Short Story

This is a true story.

We were best of friends all our lives. We loved each other like sisters, and we were exactly one month apart in age. I was brown-haired, she was blonde, but we were the same height and alike in many ways. We were both tall and, at that time, willowy. She stayed willowy, I didn't. When we became adults, we lived about five hundred miles apart. So we wrote to keep in touch, talked on the phone, and visited each other. As we grew older, we never broke the connection and we kept on like the kids, we still were.

When Jude and I talked on the phone, we often discussed the foolishness we pulled as little children. We remembered: Mom put me one direction on the bed for a nap and Jude's mom put Jude the other direction. This was supposed to keep us apart. They told us to take our afternoon naps. I started to fall asleep when I felt a big crunch!

Jude was giggling. "I bit your toe," she explained happily. "I'm wound up ready to play, you stay awake with me."

My toe didn't hurt at all, even though she had crunched it pretty good. I said, "Okay!" I was as happy as if I had good sense. We had a great time – until crabby mothers marched in like soldiers, scolded us, and said, "Get to sleep."

Where she lived there were timbered hills. Always an athlete, she hiked those hills. She once, wearing a big blue Civil War dress, had to jump from a wagon box towed by a run-away team in the movie, “The Blue and the Gray.” She always fought battles for justice. When the county wanted to tear down a rare, antique yellow bridge – she fought along with many other city leaders. They staged a sit-in and sat on the bridge all night and day. The bridge stayed.

She was a laugher and a lover – lover to her dear people around her who loved her right back. A laugher, because I don't believe I ever saw her even frown. She took life as if it were a bowl of cherries. She was an individual (really an individual) who seemed to take her youth and teenage years right on through life. Not many people could do this, nor could they remain genuinely happy.

Maybe, part of her gift was the unique store she owned and worked in. One of her stories she told to me was how she hired mountain women to onion-skin dye the doll clothes for her dolls in the store. Once her supply was low and tourist season had started. So Jude went up into the hills to see if the ladies had any clothes ready.

-- The Jude talking (as she was often called): Jeanie, I went up there in those hills and got scolded! The lady said to me, "Now, Jude, you know this is pea-picking time. We cain't be foolin' with dolls now."

Jude had a way with customers. Many were returns to her store year after year. They simply loved her warmth and hospitality. A year ago a friend gave me a pretty cup with a big red cardinal on the side. I really liked the cup and thanked her graciously. But, maybe my happiness was in the cup itself. I turned it over and on the bottom were the words, Packrat Paradise. Someone had bought it in Jude's store and the cup found its way to me.

While hiking in the hills with her daughter, Allie, Jude got a little breathless. Allie was concerned and wanted her mom to have a doctor check her. The doctor told Jude that she had a valve that wasn't properly closing and could someday stick and not open. Always a barnstormer, Jude went with the idea of surgery. The surgery went okay and the doctors decided to put her in a coma for a short time to allow for better healing.

On Monday the doctor decided to wake Jude, because he said they simply couldn't keep her under any longer. That went well also. Jude was surrounded by her two daughters. Friends waited anxiously to hear if all went well. They were informed.

Then Jude began to bleed out.

Jude talking:

"I couldn't figure it out – why I was up on the ceiling, in the corner, and right above my own bed. I looked down and there were people working on someone. I said, 'Who is that ugly old woman down there? …she is sick.' I kept looking and I said, 'Why, that's me!' So I watched the scene. I counted and there were seven men around me – seven doctors, no women doctors. They were working on my …my heart or my chest.

Jean talking:

When Jude lay in her bed, doctors were concerned that she wouldn't have a healthy mind if she awoke, maybe brain dead. She had been dead for five minutes — a little above the usual limit. The daughters were there. The doctor shook Jude to wake her and called her name. She didn't respond. Allie and Tannie became nervous and called excitedly, 'Mom!' Jude opened her eyes to her girls.

Jude:

"Next thing I knew, I was back in my bed. I remembered everything. As soon as I woke up, I looked around for a nurse to call my daughters! I wanted to tell them right away — tell them everything about my dying. Then I realized my girls were already there, so I told them that I was up above my bed in that corner, and that there were seven doctors working on me and no women doctors.

Later in the day, my doctor came back. Of course, I asked him what happened down on that table. He really looked surprised! And he asked me, 'You saw all of that? You were flat lined?' I said, 'Yes, I saw it!' So I told him about the seven men and no women. He said, 'well, that is correct. We really worked to get you going. It was touch and go.' I told him that I was glad the girls knew, and that they could tell my son who hadn't arrived yet.

Jean:

Jude got along fairly well for awhile. Then suddenly it happened again a few days later. This time Jude took the trip, but for a fleeting moment in her life, she went out her way — the way she had done everything in her life… happy to talk to her family once more and happy to know there really is a hereafter. Me? I already knew that there is, just as sure as I know that The Jude knew it, too.

I didn't get to see Jude in those last days, nor could I attend her funeral to say good-bye. I was at home with terrible back pain, which evolved into a need for a spinal procedure. I thought of Jude, though, and how we used to connect on a special level of understanding.

When my son came home to take me for a back scan, I told him about her returning to tell us where and how she had floated on the ceiling. I not only told him about her death, but about how strong she had been, how fun-loving, and how she had a big heart for family, friends, and even her customers.

Jude is one of the few people who really got to experience the big step, pause and take a deep breath to enjoy it, then take the step over again, and soar. Jude will be good at soaring. She lifted up and flew her whole life. Now Jude is soaring again and going places. She's at home.

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