“Important Stuff,” Friend, Mar. 1999, 33
“Why are you wearing your Sunday clothes, Ashley?” her mother asked as she stepped into her seven-year-old daughter’s room. “We’re just going to the cemetery to put flowers on Grandpa’s grave, honey.”
As she slipped into her shiny black shoes, Ashley looked up at her mother. “Grandpa Eli is not a ‘just,’ Mama. He’s Grandpa Eli. That makes him someone in particular. Besides, he’s a child of God—that has to take the just right out of it, doesn’t it?”
Mama smiled warmly at her daughter’s understanding. “That it does. You know,” she added, “for such a young lady, you sure have a handle on things.”
Ashley grunted as she tried to collect their big old cat in her arms and lift him off her bed. “I wish Mister Worthington had a handle. He’d be a lot easier to carry!”
While at the cemetery, Ashley noticed an elderly woman not far away, sitting on the grass in front of a tombstone. She was pulling out the crabgrass that was climbing up its base. As she studied the white-haired lady in the leafy swirl of soft sunlight, Ashley thought that she’d never seen so much loneliness bunched up on a single face. She seems more weighed down by it than by all her years stacked up together.
Ashley looked at the flower that Mama had given her to place in the vase at the foot of Grandpa Eli’s grave. The vase is already filled with fresh flowers, she decided. Grandpa wouldn’t mind if … She looked again at the old woman, then at her parents. “Mama? Daddy? May I go talk to that lady for a minute?”
“Why, honey?” her mother asked curiously. “Do you know her?”
“Sometimes people like to be alone, pumpkin,” her father warned. “It wouldn’t be right to impose on her privacy.”
“Sometimes some people are too alone, Daddy,” Ashley coaxed. “And I think she’s one of them.”
Ashley’s parents looked at the woman. “She does look pretty sad and lonely all right,” Daddy agreed. He glanced at Mama, who nodded. “I guess it will be all right for a minute, pumpkin. Then we want you to come right back, is that understood?”
Ashley smiled. “Yep.”
The elderly woman felt a shadow pass over her. She looked up into the face of a small girl.
“Hello. My name is Ashley Donohue.”
A frail smile fell across the old woman’s face.
Ashley held out her flower. “Here.”
“That’s quite all right, young lady,” the elderly woman quavered. She pointed to a jar of fresh flowers next to the headstone. “As you can see, I have quite enough.”
“Oh, it isn’t for … for …” Ashley’s voice trailed off.
“Mr. Blakely, honey. He was my husband.”
“Oh. Uh, well,” Ashley stammered out. “The flower isn’t for him—it’s for you.”
“For me? But I’m no one to you, dear. I’m just an old—”
“You’re someone to God,” Ashley broke in. “So that means you’re not a just. It means you’re someone in particular. And you have a name, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, of course. My name is Nora. Nora Blakely.”
Ashley held out the flower closer to the elderly woman. “Everyone with a name is someone in particular, don’t you think so, Mrs. Blakely?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Mrs. Blakely acknowledged with a smile.
Ashley smiled back as a wrinkled, quivering hand reached out and accepted the flower.
“How do you know I’m someone to God, young lady?”
“Do you have any children, Mrs. Blakely?”
“Yes. Well, at least I did. Two sons.” Mrs. Blakely’s voice faltered. “They both died in a war. They’re buried west of here, in a military cemetery.”
“I bet you loved them bunches and bunches, didn’t you?”
“Oh yes,” the old voice was stronger now. “Very, very much. They were, and still are, most important to me. As is my husband here. Eugene and I were married for sixty-three years, you know,” she added, her eyes glowing like two little stones in sunlit water.
“Well, just like you love your children, Heavenly Father loves you, Mrs. Blakely. Because you are one of His children. So am I, and so is everybody else. Except Mr. Worthington. He’s our cat. But he’s still important, because he’s someone in particular, too.”
“I’m sure he is,” Mrs. Blakely chuckled.
Over by Grandpa Eli’s grave, Ashley’s father shook his head. “Well, I’ll be—would you look at that!”
Mama looked over her shoulder. The old woman was laughing and hugging Ashley, who was laughing and hugging her back. A moment later, the girl skipped over to her parents, then turned and waved to the elderly woman—who was heartily returning the wave with a smile as big as the red and gold autumn around them.
“What did you talk to her about?” Daddy asked as they started back toward the car.
“Oh,” Ashley teased, “stuff. “Important stuff,” she added as she skipped on ahead.
“If it was anything like what she told me this morning in her room,” Mama said, catching up to her husband, “it’s just that.”
Mama squeezed his hand. “Important stuff.”