Summertime brought warmer weather and the farmer’s market to Appaloosa Plains. Fran’s prize-winning garden was on track to win some ribbons at the county fair. The fruits and vegetables the plants produced were flavorful and in high demand. She spent many long, grueling hours on her feet as she tended their farm stand at the market every day. And when she returned home for the evening, she still had plants to harvest and weed.
Charlie picked up extra hours and shifts on his days off whenever he could. Determined to make his shortcomings right with Fran, he worked tirelessly to bring home extra money when he could. It was now his mission in life to give his wife, who did more than her share of the work in the home, what she desired more than anything else. Whatever he could do to remedy it, he would do.
Penny’s health declined slowly since the spring, but Dr. Miller saw her regularly at the house. And instead of accepting money for his services, he took small barters from Fran’s garden. On one such visit, he decided to order a bed and wheelchair for Penny. Fran and Charlie set up the sitting room off the living room as a makeshift bedroom for her. She was growing too weak to climb the steps to her room. The extra expense took everything they had saved since the spring. It was a huge setback.
Fran stayed home from the market the day the bed was delivered and lost a day of sales. But there was little Fran wouldn’t do for her mother. Penny sat in her rocker and watched life go by from the window in the living room.
The equipment was delivered by 3:00 pm that afternoon, and Fran spent the rest of the day getting the room ready for Penny. Charlie walked in shortly afterward, tired and overly warm. Fran followed him into the downstairs bathroom, where he stripped his uniform and lumbered to the shower. The hot water felt good on his sore, achy muscles, and he was surprised to see Fran sitting on the sink waiting for him.
“Hi, love,” he greeted her. “I’m surprised you’re in here. Is something wrong?”
“I have a confession.”
“It can’t be that bad. What is it, Frannie?”
“The bed and wheelchair Mama needs came today. They needed payment on delivery.”
“Well, how much was it, love?” He slipped into his robe and tied it around his waist.
“One thousand, two hundred,” she said and cringed, tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Frannie, that was the whole savings account.” His shoulders slumped. “But what can we do? She needs this stuff.” He hugged her close. “Don’t cry, sweetie. We’ll be okay. We’ll just start over.”
“I’m sorry,” she cried. “I know she needed it, but it hurt taking that money from our savings. That’s four years’ worth of money.”
“It’s okay, darling,” Charlie reassured her. “I’ll just get more hours on base.”
“I already don’t see you very much as it is, Charlie.”
“I know, honey, but I have to make this right. It’s up to me.” He kissed her forehead. “Take care of your mama, Frannie. She needs you.”
Fran finished Penny’s new bedroom and got her settled into bed. “How does everything feel, Mama?” she asked.
“Well, it’s comfortable enough. I hope you didn’t spend your money on me, Fran. I could have slept on the couch just as well.”
“Mama, don’t be silly. It was house money,” she lied. She had closed that account at the bank two years ago when they couldn’t negotiate a trade for roof repairs. They never recovered from it. “Besides, you need these things to keep you safe and comfortable.”
“Just make sure you’re not spending your money on me, child. You have other priorities besides me.”
“Nonsense, Mama. You’re my priority right now.” Fran kissed her forehead and smiled. “If you need anything, just say so. I have a baby monitor set up so you can let me know if you need me.”
Penny rolled her eyes. “A baby monitor?”
“Yes, Mama. How else will I hear you if you need me in the night? You’re not across the hall from me anymore.”
Penny nodded. “Okay, you make too much sense, my Fran.” She groaned in pain. “When can I have medication?”
Fran consulted the chart the doctor made up and looked for the last dose. “Now, Mama. Would you like water or juice?”
“Water is good, child. And some tea, if you don’t mind?”
“Anything for you, Mama,” Fran said with a smile. “I’ll be back.”
Fran sat with their financial papers spread on the dining room table. Carefully she poured over figures, expenses for the farm, and their projected profits for the season. Despite a bumper crop of vegetables and fruits from the garden, they would barely break even with the extra feed for the animals over the winter. And Fran knew she had some tough decisions to make regarding the future of their farm.
Charlie rolled over in bed, and the spot next to him was empty. It was uncharacteristic for Fran to be up this late at night. The clock read 1:28 am. He pulled his robe on and walked downstairs. His first stop was Penny’s room, but she was sleeping soundly. Under the light in the dining room, Fran sat, calculator in her hand, and a pencil behind her ear. But no matter how she crunched the numbers, the result was inevitable.
“Hey, Frannie, what are you doing up this late?” he asked. He saw the spreadsheets, budget, bank statements, and invoices spread over the table. “Can’t sleep, or trying to make this all work?”
She huffed and blew a lock of hair from her face. “A little of both, I think. Charlie, the cost of grain is going up for the winter. Hay is almost double what it was last year, and chicken feed is close to double. With Mama’s extra expenses and Dr. Miller taking some of our produce, my profit margin is not good this year.” She threw the pencil down on the table in frustration. “I don’t want to do this, Charlie, but we might have to sell Missy and Moo…” her voice trailed off. “I just can’t see how we make this work with them still on the farm.”
Charlie sat down with her and looked at the numbers. “Wow, is grain that much?” Fran nodded her head, her face buried into her hands. “I’m sure we can figure a way to keep Missy and Moo here with us, love. We’ll just have to cut corners elsewhere.”
“I have nothing else to cut, Charlie. I’m down to the bare minimum on feed for the chickens. And when I tended the bees last, their honeycombs looked almost dead. I think the hive is sick. The last bit of honey I got was foul quality, and the beeswax wasn’t good either. Everything is falling apart. Mama is sick, we’re frustrated, the farm is failing. I’m almost asleep on my feet every morning at the market. I’m tired of being broke, Charlie. I know we can do better if I gave up the farm and got a little job somewhere.”
“Oh honey, think long and hard about giving this up. I know you love it.”
“I do love it, but it’s killing me slowly. Without Mama’s helping hands, I’m overwhelmed. And we can’t afford to hire someone to help.”
“Well, come to bed, sweetheart. Get some sleep, and we can crunch some numbers in the morning when we’re fresh and awake. Please, Frannie.” He reached for her hand to take it. “Please.”
She hung her head, defeated. “Okay,” she said reluctantly. “But promise me you will help me figure this out?”
“You have my word.”
The next morning, Charlie went to work on base as usual. But Penny was awake early and called for Fran. She hadn’t been asleep for very long when the monitor sounded, and she rolled over and looked at the clock. Five-thirty. She reached for her robe and put it on, walked down the stairs to Penny’s bedside, and sat.
“What’s wrong, Mama?”
“Oh, child, I need some pain relief.” Penny’s face was pale and contorted in agony.
“Juice or water?” Fran asked. “And what kind of tea?”
Penny eked out a smile. “Orange juice and Earl Grey, please baby girl. And thank you.”
Fran walked to the kitchen to start the water for tea and took Penny’s prescription bottle. Then she opened the case that contained a package of birth control pills and stared at it. She knew she needed to start them, but she wiped a tear from her eyes, closed the case, and placed it back into the cabinet. Fran carried a tray with two glasses, a bottle of orange juice, and her tea and walked back to Penny’s room.
Penny gave a weak smile when she saw Fran. “There’s my girl,” she said. “Thank you.” Fran poured a glass of juice for each of them and removed a pill from the bottle. She took her medicine eagerly, desperate for the relief it would bring. Fran set the cup of tea on her nightstand and gathered the juice glasses and pill bottle.
“Do you need anything else, Mama? I need to harvest what I can before I leave for the market this morning.”
Penny grimaced. “You won’t be here all day, Fran? I could use your help today.”
Fran set the tray back down on the television and sat with Penny. “What’s wrong, Mama?”
“I’m just not feeling well, child. The longer I go, the worse I feel. I’m just not sure I want to be alone today.”
Fran bit her lip. She needed to get to the market, for the produce wouldn’t sell itself. But her priority would always be her family. “Sure, Mama. I’ll stay home with you today.”
“You’re a good girl, Fran.” Penny closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.
Today’s predicament didn’t help her worries from the previous evening. The books and bank statements sat spread out on the table, and they waited for her, taunted her. Every day lost was another reason to walk away from the farm and the only life she knew. Since she was home, she thought she would take advantage of the extra time and care for Missy and Moo. She cut an apple for each of them and stuffed a few grapes into her pocket as a special treat and went to milk them.
Missy was happy to see Fran and nudged her hand, looking for the treat. Fran smiled, but inside she was dying. As the cow ate her apple, tears dropped onto her nose. “I’m sorry, Missy,” Fran said. Moo waited impatiently for her treat, lowing and huffing her displeasure. Fran gave Moo the apple she had cut for her, and then treated both of them with a handful of grapes each.
Fran tethered Missy to her post and prepared to milk her. But Fran cried and rested her head against Missy’s side. “I’m going to miss you,” she wept. “I’m sorry, little Miss. I’ll try this again later.”
She released Missy’s halter and allowed her to graze freely outside. Fran ran into the house and up the stairs.
By the time she reached the bedroom, Fran was sobbing. “Why is life so hard for us right now?” she cried. “Please, if you can hear me, we need a miracle.” Curled into a ball, Fran turned the monitor on before she fell asleep.
Charlie returned home from work a little early and was surprised to see Fran’s purse sitting in the living room. Penny was resting in the sitting room, so he climbed the stairs to their bedroom. Fran was sound asleep on their bed, still curled into the fetal position. Tears stained her face. Charlie sat next to her and kissed her.
“Charlie,” she said, sleep heavy in her eyes. “What are you doing home so early?”
“Honey, it’s almost three. How long have you been up here? Why aren’t you at the market?”
Fran yawned. “Mama didn’t want to be alone today. She wasn’t feeling well. I’m getting to the point that I’m afraid to leave her, Charlie. I might end up making more preserves than I planned with the harvest this year, or what’s left of it.”
He sighed. “Preserves aren’t going to make us as much as the fresh produce. But if we can’t get it to the market, it just doesn’t matter, does it?”
Fran shook her head. “No, it doesn’t matter at all. What are we going to do, Charlie? We are down to pennies in our savings account. We can’t afford feed for the cows this winter, and we are running short on barter items. If we have another big repair come up on the house, we’re in trouble.”
Charlie embraced her. “We’re going to be okay, my love. We have each other, and we have a roof over our heads. We don’t need much else.”
“I hope you’re right. But I will need to find a new home for Missy and Moo before winter comes.” Tears filled her eyes again. “Missy is my baby. It will break my heart to see her go.”
“Well, maybe it won’t come to that, Frannie. Maybe things will—”
Charlie was interrupted by Penny’s voice on the monitor. “Fran…” She stood up, dried her tears, and ran to her mother’s side.
“Are you doing okay, Mama?” she asked. Penny looked pale and suddenly very old.
She shook her head. “I think that pill has worn off, child. Am I due for another?”
Fran nodded her head. “You haven’t had one since this morning. Water or juice?”
“Water, please. And no tea this time,” Penny smiled. “And thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Mama.” Fran left her side and walked to the kitchen past the painful reminder that sat on the table. Charlie was by her side in minutes.
“How’s your Mama?”
“She isn’t well. I wish she would have at least done something to help herself. Maybe she wouldn’t be suffering like this. I’d call the doctor, but we don’t have much to give him anymore.”
“Sweetie, call him anyway. We will figure something out. If she needs help, we can’t deny her that.” Charlie wrapped his arms around her, but when she opened the cabinet to get a water glass, her pills fell onto the counter. “What’s that?”
“My birth control. I haven’t started it yet. I don’t have the heart to.” Charlie nodded and understood. Fran walked back to Penny and handed her the water and a pill. “I’m calling Dr. Miller, Mama.”
“No, Fran, I’m alright—” Penny tried to protest.
“This isn’t negotiable, Mama. He’s coming. I need to know.” She walked from the room and dialed the doctor’s office and arranged a visit after his office hours.
At six-thirty that evening, Dr. Miller rang the doorbell of the Farmer house. Fran answered the door and took him aside before he went into Penny’s room. “She isn’t well today,” Fran informed him. “I’m afraid to leave her during the day, and it’s affecting our bottom line here on the farm.”
“Let me take a look at her, and I’ll give you my opinion. You know, her insurance might cover an aide to help you during the day, Fran. I’ll have my secretary check on that for you and have her get back to you tomorrow.” Fran nodded as he walked to Penny’s room.
“Hi, Jon,” Penny greeted him weakly. “How’s your family?”
Dr. Miller laughed. “Making small talk isn’t going to stop me from checking you out, Penny. But to answer your question, we’re all fine, thank you.” He listened to her heart and felt around her belly. This time, he was able to detect the tumor, as it had grown, and he suspected had spread. “Well, your heart still sounds good, but I’m afraid that’s the only good news I have for you, Penny. I can feel the tumor.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” Penny asked.
“Just a minute. Fran needs to be here for this.” He stepped out of the room and called Fran and Charlie. When all three of them were together, Dr. Miller spoke again. “I can feel your mother’s tumor now, Fran. I suspect cancer has spread, and with her pain increasing, I believe we’re looking at weeks instead of months.” Fran’s face went pale, and Charlie hugged her close. “I’m very sorry, Fran. I know this is not what you wanted to hear.”
“Please keep her comfortable, doctor. That’s all I ask. She’s been suffering so,” Fran wept.
“Don’t worry, Fran. I will take care of her. And don’t worry about bartering. I know this has put a strain on your finances. Consider it my gift to your family.” He prepared an injection and administered it.
“Thank you,” she cried, wrapped in Charlie’s arms.
“I’ll show myself out. And I’ll see you tomorrow evening, Penny.”
“Thank you, Jon,” Penny answered.
Fran wept in Charlie’s arms. “I can’t go back to the market, Charlie. I can’t leave her.”
He kissed her cheek and nodded. “It’s okay, sweetie. We’ll figure this out.”
In her hospital bed, Penny laid her head back on her pillow and fell asleep, relieved of her pain and comfortable for the first time in weeks.
Two weeks later, Penny’s condition had deteriorated quickly. A home nurse made sure she was kept comfortable. She slept most of the time, but Fran didn’t mind. If she was asleep, she wasn’t in pain. Fran stayed with her as much as she could between chores.
The nurse, Debra, was sitting with Penny when Fran finished breakfast and the dishes that morning. “Deb, I need to care for Missy and Moo. I’ll be back inside in about an hour. If you need me, that’s where I’ll be.”
Fran dressed in her work overalls and boots, and with a bucket in her hand, she walked to the cow barn to gather milk. She had the customary apples in her pocket, and Missy greeted her with a happy moo. “Good morning, Missy,” she said as she patted the cow’s neck. Moo lumbered over to greet Fran and to collect her treat. “And hello, Moo,” she greeted the young heifer. She milked Missy and brought the bucket inside to the refrigerator and returned to the barn. The stalls needed to be mucked and refreshed, and it was a big job. The chicken coop, though it required similar cleaning, would wait until the following day. She spread feed on the floor of the coop, collected the few eggs the hens had laid, and returned to the house.
After a shower, Fran felt rejuvenated and fresh. A soft knock came at the front door, and she was surprised to see Sunny Bradford standing there. “Hi Sun!” she greeted her friend. “What brings you this way?”
“Well, we all heard that your mama isn’t doing well, so we took up a collection for you and Charlie at the market. We know you’ve had some hardships this year. We want to take some of that burden from you and take care of you.” Fran could hardly believe her ears. Sunny handed her a thick envelope stuffed with money she had collected from their friends at the market.
“I-I don’t know what to say,” Fran said, astounded. “Thank you so much!” As she hugged her friend, tears streamed down her cheeks. “You have no idea what we’ve had to endure this year.”
But Sunny did know. Appaloosa Plains was a small town, and everyone knew everyone else’s business. She knew when Penny had fallen ill, that Charlie and Fran had gotten less than favorable news at the doctor, and that they were struggling. The Farmers didn’t deserve the hardship they had been enduring, and Sunny decided they didn’t need to endure it alone. Her collection brought much-needed money for Charlie and Fran, which meant they could keep the farm for one more season. It was just what they would need to survive the winter with their livelihood intact.
“It’s nothing,” Sunny replied. “We all love you, and this is what friends do for each other.”
“This is… a life-changer, Sun. We can’t thank you enough.” Fran hugged her again.
“If there is anything you need, Fran, don’t hesitate to call Caleb or me. I mean it. We watch out for one another. You’ve certainly done your share of caring for us over the years.”
Fran sniffled, still in total disbelief. “Charlie and I love you guys. Please let everyone at the market know how much we appreciate them and love them.”
“Will do,” Sunny replied. “I need to get back. The kids need me. But you take care of your mama, and let us take care of you. We love you.”
“Thank you again. We’ll see you soon.” When Sunny left the house, Fran opened the envelope and counted the contents. With every bill she counted, she cried more in complete disbelief. When she finished, she looked towards the heavens, clasped her hands together and whispered, “Thank you.”
Charlie returned home from work to an uncharacteristic kiss from Fran and giggles of glee. “Why are you so happy today? It isn’t what I was expecting.”
“I’ll show you,” she chirped, took his hand, and led him to the dining room table. She picked up the envelope and handed it to him, and she chuckled when she saw his eyes widen.
“What is this?”
“Sunny Bradford came by a little while ago and gave us that, Charlie. They took up a collection at the market. They know we’re struggling. And they blessed us with this. It’s two thousand, four hundred simoleons.” Exactly double what they had paid for Penny’s medical equipment. “We can keep Missy and Moo.”
Charlie shook his head in disbelief. “This is unbelievable. Fran, I’m so happy for you.” He felt as though a huge weight had lifted from him.
“I know. But I prayed for a miracle, Charlie, and they fulfilled it in abundance.” Fran wiped tears from her eyes. “This is our miracle.”
He embraced her and rocked her in his arms. “We are incredibly blessed.”
“I’ll go to the bank tomorrow and deposit it,” she said. “Right now, I need to start supper. I haven’t even thought about what to make, but it needs to be easy.”
“You don’t have to fuss for me, sweetie. Will your mama eat something with us?”
“Mama hasn’t eaten anything in two days. I don’t think she will be with us much longer, Charlie.” Fran sighed deeply. “I’m trying to prepare myself for the inevitable, but it’s not easy.”
“Death is natural, but it’s difficult to bear when it happens to someone you love.” He kissed her cheek. “I will be here for you when you need me the most.”
“Thank you, Charlie.”
Fran made a quick and easy supper of grilled cheese, and with the evening nurse on shift, Fran and Charlie retired early. Before they went to bed, Fran sat with Penny for half an hour, holding her hand. And though she had been asleep for most of the day, when she felt Fran’s hand touch hers, Penny opened her eyes.
“Hi, my sweet Fran,” she whispered. “I need to know you’re going to be okay, child. Is Charlie taking care of you?”
Fran’s eyes filled with tears. “Yes, Mama, Charlie is taking good care of me.”
“Good,” she replied weakly. “That’s good.”
“Yes, baby girl?”
“I love you. Thank you for being my mama.”
“Oh, Fran, I loved being your mama. You were worth every tear, all the frustration we suffered to bring you into this world. I wish I could see your children. I bet you’ll have a baby girl someday who looks just like you. I will love you until the end of time, my sweet Frannie.” Penny closed her eyes and spoke no more.
“I’m not ready to let you go, Mama,” Fran cried. “But if you leave this world tonight, say hi to Daddy for me.” She kissed Penny’s forehead and squeezed her hand gently. She turned to the nurse, named Heather, and said, “Please let me know if you think…” she couldn’t finish her sentence.
“Don’t worry, Miss Frannie. I will get you.” Heather hugged her and swallowed a lump in her own throat. Fran’s dedication to her mother was admirable, and it touched her deeply.
A few hours later, Heather’s frantic knock sounded on their bedroom door. Fran wasn’t asleep. “Miss Fran, Mr. Charlie, please come now!” she said through the door. They both grabbed their robes and made their way downstairs quickly.
When they arrived, Penny was clinging to life. Her breaths were shallow, and she was not conscious. Fran sat on the bed, held her hand, and rubbed Penny’s fingers between hers. “She can hear you,” Heather told them. “She might be waiting for you.”
Fran squeezed her hand and choked back a sob. “Mama, I’m going to be okay. We are going to be okay.” She took a breath and exhaled slowly. “It’s okay to go.” She reached to brush a lock of hair from Penny’s face when she felt her hand squeezed lightly. Penny took one last breath and exhaled, and she slipped away peacefully.
Heather stepped toward her to verify Penny’s passing. “I am so sorry, Miss Fran,” she said sadly. She held her arms open to hug Fran, but Fran collapsed on Penny’s bed and sobbed uncontrollably.
Charlie hugged Heather and thanked her, picked Fran up off the bed and carried her upstairs to their bedroom.
Up Next: Chapter Seven, Generation One
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