Thanks to the Hip and Knee doctor of editing assistance.
The mist completely covered the whole valley in front of the cabin. According to Monica, it was the most beautiful sight in the world. It was easy to see why she had requested that her ashes be scatter there. It was just the three of us; my son Robert and daughter Logan stood by my side as the wind picked up bits of ash from my hand and carried them off.
The cabin was on 120 acres of land that was a little bit North of Hytop and close enough to the Walls of Jericho that we could walk to it on a good day. Upon my death, it would all belong to the Nature Conservatory to become part of one of the greatest natural areas in the Southeast. It was what Monica wanted and I could never refuse her anything.
The homestead still didn't have any power. Forty years ago, I installed a water gathering system using the tin roof and a series of cisterns, but I never did get around to having electricity brought in. We did fine with kerosene lamps and an antique kerosene refrigerator that I kept running for over ten years. Monica never complained. Even after we moved to our new place in Murfreesboro, I always knew that she missed the Hytop cabin.
Monica and I married when we were both in our teens. I had a good job installing aluminum siding for a home builder in Huntsville. It was a long drive, but the money was good. The cabin and the land was a wedding present from Monica's grandfather. I am not sure how long the property had been in her family, but all of the children got a piece when they married. We lucked out and got the only part that had a dwelling.
Robert and Logan were quick to come and were a great comfort for Monica while I was down the mountain at work. It was a wonderful place to raise kids even though they hated the long walk to catch the school bus. At one point, I was going to install a generator for the house, but Monica didn't like the idea of that noisy thing ruining her peace and quiet. I never brought it up again. Running a service line to the cabin was just too damn expensive and we opted to use the funds for other things.
We had a small garden and a few fruit trees. Game was plentiful and Robert and I both became quite proficient at bow hunting. It was a lot quieter than firearms and seemed to be a little fairer to the critters.
While all of this was going on, I managed to teach myself how to play guitar. Actually, I couldn't really play it, but I simply strummed a few cords. I found myself making up little songs that I would use to entertain the kids. As I got better, the tunes got longer and a little more complex. Before I knew it, I was an actual song writer.
I kept installing siding after my first song sold, but in less than a year, it just didn't seem to be a good choice any more. I was spending more time in Nashville than Huntsville. We rented a small house just East of Franklin for about three years, before buying the place in Murfreesboro. It was larger than Monica or I had ever imagined having, but I got it for a good price. The previous owner was one of the living legends from the Grand Ole Opry. His widow was happy to know that we were not planning on changing anything that she and her husband had so carefully built. Monica used to joke that we had become caretakers of an historical monument. It was a marvelous house.
About ten years after Logan and Robert left to start their own families, Monica was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it for a while, but eventually gave up and let it take her as gently as possible. As far as she was concerned the cure was becoming worse that the disease. I was now well established in the music industry, so money was not a problem. A full time hospice staff made sure that her last few months were as comfortable and stress free as possible. I was pretty sure that she felt worse about leaving me alone than she did about dying.
It was a week before she passed on that she told me that she wanted to go back to Hytop without her hospice staff. She insisted that it must just be the two of us. She knew that her time was close and wanted to spend the rest of it alone, with me. I reluctantly agreed with her wishes, but only after spending several hours with the medical people getting briefed and, more or less trained, in my obligations.
Five days after we arrived at the cabin, Monica went quietly while she was sleeping. A friend at the local funeral parlor was able to discretely take care of the cremation for me. There was no viewing and no death announcement as per Monica's final request. My children understood and supported their mother's decision.
After spreading the ashes, we spent the rest of the day at the cabin before Logan and Robert left to rejoin their families. Logan was married to a doctor in Savannah and Robert taught school with his wife, in Fort Collins. They both made the trip to Alabama without their families at my request. It was the way that I felt it should be.
It had been a perfect farewell for the woman that I loved more than anything.
The house in Murfreesboro was in good hands. Our live-in housekeeper, Rose, and her husband Hector assured me that I could take some time away with no concerns. I didn't want to return to the empty shell that Monica and I shared for the last few years. The good memories were clouded by the dismay that I felt after she got sick. All of our friends were somehow connected to my work. They were more acquaintances than anything else. Monica was my only true friend.
I headed south towards Pensacola and the gulf. There were plenty of condos available to rent on a weekly basis, especially if you were not interested in being on the beach. I spent some time at the Naval Air Museum, but that was about it. I wasn't a sand man, so I didn't enjoy the beach or the water. The first week that I was there, I drove over to Alabama three times to enjoy the gumbo at Wolf's Bay Lodge. I used up the evenings trying to find a place to get oysters on the half shell that I felt comfortable with. No luck. The more time that I spent trying to entertain myself, the more depressed I seemed to become. The plus side was that I felt I had a lot of fodder for my next few songs, which I didn't feel like doing right now.
The condo had a small kitchen and I was getting tired of eating out by myself all the time. I decided to hit the local Winn-Dixie to stock up on staples.
It was Wednesday. The sign at the door was advertising that it was 'senior citizens' day and all old farts would get 5% off their total bill. I smiled when I realized how fortunate I was to have picked today. Little did I know that it would actually prove to be quite lucky for me.
I was a little confused the first time that I saw her. She seemed like a proud woman that had been beaten down. As I walked around the store, I couldn't help but watch her and wonder about the relationship that she was having with her escort who was pushing the grocery cart. He was a large man who appeared to be several years older than she was. He wore a flannel shirt and jeans that were two sizes too small for him. A beer gut was trying to hide the John Deere belt buckle that was struggling to hold up his pants. His mouth seemed to be in a nasty snarl that went perfectly with his squinty eyes. She walked an obedient two steps behind him, although it seemed to be by choice rather than as a required position.
I had no trouble at all figuring out that this was not a loving relationship. Of course it was none of my business and if I hadn't found the woman to be so striking, I would have forgotten the whole thing. I was not looking for a relationship. I was still grieving Monica's death and had no intention of replacing her, but something was not right here.
Mister Nasty turned toward the woman and growled something at her which I couldn't fathom. I stopped while she swiftly moved passed me towards a refrigerated counter. As she returned with two cartons of eggs, she looked in my direction. I smiled and she gave me a small, cautious smile back and then quickly looked away. She carefully placed the eggs in the cart, returned to her subservient position, glanced my way, and smiled again when she realized that I was watching her. She seemed coyly embarrassed but flattered.
I was hooked. My shopping trip had suddenly become a lot more interesting. A plain woman, with no make-up and no apparent outstanding virtues, had grabbed my attention and brightened my day. I spent the next hour following them around the store. The more that I watched them, the more I hated the guy. Any woman that allowed a man to inflict that much fear and control over her must have a severe lack of confidence.
I had remembered a fellow when I was young who always wanted a Dalmatian dog. When he finally got one, he was determined to train it properly, but had no idea how to go about doing it. I saw him with his dog a few months later and the dog had now been completely ruined. Every time he raised his hand or his voice the dog would whimper and cower away from him. He had used a newspaper to beat the dog when it didn't do what he wanted or as quickly as he wanted it to do, and now he was stuck. The Dalmatian did end up living with an old widow lady who never scolded or raised her voice. My friend never got another dog.
Today's shopping trip never got any better for 'the Dalmatian' lady. The bastard leading her around was just as ornery when they drove away in his old F100 pick-up. She smiled at me three more times before they left.
.... There is more of this story ...