He nodded, mumbling through his mask. He lifted it up.
"Yeah, I remember. The insurance wouldn't pay for it because they didn't install the sprinkler system they were supposed to. The county sued, saying being a historic building they couldn't touch it, federal law. They ended up settling for half."
"Well. remember, that was BCE."
Before Computer Era. Everything was still on paper and microfilm. It all burned up. It was a hell of a mess."
"Luckily, most people still had their birth certificates, marriage licenses, deeds, and wills. The county rerecorded as many as possible, and used hospital records, lawyer records, even family bibles to try and complete the database."
"Eric figured out early on none of his kids wanted to be farmers. His oldest son became an accountant, which angered Edwina, especially when he had Sarah help him during tax season. The other became an engineer, specializing in bridges and roads. His work took him all over the world, and he took his family with him as often as he could."
"Of his three with Sarah, one opted for the military instead of college, but when his hitch was up, he used the GI bill to finance part of his education, with his parents furnishing the rest. He became a city manager for a small town not far away. The middle child, another boy, became a middle manager in a textile firm. This was before everything went to China. The daughter went to college, became a paralegal for a law firm in the same town her brother managed, and ended up marrying a lawyer."
"Before he went into the nursing home he sold off a hundred acres, including the old house, to a developer. They already had the lots and streets laid out and marked off."
"His children and Both Edwina and Sarah made sure someone visited him often. He was failing, everyone knew it wouldn't be long."
"Seeing Sarah holding Eric and crying brought back many of Edwina's bitter memories."
"Then something happened that threw the whole family into turmoil."
"Eric wasn't a strictly religious man, but he went to church often, usually to please Sarah. Facing his own mortality, he started paying a little more attention to the sermons. The preacher would visit often, talking about the value of community and the good Samaritan. They were pretty good friends by then, so Eric told him if he had something to say, spit it out."
"He figured he wanted money, but instead he asked if he would set aside an acre for a community garden, to help the less fortunate of the congregation and the county raise their own food."
"He gave him five, and supervised the garden, giving advice and teaching. He said he would always be grateful for the opportunity to be useful again. He and the preacher got interviewed by the local paper, and it got picked up nationally, starting a movement."
"Eric wanted to amend his will, and donate the five acres to the church."
"The drawback to that plan was nobody could find the will. Sarah thought it was lost in the move from the old house to the new. His lawyer was long dead, and his records were gone. His new lawyer, his son in law, pushed him to rerecord the will, but he insisted it was lying around the house somewhere, they just needed to find it."
"Things got a little sticky. Eric was fading fast, and was no longer considered to be of sound mind."
"A new one couldn't be written. He was going to pass without a will."
"Bill, the son in law, talked to everyone of his kids. As well as Sarah could remember, she got the house and ten acres around it, the savings account, and most of the money from the sale of the hundred acres. There was also a two hundred thousand dollar life insurance policy she was the beneficiary to."
"Edwina got a lump sum, in memory of happier days."
"The rest of the land, and the farm machinery, was to be put up for auction, all five kids splitting equally the proceeds. If any of the children wanted a acre or two, they were to come to terms with the others."
"It got Edwina to thinking, and being a pack rat, she kept everything, including a copy of the will Eric made before he remarried. She told the lawyers she worked for about it."
"The newest associate was just a cut above being a shyster. He only got the job because he was a godson of one of the oldest partners. He asked to see it. Dollar signs got into his eyes."
"You know, if that's the only copy of the original will, then it most likely is still binding. You wouldn't be able to touch the insurance policy or her accounts, but everything else is up for grabs. Theoretically you could walk away with most all of the assets. You need to have it rerecorded at the courthouse. At the very least you could use it to leverage a bigger share for your kids. I could handle it for you, for the normal charge, of course. You don't have to pay me if you don't come out ahead."
"So, she took the will to the courthouse and had it done. Then she presented it to Bill, saying she was willing to negotiate, but she wanted the house Sarah lived in and most of the property for her sons."
"Everyone was stunned. Sarah and everyone of the kids held a council."
"I don't know what your mother expects, exactly. Normally, if you die intestate, the surviving spouse gets it all. That being said, this will appears to valid at the time it was registered. This could end up in court for years."
"He turned to the oldest two."
"Ask your mother what she is trying to prove. If this goes to court and gets ugly, your inheritance could be delayed by years. There might not be anything left when it's over. See if you can talk some sense into her."
I paused for my own drink of water. He shifted his mask aside.
"I don't remember her getting everything. What happened?""
"This is the part where Mom and I come in. Now shut up and listen."
I looked at the time. Three forty. His son's plane should be on the ground. Another thirty minutes for exiting the plane and gathering luggage, forty minutes to get here. I had to keep him going for another ninety minutes. It was going to be close. His coughing jags were getting longer, and there was a lot of blood on his tissue.
"The battle lines were drawn. Edwina secretly knew she couldn't win, and sometimes hated doing it. But every time she sat by his side and listened to him call out for Sarah, her heart became more hardened. Eric wasn't long for this world. In the few times he was lucid, he got one of the children to tell him what was going on. He wanted her lawyer, his lawyer, and the kids to gather so he could make his wishes known. Unfortunately, that night he slipped into a coma. It wouldn't be long now."
I stopped the narrative, to check on him. His breathing was shallower, his pulse lighter. But he grabbed my sleeve. I leaned down as he moved his mask.
"Almost gone!" He gasped. "Finish it!"
It was four twenty five. Come on, honey, hurry.
"All right. Like I said, this is where Mom and I came in. You remember that coat we got momma that year?"
He nodded. Normally we weren't able to afford something like that, but dude had allowed a trapper to work the creek on the back of his property. He got several muskrats, and eight mink. He also got raccoon. On a trap farther back from the creek, he got three foxes, two red, one gray. The gray one must have been pretty old, the fur was almost silver. He gave that one to him, in gratitude.
I knew a leather worker, and we bought mom a long, bright white London Fog type coat, that went almost to her ankle. The leather worker carefully cut and sewed the fur. He trimmed the neck, the cuffs, and even had enough to go around the bottom.
Mom actually cried, saying it looked like something out of a Christmas story. She said later it was the most beautiful thing she had ever owned.
I looked at him. His chest was barely moving, but his eyes were sharp and focused.
"I know you remember how much I liked history. I've been a member of the County Historical Association for many years. When Mr. Queen sold the hundred acres, he put a flyer in saying the association could remove any historical buildings it wanted. You know back them we were trying to put together a working homestead on a few acres a member had deeded to us. There was a log corn crib on site, and we didn't have one for the homestead."
"I was still working as an ER nurse, and since weekends were the busiest time for us I got a weekdays off a lot. The president called me the day before I got off that Monday, and asked me to see if it was in shape to move."
"It was cold that day, but I had promised. I went out and checked it over. At first glance it looked pretty good, but on closer inspection it was dry rotted badly. If we tried to move it, it would crumble to dust. I was disappointed, and was about to leave, when I noticed an old wooden pitchfork stuck in the rafters. I nearly pulled the whole thing down on me getting it out. It would look good in our tool collection."
"As I walked back to my truck, a white car with the company logo of the development company that had bought the property pulled in. They had had a lot of trouble with vagrants and squatters in the old house, so when he saw me he wanted to investigate."
Once I told him who I was and what I was doing, he became friendly. He was disappointed that the crib couldn't be moved, but he was happy I found the pitchfork.
"We're pushing the old house down next week. If you want, you can go into it and if you find anything of historical significance, take it. Be careful though, it's pretty shaky in spots." He told me just before he left.
"Naturally I went in to look. It was in pretty bad shape, and had been vandalized pretty heavily. It was better upstairs, but not by much."
"I was about to go downstairs when I noticed the wall behind a ratty old sofa. The walls were pine board, and normally joined in a staggered pattern, to be pleasing to the eye and give the wall added reinforcement. This wall had all the boards cut evenly, then about three feet farther down the wall there was another straight joint. I had seen this once before, in a house that was part of the Underground Railroad. The joints were actually a hidden door, concealing a room escaped slaves could rest and sleep in before continuing their journey."
"I pushed the old high backed sofa aside, and there was a door there. It wasn't exactly hidden, the handle was broken off, but no one had noticed it. I managed to get it open."
"It was about six by twelve, and seemed to be a storeroom, filled with junk. It was getting dark by then, and I was a little afraid of what I was going to find, so I grabbed three wooden boxes that seemed to be filled with books and carried them out to the car."
"I set them out of the car in the garage, told Carrie where I had been, and called Jack, the president of the association, and told him what I had found. He promised to go the next day with several members and look it over."
"Carrie helped me. Two of the boxes were so old and damaged the contents were useless. The third was in good shape, and filled with old books. Nothing valuable except a couple of Zane Grey first editions from 1909 and 1911, still with the book jackets. They're in the bookshelf at the homestead now. But, at the very bottom, was the Queen family Bible, dating all the way back to the eighteen eighties. I would have loved to add it to the homestead collection, but it was just too personal, too important as a family heirloom."
"Remember when we would have our family gatherings on Christmas night because Mom always worked Christmas morning to let a young nurse off? She always worked the night shift on Christmas Eve too. I had given her the bible the week before to give to Mr. Queen."
"You know how hectic it always is right before Christmas, so mom forgot to give it to him before he slipped into his coma. Remember how long she kept her hair? Nobody at work could tell because she always kept it up in a bun. She had attended a little gathering of staff that evening, and they coaxed her into letting down her hair."
"When she started to leave that night she saw the Bible and remembered. It was almost midnight on Christmas Eve, The home was down to a skeleton staff, so no one was out and about. She didn't bother to remove her coat because she was only going to be a minute."
"Mr. Queen had come out of his coma, and was sitting up, disoriented. Mom helped him lie back down, and gave him the Bible."
"I was sent to give this to you Mr. Queen", she said, "I hope it gives you comfort."
"He clutched her hand as if he were afraid to let go."
" Lie down, Mr. Queen, I'll be seeing you soon" she told him, "you rest now."
"The next day, Christmas, found him lucid. He asked for all his family, especially his son in law. Amazed that he was awake, they were all there, even Edwina. His lawyer son in law was holding a copy of his will, the correct one."
"Everyone clamored to know where it came from. He held up the Bible."
"It was in this", he said. "An Angel of God appeared before me, and gave it to me. I'm not going to be with you much longer, she said she would see me soon. She gave me a chance to say goodbye, and this."
"He opened up his hand. It was a silver angel. Mom had it on that charm bracelet she always wore, and it must have come off when he held on to her."
"Everybody cried. Edwina and Sarah had a long talk, and it all came out. Edwina had hated Sarah for taking Eric away from her, she loved him more now than she did when she was younger. Sarah got her to understand she didn't take him away, they had both moved on. Peace was achieved, they actually became friends."
"Mom heard the story and never said a word. But after that, every so often, if she felt they were a good enough person, she would slip into somebody's room and give them comfort, slipping a little silver angel into their hand."
"So there, now you know. Our mother was the Silver Angel."
He said "Momma?" and seemed to be looking behind him.
"Yes dude, it was momma."
It was five fifteen. His son and daughter burst into the room, trailed by my wife. I hugged her and watched as they got to say goodbye. I saw him grip his son firmly, speaking urgently into his ear. He held out his other hand to his daughter, looked past them to me, mouthed 'thank you', and passed.
The legend of the Silver Angel didn't pass into obscurity. Working in the ER got less and less attractive as the years went by. People got more violent, blood got more dangerous. My mother retired and I was offered her position at the nursing home so I took it.
Mom stayed independent right up until she was seventy, and then she surprised us all by moving in to the rest home. She had anticipated this and put ten percent of her salary up over the years to pay for it. For the two years she was there, she was treated like a queen, with a private room and privileges far beyond that of a patient. She even volunteered the first year. Towards the end, she told me the story.
That's why, when we divided keepsakes of my mother, I took the coat. I was almost exactly the same size as her, and it fit. I had always worn my hair long, and by now it was silver.
So, every once in a great while, if I think the person deserves it, I comb out my hair, put on the coat, and walk the halls in the middle of the night. Sometimes If they're asleep I don't even wake them, just place a small silver angel onto their palm.
Technology almost did me in. One of the patients was awake one night, saw me, and managed to snap a picture on her cell phone. It was from behind, and blurred. The coat went almost to my feet. I had on white sneakers, and it looked like I was floating. The legend grew.
I finally got caught. Not by a person, but a security camera. The owner now is the granddaughter of my mom's best friend. She called me into the office and showed me the tape. Then she surprised me by kissing my cheek.
"It had to be you that gave gram that silver angel. Did you know she insisted it be in her hand when she was laid to rest? I'm not gonna comment on what I saw, it harms no one and gives many comfort."
What I never told anyone was that after my brother passed, I stepped out to give his kids time to mourn. There were arrangements to be made, even if it was Christmas. I called the funeral home to pick up the body, the doctor on call to issue the death certificate.
After doing what was necessary, I stepped back into the room. Carrie was sitting outside, holding her niece. His son was still by his side.
"They'll be here shortly" I told him. He left to get a drink of water. Acting quickly, I reached down for my brothers hand. It was closed into a fist. I was going to slip a small silver angel into his hand as tribute.
There was already one there.
I asked my nephew later if anyone besides family was in the room and he said no.
Two weeks later for reasons I couldn't explain even to myself, I stopped by the Queen family graveyard. I spent about an hour telling him the story. Sarah was buried on his right, Edwina on his left. They had matching inscriptions, beloved wife and mother.
Then I stopped by to see my brother and make sure the new inscription was added. It was.
He lay beside his wife. On his side, a small inscription had been added.
"Mourn not for me, for I am borne home on the wings of an angel."
His son said it was his last request.
I scraped a little mud back and buried a small silver angel to match the one in his hand. I put my hand on the stone.
"See you soon, big dude. Tell momma I said hi."
I walked back to my car. It was getting colder, and I needed to go home to Carrie. She had a nice beef stew waiting for me.
The man was in a rest home, and I actually found his bible pretty much as described. My mom did work in the rest home, and she did give it to him. She said it gave him great joy. The rest is just pure fiction.
Happy Holidays. Hug your family for me. In the end, they're all you have. QHML1