This story is by Page Craw and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The light of this early April day was still dim, filtered through the silk fabric side panels of the mahogany tester bed. Louvinia had been awake for a few hours in the same bed where she had been born, savoring her last morning. It had been a storied life, contentedly spent for the most part. She’d experienced the worst sorrow with the death of her cherished husband two years before, but Gerald Carby would not have handled her loss after seventy-five married years. So she reckoned God had blessed her even in this.
Thank you, Lord, for my lifelong blessings, and forgive me for taking Your reins of control. You know my reasoning—my family doesn’t need to be burdened for an indefinite time. Today, I joined the exclusive century club of survivors, and I will enjoy these last hours without regrets.
With some effort, Louvinia sat up against her plump pillows. She gathered her quilt around her shoulders and breathed in the cool draft from the open window, sweetened by the star jasmine vine amass in blooms attached to the exterior brick wall. She heard activity from the yard help below and from the kitchen wing.
After a tentative knock, the door opened from the hall. Louvinia saw her great-granddaughter, Annette, in the threshold lit from behind. At sixteen, the child was tall and with hair so blond it was almost white.
“Hello, sweet Annie. I still do a double-take every time I see you—you are the spitting image of me at your age, except for the clothes, that is.” Louvinia chortled.
Annie laughed as she adjusted her tie-dyed tee-shirt over her leggings, capped by her signature cowboy boots.
“Good morning, Muma. I couldn’t sleep; I wanted to be the first to wish you a happy birthday.”
“I’m not surprised it’s you to be the first, Annie. Thank you, dear child.”
Annie approached the bed to kiss her great-grandmother on her cheek. Close at her heels was Charm, her Golden Retriever.
Louvinia rotated to the bed’s side to dangle her legs to reach the floor. She stretched for her robe and held the back of the wing chair to stabilize while Charm gently nudged her in greeting, his tail wagging nonstop. “Oh, you are a beautiful boy,” she said, giving the dog a gentle rub on his head.
Mae Esther entered her mistress’s room with her usual cheeriness. “Happy special birthday, Miss Lou. I don’t know about you, but I barely slept—I was so revved up for all the goings-on to come about today. Miss Annie, please pick out something festive for your Muma to wear while we take care of a few things of the hygiene nature.
“I swear enough food to feed an army is being prepared.” Mae Esther guided Louvinia to the bathroom.
Annie found a pink taffeta dress which she hung on the outside of the closet before she retreated from the bedroom, with Charm following.
Louvinia sat at her dressing table while Mae Esther fussed with her hair, creating an updo that accentuated Louvinia’s graceful neck, remarkably free from wrinkles.
“You never told me what the doctor said when you last saw him. Are you in good shape? No more stomach pains? You look younger every day, and here you are, one hundred years old with good hearing, good sight, and a sound mind. Not to mention your agility. It’s unheard of.”
“You just said it. I haven’t complained of any stomach pains, so yes, I’m very well. Thank you, Mae.”
It’s not the present pain, but the cancer’s furtherance will debilitate me in every aspect of my life. Doc’s prognosis was only a few months. I can’t announce my intentions to my family, but I can alleviate their anguish by a quick resolution, which they’ll perceive as an accident.
“Are you still going to jump out of an airplane today? I can’t comprehend why anyone would want to leave an airplane to fall to the earth. It makes no sense. What if you broke something, today of all days? You have been lucky the last two times, but then maybe lucky isn’t the right word. More like blessed.”
“We have this same conversation every time, Mae. It’s my third jump. Today’s a little different because I’m going up in a helicopter, and I get to sky dive alone. I can again view the property this last time from above, almost a godlike view.”
“This is your last jump, Miss Lou?”
“It stands to reason, Mae. You aren’t the only one who thinks I need to stop.”
By 8 AM, the first of the meals of the day was in progress. Country ham with red-eye gravy over grits, pineapple tarts, and fried apples were served in the dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the lake. A myriad of egrets fished for perch in the shallows.
Louvinia, pretty in her pink party dress, presided with her eldest son, Howard, Annie’s grandfather, on her left. The table seated eighteen, with every seat taken. At a signal from him, the blinds closed, and a cabinet revealed a television screen. A remote brought sound to the picture, and the voices hushed.
A picture of Louvinia captioned Mrs. Gerald Bigelow Carby occupied the entire screen, looking every bit the southern grande dame she was. Al Roker’s voiceover identified their matriarch as a significant landowner in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, celebrating her one-hundredth birthday. He continued to say that she had gifted The Nature Conservancy with five hundred acres of unspoiled land which would remain forever undeveloped for the sake of the wildlife.
The family applauded.
After the Today Show, Louvinia stood to address her family. “I can hardly imagine each time we have assembled here in this magnificent house, a house full of laughter and triumphs for the most part. Of course, I have experienced many more gatherings than the rest of you.” Louvinia looked at the upturned faces of her family members, and she smiled with loving affection. “You have inherited my history, and you have been my joy to advance to the future. I know the Carby name will continue in high esteem for another century or more to come. In Harold, Lewis, and Laverne, I could not have been more blessed as a mother. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been a source of constant pleasure. I only wish I had another century to enjoy you all.”
A groan was heard around the table but interrupted by Charlie’s statement. “We need you here forever, Muma.” Annie patted her little brother’s head.
Harold rose and thanked his mother for her wisdom and generosity throughout their lives, assuring her they had many more days to come.
At four o’clock, the air was still and perfect for the helicopter flight. The Carby family assembled on the steps to cheer her on. Laverne averted her tear-stained face, but not before Louvinia saw her. “Oh, my darlin’ Vernie. Please don’t cry. Think positive thoughts—I’ll be flying like a bird!”
A Eurocopter EC130 landed, and the passengers drove along the road beside the levee to board. Along with Louvinia were two other passengers, wearing eye protection, helmets, and flight suits. Their harnesses were equipped with regulation parachutes, and they used the single-point, quick-release passenger restraint system. In less than 10 minutes, they would reach the optimum jump altitude of 14,000 feet.
A retired Naval aviator prepared for takeoff while the passengers psyched themselves for what would come next. Louvinia chose to concentrate on their pilot’s handsome face. A happy thought to have as my last. Then she withdrew from her pocket the note Harold had handed her at the car door.
The rotors hummed, and within moments they were airborne.
She read the words written by her oldest offspring in his distinctive angular script.
You make us so proud. You exhibit the courage that only a seasoned character can ascribe to own.
Before Father died, he told Lewis, and me he feared you would be grief-stricken, and we were to make sure no harm came to you. You can imagine how concerned we were when you said you wanted to sky dive. We shouldn’t have been alarmed. Your sadness dissipated in the atmosphere as you descended each time back to earth.
I confess I’m relieved if this is your last jump, but I am so glad you have succeeded in your goal. You are in the record books and have inspired all your descendants to aim higher.
Your loving son,
Louvinia drummed against the side of the metal seat, horrified by her revelation. God had spoken through Harold. My last act cannot be contrary to the way of my life. Her goggles misted from the tears which sprang unheeded from her eyes. God willing, I’ll walk away with nary a broken bone or a bruised pelvis. I won’t let cancer stymie me but will persevere joyfully to the end.
Louvinia jumped, her hand near the paracord, her domain beneath.