The Keeper of Memories

Stately 1940's Victorian House

SEASON OF CHANGE
Chapter 1

The autumn sun rested on the distant horizon while golden leaves twirled in perfect synchronicity toward the earth below. Lee pulled her white sweater around her drooping shoulders, mindful not only of the sudden chill in the air but also the painful task ahead of her. She finally stood to her feet and shuffled from the back porch into the kitchen to pick up the phone and dial Jenna’s number in Brookfield, New York. Lee’s longtime elderly friend and neighbor had passed away suddenly of an apparent heart attack on the front porch of his home, and now with trembling hands she was calling to notify his daughter.

There was a long silence as Jenna attempted to process the disheartening news of her father’s unexpected death. She had just seen him two months ago, and he seemed to be healthy and in good spirits. He had even joked about making the long trip from Tilden, Nebraska to Brookfield, New York to visit his grandchildren so long as his old Ford pickup could handle the journey. Though her heart was breaking, she spoke with a calmness that belied the pain within, “The children and I will try to get a flight out on Monday morning. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible for Marcus to come right now.”

“I understand, dear, and I’ll do whatever I can to help you. The coroner has already been to the manor and Noah has been transported to Brockhaus Funeral Home,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I’ll wait until you get here and then we can talk about what kind of a service you want to have for him.” She paused for a moment before adding, “At the church, of course.” As usual, Lee wasted little time in making her personal wishes known.

“Thank you, Aunt Lee,” Jenna said quietly. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

Later that evening and after their children were in bed, Marcus and Jenna sat outside on the deck and discussed the unexpected death of Noah and the impact it would obviously have on all of them. Benjamin and Allie adored their Papa Noah.

“I know that this is extremely difficult for you, sweetheart,” Marcus said while placing his arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. “I’m sure you have a lot on your mind right now, but what would you say if I told you I think we should consider moving back to Tilden?”

“Are you serious?” Jenna’s expression was one of sheer astonishment at Marcus’ out-of-the-blue statement.

“Completely,” he quickly confirmed.

“Oh my goodness, Marcus! It would be a dream come true for all of us to live at the manor, but what about the clinic?” It was nearly impossible for Jenna to keep a lid on her excitement when considering a move back to her childhood home, but she was also mindful that Marcus was a highly respected physician in Brookfield with a flourishing practice.

“I’ll call Doc Reynolds and see if he can benefit from my expertise at the treatment center. It would be a couple of months before I would be able to join you in Tilden, but that will give you an opportunity to get settled and take care of personal business while I’m wrapping things up here.” He studied her intently. “How are you feeling? Perhaps you should plan to come by the office tomorrow for a checkup before you leave.”

“Oh, I’m fine, dear. If need be, I can always see Doc Reynolds when I arrive in Tilden. Right now I need to focus on packing for myself and the children before we leave on Monday. I’ll rent a car at the airport in Omaha, and then I can always drive Dad’s truck when I get to the manor.”

“I have no doubt that you can take care of any situation that presents itself. Just take care of you, as well.” Marcus reached for her hand, and whispered, “I love you, Jenna.”

 

She turned from the frontage road onto the dirt lane that was lined with tall golden elm trees and nearly gasped when she saw the stately old manor in the distance. She stopped the car and got out to admire the scene while Benjamin and Allie slept soundly in the backseat. It had been a long day for all of them. Jenna stood for a long while, allowing herself to breathe deeply of the fresh country air. Of course, there was a bittersweet sentiment that intermingled with her awe since almost everyone that was once a part of the manor was gone – for the exception of dear Lee Osborne. Jenna was more than sure that Lee had seen the car go by and would be making the trek down the back lane to see her and the children in a few minutes.

The beautiful home was undoubtedly one of the finest in Tilden, built by her great-grandfather in 1901. It still stood proudly with its three stories and beautiful wraparound front porch, a grand structure that set back a good distance from the main road on an impressive 650 acres surrounded by apple, cherry and peach orchards – not to mention a magnificent rose garden. It was a breathtaking sight. Jenna was now the heiress of the grand estate and she, Marcus, and their two children were about to become the new residents. There was still much to be done, as well as an entire estate to settle. The task seemed daunting, but small though she may be, she was up for it without a doubt. She brushed a strand of reddish blonde hair from her face, slipped it behind her ear, and returned to the car.

Pulling around to the back of the house, she parked near the back porch. Every scene carried with it a multitude of memories. In a flash she was a little girl again, skipping off the porch with a red lunch box in hand. Once she turned off the engine, Benjamin and Allie were awake and out of the backseat.

Jenna lingered in the spacious kitchen while the two young ones made their way upstairs to locate their bedrooms. She could almost smell her Mama’s biscuits baking in the oven and bacon frying on the stovetop. As expected, there was a light tap on the kitchen door window followed by, “Hello my dear.”

“Come in, Aunt Lee.” Jenna wasted no time embracing her dear neighbor who was far more a close family member than someone who simply lived down the road. “Oh, I’ve missed you.”

“I brought some homemade chocolate chip cookies, and I’ll make us some coffee,” she said, heading for the coffee pot on the stove. “Lord have mercy, look at you! You’ve gained a little weight. Where are the children?” The fast-paced steps coming down the staircase answered her question. “Well, here they come.”

“Guess what, Aunt Lee?” Benjamin was anxious to bring her up to speed on what they had been doing earlier. “We ate hamburgers at the café!” His broad smile revealed the recent loss of a front tooth.

“They were really good, too,” Allie chimed.

Following a lengthy and spirited visit at the kitchen table, Benjamin and Allie were finally off to bed. Jenna and Lee now had time for a heartfelt talk about Noah and the funeral services that were to be conducted at the Immanuel Lutheran Church on Wednesday morning.

“I just can’t believe he’s gone, Aunt Lee.” Jenna shifted in her chair and glanced over her shoulder as if expecting that Noah might very well enter the kitchen to address her comment.

“It was so unexpected, dear, but now he’s with your sweet mama.” Lee reached to place her hand on Jenna’s. “It’s really where he longed to be.”

“I’ve always wondered just how that works in heaven when there is more than one spouse,” Jenna mused. “Sounds like it could be rather awkward, don’t you think?”

“Lord have mercy, child!” Lee’s expression was first one of astonishment, but then she appeared to be considering the possible consequences of such a situation. “Pray till, I just hope that God has made some sort of provision for things like that.”

They sat for a long while in silence, both reminiscing about Noah and his affable ways when Jenna finally spoke, “Remember how he used to tap his fingers on the edge of the kitchen table when he was irritated or anxious to get back to work in the woodshop?”

“What I remember is when he repaired the screen door on the back porch so it wouldn’t slam anymore.” Lee shook her head and then sipped her coffee slowly. “It had no spirit at all after that.” She still seemed slightly annoyed by Noah’s impromptu action.

“I remember my tenth birthday and the desk and bookshelf that he made for me,” Jenna recalled fondly. All of a sudden her smile faded. “Shouldn’t someone sing for Daddy’s services?” she asked abruptly, remembering that a song was typically an important part of a funeral service. “I recall that Lillian Lehman sang for Doc Bouchard’s service and it was beautiful.”

“Lillian remarried several years ago and moved to Lincoln with her new husband.” Lee stirred her coffee again, this time with a little more spirit. “She found someone else just three months after Dale passed.” Lee’s upper lip tightened as she reached for another cookie. “It was simply too soon if you ask me.”

“Do you have any other ideas?”

“About Lillian?”

“No, someone who can sing.”

“Well, Brenda Gilmore has a pretty nice voice, and she sings for a lot of funerals at the church. I’ll give her a call. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it. There are a couple of women who think they can sing. There’s no reason to have someone up there screeching like a cat in season. Noah wouldn’t be happy with that at all.”

Jenna stifled a smile at Lee’s ramblings. “I think I’ll let you handle everything at the church, and then I’ll finalize the rest of the arrangements with Brockhaus tomorrow.”

 

It was a cool autumn morning, the day of Noah’s funeral. The black limousine turned slowly from the main road and stopped alongside the front porch of the manor where Jenna, Benjamin, Allie and Lee stood waiting for the three-mile drive to the church.

“Mama, will I get to see Papa Noah today?” Allie asked, not fully comprehending the concept of death and funerals.

“No dear. Today is a time of remembering all the things we loved about Papa Noah. Can you think of some things, Allie?”

“I remember that he let me sit by him on the swing and he told me stories,” she answered, eyes twinkling. “Sometimes he played the harmonica, too.”

“I helped him build a birdhouse with wood from his shop,” Benjamin said, with an expression of pride.

“Those are the wonderful memories that we need to recall right now,” Jenna reminded them – and herself.

Lee removed a white handkerchief from her purse and dabbed her eyes, obviously moved by the recollections of the children. “He was a wonderful man.”

The limo parked in the front of the church and two Brockhaus directors assisted the family into the chapel to join friends who had already gathered. Jenna had a firm grasp on Lee’s arm while Benjamin and Allie followed close behind to the front row to be seated.

Reverend Alex McDonald welcomed those in attendance and read the eulogy in honor of Noah’s life. He spoke a few kind words about the man he had only recently come to know. “Though he never attended Immanuel Lutheran Church, I soon realized through several conversations with him that he had a unique relationship with God. He spent many an early morning sitting on his front porch swing, conversing with the Good Lord. I suspect that’s what he may have been doing when it was time for him to leave this world. I learned a great deal from him, and will not soon forget the visits that I was privileged to have with my friend Noah.”

The Kitchen Table

Country Cottage KitchenThe kitchen table.  In my family, it was here that important discussions had their genesis.  Opinions were readily expressed on religion, politics, family values, money matters, raising children, taking care of the elderly, education, social responsibility and death.  Typically, the children listened, and the adults talked.  That said, at a very young age I had a clear idea of the persuasions, perspectives and prejudices of those who sat around the kitchen table with their cups of strong, black coffee.  Occasionally, discussions were heated, and tempers flared.  For emphasis, there was an occasional smack of the hand on the table top.  But, at the end of the day these same strongly opinionated kinfolk showed their unending love and respect for each other with hugs, kisses and goodbyes – until the next spirited visit took place.

Books the Audible Way!

The  House GuestrevisionGreat narrators, such as the likes of Maria Hostage, make a story come alive and allow you to transform your commute, workout, or chores into enjoyable listening times. The House Guest is now available in audio edition through Amazon’s Audible. You’re sure to enjoy the pleasant and animated voice of actress Maria Hostage as she narrates The House Guest. Travel with her to 1950s Nebraska and follow the many delightful characters in this heartwarming story.

Kindness is Healthy

Little girl gives money to the beggar.

One of the most fascinating research findings to surface in recent years is the fact that whenever a simple act of kindness is extended by one human being to another, it results in a noteworthy improvement of the immune system and an increased production of serotonin in both the recipient of the kindness, and the person extending the act of kindness. What’s even more amazing is that persons observing the act of kindness also experience a similar strengthening of the immune system and increased production of serotonin! Kindness is a win-win scenario for all concerned – giver, receiver and observer.