Posts Tagged ‘Meet me by the Gate’

July 3

Item # 17 – Small box in top bureau drawer


This box contains a sticker Livia found under her saddle one day. I’m sure you remember the day I’m referring too. Livia knew what you’d done, but played along. She’s a better sport than I imagined.


 Logan was excited when he came back from his first riding lesson.

“Mom, you should have been there,” his voice rose with each word, until he was practically yelling. “Livia’s horse went wild. He was bucking and started running. You should have seen it. It was so cool.”

“It was nothing an experience horse woman couldn’t handle.”

Livia folded her hands across her lap. She was the picture of gentility, sitting stiff backed, ankles crossed. But today, an extra smile played across her lips.

“She stayed on his back like one of those cowboys at the rodeo,” Logan continued.

I asked what happened.

“I don’t know,” he said.

He sounded a little too innocent for my liking.

“These things happen,” Livia confirmed.

After Logan ran upstairs, Livia told me the truth.

“That little rapscallion put a cockle under my saddle.”

Livia produced the offending sticker.

“Are you ok? I can’t believe he would do something like that. I’ll have a talk with him.”

I fully intended to ground him to Livia’s care for the remainder of the summer and hard labor during off hours.

“Not necessary. I’m taking care of it,” Livia insisted.

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yes, dear. You just worry about you. I can handle one prepubescent boy.”


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July 2

Item # 11 – Grandma’s Blanket

Allie I want you to keep Grandma’s blanket and think of me. And when I’ve gone, I’d like you to see that it’s passed on to Logan. I’ve spent a lot of time under this blanket lately. Picking out the fabrics from Grandma’s shirts has become a pastime for me these days. I’ve found great comfort in this quilt.




I wrapped myself in Grandma’s tattered, old quilt today. The stitching was coming apart, but for once I didn’t worry about trying to repair it. Some of the fabrics were rotting away. The green and white polka dots had disappeared, leaving small holes in their places. I didn’t try to fight the eventual decay and destruction; I just let it be what it was intended to be, warm and comforting.

It’s by no means beautiful, mostly cotton fabrics, truly random, – plaids, solids and florals. I always look for one fabric in particular, an Indian boy paddling down a green river. Every color from pastel blues, pinks and yellows to dark brown, black, grey, and indigo was present, darks and lights, happy and sad, more happy than sad. I took comfort in that.

These squares of once vibrant cottons, now muted with age, were the remnants of Grandma’s shirts. I could see her out in the garden; straw hat, pedal pushers, and a wheelbarrow, wearing a colorful cotton shirt.

We’d cook and can all summer. At Christmas, we’d open a jar of pickled okra, when memories of fried green tomatoes had long since passed and remember summer days all over again. Those memories come back to me now.

The quilt had been lost, tucked away in Grandma’s closet. Its memory lost with it. After Grandma was gone, the house and everything in it was being sold.

“If you want anything, you’d best take it,” the voice on the phone had said.

We went back one more time; Allie and I. Everything of value had been taken. Allie was sentimental to the end. She sat in the middle of Grandma’s sewing room. I suppose she was looking for the Holy Grail. Something that would have special meaning that was quintessentially Grandma. Something she could hold onto.

When Allie was a girl, she was always at Grandma’s side, out in the garden or standing at the edge of her sewing machine. Allie had turned to Grandma when Mom died. So Grandma’s death had hit her particularly hard. After Grandma died, Allie was more drawn into her own world. Allie-land I sometimes called it. Things seemed to be more about Allie and less about everyone else.

That’s when I snagged a box of dress patterns from the nineteen forties and fifties. She had looked at them longingly.

“I’m the one who sews,” she said, implying they would be better off in her hands, perhaps she was right.

“I’ll share them with you.” I reassured her, lying.

To the victor goes the spoils, I thought.

Bored, I moved onto Grandma’s sewing closet. It was like a dimly lit, walk in pantry. The shelves on three sides were loaded with fabrics from floor to ceiling. The strong smell of musty mothballs brought a tickle to the back of my throat.

On a top shelf, I saw an old quilt, falling apart.

I thought someone could make a pillow out of what’s left.

I noticed five or six black smudges on the edge of one corner.

“Tar, I don’t know if I can get that out.”

I looked closer. It wasn’t tar. Jolene was written on one corner in faded black marker. It was my quilt. Grandma must have always meant it for me.

Since that time, I’ve tried to shore it up with stitching to hold the pieces together, but not tonight. Tonight I wrapped myself in Grandma’s quilt.

Logan brought me a book that I read to him when he was younger. He asked me to read it to him again. I started to say no, but then thought what am I doing? When will I get this chance again? So I started to read.

It wasn’t long before he pulled up a stool and sat with his head leaning against my knee. Charlie pulled up a chair and we sat together listening to how Dorothy made her way through Oz.

Life’s too short not to live it. I may have weeks left or I may have years. Either way, I have a lot I want to do, so I need to stop wasting time. I need to stop wasting time being angry and start doing what matters with the people who matter.

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July 1

I started painting an abstract that’s been in my head for years, but I’ve never gotten around to painting it, swirls of bright reds and oranges and gold.

I dropped a brown splotch in the middle of the canvas. It wasn’t supposed to be there. The more I tried to wipe it off, the bigger it became.

This wasn’t supposed to happen, not to me.

I tried painting over it. It smeared and ran into the other colors.

I go to church. I pray. I don’t lie, cheat or steal. Not really. I don’t drink or smoke, sure I’m a little overweight, but not cancer. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Not now, not ever.

I spritzed the canvas with water. Maybe I could dilute it. The spot got bigger, bleeding into the entire canvas.

I’ve played by the rules and did my duty. I worked hard all my life. I was supposed to have time to do things when I retired.

I plunged my brush through the canvas.

This isn’t fair.

I continued shredding the canvas.

“It’s not fair,” I screamed for the first time letting myself say what I really felt.

I slammed the painting against my easel, knocking it over.

“Not fair.”

I slammed it against the wall. I beat it against the floor until it splintered into pieces.

“You can’t take it away; you can’t let it end. This can’t be all there is to my life.”

I yelled and screamed at God, but God doesn’t listen to me anymore.

Charlie found me on all fours, exhausted from screaming. I had collapsed in a heap, crying.

All I could do was choke out, “Not me.”

I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t stop sobbing. If someone could just explain it, why me? Why not someone else? No one can answer that question. They can answer all the others, but not that one. No one knows.

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June 30

I found Allie sitting on the floor of my room today. She had the Just In Case box. The lid was open, its contents strewn on the floor.

“What’s this?” Allie asked accusations and pain on her face.

“It’s just my legal documents,” I said, trying to sound matter of fact.

“Legal documents?” her voice escalated. “These aren’t legal documents. These are goodbye letters,” she said, throwing the envelopes at me.

I tried to explain to her.

“I know how you felt after Dad died. I know you wanted some last message. I want to be sure you have that, just in case.”

“How can you do this to me?” Allie asked.

Leave it to Allie to make my illness about her.

“Do this to you? The world doesn’t revolve around you.”

“I never said it did.”

“You sure act like it. This is happening to me, not you.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Allie said.

“Then, for once in your life, try to think about me. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Yes you did. You always do. I’m too tired to care right now,” I said, crawling into bed, pulling the covers over my head.

I was glad to escape into exhaustion.

It was dark when I woke up. I don’t know how long I slept. Once I was alone with my thoughts, I knew it wasn’t Allie I was angry at. I’m not even sure it was Bryan any more. I was just angry. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I was suppose to have more time.

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June 29

I tied a ribbon around Grandma’s patterns. They’re mostly for dresses from the forties and fifties. A few patterns for walking shorts, pedal pushers Grandma called them. I guess that’s what they use to call biking shorts.

Each pattern was contained in a yellowing envelope with a line drawing of the outfit inside – smart skirt suits, summer dresses, ruffled blouses, even a poodle skirt, most with matching hats and gloves. All painted with pastel colors.

When I took them, I meant to frame the best of them and display them in my room. But like most of my projects, they were overcome by life’s events, mostly work, stress and exhaustion.

Living wasn’t meant to be so tiring. Had I only started feeling tired recently or was I always this way? It’s hard to remember now.

I slipped a note written on pretty pink paper, under the ribbon.

Dear Allie,

Now these are yours as they always should have been. Please take better care of them than I did. Don’t just shove them in a box in a closet somewhere; find a place where you can see them every day. Grandma would have loved that, just as she loved you, her favorite grandchild, her little Allie.

Love Ya,


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June 28

Item # 9 – Little Used Picnic Basket


It doesn’t have any special meaning other than I wish I spent more time with the people I loved. Use it, take your kids out and enjoy them. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. This life isn’t forever.

Love, Jo


 My box would not be complete without a letter for Allie. She was devastated after Dad died. We both were. Losing your mother was one thing, but losing your Dad not long afterwards was almost too much.

Mom had made a point of telling us how she felt about us, knowing she was dying. Still I wish I had it in writing. The pain fades over the years, but so does everything else, even the words. I wish she had written it in a letter that I could read every day and never forget.

After Daddy died, Allie tore through the house, looking for some message he should have left. She riffled through drawers, cabinets and closets, emptying their contents on the floor, clothes, shoes, papers, books, silverware, dishes, and bed linens. The list continued to grow as she worked her way through the house. No room was untouched, not even her own. She left a path of destruction in her wake.

All I could do was watch. I barely had the energy to get up in the morning. I felt the weight of my growing responsibilities on my chest. I thought that no one could live through that kind of pain. First Mom and then Dad, I was sure I was going to be next. I knew I would shatter into a million pieces. Like a puff of smoke, the wind would blow me away into nothing. I wanted to be nothing. The grief was too much to bear. I just wanted to be nothing.

Allie became desperate to read the will. She felt certain Dad and perhaps Mom had left a message for her. Finally, someone got a copy of the will and let her read it.

It mentioned nothing of the sort of thing she had hoped for, no not hoped for, needed. It had been written years ago before Mom got sick. It simply said if Mom died first Dad got everything. If Dad died first Mom got everything. If they both died, Bryan, Allie and I split everything evenly. It went on to list guardians if we were under age. If I was old enough, agreeable and able, Allie was my responsibility. Otherwise, Grandma was at the top of the list of course.

I always considered myself old enough, agreeable and able, even though I was only thirteen. I took personal responsibility for Allie from then on, making sure she was taken care of the best I could.

I didn’t want Allie to wonder what I felt, wishing for some message again. I wanted her to have something she could hold on to and read over and over again, as many times as necessary. I wanted her to know that she had been the light of Mom’s life. When she was born, Mom changed a little. Allie had been a bright, sunny baby. She laughed at the world from the start and everyone around her couldn’t help but laugh too. I wanted her to know that. I wanted her to realize she could be that light again.

Mom’s art had always been dark in color. She painted people with sad eyes, cold winter scenes, and dark abstracts, beautiful in their icy cold sadness. Once Allie was born, her art looked similar, but so different. The people had a softness about them and a small twinkle in their eyes. The abstracts were brighter and lighter. They seemed to soar. The scenes she painted were no longer bleak and forlorn. I suppose it was because she was happier too. Bryan and I hadn’t done that for her, only Allie had.

Dad loved Allie as he loved us all. There was nothing she could have done to help him. Nothing I could have done really, though I blamed myself for years.

But most of all, I wanted Allie to know that I loved her beyond sisterly love. I loved her as a daughter and a friend. I don’t think I could have lived through that time alone, without her. If things didn’t work out, I wanted her to know she saved my life already all those years ago. If I hadn’t had Allie, I’m sure I wouldn’t have survived.

And if this is my time, I was looking forward to seeing them again. I’d tell them they could be proud of Allie. I wanted her to know she would be fine without me.

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June 27

Item # 4 – Silk ivy in the brass pot

I keep it in the kitchen. Logan, this is yours. You were in second grade and having so much trouble learning to read. Your teacher gave each student a ticket for reading five pages. At the end of the year, she had an auction. You had the least number of tickets. At the beginning of the auction, you spotted this plant and wanted to get it for me.

You saved all your tickets, scared someone would out bid you. After you brought me the plant, I took you out for an ice cream sundae, just the two of us. I know you don’t remember, but this plant has been my favorite plant living, dried or silk ever since.


 I’ve decided to write Logan a letter. I remember how Allie was so desperate to read Dad’s will. Everyone kept telling her there was nothing in it, just standard legal jargon. As a matter of fact, it read like a form letter.

She had been hoping her Daddy had left her a message. Some personal indication of how he felt about her.

I think she’s still searching for that acceptance, even today.

I want to be sure I leave that for Logan and Allie, too. I don’t want Logan to have to wonder. I want him to know for certain how I feel about him. There are so many things I wanted Logan to know – that I’m proud of him and I love him.

I want to write him a letter for when that first girl breaks his heart, when he graduates from college, gets married, and has his first baby.

I want him to know that pain does not last forever, but love does. Cherish the little things. Money does not matter. Do what you love, because life is too short to work for money. In the end; memories are what you long for. Stay close to your family, because that’s all you’ve got and when everyone and everything seems to abandon you, you’ll know they’ll still be there for you. And if I can’t be there for you, you can depend on your Aunt. These are things I wish I had learned earlier.

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June 26

I don’t know if I can do this for six more weeks. I don’t know if I want do this for six more days. Please God, please make this stop. I don’t care how. Just please stop it.

I put together a just in case box. I gathered my will, insurance, burial wishes, and pictures of me and Logan in a box under my bed. I want everything to be together so that no one has to worry and make those decisions later.

I remember how hard it was after Dad. No one knew where anything was or what he wanted. I remember having to answer questions and make decisions a thirteen year old shouldn’t have to make.

I wanted to leave instructions and messages about the important things. I wanted to be sure nothing was lost or missed. I need to take an inventory of everything in the house and explain each item’s significance and who should keep it after me.

There was a little picture of Allie with Mom and Grandma. Mom was wearing a blue and white cotton dress and Grandma a green striped dress. Grandma was wearing red lipstick. I think everyone wore red lipstick then, even Grandmas.

Allie was about twelve months old, a big, chubby baby with red hair. Mom’s hair was still dark. It wasn’t long after that picture was taken that Mom started dying her hair. She loved Allie’s hair so much she took Allie to a salon and had her hair dyed to match.

The top of my head is barely visible at the bottom of the picture, cut off by the camera. Even then the world revolved around Allie.

I put a yellow sticky note on the back of the picture.


I know you always hated your hair growing up, but Mom loved it so much, she had hers dyed to match yours. Love Jo

I deposited the picture in an envelope with her name on it and placed it in the box.

Next I picked up a spiral notebook, brown with pink flower. I didn’t want a yellow tablet or a plain spiral notebook, nothing generic. I wanted everything in this box to be an expression of my personality, so that, if later didn’t come, anyone looking in this box would have a sense of who I was.

I began my inventory in my spiral notebook. This was an inventory of my worthless things and what they mean to me. So that maybe when I’m gone, someone will understand and cherish them too. I think everyone should have a just in case box.


Item #1 – Fondue pot

I love chocolate and cheese, separately, not together. What’s better than something you can use for both? Allie, this is yours. You are the only one I know who loves cheese almost as much as me and maybe loves chocolate a little more.

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June 25

Charlie received a letter from a colleague he had traveled with. When the group bringing medications returned to a village, they found most of the twenty some odd inhabitants dead or dying. They did what they could to try to ease the suffering and save those that weren’t too far gone. However, they arrived too late. They were only able to save two of the twenty. Eighteen were lost. It really wasn’t a village as much as a cemetery now.

I feel guilty for hijacking Charlie from these people. He’s so close to finding a solution. I watched as he finally resigned himself to moving their pictures from the right side of his board to the left. He took each picture, stared intently at the smiling face and then tacked it on the left side.

He left his office, quietly shutting the door and began preparing me tea and crackers. He shut the door on his dream, his promises and his friends. I called Allie; I couldn’t let him do it. I couldn’t let him do what I had done. I have to find a way for him to continue his work. I am not going to be the reason he had to quit.

Allie took Charlie aside. She had a list all of my treatment and doctors’ appointments. She had names by each appointment date and phone numbers. Some I knew and some I didn’t. She had organized volunteers, so that Charlie didn’t have to choose between me and his work. Of course Allie’s name appeared almost daily.

She told Charlie she didn’t want him getting sick trying to handle it all. That he needed a break too. He was already looking exhausted and stressed. She knew he wouldn’t ask, so she decided to help him out.

I insisted he go back to work on his project. People were depending on him. At first he seemed reluctant and then relieved.

When did Allie become someone who I could trust with sensitive issues? When did she start thinking beyond herself? Sometimes, given a challenge people rise to the occasion and even go beyond your expectations. Beyond what you or even they thought they were capable of. I’m glad Allie turned out to be one of those people.

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June 24

I’ve been sick for the last few days. I’m too tired to make one more trip to the restroom. Charlie brought me a bowl and I just lie on the sofa, while he and Allie take turns dumping it. I know they’re both worried. I can hear them talking in the hall.

“I don’t know how long she can do this,” I heard Allie say.

And I agreed with her. I don’t know how long I can or want to do this.

You think you’ll do anything, give anything to live, but when it comes down to it, sometimes you wonder if it wouldn’t be easier just to let go. I’m worried I’ll feel that way before this is all done and over. Maybe that’s how Mom felt, she just couldn’t go on.

I heard Livia join in the conversation in the hall.

Livia brought Logan in to see me before they left. She wanted to show off his new outfit. I didn’t know which to look at first, the blue argyle sweater vest and plaid pants or the fact that he and Livia were wearing matching outfits.

“Shouldn’t I stay here and help with Mom,” he silently begged Allie for help.

“How sweet. But your Aunt Allie and Charlie have everything under control. Besides your mother wants you to go out and have a good time,” Livia said, getting her keys out.

“Great,” Logan replied though he didn’t sound the least bit convinced.

Allie shoved a bowl of cream of mushroom soup at me. Usually, it was my favorite, but today it was revolting.

“It’s homemade,” she said, coaxing. “Mrs. Wood at the market made it.”

I would have been shocked if Allie had cooked anything “homemade”. Her children weren’t even sure what a grocery store was for. The waitresses have her number on speed dial. She once tried cooking for a few weeks and got calls from restaurants checking to see if everything was ok.

I lied, telling her I’d try some later. I’d be lucky to keep the crackers down.

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