“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.
“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.”