Thursday, 29 October 2015

Being of Sound Mind


Christine wondered if there was some kind of physic link between parent and child when she turned her ringing phone over and saw the word, ‘Mom.’ She'd just been thinking about her when the phone went off. It was creepy

"Hi, Mom, is everything alright?" 

"That's lovely, can't a mother ring her favourite daughter without something being wrong?" huffed Barbara, who sounded like she was in the next room not half way across the country.

"Of course you can but it's so early there - and since when have I been the favourite?" she asked, relaxing a bit. 

"I was awake so I thought I'd catch you before you left for work." 

Christine looked down at the jacket and handbag in the crook of her arm and wondered again about that physic connection. "Good timing, I was on the way out the door. Are you sure everything is alright? You sound a bit...sad, “she said, leaning against the inside of her own front door. Down the line she heard her Mom take a deep breath.

"I'm fine, well, alright. I guess I miss your Dad. This place is so empty without him." Christine heard a slight snuffle and imagined her Mom brushing away a half shed tear and shaking herself before melancholy got a hold of her. "Would you listen to me," she laughed but Christine heard the sorrow in her chuckle. 

"I’ll come to visit soon, Mom, I promise," she said, feeling guilty at the thought of her Mother being all alone but she checked her watch and knew she was going be late for work. She would be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic as it was. That was when she missed the wide open spaces of Montana the most. 

"I am glad you said that, because I’ve booked a plane ticket for you, on the 25th," said Barbara, her voice alive with devilment.

"Mom! I can't drop everything and go running off on a whim," she said, imagining the huge mound of paper sitting on her desk.

"Of course you can, Darling, you work far too hard anyway. Look, tell them I'm sick or dead or something."

"MOM!"

"You're so dry, just tell them you need a break," 

"I’ll see what I can do. I got to go. I'll call you tonight," she said yanking open the door and rattling her handbag to find her car keys.

"Okay, Darling. But I need you to come on the 25th, its important."

"What's going on Mom?" she asked, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickled. She was keeping something secret, Christine knew it.

"All in good time. Enjoy work, Honey."

"But Mom..." the phone went dead in Christine's hand. She looked at it and considered calling back but then she saw the time.

"Shit!" she said and ran toward the car, her keys jangling as she went, and her blood-pressure spiking. Perhaps a break would do her good.

***

Early on the morning of the 25th, Christine looked down on Montana as the plane made its final approach. The land was a patchwork of forest and neatly trimmed farmland, scattered at the feet of mighty mountain peaks. It real was big sky country.

Getting through the airport and baggage reclaim went smoothly. She was headed toward an Avis desk when she spotted her brother Jonathan.

"What are you doing here?" she said, embracing her little brother warmly.

"I was summoned, just like you. Mom sent me to pick you up. Everyone else has arrived already," he said, flashing her a dazzling smile that helped make him a TV star.

"Everyone?" she asked with a worried frown.

"Everyone, the whole family."

"Tina?"

"Yes, even Tina. Did Mom not tell you?" he asked, taking her suitcase as they walked toward the exit.

"No, not a word. What's going on, Jonathan? This is very weird," she said and those hairs on her neck were tingling again.

"She wont tell us anything until you get there. Some spiritual thing I bet. I think she’s been watching too much Oprah," said Jonathan. Christine clung to his arm and searched his face for changes. He was so hansom, possibly too hansom, but the laughter lines around his eyes softened his features. She picked out speckles of grey in the hair above his ears and thought it suited him. It so unfair how years on a man could make him more attractive. 

"And, how’s Tony?" she asked. 

"I'm afraid, I’d be the last to know," he said, the note of hurt in his voice was unmistakable.

"You guys broke up?" she gasped, holding a hand to her mouth so she wouldn't put her second foot in it.

"Well, if you call being caught with his pants around his ankles, breaking up, yea."

"That's terrible, I can't believe he would do such a thing."

"Well, he did."

"Then he never deserved you in the first place," she said planting a kiss on his cheek and hugging him tightly. 

"Thanks Sis, you say all the right things," he said, kissing the top of her head. "Enough about me, what's cooking with you? Has Mister Right appeared yet?" 

"Nothing steady," she said, but the look he gave her said he wasn't buying much of what she was selling. Jonathan always said she was married to her work and she would live to regret it.


During the ride out to the ranch, they caught up on five years of gossip. Christine hadn’t realised so much time had passed since they'd last seen each other. Where had the years gone? Soon, the buildings  vanished and spectacular views exploded in front of their windscreen. 

"I nearly forgot how breath-taking it is here," he said, gazing out the window.

"New York is fairly spectacular, in its own way," said Jonathan.

"I know, but not like this," she said and rested her chin on her palm. She remembered feeling such wonder when she first moved to the big apple; the lights, the height, the crowds. But, time had robbed her eyes of wonder. She thought of her Dad, and the way he would look at the mountains and the lakes. He was one of God's special creations, an eternal fountain of wonder, whose eyes saw the world anew every day the sun rose in the sky. She missed him so very much, it was like a hole in her soul.

After an hour the road became hauntingly familiar; the same fences, the sames signs, the same gates. Jonathan turned down a rutted track and the car rattled as it went. She felt butterflies in her tummy because they were nearly there. They crested a hump in the road, and there it was, the place that had welcomed her into the world over forty years ago. Over time the house had grown with them and now it was an impressive ten bedroom dwelling. Jonathan pulled around the back and parked near the stables. Before the engine had even stopped Barbara came rushing across the yard to greet them.

"Chrissie, your home!" she cried, yanking open the passenger door and hauling her out of the car for a hug.

"Mom," she said as she was engulfed by Barbara's blond hair and was surprised to feel emotion catch in her throat.

"It's so good to have you all together at last," said her Mother into her ear.

"It's good to be home, Mom." she said, untangling herself from the hairdo. 

"Come on, everyone is waiting," said Barbara taking her by the arm and leading her inside. In the dining room the table was groaning under a tonne of food. Every seat was full and the room hummed with happy clamour. Her sisters Susan and Tina sat side by side, their families spread higgidlypiggidly around the table. Danny, her youngest brother was messing with the older kids while John, her oldest brother, sat stonily in Dad's chair. It didn't suit him. Johnathan got her a seat and they joined the feast, letting the tidal wave of joy wash over her.

Lunch lasted well over an hour and soon the kids were hunted outside to play. When they were gone Barbara said, "I guess you want to know whats going on." The room went silent as she gathered herself and smiled. "There'll come a time when I won't be here." Around the table everyone started objecting to the notion but Barbara shushed them with a raised hand.

"Like it or not, it’s going to happen. I’d feel better knowing what's going to happen to this place, and all of you." They were stunned into silence, nobody knew what to say.

Barbara laughed and said, "If I’d known it was this easy to shut you up, I’d have started years ago. I know this isn’t easy for anyone, least of all me but it's important." 

Brothers, sisters, wives and husbands shared uncomfortable looks, none willing to speak first. Barbara had to stir the pot one more time, "Should we sell it or keep it?" That got the ball rolling good and proper. Everyone objected to the idea of selling off their family home. Barbara smiled at the deafening howl of unity.

"That's decided then, we're keeping the place," she said, clapping her hands in delight. "The big question is who is going to run it?" Silence fell once more and guilty faces searched their coffee cups. "What about you, Danny? Would you like to run it?" asked Barbara, looking at her youngest and wildest child. He was the only one not settled down. He was a bit of a hobo, always moving on, normally seconds before an angry husband caught up with him.

"I guess, I could, when the time comes that is," said Danny, not exactly jumping up and down at the prospect of being saddled with a ranch, even one worth a small fortune. 

"And what do the rest of you think about Danny taking over?" asked Barbara. It was Tina who jumped into the breach.

"What do we think of Danny running the ranch, or what do we think of the ranch being left to Danny entirely." she asked. There was a general intake of breath around the table. "What?" she asked wide eyed. "You know you were all thinking it," she said, accusingly. 

"Tina's right. It has to be discussed," said Barbara.

Tina continued, emboldened by Barbara's support. "I’ve no objection to Danny running this place, and getting a wage, but I don't see why it should be left entirely to him." Christina knew her sisters tenacity well and she was never afraid to attack a problem head-on, no matter who's feelings she might hurt in the process.

"Hold up there, Tina. You can't expect me to drop my whole life just like that!" said Danny, seeming to forget this was all imaginary.

"Not for nothing, you’d get your share, and a reasonable wage," said Tina, seeing only logic in her words.

"Hang on," said Christine not liking the way her sister was railroading her brother. "It's hardly fair to ask Danny to spend his life working on something that can never be his. Dad would never have asked him to do that. If Danny makes the ranch work, it should be his ranch."

"Exactly," said Danny, feeling vindicated.

"So everyone else gives up their birthright just because Danny needs something to hold him in one place? And what if he doesn't make a go of it?" said Tina, turning on Christine. The sisters glared across the table at one another but it was Danny that spoke.

"I never said I wanted the ranch in the first place, don't make this about me," he sulked.

John decided it was time for him to have a say. "Danny's right, would anybody else like to run the ranch?" But it was Danny who spoke again.

"I never said I wasn't interest, honest Mom." He looked at Barbara as if he had let her down.

"What about you Susan?" asked John ignoring Danny's efforts to keep everyone happy.

Susan looked at Dave before saying, "It would be a great place to bring up the boys. But what about their school, or their friends, or Dave's job. No, it would be too much, well not right now, but this is all what if, right?"

"So if I am seeing this right - you all want a share of the ranch but not the responsibility of working it? You cant have it both ways guys,” said John, acting as mediator.  “I happen to agree with Tina - and Christine. Whoever takes this place on deserves to have their name over the door. But like Tina said, we all have a right to it," said John.

"Oh, come on, John," said Jonathan. "This is nonsense. Mom, I really don't like talking about this."

"This is hard for me too, Jonathan, but I think Mom is right. Do you think it would be right to leave it all up to her to sort out?" John couldn't bring himself to say, 'When Mom's dead.' 

Christine didn't like this conversation, not one bit and felt tears start to gather.

"And what about the kids?" asked Susan.

"What kids?" asked Jonathan.

"The grand kids. Should they not be considered? After all, it’s their inheritance to," said Susan, making big cow eyes across the table. Christine saw Dave lay a reassuring hand on his wife's arm, telling her she'd said the right thing. Now that got Christine's blood boiling.

"Are you saying, you should get a bigger slice because you have kids and I don't?" she demanded, not believing how sly her sweet little sister was being.

"It’s not like that, but I don't think they should be forgotten. Tina's or John’s either," said Susan, looking wounded at being thought of as greedy. Christine didn't miss the look that passed between Tina and Susan, it seemed alliances were being forged. Christine looked at Barbara and saw hurt in her eyes.

"I'm with Jonathan,” said Christine. “I don't think we should be talking like this. It’s upsetting Mom, even if she isn't saying so," she said pushing back from the table and standing. She gathered the dirty dishes from the table and stomped away toward the kitchen. A moment later Barbara appeared at her shoulder.

"That was harder than I’d imagined," her Mom said, taking the dishes from Christine's shaking hands.

"There’s no need to ask anyone what to do, Mom. Just do what you want with the place, we’ll all be happy with whatever you decide," she said, taking Barbara in her arms.

***
The next few days passed in forced normality. It was as if the discussion had planted a toxic seed in each of their minds. One evening, Christine found Jonathan sitting on a fence admiring the setting sun.

"Penny for your thoughts," she said and sat up beside him.

"I'm not sure they are worth a penny," he said, sadly.

"Is it about the ranch, and what Mom said?" she asked.

"Yea. I don't really care about the ranch or the money. It's that I can't imagine this place without her being here," he said.

"Or Dad," she added. Jonathan didn't say anything, his head dipped. She knew what he was saying, home is in the heart, not in bricks and mortar.

"Would you let Danny have the whole place if he wanted to run it?" she asked.

"Honestly no, and not because I want it myself. I’d worry that he’d lose the whole lot running after some get rich quick scheme. You know what his record is like," he said.  

"It could be what he needs, to settle him down," she said.

"I don't think Tina would be so generous. If I’m to be honest I don't fancy just handing over that much money myself but I would rather do that than fall out with anyone," said Jonathan.

"I was amazed at Susan, did you see that passive aggressive move she made, with the kids, trying to carve out a bigger slice for herself," said Christine, who was still annoyed with her sister.

"Dave had a lot to do with that. I heard them talking late last night and I get the impression that things might not be as rosy in their garden as they are letting on. All I could hear was, money, money, money," he said sadly.

"I just don't think it’s doing Mom any good, watching her kids pick over the bones of her life like vultures," she said which is exactly what she felt like.

"Your right, that's a pleasure reserved for the undertaker, or the lawyers," chuckled Jonathan. His humour could be so dark sometimes.

"You're terrible," she said, play-punching him in the arm.

"I can't wait for Monday. I know its horrible, but I can’t stand looking at them anymore," said Jonathan, turning serous again. "All I see now is greed, not my brothers and sisters. I wish Mom had never brought it up."

"It's Pandora's box, once opened, it can never be closed again," she said, wishing for Monday herself. 

***

It wasn’t long before the trip to the ranch was buried under a mountain of everyday concerns. It was a complete suprise when Barbara rang and said she was in in New York. They arranged to meet in a lovely restaurant in the Village. When her Mom got out of the taxi she was positively glowing. The meal was magic, the wine was better and they laughed so much people would have thought they were sisters not mother and daughter. Towards the end of the meal, Christine felt she had to apologise for the way they had all acted during the visit to the ranch.

"Don't pay it any-mind sweetie, I sure didn't. If anything, it helped me get up off my tushie and grab life by the throat," she said with a grin. "Speaking of which, what about another bottle?" she asked, wiggling her near empty wine glass.

"I don't know, Mom. I've got work tomorrow," she said, checking the time on her phone.

"If you can't play hooky with your Mom, what's the world coming to?"

"Oh, go on. Just one more glass for me, then I have to be going," said Christine, raising her hand to the waiter who was loitering close by. The problem with opening a bottle is you just got to finish it. 

By the time they were hailing a cab, Christine's head was swimming and she knew she’d pay dearly in the morning. "Where to?" asked the cabbie over his shoulder.

"Manhattan Cruse Terminal, please," said Barbara.

"Why are we going there?"  she asked.

"That's where my ship is parked, darling."

"Ship? What Ship?"

"Didn’t I say? I’ve been cruising! Some of the things I've seen. I saw some polar bears near the Arctic Circle. They’re huge! Cuddly looking, but huge."

"You never said you were taking a holiday," she said, shocked that her mother had taken such a huge step without telling her.

"Trip of a lifetime honey. You can come if you like, plenty of room in my cabin," she said, slightly slurring her words.

"Ha! The boss would love that!"

"Don't tell him, just come. Life's too short to worry about the boss the whole time," she said, as the first of the city size ships came into view. When Barbara got out of the cab she did a little speed wobble in her high heels.

"Blasted things," she said, kicking them off and picking them up by the straps. "Night Baby," she said as they hugged.

"Night, Mom," she said, the wine was making her teary.

"And promise me you’ll see the world one day, before it’s all messed up," Barbara said with a wink.

"I will, Mom. I promise." Christine watched her pad away on bare feet, like a teenager coming home from  prom; her heals thrown over her shoulder and not a care in the world.

***

If Christine had known that was the last time she’d have ever seen her mother, she would have got on the boat without a second thought. But she didn't. Four weeks later, anchored off the coast of Brazil, a housekeeper found Barbara in bed. She'd passed away peacefully during the night. It came as an shock to the whole family but particularly Christine. She was the last one to see her alive.

It took a few weeks for the authorities to release her body, and John flew to Rio de Janeiro to bring her home. They were all at the ranch when the long black hearse pulled into the yard. In the back, an aluminium coffin lay still and silent. It was impossible for Christine to picture her mother inside such a thing. It was horrific. Friends and neighbours gathered in their hundreds and the house was filled to bursting. That night, they sat around and celebrated their mothers life with stories and more than a few glasses of wine.

The following day Barbara made her final journey to the local chapel. Mass was said and before night fell she was lying the arms of a man that would love her for eternity.   


The days after the funeral passed in a blur of well-wishers and tears. John and Tina were discussing returning home when a tall stranger appeared at the kitchen door and knocked. Christine was the one to answer it.

"My deepest apologies for intruding on your time of grief. My name is Simon Philips, your mothers attorney. I wonder if I may have a few moments," he said.

"Of course, come in," she said.

The tall young man nodded to everyone in the room, and said, "I'm very sorry to come unannounced but your mother was very specific how her will was to be delivered."

"We have her will, it was in the sideboard over there," said John. 

"She recently made a new one and I must say its one of the most unusual wills I've ever been party to," said Mr Philips.

"Can you all be here tomorrow for a reading?" the man asked.

"Yes, we can," said John but he was looking at the man with scepticism. Look, sorry if this sounds rude but we've never even seen you before. You could be anyone. How can we be sure that is my mothers will?" 

The man handed over his business card and his drivers licence for inspection and when John handed them back the man smiled. "You are quiet right to be cautious but believe me the authenticity of this document is beyond doubt. Shall we say mid-day?"

"I'm sure that will be fine," said John looking around at the rest of the family but nobody objected.

"I’ll come a little early to make preparations. Is there a room I can use?" asked the man.

"The parlour would be best," said Tina.

"Would you be so good as to show it to me?" asked the man. Tina led the attorney into the parlour, where the rest of the family could hear him say, "Splendid, this will be perfect."

***

The next day Mr Philips turned up with two helpers. He asked the gathered family to wait in the kitchen, while he ensured everything was in working order for a seamless presentation of the will. It all seemed like a lot of hot air, surely all the man had to do was read out a few paragraphs, possibly get a few signatures. 

On the dot of twelve, Mr Philips appeared at the kitchen door and called everyone inside. The furniture had been arranged in a semi-circle, allowing enough seating for everyone. At the centre of this, was a very large TV on a stand, which Mr Philips helpers must have erected. Once everyone was seated, Mr Philips smiled and gestured toward the screen, where Barbara appeared. She was smiling and very nearly life-size. It made them all jump. Christine burst into tears and Mr Philips paused the recording while Susan came to comfort her. When the shock had worn off, Christine said, "Sorry, I'm ready now, sorry."

Mr Philips activated the recording.

"Hello, my darlings," said Barbara, smiling down on them all. "If you're watching this I guess I have finally gone to be with your Dad. I can’t tell you how much I have missed him. I know for sure he has been waiting for me to start our next great adventure. Our whole life as been an adventure and one made richer by sharing it with you," she said and gave a dazzling smile. 

"Please don't be sad for me, even though I know you have been, it will pass. It’s the way of the world. I’m sure John has been keeping everything working like clockwork. You were always my rock, John. Always taking so much on your shoulders, so others wouldn't have to. 

Tina, my little fire cracker. I know you all think she's so tough but let me tell you I've listened to her cry when she thought nobody could hear and that wasn't so long ago. You can be so demanding of people, and yourself. Guys you got to cut her some slack and remember she loves you just as much as she drives you crazy," said Barbara, choosing that moment to move her head and pick out the exact seat Tina had selected. It made them all chuckle, all except Tina who had burst into tears and Jonathan put his arm around her. 

"Jonathan. What about you, my lovely boy. My shining star. You love with all your heart and that is such a brave thing to do in such a hard world. Don't let the bumps in the road put you off, there is something amazing waiting for you, I know it.

Susan, you are just like me in so many ways we are like the same person. Every time I looked into your eyes, I saw my own joys and fears looking right back at me. For me, the greatest gift life ever gave me was children and I know you feel the same. They are so lucky to have you, sweetheart."

On screen, Barbara adjusted herself in the chair and took a breath before continuing. Christine got a shock when she looked directly into her eyes and said her name. "Chrissie; so driven, so kind, so amazing, you are the only one who can’t see how special you are. I wish and pray that one day you get everything you long for, I’ve a feeling it might be closer than you imagine." Christine felt as if she had just been electrocuted. Not only by the spookyness of what had just happened but also because her  mother had read her life as if it was an open book. 


"Which leaves my baby boy, Danny. What a scamp you are, breaking hearts and rules all your life, running from one great adventure to another. A mother worries you know, but the girl in me just wants to run right along by your side." On the screen Barbara wiped away a single tear and smiled at them lovingly. Not a sound came from her children seated around her.

"Well, enough of that. Down to the matter at hand. I've some good news, and I've some bad news. The good news is you are all still in the will," which caused a ripple of emotional laughter to run through the room, even Mr Philips smiled.

"The bad news is that I was making a damn good fist of spending a lot of your inheritance before this," she said seeming to point at the screen. Her comic timing was perfect and they all laughed. Christine never knew her mother was so funny. 

"That weekend I called you all to the ranch, I knew there was a good chance this day was coming, soon." Barbara tapped the side of her head, "A week spot on an artery, deep inside here. That weekend I realised that the ranch, the house, none of it mattered. What mattered was you, your connection to each other, our family. That was why I sold the whole bloody thing, lock, stock and barrel."

A shocked murmur ran around the room, while Barbara sat smiling at them from the screen. The room was just beginning to grow silent when Barbara spoke again, "You've all met Mr Philips. He arranged the whole thing and got me a hansom price. I'm sorry to say, but you all have to be out by the end of the week," she said with a wicked smile. 

In the corner John said, "Typical Barb, always having the last laugh," which made everyone else laugh while they cried.

On the screen Barbara continued, "So what are you all going to get? Straight off the bat, Mr Philips has a cheque for one hundred thousand Dollars, for each of you, to do with as you like, and no Susan, the Grand-kids don't get cheques." This time, it was Danny that laughed, "Ha! She got you good, Sis."

"There's more. Mr Philips, please," said Barbara. Mr Philips smiled and sent one of his aids outside.

"In no particular order, I have a few small gifts for you. To start with, Danny, my lovely wild boy. I saw how pained you were that day when your brothers and sisters tried to tie you to the ranch. You are like one of those wild horses, galloping across the plain. It would be cruel to tie you to one particular place. My gift to you is this," said Barbara smiling, and Mr Philips walked forward and dropped something small into Danny's hand. It was key, outside a heavy engine roared to life and everyone craned to see what was making all the noise. In the yard, a shining vintage convertible mustang with wire spoke wheels roared up and stopped outside the window.

"Go where ever the hood is pointed my boy and I'll be riding right along with you," said Barbara. "Now for you, Mr Serous," said Barbara pulling a face on the screen. Mr Philips produced a box tied in a ribbon. He handed it to John while Barbara sat patiently on the screen. Inside the box was the most heinous Hawaiian shirt you ever did see.

"Put it on, and let me see if it fits," said Barbara. John took off his jacket and tie, slipping the shirt on over the one he was wearing. The gathered family couldn’t help it, the room erupted in laughter, as John stood dumbfounded in the middle of the floor.

"I think it’s a hit," said Barbara. "Life is serious, but only if you let it be, John. Take some time to laugh at the world, at yourself, and you just might start to enjoy life again. You can be a good man and still have some fun. Check the pocket," she said and John withdrew a folded piece of paper.

"It’s two weeks in Hawaii, for you, Mary and the kids. Mr Philips called her earlier, and made the arrangements. Being my last request, she could hardly refuse, but mark my words, John. Sweep that woman off her feet and you will never regret it." John started to sob and Christine couldn't remember him doing that...ever. He walked up to the screen and kissed his mother’s face, then he walked out of the room. Everyone was so stunned they hardly heard Barbara continue with her bequests. Mr Philips walked over to Tina and Susan, handing each an envelope.

"To my darling girls, I give you the gift of wisdom. Susan, I’m sending you back to college to finish off what you started all those years ago, interior design, I believe. Your tuition is paid in full, so no excuses. Tina, I'm not sure you’ll like this, but it’s for your own good. I’ve signed you up to a two week, all inclusive trip to a monastery, for meditation and mindfulness training. Let’s be honest, it was either that or anger management classes. Sweetheart, sometimes the fight just isn't worth it."

Mr Philips walked up to Jonathan and handed him an envelope. On the screen Barbara smiled, "To the king of hearts, I give the city of love. I fear our country is far too young to ever truly satisfy a soul as old as yours, Jonathan. When I asked myself, what place in the world could ever come close to matching you for sophistication, class and passion? Only one came to mind. Paris, my dear, Paris. It’s yours, with all my love. Now, I’m sure that Tina and Susan have been busy totting up a running total of my spending and have realised it is nowhere near the value of the ranch. So it is about time I revealed my main bequest.

I want to give you all the gift of family, too that end, I have formed a trust with one specific function. This trust is to be used to pay for a Thanksgiving Holiday for all of you, and your families, every year here in your homeland, Montana. You are all the family you have left, don't ever let petty squabbles or differences stand between you. Fight, but make up, disagree, but understand, love, and never let go, that is my gift to you all. I want to give you each other."

On the screen, Barbara sat back and scratched her head, "I'm sure we’re forgetting something, Mr Philips. Can you check your bag and see if there is anything left in it?" Mr Philips lifted a large green rucksack and turned it upside down but nothing fell out. All eyes in the room turned to Christine, surely her mother hadn’t forgotten her, out of all of them. 

On the screen, Barbara smiled that half wicked, half cherub, smile of hers, "Of course I’ve not forgotten you, Chrissie. This is for you." Mr Philips handed her the empty rucksack. Christine looked inside, and it was indeed empty.

"That's right sweetie, it’s empty. I want you to go fill it up. Fill it with memories and experiences to last a life time. I want you to see the world before it’s too late. Money is not what you need, nor things. You need life, in your life, and the only place you’ll find it is out there. Don't be afraid, you can always come home." Christine felt her eyes fill with tears. All along, her mother was the one that knew her best, even better than she knew herself.

On the screen, Barbara sat back in her chair, "I think my job is done here. I love you all so much, when you meet on your yearly holiday, I want you to set two chairs at the table, one for me and one for your Dad because as long as someone holds you in their heart you are never truly gone. See you in the fall, Love you," and with an kiss and a wave, she stood up and walked out of the shot. 




The screen goes dark.    



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