Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.Henry David Thoreau
The green canvas canopy flapped in the brisk wind as family and friends gathered around the gravesite of Noah Landers Benjamin to show their respect and say their final goodbyes—at least, on this side of heaven.
Once the services were over, everyone walked the short distance from the cemetery to the church for dinner prepared by the Immanuel Lutheran women’s group. It didn’t matter that Noah adamantly refused to set foot in the church through the years because Lee Osborne made quite sure that he was honored as though he had been a long-time faithful member in good standing. “I wholeheartedly believe that he finally settled his account,” she was heard to say on more than one occasion. Lee and Noah had engaged in many a high-spirited discussion during their friendship, some rather heated, about taking care of eternal business while there was still an opportunity to do so. No one could convince Lee otherwise that he had finally softened his unyielding position over time. On the other hand, Jenna was of the mindset that her dad simply tired of Lee’s endless prattle regarding the matter and eventually gave the illusion that he agreed—for the sake of peace. Jenna couldn’t help but smile at what she believed to be the truth.
On their way back to the manor, Lee reached for Jenna’s hand and suggested, “Why don’t you let Benjamin and Allie spend the afternoon with me, and then that way you can have some time to visit with your brother while he’s here.”
“Oh, thank you, Aunt Lee,” Jenna replied gratefully. “He’s leaving first thing tomorrow morning, and there is a lot I’d like to talk with him about.”
“Maybe I’ll visit with Aaron for a little while this evening when I bring Benjamin and Allie back home.” Lee turned to address the children, “We’ll bake and decorate some cookies,” she said, sweetening the deal, “and eat a few while we’re at it.”
“Hooray!!” they responded in unison from the backseat of the limousine.
A gentle knock on the kitchen door window was followed by a familiar low-voiced call to his sister, “Jenna?”
She stood from her chair at the table and, with a tear-streaked face, met him halfway across the floor. “Oh, Aaron, both of our parents are gone,” she cried, feeling much like an orphaned child. After a moment, Jenna wiped her tears and straightened her shoulders. “It’s up to us to be for our children what they were for us.”
He hugged her tightly. “We’ll be alright, sis,” he comforted. “There will be tears because we’ve said goodbye today to someone we both love. But we’ll keep moving forward because our folks raised us to be strong.”
“That’s beautiful, Aaron,” she sniffled, reaching for a tissue. “Would you like some coffee, dear?”
“Oh, my Lord, you sound just like Mama!” he teased. “Yes, I would love some coffee, dear.” He looked at her for a moment longer, and his expression suddenly softened. “Actually, seeing you standing there with the coffee pot is a picture-perfect image of Mama.”
Jenna smiled at him. “How are Kathleen and my favorite little nephew?”
“Well, I know that Kathleen would have loved to be here, but Sam has been under the weather with a cold. I think he’s cutting a couple of teeth, too, so he’s been a bear,” he laughed.
“Aaron, I want to share something with you,” she said, pouring coffee into his cup. “I haven’t mentioned this to Aunt Lee or the children yet, so it’s between you and me at the moment.”
“I understand, so what’s going on?”
“Marcus and I have decided to return to Tilden and the manor,” she revealed, studying him intently.
“Well, I think that’s wonderful!” he responded, eyes widening at the news. “You’re happy about it, right?”
“It’s a dream come true, Aaron,” she said, relieved that he seemed as enthused as she. “Marcus has accepted a partnership offer at the Tilden Family Clinic with Doc Feldmann.” She paused for a moment. “I wanted you to be the first to know.”
Aaron gazed around the kitchen slowly as if capturing a panoramic view of memories. “Being here is like taking a step back in time. This is the home of our beginnings, Jenna, and it’s also a wonderful place to live and raise your children.” He took Jenna’s hand in his. “One of my greatest dreams for my son is that he experiences our family legacy, especially here at the manor. I had a lot of time to think while driving this morning, and I felt a sense of sadness that it might be a lost opportunity for Sam. But, now that you and Marcus are moving back, it’s possible once again.”
“It’s more than possible, Aaron,” she assured. “You, Kathleen, and Sam are all an essential part of what makes the manor home. But, most importantly, it’s what Mama and Dad would have wanted, to carry on the family legacy. Speaking of home, I want to know how the building project is coming along. How close are you to moving in?”
“So, you’re aware of the land and how it was acquired?” he questioned, sipping his coffee.
“Tell me again, from the beginning,” she pleaded. “I never get tired of hearing how it all came to be.”
“Well, when Mama died, Dad became so despondent that there were times I wondered if I might lose him too,” he began, folding his arms and leaning back in the chair. “One evening, we were sitting in the swing out on the front porch, and he told me that he had something he wanted to give me. He reached in his shirt pocket for an envelope and handed it to me, with no explanation as to what it was. I opened it, and inside was a deed of trust for 500 acres of property in Mason City, Iowa, that once belonged to his father. Dad said that the land was mine now and that I had best be deciding what I was going to build on it someday.”
“That sounds just like Dad,” Jenna sighed.
“I tell you, Jenna, I could hardly think about anything else, and I begged Dad for weeks to make the trip to Mason City to see the land. Finally, he got tired of my constant prodding, and we drove the old Ford pickup to Mason City,” he laughed, shaking his head at the fond recollection—and his persistence. “Needless to say, the land was beautiful, with a fairly decent house situated on the property, as well. I was ecstatic, of course. At sixteen years old, I was the proud owner of 500 acres of premium land and a house to boot!”
“I love this story, Aaron! It simply never gets old.”
“When we got back home, Dad and I worked for hours in the woodshop creating the blueprints and even building house models to scale. It was a distraction for both of us, a real healing of broken hearts,” he recalled, “and a time of bonding that I’ll always be grateful for.”
“You’re going to make me cry,” Jenna said, reaching for a napkin.
“As if you need a reason,” he joked. “So, to pour a little cold water on this tender moment, I asked Dad if I could quit school and move to Mason City when I turned seventeen. Of course, he said absolutely not, that I would graduate from high school, end of the story.”
“Oh, that really sounds like Dad,” she laughed.
“He was right, but at the time, I just couldn’t see it. Sorry to say, I gave him some grief for a while. But he never wavered, and I finally gave up. I didn’t see Mason City again until I was eighteen. Then, finally, dad gave his permission for me to leave Tilden, begrudgingly, and move to Iowa,” he smiled. “It’s where I met Kathleen, and we were married two years later.”
“What a great story, Aaron.”
“Well, I’m happy to say that the house is nearly complete, and, of course, all according to the plans that Dad and I drew up eight years ago. He told me a couple of weeks ago that he was planning a trip to Mason City to help me with the finishing touches,” he said, struggling for composure. “Dad’s last words to me were, ‘I suspect a house isn’t a home until it’s lived in, so let’s get it finished, son,'” Aaron remembered, his lip quivering. He lowered his head to the table and cried.
Jenna placed her hand on his arm. “So much of who he was, you are.”
“Thank you, sis,” he said, reaching into his back pocket for a handkerchief. “He left some pretty big shoes to fill.”
“By the way, I have a little more news for your ears only,” she said excitedly, pausing long enough to take a breath. “You’re going to be an uncle again!”
There was a scuffle of feet on the back porch, and the door into the kitchen opened with a high-volume announcement. “We’re back, everyone,” Allie shouted as if there was ever a question of her whereabouts. “We brought you some of the cookies that were left over.”
“Left over? Aaron asked, eyeing the plate of four heavily decorated cookies, two of them broken.
“Well, I guess we ate quite a few,” Benjamin explained with a sheepish grin. “The dog had some, too.”
“It looks like you ate more than a few.” Jenna smiled, taking notice of the green food coloring stains around their mouths.
“There’s no need to interrogate the children,” Lee admonished. “They had a good time, and that’s all that matters.”
“Benjamin, I think you need to talk to your mama and daddy about coming to Mason City for a visit in the summer,” Aaron invited, moving away from the topic of cookies and green lips.
“Oh, that would be really fun!” he said enthusiastically.
“Guess what, Uncle Aaron, I’m going to be seven in the summer, so maybe I can come, too!” Allie wasn’t about to be excluded from any adventure involving her Uncle Aaron and Aunt Kathleen.
“I think that’s an excellent idea, Miss Allie,” he agreed. “Why, especially since your mama is going to have her hands full wit— with gardening,” he smiled, almost giving away the agreed-upon secret.
“On that note, I think it’s time for you two to make your way upstairs and get ready for bed,” Jenna said, turning her attention to Benjamin and Allie. “I’ll be up shortly to tuck you in. Say your goodnights to Uncle Aaron and Auntie Lee.” Jenna poured another round of coffee and excused herself to tend to the children. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Well, it was a lovely service this morning and a very nice tribute to your daddy, Aaron,” Lee said. “I’m not entirely sure about all of Reverend Stoltenberg’s ramblings, but for the most part, I’d have to say he pretty much hit the nail on the head.”
“I think you’re absolutely right, Aunt Lee,” he agreed. “It was a lovely service, and Reverend Stoltenberg did an outstanding job of capturing Dad’s essence.”
Lee studied him intently. “Your daddy had a fancy way of twisting my words, too.”
“Did I miss anything while I was upstairs?” Jenna asked, pulling a chair from the table and sitting next to Lee.
“It’s a secret, Jenna,” Aaron grinned.
“Well, it’s no secret that I nearly keeled over right here on this kitchen floor when your mama told me that she was pregnant with you, Aaron Landers Benjamin! Lord have mercy, what a shock!” Lee’s expression changed almost immediately to sincere tenderness. “If you weren’t the cutest little fellow with that headful of brown curls,” she reminisced. “My goodness, your daddy was so proud.” She paused a moment to gain her composure but was not entirely successful. “I was afraid,” she confessed, “that since he now had a child of his own, Jenna might take a backseat to his affection.” She reached for a napkin to dab at her teary eyes. “It never happened,” she said softly, “because he was always the proud daddy of two beautiful children.”
“What a sweet memory, Aunt Lee,” Jenna said, patting her hand. “I remember trying to muster up the courage one night at the table to tell Dad that he probably should start calling me Jenna instead of Little Bit.”
Aaron burst into laughter, and Lee joined in.
“Good grief, I was starting high school,” she defended, casting a look of mock annoyance at her brother. “But, if my memory serves me, you were Little Fella for quite a few years.”
They all laughed, and the atmosphere around the kitchen table felt light and alive, with memories of happy times once again.
Lee finally stood from the table, retrieved her blue sweater from the back of the chair, and picked up her purse. “Well, I better head home before the sun comes up.”
“Wait, Aunt Lee, I’ll walk with you,” Aaron offered, reaching for his jacket.
“I’m just fine, dear. There’s no need for both of us to be out at this hour.”
He placed his arm around her shoulder. “I was raised to be a gentleman, and a gentleman never lets a lady walk home in the dark.”
“Pray tell, you’re twice the smooth-talker as your daddy.”
Jenna was more than exhausted from the emotion of the day, but, as always, she was faithful to journaling. Even if it was just a few notes that she might end up editing later, it was inconceivable that she forego the treasured tradition.
Thursday, October 17, 1985
It was such a bittersweet day, saying goodbye to my precious dad. I have yet to consider what life will be like without his cherished spirit. Reconnecting with my little brother Aaron was a Godsend. He has a quiet strength like Dad. There was even a joyful time of visiting and sharing heartfelt memories with Aunt Lee. Several times during the day, I felt Mama’s comforting presence—she would have been so proud of her family.
I must take some time to speak again with Reverend Stoltenberg. He delivered a beautiful message with words that could have only come from fully understanding Dad’s essence. Even though Dad never attended the church, I’m grateful that Reverend Stoltenberg took the time to visit and get to know him at a heart level.
After learning that we are moving to Tilden—not just visiting—Aaron’s response was more than I could have dreamed. We will proudly carry on the family legacy—together—and leave our children the very finest of ideals. I also think he was pretty excited about being an uncle again!
I miss Marcus today—his strength, support, and understanding. I try not to think about the weeks apart but instead dream of the day we’re together again.Read more: Season of Change