I finally finished a story I had started for a creative writing class I took online a year or two ago. Here it is – hope you like it!
Lucy McCullen lived by herself in a little house on the edge of town. Feeble in body but still just as warm and generous as ever, she worked at the local supermarket as a greeter. When my family moved to town after my dad’s job transfer fifteen years ago, hers was the first face I saw when I had to run to market one morning to get some eggs.
“Good morning, dear. Welcome to McDougall’s,” she said in a small but sweet voice, grasping my hand firmly in hers. I was, as usual, on a mission, and nearly dragged her along with me before realizing that she was there.
“I am so sorry! I didn’t see you there,” I exclaimed. Several people stopped what they were doing and looked over in our direction.
“That’s perfectly alright. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“Eggs. My parents are busy unpacking and we haven’t had breakfast yet this morning.”
“Oh! Is your father the new foreman at Woodrow Construction?” she asked.
“Word travels fast around here,” I exclaimed. Lucy and I started walking down the aisle towards the dairy section.
“You must not be used to living in a small town then.”
“No, we moved here from Boston,” I explained.
“I have lived here all my life,” Lucy said proudly.
I picked up a carton of eggs and we started making our way back towards the check-out lanes. As I began fishing through my pants pocket for cash, Lucy gently touched my shoulder and smiled again.
“If you ever need someone to talk to, I live only a few blocks south of here. Come by anytime. Tell your father good luck for me.” A mother and child entered the store, and Lucy walked over to greet them. I smiled, amused that a virtual stranger would be so interested in me.
I took Lucy up on her offer and went to visit her shortly after our initial encounter at McDougall’s. Over the years, her home became my sanctuary, a place where I always knew I was welcome and could talk to her about anything without judgment. I loved my parents dearly, but we fought a lot, mostly due to my teenage immaturity. During my college years, I looked forward to Lucy’s letters and phone calls, bringing me up to speed on what was going on in her life and the lives of everyone back in town. After graduation, I had the chance to work as a freelance columnist for the Boston Globe, but I realized I missed my adopted hometown – and Lucy – too much. I came back home and got a job at the local newspaper, eventually becoming senior editor.
A year ago, Lucy collapsed during one of her shifts at McDougall’s. Fiercely independent, she disobeyed doctor’s orders and checked herself out of the hospital before she could be coerced into moving into the local nursing home. At ninety-eight, you’d think she’d know when to slow down, but shortly after her accident I saw her hobbling down the sidewalk, greeting people warmly as she passed them by. As the months went by, her ventures out into town became less frequent as her health began to decline.
Three weeks ago, I was in the middle of a meeting with my editorial staff, when I received a phone call from my father, informing me that Lucy had passed away overnight. The funeral was held several days later, attended by what seemed like half the town. But I didn’t seem to notice any of them. My focus was on the casket, situated between two large floral wreaths, at the front of the church sanctuary. I had deliberately not written down what I was going to say, thinking that I would be able to find the words on my own to describe the life of a lady I had come to know as not just a grandmother-figure, but a close confidant and good friend. Reverend Dunn spoke for a few minutes, then motioned for me to come up to the pulpit. Hesitantly, I got up and walked to the front, clearing my throat.
“Lucy was a friend to so, so many of us gathered here today in this room. She was married but never had children. So I think she sort of adopted all of us into her family. Personally, she was my friend and confidant through some pretty rough times in my life. She loved life, she loved people…she loved.” My voice broke. Whatever I had to say was woefully inadequate. Even though I had sworn I would never do so, I had taken Lucy for granted. Now here I was, standing beside a casket, struggling to come to terms with the loss of my safety net. My dad stood up and walked over to me, wrapping an arm around me and smiling. I cried for what seemed like forever, but nobody seemed to mind.
Once I was able to compose myself again, I told my dad that I was okay, and he went and sat back down beside my mother. Reverend Dunn asked me if there was anything else I wanted to say before he closed the service with a prayer. I thought for a moment, snippets of Lucy’s advice or words of wisdom from throughout the years swirling through my mind.
“Don’t stop loving people. Even if it doesn’t seem like they want you around, or don’t want to talk to you or listen to anything you have to say. Don’t stop being there for them. Look beyond the external, see into the person’s heart. Know that, behind all of that hurt and anger is someone who truly desires love, respect, friendship. I think that Lucy taught many of us to love without barriers, to pass on that love and friendship and compassion to others, not to keep it to ourselves. That’s the one lesson that I will take from her life.”