Josey stood as still as a statue while she contemplated this moment and the events that led to the return to her childhood home. Life had been good until the cruel bite of reality took its toll. Now, all was gone except for this cold, damp shell of a rotting house. Memories assaulted her senses of both recent and bygone days.
Was it only short weeks ago that she happily greeted life each and every morning? Every day was a cause for a new celebration of life. Retirement gave the freedom and happiness she had longed for during all of her working years. Yes…she had it all until the hurricane of the century.
The hurricane was a late season, unpleasant surprise. Hurricane season was to end on November 30th, but on November 25th, a tropical storm was detected coming off the coast of Africa. The storm should have died in the Atlantic, but like the name implied, Victor stalked his way across the Atlantic, arriving on Florida shores on the 30th. Never in more than 50 years in Florida, did Josey experience a hurricane as late in the season, nor as intense as Hurricane Victor. By the time the hurricane stomped off the Gulf shores of Florida, Josey’s home was in shambles. Widowed five years earlier, she faced the storm alone. Now she was paralyzed with fear of what the future held. Her world of happy days was over. Josey loved the old oak tree in the middle of the backyard, but now it lay across the ruins of her beloved home. Little could be salvaged. Her survival was nothing less than a miracle and was the only thing she had for which to be thankful.
Even as despair threatened to overtake her, Josey knew she had nowhere else to go except back home to her ancestral home in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. She had wished many times in her life that she could go home, but family, job and deep roots in Florida had kept her from such a move. Now, as her life in Florida lay in ruins, it was her only option. Now, upon arrival, she stood staring in disbelief that her once lovely home was in such a sad state of disrepair. Well, she said to herself, at least it has a roof.Tomorrow, she promised herself, she would find a handyman to tackle the broken windows and leaning pillars on the porch. A little paint will also go a long way towards perking the old place up. But, just now, the house simply looked sad and lonely…much like Josey.
With a heavy heart and leaden steps, Josey mounted the stairs to the front porch. The front door resisted entry. Rusty hinges squealed in protest as she pushed the door open enough to slip into the dank, musty interior of the house. No one had been in the house since the death of her Mother. Everything was as it was when Josey and her siblings closed and locked the door so very long ago. The odor spoke of years of residency by field mice. Wrinkling her nose, Josey decided that she would just have to bear the odor overnight, and then tackle the cleaning in the morning light.
It was then that Josey heard the steps on the wood floor echoing through the house. She smiled at the familiar sound of ancestral footsteps. She didn’t realize until that very minute how much she had missed the familiar comfort of the old ghosts. As a child, her Mother had told her that there wasn’t anybody here that was not family and that the ghosts just wanted to watch over them. Other than the sound of footsteps and doors that opened and closed, the ghosts were always polite and never caused mischief. Certainly there was nothing to be afraid of when all knew the ghosts were friendly and their own ancestors.
Josey shivered in the cold that seemed to penetrate her bones. Yes…tomorrow was soon enough to tackle this smelly old house. She took to the stairs and quickly found old bed linens and quilts. She chose the room with the closet under the attic stairs because it had always been her favorite room. The big iron bed beckoned to her weary old body. As quickly as possible, she made the bed, donned warm pj’s and crawled in between the cold, smelly sheets. Shivering again, Josey curled into a ball on her side and waited for sleep to come. It was so cold…
In the early light, Josey woke to warmth and sunlight. The windows that looked so dirty the night before were sparkling clean. She looked around her bedroom and was delighted to see that she was also mistaken about cleanliness of the room. It was then that she heard children singing an old childhood favorite… ”Ring around the rosey, pocket full of Josey…” She smiled as she recalled that her older brother and sister always sang it that way to tease her. Both were long gone, having died of nothing more than old age. Smiling still at the memory, Josey left the comfort of her bed to get reacquainted with the old house. As she passed the old chiffarobe, Josey was startled to see herself in the mirror and that she was a child again. At that moment, she decided that she was enjoying a dream. Delighted with her wonderful dream, Josey plunged completely into her fantasy. Upon opening her bedroom door, she was happily greeted by her brother and sister. Smells from the kitchen were yummy, so she followed her nose to find her Mother at the stove preparing bacon and eggs. Her Dad sat at the kitchen table with his usual coffee and newspaper. Oh how good it was to see her family again! All was exactly as Josey remembered. Happily, she discovered that her grandparents and other family members were gathered in the parlor and occupied in other activities. Her Grandmother was knitting and her Grandfather was reading. The smell of Grandpa’s pipe tobacco tickled her nose. Other old people that Josey did not know were also seated in the parlor. Their attire was strange, but there was a familiarity about their faces. Josey was delighted and hoped that her dream would last forever.
It was a very long time before Josey’s mummified body was found all snuggled down in her old iron bedstead in the cold, damp shell of a rotting house.
Written by Darlene Cirinna