Submitted by Jack “Chuck” Provine
The house behind him was dark and empty now but in his mind’s eye and in the secret places of his heart it would always remain lit and alive with precious memories and tender mercies. This was the place where he always felt safe and secure. It would forever be a place where love lived, the place that made him who he was.
In the quietness of the moment and awash in tears, he replayed scenes of his childhood now lost to time and maturity:
The faint echoes of children at play; the whack of a whiffle ball hitting a plastic bat; the children’s cries of “You’re it!”
Big, sweet juicy watermelons accompanied by seed spitting contests
“‘Mater’ samitches” with tomato slices so big they would hang out the sides of the bread
A simmering pot of chicken ‘n dumplings on the stove with his beloved Ma tending the pot
The wooden mop handle that transformed into a white horse and a hearty “Hi-ho Silver away!”
Endless summers of swimming, skating, cane poles, cherry popsicles and vacation bible school
Nap time with the sound of the black metal oscillating fan lulling children to sleep
Chuck’s memories of endless summer’s and all the wonderful activities were happy ones but his most cherished memories involved Ma with her gentle and unconditional love. Favorite times included: being covered in blankets in the back room, dabbed with Vick’s Vapor rub on his chest and under his nose by Ma’s gentle hands; the afterglow of a hot bath followed by a good dousing of Ma’s favorite bath and body powder and ultimately being wrapped up Indian style in a fluffy towel, kissed, hugged and finally lugged off to bed.
This house indeed held a lifetime of memories and saying goodbye was like losing a best friend. It had been difficult when his grandfather passed but now that Ma was gone the house that held so much love seemed empty and alone.
A familiar sight broke into his reverie as he gazed upon the creeping shadows of the evening. Tiny dots of glowing yellow light flickered on and off in the field. Chuck recalled the excitement had by all when as children they would run around strategically capturing the dancing lights in Mason jars. They would laugh and swell with pride as the warm glow of the fireflies multiplied within their jar. It all seemed so long ago.
A sudden sadness washed over Chuck as the reason for him being there came back to mind. After eighty years of life Ma’s body and mind had slowly begun to betray her. By the time she turned eighty-four she was confined to a hospital bed being cared for by her daughter, Chuck’s favorite aunt. It was Christmas time and Chuck and his family made the trip from Texas back to his grandparents’ home in Mississippi. His first stop was to immediately visit Ma at the hospital.
Chuck walked into the room and love filled his heart as he saw Ma. Her frail, white-headed body was curled up like a baby. He gently touched her shoulder and she opened her blue eyes, once bright and sparkling, but now dimmed by disease. She smiled at his greeting and he softly said, “I love you, Ma” just as he always did. Of course she replied back as she always had with, “I love you, son.” They shared a bond that neither age, separation or illness would ever break.
As his family left the hospital room his Aunt Nancy pulled him to the side to inform him that the doctor felt she would not last much longer. For the remainder of their time back in Mississippi Chuck visited Ma every day. Finally it was time to return home so with hugs and kisses he left Ma with the promise of seeing her in the spring.
Chuck and his family returned to Texas and quickly got back into the routine of working all day and then watching the kids play basketball. In mid-January it seemed as if the Arctic Express had rushed in from the North Pole bringing the frigid winds with it. The weather turned bitterly cold and the skies a dull gray. Chuck’s day at the Kroger Distribution Center had been long and hard. He longed to get home to a meal, a bath and some relaxation time in his comfortable blue chair. What he wanted and what he got was not what he expected. Not even close.
As soon as Chuck walked through the door his senses were overwhelmed by the smell of Vick’s Vapor rub. The nostalgic, comforting aroma filled the entire house. His wife had put some Vick’s Vapor Steam on the stovetop because one of the kids had a cold. He shared with her how it brought back wonderful memories of Ma and her house. At that moment he felt better than he had the entire day.
Sherry, his wife of twenty years, had drawn him a bath and told him to hurry up because they were going to have a surprise supper. Most of the time he understood that to be code words for, I’m not cooking tonight…what kind of pizza do you want delivered? However, this wasn’t like most of the time. Sherry informed him that their neighbor Marti had called and wanted to bring them supper that night. It was a “thank you” for all the yard work Chuck and his family had done for her the previous summer and fall. Marti had been widowed and Chuck believed that his family should help out because that is what the Good Book instructed. It states in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows…” and also in Luke 10:25-37, “…Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy, go and do likewise.” It was something that he needed no thanks for doing but he appreciated her kind offering.
Chuck was firmly embedded in his La-Z-Boy when the doorbell rang. He opened the door and there stood his neighbor Marti with an enormous pot of chicken and dumplings! She cheerfully said, “Sherry told me how much you loved chicken and dumplings and that your grandmother used to make them especially for you. These may not be as good as hers but they were made especially for you.” Chuck thanked her profusely and thought to himself, this is turning into a great day!
After stuffing himself with chicken and dumplings, which weren’t the same as Ma’s but a real close second, he made his way back to his chair this time with pen and paper. He proceeded to write Ma a letter to tell her about his day and to once again thank her for all the love she had given him. It was a lot of love too because he had spent so much time with her growing up. It was by far his favorite place to be hands down.
The phone rang just as he finished. Sherry answered it and listened intently. She then handed Chuck the phone and told him it was his Aunt Nancy. Chuck knew immediately in his heart what the call was about. His aunt softly repeated herself, “Ma died about two hours ago. She was in no pain. She just stopped breathing.” They talked for a few more minutes about the family and the funeral. After saying, I love you and goodbye, Chuck hung up the phone and went to the bedroom and closed the door.
Chuck expressed the deep penetrating pain in his heart with suffocating sobs. The separation and loss that he felt came from the very depths of his soul. His grandmother had meant the world to him and he couldn’t imagine a life without her in it. It is necessary to accept mortality for it is a natural process. Nevertheless, it is painful for those left behind. He knew he had to dry the tears for there were matters that had to be attended to. The family packed up and loaded into the car and in the wee hours of the morning they left for Mississippi just ahead of yet another winter storm.
The funeral was a time to say goodbye to their beloved Ma. But it was also a time of remembrance. To celebrate the life and love of a woman that meant so much to them all. It was a comfort to hear the minister say, “Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of his saints” and to know that Ma heard those loving words, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” Through it all Chuck could also look forward to the joyous reunion that would one day come.
After his emotions calmed down Chuck realized that God in His infinite grace had allowed Ma, even from miles away, to say goodbye to her loving grandson. It came by way of the familiar scent of Vick’s Vapor rub and the simmering pot of chicken and dumplings that transported his soul back to a time of joy and unconditional love. It was his grandmother’s way of confirming her love for him. But it served even more to affirm the abundant love the Heavenly Father had for both of them. Chuck is thankful every day for the simple yet powerful message he received from his beloved Ma.