Mary, in the last light of a full day
It was evening last November on the farm near Linwood. We'd finished a bite of supper and Mary headed outside to lock up the chickens for the night. I tagged along.
The sun was setting, the breeze barely whispering through leaves at the tops of the limbs.
My sister-in-law, Mary Lorance, was in her element, traipsing barefoot up the slope beside the barn and around the back to the grassy lane that led to her chicken house.
The barefoot in the grass I understood. But the barefoot in the chickenhouse -- in near dark -- was more than I could fathom. But that was Mary's way.
She put the chickens and the old roosters inside, gathered a couple of eggs from the boxes, and chuckled as she put them in the pocket of her mended and well-worn flannel shirt.
A smile on her face -- reflected not only the gathering of the eggs -- eggs she sold to neighbors and friends when there was an abundance. The smile reflected Mary's natural way of grinning at, or more often, with, the world.
The first time my husband took me to Mary and June Lorance's farm was about four years ago when we told them we were going to be married. Mary took me for a walk around the farm.
Not surprisingly, she was barefoot. We walked quite a ways, heading past the clucking of the chickens, down the hill to where a pond forms in the fold of the earth, to where a fishing dock floated on the water, where bass jumped in the evening's cooling air.
We arrived back at the house later on, Mary barefoot and in fine form, me shoed, socked and by the time we reached the house, stinging from the nettles.
She was an amazingly tough woman.
Even in her early 70s, Mary's energy was that of a school girl. Bustling, effervescent, like the Energizer Bunny. Those who knew her and loved her often pantomimed her energy by holding their arms bent at the elbow and moving them from side to side as if marching in a band.
A couple of years ago, Mary and June did some work on their house, putting in new carpet and linoleum and fixing up the exterior as well.
But Mary was happy with the house even before the improvement took place. Mary was a no-frills kind of lady.
And she was frugal to the max. Heaven forbid a scrap be wasted in Mary's kitchen! And, she used every bit of the produce grown on the farm. Apples, pears and peaches that others might have tossed were carefully carved by Mary and deliciously canned for the winter.
Mary was one of the few I've known in recent years, who had we experienced a permanent power outage, could have been self-sufficient.
When Mary and June's granddaughters, Ann and Andrea, who live in the California desert, were very young they began spending summers in Kansas.
Away from the heat of the desert, at Grandma and Grampa's farm, the girls discovered a farm life that all too few American children know today.
For about five summers, "the girls" came to Kansas, riding bikes from sunrise to sunset, doing farm chores, visiting friends and relatives with their grandparents, and brushing up on their school lessons.
On their last evening here, just a couple of weeks ago, the girls took me to the chicken house to meet their favorite chicken, Caramel. Annie scampered in the roost until she came out, beaming with pride as she clutched the pretty brown chicken she had been looking for.
The girls love Kansas. In fact, Andrea, who is 12, says when she grows up she's going to marry a man who will move to Kansas.
Sadly, a week and a half ago, an aneurysm broke in Mary's brain. She never regained consciousness, and on Monday afternoon, Mary left this world.
Of my memories of Mary, the most powerful was from that November night.
We walked in the darkness back to the house where a farm streetlamp illuminated the yard. Mary swiped at the stucco wall, snapping up two grasshoppers. The distant light defined her face, her perpetual smile, the years behind her. On the back porch, Mary dropped the grasshoppers into a grass-padded Mason jar. This served two purposes, she said. These grasshoppers would no longer eat the window screens, and they'd add protein to the hens' breakfast tomorrow.
That's how I'll remember Mary -- long in the fading light of a full day, and as always, thinking about tomorrow.