Chapter Six: Jumping Off The High Board
Callie paused for a moment outside the small yellow house on Walnut Avenue, studying the old-fashioned look of the cottage with its peaked roof. Her mom did have a love for old-fashioned things, so Callie could understand how this house would appeal to her. Callie took a deep breath, then stepped up quickly to the front porch and rang the electronic doorbell.
Phoebe appeared a moment later, a dish towel thrown over the shoulder of her silk designer blouse. “Callie!” Phoebe cried, motioning her in. “Come on in, I’m so glad you’re here.”
Callie stepped in, noticing the highly varnished wood floor and the open dining room and kitchen beyond. “Anything I can do?”
“No, not really – well, you can get yourself something to drink if you like.” Phoebe gestured to the fridge. “No alcohol I’m afraid – the church ladies thought of everything but that.”
“No worries, I’ll be fine with water or whatever,” Callie assured her, opening the fridge. She found a bottle of water and took that out, twisting off the cap. “This is perfect.”
“Great.” Phoebe peeked in the oven. “I was just heating up some rolls. The casserole is on the table with the salad. Look around if you like. We’ve still got a few minutes.”
“Okay.” Callie turned from the kitchen toward the dining room. She’d been here a few times over the years so it looked vaguely familiar. Still, some things looked so new. She’d already noticed the brand-new top of the line kitchen appliances, the granite countertops, the oak cupboards. The dining area next to the kitchen had a round oak table, from the old house, with four chairs around it. French doors led to a patio at the bottom of a short flight of stairs.
Between the kitchen and dining area and the opposite wall was an open area. Directly opposite the kitchen, a door led to a laundry room. Next to that was her mother’s bedroom. The other bedroom, that her mother had fixed up for Callie to stay in during visits, was adjacent to the French doors to the patio. A bathroom was tucked in between the two bedrooms.
With her back to the bathroom door, she saw the front entrance and what appeared to be a very long closet, with a door on the side and another door facing her. She peeked inside and saw a flight of stairs leading to a basement.
“Go on down and explore,” Phoebe said, washing some dishes in the sink. “We’ve got time.”
“Okay,” Callie replied and went down the steps.
She’d only been here once or twice. The steps went down to a small landing, where she turned and went down another step to enter the main part of the basement. A very large TV was mounted on the wall, with a comfy sofa and two power recliners forming a theater seating area. Turning to her right and the other end of the basement, she saw a tidy little kitchenette and beyond that, in the far corner, a full bath through a partly open door. In the other corner was a screened off area which she thought was where the HVAC unit was located. Under the stairs was a large closet and on the opposite wall several shelves were filled with books and games.
If she did abandon the inn, she probably would stay down here. She couldn’t imagine staying in her mother’s room. She was sure Phoebe couldn’t either. Her aunt was probably staying in the other bedroom. Her mom had decorated it with a lot of things from Callie’s room in the old house. Everything in there would remind her of Mom. At least Phoebe wouldn’t have that problem, not like staying in Mom’s room.
It reminded her that she wasn’t the only one who had lost someone. Her aunt had lost her only sister. Callie sagged against the door. So much sadness….
But then she straightened up and headed for the stairs. She could stay at the inn a few more days. It wasn’t that expensive. She sighed. Even if it was, she didn’t care.
Phoebe smiled as Callie reappeared. “Perfect timing. Sit down and dig in.”
Callie came over to t0he table and sat down. “What have we got?”
“Some kind of beef dish with potatoes and carrots – it smells heavenly,” Phoebe said, pushing the salad bowl towards Callie.
After dinner, Phoebe brought out a cherry pie for dessert. “Cara McDonald sent it over with Hank. It looks marvelous.”
Callie took a bite and sank back against her chair with a happy moan. “Oh it is…the crust is so light and flaky, and the cherries so tart…”
“Mmmm,” Phoebe agreed. “It wouldn’t surprise me if those cherries came from Will’s orchard. She does a lot of canning.”
“They’re still out at the farm?” Callie asked in surprise.
“Umhm,” Phoebe nodded, sneaking another bite. “Though there’s not much farm left, they sold off most of it. Hank has a little cottage out there on what’s left, so Cara and Will aren’t out there all alone.”
Callie thought it prudent not to say anything about that, but she couldn’t help feeling good about it. Sounded like Hank hadn’t changed that much.
The feeling vanished when Phoebe said hesitantly, “There was something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What?” Callie forced herself to say. It must be something dreadful.
“We need to go through Lizzie’s things. I think it’s something we should do together.”
Everything in Callie rebelled. She wasn’t ready for that yet. It meant facing that Mom was really gone and she simply couldn’t handle that right now. Later. But not now. “No.”
“No. I just can’t, Aunt Phoebe. It’s just going to have to wait.” Callie looked at her aunt pleadingly, begging her to understand.
Phoebe nodded. “Okay. I have a tough time with it myself.”
“We could box up the stuff Mom left you,” Callie offered. “That would be a start, kind of.”
“Agreed. We can do that tomorrow and then we can get it shipped back to Chicago.” Phoebe took another bite of pie. “Oh my gosh, this is so good.”
“I know, isn’t it?” Callie smiled, relieved at the change of subject. “What else do we have to do tomorrow?”
They chatted a while longer and then it was time to go. Callie turned her car toward the inn, glad she wasn’t staying in the house. It felt good to be going to her own private place, where she could be alone to sort out all the things that had happened today. She rolled down the window to let the cool late April breeze into the car, and slowly let the tension ease out of her.
Back at the inn, Callie changed into a comfy sleepshirt and curled up on the bed with her planner and iPad. Her goal this evening was to finish the obituary draft so she could share it with her aunt tomorrow. She had been concerned about it not appearing in the paper until next week. How would people know about the funeral? But Aunt Phoebe told her not to worry. “This is a small town,” Phoebe assured her. “Everyone knows everything.”
Sure enough, everywhere she went today, each person she ran into seemed to have all the details of where and when the funeral would be held. Then Callie remembered what her mother had called the Ware Information Network, the way news spread through town with surprising speed. But Callie still wanted the obituary published as soon as possible.
To that end, she had invited all those people she encountered to share their stories about her mother. At first, she thought it might be difficult, talking so much about Mom. But she mostly listened, able to keep her emotions well buried. And everyone had a favorite story.
She found herself looking at her mother through their eyes, as a friend, a neighbor, a fellow volunteer. It was such an odd feeling, as if she were getting to know a stranger. There were stories about her mom as a young girl, a classmate, a girlfriend, a young bride, a widow, an important part of her church, a generous philanthropist, an indefatigable volunteer, a godmother – Callie was amazed at how little she knew her own mother. All these stories!
She started transcribing her notes, filling in details from memory. Maybe someday she could fit the stories together into some kind of biography. She smiled at the thought. As if! Well, she’d write them down anyway.
Once that was done, she went on the internet looking for advice on how to structure an obituary. Within an hour, she had finished the draft. She put a checkmark next to that item on her list.
Tomorrow she would stop by the florist while Phoebe talked to the accountant. Then they would both go over to the church to talk to the Pastor. She and Aunt Phoebe would review the obituary over lunch and get that submitted to the paper. After lunch, they would meet with the attorney. Later in the afternoon, they would box up the items Mom had given Aunt Phoebe and get those over to the shipping store. Another full day, just the way Callie needed it.
She closed the planner and tablet, set them on the bedside table, and slipped in under the covers. She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
The Morning Star Tabernacle Church was a square clapboard building with a long wing off to one side. The parking lot fit in to the rectangle created by the wing and main building. A few tall silver maples shaded the area around the church and lilac bushes guarded the main entrance. Phoebe and Callie made their way into the square building and quickly found the small pastoral office.
The Pastor looked up from where he was seated at the desk and stood up to welcome them in. “Phoebe!” he smiled. “You are just as pretty as over.”
“Thank you kindly,” Phoebe answered happily. “You look pretty good yourself, Pastor.”
Callie stood awkwardly next to her aunt. She didn’t remember this slightly overweight middle-aged man with wispy blond hair. He must have taken over from Pastor Wilburn, who had been pretty old by the time she went to college. Pastor Austin turned from Phoebe to Callie and his smile widened. “Ah, you must be Callie! Come in, come in, have a seat.”
Callie smiled hesitantly and sat down beside Phoebe in one of the chairs facing the desk. The Pastor briskly outlined what he had in mind for the funeral service. By the time Aunt Phoebe had made a couple of requests and Callie had added some comments, Callie felt much more at ease.
“After the service, we’ll go out to the cemetery over on Riddleback Road. We’ll have a brief service there, then return to the church where we’ll have a sit-down lunch served by our ladies.”
“I must thank them again for all the food they brought over to the house,” Phoebe said quickly. “So thoughtful and everything is delicious!”
“I’m sure they’ll be pleased to hear that,” the Pastor responded. “Have you talked to my wife yet?”
“Yesterday,” Phoebe nodded. “She seems to have everything well in hand.”
“Wonderful! Is there anything else we haven’t covered?”
“No, I think we’ve been through everything.” Phoebe turned to Callie. “Callie? Do you have anything?”
Callie shook her head. “No, I’m good.”
The Pastor looked at her – really looked at her, she felt as if he understood all that she was feeling and dealing with. She gazed back into his light blue eyes, unable to move. There was so much understanding in his expression, so much … comfort ….
Pastor Austin stood up, turning his attention back to Phoebe. “Well, I’ll walk you out then.”
As he escorted them to the parking lot, he went on, “Our service tomorrow is at ten, I hope you’ll be able to join us.”
“I’d love to,” Phoebe said enthusiastically. “I’m not sure about Callie, she’s probably running on fumes by now –“
Callie looked into the Pastor’s warm brown eyes and found herself saying, “I’ll come.”
“Good,” he replied encouragingly. “I do think you’ll like it.”
She nodded a little uncertainly. She had the same feeling she’d had when she had stepped off the high board at the swimming pool for the first time. She wasn’t at all sure she was going to like it.
"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford