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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

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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 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.

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

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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.

“Mandy?”

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?’

Fowl Play–Chapter Fifteen

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Chapter Fifteen

Lydia Brownfield did not go easily into the night. Nor did she welcome the bold woman who wheeled into her room, uninvited, unannounced, and intrusive. How dare someone enter her dismal sanctuary without requesting entrance? It did not matter to Lydia that such a request would have been refused. So what? She desired no company, did not expect to be cheered or entertained; Lydia desired nothing more than to explore in her able mind—her last fortress, her Alamo, the only part of her that remained fully functional—how best to terminate her existence and vaporize. She clung to this privilege with as much determination as the wounded Jim Bowie clutched his famous knife, his back against the wall as the forces of Santa Ana burst into his room bent on destruction. Die she would as Jim Bowie had, but neither amyotrophic lateral sclerosis nor any other would destroy her without her choice and without a fight.

Lydia had long thrown out any hope of afterlife not favoring an encounter with the Christ or the devil, but choosing to believe in instant oblivion. To Lydia death meant complete release into a great nothingness. She nursed the thought plotting how to best maneuver a quick departure on her terms.

Interruptions to her dark reverie released her greatest venom, which turned now on the rude young woman who entered her room without announcement. Little did she know this intruder would challenge her suicidal meanderings and send her mentally fleeing for her life, resolved to live, a decision that mocked the world view fueling her anger and molding her suicidal ambitions.

At the moment Amy pushed into the room, however, Lydia had yet to entertain any purpose for her life to continue let alone any thought that life even in her useless body would be worth defending. And so, Lydia reacted as she did with any person who dared cross her threshold.

In a voice brittle with anger but hardly the thunderous one she intended, Lydia ordered Amy to leave. Turning her head on her pillow, one movement that still remained within her control, she first faced her tormentor and then, with a bolt of will that sapped her energy, swung her face away. In her mind she had pivoted on her toes to present a cold unyielding back and marched away. In fact Lydia could not escape. Even though she continued to murmur, “Go away!” “Get out!” Lydia’s voice eventually collapsed as her lung capacity could no longer support both breathing and voice.

Amy met her eyes and smiled. Without responding to Lydia’s commands, she opened her violin case, checked the tuning and began to play. She ignored the thrashing of Lydia’s head on the pillow. Her concert continued for well over an hour. At the conclusion, Amy replaced the violin in its case, smiled at Lydia, whose hair was now matted to her skull with perspiration that dribbled onto her face unabated.

“Oh, my,” Amy said, “you do need to wipe your face, that must be very uncomfortable.” Amy rolled closer to the bedside, pulled up and ran her fingers through one of the trivets of sweat. She lifted her finger to her mouth and tasted, her smile wide and her eyes full of mischief.

Lydia furrowed her eyebrows unsure what to make of this action. The dark tones of the music still haunted her mind. Amy turned to the night stand and opening the top drawer and produced a small washcloth. Gently at first she wiped Lydia’s brow, checks, mouth and neck, before grasping the helpless woman’s nose and forcing a wad of the cloth into her mouth. Lydia’s widening eyes, the fear, prompted an even brighter smile from Amy. She held on though Lydia shook her head as violently as she could until Lydia passed out, then she withdrew the washcloth and her fingers caressed it.

The moistness intrigued her so she dabbed it with her index finger, lifted it to her nose, sniffed and then tasted. The fragrance, the sweet saltiness confirmed her suspicion. It was blood. Finding Lydia’s face again, Amy dabbed around her nose. A tiny breath of air escaped Lydia’s nose. Lydia’s breathing had resumed.

“Later,” Amy whispered. Lydia, though conscious, maintained closed eye silence quite unable to get her mind around what had just happened. Had she imagined it? No, she could not accept that. This phantom, this purveyor of musical dirges, had meant to kill her, but why? What possible purpose could there be? What had prompted her decision to withdraw? And why most of all had she, Lydia, struggled so against death. Why, indeed had she, just before the momentary blackness, longed for absolution; why had she of all people felt a need to be right with a Creator in whom she had no belief and no confidence?

As Lydia feigned unconsciousness, Amy settled onto her scooter, retrieved her violin and with the bloody washcloth in her lap retreated. At the nurse’s station she paused and handed the washcloth to the charge nurse explaining that Ms. Brownfield had become quite agitated, muttering all sorts of accusations and had in the process developed a bloody nose, which Amy had attempted to abate. Unfortunately, Ms. Brownfield fought against her touch, so Amy thought it might be best if one of the staff checked in on her.The nurse behind the desk nodded understandingly, but with a sag of the shoulders that suggested she might prefer to be thrown into a pit of vipers rather than enter Lydia Brownfield’s room.

Still as Amy moved away, she heard the nurse plodding down the hall. The exhilaration flooded her senses but she permitted only a small giggle to emerge. Patience, she cautioned herself. I must not rush.

There are so many here who need to be set free. Perhaps on her next visit to Lydia’s room, there would be no hesitation, and she would escort Lydia across the bar. Perhaps, not. Lydia certainly wasn’t going anywhere yet.

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