Powder and White Diamonds
She hadn't been back to visit in years. She always meant to come back but she was constantly overwhelmed with meetings, edits and book signings. Life in New York was certainly more hectic than in this tiny Texas town.
The ranch house looked just the same. A coat of paint might help. A few errant weeds could be pulled. Memories of childhood brought forth a smile. Her hands began to shake.
"I can't do this," she said aloud as she turned off the engine to the rental car.
Her Daddy appeared on the sidewalk, a slight limp in his gait, or was that a skip in his step? She had been in a meeting with her agent when he had called with the bad news.
"Oh, kitten!" Daddy exclaimed in his low booming voice. "It's so good to see you!" He enveloped her into a big bear hug.
Stepping back, she studied her father. A little more gray around the temples. A few more wrinkles around the his bright blue eyes. He had gained a few pounds around the middle but he looked good. Damn good.
"How are you doing, Daddy?" she asked as she hugged him back tightly. She didn't want to ever let go.
"Doin' okay, kitten," the old man responded. "Got the animals fed. Let's get you inside out of this cold."
She hadn't even noticed the chill. Texas winters were nothing compared to the sinking temperatures in New York.
"Can I rustle you up some lunch? Some coffee maybe?"
"Coffee would be nice," she smiled weakly.
They walked arm in arm toward the house and she paused on the wide front porch. She could imagine her mother sitting in the old rocking chair. Tears stung her eyelids.
"Now, my coffee ain't nearly as good as your Mama's but it'll do in a pinch." Her father shuffled into the kitchen but his voice soon became a faint buzz inside her head.
Moving slowly through the spacious family room, she allowed her fingertips to softly caress old photographs, knick knacks and throw pillows.
"I can warm you up some lunch later after you're settled in. Some of Mama's church friends brought a casserole yesterday." Her father's words registered as just a faint whisper.
Turning slowly, she noticed her mother's old recliner. The same ugly brown plaid fabric; a small rip on the right armrest. A light blue shawl was tossed haphazardly across the seat cushion.
Sitting gingerly in the shabby chair, she pulled the shawl around her shoulders. She breathed in her mother's aroma. Rose-scented powder and White Diamonds perfume. Sobs wracked her body.
Daddy placed a steaming mug of coffee down on a side table and patted his daughter's hand.
"I can't do it, Daddy," she said. "I wrote the obituary and emailed it to the newspaper; those are just facts. But, how can I write Mama's eulogy? How can I sum up in just a few words what she meant to me? I'm surprised she didn't hate me because I didn't come back to visit when she was so sick. I'm just always so busy and ..."
Daddy interrupted. "Your Mama loved you, kitten. She was so proud of you. I want to show you something."
Pulling the shawl around her slight torso she followed her father down the long hallway that led to her childhood bedroom. A small, framed purple-painted hand-print adorned one wall, a picture of her in pigtails and braces graced another. Softball trophies and a few favorite stuffed animals were scattered throughout the little girl space.
The yellow child-sized dresser held every novel she had ever written. Picking one off the top of the pile, she thumbed through it absentmindedly.
"Letters Home by Wendy Breland." Daddy peered at the book. "I think that was your Mama's favorite, kitten." He carefully opened a dresser drawer and extracted a large scrapbook. "She saved everything you've written. Letters from church camp, poetry from junior high, all the articles you wrote when you worked at the newspaper. Remember?"
"She bought all your novels and cut out all the reviews. Folks would always ask us, 'What's gonna be in little Wendy's next book?' Your Mama was so proud of you."
They flipped through page after page of clippings, photos and handwritten notes.
"She wanted her eulogy, written by you, to be the last thing in this scrapbook." Daddy pointed a finger at the final blank page.
Wendy Breland, coffee mug and notebook in hand, sat on the front porch steps and looked across the barren cotton field at the setting sun. As she tugged her mother's shawl closer, a high wind kicked up, chilling her to the bone. Notebook pages fluttered wildly. Her hair blew around her face. Yet, as suddenly as it appeared, it was just as suddenly calm once more.
The aroma of powder and White Diamonds hung strongly in the fresh air. The rocking chair moved back and forth, back and forth.
"I love you, Mama," she said to the stillness and began to write.