“The trees are ready to give to the children tomorrow. I am thinking this is one of those ‘dust in the wind’ ideas, but looking out at the community, I realize how easily deceived we all have been. Looking to the MV Corporation for salvation, depending on the board of directors, the stock holders, the big wigs off in some big office complex in Dallas, Texas to look out for our families. Here we were thinking if you do good work, for honest wages, the company will provide. I know folks think I get in my ‘come to Jesus’ mode too often and be that as it may I also know that folks, Christians and otherwise, have stopped being a real community. They have all been touched by MV Corp’s actions, but rather than looking at their strengths, looking for solutions within the community, they are closing off, hunkering down, licking their own wounds or drowning them. It is as if they have forgotten that 100 years ago this place was little more than a dry spot blowing in the Oklahoma wind. Then the settlers, mostly farmers, formed co-ops, retail merchants came, for a while the train made stops carrying passengers and freight, a community was born from the collective needs of the families who settled here, like my grandmother, and Nancy’s folks. Lord, let these trees and the words I speak to these children tomorrow build a fire that will ignite real change. I cannot do it, but You can.” from Eleanor Brown’s Journal.
Nancy had picked up the most recent journal of Ellie’s. She had settled on her bedroom porch, weary from grief and the endless movement of the day. Brian had gone on into his old room when they got back from the funeral home. Mandy was with Clara. Finally, Nancy had time alone to reflect. She read the words trying to digest and gain some understanding of Ellie’s last days. She had argued briefly after the visitation with Clara. That did not sit well. Clara seemed determined to consider that her mother had deliberately driven into the path of the freight train. Nancy just as vigorously denied the possibility. While not a shouting match, both held their ground with Nancy grabbing the journal she now held from Clara. “Just let me read her final entries. I promise to keep an open mind.”
Clara hemmed and hawed but assented. Nancy understood her reluctance knowing herself that however open her mind it would take a point blank statement to change her mind.
The visitation had been packed with friends, family and gawkers. Nancy had arrived early, hurrying home to shower and change after the visit to her mom and Gavin. Brian followed in her wake, moving quickly forward toward the flower draped open casket and Clara. His arm went instinctively around her shoulders. She stood transfixed, her fingers wrapped around the ornamental handles of the casket, head inclined, her face carefully arranged and not unlike the death mask of her mother’s face. Nancy halted, took a seat at the back and watched.
She wasn’t eager to hurry forward. Mandy came by her reluctance to accept change and loss naturally, Nancy mused. When other people started drifting in, greeted by the staff, Nancy rose and moved to speak to the folks she knew, most of them since she was a child. Staying toward the back she shook hands, hugged, and made small talk mostly about the weather.
Pete arrived with DeWayne and their mother. Ann Stewart looked none too happy in the wheel chair Pete had obviously convinced her she needed…or he needed. Nancy moved away from Frances Ryan with a smile and a pat on the arm to join her brothers and mother. As she approached them, she noticed Mandy step forward, putting her hands on the wheelchair. Whether it was to assist her grandmother or provide her with support, Nancy couldn’t tell. Mandy’s face looked drained of color, her eyes red rimmed, but Nancy watched as she straightened her posture, lifting her chin resolutely. Frankly, she looked a bit like she was about to be executed.
Pete smiled as Nancy approached, “Hi Sis.” She acknowledged his greeting with a hug followed by hugs for DeWayne and her mother. Her eyes met Mandy’s offering unspoken encouragement. Both of her brothers she noted had managed to get cleaned up and dressed without a single word or suggestion from her. A tenderness washed through as she realized how interdependent they all were. Sometimes the constancy of someone or something goes unnoticed. Sometimes, Nancy thought with a little lump in her throat, I am not grateful enough for these two men and all they do.
She stepped away as they joined the line of people moving forward to offer condolences to Clara before edging away yet again to meet and greet. As she did a distinct authoritative voice rose above others outside the double doors in the vestibule. Immediately even after many years she recognized Colonel Frank Brown’s deep baritone, in muter tones a female voice tried to calm him. Delia, Nancy thought and headed toward the disturbance. It seemed Delia had the matter in hand by the time Nancy reached them, for she found the Colonel seated in one of the wingback chairs while Delia spoke in hushed tones to Mark Ryan and a well dressed woman Nancy did not recognize but assumed was a member of the funeral home’s staff.
Ryan’s Funeral Home and Crematorium had been a fixture in the community since Nancy had been a child, but it had expanded, redecorated and prospered over the years. Mark was the grandson of the original owner and his father still worked some since a heart attack had forced him into partial retirement. One thing was for sure, taking care of the dead and bereaved remained profitable. Nancy could have kicked herself for thinking that because she knew the Ryan family, attended church with them and they were kind dear compassionate people. What had gotten into her lately to bring out her cynical side? Gavin’s brain injury and now Ellie’s death had left her without the counterpoints she relied on to balance her tendency to the negative. Obviously, a new plan was needed and fast, before she became a crotchety old snit of a woman.
She’d rather eat rocks than have to deal with the Colonel and Delia, but someone needed to get them up to the front of the little chapel room so they could see their granddaughter and Ellie’s body. Since Delia was speaking with Mark, Nancy approached the Colonel. Touching his shoulder lightly she said, “Hello, Colonel. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m….” “Nancy Stewart, no that’s not right. You are a Wingate now aren’t you? How are you my dear?” Nancy smiled in spite of herself. As far as she knew this was the kindest, heartiest greeting she had ever evoked from the Colonel. In past meetings he had always seemed a bit confused about who she was and why his daughter was hanging out with her.
Although he and Delia had been invited to her wedding, they had not attended, but did send a place setting of her china as a gift. That he could recollect her married name since he had never even met her husband in the thirty plus years they had been married astonished her. Delia noticed Nancy, broke off her conversation, joined them wrapping Nancy in a particularly warm hug with a bit of sniffling as Delia’s head remained buried in her shoulder just a second longer than was comfortable. Not that the hug itself were really comfortable. Her brain without the appropriate filters screamed, ‘Who are these people and what have they done with the real Colonel and Mrs. Brown?’
Her exterior remained neutral while her insides stewed. She had managed to escort them through the growing crowd to the front where Delia repeated her hugging with Clara, whose eyes met Nancy’s over Delia’s shoulder as if to mirror Nancy’s feelings. Brian smiled and greeted the Colonel, introduced himself. No, he was not Clara’s boyfriend, fiancé, they were old friends…Nancy was his mother and so on. Finally, he walked with the Colonel over to the casket, stepping back slightly so the older man could be alone with his only daughter. Nancy watched him, but did not move any closer to casket. ‘Not yet, I just can’t do it yet.’
She began inventorying the flowers, a virtual forest of color and greenery filled the area to the sides and back of the coffin. As her eyes moved she caught a bit of out of place color and then a tiny bit of movement among the baskets, planters and wreathes. Someone was back there among the potted and fresh plants. Suddenly, a large arrangement of fresh cut gladiolas began to waver, shifting slightly before tumbling to the floor, water and flowers spilling out. The water spread out across the floor splashing up and over the Colonel’s and Brian’s shoes. Nancy heard both Clara and Delia gasp as one, before she heard Mark Ryan’s assistant, the woman she had seen outside in the vestibule hurrying up with a towel to return the glads to their rightful place and soak up the water.
Nancy, on the other hand, moved toward the plants and around to the back of them. There among the foliage two pairs of wide eyes stared up at her.
“Jessie? Les? What on earth?”
The two stood up obviously frightened, but as Nancy watched Les stretched himself out , speaking a voice that conjured a remembrance of herself trying to speak as a grown up. “Jessie and I came to pay our respects and offer our condo..condoll..to say we are sorry about Miss Ellie dying.” He was so serious and both of them were so scared that Nancy almost laughed, but fortunately got control of herself, before nodding solemnly and leading them around the flowers to the front of the casket where mercifully the mess was already cleaned up. She did wonder if either of their parents were present or knew their children were.