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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)

TITLE: Regrets
By Joy Faire Stewart


The old pine door’s rusty hinges announced our entrance to no one. How many, like us, had entered this haven to find solace over the many decades long past?

The dull thud of her walker against the scarred wood floor echoed through the country chapel. I followed as she made her way to the altar past the dozen handcrafted pews. Someone had recently placed a bouquet of pure white gardenias in a crystal vase next to the altar, filling the interior with a sweet floral fragrance. Her slender finger traced the deep etching of the crystal vase.

She smiled. “Someone brought their best.”

Sunlight filtered through the “Good Shepherd” stained-glass window casting jewels of garnet, amber, jade and sapphire across the white scarf covering her head. My mother-in-law’s once-thick chestnut hair was only a memory. The chemo had taken care of that.

Over the past several years, I heard her repeat these words often ...

“I would like to return to Canton for a visit. All my family and friends are gone, but there’s a very special place I want to see.”

I regretted delaying the trip.

Just three years after I married her son, Steven, his plane was shot down somewhere over Germany. He was listed as missing in action—never to return home. She was all I had left of him.

Not only was she my mother-in-law, we were also best friends. Although we shared many things, she told me very little of her life in Canton.

A few days after I purchased a new 1955 turquoise-and-cream Mercury, we began our journey. With the windows rolled down, her memories flowed like sand trickling through a child’s playful hands.

“I grew up on a cotton farm, one of nine children, and became a bride before my 17th birthday. Raymond was barely 18. We worked side by side from sunrise ‘til dark every day, ‘cept Sunday. When Steven was a babe, I took him to the fields strapped on my back in a flour sack.”

Her tears flowed. “One day, the stubborn old mule spooked, and kicked Raymond in the chest. When I found him in the barn, it was too late to send for the doctor. I was widowed at 21. I sold everything. Taking Steven, we left Canton.”

The memories she shared during the past several days filled my heart as we walked from the chapel down the red-clay path leading to the purpose of our trip.

Ancient, moss-draped oaks stretched massive branches above the mildew-stained granite stones like a school-crossing guard protecting young charges. From a distance came the sound of a train’s forlorn whistle, intruding into this world of silence.

It had been more than 60 years since she last walked the dusty path we followed. Head down, each shambled step deliberately taken behind the walker, she knew where the pathway would lead.

Turning from the footpath, she stepped onto a lesser used trail meandering past granite angels with outstretched wings, crosses of various sizes, and concrete slabs so stained from time, they held their secrets.

She paused.

My eyes followed her gaze to a weathered headstone:

Raymond F. Barlow
1868 - 1890

Taking a blue, scalloped-edge handkerchief from her pocket, she brushed red dust from the stone’s surface. Satisfied, she moved a few feet beyond.

“Oh my!” I gasped.

Etched into a small, white stone were the words:

Barlow Twins
December 20, 1888 - December 20, 1888

So many questions flooded my thoughts.

Leaning against the walker, head bowed, her lips moved in silent prayer. In the steamy heat of a South Georgia summer, tiny drops of perspiration wandered down the deep furrows of her face, or perhaps, they were tears.

“I regret we didn’t name them.”

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This article has been read 823 times
Member Comments
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Sara Harricharan 05/15/08
What rich and vivid descriptions you have here! I absolutely love it! Just to follow this journey all the way back, and the ending, though sad, was good. It fit this piece, the tone and all. ^_^
Holly Westefeld05/16/08
You had me tiptoeing right behind these lovely ladies. Amazing how you packed nearly 90 years in to 750 words and never made it feel jumpy.
Joanne Sher 05/18/08
Wonderfully done - the atmosphere and tone and voice of this are wonderful, and your descriptions were especially rich. Marvelous.
Lyn Churchyard05/18/08
This is full of so much wonderful description "With the windows rolled down, her memories flowed like sand trickling through a child’s playful hands" is one of my favourite phrases in the piece. All of it is wonderfully woven together.
Betty Castleberry05/18/08
Beautiful descriptions. This piece has a great voice, and an equally impressive ending. Well done.
LaNaye Perkins05/18/08
I fell in love with your two ladies. This piece touched my heart deeply. Very well done my FW friend.
Jan Ackerson 05/18/08
Excellent with the sensory details--the smells and sights of the chapel--you really put your reader there in the moment. Beautiful.
Laury Hubrich 05/18/08
This is a wonderfully written piece. Well-done!
Mariane Holbrook 05/18/08
You have mastered the art of detail and description. No kidding, this is a great piece!
Debbie Wistrom05/19/08
"Someone brought their best."
I think it was you. I hope this places!!!
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/19/08
The visual descriptions, the emotions, and the voice all made this a wonderful piece.
Lisa Graham05/19/08
This piece is rich with emotion and feeling, a vivid journey, one that makes the reader pause and reflect, just as these two ladies reflected on past regrets during their long postponed journey. Beautifully written!
Sharlyn Guthrie05/19/08
Your writing is just beautiful and very descriptive. The very first line captivated me, then the line about sand through a child's fingers, and finally, this phrase, "...concrete slabs so stained from time, they held their secrets.
Joshua Janoski05/19/08
I was really drawn into the environment with your descriptions. Here's one of my favorites:

From a distance came the sound of a train’s forlorn whistle, intruding into this world of silence.

I think that is a good example of giving extra sensory information, that while not vital to the story, still plays an important part in helping the reader picture (and hear) what is going on.

Great job with this one!
LauraLee Shaw05/21/08
I love your descriptive form in this piece. You awakened all my senses. Well done!
Carole Robishaw 05/21/08
I want to know the rest of the story!

Very well done, I was there every step of the way.

Pamela Kliewer05/21/08
Your descriptions really drew me into this story and you had me right there, involved.
Beckie Stewart05/21/08
This was tender, well-written and definitely enjoyable to read.
Betsy Markman05/23/08
Beautifully written, very sensory. And so perfectly believable that, of all the things the mother-in-law might have regretted, she simply said, "I regret that we didn't name them." That hit me as so very poignant and true. Thank you for this lovely story.