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Caleb let the tears fall down his cheeks. His mother, his hero, had taken her last breath, and he was having a hard time dealing with the pain of her leaving him. He knew she was no longer suffering. The drugs and things they’d been giving her since she took to her bed three weeks ago had taken care of that. But she had been there for him all his life, and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do without her around. “Sir, Hospice is here. They wish to come in and see her.” He nodded and kissed his mother’s cold hand before putting it under the blanket, which was over her body. “She’ll be sorely missed, sir.
Your mother was a great woman. One of a kind, if you were to ask me.” “I know you loved her too, Ben. She loved everyone so much.” Nodding, the two men embraced for a few moments. Then he straightened up and moved out of the way for the people from Hospice to do what they needed. Caleb found himself in the kitchen then. The cup of tea was just what he’d needed. Mary, Ben’s wife, asked if his mother had passed. Nodding, a fresh stream of tears fell down his face, and she hugged him as well. He clung to the woman who had become his second mother in all these years and cried softly into her warm bosom. “She’ll be wondering what all the fuss is about if she were to look down on us now.” He laughed a little. “That’s my boy. You’ll be simply fine, Caleb.
It’s why she left when she did. A real lady doesn’t stay too long when there are other things to be taken care of. You’ll be good because she raised you well.” “Mom and I couldn’t have done it without you and Ben around all the time. I think when she had to work, she didn’t mind leaving me here because the two of you were around.” Mary nodded and said she’d do it all over again if asked. “I know you would. She knew too that leaving me now would be all right because of the two of you. You are staying on, right? You won’t leave me here all alone?” “What a thing to ask of me. Of course, we’ll be here for you. When you find yourself a pretty little wife to come here, we’ll be there for your children as well. However, I will tell you that if you decide to sell and move to another place, Caleb, we will go out west.
I don’t think I could get used to another home this late in my life. You know that.” He did but didn’t know about the pretty little wife. “You’ll see. As soon as you’re out and about again, women will be relieved to know you’re back to work and such. Your momma, she told you not to mourn her too long, didn’t she?” “She said I was to dump her out of the bed and have the room redecorated as soon as her body was cold.” He laughed and cried a little at that. “Mom was full of it all the way to the end. I’ll miss her so much.” Crying again, he felt hands patting him on the back. Not just Mary’s, but her husband’s comforting hand as well. Letting himself grieve for a little bit, he sat up in the chair when Mary gave him a plate of little food, as she called it.
It was apple slices and peanut butter. Cheese and crackers with a bit of mustard on the side. Also, since he’d gotten older, she would put either a glass of wine with his little meal or a bottle of beer, neither of which he had the stomach for right now. The nurse that had been with his mom during the day came into the room with him. He started to stand up. “No, don’t do that. Just sit there and eat. They’ve taken her away just as was arranged, Mr. Anderson. Also, because your mother was good about getting things taken care of, all the arrangements have been made too.” He said he was aware of that. “Good, good. Also, there are just a couple of things for us to come back for. She wanted to donate the bed and equipment to us so we could get some use out of it. Such a fine woman, your mother.” “She was. Thank you. Yes, she told me last week that she was going to make sure you had what was left here.
I’m to understand that everything that was left will be reused.” She told him that was what his mom had wanted. “Good. I know she’s made a donation to Hospice, too, in her will. I don’t know what it would be, but I’ll make sure you have plenty for the help you give.” “Thank you, sir. We do appreciate yours and your mother’s kindness.” Nodding, he waited for her to leave or say something more. It was like this every time he spoke to the woman—she just didn’t seem to know how to end a conversation. Even his mom had gotten a good giggle out of it. Finally, she left them, and he looked at Mary. “You’re to say something at the funeral.” He said he’d gone over it with his mom yesterday. “She would have wanted you to say what was in your heart. And your mind. I’m going to have a nice spread here when the funeral is over.
Bring back whoever would like to come. We’ll make it work.” “I will make the announcement after my speech.” He got up, knowing he had a lot of things to do today. Avoiding the parlor where his mom had been staying, he made his way to his office. Caleb had left a great deal unfinished when he’d stopped everything to be with her. Caleb had loved his mother more than he thought anyone had in all the children he’d met when he was younger. She’d taken the time to show him things he doubted any other parent had done.
He knew how to trade stocks and make himself a good meal that didn’t come out of a microwave. Caleb also had a good education and was at the top of his game in architectural design, both for the building he might be working on as well as the landscaping surrounding it. He had literally followed in her footsteps when it came to making a living. “Sir? There is a man here to see you. I’m sorry, but he’d only tell me that he had an appointment with you.” Caleb looked at his calendar and saw that, like he had thought, nothing was there. “Shall I send him on his way?” “Yes. Tell him we’re a house of mourning and don’t have time for his shenanigans today. Thanks, Ben.” Caleb went back to work after smiling a little smile at him. Ben would enjoy sending the man on his way more than warranted, Caleb thought.
It was nearly dark when he finally lifted his head from work. He’d been behind, something he detested, but he wouldn’t have changed things one bit if he had it to do over. Spending the last few days of his mom’s life with her had been hard, but it had also been something they both needed. A time to say goodbye. He went to the parlor first. The room was devoid of anything pertaining to the last days of his mom’s life. The bed, as well as all the equipment, was now gone. The couch and chair that had sat in the room prior to being a sick room were now back in place. She would have wanted it done like this. Moving on. Mom had said that to him at least ten times a day when she’d been ill. Going to the kitchen, he thanked Mary for what she’d done for them. Bursting into tears once again, he was glad for the warm hug from her. She sat him down, feeding him more than he thought he could have eaten, yet he finished every bite while she spoke to him. “The director called here. I told him you were resting. I know you well enough to see that you working is almost the same as you getting a good eight hours of sleep. Did you get a lot done, Caleb?”
He told her he thought he was caught up for now. “Good. She would have wanted that. Getting back to life now that hers is over. My goodness, I will miss that woman. She had a way about her that made a person wonder where she’d been all their life. And now that she was around them, well, they had a friend for life.” “She even told me which suit to wear at the funeral. And to wear one of her button roses on my lapel.” He laughed a little. “I don’t know what I’m to do without her. If she were here right now, she’d smack me in the back of the head and tell me I know just what to do and to get on with it. Mary, I’m not sure what to do, to be honest.” “You keep doing what she wanted of you.” Mary got up and began cleaning the already spotless kitchen.
“She called me to her room the other day. Asked me to stay on here until you got your feet under you. I’m not sure you ever had them under you all the way, but I’ll stay until you decide on what you’re going to do. She also said you’d marry soon. I didn’t have a comment for that. I was not aware you’d been dating.” “I was until recently.” He thought of Violet and shook his head. “I don’t think she’s going to be happy with me. I’ve decided she’s not the woman for me. She told me she couldn’t live here with me after having a death in the house. Like I had asked her to or something. No. She didn’t even come here to sit with me when Mom was in her last days. Told me she had more important things to do than to watch someone die. I thought that was very telling. What would she have done had it been me, I had to wonder?
Do you think she might have gone shopping?” They both laughed, and it felt good. Laughter had been encouraged within the walls of this house, and he’d missed it a great deal since his mom had been diagnosed with cancer. Mary told him he was to call the director back and to do it now. He was headed to the living room when he called, and it was answered on the first ring. “I’m sorry it’s so late, Mr. Carroll. I got into things here and didn’t think you might need something from me. What can I help you with?” He told him that his mother was ready, did he want to see her before the funeral. Did he? Caleb wasn’t sure
but said he’d be there in the morning. “What time can I come in? I don’t want to disturb your household.” “I’ll have to have the little ones off to school by nine, sir. That should be enough time for you to get your hugs if you were to come by at eight-thirty.” Caleb said he’d very much like that. “Good.
I’ll tell Margaret. She’ll have them fed by then. They’re as sorry as the rest of us are about her passing. She was a wonderful woman, your mom. Didn’t take on like she was better than anyone when you needed a shoulder to cry on or even a little lift up. I don’t know that I should be saying this to you, but you couldn’t have had a better role model or mom than her, Caleb.” “I know. I thank my lucky stars all the time that she decided to keep me. I think we were very good for each other.” He felt his eyes fill with tears again and wondered if there would ever be a time when he didn’t want to sob when he thought of his mom being gone. “I’ll see the family in the morning then. And then see to my mom. I’m sure you did an amazing job, Mr. Carroll.”
After closing the connection, he headed up to his room. Caleb had lived in this house all his life except for the few years he’d gone off to college. Even then, he’d been home weekends and holidays. The two of them, with Mary and Ben, had had such good times together. When they vacationed, Mary and Ben had gone as well. Making sure his suit was clean, he pulled out the shirt his mother had picked out for him too. Smiling, he wondered what everyone would think about it. He was positive that no one would expect him to wear a pink paisley shirt with a suit. But that was what his mom wanted, and he was going to do this one thing, the last thing he could for her, without any qualms about it. Closing his eyes after stripping down, he wasn’t sure he could sleep. But almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was out. He knew his alarm would go off well after he was up, and if not, then it would wake him to get started on his day. Caleb was nothing if not organized.
The next morning, he was up and ready to head out the door by a quarter to eight. Excited to see the kids, he stopped by the store to pick up a few things for them. Yes, he did spoil them, but they were his god children, and he loved them to pieces. Sharon met him at the door with a stern look on her face. She was the most adult eight-year-old he’d ever met. “You brought us stuff, didn’t you?” He handed her one of the wrapped gifts he’d picked up for her. “Your momma would bust your ears if she knew you were doing this. She said you spoil us too much.” “Yes, but she was just jealous that she didn’t spoil you as much as I did.” She grinned at him. “I’ve missed you, Sharon. You and Paul. My mom thought about you often while she was ill.”
“I’m gonna miss her too. She was the best grandma in the world.” Sharon hugged him tightly around his neck when he bent to her level. Picking her up, he carried her into the kitchen, where her brother was still eating. “Paul, you were supposed to be done eating by now. How are you gonna give Caleb hugs when you’re covered in mush?” “I’ve dressed for the occasion. Come here, Paul. Give me a big hug.”
After getting his hugs, the kids ran off when he handed them the other gifts he’d gotten. Making sure they knew they needed to come to him before they left for school, he settled down with Margaret and Paul. “I’ve done as she asked. My goodness, I do love her choice of her sending-off outfit. Your mom, she wasn’t one on doing what others did, was she?” Caleb laughed, knowing that his mother had picked out an outfit that would not just shock but would make people laugh. It was what she had wanted. “If you’d like to see her after the children have gone, I can take you there. The service will be in the large chapel. I’ve also been receiving a few flowers.” “There won’t be a notice in the paper. The people that need to know have been notified. That’s the way she wanted it.” Wilson nodded. “She’ll be happy with the way things are going. I plan on doing just what she wanted. Because knowing her as well as I do, she really will come back and smack me on the back of the head if I don’t.” “She was a good woman, that mother of yours.”
Margaret handed him a framed photo of the two of them. “I never saw a woman so determined to make sure she was successful after having you. Abby wanted only the best for you and her after being tossed out. It’s a small wonder she didn’t want her parents notified in the paper. They didn’t deserve anyone like her as their daughter. Nor you as their grandson.” “I’m to tell them in person.” Neither one of them said anything after he made his announcement. “She told me it has to be done in person and that I wasn’t to allow them to say anything to me about how she was a terrible child. There is a letter with our attorney that she wrote in her final days. If they refuse to read it, then I’m to read it to them, so they understand what sort of person she was. Do you suppose they would have kept up with her life after her leaving home?” “I wouldn’t think so.
Abby wouldn’t have been one to let them into her life after she was tossed aside, either. Have you heard from her brother? What was his name?” He told Margaret. “That’s it. Sheppard. What a piece of shit he was too. Even before Abby left home, he was a mean little prick.” “Margaret.” She huffed at Paul when he scolded her. “We need to keep a civil tone with this. For all we know, they wanted to contact her but weren’t sure how to go about it.” “Doubtful. I knew them before this happened, so I’m in a position to tell you they weren’t nice people at all.” Margaret went to get the children, as it was time for the bus. “Mark my words, Caleb.
When push comes to shove, you push them back as hard as you can. They don’t deserve any sympathy at all for what they did.” After hugging the children, he made his way to the lower level to make sure that Mom was just the way she’d wanted. There were a lot of things in the room, including flowers that indicated that a donation had been made in the deceased’s honor. Mom looked to him as if she’d fallen asleep and was resting peacefully. It hurt him again how much he was going to miss her. “You got her hair and makeup just perfect, Mr. Carroll. And the shirt is perfect for my mom. She bought this about four years ago when we were in Hawaii.” Carroll said something, but Caleb was thinking about that vacation. “She found a way to work with some of the beautiful shells that were in abundance around the island.
I think she must have put three or four kids through college with that venture.” “I’ve seen those houses. If I remember correctly, they were featured on the cover of a few magazines as well.” He nodded and turned from the casket. “You’re going to be just fine, Caleb. You’re your mother’s son, and you’ll gather strength where you least expect it, I’m thinking.” Nodding, he left. There wasn’t much he could say to that. Caleb went home to work again and found that he could bury himself in work, and the pain would lessen. He was nearly finished working for the day when Mr. Fowler, their attorney, called to ask him if he needed anything. “Nothing I can think of. I’m assuming you’re wanting to get her will taken care of.” He said there was no hurry. “Thank you for that. But there are a few things you have for me that I need to take care of after the funeral. Mom said you have the addresses.” “I do. Wasn’t hard to find them. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson still live in the same house. I only had to read the paper to see where her brother was. Nasty piece of work, him. Anyway, it’s all here.
Just tell me when you want to go, and I’ll go with you. You are taking me, right?” That was what his mom had wanted in the event they tried to hurt him. “Also, there are some envelopes here for Mary and Ben and for the children of Mr. Carroll. I’m assuming she paid for them to go to college as she had mentioned before.” “I don’t know, to be honest. She didn’t want me to know all her plans. Mom said it would spoil the surprise. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I guess it’ll be all right.” Gus laughed a little. “If you could bring it to the funeral home tomorrow, I’ll take care of it after the reception at the house. If you have time to go then?” “I’ve only worked for your family for years, Caleb. Watched you grow into a good man too. No, you tell me when and I’ll be there with bells on.” Thanking him, Caleb decided that if he could, he was going to keep Gus on until he was too tired to work for him. Almost as if he had read his mind, Gus spoke again. “Also, you might want to know that I’ve been looking into a replacement.
I know you and your mother have paid me well for all these years, but you need someone younger than this eightyyear-old geriatric. My granddaughter would be good for you or her brother. Might need them both after a while. But I’ve told them all they need to know about your plans, as well as your money. Who would have thought that when your mom came to see me, fat with her baby boy, that she’d be one of the richest women in the world? She certainly did work for it. So have you.” Caleb went to bed that night, knowing he had to be on his best game tomorrow. It was going to be a long day, and he wasn’t sure how well he was going to handle it. But he also knew that in some way, his mom was watching over him, so he was up for the challenge. At least he hoped he was. The next morning, he was at the funeral home at a little past seven. Hugging the kids again gave him strength and love. They were not going to school today, he’d found out, so they could be there for their parents. It was going to be a big funeral, and all hands were needed.
Caleb thought that having them where he could grab a hug or two was going to be just the thing. Kids, he knew, had an understanding of grief that went well beyond their years on this earth. When everyone was seated that there were chairs for, a great many people standing around the room, he went to the podium and cleared his throat. It was time, he thought. A microphone had been unearthed so the people in the long hall leading to the chapel could hear him. “I noticed that a few of you got a kick out of the way we’re dressed. You know Mom. When there was a gathering of people, she wanted to party.” Another round of laughter, and he pulled out his notes. “My mom approved my speech that I’m going to give today. I also want you to know that while I was writing this, she was checking my spelling, as well as looking for any grammatical errors. She knew I’d have it all wrong if she didn’t. “My mom was seventeen when she was tossed out of her family home. Again, this is her story, not mine. Her parents decided it was shameful to have an unwed daughter around when she began to show.
Not to mention, according to her father, she was spoiled for all other men after that, whatever that meant to him. Then, when I was born, she sent a telegram telling her family of my birth. That she had had a healthy baby boy and that we were both doing fine.” Looking at his notes, he continued. “After my birth, Mom made sure she could support not only herself but me as well. After getting her high school diploma with me at her feet sleeping, she got into college and then got a job.” Caleb almost skipped over some of the notes but went back to them. “While she worked and studied, Mom taught me what hard work and determination could afford a person. It’s a lesson I’ve taken with me all my life and will continue to do so.” He knew this next part was going to be the hardest to say. “Several months ago, after finding out she was beyond help with the diagnoses of cancer, she began making plans that would be felt by the rest of the town we call home for the entirety of its future.” There were a few murmurs of wonder, but he ignored them.
“I’ve decided it would be in all our best interests if I should carry on my mom’s legacy and continue to support the causes we have before.” Before sitting down, Caleb announced that there would be a reception with light food at his home. Going to his seat, he watched as the funeral director took his place and announced that there was a nice luncheon at the Anderson home. Then he asked people to go to their cars. He’d said all he wanted to say at the funeral home. At the reception, people came to wish him well and to tell him how sorry they were for his loss. Caleb wanted to tell them that sorry didn’t bring her back to him, but he didn’t. His grief was profound. The finality of what they were doing here hurt him deeply in his soul and heart. People came to speak to him about his mom, telling stories that they knew about her that he knew as well. There was one that he so enjoyed thinking about. It was about when Mom had come upon a child in one of the barns, crying because her cat was going to die. The little thing was in hard labor, and the kitten was turned the wrong way.
After assisting in the birth after resolving the issue, Mom stuck around for the rest of the birthing.
“Then, not two weeks later, Mr. Jamison calls her up and tells your mom that he has a cow in a bad way. Not sure why he’d think she could help, your mom, being her, she went there and helped with the birth of that cow. Mr. Jamison, he named the calf after her, and to this day, he refers to it as Abigail when asked. Darnest thing I done ever did see, I tell you.” Mr. March laughed and acted like that was the only time his mom had gone out on an emergency like the ones with the cow and kittens. “I heard tell she was there when Mrs. Parker gave birth to those twin little boys too.” There were many stories like that one. Mom had driven the school bus one week when the system had been short-staffed. She’d helped bring in some crops, driving the big tractor like she’d been born to it. He loved all of them, even the ones told about when he was an infant. Mr. Fowler caught up with him just as people were beginning to leave. As they entered his office, he was sure he was going to tell him something he didn’t want to hear. Gus told him he’d not be able to go with him in the morning, as something else had come up. “I’m to be acting county judge tomorrow.
The one that was coming here to hear some of the backed-up cases got himself a case of food poisoning, from his mother-inlaw, of all people. Anyway, they didn’t really ask so much as told me that it was my duty as a good standing attorney to see to this. I’m hoping it’s a one-time shot, but who knows what will happen with all this other stuff going on.” Caleb said he could go when he was finished. “No. I’ve spoken to my grandchildren. They’re good, Caleb, if not a little green on things. They’re ready to go with you to keep you out of hot water if things go badly there.” Caleb did want to get this over with and move on. When Gus handed him the things he’d need when he went to confront his mom’s parents—never would they be his grandparents, he thought—he decided to go. “I’ll go, but I don’t like it. I wasn’t even sure I was onboard with it when I thought you were going with me.” Gus said he was sorry. “Not as sorry as they’ll be if I have to get into it with them. But you are right. I need to get this finished so I can focus on my life without my mom.
I knew she was dying, Gus, but it’s hard for me to realize she’s gone. I find myself looking for her or even going into the parlor when I think of something I want to say to her. I wonder if it will ever get better.” “Yes. It’ll soften after a while, the pain of it. When my Marie passed on, it was all I could do to get myself cleaned up and fed daily.” He laughed a little. “Your mom did a fine job of shaking me around a little. But she was good to do that. Not only did she save my life—I’ll believe that forever—but she got me moving in the right direction to keep my sanity as well. That mom of yours, Caleb, she knew how to make a person see her way about things.” “She was the best.” Gus agreed with him, and Caleb smiled. “I’ll take both of them with me tomorrow. That way, they can show me that they can work with someone like me. Someone who is a little too demanding at times but means well.”
“Yes, well, I don’t think you’re demanding at all, but a man that likes to get things going. Also, before I forget, once you’re back, we’ll go over your mom’s will. There are a couple of things she added in the final few days. Some of it you’ll need to care for.” Caleb asked him if he needed to take care of them now. “No. nothing like that. But just some things she had for you. I’ll see you when you return, Caleb. You do what your mom asked, and that’ll hopefully be the end of it.” After getting a file from his car regarding the family, Gus left. Kylie and Arthur were to meet Caleb here at his house at seven sharp. It wasn’t a far trip to make, a couple of hours of driving time, but since he was driving, he didn’t want anyone to make him late.