Years went by, Antonio grew to be quite the young man. Ruth and Frances depended on him more. They were getting up in age and along with that came ailments. Antonio was 17 years old. He presented with physical strength as well as wisdom about the land. The lessons Frances taught him over the years had manifested in his ability to care for it. Frances still worked the land some, but he gave the bulk of the responsibility over to Antonio. Sometimes Antonio would tell him, “Just sit there Frances and rest.” Frances didn’t argue, he loved that Antonio was learning the land. He could also see a change in Antonio, he seemed to understand his worth and purpose.
Spring was casting its shadow on the land. The flower buds peeked, the new blades of grass poked through the soil. Sometimes Antonio would scoop up a handful of soil and concentrate on its contents that made it so powerful. The dark moist soil was full of mineral particles, it was the reason their garden flourished, their trees blossomed and their animals ate well. It was the foundation that held up everything they had. Antonio knew that was the lesson Frances wanted him to grasp for so long. It really wasn’t about the land, but about him. As he worked the land, he built inner muscles for the task the lay before him.
Not only did spring bring its usual beauty that year, it brought sadness this time to. All winter Ruth had been struggling with her health. Many nights the past winter Frances and Antonio took turns at night dabbing her head with a cool cloth and offering her sips of water. Ruth came down with a fever after visiting her sister a short while in November. Since she arrived back at home she had not been the same. Frances called the town doctor and he prescribed her herbal teas and rest. He felt she was just a little under the weather. When she didn’t get better soon, Frances begged him to give her something more. So, the doctor tried her on a course of antibiotics. Antonio and Frances watched Ruth slip away little by little each day. She begged them to let it be. She told them her heart had experienced all the happiness in this life time that she always wanted. Her body was too weak to come back.
Antonio prayed each night, “Please death crossover this house.”
One morning Antonio was sitting on the front porch looking across the land. He remembered the first day he came to live there. How Ruth and Frances loved him from the beginning, before they even knew him they would say. Now, he felt heavy, but this gratitude filled his heart. He owed Ruth so much, he didn’t want her to leave this earth before he had a chance to give to her what she gave to him. Frances came that morning and touched his shoulder, “She’s gone son.”
Antonio stood and embraced France’s tired weak body. They stayed in that position for a few minutes supporting each other’s shaking bodies as they wept. It was hard for the both of them to think of life without Ruth. She was the love of France’s life and one of the pillars of the foundation of what he built.
Clergyman Paul and France’s good friend arrived that morning and was broken when he heard the news. He had been coming to check in almost every morning when he heard Ruth was getting worse. He went in the house and said a prayer over Ruth’s body. France’s ask Antonio to go find a suitable spot on the land where they could bury Ruth. Antonio took a shovel from the barn and headed out to a piece of the land he knew would be right for Ruth. It was near the hill on the south side, overlooking the pond. Chowder stayed close. He was getting up there in age, but he remained loyal in every way. Antonio dug into the soil and threw the first dirt to the side. Each time he dug he thought of what his life represented at that very moment. By evening he lay exhausted on the ground by the empty grave.
The next morning Clergyman Paul was still there. His family came, a wife and two daughters. Antonio washed in the pond that morning and put on clean clothes. Frances had Ruth’s favorite horse pull her to the burial site. Right before the ceremony started Frances pulled a letter out of his front pocket and handed it to Antonio. “Ruth wanted you to have this after she was gone,” he said. Antonio stared at the neatly folded letter for a moment and then put it in his pocket.
They all gathered around the site. The men lifted the box and laid it in the ground. Paul quoted a scripture and they stood in silence each saying good-bye to a good friend, a lover and an angel.