Two weeks had passed since Frances had died. Paul stopped by almost every day to check in on Antonio. He knew Antonio was still grieving Frances’s not being there. He was grieving too. Things just weren’t going to be the same with him gone, Paul often thought. Antonio’s face appeared to have a shadow cast on it. His once neatly braided ponytail hung unraveled behind him. He only did what was necessary to care for the animals which meant feeding and watering only. He spent very little time hanging around to bath or pet them as he used to do. Antonio watered the fields in the morning and again in the evening. Most days he could be found sitting in the creaky rocking chair on the front porch, just staring out at the land before him. The letter Frances had given him was always tightly gripped in his hand as he rocked back and forth until the moon greeted him with its presence.
When Paul visited he always brought with him a prepared meal that consisted of homemade biscuits, hearty stew with chunks of thick meat, and there was always a hefty slice of cherry pie or a huge piece of two-layer chocolate cake.
“Here look at this,” Paul would say. “Elizabeth made all this herself. I tell you that girl cooks just like her momma. Eat son or you’ll wither away.”
Elizabeth was Paul’s middle daughter. She was the one that helped her mom in the kitchen. His other daughters had no interest in cooking. Antonio knew Paul meant well, so he would humor him by eating what he could.
One day while Antonio was sitting out on the porch in the late evening Paul rode up on his horse and joined him. He sat in the rocking chair Frances’s used to sit. That made Antonio somewhat uncomfortable. In the back of his mind he hoped Frances would come back and occupy the chair. For a while no one said a word, they just stared out at the land. Finally, the words came.
“You know you can’t sit here much longer like this. The corn is ready and the cabbage look ready too.”
Antonio stopped rocking for a moment to look at Paul, then went back to rocking. The harvest would be coming soon. Antonio knew the routine, rising early, picking produce, bailing hay, and packing produce for the market. The barn would have to be cleaned out before the cooler months came. So many thoughts rushed through Antonio’s head he thought it would burst. He didn’t know how Frances managed to do so much before he came to live there.
Paul stood to leave. He watched how Antonio held the letter in one hand.
“Read the letter son. Frances is not coming back.”
Antonio never looked up, but he heard Paul’s horse make his way out to the rode.
When the night had settled in Antonio fetched a lamp from the barn and went out to the pond. He sat with his back against the Weepy Willow. Somehow he believed that if he never read the letter that Frances gave him, he would soon wake up from this terrible dream. But, night after night his prayers were not answered. Paul was right he thought, Frances was not coming back. He was not dreaming.
Antonio wanted to read the letter somewhere he felt comfort. He was able to see Frances’s and Ruth’s grave site from where he was sitting. Antonio opened the letter slowly.
Antonio, my son and legacy,
I told you that I had three gifts for you. From the day you arrived I started preparing you for this moment. I was fully convinced that you could handle all that I would give you and needed you to do. Your experience of pain and hurt has taught you many things. I have seen you wrestle with death. I have also seen you defeat it. The love you allowed Ruth and me to share with you has given us all the happiness we could ever hope for. You are our legacy. We need you to live and share our wealth and all that we stand for to the next generation. The three things I feel it will take to carry out our legacy, I give to you. Accept and embrace them Antonio. They will provide all that you need to sustain you. Learn about them and continually seek them out. You will find that you will grow strong from them and with each generation the legacy will become stronger and stronger. I love you, son. Here is my gift to you…a discerning heart, foresight and purpose.
Antonio’s hands trembled as he stared at the words on the paper. In his heart he accepted Frances’s call to carry on the legacy. Before he had any hope of pulling through the tragedy of losing his family, Frances believed in him. He owed it to Frances, Ruth, his sister and his people.