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Authors: Jackina Stark

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BOOK: Things Worth Remembering
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Mom’s on the porch, welcome all over her face. I get out of the car, give the guys a hug, and ask Marcus to help me carry in my loot.


Our
loot really,” I say, pointing at satin peeking from one of the sacks I hand him.

We’re walking up the stairs to the porch, and I think to tell Mother I got three bottles of Happy.

She smiles.

“Oh, and, Mother,” I add, as the four of us walk into the house, “Jackie said to tell you she loves you so much, she’s going to gobble you up.”

“That’s sweet,” she says.

And it
is
sweet.

But Jackie might not love her so much if she had a few more facts. She needs to get herself a copy of
Kennedy Marie
Laswell: The Unabridged Version
.

Kendy

One could say Maisey was merely delivering a message from Jackie. I don’t believe Luke caught the irony; I’m the great irony detector. He’s not oblivious to the tension that sometimes surfaces, but the irony he can miss. Or maybe our daughter’s telling me that her
friend
loves me wasn’t ironic at all.

I am so sorry to doubt that.

The
last nine years with Maisey have not been miserable, except in stark contrast to the thirteen years of utter joy before them. I try very hard not to think about the differentiation, but that has been impossible today. I’m beginning to think it might be impossible this entire wedding week.

We have almost two hours before a dinner that is already prepared, so Luke showers, dresses in crisp khaki Dockers and a black polo shirt, and heads into his office to deal with today’s e-mails. Maisey and Marcus, glad to see each other after so many hours apart, go upstairs to look at her gifts and to discuss her personal shower and his golf game. And here I sit, stretched out on the chaise longue in Luke’s and my room, covered with a throw to protect me from the chill of the ceiling fan that quietly stirs the air from the first of May until the end of September.

I have found my book to be an asset after all. Voracious reader that I am, it is on my lap, answer for what I’m doing if anyone should ask. However, I’ve had it with me all afternoon, and my bookmark is sandwiched between pages ten and eleven—no offense to the author.

Margaret would not be fooled by the book in my lap. I find myself missing her today. Isn’t that odd? She’s been gone almost twenty years now, but today I long to see her, long to hear her voice. She’d walk in, slide my legs over, and sit down by me on the chaise.
What’s wrong with my girl?
she’d ask.

I’d say,
I’m missing you, Margaret
.

What’s this you’re reading?
she’d ask, picking up my book and looking it over.

I can’t recall
, I’d say.

She’d take it from me and put it on the table.
Talk to me,
honey
.

I look across the room at my dresser, where among the framed pictures is one of Margaret holding eighteen-month-old Maisey in her lap. Maisey has on a red-checked sundress and a matching floppy hat, and she’s looking up at Margaret, laughing. Margaret died shortly before Maisey’s third birthday. If the house were going up in flames, I’d risk my life to rescue Luke, Maisey, and that picture.

I’ve always believed God in his mercy sent Margaret to me. What would I have done without her?

Mother moved us into a tenth-floor condominium with its view of the Gateway Arch standing distinct and proud in front of the mighty Mississippi River. It would have been unbearable except Margaret and Hugh lived across the hall. Just retired from teaching sixth graders, Margaret was thrilled to find a girl moving in who had just graduated from that very grade. She called me the best retirement gift God could have given her. I was sad she and Hugh couldn’t have children of their own but so happy to become their surrogate daughter. Margaret and Hugh were the best stand-in parents a girl could have. They taught me most everything I know about nurturing.

I was so blessed neither of them enjoyed traveling. Except for one three-month experiment with living in Florida for the winter, the only trips they took were to see Margaret’s sister and her husband in Indiana, and most of the time they took me with them, sitting in the back seat with my tape player and books. They enjoyed each other, their friends, their church, plays and concerts, and me. They helped me with my homework, played a million card games with me, took me with them most places they went, and made dinner for me most nights, sending a plate to Mother when she got home from the office she revered and loved.

I became a teacher because of Margaret. Mother wasn’t happy when I told her what I wanted to do. “That is just
stupid
, Kennedy, choosing to work yourself silly without compensation. You’d better hope you marry someone who can support you, like Hugh supported Margaret!”

She had that weapon in her arsenal because, one night while Mother ate the lasagna Margaret had sent her, I told her that Hugh had been a vice-president of the company he worked for. That had impressed her.

What impressed
me
was that Hugh had an imaginary friend named Jahooty, who hid gum for me in an eight-foot ornamental tree that stood by their living room windows. Every day when I came into their apartment, Hugh watched with a smile on his face as I walked over to the tree and searched among the glossy leaves until I found my stick of gum, unwrapped it, and popped it into my mouth.

“That crazy Jahooty,” he’d say, shaking his head, white hair gleaming.

“I
love
him!” I’d say, giving Hugh a side hug on my way to find Margaret.

I knew without being told that Hugh’s identity was not wrapped up in the position he had once held. His joy lay elsewhere too. He died between my junior and senior years of high school, sitting on their balcony, relishing the morning sun. The day after his funeral I spent the afternoon with Margaret and her sister and discovered that Jahooty had left me one last piece of gum.

I have kept it in my memory box, which sits high on the top shelf of my closet. Every now and then, usually with no forethought, I take down the box, open it and, seeing the stick of gum lying on top of other keepsakes, press my nose against the red wrapper, always believing the smell of cinnamon still faintly lingers there.

I think of doing it now, but Luke peeks in the door. “What are you doing?”

I hold up my book. “Reading. Sort of.”

“Calm before the storm?”

“How about another figure of speech?”

He laughs. “Well, the calm part works. You look peaceful. You must not be reading a thriller.”

“No,” I said, “this is no thriller. Leviticus might be a faster read.”

“Mom and Dad should be here in an hour,” he says.

“Good.”

I love Luke’s parents. I could not have ordered better in-laws than Miller and Anne Laswell. They helped fill the void left by Margaret and Hugh.

“I set the timer before I came in here,” I say. “The casserole should be baking as we speak. Check to make sure before you go back to your office, okay? Everything else is ready.”

“Okay.” He turns to leave and then stops, looking as though he almost forgot to tell me something, an important something. “I beat the boy by two strokes, you know.” He smiles and gives me a thumbs-up.

Luke’s pleasure in winning a round of golf makes me smile. “You wake up expecting a good day, and what do you know, you get one,” I say, placing my paperback prop on the table next to me.

“I don’t know about that.”

“It’s true. You’re quite the positive one. What a blessing that is.”

He laughs as he shuts the door, like I’m kidding. But I’m not. I’m really not.

Maisey

Marcus approves of everything I show him, except for the red see-through baby-doll pajamas trimmed in black faux fur. Something about the net fabric rather repulses both of us. As I gingerly fold the two pieces and put them back in the pink-striped sack to return, Marcus says, “I will say I sort of like the fur around the edges.”

“You’re kidding.”

“It’s soft. But it can’t make up for the red net.”

“A girl who wore flannel pajamas to every sleepover we ever had gave it to me. All of us turned and looked at her, trying to tell if her gift was a joke or a breakthrough.”

“Well, most of this stuff is great,” he says.

“Don’t you wish men had personal showers?” I ask.

“If men gave one another showers, we’d buy tools, hand them over without wrapping them, and pass out beef jerky for refreshments.”

“You’re funny. How about this? You can have any Sears or Wal-Mart gift cards we get to buy tools.”

“It’s a deal.”

“Why don’t we go into Indy Thursday so I can take this red-and-black monstrosity back and get something we like?”

“Do you want to take time for that?”

“I thought that’s why we came home all week, to have a little time to relax and goof off. I’ve been busy beyond belief today.”

“I thought we came to have time with your folks.”

“We’ve had time.”

“I had a few hours with your dad this afternoon, but neither of us has had much time with your mom.”

“We spent the morning with her.”

“An hour max at breakfast. By the way, wouldn’t she like to see this stuff?”

“She can see it sometime. I haven’t seen you all day either, you know.”

“You’re going to see me nonstop soon.”

I place the gift I’m returning on my dresser and take the rest of my stash into the closet to pack later. I don’t know why Marcus is so worried about my mother. She’s fine. Getting ready, I’m sure, for dinner with Grandpa and Grandma.

“I’m glad my grandparents are coming for dinner, aren’t you?” I call from the back of my walk-in closet.

“I’m always glad to see them. We’re spending a week in Hawaii instead of Pocahontas, Illinois, thanks to them.”

“Do you love me or their travel agency?” I ask as I emerge from the closet and find Marcus kneeling beside my bookcase.

“Both,” he says, looking up at me.

“What are you looking at?”

“You have C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. How many are there?” he asks, counting. “Seven?”

“Yes, I have the set.”

He’s reading titles. “Pardon me—I didn’t have a
set
. But I read some of these when I was a kid.”

“But did you read them three times? We read all of them at least three times.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
maybe more. It was my favorite book.”

“So you sat up here reading when you could have been outside playing?”

“Not really. Mother read to me at bedtime. It was the first thing we did in our nightly routine.”

“Sounds nice.”

“You mean your mom didn’t tuck you in?”

“No, she just told me to get my Star Wars stuff put up and get in bed.”

“Well, Mother made quite a production of it.”

The memory is suddenly vivid. Terribly vivid.

“I must have missed out when Mom yelled from the front of the house, ‘Are you in bed yet, or do I have to come back there!’ ”

I laugh at Marcus’s perfect imitation of Dottie Blair, especially since I know how much he appreciates the practical and hardworking mother who took excellent care of him. She will come rushing in Friday afternoon, toting four or five of her grandkids, a list of things to double-check before the rehearsal dinner that night, and confirmation numbers for the rooms she has reserved for the whole Blair clan, which includes five sons. Marcus is the youngest.

“What’s the second thing?” Marcus asks.

“Second thing?”

“You said reading was the
first
thing you did every night.”

“Oh, prayers and stuff like that. Hey, I’d like to rest awhile before I get ready for the big dinner. Give me a few minutes, okay?”

Marcus isn’t offended by my request. In fact, I should be offended by how quickly he jumps up and takes off. He leaves my room with the C. S. Lewis classic in his hand and says he’ll see me downstairs.

I’m glad for a little time to myself. I turn on my ceiling fan, pull back my bedspread, pull it back over me, and sink into my pillow. Talking about my childhood bedtime took me to a place I haven’t been in a long time.

Mother tucked me in for the first thirteen years of my life. There were exceptions but not many. She would make no apologies, she said, for starting me to bed an hour early so we’d have our special time together. We read a book the first half hour or so, and then she’d snuggle in beside me to tell a story of her own, sometimes made up, sometimes real, although she said occasionally the real ones were “embellished.”

“What’s
embellished
?” I asked her.

“Details, usually imagined,” she said, “which are added to improve the story ever so slightly.” Then she’d laugh.

Eventually I told her stories too. She could always tell when I threw in a detail for added interest. “You’re embellishing, aren’t you?” she’d ask, and I’d smile in reply.

One night she fell out of my bed while laughing at a story that hadn’t needed a single embellishment. It was about the day Jackie crawled under a stall I was occupying in the girls’ bathroom at school and asked what was taking so long.

Mom climbed back into my bed that night and said I was her funny girl. “Actually,” I said, “Jackie’s the funny one.” I loved it when Mom laughed at my stories.

After the story exchange, we settled down for prayers. I’d pray first because I was younger, then Mom would pray. Her voice soothed me. I always thought God must be glad to hear the sound of her voice too. Any fears I had disappeared when she prayed.

The last step before turning out the light was pulling up my covers to my chin and working her way around my face with kisses—forehead, cheek, chin, and finally a peck on my nose. Actually, a face full of kisses was
almost
the last step. Most nights Mom paused as she turned out the light and said, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

I always came back with some comment from the bugs like, “Hey, Mom, the bugs say they aren’t biters!” So the final thing I heard each night was her laugh.

Well, that was a long time ago.

I suddenly feel sick to my stomach, agitated rather than rested. I’ve sent Marcus away for nothing. Instead of chilling before dinner, I may throw up before dinner. Or maybe
during
dinner, right on my plate, making Grandma and Grandpa so glad they drove over from Indianapolis.

BOOK: Things Worth Remembering
3.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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