Home » A Wasted Life » Short Stories » The Bittersweet Farewell – Chapter Three

The Bittersweet Farewell – Chapter Three

Trying to control her laughter, one day Grace told Alice the tale of the tree-house.  “Jacob cut down trees and scavenged wood from anywhere he could find it,” she said.  “He worked day and night, and mind you, he was only nine years old.  He was determined to have the biggest and best tree-house ever.”  She giggled as she said, “he just knew that people from all over would want to come to see what he had built!’.”

“He used the gardeners’ ladder to climb up this huge oak tree that had bifurcated through the years, creating what Jacob thought would be the perfect place for his house.  He heaved all those pieces of wood up that tree, and tied them together with weeds because he didn’t have a rope or nails. He didn’t even have a hammer.”

“He carved his name into one of the pieces of wood, using a sharp rock and tied it to the base of that big tree.  Finally the day came when it was finished and he was so proud of himself.  He came inside and asked me to come look at it. Just as I got outside, he stepped into the tree-house and down it came.  I was trying so hard not to laugh, but you should have seen his little face.”

“He was hanging onto a limb, looking at what was now just a pile of wood. He looked much like you would expect someone to look after their lifelong dreams had just been dashed.”

“But,” she said, “surrender was not in his nature. After having his first effort at building something fall down, he wanted to know why it fell down.  That’s why he became a structural engineer.  He wanted to understand weight distribution and what made some things last merely a few years, or in his case, a few minutes, while others lasted a lifetime.”

Alice smiled and said, “yes.  He has a sense of leaving a part of himself behind, I think.  Something that is beautiful, and lasts, but something isn’t necessarily beautiful because it lasts. The beauty is in the art of the way it’s built to last.  He wants to leave something behind that will be appreciated long after he’s gone.”

Alice crossed her heart with her arms as she said, “he’s such a wonderful man, and I am grateful every day that he came into my life.” Grace smiled and said, “he really is a wonderful man, and he’s a wonderful brother.”

Just ten months after Alice and Jacob were married, Grace became gravely ill.  The doctors were baffled as to the cause of her ailment, and their treatment ranged from warm cinnamon milk, to behind closed doors blood-letting, an almost abandoned and frowned upon practice, but desperation sometimes calls for unconventional methods.

Grace was languishing in a semi-conscious state.  Alice and Jacob were at her side, feeling helpless and hopeless. When it became obvious that she was never going to recover, Jacob whispered to Grace that it was okay for her to leave.  “Go be with God,” Jacob whispered.  After five days, she finally succumbed.

She was gone and they grieved, but she was no longer suffering, and they were grateful.  Her charming way of speaking and her captivating stories of days gone by were forever silenced, but she would not be forgotten.  Alice and Jacob would always remember their darling Grace.

In lieu of a funeral, Jacob and Alice decided to have a memorial service.  They would not mourn for her.  They would celebrate her life with song and dance and yes, stories of their own.

Two weeks after Grace died, Alice went to see her Papa.  She found him sitting in his chair, holding a picture of her mother.

Death had come knocking twice in as many weeks, and the loss of her Papa left Alice devastated.  Her only solace was believing that he and her mother were finally together once again.

He had talked to her about dying, and told her not to grieve for him when his time came. He told her that he had tried to be an honorable man, and being re-united with the love of his life would be his long-awaited reward.  He said, “I have been fortunate enough to have experienced great love.  I have loved someone with all of my heart, and I believe your mother loved me with all of hers.”

As with Grace, Jacob and Alice decided to celebrate Papa’s life, and laughed as they reminisced about the day she and Papa saw Jacob and Grace together, and how that happenstance had almost cost them their future together.

Jacob cupped Alice’s face in his hands and said, “don’t fret my dearest darling.  Just think of how rich we are from having known them, and having had them in our lives.”  Jacob had a way with words, as had Grace.  He also had a way of making Alice feel as if she was the most important person in the world.  Their bond, she thought, was going to be unbreakable.

Six months later, Jacob had news.  A hotel in San Francisco had suffered major damage from the 1906 earthquake.  It had been renovated to serve as City Hall, but now there were talks to convert it back to its original beauty and purpose.  A previous client had put forth Jacobs’ name to help evaluate the restructuring, and should he accept the offer, he would be leaving in three days.

Taking the job would mean that he would be gone for several weeks.  He hated the thought of leaving Alice, but he knew that she would be fine, as she was a strong-willed and independent little spitfire.

She would miss him, but she also knew that it would be a wonderful opportunity to further his already established, but not yet quite renowned career.  She expressed her dismay that not only was he was going to the other side of the country, he was going to the very spot where just a few years earlier, a catastrophic event had occurred.

He assured her that statistically, it would be another hundred years before such a calamity would happen again, and with a smile said, “besides, my dearest darling.  I will make sure that the new hotel will withstand mother nature’s mighty wrath, should she decide to shake things up again.”  

Alice said, “don’t tease me. You know I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you.” Jacob said, “nothing is going to happen to me, except finding it agonizingly painful to be separated from you.”

It was the day of departure and Alice was unusually melancholy.  Jacob tried to cheer her up as much as he could, but he understood.  He knew that his heart would feel empty and incomplete without her, but he promised to write every day.

As they embraced, Jacob said, “farewell is always so very bittersweet my dearest darling, but how glorious our reunion will be when I return.”

Jacob boarded the Transcontinental Express and blew kisses to Alice from the window.  The loud whistle sounded and the train slowly started moving down the tracks.  Alice said a prayer as she stood and waved until her beloved was completely out of sight.

A week later, a letter arrived.

My dearest darling,

I arrived without incident, although as you
can imagine, it was a long and tiring trip.
I am getting ready to settle in for the night,
but wanted to send my love, and tell you
that I am thinking of you, and already
missing you terribly.

Your loyal and faithful husband,
Jacob

Alice closed her eyes and whispered, “thank you.”  Her prayer for Jacob’s safe arrival had been answered.

To be continued__________________________

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