It was the youngest son, Luke, who finally returned to the homestead, on a clear March day, when winter is still present on the plains and everything is bleak and down trodden in the way that only a bitter winter can induce. There was not the least sign of a bud or blade of grass.
He had gone to the bank to see Mr. Hodfstader, the man who had handled all of his father’s affairs, and was given an envelope with Luke’s name on the front, and inside a skeleton key. The farm was still in the family; pa had been reluctant to ever consider selling it; Luke’s mother had been buried on a hillside not far from the house, where a cherry tree had grown for years to the delight of his mother who knew that cherries did not grow willingly in this region. But Luke’s mother could make anything grow, to the amazement of those who witnessed the vegetables and fruits and that mama could produce. Mama would say it was the coffee grounds she spread under the trees but no one else could make their coffee grounds perform miracles. Mama spread coffee grounds under her rose plants, too, and had the finest roses in all of Iowa. Mama really had a green thumb.
The house was shabby and bleak-looking as well. The windows had been boarded up after some mischievous boys had taken slingshots at them, breaking two of mama’s precious windows. Luke opened the front door with the skeleton key; it was dark and dusty inside, the only light filtering through the open door.
In the kitchen, it was—Luke thought—like a time capsule. There was mama’s range on which she cooked stews and soups and delicious chicken and dumplings, there was the oven in which she baked breads and sweet rolls and a strudel that she learned to make from a German neighbor who lived not far away from them. On the wooden table was mama’s big yellow bowl with a wooden spoon resting inside. Everything was dusty from the dirt blowing in through cracks and crevices. Luke looked around suddenly – seeing movement to one side of the kitchen – and then – it was as though time split – for there was mama taking a pie out of the oven, turning to him, smiling, over a cherry pie.
“Mama?” he was incredulous. It wasn’t a ghostly image, she was solid.
“I made a pie just for you,” mama said, setting it on the wooden table. “I knew you were coming.”
Luke’s head spun. He could smell the cherry pie, he could see it, and he could see his mother, smiling broadly.
“How….how did you get here? He finally asked, standing frozen afraid to move, afraid she would disappear.
“It was not easy,” she replied. “I have been saving up for this moment. All of my energy has gone into it. I knew you were coming, eventually. Seems like only a day but I know it had to be a long time. I died….” She faltered, “a long time ago. I could not bring papa with me. He did not want to come.”
Luke stood, staring. Finally he asked the question uppermost in his mind.
“Mama, what should I do? Should I keep the farm or sell it? Some big farmer wants the property—I could have your remains moved to another place, to a cemetery…” he stopped, hardly able to breathe. He was talking to his mother about her remains.
His mother pshhhed in a way that only mama could do when she thought something unworthy of discussion.
“Bones,” she said, “do not mean anything where I am. I only came, Luke, to tell you to let go. You don’t have to keep this farm. Let it all go and get on with your life. I see you sometimes. I know there is a woman you want to marry. Let go of the past, son. Only your future matters. You can let all of this go…” and suddenly, without any warning, mama disappeared. Luke turned around, looking intently. He placed his hand on top of mama’s stove. It felt warm to his touch. And there, on top of the old wooden table….was a cherry pie, still steaming hot.
How did she do that? He wondered.
Then, another thought – was it real? He took the wooden spoon out of the bowl and dug into the pie with it. It was real. It was mama’s cherry pie. He tasted it, almost burning his tongue.
“I’d sure like to know how you did that,” he said aloud. Then he took a fork out of the kitchen drawer and sat down to eat cherry pie, right out of the pie plate.
When he had eaten, he said—again aloud—“You’re right, mama. I’ll sell the property. There’s an interested buyer. Maybe you can tell papa. I’m letting go. It’s time to get on with my life…. I love you, mama…”
Somewhere, far off, there was a little tinkle of bells, something like a wind chime.
Luke washed the pie plate and the wooden spoon and his fork. Mama would have felt disgraced if he didn’t clean up after himself.
When he left, he took mama’s big yellow bowl with him, along with the wooden spoon. He didn’t look back as he got into his car and drove away.
He was letting go.
–Sandra Lee Smith
Originally Posted July 25, 2012
Updated October 19, 2018
Sandra’s Footnote: I have been saving the above as a finale to the American Childhood series. I hope you all have enjoyed reading it,, as much as I have enjoyed writing it. 😊