Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging


Porch Story

Porch Story–Chapter 17

image“We slept on the summer porch last night. In the middle of the night one of those fast moving summer thunderstorms came up with a light show that no team of pyrotechnics could mimic. We had to roll the louvered windows in while the rain pounded swirled by the wind, accompanied by the crash of thunder and jagged shards of lightening. Nancy and I crouched together on her cot a bit frightened but it wasn’t like scared to death, it was like scared to wonder. After it passed we rolled out the windows welcoming the fresh ozone filled air into the room, listening to the drip of water off the roof and the sound of the frogs. We both knew in the morning the ditches would be filled with tadpoles as if it had rained frogs from the sky. I returned to my own cot, but neither of us were sleepy. It was then that Nancy asked me if I believed in God. I told her emphatically that I did not. We fought in whispers so we didn’t wake the rest of her family…what with every window open we very well could have. I don’t like to fight with Nancy, but I stood my ground. ” From Ellie Brown’s Diary, 1974

Clara had picked up the diary at random from the stack. Her mother would have been 14 in 1974. What she read and the maturity of her mother’s prose astonished her. Ellie’s faith had always been a rock that anchored Clara even though she had resisted embracing it, no she had rejected it. She remembered distinctly the last argument she had had with her mother about God, Ellie’s face when both of them ran out of words.

Ellie had paused, a small smile twisting her mouth, touched her daughter’s shoulder. Clara had stepped back, lifted her eyebrows and stared in disbelief. Having just point blank stated her absolute rejection of a personal God, of Christianity, of her mother’s Jesus fixation, she expected Ellie to be saddened, weepy, not well, what was it? Slightly amused, surely not. Ellie turned and walked away, leaving her daughter to stare at her retreating back. Just before she opened the door to her bedroom, she turned back to find her daughter still and staring.

“Clara, let’s have breakfast at Dilly’s in the morning, before you head back to school. OK?”

Clara had been unable to speak, so she nodded as she realized it was she who felt saddened as if somehow she had lost. It seemed as if her mother no longer saw any reason to save her self proclaimed agnostic daughter.

Suddenly she was very tired, but she reread the entry in her mother’s diary from August, 1974, ” It was then that Nancy asked me if I believed in God. I told her emphatically that I did not. We fought in whispers so we didn’t wake the rest of her family…what with every window open we very well could have. I don’t like to fight with Nancy, but I stood my ground.” Clara wondered how she could have missed knowing that there was a time when Ellie did not believe. Her mother never even hinted about it. Somehow it helped her understand her last battle over God with her mother, the amused expression when Clara expected exasperation.

She made a mental note to talk to Nancy to see if she remembered that night. Closing the diary, she rose and carried it with her into her old bedroom. It was then she noticed for the first time that Mandy had evidently come in while she was engrossed in reading and gone to bed without a word.


Delia sat at the small desk in their hotel room watching the regular rise and fall of Frank’s chest as he slept. As tired as she was the evening had left her with a thousand thoughts and feelings ping ponging around in her head. A cup of tepid tea sat next to her hand, she’d only had a few sips before leaving it to sit and grow cold. She fiddled a bit with the pen in her hand, stared at the opened journal’s almost blank page. She had managed to put the date at the top.

Journaling had been her Pastor’s idea, a way to keep prayer requests, prayer needs, blessings recorded. Delia knew his intentions were good, but she was not one to write things down. Years in the military and then in federal government that kept her security clearance high enforced in her a heightened mistrust of loose lips, loose pens, and in the later years before retirement of electronic communication. Coupled with her own tendency to be a private person, sharing little with anyone, she found her new faith particularly unsettling with its openness and emphasis on sharing oneself with others. Delia had observed in her Bible Study group, women talking about everything from losing a child to having an affair. Her closest friend in the church, Madge Blankenship came from a similar background, in fact she had worked for the CIA in the 1980s. Madge like Delia had accepted Jesus as her Savior in her sixties, but in doing so had or so it seemed to Delia shed her past like a snake sheds its skin. Not, Delia mused to herself that Madge was or had ever been a snake. Or if she had been it had been long ago.

Madge didn’t share secrets from her working history or much at all about that time, but she opened up quite easily about herself, her family issues, her frailties, deeply personal stuff that not only surprised Delia, but made her wonder about herself. No one in the group seemed to judge Madge or each other, but what if she opened up like that. Fear, she realized, kept her guarded. If the others sensed it, they did not pry.

Delia stared at the dated but empty sheet before her. The few pages she had written, she knew were as guarded as her conversations. Pastor had encouraged her to write from her heart, but even he did not know the depth of of her sin…only God knew that. Frank’s breakdown at the funeral home broke her heart in a thousand pieces…all those wasted years…all that time, she had kept him to herself, convinced him to build wall after wall between his daughter and himself. Delia despised Ellie from the first time she met her. Never did she see a motherless child needing love and nurturing. She saw a conniving rival.

She remembered one night clearly right before she convinced Frank to send her to his mother’s. Frank had urged Delia to come with him to tuck Ellie in. She stood back while Frank talked softly to his daughter, smoothed her hair back from her forehead kissing it gently.

“I love you, Ellie and Delia loves you, too.” Ellie’s eyes left her father’s face, meeting Delia’s. It was as if a charge of electricity passed between the two. Ellie’s eyes hardened against the coldness in Delia’s eyes. She looked back up at her father,

“No, she doesn’t.”

Delia wasn’t sure what Frank said to his daughter, because she turned and exited the room. Later, he found her standing in the kitchen, wrapped his arms around her and reassured her.

“She is just a child who hasn’t had her mom for a while. She knows you love her and she loves you in her own way.”

But Delia knew otherwise. She did not love Ellie. Children know. From that moment she began to drive a wedge between Ellie and Frank. Replaying the mental tape, she cringed, all those wasted years and now Ellie was gone. What a stupid vengeful woman she had been!

Suddenly the words poured out. She scribbled wildly on the page before her, so thankful for a forgiving God, but so needing to make amends, so needing to forgive herself.

Porch Story–Chapter 16

image“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭15-17‬ NIV)

I opened my Bible to this text this morning. Sitting here before dawn on the patio, the heat already like a living being wrapping its insidious arms around me in a strangle hold. The wind is blowing, imagine that, this is after all Oklahoma, “where the wind comes sweeping down the plains”, but it only reinforces the smothering effect. Of course, it is the tumor, not the wind, sucking life out of me. Still reading this scripture, I know that I have experienced everything in the world offers, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” and not a single one of them filled me up like they so enticingly promised.

I feel it in my bones or maybe in my head a need to pry my fingers from the world and all its fake offerings, the old grudges and even all the good and precious gifts I have here. Turn loose of the world so I can really live these last hours, days, weeks, whatever and then FOREVER! Last entry in Eleanor Brown’s Journal

James Adams slammed the door of the house. Rose who had preceded him through the entry jumped slightly but didn’t turn, instead she bore down on Jessie whose sneakiness had brought on this latest burst of temper from James. Swinging the girl around, mouth agape, scathing words tripped and ready, she froze at the sight of her daughter’s face.

She expected some smart mouthed retort but instead Jessie’s large brown eyes were tear filled, spilling over down her face. Her summer tan appeared like a transparent watercolor over a face drained of color. Rose crumbled the girl into her arms, letting her own anger fade as her tears flowed into her daughter’s hair. She could hear James shouting, stomping about behind her, but she ignored him holding tightly to Jessie for dear life. As her husband retreated still swearing, she lifted her daughter away from her.

“Why don’t we give your daddy some room. Let’s go in the kitchen and talk.”

Jessie nodded, but hesitated. “I need to go check on Megan and Cindy. They get real scared when Daddy’s …when Daddy’s mad.” Without waiting for a response from her mother she scurried down the hall to her sisters. Rose exhaled unaware that she had been holding her breath. When had Jessie become mother to her sisters? Had all this trouble closed her off from her children. James drinking and her own reliance on those pain killers Doc Noble had given her after her back surgery a year ago obviously had impacted their family more than she knew. She thought about the note she had written to herself this morning to call Doc’s office for another prescription as she stood listening to Jessie’s soft voice comforting her sisters.

Clara found herself reluctant to leave the viewing room at the conclusion of the visitation, exhausting as that had been. She had asked for a few moments alone with her mother. Settling into a chair on the front row, eyes fixed on the casket, rubbing her temples in small circles, her thoughts always random ran amuck. She felt like she needed to concentrate, but could not.

Perhaps if the visitation had been an orderly affair, which decidedly it was anything but. What with the tumbling of flowers, the children’s evaluation of her mother’s body, the Colonel’s–what would you call it?–outburst, the endless people sharing story after story about her mother. Clara was way beyond overwhelmed.

The children, Les Burton and Jessie Adams, obviously were there without parental permission. After the flowers were uprighted, Nancy had kept them with her for a few minutes, before whispering to both of them and leaving the room. Clara supposed she had left to call their parents, but while she was gone, both of them approached the open casket. In spite of the setting, her raw emotions, the reality that the wide eyed white faced children gawking at her mother’s body, Clara found herself fighting back a bit of a giggle. It was so obvious that neither of them had ever been to a funeral visitation.

Clara watched even as she greeted the folks who had come to express their sympathy as they leaned cautiously over the edge of the casket. The little girl, Jessie seemed to be waving her hand over Ellie’s body. What on earth was she doing? Les seemed to be looking around, his faced scrunched into a grimace as he tugged at Jessie’s arm, sputtering a whispered warning. Clara several steps away and too far forward to see what Jessie was doing took a half step back to try to get a better look.

Jessie’s hand fluttered near Ellie’s face…it was then Clara saw it..a fly had settled on her mother’s face. Seeing it Clara instinctively brushed at her own face as if the fly had lighted there. The child’s hand did not seem to distract the fly a bit, as it continued to explore the nooks and crannies along the heavily applied make-up of the upper lip. Jessie’s feet lifted off the floor as she strained to reach the insect. Les tugged at her pulling her back toward the floor, but she was determined. Just as her hand almost reached the fly, Les’s tugging, her own precarious positioning and gravity caused her to slip backwards. She landed awkwardly, but managed to keep her balance, just as the fly crawled inside Ellie’s nares. Clara gasped slightly, causing her grandfather to rise a bit too quickly, almost toppling into her.

They caught each other grasping at each others elbows both of them upright. It was the closest Clara had been physically to the Colonel since the stiff, forced hugs of her childhood. For all those children who had close relationships with their grandparents, including her mother, Brian, Mandy, and many others, Clara held a deep seated envy.

As a child she had silently pretended that Ann and Paul Stewart were her grandparents as she considered herself a cousin to Brian and Mandy. Her grief when Paul died had mirrored Brian and Mandy’s. It was something her mother noticed, something they both knew, but never spoke of, Ellie, letting her daughter grieve. Clara realized at that moment that Ellie had seen the Stewarts more as parents than merely a friend’s parents, that her mother’s grief plunged the same waters her own did.

In the awkward grasping for balance, Clara realized her grandfather was shaking and as she stepped back, he tightened his hold on her. The still formidable frame of the Colonel heaved with emotion, first silent, but breaking into loud choking sobs. Clara’s reacted first with an unexpected repulsion, an unexplained desire to distance herself from the grasping weeping hulk, who clawed at her enveloping her into his embrace. Never could Clara have prepared for this, she knew how to be polite and restrained in his presence, she did not have a clue as to how to comfort him. As he clung though she relaxed in his embrace.

It was Delia who stepped forward, putting her arm around the Colonel, her face composed, kindly patting Clara’s arm and steering her grandfather back to his seat, calming him as they moved away. Clara followed them with her damp eyes. His behavior confused her while tripping her own raw grief, threatening her composure.

The children’s parents had arrived but Clara paid little attention to the turmoil over that leaving Nancy to manage. The remainder of the visitation was a blur, so intent was she on restraining her emotions. Now sitting in the semi darkness, she stared straight ahead at the still face and frame of her mother. For a woman who hardly ever was still, death did not become her.

“Who were you, Mom?”

After several minutes she rose. Brian and Amanda waited for her in the entry area, but they stood quietly allowing her the silence she craved.


“You ok?”

“I am. Know what, I really want to go home” a gulp then, “I think it is time I got to know the woman who birthed me.”

Porch Story–Chapter 15

rocking chairs “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 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.

Porch Story–Chapter 14

“I hate Delia! I hate Delia! I hate Delia! She is not my mother! So I don’t care what Granny says, I do not have to honor her. ” From Ellie Brown’s Diary, 1974.


They found their grandmother, where Nancy had the previous day, sitting in a chair next to their father’s bed, apparently reading the newspaper to him.

“Brian! Amanda! You are both a sight for old eyes,” exclaimed Ann Stewart brightening as she watched her grandchildren advancing toward her with Nancy bringing up the rear.

“Hi GiGi!” both exclaimed almost simultaneously, leaning in to hug and plant kisses on Ann’s cheeks. Mandy sensed a new frailty in her grandmother, a slight change of posture, a shrinking, but there was no denying the brightness and twinkle in her eyes that seemed to take in everything around her. GiGi was still there, the bright sharp woman who had let them build forts with blankets while she herself played the monster coming to capture them, the woman who had cooked their favorite foods, and tended them when they were sick so their Mom could teach and their Dad take care of the farm. And there was the bite of it again, Dad.

For the longest moment she purposefully kept her attention on her grandmother, trying desperately to control the panic that had her heart racing and her gut in knots, a smile plastered on her face. While peripherally Brian moved from his grandmother to the bed, Mandy froze. It took every ounce of self restraint that she could muster not to run from the room. She could hear Brian talking softly to their Dad which only reinforced her panic.

“Mandy?” Her grandmother’s soft tone startled her. She jumped ever so slightly as if zapped by static electricity. She looked into Ann’s face finding no reproof only the same love and encouragement she’d found all those times in her childhood when she hung back from some new challenge. First day of middle school popped into her brain.

She had stood petrified in front of the full length hall mirror, wearing the seventh outfit she had tried on, the debris scattered across her bedroom evidence of her indecisiveness. She hated everything she saw in the mirror, especially her hair. Why oh why was she the only one in her family to inherit the Wingate carrot colored curly mess? On the verge of breaking into sobs, feigning illness, her stomach indeed did not feel right, her grandmother had stepped in behind her clutched her shoulders and swung her around on her heels.

“Amanda Wingate, you will not let fear keep you from sixth grade! You look fine and this isn’t about looks anyway, this is about growing up and becoming everything God wants you to be. If you hide in your room, you may be safe, but I can’t guarantee that. So my advice stop looking in the mirror and start looking out at the brand new world of middle school.”

None of what Gigi said made any sense, but the look in her eyes, the same look she had now had propelled Mandy out the front door. Mandy’s memories of that first day were vague, but she had not died of embarrassment in fact her middle school and high school days were some of the best ones she had. That encouraging, challenging look that only Gigi could produce stared up at her now.

Mandy swiveled on her heels, took in the bed and its occupant, looked into the face, yes still her Dad, but so still, so vacant, SO not her Dad! The panic threatened again, but before it took hold she stepped past Brian, leaned over, laying her head on her father’s chest and hugged him.

“One giant step for Mandy.” Brian quipped.

“Really! Brian!” She turned and punched him in the arm.


Delia settled in the back of the large SUV. The Colonel had insisted on sitting up front with the young–they were all so young–Airman 1st Class, who had been assigned to transport them for the funeral. Delia studied the landscape as they left Wichita Falls headed north. They had never been stationed here, but having made the obligatory visits to Frank’s mother and Ellie over the years, she felt a calm familiarity with the surroundings. The flat land with the dome like sky created a sensation like living in a snow globe, except for the infernal heat.

She hadn’t napped on the plane. She’d been a bit anxious about Frank. A military officer herself she’d never been one for maternal hovering or sentimentality nor was she now, but her new found faith had prompted unexplored feelings toward others, especially Frank. Not that anxiousness fit with all she was absorbing, in fact, hadn’t they just read, where was it? “Be anxious for nothing.” Maybe Philippians or Galatians, one of those. He had stared straight ahead, ram rod straight in his seat for the entire flight. Conversation with him had been perfunctory, so Delia had prayed not just for him, but for Clara and for herself.

Now with Frank in the front seat making a little conversation with the Airman, she leaned back and napped. They’d be in the midst of the storm in very little time, a storm that the Delia and Frank of 40 years ago had created. “Oh, Ellie,” she thought as she drifted into sleep. “I am so sorry.”

Porch Story–Chapter 13 with Introduction

Note from Carolyn: I have been off for a couple of months, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year…I also started a new blog exploring my seventh decade. If you are interested it is at But I don’t want to neglect Braking Points nor do I want to fail to finish “Porch Story” for myself if not for anyone else. I also want to continue to share the bits and pieces that I find encouraging and enlightening in scripture, prayer, meditation and the act of living life in the here and now. BRAKING POINTS..times to stop, look and listen. So with that here is the 13th chapter of “Porch Story” for anyone who cares to read.

Chapter 13

“While the doctor talked, my mind only partially engaged with what she was saying. CAT scans, PET scans. lab results. diagnosis, treatment options, on and on…I drifted away. They say at the moment of death your life flashes before your eyes, but I have always had flashbacks to earlier times, mostly at night when the devil tries to bring up every transgression I have ever committed. But while the doctor talked, I suddenly remembered holding Clara, immediately after her birth, hearing her healthy cry, and watching her latch on to my breast, suckling as if she were starved. Before I could stop them, tears rolled down my cheeks not because I was dying but because of the beauty of that moment with Clara in my arms for the very first time. It will be saying good-by that I will hate the most.” From Eleanor Brown’s Journal

With Clara’s luggage packed inside, Brian scowled at his sister, obviously miffed by her avoidance of his phone calls, hugged his mother and bid the threesome of females good-by.

“Are you headed to the house, Brian?” Nancy inquired.

“Later I thought I would go visit GiGi and Dad.” He leveled his gaze at Mandy, “It wouldn’t kill you to go visit them too.” He even cringed at the judgmental tone in his voice. Mandy glared back, but held her tongue, shrugging her shoulders slightly. Nancy studied the exchange between her two children before pointedly turning to Clara and asking, “Mandy’s been camping here. Would you like me to help you get settled, before…?” Hesitantly, she waved her hand around the room the untidiness evident. “before we tackle the journals?” Her voice quivered.

Clara reached out, touched Nancy’s arm then collapsed again into the safety of her hug. Traces of moisture spilled onto both of their cheeks intermingling. In that instant both grew unaware of time or space or the occupants who were inhabiting it with them. Brian and Mandy unaccustomed to seeing their mother cry shared a silent inquisitive look, their own animosity dampened by their shared concern.

Finally, Clara shifted away from Nancy, scanned the room and spoke, “Why don’t we meet for supper…”

“At our house.” Nancy interrupted, looking pointedly at her children and not at Clara.

Both shared uneasy glances and then nodded.

“Are you sure?” Clara asked.

“Yes, and then we can talk about how we want to carry out Ellie’s wishes.”

“Ok. And, Mandy, would you consider staying on here with me? I think having company in this big house would be good.” Clara stated, not at all sure she really wanted company.

“I’d like that, thanks.” Mandy turned to Brian, “I think I will go with you to see GiGi and Dad,”

“Let’s all go,” Nancy said, “and give Clara some time to rest and get settled. Oh, Clara, your grandparents will be here this evening. They have a driver bringing them from Wichita Falls.” The look on Clara’s face prompted an unexpected laugh from Nancy, full bodied and deep and then she found she could not stop laughing. The shocked looks on her children’s faces rather than tamping her outburst made her laugh even harder. Clara’s face twisted slightly before she too dissolved in a fit of giggles. Brian and Mandy stood uneasily to the side before smiles brightened their faces.

It felt good to laugh, Nancy thought. Ellie would have been laughing with them. In that moment Nancy knew her eulogy needed less sentimentality and more humor. It needed to be a realistic portrait of a complicated but wonderful friend.

“I will follow you all over to see Mom, GiGi, and Dad.” Nancy said as the Wingate’s left Clara standing in the living room of Ellie’s house.


“Have you ever seen a dead person?” Les asked Jessie. The others had gone except for Jessie’s little sisters who were camped in front of the Burton’s TV, watching Sponge Bob. The Burton’s still had cable service, a fact not lost on Jessie.

“No. Have you?”

“No. Maybe we should go down to the funeral home and take a look at Miss Ellie…you know, before tomorrow so we don’t act too shocked or something.”

“What do you mean?” Like on a slab, or one of those drawers like on TV?”

“No, I heard my Mom talking to someone on the phone and they should have her in a casket all prettied up by this evening sometime. We could walk down and go see her.”

“I d-don’t know,” Jessie hesitated, stuttering slightly on the words, “What if someone sees us? Or, if she looks really bad. I mean she was hit by a train, Les?”

“Lots of people go to viewings. It’s respectful,” Les said proud of his use of the word “respectful”. He liked practicing new words, but that didn’t mean he wanted to learn a new language. He hastened to add, “My grandmother says the funeral folks use all sorts of make-up and stuff so folks just look like they are sleeping.”

“Should we take something…like flowers…I don’t have any money, Les. My Dad says we are probably going to end up in the poor house…but I don’t even know where the poor house is, do you?” Jessie had been storing up all the tidbits of information she could accumulate from her parents arguments since they were laid off, trying to prepare herself for whatever was coming. She had a boatload of negativity that she carried everywhere she went. She knew it was all bad, but she didn’t understand most of it.

“Nah, we can just go and pay our respects,” stated Les, a tone of authority in his voice.

“Ok,” Jessie murmured. “What time?” She eyed Megan and Cindy across the room, knowing she would have to get them home and find something for them to eat. She rose, grabbed her sisters’ hands over their protests and dragged them toward the door.

“Oh, Jessie…dress up like for Sunday School.” Les called after their backs as they retreated through the hedge.


The phone rang almost as quickly as the Wingate’s were gone. It was Matt Ryan at the funeral home. Could she bring something for Ellie to wear and did she want to view her mother before they put her out for the public? It struck Clara that who ever wants to see their parent dead before or after the public, but she simply said that she would pick a dress and yes, she would appreciate a few minutes alone with her mother. Apparently her worries about the funeral arrangements were uncalled for. Ellie had made all arrangements two weeks before. Matt Ryan knew her mother was dying before she did. Childishly, she decided she had never liked the man and then, had she ever even met him?

She found the dress, shoes–shoes? whoever sees feet in a coffin?–jewelry, all in a bag, clearly marked in Ellie’s broad script, “For my funeral”. Lump in her throat, she pulled the bag off the hook. Carting them out, she stopped dead in her tracks. How was she getting to the funeral home? Guess I will have to take the Mighty Moose. Backtracking through to the kitchen she grabbed the keys to her Mom’s GEO tracker, a relic from the 1990’s, which she found in the garage. Thankfully, it started right off. Matt Ryan had remarked that Ellie’s viewing room was filling up with flowers and other memorials, so they wanted to get her out as soon as possible.


God forbid that folks had to wait to get a gander at the woman who had been hit by a train. Clara grimaced as she and the Mighty Moose took off.

Porch Story Chapter 12

“Give me my freedom for as long as I be.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
and all I ask of dying is to go naturally, only want to go naturally.
Don’t want to go by the devil, don’t want to go by the demon,
don’t want to go by Satan, don’t want to die uneasy,
just let me go naturally.
And when I die and when I’m gone,
there’ll be one child born, there’ll be one child
born in the world to carry on.” Music and Lyrics by Laura Nyro


Nancy’s head replayed the telephone conversation from Delia. Saved from searching through Ellie’s address book, her cell phone destroyed in the accident, by Delia’s initiative. She hadn’t known Ellie’s father and step-mother well, having only visited with them a few times over the years during one of their rare visits or inspections as Ellie referred to them.

She did know Ellie had visited them at least twice a year since her Dad’s retirement from the Air Force. At least she did not have to get the house ready for their arrival, Delia had already made reservations. They were flying into Wichita Falls and a driver would ferry them to and from and about town during their visit.

She remembered them as stiff, aloof people, but Delia had sounded, well, not chatty, but soft, friendly with a warmth in her voice that Nancy did not recall at all. There had even been a moment when the line went silent and Nancy could have sworn Delia was crying.

She pulled into Ellie’s driveway, noticing a strange blue Camry with a Hertz rental sticker on the back window. Clara? But, wasn’t Brian picking her up at the airport in Oklahoma City? She sighed, given the history between the two, maybe Clara had opted at the last minute to drive herself. Climbing out of the car into the afternoon heat sweat immediately poured from her pores.

She dug in her bag to extract her key to Ellie’s house, but reaching the kitchen door she noticed it was ajar. Her heart quickened, even here, that was odd. Ellie locked her doors when she was away. First, a strange rental car in the driveway and now this? She shook her head and murmured to herself, “Clara.”

Pushing it open cautiously, she first noticed take out food wrappers and drink cups littering the table. Odd, Ellie seldom let such debris pile up, but then she had had some awful news. Moving through the kitchen and into the expansive living room she spied a familiar figure sitting in the midst of scattered journals and papers, shoulders heaving with sobs.


Without thinking she lowered herself to the floor and took her weeping daughter, her prodigal into her arms and rocked her, trying to understand what she was saying between her sobs.

“Mom, Mom, did (sob) did (sob) you know?”

“Know what, Cupcake?” Nancy found herself still trying to absorb the fact that she had found her daughter in Ellie’s house.

“Ellie (sob) had a (sob) brain tumor. She only (sob) had a (sob) a few months to live.” Mandy’s voice gained strength, turning accusatory. She shoved several sheets of paper directly into her mother’s chest pushing her away, as she scrambled out of the embrace. Backing up like a frightened animal, Nancy thought with a pang. Words failed her, her emotions too raw. Obviously, Nancy concluded, Mandy had come to Ellie’s bypassing even the courtesy of a call to her mother. The sheet and pillow on the couch, the mess in the kitchen and on the floor before both of them evidence that she had been here at least since yesterday. As a mother it was hard not to be offended by Mandy’s actions, but she pulled the blast of recriminations back from the tip of her tongue, swallowed them and looked down at the papers Mandy had thrust into her lap.

A still small voice in her head reminded her there is a “time to be silent” and so she perused the papers with their diagnosis ( Grade IV, Glioblastoma), prognosis (poor), treatment options (palliative). She looked at the list of medications, Ellie had been taking recognizing only one or two, pain medication, anti-seizure medication. Then as if she could grasp the content better, or maybe to avoid engaging her daughter, she read them again.

Mandy spoke first, her voice tiny, child-like, “We could have said ‘good-by’ if we had just known. But NO she had to go and die first! That is just so mean!” Her voice broke into a sob that convulsed into laughter. Nancy snorted and then laughed with her daughter until they both were crying again.

“Just like her to go and die before we could say good-by. What kind of friend was she?” Nancy remarked through gulps of laughter and sobs, tears streaming down her face.

Then in unison, eyes meeting, “THE BEST.” So true, so true.

Sally Burton produced tuna sandwiches for the group around the table with not a single turned up nose. Since Les preferred peanut butter and jelly, she expected him to complain, but he simply pulled a sandwich from the plate and gobbled it down with his friends. They were intent on a project of their own making, having requested drawing and painting materials, which Sally produced. Macy had run home and returned with poster board. Even Jessie’s two younger sisters were busy coloring in letters, with Jessie’s warning that they had better stay within the lines.

Retreating Sally bumped into her husband as he came out of his office or “man cave” as she had dubbed it. Paul’s face betrayed his frustration and concern. Uprooting his family, laying off men and women, he thought of as friends weighed heavily on him. He tried desperately to hide his raw emotions and laugh as he and Sally collided.

“Oops! Sorry, Sal. Wasn’t watching where I was going.”

Sally caressed his forearm, wishing he’d quit trying to hide his emotions to spare her. Good grief after all the years they had been together did he think his stiff upper lip, fake jollying would fool her. They needed to talk. She knew it. He knew it. Moving to Mexico wasn’t either of them’s choice, but job hunting wasn’t either. They had been so sure when he became Plant Manager that they would be set, not wealthy, but not poor either.

“I just fixed some tuna sandwiches for the kids, Les’s Sunday School class, would you like one?”

“Sure. What are those kids doing over here?” Paul frowned.

“Oh, you know Ellie gave them all saplings on Sunday morning. They were going to plant them together with her on Monday with some sort of ceremony…Of course, that didn’t happen.”

Sally’s voice trailed off and she was silent for a few moments.

“Well, I think Les has his in his room in water, but a couple of the kids threw theirs out. Jessie Adams was the one who wanted to carry on with the whole idea, but with two of the trees gone, and Ellie gone…” again her voice faltered, “They are working on something else together maybe like a memorial to Ellie. I have kinda tried to let them do their own thing.” She stopped then added, “It is the most animated Les has been in the last couple of weeks.”

Paul grimaced, snatched the sandwich from her and started back to his study. “Well, it is not my fault, Sally. I am just doing what I have to do for my own family.”

Sally followed his back with her eyes, but did not respond or hurry after him. She knew he was hurting. She knew he was not responsible for MarVal closing up shop and heading across the border, but at that moment she had exhausted her reserve of comfort giving.

Their hysterical scene calmed, Nancy began clearing take out clutter from the kitchen, with Mandy following behind wiping surfaces clean. Together they folded the sheets on the couch with Nancy putting them in a sack to take home and laundry. They worked silently. The laughing, crying frenzy had pretty much quelled conversation.

Other than the notebooks, journals, and loose paper on the floor, the place was in order. They both sat down on the floor at the same time. Mandy had already begun the task, Ellie’s letter had asked Nancy and Clara to do, so Nancy saw no reason to move the piles. Just as she was thinking Brian and Clara should be there soon, she heard car doors open and close in the driveway. Mandy looked up, startled.

“Brian and Clara,” Nancy reminded Mandy. “He picked her up at the airport.”

Mandy nodded. Mother and daughter rose off the floor just as Clara followed by Brian entered by the kitchen door. Clara immediately ran into Nancy’s arms, struggling not to completely break down. Brian glared at his sister and mimed ‘why don’t you answer your phone?’

Porch Story Chapter 11

“They are really one tree, Granny told me. They are related to the Aspens in the Rocky Mountains, she said. The stand of willows along the creek bottom back of the house provides a wind break and shade but a strong wind always gets a few of them. But Granny says that same family of trees has been there since before she moved onto the farm. I think it is because they stick together and there are always new trees sprouting. So even when two or three crumble to the ground, new ones take their place.” From Eleanor Brown’s Journal

‘on the ground. meet u outside baggage claim?’

Brian read the text, while drinking a cup of coffee just up the road from Will Rogers Airport. He took another sip before chucking the cup in the waste bin and heading to his car. He had plenty of time to get to the baggage claim pick up area, before Clara could be outside waiting for him since parking was minimal and timed for pick ups. Ending up having to circle the airport did not appeal to him.

In an effort to convince Mandy to come along he had tried calling his sister but got her voice mail. No surprise there. He did not leave a message. His instincts told him Mandy’s avoidance of his attempts to contact her served her denial well. She’d always had that tendency preferring to ignore anything that caused her distress. She’d barely come home when their Dad had his accident, coming up with excuse after excuse for not driving the hundred miles to visit.

She had loved Ellie like a second Mom, so he suspected she was pretending nothing had happened. Actually, there were times he envied her capability to avoid the unpleasant tragedies of life. At least she hadn’t taken to booze or pills as far as he knew, but then he really did not know his sister anymore.

“Hi.” A quick kiss on the cheek, before helping him lift her luggage into the trunk.

“Hi, back. How are you holding up?”

“Ok at times, dazed at others, so far…” a swallow, an intake of breath, followed by a sideways look into the car’s interior, then, “No Mandy, I take it.”

“No, just the two of us on the ride. That ok? Surely we won’t kill each other during a 90 minute drive.”

His attempt at humor fell flat and his manufactured chuckle even flatter. Clara looked up at him, her clear gray green eyes trained directly on his blue ones, clearly she was calculating whether to bolt for the car rental booths or stay.


“Sorry, Clara. Bad taste, bad timing, story of my life, I know. Let’s get on the road. You pick the music and I will do my darndest not to make an a…, donkey of myself. Ok?”

Clara nodded. Brian Wingate had been, no, correction was her oldest and dearest friend, her confidante, her protector, her back up date for the Prom when Danny White had stood her up, but at her college graduation, he had turned up with a wowser of a ring and proposed to her. Out of the blue, in her opinion…they hadn’t really even dated. Unless, those late night coffees, occasional movies, concerts, lengthy phone calls while she carved out a separate life in Colorado counted. For him, their parting chaste kisses and “I love you”, “I love you more”‘s after marathon phone conversations added up to a match made in heaven.

Therein lay the real rub, the deal breaker for Clara, Brian was a pastor of a small suburban church in Skiatook. Despite her mother’s evangelizing and praying, faith eluded Clara, she became a skeptic her first year at the university. What was even crazier was that Brian after all their heated discussions knew that about her. What on earth could he have been thinking, proposing marriage to a non-believer. Even she got that “unevenly yoked” bit.

Still there he was driving her home for her mother’s funeral. He had grown silent in the car, allowing her to fiddle through his collection of CD’s finally inserting Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.” She glanced sideways at him. His jaw clenched slightly, lips moved, but in spite of the fact that she could see he wanted to talk, he held his tongue. That was Brian and she softened, even wished she loved him and loved his God, wished she could be the woman he deserved. Not happening, she thought especially now after her mother’s death and the contents of the letter.

A part of her wondered if the letter was in fact a kind of suicide note. She hadn’t revealed that to Nancy when they talked, but she couldn’t dismiss it entirely. Nor could she accept the concept that her life loving, faith filled mother would choose such an exit.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑