I remembered the day she walked into the church; an oversized cherry red hat announcing her to the congregation and to my life. As I looked at her hair now, I chuckled. She always said her cousin had dared her to wear the hat; that she was much too shy. But she smiled when I bought her a hat every anniversary. She appreciated them, especially as her hair thinned.
Her hand was icy in mine and I reached to pull the covers up higher. I felt strangely warm, like the room, airless and over-heated in an effort to keep the patients from catching cold.
Funny, she liked it cold. That was why we never moved to warmer climates, even though we watched our friends and neighbors flood the sun states; first in the winter, then full time. No. Michigan was where she was born, and come flood, sleet, tornado or blizzard, it would remain our home.
I remember a bitter winter; an ice storm glazed the driveway, the mailbox and the forsythia bushes. I was sick of scraping, salting, scraping, salting. But she took the kids outside. Our own private skating rink, she said. They competed to see who could slide the farthest down the driveway. She would “whoop” as she ran and hit the incline. Only a broken arm stopped her from winning the Walton Michigan World Cup for Driveway Skating that year. She sure knew how to plant a memory.
I stood up and rummaged through her overnight bag. Ahhh. There was the lotion – “the one with vanilla” she said as she listed things to bring. “Smell it” she instructed over the phone. That was her way of helping me find one particular tube in the sea of tubes.
“Does it have flowers on the label?” I’d asked, “or a blue swirly thing?”
“It smells like my mom’s pound cake.” I knew it right away.
I opened the lid and could taste it - crusty, sweet, satisfying. No wonder she loved it. We laughed every time I soothed it on her hands and arms. I did that often these days.
“Remember the first time I made that silly cake?” How could I forget? It turned out flat and rubbery. But she put on her best dress, added some whipped cream and my parents didn’t even seem to notice. Or at least they never said anything. I squeezed a generous amount into my hands and smoothed it onto her arm.
She met most challenges like that, make it work and add a smile. I sighed. How would she have faced this?
Voices outside the door. I inhaled the sweetness of vanilla. “It’s time, I guess.” I rose to kiss her cold brow, my breath caught and tears began to stream. “I love you.
But, I’ll see ya’ soon.”
“They’re here,” the nurse said quietly. A man in a starched white shirt and the blackest suit I’d ever seen walked in and shook my hand. I couldn’t tell you a word he said.
I left the room and headed home. I needed to pick out a dress. And maybe a hat.
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