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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.

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