The view from her kitchen window no longer framed the scene she grew up with and once loved. Sad, barren land, dotted with ancient cherry trees struggling in vain to produce the sweet fruit as in the past, stretched for over 50 acres. A profusion of ragged, brown weeds covered the land now as far as she could see, which lately had become a very short distance.
When she squinted her rheumy eyes tight enough, Sarah could make out the stream that ran at the western edge of her family property. A slight hill ending on the far side of the orchard dipped ever so slightly toward the new fencing young Mr. George put up last year. For all of her 93 years, she had never seen a fence in these parts. Folks minded their manners and never intruded on other people's land. But, times have changed and not for the good, as far as Sarah was concerned.
When a sigh escaped from her wrinkled lips, a gentle nudge landed wetly on her gnarled hand. "It's okay Tag. I've lived a good life. Can't complain now when things don't seem to want to stay as they were. Time kinda moves on, even when we wish it would stand still, at least for a short while." She gave a loving pat on her constant companion. "I just miss seeing all them bright pink blossoms on the trees come spring. Them poor trees are older than me, and I'm getting pretty old here, boy."
Sarah pushed an errant wisp of white hair from her weathered face and patted it neatly back into the bun wound tightly against her neck. With great effort, she pulled her hunched shoulders back, lifted her head high, then took one more wistful look out the window and left her neat country kitchen.
"We got us some work to do today, boy." The faithful animal cocked his head, one eyebrow raised as if to ask "why today”?
Short, shuffling steps on arthritic feet, brought them to a little used room, one she had spent many nights sewing and creating small craft gifts for friends now long gone. An old pedal powered sewing machine stood before a small mullioned window, placed there many years ago to catch the additional light in the waning hours of a winter day.
Stacked against the far wall, boxes of scrap material used for quilting stood gathering dust. Tucked around the boxes lay bags of rags that had been intended for the rag rug she had in mind a few years ago. Back before her arthritis became so bad even holding her afternoon tea cup had become painful. A fine layer of dust had settled over the once busy room. Sara stood at the door, her eyes searching. Somewhere in this dim room was a chest. Halting steps brought her across the threshold. Her failing eyes roamed across the clutter, finally settling on an overflowing stack of rug rags.
Weak, shaking hands pulled until the bag fell to the floor revealing an old wooden chest banded with rusted strips of iron. "Oh dear, Tag. It looks as if I have made quite a mess here." The bag had spilled its faded contents onto the warped wooden floor. "We'll just push these aside for now," she said, using her foot to make a path to the chest.
Sarah grimaced as she knelt on the hard floor. She loosened the latches and raised the lid of the chest. Inside, between layers of yellowed tissue paper, were layers of her life; old sepia pictures of her parents and grandparents, neatly folded exquisite crocheted doilies and dresser scarves, and numerous mementos of the past. Bent, gnarled fingers lovingly lifted the old photographs. One by one, she traced the faces, remembering, as much as her mind would allow. Her thoughts had become only a medley of memories flickering within her mind like a frantic firefly flashing his light on and off in the night. She replaced the photographs and reached for a small ornate box. Inside rested a broach studded with fake pearls and garnets, a pocket watch minus its chain, and a silver locket. Her clumsy fingers struggled with the locket, finally opening it to reveal miniature portraits of her husband and herself. She dropped the locket into her sweater pocket and lifted the stack of doilies.
"I do believe that Sylvie will like these. We'll have to wrap them for her. And the locket, too." Her lips curved into a smile as she ran her hand across the delicate items. A groan escaped, replacing the smile to a grimace, as she stood. "Whew. Getting harder and harder to make these old legs do what I want. If only the body could keep up with the mind." She giggled behind her hand and looked down at Tag. "Seeing how bad my mind is these days, I guess I should be thanking the good Lord my body works at all."
Tag barked once and shook his big head. Floppy ears slapped his face causing him to blink. He followed Sarah into the bedroom where she once again stood and looked for a long forgotten spot.
“I suppose if I stand here long enough I’ll remember where I put that box, Tag.” Her eyes took in the neat room; an old iron rail bed with years of white paint layered on top of each other to cover the chips and nicks, the old wardrobe with intricate scroll work she had loved to touch as a child stood squeezed between the door and the wall of windows covering the east side of the room. She loved waking up with the sun shining through those windows; the glow of the morning light gently caressing her face. A short chest of drawers stood next to the bed.
Sarah shuffled to the chest and opened the bottom drawer. Old greetings cards, yellow with age, were neatly bundled and tied with faded pink ribbons. Letters, wrinkled and worn from constant reading over the years, were separated into bundles according to who had sent them, most were dated during the time of World War II, many from her two brothers who had not made it back, the others from her late husband, Charles. She picked up the bundle from Charles and held them to her chest. A soft smile played on her lips as poignant memories flittered across her mind. Occurrences that happened yesterday had been forgotten, but a whisper or a kiss from forty years ago was as fresh as if they had just brushed across her lips.
Trembling hands gently returned the letters to the drawer. She sighed as she closed the drawer on those memories. The only place left to look was the old wardrobe. The darkened brass hinges squeaked as she opened the tall doors. Beneath the stacks of neatly folded blankets and clothing lay a thin cardboard box. Her eyes sparkled when she found what she had been searching for.
Sarah carefully removed the old box and took it to the kitchen table. Before opening it, she put a kettle of water on the stove and took down a delicate flowered tea cup from the cupboard. When her tea had been poured, Sara sat at the table and opened the box. One by one, she removed the papers; sales receipts for shipments of the fruit from her cherry trees, birth certificates attached to the appropriate death certificates, marriage documents, tax notices, and finally the piece of paper she was seeking. She returned all the other papers to the box and set it aside.
She sipped the honey sweetened tea staring out the window. Bare branches of the nearest tree clacked against each other in the wind. Winter had lasted longer than usual this year, but Sarah could feel spring coming. Soon, her trees would sprout new buds and maybe, just maybe, this year the cherries would come back.
With small, spidery writing, she began a letter. Not many lines, as Sarah had always been brief in her conversations, never one to waste words; she signed the letter and folded it. The envelope was addressed and closed.
“Well, Tag, we have some walking to do now. I’ll get my coat and we can go.” As she reached for her coat the dog ran to the back door. His tail beat the floor, knowing they were going outside.
Sarah gathered the package of doilies and locket, and put the letter in her coat pocket. She closed the door after her, not locking it; she had never locked her doors, no one in this small town did. Sylvie’s house sat only three properties down the road, but in the country, three properties equaled a mile or more. The distance didn’t cross her mind, she had walked all her life, never did take to driving. Not that she would ever admit it, but the thought of driving a vehicle scared her to death. And so Sarah put one weak step on the dirt road and began the slow trip. Tag ran ahead, sniffing every bush and tree he encountered, chased a squirrel, and picked up a stick to chew.
Sarah had known Sylvie since she was born and watched her grow to a woman. The family had struggled as everyone in the county had over the last years. Sylvie married and continued to live with her husband and two children in her parents’ home. As much as she had to do in her own life, the young woman had made sure Sarah was watched over. She took care of Sarah’s grocery shopping and her husband made repairs to the old house. Good people, not money, made a difference in Sarah’s life.
Finally, the large, green painted farm house came into view. Sarah stopped for a moment to ease her breathing, and then crossed the brown lawn to the front porch. Taking slow, laborious steps up the front stairs, she listened to see if anyone was home. There were no cars in the front yard and she didn’t hear any voices of the young children. Disappointed no one was home to visit with; Sarah left the package on the porch by the front door. She hesitated before leaving. It would be nice if she could sit down on these familiar steps to rest, but she wasn’t sure she could get up again to make the trip back home. With trembling legs, she carefully made her way down the steps and headed toward home.
At last, the house she had lived in all her life stood before her. A profound sadness filled her heart as she tipped her head back to take in the whole house. This past winter had taken its toll on her home; several shingles hung over the eave of the roof, a brick missing from the chimney, paint chipped and cracked over most of the wood siding. It looked as old and tired as she felt right now. With a sigh, Sarah gripped the railing and eased herself down to sit on the front step to rest. She gently stroked Tag’s silky fur. “I’m real tired today, boy. It’s time to rest. Been walkin’ this land for more years than a person aught.”
She raised her head as the school bus screeched to a gear grinding stop in front of her house. Timmy jumped off and ran across the street. “How ya doing, Miss Sarah? Aren’t you cold sitting out here?” he said, slightly out of breath.
“I’m always cold these days, Timmy. Did you learn anything interesting at school today?”
“Naw. Same old stuff every day. I’ll be glad when I get done. My dad says I can work the farm with him full time when I get out of school.” He scratched Tag behind the ears, getting a lick on the face for his efforts. “Yuck, Tag. Why you have to lick my face?”
“Cause he likes you. I guess besides me, he likes you the best of everyone he meets.”
“I like you too, Tag, but you gotta quit lickin’ me. It’s too gross.” Timmy looked Tag square in the eyes.
“How would you like to take Tag home with you, Timmy?”
“You have to go some place, Miss Sarah?”
“Yes, Timmy. I have some place to go.”
Squinting one eye, Timmy said, “Something wrong?”
“No. In fact I may be gone for quite some time. Do you think your father would let you keep him?”
“Like forever? You giving me Tag, Miss Sarah?”
“Yes,” she whispered.“Man, my dad loves Tag. He’d make a good farm dog once we get him trained.”
Sarah rose from the steps and turned toward her front porch. She took one slow step at a time to reach the door. “Better come inside and get his bowls and leash.” She didn’t wait for an answer, assuming Timmy would be behind her.
The dog had been taken to a new home and the package delivered. All was in order. She felt a great relief, a lessening of life’s responsibilities. She laid a fire in the old fireplace and pulled her chair up close, gathering an old quilt around her. The cold outside seemed to have settled in all her bones, stealing over her like early morning fog in the valley. The rocking chair creaked and bumped with each rock, rolling over the corner of the quilt draping onto the floor. Sarah fingered the quilt her mother had made for her after her wedding to Charles. Memories came flooding through with each caress of the quilt.
Warm and comfortable, Sarah relaxed, and enjoyed the warmth of the fire that cast a soft golden light within the room. Her eyes slowly closed. Her smile remained as if a fond memory lingered behind. Gradually the exertion of her chores began to fade, smoothing her once beautiful face.
In the early winter darkness, footsteps echoed on the front porch. Sylvie turned to her husband and said, “Peter, I’m really worried. Sarah always has a light on after dark.” Her hands held the opened package containing the doilies and locket. In Peter’s hand the letter.“You stay here, Sylvie. I’ll go in and check on Sarah,” Peter whispered.
With trepidation, Peter crossed the porch and knocked on the door. In his heart, he knew she would not answer. The package and the letter told him all he needed to know.
“Open the door.” Sylvie had come up behind her husband, unable to wait.The fire had died down, red and gold embers barely cast enough light to reveal Sarah in her rocking chair. Sylvie gently touched Sarah’s hand, tears beginning to pool in her eyes. “Sarah?” When her friend did not respond, she turned to her husband. “She’s gone.”
A simple statement between two people who didn’t need to say more. They walked hand in hand to the kitchen and looked out toward the cherry orchard.
“We’ll make those trees bloom again and have the best cherries in the county,” Peter whispered. “I’ll never understand why she left us the deed to this place, but we will do her proud and carry on her family’s legacy.”
“She knows we will. That’s why she left it to us.” Sylvie sighed. The air seemed to shimmer beside her for a moment. She turned her gaze toward the acres of barren trees and smiled.
In the orchard, a small green bud began its journey to become a fragrant pink flower, soon to be followed by thousands more.
Causes Sharon Dwyer Supports
American Cancer Society
American Heart Association