse case scenerio, Ellie would chide her with that ever present edge of mirth in her voice, “Come on, Nan. You know none of those things are going to happen. Jesus said, ‘don’t worry’. So I am thinking worry is flat out a sin.”

“Ellie, I am not worrying. I am simply looking at the possibilities..”

“Well, I am not going to sit here and let you be a spoil sport. Let’s…” and off they would go, she in the wake of Ellie’s bright ideas and optimism. Then when Gavin came along, another powerhouse of optimism, the two of them served as bookends in her life keeping her from sliding off the bookshelf of into self doubt or despair.

Only after Ellie returned with Clara to raise alone, did Nancy spot a mild dimming of the light within Ellie, but even that did not tamp down the sheer love of living that Ellie imparted to everyone she knew, especially Nancy. And now, both her bookends were gone, both to places she could go. At least she could visit Gavin, watch the rise and fall of his chest, look at his face and thank God she had that much of him at least. She could pretend he heard her and imagine his responses. Ellie, well, Ellie was gone.

A flash of sunlight fell across the table reminding Nancy that time was moving and she had better get moving. She still had that eulogy to write, plus getting lunch for Pete and Dewayne. Lifting her head she caught sight of a heart shaped plaque Ellie had given her. Two little houses next to each other with the inscription, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. I hope yours is next to mine.” She smiled, the first real smile since the news on Sunday as she remembered when she had unwrapped that gift.

“Nan, if I get to heaven before you, I am going to ask God to let me decorate your mansion, because I will know exactly what you want…and yes, there will be a porch.”

Thanks, Ellie, she thought, I will use that in your eulogy.

Porch Story Chapter 7

Chapter 7

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus. (An African-American Spiritual)
Continue reading “Porch Story Chapter 7”

Porch Story Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

“Mr. Bowers brought persimmons for us to try in class today. Told us they were so sweet. Well that was a lie! My mouth puckered up so bad that it was still dry and yucky on the bus home. Nancy said it was just plain mean. I think so, too. Teachers shouldn’t be mean. If I am ever a teacher, I will not bring yucky stuff and feed it to the kids. That’s a promise!” From Ellie Brown’s diary 1972

Nancy placed her order at Pizza Hut before she left her mom and Gavin, picked it up and drove home without a single recollection of getting from one point to the next. It occurred to her that perhaps that explained Ellie’s accident and vowed to pay more attention to her driving. Pete and Dewayne dove into the pizza practically before she put it on the table. As for her, finding herself with no appetite, she forced down one small slice before retreating to the side porch off her bedroom with a glass of iced tea. It was still hot, not unbearable with the ceiling fan stirring the air, but certainly not cool. Her eyes searched for the familiar constellations she had known since she was a child.

One beautiful thing about rural southwestern Oklahoma never changed, the vastness of the domed sky and the brilliance of the Milky Way. She spent many a summer evening on this porch star gazing, sometimes alone, sometimes with Ellie, then Gavin, and the children, her two and Clara. A sigh escaped her lips as she settled deeper into the rocker she had chosen as she remembered and almost automatically she reached out her hand to …and then realized there was no other hand to hold. A wave of loneliness washed over her causing her to startle; with determination she pushed back the self pity that threatened to overtake her.

As Pete pushed open the door off the kitchen, she jumped, her heart leaped in her chest and she gasped.

“Whoa! Nancy, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He stood tentatively just inside the door, shirtless and shoeless, obviously about to go to bed. He held an envelope in his hand.
“You got this letter and I thought it might be important.” He hesitated, “Clara called earlier while you were out but I plumb forgot when you came in with the pizza. She said you were getting a letter from her mom and to call her, no matter how late, if you got it today, after you had read it. I just thought to go through the mail and thought this might be what she was talking about.”

Nancy’s heart was still racing a bit as she struggled to understand what he was saying. Pete crossed the porch and handed her the envelope. Taking it she found speech impossible as she looked up at her brother then realizing her mouth was agape she closed it, swallowed and managed, “Thank you, Pete. ‘Nite.”

“Nite, Nancy.” He padded barefoot back across the porch and through the door that led to the kitchen.

Her reverie disturbed, she turned the envelope over and over, staring at Ellie’s distinct script but not really wanting to open it. There had been letters between the two of them in the far distant past…when Ellie had gone off with Grant, following him from job to job, they had corresponded, but that in the eighties. The past several years written messages had been emails or texts and how had Clara known she was getting a letter. She sighed, realizing she had been sighing a lot. No way to know what was inside unless she opened it. Nancy rose, leaving her tea glass ice long since melted and the tea tepid, carried the letter through the door to her bedroom.

Sitting at the small desk in the corner, she reached for the letter opener, slicing open the envelope. A single piece of folded paper which like the envelope she turned over and over before unfolding it with her trembling hands. She saw the date and time at the top of the page last Friday, August 1st, 8 am and below that a scripture verse:

My flesh and my heart may grow weak, but God always protects my heart and gives me stability. (‭Psalms‬ ‭73‬:‭26‬ NET)

Dear Nancy,

I am sending two almost identical letters to the two people I love most, you and Clara. I am holding the two of you to secrecy until my condition becomes obvious, which it will very soon. I am dying. Somehow texting that just seemed, well, Wrong and I wasn’t sure that I could hold together in person or on the phone. I will share the details with both of you when we talk next week after you’ve had some time to absorb this news and I get a grip on my emotions.

There are three things I need both of you to help me at least get started, First, I need you, Nancy, to go through my diaries and journals with me…I may end up setting fire to the lot, but I certainly don’t want anyone reading them who might be hurt . I have been brutal at times because it helped me work things out. Maybe we won’t even look at them. We’ll just build a bonfire and roast hotdogs and marshmallows over them. Clara, you may want to glance through them at least the ones right before your birth and forward. That will be ok. We can talk about it.

Second, I really need both of you to go with me to visit my Dad and Delia. As you know, Nancy, I never really tried to see their side or understand why they dumped me with Granny Brown, but I really want to repair what I can of our relationship. Dad will be 82 this September. I just don’t want to die without letting him know I forgive him, that whatever his reasons for abandoning me, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Third, I am giving Poplar saplings to my Sunday School class this week. I will need both of you to help me with planting, cultivating, and keeping them alive. You know me, I haven’t even decided where the little trees would have the best chance, good thing I have a daughter with a forestry degree and a best friend with a green thumb. I want the kids to know how Poplars grow, how their roots entwine, how they are strongest together…I wrote the basis plan down in my latest journal…guess I had wait to burn that one.

I am not afraid of dying. I know the One who waits for me. I do hate leaving with so much left that I want to do.

I love you both,

Mom (Ellie)
Nancy buried her face in the letter, tears rising in her eyes, a waft of Ellie’s fragrance filling her nasal passages. After a few moments she rose, retrieved her cell phone, and called Clara.

Porch Story Chapter 5

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“I have never seen a porch like Nancy Stewart has. It goes all the way around the house and there are doors from all the rooms out onto it. You can stand on any part of it and see miles and miles. There’s a big tree on the south side and that part of the porch is screened in. Nancy said they used to put cots out there in the summer to sleep, but they don’t anymore cause they have air conditioning. If I get invited to sleep over this summer, I am going to ask to sleep out there.” From Ellie Brown’s diary 1972

Nancy dragged her cell phone from her purse as she watched Jessie all the way to the door. Hitting the home icon, she waited for Pete to answer before pulling out from the curb.

“Hello”

“Pete, I am going to drop by and visit Momma before heading home. I’ll pick up a pizza for you and Dewayne.”

“Ok” He sounded distracted. She could hear the TV in the background.

“See you after a bit.”

“Yup! What’d you say about supper?”

“I am bringing pizza.”

“Right, ok, see you soon. Where’d you say you were going?”

“Momma’s, then Pizza Hut.”

“Tell her hey from Dewayne and me.”

“I will. See you later.”

“Oh, Nancy. Wait. Brian called, he’ll be coming…I think he said tomorrow for the service..He said something else. Oh, Mandy may be coming too. I can’t right remember all he said. Talks fast and all.”

Nancy sighed, “That’s ok, Pete. I’ll text him. See you in a bit.” Nancy disconnected, hit the message icon and texted her son. She wasn’t surprised that he would come for Ellie’s service. Ellie had been like a sister to Nancy and an aunt to her children from the moment of their births. Besides that she taught both of them math in the seventh grade. That Mandy would break away from her job and life surprised her more. But knowing Pete he could have gotten the whole conversation wrong. Better wait till she heard back from Brian before preparing beds and rooms.

Pulling into Life Bridge Senior Assisted Living her mind settled. The two people she loved most in this world lived here, one would readily recognize and challenge her, the other would stare at her blankly or worse be agitated by her. They were in two separate sections, her mother in rehab, recovering from a broken hip and her husband, Gavin, in the section appropriately named Memory Lane. The bright, clever, rock of a man she had loved for more than thirty years, since she was a sophomore in high school and he was a senior had in a misstep become the shell he now was. They’d married when she graduated. A mixed marriage, he’d graduated from Oklahoma State with a degree in Agricultural Management and she from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in education.

All those years ago and Nancy could still pull up memory after memory from the beginning to the…not the end…the accident, but still it sometimes it felt like it had been the end. Gavin’s fall from the grain unit four years ago and now Ellie’s accident, to believe either of these came from the hand of a merciful God tested Nancy’s faith.

When she realized the Gavin she had loved would, unless God miraculously healed him, never be like he had been two seconds before he fell, laughing and cutting up with Pete and Dewayne as they emptied the wheat from the truck into the bin, she’d had a crisis of faith, a dark night of the soul. Ellie and her mother, what would she have done without them?

She’d had no answers for herself, let alone for her children, without Ellie managed to let her rant and rave without judgement, to talk to Amanda and Brian, and her mother’s ability to step in, take over, and keep the good people away had given her the time to sort things out and to adjust to this new phase of her marriage. Her mother had offered wisdom without making it sound sanctimonious. She’d told her that people should really pay attention to the wedding vows, but seldom do. Whoever thinks “sickness” or “worse” or “poorer” but they should because they are bound to encounter all of that in any marriage.

Nancy realized she’d shut off the engine and must have been sitting in Life Bridge’s parking lot for a few minutes now, because the heat pressed down on her. She blinked back tears aware that she had mentally been standing on the back porch, watching Gavin fall, his head striking a concrete abutment at the bottom of the bin, again. She swung the door open and stepped out into a blast of wind that had begun to temper as the sun eased down in the western sky.

*******

Ann Stewart looked up from the newspaper she was reading to see her daughter advancing toward her. She looked over at the man in the bed and said, “Well, here comes that wife of yours, Gavin. By the look of her I would say this has been a long hard day. The two of us are going to miss Eleanor, but I suspect Nancy hasn’t even uncovered the tip of grief iceberg.”

Nancy leaned into her mother and kissed her cheek and then leaned over to Gavin to do the same.

“The ward clerk told me you were down here visiting.”

“As soon as the therapists turn me loose, I scoot on down here. I think I am doing pretty good adjusting to Clarabelle here,” She pointed to her walker.

“That’s good of you, Mom.” Nancy’s eyes studied her husband never ceasing to look for signs of improvement even though clearly his body declined in the progressive way the neurologists had predicted. Gavin was never coming back.

“Well, he is a good listener and no back talk now, not like he used to be.”

“Ellie came almost every day, too. I never understood that. Everyone else acted like he’d already died, but not Ellie. I really appreciated…” Nancy’s voice broke. Her mom remained silent unwilling to encourage Nancy to get control. Her daughter was way too controlled and had been since infancy.

Nancy looked away, sucked in her gut while trying to get her emotions tamped down. Taking a deep breath she turned back to her mother, pulled a chair closer to her and sat down.

“Mom, Clara asked me to say something at Ellie’s service. There’s so much, naturally some of it I could never say,” She attempted a laugh and Ann smiled. “What do you think I should focus on? What on earth do I say? That I detested the NEW girl from the first time I saw her in Mr. Bowers’ sixth grade class and two weeks later we were best friends for life. I hate it that she died first, she would have been so much better at this.”

“Pray about it, Nancy. You’ll know what to say.”

“Well, I am so mad at her for dying and leaving me to have to get up in front of the whole town…and you know they will all be there at least those who can squeeze in…What if I break down and cry?”

“Then I suspect everyone will know how much you loved her.”

“Well, I am still mad.”

Porch Story Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

I really don’t know what’s worse, living with my Dad and Delia or being dumped on my ancient grandmother at the end of the earth. At least Granny is happy to have me and doesn’t think I am an “inconsiderate, mouthy brat” as Delia put it. Delia’s got no room to talk when it comes to mouthy. Don’t think for a minute she’s fooled me. She wants Dad all to herself, not shared with an 11 year old girl, like he even knew I was around anyway. I hate new schools, but it’s not my first.” From Ellie Brown’s Diary, 1972

Nancy promised Jessie that she would think about the little trees and get in touch with the parents and kids who had received them. Offering Jessie supper was met with a shake of the head but she insisted on driving her home. A silence fell between them, not an uneasy one, but as Nancy pulled into the driveway of the Adams’ new home, Jessie murmured, “Thank you, Miss Nancy.” and opening the door hesitated before scooting out. Nancy watched her, but resisted speaking because it just seemed like the girl had something else to add.

“Miss Nancy, you going to the funeral?”

“Celebration of Life service,” Nancy corrected, wishing immediately she could take back the words as Jessie’s brow furrowed. She quickly added, “Yes, of course.” Aware again  she had to prepare what she was going to say as if words could even begin to touch a forty-two year friendship. Why on earth had she agreed when Clara phoned her from Colorado? So many life memories to filter through, to choose which ones would speak to the woman she had known since the new girl, Eleanor Brown had walked in to Mr. Bower’s sixth grade classroom. Head down, determined to go unnoticed, Ellie tried, as if a new classmate in a group of kids who had been in school together since kindergarten could sneak in. The memories would overflow the dam and consume Nancy if she allowed them to. Not now, she told herself, refocusing on Jessie who apparently did not notice that Nancy’s mind had retreated into the past.

“Could I ride with you? I won’t be any trouble. I promise.” With an anxious glance at her house she added, “My Momma and Dad, well, they’re not going.”

Nancy regarded the darkened house, thinking she saw a curtain drop back into place at the front window. Ellie’s words from yesterday returned and harped at her. She was most concerned for this family, for this child.

“Of course, you can. I have to be there early on Wednesday so I will pick you up about 9:30, ok? Be sure it is ok with your folks, though, hear me?”

A tiny smile and a nod, off she ran toward the door like a rabbit.

***************

The weight of being an only child was especially hard at the important junctions of life. With no siblings to confer with, fight with or share with, Clara Eleanor Roth, daughter of Grant Roth, deceased and Eleanor Brown, now deceased, was no stranger to the plight of the only child. Both her parents had been only children, but after their short and ill fated marriage Grant had remarried and so Clara had a sister and two brothers who were preteens. Her relationship with them, well, it did not exist beyond perfunctory birthday and Christmas cards with cash gifts enclosed. She supposed someday they might connect, but just as quickly as she thought of Lacey, Steven, and Frank as she’d last seen them, she dismissed the idea as unlikely.

When her Dad died of lung cancer two years ago, Betsy, his second wife, had handled all arrangements. Clara had flown to Seattle the day of the service and returned to Denver the next day. Grant had kept her as the sole beneficiary of a small life insurance policy purchased soon after her birth. She used the money to pay off her student loans. Thinking about her Dad brought a wave of regret. He’d moved so far away, made a new life, left her, the sole reminder of his ill fated first marriage, behind. Clara had loved him, but not she realized now as she fumbled to pack for the trip home, the tears filling her eyes blinked away, not the same way she had loved her mother.

Everything Clara had done, including combining forestry with landscape design in college, everything she was, her faith, her values, even her wild streak came from the force of God who was Eleanor Brown. How could she be dead? How could her mother have failed to see a freight train on a bright hot August afternoon?

Suddenly a weariness fell over her. She left the suitcase opened, packing incomplete and headed into her kitchen. Maybe a glass of iced tea and a sandwich were in order, and the mail, she thought as she noticed the unopened pile on her laptop on the table needed to be dealt with. Earlier she had dropped the stack with its usual assortment of junk and bills without a glance.

Carrying a tray with sandwich, laptop, and mail into her tiny living area, she flipped on the TV and immediately muted the sound. Born to a generation that coined the phrase “multi-tasking” she opened her laptop, clicked on her email, and began eating while sorting the snail mail on the table. She noticed her inbox contained a number of condolences from co-workers, her boss, and a few friends both in and out of the Denver area, along with the predictable ads and junk, not so different from the paper replicas. Clara even noticed a previously opened email from her mother dated last Thursday…Had she responded? She couldn’t remember and didn’t check. Pushing the laptop, still opened aside, she perused the assortment before her.

She had taken two bites of her sandwich, when she drew out an envelope that momentarily left her feeling like a deer in headlights. She studied both sides, the Forever stamp, a songbird, the postmark, Lawton, OK, the handwriting, which was unmistakably her mother’s. The first thing she did was laugh, Mom did not write letters at least not since she discovered texting, email, SKYPE and then FaceTime.  Her mother loved texting, so simple, quick and easy.  She noted the date on the postmark was Friday. Her hands trembled as she sliced open the envelope and drew out a single sheet of paper.

Porch Story Chapter 3

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Chapter 3*

“On warm days Granny and I would walk through that grove, and she would point out the fledgling trees that sprung from the shallow but widely spread roots of the older trees. Not only were they temporary, she’d tell me, they were prolific and rapid growing trees. The adult trees in the stand were children and grandchildren of earlier family members. Poplars, she told me didn’t grow from seeds, but emerged as the spawn of a mature tree’s root stock. “A lot like humankind, we grow best when we stick together and when we come into this world we bring a lot of what’s happened before with us.” From Eleanor Brown’s Journal

Nancy Wingate swung the car door open, a blast of hot dry wind slapping into her as a harsh reminder of temper of August. She popped the trunk, forced a smile and a wave at the child on her steps whose eyes watched her every move. Had she walked all the way out here from town? Three miles cross country, more like five if she’d walked the roads. Surely, her folks wouldn’t let her, but then again. . .Nancy’s thoughts trailed off as she set to unloading the contents of her trunk.

Bent over, reaching for the bag of potatoes that had shifted to the very back of the enclosure, she didn’t hear the little girl approach and started when she spoke.

“I can help you with your groceries, Miss Nancy.”

“Whew! Jessie, you just about scared the life out of me. Sure you can help. Do you think you can crawl into that space and get that bag of potatoes for me? I can manage this sack and I will send Pete and DeWayne out for the rest.”

She’d barely had the words out of her mouth before the slightly built child had retrieved the potatoes and stood balancing the 10 pound bag on her hip like it was a toddler. Jessie looked so serious that Nancy almost chuckled.

“Well, let’s get these inside.”

“Pete, DeWayne, come help pack the groceries inside.” Nancy called as she pushed the kitchen door open, holding it with her hip to let Jessie in ahead of her.

The men emerged hair still damp, but dressed in clean jeans and T-shirts and carried the remaining supplies into the kitchen, disappearing promptly into the depths of the house. A television news program could be heard faintly as they settled away from the kitchen.

Nancy poured two glasses of iced tea without asking Jessie if she’d like one, told her to sit all while emptying sacks and putting away her purchases. Jessie only moved off the chair once while Nancy worked in silence. She pushed through the door, patted both dogs as she passed, retrieved the Poplar sapling and then scooted back to sit wordlessly. She seemed content to watch Nancy and sip her iced tea.

A bit odd, that little one, Nancy thought, but given the little she knew about her home situation, which was frankly mostly gossip and the tragic accident that had taken Ellie Brown from all of them. Well, truth was Nancy herself was a bit off in the wake of that loss. She turned from putting the last of the cans on the shelf, looked straight at Jessie, forced a smile and asked,

“Is that the tree, Miss Ellie gave you last Sunday? You need to be planting it soon, if you want it to live.”

Jessie lifted her chin, looking directly at Nancy with not the hint of a smile. She froze there for the moment. Nancy had the distinct impression she was studying her and weighing her words carefully. She was small for ten, but Nancy felt she was looking into old eyes, a little girl struggling with adult responsibilities and burdens. She thought back with her conversation with Ellie last Sunday and realized Ellie had seen that in Jessie as well. Ellie had seen into each of her students, but Poplar trees? Nancy wondered what on earth she had had in mind? What project could speak to these children’s needs? She knew Ellie would have shared the whole idea with her and even pulled her in as she always did, but Ellie was gone.

Without considering her actions, Nancy looked to ceiling, inwardly hoping Ellie’s spirit would speak some words of wisdom and knowledge, RIGHT NOW!

“Are you okay, Miss Nancy?”

Attention redirected, Nancy sat, looked directly at Jessie and spoke truthfully, “I was just hoping Miss Ellie would tell me what on earth she had in mind when she gave the bunch of you trees last Sunday. Frankly, I have no earthly idea so heavenly intervention may be necessary.”

Surprisingly, a smile with a hint of a giggle brightened Jessie’s face. Suddenly, she looked like a ten year old child and not a wizened old lady. Nancy smiled back with the realization that it was the first genuine smile since the accident. She sighed.

“So what did Ellie tell you about the trees?”

“That they need lots of water, that we needed to dig holes that were three times the size of the trees, that…” here Jessie faltered slightly, “that we would get together on Monday, yesterday, and plant them together, because Poplar trees needed to stay close to each other to grow and prop..popu…something…”

“Propagate?”

“That’s it, propalate!”

“Propagate.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. What is that anyway?”

“It means to cultivate so the trees grow and spread and make more trees.”

“So where do you think Miss Ellie was going to have us plant them? How can we do that together now? Everything’s ruined! I hate Miss Ellie for dying!” Jessie paled at what she had said, then began sobbing trying to backtrack on her words through gasps, “I”, sob, “didn’t”, sob, “mean that.” choke, sob “I love Miss Ellie.”

Nancy reached over and pulled the sobbing child onto her lap, like she was a toddler not a ten year old, she rested her head on Jessie’s, letting the child’s short brown hair absorb the tears that ran unabated down her own cheeks.

“Did you know Miss Ellie and I were best friends from the 6th grade?” She felt the girl’s head shake slightly and her crying soften. “well, we were and know what? I’m pretty mad at her for dying, too.”

*Author’s Note: I am posting this story as I write it with very little editing, which I have been told is bad practice and I have no reason to doubt that.  However, I write by taking an idea of a story, characters, setting and then following them along as I write.  Admittedly this does not make sense to anyone but me.  So disclaimer, there will be errors, they are all my fault.  However, I appreciate editors so if something strikes you as wrong, let me know and I will attempt to edit and correct.

Porch Story

rocking chairsAugust in southwestern Oklahoma comes in like a steam bath and goes out like a sauna. Steam rises out of the soil in the early morning like ghosts materializing to be swept away by a wind so hot and dry that even shade provides little comfort to man or beast.

At sundown the wind dies and a dense stillness blankets the region, wringing the remaining drops of moisture from every pore and holding them against the earth to start the whole cycle again.

In August people go a little crazy. Minor arguments turn into brawls. Abusive incidents swell as many reach for another cool one and then another until they reach their boiling point. Even the ones who swill sweet tea lean to short temperedness. Unable to punch the weatherman, the boss or God, they settle for whoever’s handy.

Farm accidents, home accidents, and car accidents increase with every degree on the thermometer. Old timers dread August, because the month brings heartbreak. It was only the fifth, but August had claimed its first victim.

Chapter 1

Pete and Dewayne discussed the accident on their way from the field to the house, and then fell silent as they poured their tea and settled on the front porch.

The two men chose spots that shielded them from the afternoon sun and provided at least a whisper of a breeze. Their two hound dogs stretched out near them. Darcy languished between the two men while Max lay draped on the first step of the porch. Pete swirled a mason jar of sweet iced tea watching the ice evaporate, taking a swig every so often but mostly content with pondering the movement of the liquid. His bare feet perched on the porch railing and he tilted backward in the chrome vinyl covered kitchen chair, he’d dragged onto the porch with his tea. His boots caked with red clay rested just outside the door, socks soaked with the sweat of a day in the fields draped atop them to dry.

Dewayne, the younger of the two men and the larger, sprawled on a similar chair, legs splayed, and the waist of his jeans resting below the swell of his belly which was bare. The tail of his t-shirt had been tugged up so that the edge rested even with his arm pits.

Dewayne was a man of ill defined itches prompted more by his need to scratch than by any irritation. With both hands he scratched the expanse of flesh, while picking with one pinky finger or the other into the pit of his navel. Periodically he’d examine the contents of his belly button, flick bits of dirt away and return to his main task, scratching.

No words passed between the two men. By all appearance they seemed content, one to swirl his tea and the other to rub his belly. Pretty soon they’d need to get cleaned up for dinner, but for now just sitting barefoot in the shade met their requirements for rehydration and rest. Neither Pete nor Dewayne expected any visitors. The farm butted up against the town limits and the house set close to the state highway, but the folks that did drop by would not be inclined to do so on an afternoon as hot as this one. Nevertheless expected or not company came.

The dogs alerted first to the girl’s approach. Max, the hound on the porch step, lifted his head to bark, but his attempt sounded like a cross between a yawn and an abbreviated yodel. Darcy lifted the lid of one eye, puffed a big sigh, spotted the visitor before she shifted her position and settled down.

Pete removed his feet from the railing, scooted the chair down onto all four legs and stretched with one eye closed and the other focused on the approaching figure. Dewayne tugged his dirt encrusted t-shirt down to where only half of his bulging mid-section remained exposed. Otherwise he remained settled except for a shift in his scratching spot. He moved that activity to a tuff of curly hair that peeked through at the neck of his t-shirt. With a tilt of his head he, too, could observe as the girl moved steadily toward the porch.

Even with the sun to her back and her face fully in shadow, both men recognized her familiar sway and stride. Neither moved nor spoke. However, as the child drew closer the dogs roused, first banging their heavy tails on the clapboards of porch and steps. They lifted their heads and their bodies followed. With Max leading, the two hounds shuffled down the steps across the patches of dirt and grass that served as yard for the farm house.

The hounds revived by the prospect of attention, loped toward the familiar figure. She didn’t disappoint them, leaning forward without breaking her stride, rubbing first Max then Darcy between the ears. Reaching the bottom step to the porch, she shaded her eyes and stared up at the two men, who nodded and grinned.

“How you doing, Jessie? What you packing?” Pete asked leaning forward with his arms on the porch rail, pointing to the bundle she carried in her arms like a baby.
Jessie glanced down at the parcel and then back at the two men. When she spoke, her voice quivered.

“It’s a tree. Is Miss Nancy home?”

Dewayne moved to get a better look at Jessie and the package, shifting his scratching from his chest hairs to the back of his scalp.

“You say there’s a tree in that wrapping? Must be a miniature.”

Pete shook his head at Dewayne and regarded the girl who had fallen silent her eyes first on the package and then on a tuft of grass at the toe of her penny loafers.

“Don’t mind him, Jessie. He thinks trees come full grown. Nancy’s not here. She headed into town for,” he hesitated, “some groceries. Should be back real soon.”

He swirled his iceless tea and inquired, “You want a glass of iced tea while you wait on her? I’m going to get some more before I get cleaned up for supper.”

Jessie shook her head, still studying the ground at her feet. She mumbled something unintelligible.

“You’re going to have to speak up, Jessie.” Pete said.

She lifted her head and looked up at the two sets of eyes that stared down at her. She attempted a smile but it faltered.

“Could I just sit here and wait for Miss Nancy? I could just sit here on the steps, if it wouldn’t trouble you any?”

“Sure,” Pete said, “Come on up on the porch. Take my chair.”

Jessie shook her head again, sat down on the bottom step, and placed the tree between her knees. The hounds flanked her trying to edge as close as they could to vie for her attention as both attempted to use her lap as a pillow. She stroked both their heads automatically as she watched the road for Miss Nancy’s car.

Pete started toward the backdoor motioning to Dewayne to get up and follow. The younger man grumbled but he reached out for the railing using the leverage to wrench his massive frame into a vertical position. Once standing he tugged upward on the waistband of his jeans, accomplishing little in the process. Before heading into the house through the screen door Pete now held open, Dewayne looked back down at the child on the bottom step.

“Where’d you get a tree anyway?”

Initially, Jessie didn’t speak. Dewayne started to repeat the question, but then thinking, ‘What’s the use? Who cares where the tree came from anyhow?’ he batted his hand at the air dismissively and turned to move across the threshold. Before he got inside the door, as Pete slipped behind him to follow, Jessie spoke.

“I got it in Sunday school last Sunday. Miss Ellie gave all six of us one to plant.” A low sob punctuated her words. Pete and Dewayne halted, their eyes met as her words registered. Both stepped back onto the porch and edged toward the steps.

Jessie had buried her head in the curve of Darcy’s neck and though her crying was muffled by the dog’s coat, the heaving of her back revealed her sorrow. Neither man knew what to do when females cried and their experience lacked many first hand encounters, so they stood shifting from one foot to the other in the masculine equivalent of wringing the hands.

Dewayne pushed by the masculine instinct to do something even if it was wrong, asked, “So why haven’t you planted yours? Why are you still carting yours around?”
Jessie lifted her head out of the dog’s fur but did not turn at the two men. Instead, she adjusted the tree to a more secure position between her knees before swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Daddy won’t let me plant it at home. He says it would be a bad omen to plant a tree given to you by a dead person. He says it would bring all sorts of bad luck and we sure don’t need any more than we already got.” She paused, stroking the trunk of the tree which was hardly bigger than a grown man’s thumb before continuing, “Bad luck, not trees. He says if he didn’t have bad luck he’d have no luck at all, but that he doesn’t intend to offend God or the devil with a tree that was a present from a woman who was dead two hours after she gave it.”

“I think that’s a song, isn’t that a song? ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

Dewayne interjected, singing the line off key then with a snap of his fingers, “Ray Charles! That’s who sang it.” Pete jerked his head around in Dewayne’s direction with a look that probably had a half life greater than uranium. For his part Dewayne basked in the joy of having remembered the song and the artist lifting a shield of pride so dense Pete’s poison tipped expression merely bounced off.

Jessie turned to consider the two, unable to recall a tiny flicker of a smile before it lit her face. She knew Dewayne meant no harm. Even at ten she knew he was like a defective piece of equipment that needed a discontinued part, but still worked even though it was slow and awkward. His burst of song dried her tears and though the redness around her eyes and the streaks on her cheeks remained, her spirit rebounded slightly.

“So, what are you going to do with the little tree?” Pete asked keeping his eyes averted to a distant spot on the horizon.

“I was hoping; I mean, I hope Miss Nancy will help me plant it around here. Everyone knows how good she is with growing things.”

“That’s true,” Pete said drawing the words out as if pondering them. “She’ll be along in a little while. Will you be okay out here? Dewayne and I need to get cleaned up or she will skin us alive.”

“I’ll be just fine.” She returned to staring off down the road and petting the dogs.

Pete thumped Dewayne in the shoulder, pulling the backdoor open again, prodding his brother inside.

Chapter 2

Nancy noticed the slight figure on the bottom step the moment she turned into the driveway. Pulling closer, she recognized Jessie Adams and a second later she spied the sapling the girl balanced between her knees.

A little knot formed in her throat as she recalled helping Ellie carry the tiny trees from her car to the fifth grade classroom, Sunday.

“Goodness, Ellie, what on earth do you have planned this morning?”

Ellie laughed, “Why I am going to help start a forest, a stand at least.”

“Well if you’re going to be planting trees, I would have thought you might pick something other than Poplars. They grow fast, but. . .”

“They are perfect for what I have in mind.”

“Is it a secret?” Nancy asked, her interest piqued, Ellie had that way about her.

“No, I chose them on purpose; Poplars are perfect for the children to plant,”

Ellie’s smile faded, her expression growing more serious as she paused before continuing, “because, well because every one of their families have been hurt by the closing of the Mar-Val plant. Rex and Macy’s moms both worked there; Richard’s dad was a foreman; Sandra’s dad manages the Piggly Wiggly—folks without steady income don’t buy as many groceries; Les’s dad has been asked to relocate his whole family to Mexico to start up the new plant down there; and, Jessie, well in some ways her family’s taken the hardest blow. Both her parents had good jobs there and they just bought their first home. I hear James especially is taking it hard, which just compounds the problem.”

“Hitting the bottle again, huh?”

Ellie shook her head and sighed, “I saw him coming out of the liquor store. I didn’t see him drinking, but I know he’s had a problem in the past. Anyway, that’s why I dug these little fledglings from that stand of Poplars along the creek at my house. I chose Poplars intentionally.”

Nancy had been ready to press her about her reason for choosing the poplars when the children started arriving for Sunday school and the commotion of their greetings and questions interrupted their conversation. Ellie bubbled with energy and excitement as her attention shifted from Nancy to focus on her students.

“Catch you later.” Nancy mouthed as she caught Ellie’s eye for the briefest of instants. Ellie waved and smiled then returned to the children.

Nancy regarded the child on the step and waved at Jessie, who returned her greeting. The child, the sapling and the hole in her heart burned. She knew the children in Ellie’s class and so many others were mourning her sudden death, but Nancy despite scolding herself resented sharing her grief with any one else. Her loss hadn’t settled yet. What on earth did she have to offer the child on the stoop?

Nancy inhaled deeply, blew the air out through pursed lips, before opening the car door and stepping from air conditioned comfort to the afternoon furnace.

Chapter 3

On warm days Granny and I would walk through that grove, and she would point out the fledgling trees that sprung from the shallow but widely spread roots of the older trees. Not only were they temporary, she’d tell me, they were prolific and rapid growing trees. The adult trees in the stand were children and grandchildren of earlier family members. Poplars, she told me didn’t grow from seeds, but emerged as the spawn of a mature tree’s root stock. “A lot like humankind, we grow best when we stick together and when we come into this world we bring a lot of what’s happened before with us.” From Eleanor Brown’s Journal

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I Write Because…

imageThis is the first of two posts for this day. I have no idea how many people even read this blog, but I have a favor to ask of those who do. I am posting the beginning of a story today and would really appreciate feedback.

I write not to publish on the grand scheme of things, but because I can not NOT write. Even when I am without paper, pen, IPad, laptop, I write in my head, configering words to tell a story or express a thought, words that may never be transmitted outside my own mind. For me, words have power whether expressed or repressed to effect change, to bring laughter or tears, hope or despair, power that can be good or evil…and not always because that was the originator’s intention.

I love the way words can be turned and meaning changed with a comma or a semi-colon. I am the first to admit I often do not know when to use either of those elements of punctuation or whether in the last paragraph I used the word “effect” correctly. Needing to write is not about being good at writing or grammatically endowed, it is about the drive to put your words out there even when you (I) don’t.

I wrote the novel Braking Points, published previously on this blog, by committing to putting 1500 words into the computer per day. There have been stops and starts since that was completed. This blog has allowed me to express some of those words. For some time now another story has been brewing inside and so I am going to put the beginning words out there today for anyone of the 2 or 3 who read this to give me feedback.

By faith I believe God gave me the drive to write, for which I am grateful, but it may be that He intended my writing to be a personal endeavor and not a public one. So I turn it over to you, my Friends of Braking Points.

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