On the first nice day in early spring, I see her stop at the porch steps, her little red Radio Flyer behind her. She looks down at my landscape rocks, scanning her head side to side, ponytail bouncing, then carefully selects several and sets them quietly down in the wagon. She knocks on my door. I give it a few seconds, like I’ve been back in the kitchen rolling out pie crust.
“Good morning, Mrs. Andersen. Would you like to buy some rocks? Quarter each.” She has the longest, thickest eyelashes I’ve ever seen in my sixty-five years on this earth.
“Why yes, Chloe, that would be lovely. How did you know I needed rocks?” I hand her two dollar bills and watch as she walks down my sidewalk and turns right toward her house, pulling the wagon behind her. I’m not thrilled she’s on her own as young as she is, but times are different now, and I understand her mother needs to earn a living after picking the wrong man she thought would settle down.
I had a good one in Dale. We weren’t blessed with children of our own, but God’s plans aren’t always known to us. I sometimes have to remind myself that God knows my strength better than I do, being childless and a widow and all, because there are days when it gets lonely. But I had the best, and for that I cannot complain. Makes me sad to see these young women today struggle so.
Two days later I’m dusting when I see Chloe coming up my sidewalk again. It takes her both hands and a couple of tries to get the decorative bullfrog hefted up into her wagon. She wipes the dust and dirt onto her jeans before knocking.
“Mrs. Andersen, look! She would look real cute next to your flowers. I can let you have her for five dollars.”
“Why yes, Chloe, she would look real cute. How did you know I’d been looking for something like that to spruce up my flowerbed?”
She breaks into a big smile, ponytail askew, as I hand her a five dollar bill.
When Dale passed, I questioned how I would find grace again. We both knew it was coming as he grew weaker and weaker, each round of treatment stealing more strength from him, until in the last days all he could tolerate was a chicken bouillon cube dropped into a cup of hot water that he would nurse all day long. When Dale slipped into an uncomfortable sleep he never woke up from I asked God to take my hand and show me the path to walk down, because I was afraid I wouldn’t find it on my own.
After Easter service lets out and I’ve picked up my sheet cake pan and have returned home, I find myself in the garage, reminiscing as I pick through the box of little things of Dale’s I never got around to tossing out or giving away. His Pioneer Seed cap, the sweatband still stained a dirty grey from all the years of working under the hot sun. The watch I got him for Christmas one year, the leather straps long gone. I wind it up and the second hand begins to tick clockwise. There’s a black velvet bag I’d long forgotten about, and as I turn it in my hands the rocks inside clack against each other. Not rocks, exactly. Fairburn agates we found together up in Custer County in the early years of our marriage when our legs were still strong and would carry us up and down the prairie hills, walking sticks in our hands to ward off occasional rattlesnakes, eyes scanning for those beautiful agates, laughing and practically squealing with happiness each time one of us would come across one. Many times we’d come back across the state line empty handed, but that didn’t matter. We just enjoyed being together, and that in itself was reward enough.
The next day, I’m resting on the porch swing when Chloe comes down the sidewalk, pulling her little red wagon behind her.
“My my, Chloe, isn’t this a beautiful day?” I see her eyes shift around the rhododendron bushes by the porch steps and I pretend not to notice. “How was school today?”
“Fine. I only missed two on my spelling quiz.” Her eyes are locked onto what I placed near the bushes. “Mrs. Andersen! Do you know what’s down here?” She picks it up and cups it in her hand, gentle, like she’s holding a fledgling found knocked from the nest.
“That’s what’s called a Fairburn agate, Chloe. Mr. Andersen and I used to go hunting for them. They’re very hard to find.”
“You mean like treasure hunting?” Chloe walks up the steps with it still cupped in her hand, marveling at the concentric layers of white and pink and purple and brown.
“Yes, exactly like treasure hunting.”
Chloe scoots on the seat next to me and swings her legs, eyes not leaving her hand. “Is it worth a lot of money?”
“Not a lot, but a little. First one to find an agate gets to keep it.” She finally takes her eyes off her cupped hand and looks up at me. “You found it first, fair and square.” Chloe’s a good girl who misses her mama working all the time. One day before she knows it, she’ll be old enough to know more than this block of old bungalows, just like I woke up one day to find myself at seventeen looking back in goodbye to the farmhouse where I grew up as Dale and I drove to this house that we turned into our home. “Say, how about joining me for some lemonade and oatmeal cookies? Just took the cookies out a little bit ago. Bet they’re still warm.”
L Mari Harris lives in Nebraska, where she works as a copywriter. Follow her @LMariHarris.