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How Memories Become Our Ties to Heaven on Earth

He enjoyed his new friend’s company just as much as he enjoyed her life stories.

Illustration of an English cottage; By Joy LaForme
Credit: By Joy LaForme

Tennessee was the only home I’d ever known. I never imagined leaving. But my wife and I were planning a move to Michigan to be closer to our grandchildren, and I was packing up my vendor stall at my very last Tennessee craft show. I was sure I could sell my carvings elsewhere, and nothing was more important to me than my family. But it will be hard to leave home, I thought, and called to mind the little wooden cabin in the Smoky Mountains where I grew up. I closed my eyes and could see the front porch and the henhouse, the red spruces and bluebells growing on the riverbanks.

A voice interrupted my daydream. “Young man, could you tell me where you got these beautiful paintings?”

“These aren’t paintings, ma’am,” I explained to the elderly woman in a wheelchair. “They’re carvings that are tinted on natural, white marble. That’s why the colors are so vibrant.”

My answer seemed to please her. “My name is Katherine Ashworth,” she said. “May I hold one if I promise not to break it?”

“The only way you will break this is with a hammer, Mrs. Ashworth,” I said, handing her a bird carving.

She traced the outlines of the picture with her finger. “Do you think you could carve an English cottage?”

“I’m positive I could,” I said. “Do you have a photograph I can work from?”

“I only have my memories,” she said. “But perhaps together we could come up with a sketch?” I’d never worked from just a memory. Not even from one of my own. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

A young man came over and leaned down to speak to her. “Ready to leave?” he said. “We must be home by six.”

Mrs. Ashworth smiled. “They call the place where I live a home,” she said. “We residents call it assisted living. The house I’d like you to draw is the cottage in England where I grew up. If you decide to help, here is my address. There’s no need to call first. I’m always there.”

I was worried. “That cottage was her home,” I said to my wife, Arbutis, that night. “I’m sure she can describe every detail. I just don’t want to disappoint her.”

“Doug, if it’s at all possible, you should carve her that cottage.”

The very next afternoon I drove to the assisted living center with a sketch pad and pencils. I signed in as a visitor of Katherine Ashworth. The woman at the front desk was surprised. Apparently, Mrs. Ashworth didn’t get many visitors.

Her room was beautiful, full of paintings and photographs of pastoral scenes, flower gardens and animals. “They remind me of my childhood. Many of the flowers grew around the cottage I want you to carve.”

I took out my sketch pad. Mrs. Ashworth closed her eyes. “It had a thatched roof,” she began, “with a fieldstone chimney…”

I started sketching. “What brought you to the United States?” I couldn’t help asking.

“I married an American soldier during World War II,” she said. “William and I met just before the invasion of Normandy.” Her voice sounded younger as the memories rose in her mind. “Many American soldiers were billeted in the homes of English farmers like my father. William came to stay with us on the first of May, 1944. I was 20 years old. He was so handsome in his uniform, and I fell in love almost immediately!”

Mrs. Ashworth told me about the day William left to return to his unit after they’d spent only the month of May together. “He was wounded storming Omaha Beach that June. Grievously so. I went to visit him in the hospital and prayed every day he would get better.”

Our conversation turned back to the thatched cottage. She described the different wildflowers that surrounded it, the wooden fence beside it, the wooden doors and red brick.

She might as well be describing heaven, I thought, listening intently to her words.

“I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Ashworth said. “I do chatter on sometimes.”

“Not at all,” I said. “There’s such life in your stories.” I showed her what I’d come up with on my pad. “Does this sketch resemble your cottage?”

She examined my work, took my pencil and adjusted the position of the chimney. “There,” she said. “It’s perfect.” I couldn’t wait to get to work.

When the carving was completed, I brought it to her in her room, along with a small standing frame. I found her sitting by the window wrapped in a blanket and handed her the carving. “This is so much more than I hoped for,” she said, tracing the outlines on the marble. “You have a God-given talent. What do I owe you?”

“Nothing at all, ma’am,” I said. “Your stories were more than payment enough.”

We found the perfect spot to display her carving, right next to her bed where she could see it before she closed her eyes at night. I spent the rest of the afternoon with my new friend. When I signed out at the front desk, the receptionist thanked me for my visit. “It means a lot to her, I’m sure,” she said. “Mrs. Ashworth stays to herself most of the time.”

I decided that was going to change. Although I would soon be leaving Tennessee, I could enjoy Mrs. Ashworth’s company until then. I returned to the assisted living center the following week to see her.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Clark,” said the lady at the desk. “Mrs. Ashworth passed away in her sleep just two days ago.” She pulled something out of a drawer. “We thought you might like to keep this.”

I returned to my car with the carving and sat for a long time, tracing the lines of the thatched roof, the stone chimney and the wildflowers. Memories were our ties to heaven on earth, ties that were as strong and unbreakable as the marble in my hands. I had no doubt that when Mrs. Ashworth entered the pearly gates, this cottage was waiting for her, its wildflowers all in bloom. Just as my own Smoky Mountain cabin would be waiting for me in my one true home.

For more angelic stories, subscribe to Angels on Earth magazine.


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