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The Memory Keeper

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In everyone’s life at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

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Good morning’, Jess. It’s me. Lillian.

Jessica is seated in a wooden rocker this Christmas Day, a lightweight quilt thrown over her legs.

I brought fruitcake like the ones you and I used to bake. And for a moment, her eyes seem to flicker, but quickly regain the puzzled look I’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

I sit next to her in a worn but comfortable chair, just as I have each day for months hoping for a small hint of recognition, one nod of her head, one soft lyrical word to emerge from her mouth. How I long to hear her call my name: Lillian. I’ve always loved the sound of Jessica’s voice, magnolia soft and sweet as cane syrup.

We are old now both in our eighties and friends for so many years I’ve lost count. I know Jessica has, for she was stricken with Alzheimer’s three years ago. Forgetting things was one of the first indications of the relentless disease. She struggles so to remember, but it has no effect on our friendship. I only need to remind her of something familiar to see her eyes light up in recognition, if only for a second.

We were both young and beautiful when we became friends but nobody tells us we’re beautiful anymore. They see two old ladies and say we look pretty good for our age.

I spend mornings with her and often much of the afternoon. Our time together is limited and I want to make good use of what is left to us.

We sit comfortably with each other most often in silence unless one of my great-grandkids has pulled a stunt that I can’t wait to tell her about. Often I wander back in time to how things used to be.

We endured hardships, but good times, too, for balance. The bad times were extraordinary and had we not been there for each other, we wouldn’t have survived.

We had just returned from shopping in Charleston when the first bad news hit. Jessica was heavy pregnant with little Robert; my sweet Jimmy was asleep in the back seat of the car. We were unloading our packages before rousing the dreaming child when my telephone rang.

I’ll be just a minute, Jess, I yelled. Gotta catch the phone.

Minutes later she came into the kitchen and found me in shock, my face a ghostly pallor. One look and her arms were wrapped around me.

It’s Thomas, I sobbed. He’s been hurt in a fire and we need to get to the hospital.

For the next months and years she was my support system. The surgeons amputated Thomas’s arm; multiple skin graphs were required all over his body. Thomas was a fireman back then and a blazing roof had collapsed on him. He was lucky to survive.

Jessica babysat, cooked, shopped for me and prayed every day alongside me.

In time, Thomas came through the ordeal and went back to work. He could no longer fight fires because of his arm, so he became a dispatcher. Our lives, although very different, began to take on an attitude of regularity.

Two years later, Jessica found a lump on her breast and it was my turn to support her. A thirtyish woman wasn’t supposed to have cancer, was she? Months of critical surgery and chemo, she emerged with a passion for life that was a tonic for everyone around her.

When she was cured, she and Joe told decided to have more children. After two more sons were born, Jessica and I decided to sit back and watch our boys become men.

We watched hundreds of Little League games, made cakes for Scout bake sales and kissed many skinned-up knees to make them well again.
Our children went beyond our limited expectations of them and became wonderful adults. We stood together as each one finished high school, and we cried together when they graduated from college.

We were not poor, but money was often tight. One of the kids needed orthodonture, another had Rheumatic Fever requiring special care. They were always in need of clothes; they grew like Kudzu.

When our grown boys fell in love, we celebrated, my friend and I. We chose wedding outfits together and held afternoon teas for the brides-to-be. Later, when the divorces happened, we cried as much for each other as for ourselves in mutual pain.

We had been married fifty years when Thomas was diagnosed with cancer and I couldn’t imagine life without him. Jessica was there for me throughout every tormented hour of our need. Thomas did not survive and I was overwhelmed with pain most days. Even so, my friend didn’t let me to wallow in self-pity; instead, she showed me how to live in a world without my first and only love.

We grew old together, Jess and me, in a way that even sisters don’t often achieve. I sit with her each day and watch as her body and mind let her down time and again, and I think how my life has been blessed because of Jessica.

Let’s eat some fruitcake, darlin’, I say. Would you like a cup of tea?

Later as I am leaving, I lean down to lightly kiss her cheek and when I do, she takes my hand. Her eyes look steadily into mine while a film of tears forms around the edges of her long lashes.
Very softly, she says, Lillian ~ I love you.

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Author’s Note: "The Memory Keeper" is a story about my mother-in-law and is included in my book, "High Cotton Christmas," available on Amazon.com.

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Editor’s Note:
Cappy Hall Rearick is a humor columnist for the Lowcountry Sun in Charleston, South Carolina. She is the author of seven published books. Visit her at www.simplysoutherncappy.com.

“PUTTIN’ ON THE GRITZ”

Cappy Hall Rearick was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She was an English major at the University of South Carolina and later became a Flight Attendant for American Airlines. Some years later, she moved to Los Angeles and then to Pennsylvania. In 1994, she returned to her beloved South to settle in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia with her husband Bill.

Cappy, an award winning short story writer and syndicated columnist, is the author ofseveral successful columns, including:ALIVE AND WELL IN HOLLYWOOD, TIDINGS, SIMPLY SOUTHERN and PUTTIN’ ON THE GRITZ monthly in the Lowcountry Sun Newspaper in Charleston, SC. She also writes an e-column called SIMPLY SOMETHING.

Cappy is past president of the Southeastern Writers Association. Her recently published novel, THE ROAD TO HELL IS SELDOM SEEN, a 2012 nominee for the Georgia Author of the Year, is available at www.amazon.comin print and can be downloaded and enjoyed at Kindle, Nook and all the electronic readers. Get ready to read and do nothing else because it’s a page-turner!

She is writing her next book, BRIDGING THE GAP, a psychological novel of deception and suspense. The SIMPLY books (SIMPLY SOUTHERN; SIMPLY SOUTHERN EASE; SIMPLY CHRISTMAS) are bound to make you laugh and maybe even tear up a little bit, especially if you enjoy remembering the good old days. With every page you turn, however, Cappy Hall Rearick will bring the South alive for you.

Rearick holds membership in the Georgia Writers, South Carolina Writers, Atlanta Writers Club, Florida Writers, North Carolina Writers and she is a sitting Board member of the Southeastern Writers Association.

In addition to writing, Cappy is a popular public speaker and can breathe new life into those good old days for your conference attendees. She is a dynamic creative writing instructor and is available to teach classes in column writing, Southern fiction, humor, memoir and short story writing. She brings forth fresh ideas to match her imaginative ways of turning a phrase. Book her now … and breathe new life into your next writer’s conference. Attendees will learn a lot, laugh a lot and go away itching to write better than ever.

If you would like to receive a monthly column of SIMPLY SOMETHING via email, send your request along with your email address to Cappy at: cappyhall@comcast.net She will be delighted to add your name to the preferred column list.

Read Cappy’s BLOG at: simplycappy.blogspot.com

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