Forever Friends

by Carol Abbott, October 30, 1999


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      A cat yowls in the dark Halloween night, somewhere off to my left.  A loud, startling screech, then all is quiet again.  I never do see what caused the sudden distress.  Peering into the inky black shadows, I can't see any movement, but there are goosebumps along my arms and the skin at the back of my neck is prickling.    I have been walking for about three quarters of an hour and in that time, have had a strange, slightly unsettled feeling.


        The moon slips in and out of the clouds and a mist begins to rise in ever increasing wisps from the ground, writhing like unsubstantial ghosts around the trees and hedges crowding up close to the sidewalk.   I love to walk about the town on Halloween nights and have done so for nearly all my adult years.  I sometimes share the walk with someone; very often I go by myself, but I'm never alone.  Halloween nights are always filled with companions.  Some are seen, some are spirits.  It's always a magical evening and I go out dressed for the weather, whatever it might be, and soak up the atmosphere.  This year, the temperature is just the other side of too cold for October.  Trick or treating children have long since hurried home with bags full of candy bars and apples and are shut in warm homes, munching popcorn and drinking cider while they watch "The Mummy" on television.

        Candles flicker in grinning jack-o-lanterns on the porches and walks of houses in this, my wonderful, small town.  Less than fifteen hundred people live in Clarksville but those of us who live here wouldn't want to live any place else. 

       I have been the librarian for the community library for 25 years. It's in the same brick building that started it's life as The Bank of Clarksville.  This information is imparted to passersby by being carved into the stonework above the wide front door by the builders back in 1899.  A two foot square, embossed, bronze plaque is attached to the heavy oak door, identifying the building's present use as ' The Clarksville Subscription Lending Library, established in 1959 '.

        My steps, on the walk this Halloween, are guiding me past the Frawley place.  No one has lived there for nearly two years.  Not since my dear friend Rose Frawley died in a freak accident, leaving a big hole in the lives of her many friends and a tangled and, yet to be settled, estate. 

       The story of her death is so strange and tragic.  On January 13th of '97 there was a sudden and bitter drop in the temperature.  The thermometer plunged down to zero and then the ice storm roared in.  All the trees and bushes became coated in ice, bending under the weighty burden.  Limbs began to fail from the weight of being clothed in this glittering and devastating beauty.  Ominous cracking could be heard, even indoors, every few minutes, sounding very like rifle shots in the frigid air.  Tree branches crashed to the ground, the larger ones shaking the ground like mini earthquakes.

        Wise residents, and Rose Ellen Frawley had always been sharp as a tack, hunkered down in their homes and prayed that the falling branches would spare the roofs, which they mostly did.   Most of us lost our electric power and phones, as the wires were taken out by crashing limbs.    But, within a few hours, the temperatures began to rise, reaching the upper-30s by the noon hour and the danger was perceived to be past.  

        As a weak winter-pale sun began to cast it's shadow, burning away the few remaining clouds, crews from the utilities began to work at repairing lines and the town's men folk set out to help in clearing the branches and limbs from roadways, sidewalks and neighbor's yards.  Working as fast as they could, they had just gotten to Rose Frawley's street on the south side of town.  Rose stepped out the side door of her house to watch the men, chainsaws roaring, up at the end of the block.   She was counting to see how many of the fellows she'd be fixing coffee and cake for, when they reached her yard.

      It is doubtful that Rose ever even knew what happened next, since she was rather hard of hearing, when not wearing her hearing aid.  So she didn't suffer fear in the last seconds of her life, or, probably, even any pain.  A huge limb from the elm that shaded her side door stoop had been broken mere hours before but instead of plunging to the ground, it had fallen into the outstretched arms of lower tree branches and hung there, waiting, reluctant to make it's final decent.   Some whimsical, errant breeze stirred the air and dislodged the limb to send it down towards the ground, right onto poor Rose Frawley, breaking her neck.


         I ponder the ironies of nature and the randomness of fate as I reach the walkway in front of the beautiful, but rather neglected looking Frawley mansion.  My glance, as I stroll past, rakes that long unoccupied house, with the mist swirling in tendrils amidst the trees.  Some trick of the moon light makes a window at the top of the house shine like yellow wavering candle's glowing behind the glass.  Shivers run up my back and I shove cold fingers deep into the pockets of my heavy, navy-blue car coat.  The wind sighs in the tree tops and I think of these elms, on this chill, Halloween evening, as "killer trees".  They did, after all, cause the early death of feisty little Rose Frawley. 

         The former Rose Shannon, who later married Harry Frawley, and I had known each other our whole lives and had been best friends since we were both in Miss Flynn's first grade class back in 1947.   I paused to look up at the empty, darkened windows of Rose's house and thought, as I was wont to do, every day of my life, how much I missed her.


        Now, according to the common town gossip, it's said that several distant and long forgotten grand-nephews are quarreling about the final disposition of the Frawley property.   None of them had cared about her much while she lived and most of the town is firm in believing that Rose wouldn't have willingly allowed this fight over Harry's and her assets.  But, there it stands---her house---waiting for the courts to decree new ownership, both of the lovely old homestead and of the substantial parcels of excellent farm land stretching away to the south and west of the city limits.

        Rose and her beloved Harry had waited in vain the eighteen years of their marriage to be blessed with the children that they so much desired.  After Harry died, Rose continued to be an enthusiastic participant in all the activities and going-ons of Clarksville.  It was as though the town became her child, to be cared for and fussed over and nurtured. She volunteered many hundreds of hours every year to help in the school, the library and at her church ladies guild.  

         Many of Rose's friends among the town had been told, by her, over the years, that she wanted the town she loved and where she had spent her whole life, to benefit from her holdings.  Although she and I seldom spoke of such somber things, she had confided to me on a couple of occasions, when we worked late at the library putting up newly donated books, or mending the covers of some of the old and favorite standbys in the library collection.  

         "Harry and I weren't blessed with children" she said wistfully.  "That's just about my only regret, except for loosing him so soon.  We used to talk about what we'd do with the farms and the house.  Harry wanted to turn the house over to the city for use as a museum and community center.  It had, of course, been in his family since the first wing of it was built in 1872.  It's just about the oldest surviving building in the county.  All the land is destined to be deeded to the city.  The income from the rents for the farming rights will provide a substantial yearly income to pay for the repairs, upkeep and maintenance on the house plus a good surplus to be applied to other worthwhile town needs." 

          "All except for the parcel that used to be Grover Johnson's place.   You know, where the lake is?  Well, I'd love to see that place turned into a wildlife preserve.  Harry and I used to take a picnic basket up there and watch the deer come down to the water and drink.   And the migrating birds have always come to the lake by the thousands.  It would be so pretty with some picnic tables and barbecue grills on the bluff overlooking the water.  The city could use it as much as they wanted for school field trips, and the like, and the farms' rental income could easily pay to do any mowing and necessary maintenance there, as well."   Rose's eyes had sparkled with intensity as she described all this.

         When she was taken from us, so tragically and suddenly, I had been so sure that her will would reflect what I felt was her true intentions.    But no will, of any kind, had been located.  Seth Wilson, her lawyer, had shaken his head sadly and hopelessly when I made a gentle inquiry of him, after those grand-nephews had descended and started to push their way around, and fuss and jockey for position.  "She just never got around to doing a will.  She didn't have a fatalistic bone in her entire body, bless her dear, sweet heart."  And Seth shrugged.


      I turned the corner at the end of the block from the Frawley house and headed out toward the cemetery.  The city had decided long ago to invest in good street lighting, thanks to a generous donation from Rose and Harry, so all over town it was very easy to walk anywhere, even in the deep dark of night.  Since it was an old-fashioned town made up of streets and streets of houses dating from the 1920s, '30s and '40s, with some even earlier that that, nearly, every street had sidewalks on at least one side of the street, as well.  I hadn't seen another living soul since leaving the downtown area fifteen minutes ago.  Most Halloweens there were others out and about, or at least a few cars filled with teenagers, but the coldness of the evening had apparently driven everyone indoors earlier than usual.


        "I'll just swing by the cemetery and then head back home for some hot chocolate," I thought.  "Wouldn't really be Halloween without a sight of the Cemetery."  It was a great fascination of mine, that cemetery.  Even in a town the size of Clarksville, a lot of dying takes place.  The community had existed since around the time of the Civil War and I'd discovered some of the really old parts when I was just a little bitsy girl out helping my Gran put peonies on the family graves for Memorial Day.  Some stones and markers were so worn, that you nearly had to "read" the dates by touch.  They contained beautiful and sad inscriptions---'Beloved Wife'---'Dearest Father'---'Loving Daughter' --- 'Tiny Son so sadly grieved'.  Rose Shannon and I had decided, one bright May afternoon, that the most beautiful monument in the whole cemetery was an imposing Angel holding a Sword which graced the very top of the Frawley family's edifice.  Since the Frawley's had been one of the first founding families in the area, it seemed appropriate some how that this Angel towered over all other stones in the cemetery.    We always made a pilgrimage there every year and we always left a few flowers at it's base.  My imagination had been fired up at an early age by the majesty and grace of Clarksville Memorial Park and Cemetery, and I never stopped being enchanted by the place. Not even, after all these years!


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         The fog was wreathing each street light and seemed to be thickening.  Sounds, even my own footsteps, were muffled.  I could hear my own breathing and the shuffle of dried leaves but they seemed disconnected from me. 

          A gust of wind began tossing the bushes nearest me, while my eyes told me that no breeze stirred anywhere else.  I felt a giddiness and just a prickle of fear!


        What exactly was happening that made it seem as though the bushes were moving?   The streetlights, muffled in foggy blankets, seemed awfully dim and did nothing to illuminate the area just around me.  My eyes strained to make out details and the mist swirled and eddied just at the edge of my sight.  I realized that there was a strange and unearthly glow beyond the cemetery fence and because of the "Angel and the Sword" stone being in my line of sight, I knew that the graves of Rose and Harry Frawley were at the point of origin of this light.

         Later, I would wonder why I hadn't turned on my heel and run away from this thing that was happening, but the truth was that while it was occurring, I was at least as curious as I was afraid.  A lifetime of happy memories crowded most of my terror away.  I had never felt a threat from being in the cemetery.  I moved closer to the fence to try and see better.  The bushes just around me still whipped in some unfelt wind and kept me from seeing to the top of the hill.  I moved from one place at the fence to another and still could not see satisfactorily.  Suddenly I was at the open entrance.  The gates had never been closed to block the way and stood open in invitation.  Several tall pines and the trunks of some large oaks hid the exact point of the light's source from my view but the glow was very bright and shown around the trees, illuminating the grave stones and plantings in very exact detail.  I slipped inside the fence and slowly moved along the drive, trying to see where the light was coming from.

         My eyes were very wide, trying so hard to see but, in an instant, I realized that someone stood just at my elbow.  This presence was familiar and I felt no fear.  My mouth was so dry that I could not cry out but I croaked "Rose, is it you?


         The voice was hauntingly familiar but sounded young, almost childlike.  It was so quiet that I had a feeling it was as much in my head as it was in my ears.  "Anna, I have so longed to speak with you.  I dared not hope that you would come here on All Hallows Eve.  Remember the fun we used to have here, playing between the gravestones when the days were bright and the peonies smelled of sun and earth.  Anna, my time with you is short and I have something urgent to tell.  You must help me, Anna!"

         I turned toward the voice but found myself always looking at just the tail end of a vision.  Not really being able to see the apparition face on.   I had the impression of prism colors shimmering inside of a column of light and that soft voice made me ache to embrace my dear friend, as we had hugged so many years ago, young girls, fast friends, giggling and telling secrets, glad of each other's company and so comfortable in each other's presence.

         I sensed her anxiety and the urgency of her words, and I spoke with my whole heart.   "Tell me Rose.  What can I do to help you, dear.  Oh, Rose, I do miss you so.  I never got to tell you goodbye!  I love you, Rose.  I wanted you to know."  I felt tears sliding down my cheeks, leaving cold trails on my skin in the chilled air.

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         "Anna, my dearest friend.  My distress has allowed me to channel through to you tonight.  My time came too soon.  I knew that Seth was right to tell me to make a will, but I thought I had all the time in the world, just about.  I did write it all down though.  Notes to remind myself about what to put in and what Harry and I wanted to do.  I put them in that little secret drawer in Harry's desk.   You remember it don't you?  I showed you how it worked a long time ago.   Annie, you need to tell them about the notes.  It's like a will, it even says "This is my last will and testament' ---just me being silly--- and I signed it with my full name.  I want this bickering to end.  Those boys of Jeff's and Howard's are not going to ruin the plans that Harry and I had for Clarksville.  Please, Anna, don't let that happen."  Rose's voice was growing fainter.  "I love you, Anna.   Thank you for being here tonight, when I needed you to be.  You were always there for me. I miss our time together.   My true and very best friend......."   The light began to fade. 

           I just wanted to scream, "Oh, please Rose, don't leave me again.  I need to tell you so much.  There is still a lifetime of things I want to talk with you about."  But I knew that I had been given a rare and fine gift.  I had been able to tell her once more that I loved her.   I had heard her say that she loved me and I knew that I could give her a gift of precious peace by fulfilling her last wish.

          The unfelt wind died without a whisper.  Tendrils of fog drifted wetly and mingled with my tears.  I hugged my arms across my body and glanced around the cemetery.    But the only illumination now was from the widely spaced street lights.  The Angel with the Sword was dimly seen standing eternal sentinel and I gave him a small salute.  Then I turned and walked down the road and back through the gateway, the way I'd come.  

           It was late, but I knew I'd call Seth just as soon as I got home.  After all, I'd promised my best friend Rose, that I would.


The End

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