“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)
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,
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.