Good bye, Mrs. Duff

My friend Libba’s family has been anchored to this city for generations. Even when she married and moved to New York City, she still came home for the holidays and a long summer vacation.

This past year, Libba came home a little more often. She had to go
through her mother’s things after she died, and she wanted to make sure her dad was okay. She visited regularly.

After his funeral this past fall, she had the sad, lonesome task of cleaning out her parent’s house, and putting it on the market.

I went along with her two oldest friends to eat lunch the day she was
closing up the house. I was supposed to go back to work afterwards, and in fact was headed down the mountain, but something made me turn down Holly Lane. The house was empty of furniture and paintings and dishes. All that was left to do was break down a few boxes and do a final run-through. We opened every closet door, bathroom drawer and built-in cabinet, and for the
most part, they were empty. But there were still a few treasures tucked away. We found a tin candy box full of tiny, hand-painted porcelain flowers that her grandmother had used for elegant placecards. There were dozens of
these delicate little masterpieces, with her grandmother’s monogrammed
matchbox tucked in amongst them. There was a box of costume jewelry that Libba took home to her girls for dress up, and a couple of bibles that belonged to her when she was a child.

There was a plaque engraved with her father’s name, naming him as a lifetime member of the Chattanooga Bicycle Club. Libba took it to hang over her bike rack at home.

We found a picture of her mother as a girl and she is eating an ice cream cone. Libba teased that the acorn does not fall far from the tree.

We laughed and we remembered and we told stories about the time Mrs. Duff rushed the neighbor boy to the emergency room and the time she took us all to the beach and more and more stories that made us smile. And we packed all of these treasures carefully in Libba’s backpack.

There was a pile of stuff from her long week of sorting that Libba didn’t want to take, but couldn’t bear to throw away. I took a bed tray that used to be her grandmother’s, Ellen took some plastic laundry baskets and Tina took a soap dish. It is strange that these odd momentos are all that is physically left of her parents, to us anyway.

The memory of them is much richer – I can still taste the homecooked green beans that were always simmering on the stove. I can hear Mrs. Duff telling Libba she needed a sweater, even after she was a mother herself. And I can still sense the aura of kindness that radiated around her father.

We load up our cars with stuff for the Goodwill and recycling, and haul out a few loads of trash. Even though the cleaning service is scheduled for the next day, Ellen begins to sweep the floor. I don’t see the sense of this, but I hold the dustpan and as she leans down to sweep the tiny pile in, she
says, “Mrs. Duff would have appreciated this.”

And I suddenly realize that of course she would have. Like all of our mothers, she would have wanted her empty house spotless and gleaming for anyone’s eyes. So that people would have nodded approvingly at how she kept her house. And so we swept out corners and wiped down chair molding, knowing Mrs. Duff would have been pleased.

I stood by Libba in the garage as she locked up the house for the last time.

“Well, Good-Bye,” she says softly as she turned the key.

Suddenly pale, she turns to us and says she is glad we are here.

And I am not the only one to know that this time will come for us all one day, and that it is not a time to be alone.

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