There was the sound of a door opening at the back of the house and voices came up the hallway. Happy voices, chattering away. The voices brought lightness with them, they brought a lighter hearted spirit, chasing away the tough conversations of the morning. Leta turned fully to greet the smiling faces that made their way into the kitchen.
“Good morning Belle, Good morning mother Ellen.” She stepped toward them and gave each a quick squeeze. Abby noticed but said nothing.
Belle was Leta’s mother in law. She was an opposite of Abby. She was laughter and light. She had a life that was not easy, but somehow it did not weigh her down like Abby. It was a different life and a different outlook. Belle had died six months after Leta married her son, so their relationship was uncluttered by any stress or ugliness that being family can bring to it. Ellen was Belle’s mother, she had died six weeks before Belle. She had been spared burying that one daughter. Leta had adored them both, and finding them waiting for her so many years later was truly a reward she cherished.
Belle settled her mother into a rocking chair set back from the table, but nearer the fire. Ellen was a large woman, with white hair, round cheeks and a twinkle in her blue eyes. Her husband had been very thin and they resembled Jack Sprat and his wife, and got on as well as far as compromise went. Belle was tall and thin. Not frail by any means, she was like a willow who could bend in any wind, there was nothing fragile about Belle.
Leta picked up a light silken blanket and snapped it twice, then handing it to Ellen to lay over her lap. The room was plenty warm, but Ellen liked to have something comforting to run through her fingers as she sat and watched the days conversation. Ellen was now the oldest of the women in the room, a contrast to Elizabeth’s sternness to be sure.
Belle pulled out a flat package and handed it to Leta. “I thought you might enjoy this.”
Leta opened the flap and saw a photo inside. On the back were written names. It was a photo of Belle, her second husband (Leta’s father in law), her three children, and their four children. None of her father in law’s children were in this photo. The children seemed to range in age from 2 to 20. Such a range of ages. Leta was caught up in looking at the faces when Ellen laughed gently. “Belle, she’s so taken with the people that she’s missing why you brought the photo.” Leta looked up with a quirked eyebrow.
“The house Leta, the house!” Belle exclaimed. Leta looked closer. The house was a two story design. Plain, with horizontal boards. A door in the middle, window on either side, four windows across the top. She looked around the downstairs of her own home, the kitchen, chimney, living space.
She laughed. “Of course it’s this house, of course. I should have noticed sooner. What better home to be home for us now?”
“Yes, it is this house. It’s the old family home, it was familiar and seemed necessary for this particular vigil.” Belle explained no more. Leta would find out more in time, but for now, she was too interested in the photo. To see the face of her husband as a boy, to see the face that was so similar to her own little boy. She loved her daughter, but that boy, seeing his face light up, watching him mimic the man she loved, there was a bit of heaven on earth there.
She chuckled inside. Heaven on earth. There was a phrase that was just about as silly as they came. If she’d only known that Heaven sat on Earth. That when you were alive, you just couldn’t see it. That the only difference was this Heaven was a step closer to the God you had always pictured and hoped for and hopefully believed in. That in this Heaven there were still lessons to be learned and lives to live. Just different lives and different meanings. Some of it was a blessing – like finally getting the time with Belle and Ellen that she had always felt was stolen from her. She’s always felt that the carefree first year of marriage was stolen from her as her husband mourned so fully the mother and grandmother he had adored. It was so hard to watch him that way. To know that he felt that he should keep it from her, that he should be manly about it, but he was just 20 years old. Which in that day was required to be a man. It seemed in this newer time that 20 years old was only beginning. Leta wasn’t sure if this was blessing or curse or neither.
She pulled away from her thoughts and handed the photo to Elizabeth. Elizabeth surveyed it with a critical air, as if her opinion would change the very structure of the house. She brought the photo close to her eyes and said the words, “That ring.” and looked at Belle.
Belle nodded. Elizabeth did not flap her. Or if she did, Belle never let it be shown. “Yes. I know that ring.”
“Will it go to the girl?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, in time it will go to her. For now I will keep watch over it. LaVerne will hold it for her, and in time the ring will be passed on.”
Elizabeth nodded in approval. “Good. The last of us should have a symbol of her motherhood ancestors with her. The last of us should know we continue to matter.”