“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.
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.