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TITLE: Stepping Stones
By Chris Janzen

This was done for the Writing Challenge topic "Empty Nester/Retired." Thank you for reading.
As Kate surveyed her backyard, her heart was both heavy and full. It was full because she had just come from the wedding of her youngest child and only son, Ben. He had always been such a special boy and she knew it would take a wonderfully special girl to capture his heart. He'd found her and today they'd started their life together. She was so happy for them.

Her heart was heavy too because Ben's dad wasn't there to share in the joy. The had lost him unexpectedly just months before. Kate never expected to be sitting in the front row of their church watching her son take his wedding vows without her own husband by her side, nor did she expect to find herself a widow at only 55. She certainly never expected to have a heavy heart on her son's wedding day.

She sat on her old porch swing, where she and Charlie, her beloved, had spent so many evenings sitting and talking and enjoying the cool night air. She wondered how many hours they had sat there, rocking and talking, over the years.

As Kate rocked gently she gazed at the garden the two of them had spent years perfecting. It was lovely and well tended, and meandered all the way around the perimeter of the fence line to encircle the entire back yard.

That garden had been her joy their entire marriage, and Charlie had been so good to help her. He could often be found on his hands and knees, gently pulling weeds, planting bulbs in the Fall, or annuals in the Spring. She was always right beside him, watering, tending, and helping.

As much as she loved all the different flowers, they weren't Kate's favorite part of the garden. No, what she loved were the stepping stones she and Charlie and their three children had created together over the years.

They moved into this old house shortly after they were married and slowly fixed it up into a home. Right after they moved in, Charlie fashioned a round concrete stepping stone, and using a small stick, carefully wrote this inscription; Kate and Charlie, married "6-12-79." When he showed it to his new bride, she squealed and then cried. He placed it in the ground and carefully leveled the dirt around it and Kate planted a rosebush nearby. She loved that stone, and it was the beginning of their wonderful garden.

Before long they welcomed a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Again, Charlie made a stepping stone, and this time Kate helped him. With the concrete still wet they took little Charlotte's hands and feet and made imprints in the stone, and wrote her name and the date of her birth. This time Kate planted a honeysuckle vine, just as sweet as their little newborn daughter.

In no time at all it was time for Charlotte to start kindergarten, and this time she got to help make the stepping stone. Slowly she wrote her name... “Charlie...” just like her Daddy. Kate wrote the message that said “first day of school” and the date. Her husband again carefully embedded the stone in the soil, and Kate planted a small apple tree.

Kate walked slowly amongst the stones, stopping at every one. The next stone was for little Katherine. Three years younger than her sister, and just as sweet and beautiful, another stone was made, and another honeysuckle planted.

As she made her way along, she paused at a heart shaped stone marked “Lily,” and looked at the beautiful white Easter lily she had planted next to it. This was for the baby she had lost before Ben had arrived.

On she went, savoring each stone, each flower, and each precious moment in time.

There were stones the children had made for dear departed dogs and cats, stones for graduations and other victories. There were stones for two married daughters, and today, a new stone for her newly married son.

Kate struggled to dig and place the stone but she managed. She smiled as she looked at the new stepping stone, brushing it with her finger.

Her heart could not remain heavy because of the news Charlotte had given her earlier. As she looked beyond the stones, she realized there was plenty of room for more, and she smiled as she said a prayer of thanksgiving, picturing the next one, a heart shaped stone with tiny hand and foot prints.
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