AFTER THE STORM

The PorchAt first, she hadn’t noticed that it was missing. After all, the little table and chairs were of no use to her anymore—her children were all in their 50’s, and even the grandchildren had long ago outgrown their interest in the play set that survived the tornado.

The old dolls—well, there was something infinitely sad about seeing them lying there amid the dead leaves that had blown up on the porch.  But those days, when Hannah and Katy wrapped their dollies in worn receiving blankets that she had used for them when they were newborns, were sweet but fading memories. She knew it shouldn’t matter that the girls did not want to save their dolls—nowadays people just don’t save those sentimental things, and she surely didn’t have the space in her senior living apartment for old toys.

Abiding Branches Assisted Living. What a positive sounding name. More like God’s waiting room, she thought. For years she resisted the idea of giving up her own home, a house as old and as tired as she was, but then when the wind and rain came and the house was no longer habitable, she accepted it and tried to anticipate with enthusiasm a new season.

“That was then, this is now,” she said as she mentally turned her back on the old house and unpacked her suitcase. Still, something about the old porch haunted her.

In her memories she could still hear the sharp “thwapp” when the girls would run outdoors, leaving the door to slam shut behind them. Or even better, when they would run in after school, spilling over with equal portions of silly stories and tales of woe. They would scarf down the cookies she’d baked for them, hardly noticing whether they were oatmeal-raisin, Hannah’s first choice, or Katy’s favorite peanut butter blossoms.

She kept a few mementoes herself—Christening dresses that had been handed down from her own grandparents, tiny gold lockets on slender chains—and then the memories they had made themselves.  For instance, the inked footprints taken in the hospital, the notes from their kindergarten teachers, certificates from Daily Vacation Bible School…

Where are they, she wondered as she stretched to see the top shelf of her new closet.

She was looking for the big scrapbook where she had pasted those precious bits and pieces.  When so much of her life was in the past, at least now, when she spent most of her time alone, she wanted to be able to re-live those sweet times when her girls’ faces lit up whenever they saw her.  She wanted to see the pictures and keepsakes of when she was the most important person in their lives, of when she mattered to someone.

When she had mattered to someone.  More memories came flooding in then, memories of her dear William. Although he had passed over ten years ago, remembering those last days still wrung her heart. She seldom allowed herself to remember.  At least she had pictures of him in kinder times, too.

Where are they, those pictures?  Where is that scrapbook?

Then it came to her.

On the way here, she had insisted that Michael, Hannah’s handsome husband, drive by the old place one more time.  He went by slowly, silently, and then drove off.  She dared one last look back.  There it was.  The same size and shape as the top of the funny little homemade desk that matched the table and chairs. She could see it plain as day.

Now it was gone forever.  The girls had arranged for a truck to haul it all away with the trash left by the storm.

She sat in her recliner, as sad as she had ever been.

Whether a dream or a vision, she couldn’t say, but gradually the room grew brighter.  And there was music—a calliope, violins, trumpets, a wedding march, lullabies, love songs…and the fragrance of flowers.  A manly scent, then—aftershave—why, there was William! Smiling at her—his body strong and straight.   As the dream unfolded, years rolled by. Her babies giggled while they toddled through the garden grabbing flowers as they went. As she watched, they became teenagers, then brides, and then mothers themselves.

The light grew softer, yet more radiant somehow, when a Man like no other appeared, handing her the scrapbook of empty pages, and said, “Your life, your memories, cannot be contained in paper but are forever engraved on your heart. Be at peace.”

So she rested.

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