Several months ago I entered a short story in an on-line contest and was one of the finalists in the competition. I didn't win, and didn't think much more about it until I received an email from an on-line magazine publisher asking if they could publish it in their September 2010 issue. They did publish the story - here is the link to their website and on-line magazine: Dream Chaser Magazine
And here is the story:
by Rosemary Rains Crawford
“John, we’ve done a bad thing here,” Sally May said for about the hundredth time that day.
John pretended he didn’t hear her and continued to watch “This Old House” although he had to admit he was having a hard time concentrating.
As the phone rang, almost on schedule, he knew it had to be Mary. Their only daughter resembled Sally May more every day. When she got her teeth into something, she just wouldn’t let loose of it. Since she discovered last year that she and her brother, Mathew, had been left out of their will, she had been relentless in her phone calls. You could probably call it harassment if she wasn’t his daughter.
John knew that when Sally May hung up the phone he was in for another round with her over their will. Back in ’92, they had been in total agreement. If only she had kept her mouth shut, they wouldn’t be in this constant argument now. Mary had had her inheritance, and so had Matthew! John allowed his anger to build again toward Mary and Matthew in an effort to bolster his position. John had lived alone on the farm for six long years while Sally May cared for Mary’s children in Mississippi to save them from going into foster care. It wasn’t his fault Mary went to prison!
Marrying into wealth sure hadn’t made Mary’s life better! She had all the money anyone could ever need when her husband tipped the tractor over killing himself. Mary had no idea how to manage. Too much money, too little to do, bad companions – a wealth of bad decisions led her into the drug business. Too much stupidity too – getting caught when she had two small children – what was she thinking? Growing up on the farm in rural Georgia didn’t prepare anyone for the temptations of the city. At least they were able to get Mary’s estate into the hands of her children before Mary was convicted and went to jail. It wasn’t John and Sally May’s fault the children were stingy about doling out expenses to Mary now that they were grown.
And Matthew! How could John ever forgive him for his sins? That was what you got when you helped family! Moving Matthew’s son, Paul, into the old farmhouse was a bad idea any way you looked at it! John remembered plainly telling Paul not to spend any money on improvements as it was a temporary thing! Matthew and Paul using John’s tractor to rip the porch they built off the house when he moved was just wrong. And to compound that wrong, stealing and selling John’s tractor was just inexcusable!
When John and Sally May decided to leave the 120 acre farm with its two houses to the two “good” boys, the attorney showed them how to avoid inheritance tax. Way back in ’92, they deeded half of the farm to Jerry and the other half to Harold, prudently keeping themselves on title. When they called a meeting with Jerry and Harold then, they explained what they were doing, but made it clear that if John and Sally May ever needed to sell the farm to fund a nursing home or medical expenses, they could do that.
Now John was 90 and Sally May was 86 and they still lived on the farm that had been in the family for four generations. Harold had lived his entire life on the farm and never worked away from it. He lived with his third wife and three children in the old farmhouse and moved cows around and helped build fence and do farm chores. John split income from the farm with Harold and his family and they all managed to scrape by. Sally May canned all the fruit from the orchard and John picked and sold the pecans from the many pecan trees in their yard. They didn’t have much need for money – taxes were low on the farm and they didn’t even leave the farm much.
Jerry, the youngest son, had left home at 19 and became a mechanic. He made a good living and even owned his own repair shop. Unfortunately, he had married a woman who already had a child and they didn’t ever plan to have any more. John and Sally May worried that Jerry would sell his part of the family farm or, worse yet, die and leave it to his wife and her child. Either way, the farm would no longer be a family legacy. Things had changed a lot since 1992.
When John finally could not bear any more cajoling from his wife and daughter, he asked Jerry and Harold to sign the papers to cede part of their half of the farm to the other two siblings. Jerry just wanted his parents to be happy and was willing to sign the papers at first. However, he began receiving calls from both Harold and Mary. Mary demanded that he do the “right thing” and sign the papers. Harold demanded that he not sign the papers under any circumstances. He pointed out that anything Mary got would immediately be attached by the State of Mississippi to pay the fine from her drug trafficking conviction. Jerry began having second thoughts about signing the papers also so he met with an attorney to determine his rights. The attorney told him that he had no legal obligation to sign anything, and that if he did nothing, when his parents died he would be the legal owner of the 60 acres they had already deeded to him.
In the midst of this family turmoil, John suddenly took ill and died. Sally May was bereft without John, but the resistance he had given her to changing the will was gone, and she renewed her efforts to include all of her children in her will. While Jerry tried to ignore the constant harassment, Harold continued to resist until Sally May suddenly had a stroke and was hospitalized. She had lost a lot of her mobility but her mind was clear that the will had to be changed. Both Harold and Jerry finally agreed to sign and the meeting was set up with the attorney for Tuesday when Sally May came home from the hospital.
On Monday evening, all four children came at visiting hour to see their mother. She thanked them all for making her last wish possible and everyone agreed to patch up their differences and enjoy the family farm together for the rest of their days. Sally May went to sleep in peace for the first time in two years, knowing that she had done the right thing for all of her children. During the night, she passed away.
“Mama passed,” Jerry told his wife when he heard the news on Tuesday morning. “Call that attorney and cancel that meeting.”