Goose feather size snowflakes glittered in the street lamp's golden glow, floating lazily like crystalline down. The ground outside the basement window of Limestone City, Minnesota's United Methodist Church turned white in a hurry. The scene made Leona Krebsbach imagine angels in Heaven with a wing shedding problem.
Suddenly, the elderly woman felt light headed. She leaned her thin frame against the window sill for support and frowned. Please not now. The sinking feeling brought annoyance with it. Here in church of all places. Why couldn't this wait to happen until she was home? Why did she have to be bothered while she wanted to enjoy the winter view?
Leona knew full well the weak spell made her face head on, that after years of watching similar scenes, this would be the last time she'd see a first snowfall. She wouldn't stand at this basement window ever again, gazing out at the dead grass between the church and the parsonage as the ground turned white.
Out of all the snowfalls in a winter, she aways favored this first quiet, slow snowfall of the season. Quiet except for the banging of the lanyard against the flagpole in the post office yard across the street.
Heavy nostalgia built as agonizingly as any pain might in her chest. At least, she hoped that was the cause of the unwanted pressure. With all the twinges she'd had lately, she couldn't be sure these days if she needed to brace herself for the end right away or not. So far the twinges had been false alarms.
When the feeling passed, Leona sighed deeply and straightened back up. She took a deep breath and tried to bolster herself to face the fact she had to get ready for far worse moments yet to come.
She had already decided she didn't have any intention of immediately taking to her sick bed and going quietly from this world. Not as long as she had the energy left to keep up her winter's pace.
No telling how long she would have stood at the window, mesmerized by the gently falling snow, if Pastor Jim Lockwood hadn’t cleared his throat softly.
Slowly, Leona turned to face him. The minister gave her a warm smile. He probably wondered why she hadn't left yet so he could lock the church basement exit door and go back home. The rest of the bible study group had cleared out some time ago.
Leona admired the dark haired, dark eyed young minister. He was just like the son she'd wanted to give her husband, Clarence, and couldn't.
She wished Jim Lockwood could grow old as pastor of this church while her grandchildren needed guidance, but she knew that didn’t usually happen. After a few years, ministers always got the call to go far away to another church. They moved out of the lives of the parishioners that had grown fond of them, leaving the congregation to have to get used to another minister.
At her age, Leona knew she was a fine one to talk about getting used to changes. She figured out a long time ago she shouldn't mind changes in everyone else's life if the changes were for the better.
In fact, she always looked forward with excitement to the new changes she made in her own life over the years. Like the time when she went back to school at the community college to learn to use a computer so she'd be able to carry a conversation with her grandchildren. She had to learn about the digital age after her grandchildren said her typewriter was as extinct as dinosaurs.
These days when she made herself think about the changes ahead of her she wished time could stand still. She knew that was an impossible thing to ask the Lord to do for her, but she still wished just for a short time she didn’t have to face the inevitable.
Putting off telling everyone that needed to know wasn't going to make a difference. She was pretty sure if she kept her illness a secret that wouldn't stop her death from happening. That would be a cruel thing to do to her family. She had to suck in how she felt and get up the courage to tell everyone that mattered in her life her days on earth were numbered. The twinges she'd felt lately were just a warning signal to prepare her. Her disclosure better be soon.
At her age with a long life behind her, she admonished herself that she should feel better prepared for the end than she did. If only she had managed to atone for that one time she regretted so many years ago. If not for that moment in time, she knew her mind set would be different, but she couldn't change the past no matter how much she would like to do it. No bucket list was designed to take care of a tall order like that one, especially on such short notice like the one she'd been given.
Leona gave the minister a wan smile. “You been standing there long?”
“Didn’t want to sneak up on you and startle you while you were deep in thought,” he said as he crossed the room to look out the window with her. “You looked very pensive. Are you thinking about anything in particular?”
“Several things. Life for one,” Leona said. “I was thinking how the seasons are like my life. I remember with fondness the spring time of my youth with loving parents and siblings. In the summer of my life, I married a wonderful man and raised two great daughters. Sharing the years of fall with a loving husband, that left me too soon, gave me many memories to keep me warm in the winter of my life. I've lived a long time and have been truly blessed thanks to God.”
Pastor Jim put a hand on Leona's back as he stared at the snow. “You always manage to have a parable or story to fit the moment. Beautiful outside, isn’t it? God designed nature to paint everything white in time for the holidays. If only the snow covered landscape could stay pristine all winter instead of turning a dirty brown.”
Leona chuckled. “I know exactly what you mean, but no way can we criticize the dust that blows in from the fields. That dirty farm land is what makes the income for farmers and businesses around here. Not unless you’re willing to make due with smaller collection plates.”
“Smaller collections are a given this time of year anyway. Especially with the way the economy is now. The whole community has had to learn to make do, but we must keep praying that times will get better soon.” Pastor Jim gave Leona a sincere look. “I'm sure you know how to make do better than my generation. You had experiences in your life with tougher times then the rest of us will ever know. Times when you had to make do.”
Leona sighed. “I expect that’s right. Make do and do without sometimes, too. That's something younger people today have no idea how it was. If the same thing happened to them, I fear they wouldn't know how to cope with the struggle.
During the depression in the thirties, I saved everything, even broken items just in case I had a use for them or needed parts off the junk for later on. Clarence and I were savers just like the Krebsbachs before him and my family before me, the Palmers. My daughters would tell you I still save too many useless things even now when I shouldn't worry about finances. That's why my house has so many cluttered closets, and the outbuildings still hold things that Clarence couldn't bear to throw away.
When I was first married, Clarence and I didn’t have money to buy writing paper so I could keep in touch with my parents. They were just two counties over, but we didn't have time to go see them as much as I would have liked. Sometimes, it was a matter of not having enough money in the budget to buy gas for the car.
I wrote my mother as often as I could. I made do by tearing pages out of old Sears and Roebuck catalogs. I’d write my letters on the margin. Even then, I still had to sell enough eggs to pay for the envelopes and stamps.”
“I’m sure your parents were happy to hear how Clarence and you were getting along no matter what your message was written on,” Pastor Jim assured her.
“In those days, faith in the Lord, a good husband, loving family and friends put our struggles into perspective. I always felt rich in ways that counted. That rosy outlook is what kept Clarence and me going and looking forward hopefully to a promising future. That outlook paid off as you can see,” Leona told him.
“Well put. I'm working on a Thanksgiving sermon to emphasize that very thing, wise lady. We should all learn to count our blessings just like you had to do in hard times, and I'm sure you still do now. When days are difficult, we have to learn to look forward to better days.
Once a lesson is learned, we don't soon forget it, do we? My parents saved many things just like you did. No one knows how to save these days, and we do need to learn to recycle more than we do. I hear all the time that this nation is a country of wasteful people.”
“Clarence always said you can look in the review mirror and lament the past. Or, learn from hardships faced by others, meaning our parents, and do a better job in your life time,” Leona said sagely.
Pastor Jim nodded agreement. “A wise man, your Clarence. If you don’t mind, I'd like to quote you.”
“I don't mind.”
“Have a good attendance at bible study today?” He asked.
“Yes.” Leona fiddled with the straps on her black purse.
Assuming she was nervous about the drive home, Pastor Jim cautioned, “Drive carefully going back to the farm. Doesn’t take long for a wet snow like this one to make the roads slick. With night coming on, black ice is hard to see when it forms on the salt brined pavements.”
Leona glanced out the window. The snow hadn't let up. If anything the flakes were coming down faster. “I’m a safe driver. I've had long years of winter driving practice to prove it.” She clutched her purse to her waist and turned to face the minister. “Pastor, I’m not ready to leave yet. I've been waiting for you to show up, because I have something I need to talk to you about.”
“You sound serious. Now we must be going to get to the real reason you were so pensive when I came in. Let’s sit down.” Pastor Jim took her elbow and led her over to the black folding chairs lined up around one of the long white tables. He pulled out two chairs and held onto one until Leona eased into it.
Leona plopped her purse and bible onto the table. As Pastor Jim sat down, she shifted the chair to face him. She had to look him in the eyes so she could use his strength to get her words out. “I need to tell you this will be my last time leading bible studies.”
“What? Th -- this is so sudden. I hate to hear you want to stop. What will we do without you?” He blurted out, flustered.
“Don’t worry.” Leona patted his hand reassuringly. “I’m not leaving you in the lurch. I took the liberty of asking Becky Smallwood to take my place. I thought I would make my leaving easier on you if I help you find someone else.”
“Thank you for thinking about me. Becky’s okay, but just the same no one can take your place. You've been the best teacher for the job for so many years,” Pastor Jim said adamantly. “Besides, I’ll miss talking to you on Wednesday nights.”
“I appreciate that. I know I’ve been as predictable as this snow, showing up here for years. Don't worry. Becky will be a fine teacher. She is very knowledgeable about the bible and a fast learner.” Leona licked her lips, mustering up the courage to continue. “Things have to change from time to time. That’s just the way life is. Sometimes, we aren’t given a choice so we have to make the best of it.”
“Did someone say you can’t lead bible study anymore? Tell me who it is. I’ll have a talk with that person right away. I don't want you to stop teaching,” demanded Pastor Jim.
“Actually, I was talking about you in regard to your accepting this change. You're right though. Someone did let me know I had to stop teaching bible study classes.” Leona paused, giving the minister an amused look. “I wager you talk to that someone every day, Pastor. Just the same, no amount of your pleading or praying will change the fact that I have to quit. What I need to tell you now is the hardest part, the reason why I'm quitting.”
Looking into her sad, brown eyes, Pastor Jim's brow furled. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“Probably not. Don't feel bad though. I’ve had trouble facing this myself so I know how you will feel when you hear my news. It's time to start talking about this problem out loud so I picked you to be the first. I want to practice on you. I hope you don't mind.
I need to face this dilemma I have head on, but it has been hard taking the first steps. So in order to help me stay motivated, I've made a bucket list.”
“A bucket list,” Pastor Jim echoed.
“Yes, I have many details I have to take care of right away. Actually, I don't have much time to do get them done you see. One of the first details on the list is now taken care of, finding my replacement for bible studies.”
“Making a list to remind you to get things done for the holidays is fine, but calling this list a bucket list might be a poor choice of words,” Pastor Jim reproached.
Leona gave him a doleful look. “No, I used the right words.”
“What’s wrong?” Pastor Jim croaked.
“I’m going to die soon. I have liver cancer,” Leone said bluntly.
The young man combed his hand through his hair and fixated on the floor. “I've felt something was wrong for a while now. You’ve lost weight, and your complexion is pale. I hated to bring it up. Knowing how efficient you are, I prayed you were on top of the situation and going to the doctor.”
“Your prayers must have worked. I did get checked out. The doctor said there wasn't anything that could be done for me. You see I didn’t have much warning. Apparently, I'd had the cancer for some time and didn't know it. The doctor said I have only a short time left to live.” Leona rifled through her purse and brought out a small spiral notepad with Christmas decorations scrawled over the cover. “So just to show you I'm not joking, this is my bucket list, and I have to get the list completed as quickly as I can. Actually, I'm calling this a Christmas Bucket List, because that might be my deadline,” she said with dry humor.
Pastor Jim combed his shaky fingers through his dark hair again. “I want to do anything I can to help you. Is there some of that list I can take care of to help you complete it?”
Leona flipped through the notepad pages. “On page two of my bucket list is get details out of the way for my funeral to take the burden of details off my two daughters. Of course, I want to ask you if you will conduct the funeral service here.”
The minister took her hand. “That’s a given, dear friend.”
“Good. Now for scriptures, since I've lived in the country my whole life I've always been partial to the twenty-third psalm. You can pick the rest of the scriptures you want to fit into the service. The two songs I want the choir to sing are Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art. If my girls have a hymn they like, they can add their favorites to make them feel better if they want to do that.”
“All right. Done,” Pastor Jim said briskly as if they were planning details for a soup supper.
While she read the items aloud, Leona was busy checking off the details in her notepad. “I was going to ask Becky Smallwood to sing a solo, but I didn’t have the heart to heap bible study duties on her and burden her with my demise and performing at my funeral all at the same time. So maybe she could lead the choir.”
“What did you have in mind for her to sing just in case?”
“Becky nails any song she sings. How about The Wind Beneath My Wings?” Leona asked. “I think everyone likes that one.”
“That would be a super choice and fitting for you. Please allow me to work on these details in this bucket list of yours,” Pastor Jim insisted.
“All right. I still have to contact the pallbearers I decided on to make sure they are prepared when Arlene calls them. I’ve already been to the funeral home, made arrangements there for the visitation and settled the bill. The casket I picked out is very pretty. It's dark pink with roses on both sides the handles.” Leona stopped to catch her breath.
“You have been very thorough, I see. Not that I'm surprised. This is just the way you tackle everything you have always set out to do. Head on,” Pastor Jim said softly.
“Yes, I’ve managed my life the way I wanted until now. I don’t see any reason to leave the details of my funeral for my family to have to do,” Leona assured him. “Besides, there’s some comfort in knowing how my life will end, and what will happen at my funeral.”
“Not many people have your courage to face the end, planning like this, dear lady,” Pastor Jim said admiringly.
“Well, it took some doing to get to this point. I’ve reasoned with myself about dying. You see, I've done my best to live a decent life. At least for the most part, I think my family will be proud of the way I lived. I think I know where I’m headed, and that's a comfort,” Leona said, pointing a finger toward the ceiling. “Carrying out my final details for my daughters so they won't have to gives me peace of mind.”
“I can vouch for the honorable way you have lived your life. I'm as sure as you are that you will go to Heaven.
I've always admired your self control that allows you to take charge of any task. Even at such a difficult time in your life as this one. You have the presence of mind to make your final plans by yourself, and do whatever else needs to be done. You always handle adversity head on, because you're a very strong woman,” Pastor Jim complimented.
She cocked her head to the side. “I think the modern term the grandchildren and my daughters use for me is control freak. I've always put myself in charge, and I figure on doing that until the end so I know everything is done right to my satisfaction and goes smoothly.”
“When it concerns the end of your life, no matter what anyone would say I will stand with you on this. I think you’re entitled to run the show the way you want it,” he joked with a weak smile.
“Thank you,” Leona said as she reached over and patted his arm. “Somehow I just knew you would be on my side.”
Pastor Jim looked worried. “Always, dear lady. This is upsetting to me to say the least. How is your family taking the news?”
With averted eyes, Leona said, “They don't know yet.”
“What! Your daughters need to be told. You should do that soon, before they hear the news from someone else,” Pastor Jim cautioned.
“I will. So far the people that know, I told to keep this to themselves until I've had time to tell my family. I'm dreading that so much, but I plan to tell them right after Thanksgiving is over.
Arlene will want to smother me with kindness or boss me around. Diane will be a basket case that we'll all have to take care of. So why spoil the last holiday we'll have together for the rest of the family,” Leona explained.
Pastor Jim nodded. “I understand that, but you've been their rock for all these years. This will seem like a sudden blow to your daughters and hard for the whole family to absorb for a while. I guess you will not be able to come to church soon. Where will I find you for visits? The farm?”
“No, my health will decline fast. I’ll need medical care very soon, and I don't want to burden my daughters and their families. Right after Thanksgiving, I’m moving into The Willows, a hospice house on the outskirts of town. Come there to see me whenever you have time.”
Pastor Jim took a deep breath before he spoke. “Can I borrow your bible? I didn’t realize there would be a need to bring mine with me from the parsonage just to lock the church door.”
Leona handed her worn thin bible to him.
“Let’s pray,” he said, already bowing his head.
She glanced out the window. The wind moaned a wailing cry as it whipped around the building, churning the snow into a furious haze. She needed to head for home right away. All she left home with was her handbag, and a prayer that this winter day would go well. She wasn't sure that would be enough to guarantee her a safe return home the way the storm had intensified. Other winters, she had always put an emergency supply kit in the car, but she hadn't gone to the bother this time.
“I appreciate the prayer, but you know you don’t have to pray for me right this minute. I’ve accepted what is coming, and I certainly do expect you to be by my side to bolster me later on when I weaken,” Leona insisted.
Gripping her bible in his hands, Pastor Jim said, “And I will be very glad to be there anytime you need me, dear lady. Just bear with me this once. I'm not only praying for you. I have to pray for strength for me so that I will be able to help you. I'm not going to be able to take your news too well until I get used to it,” he said, his eyes a misty blur.
Leona laid a frail, blue veined hand on the pastor’s strong one. She said with a touch of humor, “Can you make it a short one, Pastor? I need to head for home soon. Like you said the roads will be slick. You see I can’t die in a car wreck today. I haven’t finished all the arrangements for my funeral yet, and I still have to complete the rest of my bucket list.”
A few minutes later, Leona turned off the tree lined street and drove down Main Street. She noticed the last minute shopper hustle that always went on the day before Thanksgiving. Almost every parking place had a vehicle in it. That wouldn't change now until after Christmas shopping was over.
Loretta Abbas hustled along the sidewalk, her arms loaded with bags. She stopped by her car and looked up as Leona drove by. Loretta fumbled with her car door, got it opened, set the bags on the back seat and managed to wave at Leona all in a heartbeat.
Loretta was probably in a hurry to get home before dark, too. Seeing the woman was a reminder that Leona needed to call her. She wanted Loretta to head up a coat and clothes drive from one year to the next for the Indian Settlement. If Loretta turned her down, maybe the woman would be kind enough to find someone that did have time to volunteer.
Suddenly, Leona felt maudlin about not being able enjoy the Christmas holiday. She had always looked forward to Arlene and Diane's yearly visit right after Thanksgiving. They spent a day with her, putting up the tree and decorating the house just like they did when they were children.
Leona relished buying just the right gift for each member of the family and baking Christmas cut out cookies with the grandchildren. She made a large amount of fudge and divinity so the girls could take a box home. After a few failed attempts over the years, Arlene and Diane gave up trying to make candy. They told her they would rather enjoy the candy she made.
The effort Leona put forth to make the holiday special for her girls and their families when they came home had always been a labor of love.
After this, the girls and their families would have to make due with special memories from this Thanksgiving. She wouldn't be doing anything about Christmas except taking care of her bucket list if it wasn't done by then.
Suddenly, Leona realized she was coming up to the grocery store parking lot. If she was going to make pumpkin pies, she needed more milk and eggs. Leona stepped on the brakes and fishtailed. She negotiated the turn into the parking lot and realized the lot was full of cars. Near the entry door, Leona spotted an empty handicap parking spot. She shouldn't park there. She wasn't legally able to, but she considered this an exception. She had to be careful. Falling on the slick concrete and breaking a hip wouldn't enhance her Thanksgiving plans.
Luckily, Leona found one shopping cart left in the corral. She grabbed it and took off for the milk and egg section. By staying in the middle of the aisles, she dodged past the other shoppers, lingering along the sides.
There weren't too many jugs of milk left. Leona put one in her cart. She thought better of that and picked up another. Her grandchildren drank milk. She was reaching for an egg carton when someone tapped her shoulder.
Leona turned and found her son-in-law, Steve, grinning at her. “Fancy meeting you here, Leona.”
“I guess. Looks like most of the town is in here right now. I was lucky to find one shopping cart not in use.”
Steve nodded agreement. “Me, too. So about ready for the big day tomorrow?”
“You bet and looking forward to every minute of it,” Leona assured him.
“I thought you might be.” Steve turned serious. “Leona, how you feeling these days?”
Leona questioned sharply, “Where did that come from?”
“My secretary said she saw you coming out of Dr. Crane's office last week.” Steve shrugged. “Arlene hasn't mention you not feeling well so I thought I should ask.”
Leona fumbled around with the egg carton, trying to find just the right place for it in the cart.
“Leona, are you stalling?”
“I might be,” Leona said stiffly.
Steve came along side her cart so he could see her face. “There is something wrong, isn't there?”
“Steve, you're a dear to worry about me. I plan on talking to Arlene and Diane right after Thanksgiving about my doctor visit. Can you keep what your gossiping secretary saw to yourself until then?”
Steve grinned. “Sure.”
“Promise me. I know how hard it is to keep from telling Arlene something like this, but this is important to me,” Leona implored.
“All right, I promise, but only until after Thanksgiving. I might break my promise if Arlene doesn't get an explanation from you soon,” Steve said earnestly.
“Now aren't you the hard taskmaster,” Leona teased.
Steve shrugged. “I'm just concerned about you. Is there anything I can do for you until you talk to Arlene?”
“Just enjoy tomorrow with me,” Leona said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I'll handle the rest in my own good time.”
“Fine, but like I said make it soon. You're right. I don't like keeping secrets from Arlene. You know, driving isn't great tonight. Out in the country it has to be hard to see where you're going. You want me to take you home? We could leave your car in the parking lot, and Jason could drive it out tomorrow as we come,” Steve suggested.
“Certainly not. If it's hard driving now, then you would have to come back to town by yourself. It will probably be even worse after dark. I don't want to have to worry about you making it home.
I'll be careful. This isn't my first experience at driving on slick roads you know,” Leona chided. “Now I best get to the checkout lines. Might be a long wait for my turn. See you in the morning.”
Once she had driven away from the slick streets in town, Leona carefully negotiated the snow covered blacktop past the rock quarry Limestone City was named for. The wind was blowing hard. The landscape was in a near white out condition. Snow whisked across the road in front of her at a fast pace, making visibility terrible.
Leona leaned into the steering wheel and strained to see maybe half a dozen yellow dashes in the middle line if she was lucky. When she looked to the sides, Leona could barely make out the bleak silhouette of the familiar century old farm houses and outbuildings she had past on a regular basis for most of her life. The sky seemed to hover low, touching the tall harvester silos in the haze. Black crop land shifted about under the swirling snow, turning the ditches from pearly white to brown tinged. Just like Pastor Jim predicted.
As Leona grasped the steering wheel with a white knuckle grip, she tried to keep her mind off the winter traveling conditions and how nervous she was. Instead, she worried about meeting up with Steve in the grocery store. She had been busted for sure, but it was time to tell her daughters about her circumstances anyway.
All she could do was pray that Steve didn't let what his nosy secretary told him slip to Arlene before she was ready to talk to both daughters at the same time. She imagined Arlene trying to weasel out of her what was wrong during the Thanksgiving Day gathering. That could make the day miserable for all of them, because no matter what, Leona didn't intend to disclose her heath issues until after Thanksgiving. That was her plan, and she was sticking to it.
Actually because she created a bucket list, Leona had completed almost everything she wanted to get done before she had to talk to her girls. She felt good about not leaving any loose ends for her daughters to worry about.
Now she had marked off talking to Pastor Jim about his part in the funeral. What a dear that young man was. It surprised her a little he was so upset by her news.
After all, she had lived a long life, and death comes to everyone sooner or later. In her case, she was lucky that it was later. It dawned on Leona, the minster's reaction might have been the fact Pastor Jim was going to miss her helping out all the time.
She always volunteered to help at church when no one else stepped forward. She had been the bible study leader for years and helped with the children at Vacation Bible school in the summer. When she stopped to think about it, Leona decided she was leaving a void at church that Pastor Jim would notice for a while. Like with all unexpected changes, he'd just have to adjust to this one.
With all she had to cope with in the last few days, Leona hadn't given any thought to the fact that there would be others besides her family that would miss her. Now it occurred to her, she had touched many lives. If not the head, she was the driving force behind many of the community groups that helped other people.
All right, she thought. So they will miss me for a while. When someone we know dies, we all know how quickly the feeling of loss fades away. Others will step up to the plate and take over where I left off. At least, I hope they do. Just to be on the safe side, I'll talk to some of the women in the committees about taking over.
Lord, you may have to help me finish my bucket list. I might not have enough time left to look for someone to take my place with all the community projects. What if Loretta turns me down about helping at the Indian settlement? That's a very important project and will be an on going one. Maybe you can help me out. Nudge the people I need to take my place into volunteering and especially at the settlement. Amen.
Her mailbox appeared out of no where in the haziness. No doubt that it was her mailbox. One year, her son-in-laws got a John Deere mailbox for Clarence as a Christmas gift. The car headlights reflected off the green tractor and the orange reflector on the post below it.
Leona slowed down to make the turn into the driveway and rolled past the orchard. The fruit trees made her think of ugly skeleton bones reaching their hands toward the sky as they frosted over with ethereal snow that weaved in and out of the limbs.
That wasn't a very pretty picture I just painted for myself, she scolded mentally. She didn't need to be thinking about dead things. She didn't want to picture skeletons right now. What a depressing concept that was.
Just too bad it wasn't spring. Those trees would be full of blossoms and later fruit. Cheerfully was the way she wanted to remember the orchard Clarence and she started and enjoyed all these years.
It occurred to Leona that the snow might not stop before a deep accumulation threatened to ruin Thanksgiving Day for her and her family. Her attention shifted back to the driveway. Oh, good. The snow isn't very deep yet.
Neighboring farmer, Jeff Swanson, was always willing to come over with his tractor and snowblower to clean her driveway, but she hated to bother him on a holiday. Still this was going to be the last holiday she celebrated with her family, and she wanted them to be able to make it. She thought of this gathering as a memory making day for her family. When the holidays came around again, they could look back on this holiday with her and enjoy remembering what a good time they had. She could wait until morning to see if she had to bother Jeff.
An overwhelming, safe feeling warmed her when she sighted her century old house. Suddenly, the disquieting voice in her head, that tended to unsettle her, reminded her that relishing the sight of her house when she came home was another final moment.
Once she stepped out of her car, she'd never drive it again. Nothing about her life would ever contain a familiar habitual routine again. Everything she did from here on out on her farm would be for the last time.
Those reminders cropped up quite often. She supposed it was a way to keep her grounded in reality about her demise. Sometimes, she couldn't help feeling perturbed at being slapped in the face with reality so often.
No matter how dark and quiet her house looked from the outside, that house was home. She always felt warm and safe inside its walls accompanied by a life time of wonderful memories. Those memories had always kept her from being lonely when she didn't have anyone around to talk to.
The civic and church groups she volunteered in filled a lot of her day time hours. Going to endless meetings for the better good of the community had been a gratifying experience and kept her busy. For her brief remaining spell on earth, she had her pleasant memories of home, family, community and most important her faith that would help her work herself through this difficult time. She'd see to that.
When the time came, Leona knew it would be difficult for her to announce she was going to drop out of all the groups, but she hadn't realized just how hard it would be. She called each committee head that morning to tell them she was quitting.
Leona realized she'd made a mistake when she chose Hattie Toffefson as her first call. That woman could never take no for an answer. Immediately, Hattie tried to talk her out of quitting without waiting for Leona's explanation. Leona should have expected that, but she wasn't prepared for Hattie's insistence that she rethink bowing out of the committee. Leona did understand why. She had always made Hattie look good when she took charge while Hattie took the credit.
Hattie finally gave up when she finally figured out her pleas were on deaf ears. She said she'd miss Leona's help, and she might have to call Leona for advice once in a while. Leona replied Hattie could do that if she wanted to, said a fast good bye and hung up.
Leona figured it didn't hurt just this once to lead Hattie astray. Otherwise, the woman wasn't going to let Leona get off the phone. Not much chance a phone line reached to Heaven yet, but with all the new computer technology, someone might be working on a way to hook up a line. You never know. If anyone ever got desperate enough for advice on a project, it would be Hattie. Leona grinned. She wouldn't be one bit surprised if Hattie became that desperate and managed to put a call through to her in Heaven.
Leona heard gasps of surprise on the other end of the line when she explained to the other committee heads why she called them. The women sounded astonished when they heard the news. It come out of the blue. Unlike Hattie, they thought to ask why? Leona was prepared with an answer.
She told them she was getting to the age driving was difficult. She felt she needed to stay off the road as much as possible, especially in the winter. That sufficed as a reason for everyone, and then there was Hattie. For Pete sakes, you would think that woman would be the first to understand the getting older excuse. Hattie is two years older than me.
Anyway, the age excuse was good enough to take care of her resigning as far as the other women were concerned. Leona knew better than to tell those women the truth before she talked to her daughters and their families. She knew she had made the right decision after the way Pastor Jim reacted. She didn't have the courage to tell all the people she knew she was dying. She couldn't stand seeing them all get teary eyed and maudlin on her.
Besides, the old gossips in those committees would keep the phone lines tingling, discussing a hot news item like her imminent demise. If that had happened, her daughters would be sure to find out before she was ready to tell them.
Leona eased into the two stall garage and parked. It was dark enough now that the yard light came on and caught her eyes in the rear view mirror. The light cast a yellow glow behind the falling snow, creating golden flakes. She sat for a minute, looking around her as she tried to will herself the energy to get out of the warm car.
The empty stall next to her used to be where Clarence kept his old blue pickup. The stall hadn’t been used for much of anything the last nine years after her husband died of a sudden heart attack. Since then, that stall housed the snowblower and lawn mower.
Leona felt the closest to Clarence when she was in the home they shared for so many years. When she thought she couldn’t stand missing him a minute longer, she talked out loud to his picture. She figured that would seem strange if she admitted it. If anyone had heard her over the last nine years, they would think she had slipped a cog a long time ago. Quite the contrary. Knowing that Clarence was still with her in spirit is what kept her sane. Knowledge that she'd soon be with him in Heaven was what she held onto now to keep her strong.
From the first time she met Clarence at church so many years ago, that impishly boyish grin of his always gave her a thrill. They dated for a year before they married. How different times were back then. Getting to know each other was more important for a couple then it is these days and was considered the proper thing to do by parents.
Now it’s wham bam, thank you ma’am, or let’s get married right away. A couple years down the road, couples divorce because of irreconcilable differences they hadn't figured out they had until it was too late.
Fifty years, Clarence and she were together. They went from being young and full of energy to silver haired, retired farmers way too fast it seemed. Then just as fast, Clarence left her to finish out her life alone. Tears blurred her eyes as she imagined Clarence in his old rusty beater in the space next to her car, smiling at her.
She smiled back as she whispered, “I’ll be seeing you soon, Clarence.”
Trudging through the inch of snow, Leona wondered when the short walk across the yard to the back door had turned into such a long way to go. The answer was probably when her legs and feet swelled to twice their normal size. A fact that she had ignored for longer than she should have before she went to the doctor.
Leona changed her mind and took a short cut to the front door. Walking in the cold air made her short of breath. She flipped the light switch beside the door so she could see and fumbled in her purse for the key.
The porch light shone down on the old door’s oval frosted glass with two graceful swans swimming in a pool. When Clarence repaired the old steps, enlarged the porch and made the roof overhang larger, he wanted to put on a fancy steel door so the whole remodeling would be new. She let him know that wouldn’t do. The character of this house wouldn’t be the same without its door.
Once inside, she closed the door and slumped against it to rest. After a few minutes, she bent down to release the Velcro straps on her black shoes. She didn’t like the look of these old people shoes one little bit, but the doctor suggested she’d be able to loosen the straps to accommodate her feet as they swelled.
As expensive as shoes are, it seemed reasonable not to have to buy several pairs, each a size larger at this stage in her life. No telling how many pairs she would have needed before the end. Ugly or not, she was satisfied that this pair of shoes would do her from here on out.
While she tried to catch her breath, she inhaled the strong smell of lemon Pledge. The living room, with every available surface a plethora of knick knacks and family photographs, her mother used to call dust catchers, wrapped her in warmth.
The room's heat caused the snow to puddle around her shoe soles. As she slipped her feet out of the shoes, Leona watched water spots soak into and darken the welcome door mat.
She never ever let anyone use the front door in the winter. Too messy and hard on the carpet she told them. Don’t want to buy another living room carpet at my age she used to say. This one will have to do me. She and her company always entered the house though the mud room door.
Sheepishly, Leona felt guilty about breaking her rule. Feeling weak had made her rebel against the rule, she excused. Anger welled up in her, because she felt weak and helpless to do anything about it. She knew from experience that anger might have been the one awful emotion that could have been her downfall if she hadn't learned to control it.
Maybe if she used the word unpredictable instead of feeling guilty that made staining the door mat not quite so bad. Just this once, she should be allowed to do something unpredictable. If they found out she used the front door, her daughters would probably pooh pooh her with the fact there wasn't anything earth shattering about changing a rule. They wouldn't care if she used her own front door when she felt like it. Practical Arlene would say, “Mom, it's your house, your front door and your carpet. Walk on it if you want to.”
For right now if she wanted to be inconsistent, breaking that harmless rule was the best she could manage. She spent her whole life trying to do the right things to the point everyone expected her to be way too predictable.
She found herself wondering what would be the most shocking thing she could dare to try. Something that would make everyone that knew her have a mouth open, jaw dropping reaction. Nothing came to mind. Breaking the rule she made about using the back door had to suffice. So she made a mess on the living room welcome mat this one time. She was entitled. After all, she was sick.
The thought struck her that breaking that rule wasn't much of an earth shattering experience if no else knew about it. Just like that time so many years ago when she did something that no one else knew about. For years, she had punished herself by feeling guilty about that, too.
She'd been raised to live her life the right way with no exceptions. Maybe her life would have been easier if she hadn't had the ridged standards her parents instilled in her that she felt she had to live by. Oh well, it was too late to go back now and change the one thing that worried her. Anyway, she really didn't have enough energy left to do it. She just had to be content with knowing that the rest of her life had been fine like it was. She wouldn't have change anything else.
Leona rubbed her forehead, feeling a headache coming on. The day’s efforts had worn her out, and she still felt jittery from the drive home. She flopped down on the edge of her brown recliner, struggled out of her coat, slid back and put her feet up.
Come on, old girl. It’s too late in life to stop being the predictable soul everyone knows, she scolded herself. Instead of thinking about rebelling in some way, you have to shape up and hold onto yourself for your family's sake.
First thing you have to do is quit coping out with the word sick. That time has passed. You’re dying. You got up the courage to say it to Pastor Jim. Don’t go backward now. There’s too much to do yet. More people to warn about what is going to happen. A Christmas bucket list to finish.
Leona scanned the room. She was pretty sure that pep talk came straight from Clarence. Their fiftieth wedding anniversary picture sat on the lamp table beside her. She placed the picture in her lap just as she had done many other lonely nights in the past. Lovingly fingering the frame, she studied the smiling face next to hers. “Thanks for the pep talk, Clarence.
If it’s all right with you, I’ve done all I intend to do on the bucket list for today. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I best get some sleep and be up early in the morning before the family gets me out of bed.”
Gently, Leona placed the picture back under the lamp. She put her feet down and started to get up. The room swirled. Not a good idea to move so fast. She still felt weak. Maybe she should sit just a few minutes longer. Leona leaned back, pushed her feet back up and closed her eyes, trying to wish the feeling away.
The grandfather clock's metallic chime tolled ten times, bonging loudly in the quiet room. Leona's eyes popped open. It took a minute to orientate herself. She looked at the time. For Heaven Sakes, she had slept the evening away.
She hadn't had any supper, but it didn't matter now. She was too tired to fix anything to eat. Not hungry enough to get motivated enough to make a mess in the kitchen she'd have to clean up that time of night.
She had to focus her mind on what she needed to do this moment. That was get into her nightgown and go to bed. She'd need all the strength she could muster to get through a hectic Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, trying to act like this was any other holiday.
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