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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Cousin(s) (05/22/08)

TITLE: Cassie's Request
By Debbie Roome


“Your turn, Genna.” Bruce lifts the basket from my hands and peers at the grapes piled inside; bunches of fruit, bursting with sweetness. My fingers are stained red and I pop one more in my mouth before heading towards Cassie.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” she greets me. “My favourite time of year has always been autumn.”

I stand beside her wheelchair and together we look across the valley. Uncle Matt’s vines stretch in neat rows, hugging the land in wavy contours. Overhead, the sky is clear and the sun wraps us with tender warmth.

“Let’s move along a little.” I push her down the plank pathway to where we have a better view of our cousins harvesting grapes.

“Hiya, Cassie.” Seamus gives her a gentle hi-five as he rounds the end of a row. I’m shocked again to see how frail her hand looks; a paper glove with toothpick bones. Can cancer destroy a body so quickly? “This is such a great idea.” he continues. “I lived for harvest time when I was a kid. Remember all the fun we’d have picking and then pressing the juice out by foot?”

I nod as Cassie joins the conversation. “But this is the first time we’ve all been here together.”

My thoughts turn to the email from Aunt Liz.

Dear Genna,
As you know, Cassie’s treatment was unsuccessful and the doctors have given her four months at the most. She asked if I would arrange a get-together with all her cousins – a grape-picking party like we used to do each year. I don’t expect you to travel all the way from London, but maybe you could send a message instead.

After a few hours of deliberation, I booked myself on a flight home. Cassie has always held a special place in my heart. She has such strong faith in God and even when leukemia attacked her body, she still remained positive and encouraging; an example to us all.

There’s a hush as the three of us gaze across the vineyard. Our fathers are brothers, and there are twelve of us cousins. Our ages range from nine to thirty and the bonds between us are strong. We have always kept in touch and at times like this, we rally together.

Seamus turns his attention to me. “So you’re back from London, Genna. Is this going to be a long visit?”

I’m planning to be here for Cassie’s funeral but can’t say that. Instead I nod and remind them of the sing-a-longs as we picked. “Do you remember all the old gospel songs?”

Cassie’s eyes come to life. “Oh yes. Let’s do it again. Come on, Genna. You start us off.”

I lift my voice, fighting the quiver that threatens to take control.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

My cousins pick up the melody and rich harmonies roll across the slopes as they pluck the ripe fruit; Swing Low Sweet Chariot merges into Kumbaya and Amazing Grace into Glory Hallelujah.

Eventually Cassie taps me on the arm. I can see she’s tired but her face reflects joy and hope instead of sorrow and bitterness. “I need to go and rest, Genna, but I have a song request.”

I wait for the singing to taper off before starting a beat by banging two sticks together.

Oh when the saints go marching in,
Oh when the saints go marching in

As our cousins raise their voices, I start pushing Cassie towards the farmhouse, carefully following the plank pathway. It’s a slow process and it’s only as we turn the corner that I realise we’re being followed.

Oh lord I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marching in.

There are ten saints behind us; our cousins, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ. Bearing baskets, heavy with grapes, they are marching two by two down the slope.

Oh when the trumpet sounds the call,
Oh when the trumpet sounds the call,

My eyes fill with tears as I picture Cassie in days to come; as I imagine her with armloads of spiritual fruit, marching into heaven. Then I think of the part we can play. I for one will march with her as far as I possibly can … and it seems my cousins are of a like-mind. I squeeze her shoulder gently as we continue on our way.

Oh lord I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marching in.


Lyrics of When the Saints go Marching in by Luther G Presley

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Member Comments
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Sara Harricharan 05/29/08
What a request! I'm so glad that she did come all the way from London to visit and share those old memories. A lovely job! ^_^
Shirley McClay 05/29/08
Loved the picture of all the cousins marching in like the Saints in the song.
Lynda Schultz 05/30/08
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/30/08
Poignant and lovely and, most of all, hopeful.
Peter Stone05/31/08
Lovely to see the cousins gather around Cassie, and that Genna made the long trip from London to stay with her.
Sharlyn Guthrie06/02/08
What a tender story of family and hope. It's one of my favorite cousin stories so far. A tiny matter of personal preference: I think it would work better not to start this story with a quote. All in all, though, your writing shines, as usual.
Beth LaBuff 06/02/08
A well-crafted, creative story that warms the heart of the believer. Beautiful.
Cheri Hardaway 06/02/08
I concluded reading with a huge lump in my throat! What a tender story of hope in the midst of pain.

I like how you wrote the story in the present tense, a skill I've yet to master.

And I like your descriptions, I could see it all. Beautiful job, Cheri
Jan Ackerson 06/02/08
This is really good! I also learned something--some hymns and songs that I thought were quintessentially American--are not!

I was humming along in my mind through all of them--that's a nice way to get your readers to invest in your story!
Lyn Churchyard06/02/08
I loved your descriptions, especially: the sun wraps us with tender warmth and a paper glove with toothpick bones.

An absolutely beautiful story Debs, filled with love and hope. Well done!
Joshua Janoski06/03/08
This story really touched me. What a wonderful family of believers. I loved how they joined together to be with Cassie during her final days on Earth. This is one of my favorite stories this week. So good.
Beckie Stewart06/04/08
This was beautiful and if true, a wonderful testimony of God's grace in the storm.
Lyn Churchyard06/05/08
Well done Deb, an EC award for this great story. Super congratulations girl!!!
Sharlyn Guthrie06/05/08
Congratulations on your EC, Debbie!
Lollie Hofer06/06/08
What a wonderful family of saints and that they would take the time to honor their cousin. "Hauntingly beautiful" is a worn cliche and yet the description fits this story. I also had a lump in my throat envisioning them walking back to the house, listening to the complete cousin choir for possibly the last time. Congratulations!
Betsy Markman06/06/08
Very good. Congratulations on your EC.