The salt-bleached pavement unwound behind the brand-new ‘62 Dodge Dart 440 wagon, borrowed from our neighbor to save on the airfare to Minneapolis. His unexpected kindness eliminated our need to rent a car for all the driving we’d be doing over the next few days. Flying back would have been easier but I’d been in no condition to protest.
I fixed my attention out the window, counting the sooty, aging snow berms lining the roadside. My mother’s ashes, nestled in the urn at my feet, overshadowed everything as we made the one-way trip back to Graceville from her home in nearby tiny Cokato.
Tense and hungry, I rooted through my box of peanut M&M’s for a yellow one. I held it up to the window, masochistically focusing on the little makeshift sun that hurt my eyes almost as much as the blue sky.
I popped it into my mouth and Peter murmured, “Breakfast of champions,” and held out his hand. “Though Wheaties would be healthier.”
“At least it’s not a cigarette,” I said, dropping a red one into his open palm.
We shared the rest of the box in silence. I closed my eyes, but the memories relentlessly pinched and prodded at me:
The first desperate call from Catherine, Mom’s best friend.
The neighbors’ voices, urgent, in the background.
The endless long-distance wait for word.
Peter, across the room, not knowing how, or whether, to console me.
The second call. We lost her. She’s gone.
I turned my attention back to the window, concentrating on keeping my cheeks dry. I tried to doze, the slideshow of memories continuing their assault behind my eyelids.
First I heard Mom’s throaty laugh, erupting over one of her corny puns, shared around the bonfire. I closed my eyes, smelling the smoke. About to leave for college, I was scared; she was not.
“I’m so proud of you. You’re going to have such adventures. I wish I could go with you,” she whispered, hugging me fiercely.
The memory shifted to a sudden taste on my tongue of our regular weekend breakfasts: feasts of blueberry pancakes, burnt bacon, and inexhaustible chatter.
Mom’s last letter had arrived at our house in Nebraska the day she died.
Come home, Audrey. You can stay here for a few days until you figure things out with Peter. Even with Mom gone I’d still considered going back, to think things through. But could I call it home anymore without her there? There was always Catherine—
“How much farther?” Peter’s voice startled me awake.
I rubbed my swollen eyes and squinted out the windshield at Catherine’s car, poking along ahead of us. We were now onto the next step in this mind-boggling process. I had, with Catherine’s help, planned the funeral long distance, and as soon as we arrived we held a memorial service to honor Mom. Friends, co-workers, her former students of all ages, neighbors, and townspeople all attended and said nice things about Mom, things I had forgotten or had never known, but which eased my saddened heart.
Now we were completing the most final of steps—scattering her ashes.
“I don’t know, Peter. I haven’t been up here in years,” I yawned, exhausted and disoriented.
“I thought your grandparents lived here,” Peter said.
“Yes, but after they died, we never came up here anymore. I think it was too hard for Mom.”
That had been a terrible time for her, my grandparents’ dying in a car accident so close on the heels of her divorce from my father, Hank. Catherine’s news last week that Mom had held onto her parents’ farm outside of Graceville had taken me by surprise.
Ahead of us, Catherine’s car—my mother’s old Plymouth—slowed.
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Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG13
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