She was the last in my family of her generation to die. Aunt Sadie lived to be one hundred and two. She was actually a great-aunt, my grandfather’s sister.
Over the years my reasons for returning to a small Indiana farm town became less and less, but Aunt Sadie was always on my agenda. This year will likely be my last.
Aunt Sadie was dead and I sat alone in a funeral home sixteen miles from where she was born, raised, lived, and died. She never married although it was said she was engaged many years ago. She was a mystery to many in the family and community. She lived a quiet life. She was the town clerk for fifty years and held all the town’s secrets.
She was special and kind to me. She had the ability to pass on a pearl of wisdom at the most opportune time.
“The most precious things in life are no larger than your heart or a memory,” she always said and she would press her hand against a locket she wore around her neck. It was in the shape of a heart.
“What is inside the locket, Aunt Sadie?” I asked her when I was very young.
She smiled contentedly and said, “A teardrop.”
A skinny young man with curly blond hair arrived with a hurried stride.
He extended his hand as he looked around the room with only me and a closed coffin. “I’m Reverend Archie, youth pastor at…,” he motioned with his head toward Aunt Sadie’s closed coffin and continued, “her church.”
I smugly looked over his attire of well-worn running shoes, jeans, a t-shirt, and a cross carved from wood around his neck. “I wasn’t aware she,” I motioned to the coffin with my head and continued, “I wasn’t aware she belonged to a church.”
“Yes,” Reverend Archie said. “She never attended, but sent a hundred-dollar check the first of every month.”
“Did you know her?” I said.
“No,” Reverend Archie said.
“Did anyone know her?” I said.
“No,” Reverend Archie said. “I was sitting with the head pastor and the assistant this morning and they didn’t know her either. I’ve never done a funeral before so they sent me. They thought I needed the training.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You gotta start someplace.”
“Is this it?” Reverend Archie said.
“Yeah,” I said. “So listen, why don’t you just go if that’s not asking too much?”
“Sure,” Reverend Archie said. “But who pays me?”
“Look, Reverend Archie,” I said placing my hand on his back and gently directing him to the exit. “It’s only the fifth of the month. She’s not around to use up her monthly contribution, take it out of that.”
Reverend Archie left and I sat for another ten minutes.
Before leaving I stopped into the office of the funeral director. He was a bald round man with a nervous manner.
“I’m leaving now,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “And again, sorry for your loss.”
I smiled. “Is everything taken care of?”
“Yes,” he said. “And you want us to take care of the ashes.”
“Yes,” I said. “Per her instructions.”
I nodded and turned to leave his office.
“Oh, sir,” he said. “There is something for you.” He reached into his desk drawer and handed an envelope to me.
“Thanks,” I smiled.
I walked to the car and got in. I opened the envelope. Inside was Aunt Sadie’s locket and a note.
“Inside the locket is a picture of a doughboy who lost his life in France six months after it was taken. He was my love. He was my passion. I should tell you that besides his photo is one teardrop. Possess nothing larger than your heart and a memory, my dear lad. It is the small things that bring you the greatest joy and happiness.”