Kathi Whitley is a native of Eastern Kentucky who now lives in Nashville, where she works in the country music industry.



Lorna's Tree

            Lorna heard the familiar creaking of the bedroom door, the old hinges calling out for oil, as it eased opened, then closed.  Next, the groan of wooden floorboards, complaining under the weight of Dr. Brown’s heavy footsteps, announced he was on his way to deliver news of Willie’s condition to Lorna.  She pushed herself away from the kitchen table, got up and moved toward the stove and grabbed two thick, white coffee mugs from a nearby shelf along the way.  She picked up the metal coffee pot from the stove, filled the cups and walked back to the table. 

            Dr. Brown’s square, squat form filled the kitchen doorway, his heavy black leather medical bag pulling his right arm down slightly lower than his left, lending him an off-center, uncertain appearance.  “Come on and sit, Doc,” directed Lorna.  “I just made a fresh pot of coffee. You’ll be wanting something warm in you before you head back out in that cold wind."

            “That’s mighty thoughtful of you.”  The Doctor sat his bag down on the floor and pulled a chair away from the table.  The wooden legs made a tired, rasping sound as they scraped against the floor.  He sat down heavily then leaned forward and picked up the steaming cup of coffee.  He blew over the top of the mug, working to cool the brew before taking a first sip.  He and Lorna sat quietly for a time, both focusing on their cups, taking an extra few moments before beginning what they both knew would be a sad conversation.

            Eventually, Lorna broke the silence.  “Doc, I know Willie’s not going to get any better.  There ain’t no need to pussy-foot around and try to spare my feelings,” said Lorna plainly.  “I can take it straight.”

            Dr. Brown looked up from his coffee, nodded to indicate he believed her.  “You’re right, Lorna.  It’s not good.  His lungs are pretty much full of the cancer now.  That’s why he’s having so much trouble getting a breath.  He’s in a good bit of pain, too.”

            “Yes, sir,” she said.  “I know he’s hurting bad but I can’t hardly get him to take the pills you left last time.  I keep telling him the medicine will make him rest a little easier but he’s just as hard-headed as he ever was.  I swear, sometimes I think a mule has more sense than that man.  He just don’t want to admit he needs nothing from no one.  I’ve been mashing up his pills and putting them in his oatmeal. He’s right fond of the apple butter I put up this summer so I put a dab in with his oats to hide the taste of the medicine from him.  At night, I’ve been putting them in hot cocoa and he’ll take that pretty good.  He likes a warm drink on these cold nights.  The pills seem to ease him enough that he can get a little rest.”

            “That’s good,” he said.  “If you can get him to keep eating, that’ll help.  I’ve got some more pills here that I’ll leave with you.  These here have some more strength to them.  I’m sorry to say he’s going to start feeling worse before it’s over.” 

            Lorna nodded to show she understood then looked away toward the kitchen window.  “Look how it’s already getting dark.  These winter days are so short, aren’t they, Doc?”  She absently reached over and fingered some photos that were laying on the table.

            Her movement drew the Doctor‘s attention to them.  “What have you got there, Lorna?”   

            “I’ve just been sitting here looking through some old pictures,” she said.  “I found my keepsake box up in the cupboard today when I went to find another quilt to throw over Willie.  It’s hard to keep him bundled up enough since he’s been sick.  He tells me he’s just about to freeze all the time, especially now that it’s turned off so cold.”

            “That’s part of his illness.  It appears like you’re doing a good job looking after him, keeping him as comfortable as possible.”  Dr. Brown reached across the table and pointed at one of the photos.  “Who are all these people in this picture? “

            “That’s me and Willie and my family; Mommy, Daddy, my younger sister, Lizzie,” she said as a gnarled, work-worn finger pointed at each face in the photo.  “That was taken out here in back of the house years ago. My Daddy was a famous traveling preacher back in the day.  He was always moving us from place to place, spreading the Gospel and getting churches started.” 

            Lorna closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then went on.  “This is one of the last times we was together.  They all moved on west after Willie and I married.  Daddy went to start another church out farther west.  My sister, Lizzie, she lives out in Arizona, I think.  I know she married a lawyer from Tucson.  I reckon she‘s still out there.  I haven‘t heard from her in a long while.  My folks kept moving west until they ended up in San Francisco.  Mommy passed away not long after they got there.  I believe all that moving must have finally worn her down.  The last letter I got from Daddy was in 1921.  He wrote to tell me my Mommy had gone to be with the Maker.  He said he was sailing off to China to be a missionary.  I never heard from him again.”  She paused, pushed her mug away, then looked back at the photo.  “He had to follow the Lord.  It’s the way he was.  He had to go when he heard the call, no matter what else was going on with anyone else.  He‘d pack up and follow the call.”

            Dr. Brown picked up the photo and examined it more closely.  “I wouldn’t have recognized this place from the picture,” he said.  “That big tree isn’t here anymore and you and Willie have done a heap of work to this house since this was taken.”

            “That’s true.  Things have changed so much since the day this picture was took,” said Lorna.  “Willie’s worked hard on this house.  It wasn’t much more than a homestead cabin when we got married.  He built the porches, added on the rooms in the back there and that tree, well that tree’s been gone a good while now.  It was a burr oak; biggest one around in this country, I do believe.  I used to sit underneath it and rest in the shade after working in my vegetable garden.  It was such a pretty tree, stood right out there on the edge of the cotton field and I could see it from the kitchen window.  I used to love the way the leaves would change colors in the fall and then I’d wait for those green buds to come back out in the springtime.  I spent a whole lot of time looking out at that tree and daydreaming. 

             “Out here in West Texas there‘s hardly a thing to look at.  I know all the people born here say the high plains are beautiful; full of wide open spaces, big skies, all those shades of brown and flat land, so flat and empty. All this open space has just always made me feel lonesome.  I was born and lived the first part of my life in the mountains; back east in Virginia and Kentucky and Tennessee.  I had never even dreamed of such a flat place as this, so flat and dry.  Back where I came from, the earth just overflowed with water and green leaves and shade, hills and mountains all around to hold you in.  For me, that big oak tree was like a piece of my home, a reminder of who I once was and where I came from.”

            Lorna pulled the box of keepsakes closer, reached in and sorted through the photos, pieces of paper and newspaper clippings until she found what she wanted.  She handed a photo to Dr. Brown and said “This one was taken on my wedding day back in April 1915.  That’s me and Willie in the middle and all the McFelty brothers and their wives and his Mother and Father and then my people, too.  Look how little the house was.  Willie didn’t care a thing about the house or housekeeping back then.  He spent all his time outside working in the fields, getting the crops going and clearing brush to make more room for the cotton,” she said.  “I’d work my fingers to the bone, scrubbing the floors, sweeping, cleaning every corner and crack.  He’d come in for dinner and stomp right through the middle of the house with his work boots on, leaving half a cotton field of dirt tracked behind him and he’d not even notice.

            “I’d save up the flour sacks to get enough pretty fabric to make patch curtains for the windows.  I’d put them up and I’d wait for him to come in for a meal and see if he’d notice.”  Lorna took a sip of coffee then continued.  “I’d piece together the prettiest quilts you ever saw and put a new one on the bed and wait to see what he’d say.  I even made tatty-lace and sewed it on the chair cushions.  They was as pretty as any you’d see in a city parlor.  He’d never say a word.  He might as well have been blind for all the good it did me to try to make a house homey for that man,” Lorna shook her head side to side.

            “But now Doc, I’ll tell you what.  After awhile, it finally dawned on me that Willie was just a quiet man.  He wasn’t ignoring my work on purpose, he was just single-minded and all his attention was on that cotton crop.  And I’ll tell you another thing about him; he is, without a doubt, the hardest-working man I ever met.  He absolutely willed the cotton out of the ground on this farm.  He has spent his whole life trying to tame the land, fighting boll weevils, praying for rain and for the market prices not to drop.”  Lorna took a deep breath, let out a sad sigh. “It’s no wonder he didn’t take time to worry over my housekeeping, is it?”

            “I reckon not,” said Dr. Brown.  “Cotton farming is a hard life but it’s what everybody out here has always lived on and Willie’s about as good at it as they get.  People around here all say so.  The other farmers think a whole lot of the two of you.  You know that, don‘t you?  Many’s the time I‘ve heard your neighbors say they wished they were matched as well with their mates and worked together as good as the two of have all these years.”  

            “Well, Willie and I have been through a lot together and we’ve been married nearly thirty-five years,” allowed Lorna.  “He’s a rock, that one is…hard as a rock.  He’s never been one to let anything get him down.  Even when the market dropped out in ‘29, he kept his chin up.  I thought we never would get past the drought and the dust in the 30s but Willie said we should just hang on and watch.  He said things can only swing one direction for so long before they have to turn around and come back.  Things didn’t ever get back to the way they were before the crash but, he was right, they got better eventually and we made it through. I reckon that’s why it’s so hard for him to accept this sickness he’s got.  I swear he believes he’s going to wake up tomorrow and get back on his tractor like nothing happened.”

            “He’s a tough old bird, I know that, and he’s lucky to have you looking after him.  But now, how about you, Lorna?  How are you holding up?” asked Dr. Brown.  “You getting enough rest?  Have you got anyone helping you look after Willie?"

            “Willie’s brother, Charlie, and his wife come over to check on us pretty often.  They're the closest neighbors we have.  Their place is only about five or six miles over there to the east,” she assured him.  “I really appreciate you coming all this way out from town to look in on Willie and to bring his medicine.  I know it‘s a long trip out here from town.  You‘ve been awful good to us, Doc, and we appreciate it.”

            “I’m happy to do it.  I’ll come back out next Wednesday.  I’ve got another patient who lives not far from here so it’s no problem to come see Willie but, listen here, Lorna, don’t you hesitate to call me if you need me to come out sooner.” He finished off his coffee, glancing at his watch.  “I better get on down the road now.  It’s gotten flat out dark and I’ve got a couple more stops to make on my way back to town.  I appreciate the coffee, Lorna.” 

            At the door, she retrieved his heavy coat from a hook by the door and helped him into it.  He pulled a pair of thick, woolen gloves from his left-hand pocket, picked up his black felt hat from the hall table with his right hand and placed it firmly on his head.  From the other pocket he produced a folded newspaper and offered it to Lorna. “I nearly forgot to give you this. The Lubbock paper. I thought you might like to catch up on the news.”

             “Doc, that’s mighty kind.  I haven’t seen much news out here of late.  I appreciate getting a current paper.” 

            Dr. Brown pulled up the collar of his coat and and hurried out. Cold air rushed into the house and sent a shiver through Lorna’s bones.  “Goodbye, Doc.  Take care and thank you for everything,” she said and waved to him.

            Dr. Brown waddled out to his car, an old black Plymouth, one of the last to come off the assembly line in 1940, before the factories stopped making cars during the war.  The black car looked nearly gray now, covered with the dust of unpaved country roads.  Just before he plopped down into the driver seat, he called back to the house, “Goodbye, Lorna.  Remember to send word if you need me.”  The car chugged away into the dark.  Lorna closed and locked the door then headed back to the kitchen and the box of keepsakes on the table; she glanced at the front page of the newspaper as she moved along the way.

            A lifetime of memories packed into such a pitiful, little box, she thought as she laid the newspaper down on the table beside the tattered, cardboard shoebox that held her memories.  Once seated, she took out a crumbling, yellowed, newspaper clipping; a report on a tent revival meeting held in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1910.  “Many Souls Saved At Holiness Revival” read the headline. 

         Last week the Rev. Josiah Jones is said to have converted as many as one hundred souls to the Lord during camp meetings held at the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Rigby where a revival tent has been erected.  Those who attended the services reported several healings and casting out of bad spirits during the services. Rev. Jones is a well known Holiness preacher who has been traveling across the country spreading the word of God since receiving his calling at the age of 12 years.  In addition to the preaching, Rev. Jones’s wife and daughters lead the congregants in hymns of praise.  The meetings are being held for the next several Sunday mornings at 9:00 and then again each evening at 6:00 at the Rigby Farm.

            As she sat at the kitchen table, staring at the article, time seemed to fly backward and Lorna entered the land of memory.  In her mind, she could hear the resonant sound of her Father’s voice.

            Josiah Jones had received “The Call” as a boy and, thereafter, he preached at every opportunity, gathering followers everywhere he went in much the same way as Jesus, who at a tender age, enthralled the Elders of the Temple with his wisdom.  Josiah was swept up in a whirlwind of religious fervor that some called the New Enlightenment.  The Enlightenment followers and their apocalyptic message rolled through the Appalachian people like a coming storm during the late 1800s. According to many, the coming of the turn of the century would surely bring the end of the world and everyone needed to make ready to meet the Maker.   Josiah Jones was a rising star in the firmament of the Enlightenment.  He was there to help soothe the righteous as well as gather in the wayward sheep, save them in the name of Jesus and save them all from the fury of Armageddon Day.

            The dynamic young Rev. Jones was a much sought-after attraction on the revival circuit. It wasn’t just his preaching that garnered him attention.  Over the years, he had transformed from a frail child preaching the Word in the quavering timbre of a teenager into a tall and handsome man with a flowing mane of auburn hair, flashing brown eyes and a rumbling baritone voice that was oft compared to Gabriel’s horn.  

            Sarah Stewart was one of many who admired the sound of Josiah’s voice.  He was charmed by her red hair and sweet singing during his services and soon after they met, Josiah had asked Sarah‘s father for her hand.  In June 1890, they were married and thus began their nomadic journey together, spreading the True Word, welcoming four daughters into the world along the way, living on the mercy of the Lord and the kindness of converts.  They never stayed anywhere long, never had a house of their own.  The Jones family flowed like water over the mountains, spilled into the Mississippi River Valley; and then further and further west, always following the call of God Almighty.

            Lorna retrieved another photo from the box.  A picture of four young girls, arms around each other: Lorna with her sisters. Her father had called them his “holy choir of angels.” He often told them how lucky he was to have had daughters instead of sons.  “Daughters can be a great asset to a man.  They can support a father in his work in ways that sons cannot.  The Lord provided me a bounty of blessings when he sent me my beautiful daughters,” he said with glee.  Rev. Jones instructed his girls not only in the teachings of Christ but also on their place in the earthly kingdom. “You girls will do well in life if you follow your fine mother’s example as she is a perfect helpmate to her husband,” he told them.   Sarah Stewart Jones was indeed a prefect mate—thrifty, quiet, kind and, at all times, obedient to her husband and to God, in that order. 

            Rev. Jones had taken great care when it came time to choose husbands for his daughters.  Each one was married off as they reached an appropriate age, given away to acceptable young men whose families were more than happy to contribute money to help Rev. Jones continue to spread the Word in exchange for a lovely and obedient daughter-in-law.  The oldest, Lucinda, was given to a railroad executive in Chattanooga.  Louisa, the next oldest, was left with a successful grocer in Little Rock.  Lorna was placed with a well-to-do farmer in West Texas and Lizzie went to a lawyer in Tucson.  Rev. Jones scattered his girls across the country the same way he left pamphlets on Christ’s love at the end of pews; left them behind and hoped they would do good works once he was away.

            Lorna could recall every detail of the day she realized it was her time to leave the fold.  The Jones family had arrived in Levelland, Texas in the summer of 1914.  Rev. Jones had taken over a small church building in the town and things were going well.  His congregation was growing larger each week as word of his fiery sermons spread across the plains like tumbleweeds in the wind.  However, Lorna knew the signs.  She could tell that Papa was already growing restless.  She knew it wouldn’t be long before “The Call” would come and they’d be on their way to a new town.

            The Sunday after Lorna’s seventeenth birthday, Rev. Jones stood at the pulpit, opened up his well-worn Bible and cried out to the congregation, “Brothers and Sisters, let’s turn and read together from the Book of Ruth.”  Lorna’s heart skipped a beat as her father’s booming voice echoed through the little church sanctuary.

            And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave, thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: they people shall be my people, and they God my God.  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:  the Lord do so to me and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” 

             Lorna knew what this meant.  She'd heard this sermon twice before.  Twice the Book of Ruth was preached and each time a daughter of Rev. Jones was given in marriage.  

            After the service, Lorna, her mother, and younger sister joined Rev. Jones outside the church door while he greeted the departing congregation.  “That youngest McFelty boy seems to be a very fine person,” her father whispered to her. “You know his Daddy has acres and acres of cotton and he bought the very first car to come into this part of Texas back in 1902. A girl would be lucky to catch a man like that, don‘t you think?”  Rev. Jones winked at Lorna then turned back to greeting his flock.  Lorna felt as if all the blood in her body had rushed to her head.

            Moments later the entire McFelty clan poured out the church door.  Joe McFelty, Willie’s tall father, stooped from years of hard work, was leading the way. He had sharp black eyes that searched out Lorna’s face, then flashed back to Rev. Jones.  “Reverend, we are expecting to see you and your family at our house Saturday evening for dinner.” 

            “Yes sir, Brother McFelty.  We’ll be there and I thank you for the kind invitation,” replied the Reverend.

            “Good. Good.  All my boys, their wives and children are coming join us.  Of course, Willie here doesn’t have a wife yet but I imagine he’ll get a notion to marry soon, as soon as he finds a good woman."

            Willie McFelty hovered behind his parents.  Willie was not so tall as his father but broader through the shoulders.  Lorna thought he had a stern, handsome face; his features much like his father but his eyes were a soft blue, like his mother. His clothes were well made, store-bought and clean.  She knew the McFeltys had a large home and that Mr. McFelty was on the board of directors of the bank.  She understood that her father had chosen Willie to be her husband and that she would go along with his decision.  She had been taught to obey, to serve and follow the Lord’s will and the Lord’s will was determined by her father, the Reverend Jones. 

The wedding, a simple affair, was held in April of the following year in the church where her father preached.  Lorna’s father pronounced her wife to Willie McFelty with the traditional words from the Book of Common Prayer: “til death us do part.”  A picnic reception was held at the farm Willie had been given as a wedding gift, the farm that would be Lorna‘s new home.  A photographer was hired for the occasion, the newly combined family gathered together to document the momentous event in front of the big oak tree that Lorna would come to love so well. 

            Lorna picked up the photo taken on her wedding day and touched a finger to her mother’s faded black and white face. Lord, how many days had she cried after they had left her, when Willie was off in the fields working?  She had gone to stand under that oak tree, missing her family, all so far away, all scattered across the country, and she had sobbed and moaned.  The poor old tree had been forced to hear all of her troubles.  No one else had ever been around to listen and besides, a tree would never tell when she had been melancholy.  But she had soon learned that no amount of tears were going to change anything so she had decided to just bottle them up, to just keep them in.  She had learned to keep her own counsel.

            It was a day sometime after the big drought, after the dust storms that nearly drove everyone mad had ended. Willie’s brothers, Charlie and Vernon, had come to the farm early in the morning.  Willie had told her the night before that the brothers were coming to lend a hand with some chores so she cooked them a big breakfast; they ate every single crumb and went out the back door holding their bellies and praising her food.  Lorna went about her own housekeeping chores. 

            Later that day, when she went to the kitchen to start lunch, she looked out the window above the sink, saw Willie and his brothers cutting the limbs from the tree.  And then, to her horror, they chopped into the trunk and felled the tree.  Her heart fell with the thud of the tree landing on the dusty field. 

            When Willie and the brothers came in to eat again, she asked him why they had cut down the oak.  

            “Was it sick?  Was it in danger of falling on someone?” she ventured. 

            “No, it was just in the way, just blocking the view out to the field from the house.  It wasn’t doing no good just sitting out there in the field,” Willie said.  “I was always having to mow around it and that just takes up more time and makes more work for me. We can chop it up now and use the wood to keep us warm this winter, then it’ll be worth something.”

            A muffled groan from the bedroom brought Lorna back to the present.  She glanced at the clock.  It was dark out already; time for Willie’s medicine.  She mixed some cocoa powder and sugar in a small pan, added water, then put it on the stove to heat.  Taking the bottle of pills Dr. Brown had left earlier, she used a wooden mallet to crush some pills in a bowl and put the medicine into a mug.  When the liquid on the stove was warm and steaming, she poured it into the mug, stirred until the medicine dissolved, then carried it to the bedroom to Willie.

            “Hello Husband,” she said.  “I heard you back here moving around and figured you would like to have something warm to drink about now.  Are you still cold?” 

            “I’m near freezing back here.”

            Lorna helped Willie move up in the bed a little, moving the pillows around so he could sit up and drink from the mug.   He was wheezing, his breaths shallow as a baby.  She sat on the side of the bed silently as Willie sipped the warm drink.  They had been nearly silent companions for many years now so she was used to sitting by his side, neither of them speaking.

                After a bit, Willie handed the mug back to Lorna.  She placed it on the bedside table then helped him settle back into his bed.  She got another quilt from the cupboard and tucked it around Willie who was already starting to drift away under the influence of the medication.  Lorna kissed him on the forehead, picked up the mug and went back to the kitchen.

            She put the mug into the sink then went back to the table.  Reaching into the box she pulled out two pieces of thick parchment document, each folded in thirds.  She placed one on the table, picked up the other and opened it to reveal a birth certificate dated January 16, 1917 for baby girl, Sarah Mary McFelty. She’d never seen Willie so lively as when she’d told him she was going to have a child.  He’d rushed around and finished the new rooms on the house that had been started months before.  He even built a cradle and carved toy blocks.  He was so proud of what he was able to do for his family, how he was able to provide a good home and take care them.  He was happy and it showed on his face everyday.

            The night Sarah was born a storm had turned from rain to sleet.  The next morning, the entire world was covered in glittering ice.  It seemed to Lorna that the bleak Texas plains had magically transformed into a crystal palace.  She thought of her father’s description of Heaven:  “Heaven will be as a city of gold and crystal.  The sun there will be so bright; you’ll have to cover your eyes to shade them for the shining glory of His Kingdom will be overwhelming to your sight.”  Outside her bedroom window, the once-barren landscape glinted like glass in the sun; the brown limbs of the scrub brush appeared gold under the frosted cover.  She turned to Willie who was holding the swaddled baby girl in his arms and said, “Look there outside, Willie.  It looks just like my father said it would in the Heavenly Kingdom, all shiny and new.  I think our baby must be an angel sent to bring Heaven to Texas.” 

            Willie laughed. “That might just be so, Lorna.  I declare, I don’t know if I have seen anything more beautiful than this little girl here.  I don‘t imagine an angel could be much prettier.”  

            Lorna held this memory in her heart and, when she was sad, she reminded herself that she had, at least for a little while, been completely happy.  She folded the birth certificate, laid it down on the table and picked up the second, folded parchment page.

            Two years after Sarah’s birth, the country was in the grip of an epidemic.  Spanish flu raged through the east, then south and west; it left a path of death and sorrow in its wake and eventually, on a cold December day, landed on Lorna’s doorstep.  She had often thought how blessed they had been. Baby Sarah had been such a healthy, happy child. When she heard stories of the many parents who had lost their children to the sickness, she cried for them and prayed to God to keep her baby safe.  Sarah was the glue that stuck Lorna and Willie together, made them a family. Both Lorna and Willie had built their lives around the little girl. 

            And then the baby got sick.  A fever.  She wouldn’t eat or drink.  She was limp as a rag doll, hot as fire.  Willie went racing to his truck.  “I’ll hurry back as soon as I can,” he said.  “Don’t you worry. I’ll find the Doctor.”  The look of fear on his face did not match the words he spoke.  By the time the doctor arrived and pronounced his diagnosis, she was past help. 

            Lorna slowly unfolded the death certificate dated December 18, 1919, sighed and said to the empty kitchen, “Our little Sarah, gone, gone…gone with the rest.”

            One final item lay at the bottom of the box, a small, white envelope.  Inside Lorna found the lock of hair, one perfect blonde curl tied with a pink ribbon.  “So soft,” she said in a hoarse whisper, stroking the strands.  She held the talisman of her past happiness to her check, then to her lips.  She imagined the sweet smell of her baby lingering on that wisp of hair.  She pulled the baby’s image into focus in her mind’s eye.  There was her baby before her now.  Sarah’s beautiful blue eyes, so like her father’s, her laugh like spring rain. "I prayed, prayed so hard, so long but no one heard,” she moaned, aloud, “no one answered.” 

            Lorna recalled how Willie had built Sarah’s coffin, just as he’d built her cradle and her wooden blocks.  Lorna lined the inside of the coffin with fabric from her wedding dress, white satin.  They buried the baby in the cemetery behind the church where she and Willie had married.  After Sarah’s death, Lorna could find no words for the grief she felt.  Willie said no words at all so they let silence speak instead.  They had remained quiet all these years since, she thought.  She kissed the lock of hair and placed it carefully back into the envelope.

            Lorna returned all the keepsakes to the box, one by one; all the pieces placed back inside.  She raised her mug to her lips and took a drink.  The coffee was bitter and cold.  She rose up from her seat and went to the sink; her hands dipped in and out of the cold dishwater, washing the mug, a bowl, a spoon.  As she washed, she wondered how many years she had stood in that same spot.  How many days had she spent standing there washing, and cooking, and looking out the window, dreaming?  Her feet had surely worn the pine floor thin by now.  She felt like she’d spent her whole life just standing there looking, just watching life go by.  She knew it was true.  Standing there, she could feel the imprint of her feet; the wood slightly hollowed out under the soles of her shoes from the consistent repetition of her slow and steady steps over so many years.  She looked out of the window, into the black night, and the only thing she saw was the reflection of a sad, tired, old woman staring back at her from the glass pane.

            A moment later, a careless move of her hand, she brushed against Willie’s water glass, the one she had brought from the bedroom earlier that day and placed on the counter near the sink.  She had meant to fill it up, to take water back to him but had gotten distracted when she found the box.   The glass crashed onto the floor and shattered into a hundred pieces.  Lorna didn’t seem to notice and she made no effort to clean up the damage.  She just walked away, over to the sideboard, reached into a drawer and pulled out a box of kitchen matches.  She turned back to the table, lit one of the matches and tossed it into the cardboard box filled with her keepsakes.  As flames licked up from the box, the flickering lights illuminated the headline of newspaper Dr. Brown had left behind:  December 18, 1949.  "Cotton Prices Tumble Again."

            There was nothing to be done.  The crowd of men stood around the permiter of Willie and Lorna's house.  The flames were already shooting out the windows.  The roof had collapsed by the time the volunteer firemen had arrived with a pump truck.  A stream of water sprayed into the center of the largest flames sent up steam ghosts that whirled up into the crisp air.  Later, the men clustered together and bemoaned the loss of Lorna and Willie.

            When the sun started to come up and the light began to spread across the flat land, one of the firefighters happened to look west, out toward the cotton field, out where the big burr oak once stood.

            “What in the world?” he murmured to himself as he ambled toward something he couldn’t quite make out.  As he got closer, he saw what it was that caught his eye but it was hard to believe.

            “Sweet Jesus, save us all!” he hollered.

             Through the smoke and ash still floating through the frozen air, he could see Lorna, sitting on the tree stump, her knees tucked into her chest, her arms hugging them tight.  She was rocking back and forth, staring straight back to where the house had stood, a strange and crooked smile on her lips.