He was dead.
I lived in Seattle at the time.
I loved the frozen, snow-capped mountains, the frigid air. I loved my morning jog near the community center, smelling the orange honeysuckle and pine on the dirt path. I even enjoyed riding to work alone on the crowded rail car as I read my Wall Street Journal.
I hadn’t been home in years.
The trip home was long, but one I had to make. I arrived the day before the funeral.
I stayed in a roadside motel, five or six miles out of town. My room was quite comfortable with a firm mattress, an old TV, and a sprig of lavender in a vase on the table.
At the pre-funeral dinner, we laughed and shared stories and talked as we ate steaks and potatoes and all the desserts we cared for at the Golden Coral. The next morning, the preacher led a fine memorial service and one of Mom’s friends broke down in tears during her Amazing Grace solo.
Mom held up pretty well, considering.
At the gravesite, we all sat in folding chairs while the minister offered some hopeful, encouraging words. In truth, every graveyard makes for a depressing funeral, but this one had lavender shrubs strategically planted here and there. It was a nice touch.
Afterward, at the reception, there were lasagnas and casseroles, rolls and cakes, and salads and drinks that friends and neighbors brought. Three heavyset middle-aged women in succession walked in with tuna casseroles. Mom’s friend Wendy brought an angel food cake with a lavender-flavored frosting, and the preacher’s wife brought a plate of deviled eggs.
“Gus and I wanted to say how sorry we are about your loss.”
They were two guys I hadn’t seen since junior high. I didn’t even know their names.
The lasagna was excellent; it had a spice I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Rob Jenkins, my old shop teacher, took me out back and offered me a shot of a special lavender whiskey to help kill the pain.
“Thank you,” I said.
He firmly shook my hand and slapped my shoulder.
There was a warmth among these people that I had forgotten.
Mary Ellen brought me a slice of apple and lavender pie on a purple plate, and her sister Myrtle offered me a piece of her tuna casserole.
“It has a special ingredient,” she said, nudging me as I ate. “Lavender.”
I set the plate down and looked about the room. There was a lavender pitcher with pink lemonade, a lavender centerpiece on the table. Each of the fourteen casseroles had lavender flowers on the sides and the air was thick with lavender from the bowl of potpourri on the buffet.
Many of the women wore lavender dresses and a few of the men had lavender suspenders.
I glanced down. My own white shirt had lavender stripes.
“Hey, how about a shot of whiskey?” my neighbor said. “I’ve got a special blend that’ll knock your socks off!”
I begged off.
“Here, have some of my egg salad. It has a special ingredient!”
“No. Thanks, Melody.”
“How about some lavender ice cream?”
“I made a special lavender-rhubarb pie! Just like your grandma used to make!”
“Thanks Aunt Jean, but I…I have to go.”
“Don’t run off; Henry brought some of the sweetest lavender sausage in the valley….”
I found my mother.
“I have to leave.”
“But you just got here.”
“Yeah, I know, and I’m sorry, but I can’t stay.”
“It’s, I don’t know, it’s just all the same, somehow….”
“Yes. Everything. It’s all the same.”
“You mean the lavender?”
“No. Everything else.”
I drove my rented Prius past the pickups and minivans, past the gas stations and vegetable stands, past the fields of lavender, to my motel.
“I need to check out,” I said, admiring the strands of lavender in a vase on the counter.
“I hope your stay here was nice,” he said. And reflecting on it, it was; it really was.
The service had been wonderful, the people were all so kind and the preacher was especially welcoming. And even in our collective mourning, they had all made such an effort to fuss over me.
It was tempting to stay.
I smiled back at the smiling clerk and gazed blankly at the counter.
Even the lavender, I thought to myself.
Even the lavender was growing on me.
It was time to go home.
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