~Karen Campbell Prough
Karen Campbell Prough
Darlene lifted a cardboard box from the back of the small trailer. The Florida sun warmed her sleeveless shoulders as she walked around her car and deposited the box on the porch steps. “Whew, I’m almost done.”
A cat bounded past her and went up the steps. It meowed and headed straight for Darlene’s five-year-old daughter.
“Mommy, an orange cat!” The girl dropped to her knees in front of it and held out her hand.
“Brooke! Don’t touch it. Get up.”
“Why?” Large blue eyes emphasized the single word.
“Because—it might be sick.”
The tiny-framed child jerked her babyish hand away from the marmalade cat and jumped up from where she had been kneeling. “He’s sick?” She lifted a heat-flushed face. Her brow wrinkled with concern.
“I didn’t say he was sick, just that he might be. You must be careful with stray animals.” She waved her hand at the cat. “Go home, shoo!”
“He looks nice.”
“Yes, but don’t touch stray animals. Come in the house, now. Mommy has to unpack all the stuff we brought with us.” She bent to retrieve the box. “You look hot. This Florida weather is going to be murder on us. It’s not like back home in Ohio!”
“What’s … stray?” The little girl followed her into the house and pulled the door shut behind them. “Mommy, what’s stray?”
“It means he doesn’t have a home.” Placing the heavy box with others already covering the surface of a round table in the middle of the quaint dining room, she groaned and rubbed her lower back. “Oh … I won’t be able to move tomorrow.”
Brooke shoved an old chair—dated by its metal frame and vinyl seat—to the table. She climbed on the chair and surveyed the boxes. “That’s like us, Mommy. Are we strays?” Her hands pushed tangled blonde hair out of her troubled blue eyes. “Huh?”
Startled, Darlene stared at her little girl. “Oh, no, Honey! We aren’t strays! We have … this house … and stuff the previous owners left behind. It’s ours. Remember? You went with me to sign all those crazy papers. Come here.” She lifted the girl off the chair and hugged her close. “No, baby, we’re not strays. Daddy’s insurance money helped us buy this little house. And I now have a good job. That means we’re going to be okay! You and me.”
The child squirmed in Darlene’s tight embrace. “Then, can we let the cat stay with us so he won’t be stray? Please?”
“And … he must stay outside.” She set the girl back on the chair and studied the clutter around them. “I hate starting over,” she murmured, suddenly fighting tears. Emotions and memories crowded in on her. In the past, there had been a strong back and willing arms to lift all the boxes and help unpack.
“Mommy? Are you sad ‘bout this house?”
Darlene tried to smile while brushing a tear from her cheek. “No, baby, it’s a mess in here but this is a nice house. Want to help me unpack a few things before you have your bath? We must find the towels and washcloths. Come on dirty face; let’s see if you can find the right box.”
Giggling, Brooke slipped off the chair and ran down a short hallway to a pile of boxes on the floor. She pointed. “Here! This one. You drew a picture of a potty on it. See?”
“You’re so smart. You remembered. Great Grandma Hendricks will be proud when I tell her. We’ll go see her tomorrow. She lives only a few miles away.”
“Does Great Grandma know Daddy went to heaven?” The child’s smooth forehead kneaded into a frown.
“Oh, Brooke … yes, she knows. She feels very sad, but she’s happy because Daddy is waiting for us in Heaven.”
“Does Daddy have cats up there?”
“Cats?” Darlene inwardly groaned. Why do children come up with these types of questions? “I think Heaven might have cats. Remember, I told you the Bible mentions the army coming out of heaven? They’ll be riding horses when our Lord comes back to earth to fight the bad guys, so … why not also have cats in heaven?”
A delightful smile lit Brooke’s face. “Orange cats?”
“Yes … perhaps.” She patted her daughter’s head. “Now, let’s unpack.”
Two hours later, most of the boxes were empty. The remainder of their belongings and furniture would arrive by way of a moving van the next morning. Darlene opened the front door to check the little trailer one more time and almost stepped on the small cat.
“Oops! Orange cat you are living dangerously.”
The cat meowed and jumped to a small weed-filled container near the porch. It resembled a metal water trough. With a huge yawn, the cat stretched and then curled into a ball, as if to say … I’m here to stay, love me or not.
“Oh, thanks, cat. I really didn’t need you adding to my food bill. I hope you eat mice. Because otherwise, you’ll need to find another home—with rich owners.” After skirting around the container that the cat had claimed, she got the last items from the trailer and went back into the house. The sun had dipped behind the tall pines near the house but sunlight still managed to filter through to the small yard. A few palmetto bushes had encroached on the yard, growing in from the surrounding woods.
Brooke jumped up from where she was playing with toys on the floor. “Can I go out on the porch and talk to the cat?”
“Just talk … no touching. Okay?” Darlene set a saucepan on the stove top and smiled over her shoulder. “I’ll fix supper. Don’t go off the porch.”
“I won’t. I’m going to show the cat my big frog.” She bent to pick up the bright green toy. “I think he likes frogs.”
Five minutes later, a scream of fright made Darlene drop a spoon on the floor and run for the door. “Brooke!”
Her daughter stood in the middle of the narrow sidewalk, her hands covering her eyes. Darlene swept Brooke up in her arms and angrily scanned the ground for the cat.
But not twelve feet away, the marmalade cat suddenly sprang straight into the air, avoiding the strike of a pygmy rattler. Landing on its feet, it slapped with one paw and bounded in another direction. The snake coiled, seemingly in confusion, and then sidled sideways toward a clump of palmettos.
Darlene hugged her crying child and carried her back to the porch. “Are you hurt? Did it get you? Show Mommy, please!”
With sobs shaking her slight frame, the girl shook her head. “No, cat jumped over it.” She twisted sideways in Darlene’s arms. “Is my cat okay?”
The cat ran up the sidewalk, gave one meow, bounded into the dirt-filled container, and gazed at them with large expressive eyes that reflected the brilliance of the setting sun. Brooke wiggled out of Darlene’s arms, tears forgotten, and ran to grab her toy frog.
“I want to give this to my cat. He chased the bad snake away.” Without waiting for permission, Brooke approached the stray and tucked her toy next to its side. She patted the purring cat’s head. “Hear him? He likes it. Now he won’t be lonely tonight. He has a toy and a new home. He’s not a stray no more.”
Darleen knelt and kissed Brooke’s cheek. “That was nice of you.” Tentatively, she held out her hand to the cat. “What will you name this brave cat?”
“Orange Marmalade—like on my toast. But we better just call him Orange.”
“And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” Revelation 20:14 KJV
Thank you for reading my short story. Pictures were taken by my mother. She had cats hanging around her yard. They had been abandoned by people across the street. The story is fiction, not based on any facts–not even ones about snakes and cats. 🙂 Remarks about the story may be left by scrolling downward and filling in the comment space.
© Karen Campbell Prough
(No text or inserted images may be reproduced without the written consent of the copyright holder.)
When the battering roar of the storm became a gentle rain, my mother called to check on her parents, Gladys and Orville Reynolds.
The storm had hit the farm.
We piled into the car and headed down the gravel road. We all wanted to see the damage. But from a distance, the empty landscape caused us to gasp. No huge barn stood near the rain-battered fields.
But wait … I realize that I must start at the beginning and tell the whole story.
Grandpa and Grandma Reynolds had been out riding horses when they saw the horizon turn a greenish-black. The Michigan sky deepened into a frightening dark color and boiled toward them, and my Grandpa realized this would be no ordinary storm.
They raced back to the barn, jerked the saddles off the horses, and released the horses to the field. Grandpa opened stalls and shooed animals out of the barn, but the wind howled through the cracking walls. He ordered Grandma to run for the farmhouse. He had one more horse to get out of a stall—a pregnant palomino, named Lady. But Grandma refused and yelled that she wouldn’t leave without him. As the wind swept away her stubborn words, Grandpa knew there was no other choice.
They ran for their lives, the wind tearing at their clothes. They made it to the rear of the house, ran up the cement steps, and stumbled into the back hall. They slammed the door shut and headed for the basement door. But as they hurried past the window facing the barn, they looked out. The familiar outline of the large barn was gone, flattened to the ground by the howling wind.
When we piled out of the car at the farm, a sick, dazed feeling caused me to stop and stare. My childish mind tried to process the total destruction. The barn can’t be gone.
Just weeks before the storm, I had accompanied the men bringing in the hay. I could still hear the rumble of the tractor as my father lifted me to the bed of the hay wagon. My fingers had dug into the scratchy bales and fears of tumbling off the wagon washed over me. I had carelessly stood and watched the approach of the wide-open double doors of the shadowy barn. The smell of dried hay filled my senses as the wagon rolled up the grade and into the barn. I had gazed upward at the perfectly stacked bales to the right. They reached for the distant ceiling. Sunlight had squeezed through cracks in the walls and reflected on dust drifting in the air. Barn swallows had dipped and flown near the roof, and the cheeping of baby birds filled the vast area under the roof. Massive square timbers held the metal roof in place, but each notch in the construction had provided a place for a comfy nest.
I begged to accompany the adults out to the barn. How strange to walk on the underside of the barn’s metal roof and step over solid timbers that were once upright. I heard the sadness in my Grandpa’s voice, a subtle shaking—that meant tears were a possibility.
My mother walked around the debris, her arms crossed at her waist, and hugged tight. A gentle breeze rippled over the destruction, and my mother pointed at something. She motioned me closer, and the pitiful peeping of baby birds drew me to a stack of wood.
Someone handed me a shoebox. I plucked babies from squashed nests, from under timbers, and from protected holes in wooden beams. I wish I could say they all lived. But they didn’t.
Yes, the palomino survived—she was located in the field. The upright walls of the stall testified to the fact that the horse must’ve been knocked down and somehow emerged from under the debris. She got out through a hole left in the demolished exterior wall and had only one raised bump on her back. That winter, Grandpa and Grandma hauled her to Florida in a horse trailer. I wish I could say that the colt lived—but it didn’t. It was stillborn.
Today I pulled a folded sheet of paper from one of my desk drawers. It was the advertisement for the sale of the farm and the auction of all the equipment. I read the list and my heart ached for Grandpa and what he had to give up. The memories still tug at my heart. I wish I had been old enough and rich enough to buy the farm. But I have my memories of Grandpa and Grandma Reynolds and the heritage they left for me to treasure.
Each one of us can turn around in our minds and stare at the past, hear its whispers, and feel its tugs. One piece of paper and a few old slides, which my father took many years ago, bind this story into a solid chunk of the past.
God’s word reminds us of past promises and the hope for the future. Pastors and Christian friends also help us remember the past but urge us to stand fast—for we have an everlasting opportunity in heaven.
One scripture says, “I plan to keep on reminding you of these things—even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth. Yes, I believe I should keep on reminding you of these things as long as I live.” 2 Peter 1:12-13, NLT
We must admonish eachother to remember that God has been with us through the good and the bad. He’s still leading us. A new life waits just beyond the horizon. It’s ours … if we hold firm. What keeps you on the path heading toward Heaven? Please, scroll down. Share your comments in the space below this post. Thank you for reading my blog!
I have to thank my father, Marshall E. Campbell, for the use of his many slides and his paintings that appear in my blog posts. He tells me to use them whenever I want. I have downloaded hundreds to my computer and have hundreds more to go! He wants the family history saved.
© Karen Campbell Prough 2012 Please ask permission before using this copyrighted material. Thank you.
I did something Saturday night that I haven’t done in a long time and I felt like I almost committed a sin. But the urge hit me and I gave in—squashing the voices in my head that shrieked warnings about unhealthy choices. But I closed my mind to all the fitness magazines in the grocery store and ignored what I had read while skimming through their glossy pages.
I got out the largest frying pan I had and put generous, white globs of Crisco in it. And then I unfolded a small paper bag and dumped in flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Within a short time, I had rinsed and patted dry a big bunch of chicken thighs and legs—with the skin on them. I dropped the pieces of chicken in the paper bag and shook them until the mixture coated every nook and cranny. One by one, I reverently laid them in the hot skillet of grease. Yep … I fixed good old-fashioned fried chicken, yellow rice, green beans coated in butter, and sweet tea. (Can you hear the southern twang in my writing—honey child?)
My husband hovered around the kitchen, sniffing, and saying something that sounded like, yum, yum, yum or the purring of a kitten.
And then the memories started running through my mind as the scent of fried chicken drifted from the pan. The memories took me back to childhood, a time when we played outside every evening of the week. The neat houses all down the street had small porches with rod iron railings. Windows were open and every house had a screen door. The summer twilight hovered while all of us children gathered in the narrow street, rode bikes, joined in games, and enjoyed being together as the day peacefully ended.
The aroma and scent of other meals being prepared, in houses along the street, drifted in the air.
In my mind’s eyes, I see my mom finishing a batch of sugar-sprinkled molasses cookies for after supper and sliding them off the cookie sheet unto a paper bag, which had been cut open and laid flat on the counter. The scent of fried chicken, coming from her kitchen, blended with the neighbor’s hamburgers on a backyard grill. Someone’s Italian spaghetti added a tantalizing bouquet of spices to the warm night. The streets lights winked on, childish giggles and laughter filled the air. Young voices lilted and blended with the sound of a distant train whistle. A baby cried out two doors down and a mother’s gentle voice shushed it and murmured reassurance. Older folks stepped out on their porches and carefully sank into creaking rockers. A dog barked and jumped at a fence, yearning to join the children playing a game of chase between shadowed houses. The full moon lifted its face over the trees and turned the yards and bushes into a silvery painting of life, complete with innocence still intact. Neighborly trust and friendship was a normal way of life.
So, from the scent of frying chicken, my world turned back to a time when life didn’t seem so complicated. Children could play in the street and not worry about a stranger snatching them. Doors and windows were open to the warm nights. A neighbor could come up on your porch and call through the screen door to see if you were home, and you could yell for them to come in, without even stopping what you were doing. You didn’t have to lock your front door, if you were weeding the garden in the back yard. Unsupervised children could explore a creek or a patch of woods, build tree houses, and walk to the library or playground with their friends.
Fried chicken … a different time and place. Makes me want to close this blog post with the words, “Goodnight, John Boy!”
But I’ll bring it to close with a scripture. “God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see.” 1 Peter 1:4-5 NLT
Those who love God have hope in his son, Jesus. We can accept or reject the greatest gift that humanity has ever received. Someday, heaven’s doors will be thrown wide open and fear will vanish. You won’t have to worry about anything.
What memories do you treasure? The past has its marks in all our lives, whether good or bad, but our future is in God’s hands.
Please, leave your comments about this blog, and thank you for reading it.
© Karen Campbell Prough 2012