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It was the middle of the afternoon.  My Aunt Essie, whom I called Sister, was working at the store and would not be home until 5 p.m.   Until then, Grandmom and Pop Pop were alone.  Mary usually checked on them everyday about this time.

 Shortly after her husband died, Mary moved back home to Hatteras, razed her old home place that was literally falling down, and built a new house with her husband's insurance money.   It faced Grandmom and Pop Pop's home directly across the road.  Mary was thrilled to be back at Hatteras, away from the fast life up north.  She felt such a sense of security being surrounded by family members whose familiar faces were so much a part of her childhood. Although both of her parents were deceased, there were two of her father's brothers and their wives living on either side of her and two other widowed aunts living behind her on a short dead-end path that ran beside her yard.  Checking in on Pop Pop and Grandmom, her mother's only living sister, gave Mary not only a sense of purpose, but also an opportunity to visit with them, something to which she looked forward.  This was the second time today that she had crossed the road to make sure her Aunt Mag and Uncle Clifford were all right. 

It was a very warm, early April day suggesting that spring had finally arrived.  The air was still.  She noticed that the two doors on the front of the house were opened, and the windows were raised for the first time since last fall.  As she raised her hand to knock on the screen door that led from the piazza into the sitting room, she heard the most harmonious sound.  It was as if angels were singing inside.

Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul...

 She stood for a moment, thinking that it must be the radio or television that she heard, but they were in the sitting room and the music was coming from another room.  Quietly she opening the screen door and stepped inside. 

In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

Focusing in the direction of the music through a doorway that led into the hall and then into the only bedroom downstairs, Mary saw Grandmom lying in bed and Pop Pop sitting in a chair beside her. The head of the borrowed hospital bed was inclined so Grandmom was sitting almost upright. Her long, thin white hair was not in its usual platted bun held by bobbie pins on the back of her head, but cascaded behind her and on her pillow.  Pop Pop was leaning towards her.  Her hazel eyes were staring tenderly at him as he held her frail right hand next to his face.

Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger ever near me
Heaven's sacred paths unfold.

Mary stood frozen.  She felt awkward knowing that she was intruding on the only kind of intimacy that was left for them.  Grandmom's condition followed a pattern much like that of her mother's before her.  It was first noticeable, when at 81 years of age, she suffered from a series of mini-strokes.  Since that time, the dementia had robbed her of knowing her family, of knowing where she was, of knowing how to walk, of her dignity, of knowing when she needed to use the bathroom.  For several months, no one had heard her say a word.  But there she was singing...

Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul...

...and gazing upon the light of her life, the man with whom she had spent almost 74 years ---singing, as one would imagine an angel in the heavenly choir, and gazing with the passion and the affection of a young bride at the altar saying her wedding vows.  Together these soul mates brought to the old hymn two distinct voices that reinforced each other and harmonized beautifully, just as they brought to their marriage two distinct personalities that did likewise. 

In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold.


Without making a sound so as not to disturb them, Mary turned and left her declining aunt and uncle alone to delight in each other's company.  Never had she witnessed such a moving expression of absolute love and devotion.  She was not able to contain her tears as their voices faded behind her.

At the end of the song, Grandmom's breathing became shallow and her stare was glazed, as it had been for so many weeks before. Her bowels moved into the diaper that Sister had put on her before she left for work.  She was in unfamiliar surroundings, staring into the tearful, sentimental feeble eyes of a stranger who was holding her hand.
Pop Pop was aware that he had just experienced a priceless moment ---a gift from heaven.  He closed his eyes and bowed his head to thank God for what had happened when his mind took him swirling back 70 years in time.

A light sow-westerly wind weren't nothing unusual for a midsummer day, and it bein' to the stern of the boat, made the trip across the bay from Down Below to Trent fairly fast.  It was a good day to be gettin'  married.  The preacher didn't know we was comin' but that didn't make no difference ‘cause we know'd he'd be there. The Banks was a whole lot different then. Folks weren't able to get around quite so much and you could usually find somebody without no trouble at all, less they was out fishin' or somethin'. 

Mag's mother and Mommie stood outside the Down Below church talkin' as we started to the shoreside to ol' man John Tolson's landin' where his skiff was tied up. There weren't no real preacher in the Down Below church, just local folks fillin' in until we got another one.   Poppie weren't feeling so good that day so he had stayed home from the meeting. Mag and me had both been so we didn't have to get dressed or nothing for to get married. Ol' man Cale, Mag's father, went with us from the church to the skiff.  Ol' man Cale helped Mag in the skiff, then he turned to me and shook my hand.  He never said nothing, but with that smile on his face I know'd he was proud for me to be marrin' Mag.  She was the oldest of his five girls, so I was the first boy in his family.  He always treated me good.

Ol' man John Tolson got in the skiff with us, untied her, and shoved her out in deep enough water so she weren't draggin' no more before we hoisted the sail.  Once we got goin', it only took about an hour to get to Trent.

I don't remember much what me and Mag talked about goin' over.  In July it will be 70 years since we took that trip.  I do remember Mag had on a right purdy dress made from some goods her father had brought back from Elizabeth City for her 21st birthday.  I also remember feeling right strange out in the boat with a tie on,  but I had to look good 'til we was married.

When we got to Trent, we docked the boat at the landing.  Mag got out and tied her up while I helped to finish lower the sail. The preacher's house was right across the marsh.  Ol' man John Tolson led the way.  The mud fiddlers which was running all over the path took off in the marsh as we went by.  It took all of two hours for the preacher to marry us and for his wife to feed us dinner before we headed back to Hatt’ras.  The wind had breezed up right smart by that time, and the trip back took quite a bit longer than the one a goin.'  Waves was washin' over the bow of the skiff and by the time we reached Ol' man John Tolson's landin,' the only dry things on the boat was Mag's shoes and my tie which we had wrapped up in some oil cloth and had stuffed up in the bow.

By the time we fetched up to Ol' man Cale's house, the sun had set and there was just enough light for me and Mag to see to feed his two hogs.  After supper while we talked about the trip to Trent with Ol' man Cale and Miss Mary, Mag's mother.   Kate and Sade, Mag's sisters, cleaned up the supper table.  Her other two sisters was already dead ---died when they was young.

Since I had to go fishin' the next day, me and Mag went on over to Mommie and Poppie's and turned in. I had took care of them for the past seven years ---since I was 12 years old.  Me and Mag lived in the upstairs attic room of their house.  The only thing 'tween us and the stars was the cedar shingles.   We kept on taking care of them until they died.  Then we moved over to Ol' man Cale's after Miss Mary died and lived with him until he died. Miss Mary died of the same thing that Mag's got now --- Kate died with it too.

It was while we was living Down Below at Ol' man Cale's that our girls was born ---Essie and Naomi.  My goodness, I love those girls ---one so dependent, the other so independent.  Wonder why it is that two younguns in the same family can be so different?

Boys, would I like to go out fishing just one more time, but I don't guess I ever will again.  My leg hurts me to stand on it for too long of a time and besides Mag's too sick for me to leave her.  She is too sick to even know that before long it will be our anniversary.  Sure is funny what a difference 70 years makes.  The only time I can even get out of the house to cut grass is when Essie's home from the store.  She says Naomi will be here from Washington sometime this afternoon.  It will be so good to see her.  She's going to stay down a while. Those girls of ours has been good to us. 

Since Naomi's a nurse, maybe she can help Mag get better.  I don't know, though, she ain't going to get no better.  She ain't going to be here much longer.  Mommie used to say that when a person got sick with whatever it was that took them to heaven that they was growing their angel wings.  Mag's been growing hers for 10 years now.

Two weeks later Grandmom tried out her angel wings for the first time.  Three years later, Pop Pop started using his. 

It was on a crisp, cool Tuesday morning in the fall of the year shortly after Pop Pop's death that Sister crossed the road, walking to Mary's house dressed for Sunday school and church.  That was our first clue that Sister had started growing her angel wings.  It took her 13 years to get them in working order. 

Almost 10 years later, Mary, dressed only in her pajamas, spent most of her day looking through the window into the courtyard of the Alzheimer's unit of the nursing home where she resided and worrying that her mother and father did not know where she was. 

One hundred and twenty miles from Mary's institutional residence, a young lady is standing in front of the activity room of another nursing facility reaching for a ball that has fallen from a rotating wire container into a linear trap below.   She picks it up,  glances at it, and shouts, "I, 16."  She pauses.  She shouts again, "I, 1,6."  She picks up another ball ---"O, 67 ... O, 6,7."  Another pause followed by, "B,6 ...B,6."  Naomi is in a wheelchair at a table with others some of whom are enjoying a game of Bingo.  She hears the words, but to her they are meaningless. 

She and Mary started growing their wings at about the same time in 1994.

On May 8, 1999, early on Saturday morning, Naomi, my precious mother, with her angel wings completely developed and ready for flight, joined my beloved Pop Pop, Grandmom, and Sister in heaven.  My brother and I miss her, but we are comforted in knowing that she is in a better place with people who love her as much as we.


        

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