Cynthia Ruchti writes and produces THE HEARTBEAT OF THE HOME radio broadcast (www.heartbeatofthehome.org) currently airing on 17 stations, is editor of Backyard Friends magazine, and has had numerous articles, devotionals, essays, and feature articles published in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. She was elected president of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), an organization of more than 1700 authors devoted to writing and promoting excellence in Christian fiction. Her debut novel, They Almost Always Come Home will be published by Abingdon Press in March of 2010.
“Before I make a commitment,” he’d said, “I need your word.”
No doubt I patted my beehive hairdo and smacked my DoubleMint before replying, “Love, honor, cherish—the works. Just give me the ring.”
“I’m serious, Linny. Promise.”
As I recall, I tucked my chin—back when I had only the one—and forced, “I promise to love, honor, and cherish you as long as we both shall—”
“Not that. The other thing.”
Fifty-three years after the fact, I—Linnae Rose Michael—twist the marquis-cut diamond ring on my arthritic left hand. I must have given my word.
Crazy old man. Even when he was young.
Here I sit, across the desk from a funeral home director, with a periwinkle blue cookie jar in my lap. And a promise to consider while my husband’s body waits in cold storage.
“We’ve had far stranger requests, Mrs. Michaels,” the goateed harbinger of funeral expenses assures, eyeing the jar. “Far stranger.”
Don’t tell me. If you do, then I’ll know you’re not above telling my story to the next grieving widow who walks in here with a coffee can or an empty worm bucket.
Goatee leans toward me. “One time, this man brings his wife to us in a wagon. Not a hay wagon or anything like that. One of those red kids’ wagons. You should have seen how he had to fold her to get her to fit without dragging an appendage on the sidewalk. Wanted her buried in it, but figured she needed a little formaldehyde first.”
I grip the round belly of the empty cookie jar. “I haven’t decided yet.”
How could I even consider noncompliance? From the day he saw this jar, Harvey wanted to be buried in it. What kind of punishment awaits a widow who refuses a man’s dying wish? Living wish. Only wish.
How many anniversaries did Harvey spend perusing estate sales or pawing through the back room of a barn? How many of the kids’ birthdays had he traded for a lead on a great deal? Our kids. So, okay, he got the romance part right a couple of times.
My feet don’t touch the floor in this ridiculous chair. Not the picture of strength I hoped to convey to the man who might hold my husband’s “Doesn’t He Look Natural?” in his hands.
Harvey found the cookie jar the night he promised to take me to see Frank in concert. Sinatra. Who gives up tickets to see Old Blue Eyes? Someone with an eye for a piece of periwinkle pottery and a practiced ability to ignore his date’s sighs.
I forgave him by the time we left the secondhand store. He told me he was investing in our future. Life insurance might have been a better financial move.
He proposed a week later. I must have said yes.
Other cookie jars came and went. Bartered. Traded. Sold on eBay once Harvey got the hang of that. Weekly, he rearranged them according to his current supply, positioning each one in order of value on the living room’s albatross shelving unit. The periwinkle retained its celebrity status no matter how many others paraded past.
On a random afternoon, I moved it over one spot, exchanging it for the Aunt Jemima cookie jar. He noticed and gave me the grown-up version of a time out. I’d colored my hair for the first time that day. Copper. That, he didn’t notice.
When Harvey missed Beth’s birth, intent as he was on an antique shop foreclosure, I chose Alexis for Beth’s middle name, knowing full well he’d hate it, as he’d hated stern-faced curmudgeoness Aunt Alexis—the wielder of castor oil and mustard plasters.
When Harvey spanked one of the grandkids for daring to bring a Nerf ball into the living room, I keyed his car. On the passenger side. Where he wouldn’t notice until he’d parked in the lot at work a time or two.
The day Harvey sold Danny’s bike to get the money for a Redwing jar, I pulled on my Playtex dishwashing gloves, stole up to the attic, grabbed a hunk of fiberglass insulation, and used it to scrub everything in his underwear drawer.
A magnificent rash followed. One for the medical journals, the doctor said.
I wait while Goatee fields a phone call. So sorry for your loss. How many guests do you expect? Are you interested in our Deluxe Heaven’s Harmony Musical Package or just Velma on the Hammond?
He turns his attention back to the need of the moment.
“You would still need to purchase a vault, Mrs. Michaels. For safekeeping of the urn. Cookie jar, rather. Unless you intend to take your beloved’s ashes home with you.”
Home? That place where Harvey showcased the things most precious to him and tolerated the people who should have been?
I rub my hand over the cool surface of periwinkle and feel a sudden craving for chocolate chips and oatmeal raisin. So I reach for the four-color Coffins-R-Us brochure on the corner of the desk.
“Let me see what you have in pine.”