The Todd Lambert Specialby Anna Scott Graham
The Todd Lambert Special
By Anna Scott Graham
Copyright 2017 Anna Scott Graham
This is a work of fiction. Names and characters, incidents and places are either products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For my husband, his unwavering love and support over the last thirty years making my life, and those of our family, well worth the journey.
The morning was cool, with a slight breeze from the west. Tommie Smith stood on his front porch, taking a deep breath. It smelled like rain, but being it was Oregon, many days possessed that damp, earthy scent.
Tommie went back inside and started the coffee. As his wife Rae shuffled to the bathroom, Tommie got out another mug. A few minutes passed, then Rae joined him, walking slowly with a cane in her right hand. Tommie mumbled good morning, and Rae nodded. She sat at the table as Tommie brought them each a cup of black coffee. Then he sat across from her.
For ten minutes neither spoke, which was odd in that Rae could talk a streak, her booming voice not having lost much of its spark, even for her age. It was age that kept them hushed, age and death and reality. Not that Todd Lambert was a part of the family, or not by blood. But then, within their clan, blood counted for so little. Todd was a part of them due to… Tommie smiled. “I hope they buried him with a few spliffs for the road.”
Rae nodded thoughtfully, tapping the top of her cane.
Tommie sipped from the edge of his mug. Then he smiled. “I can see the kids now, shaking their heads, thinking that’d be a waste. You could make a batch of pound cake instead, send him off with a real tribute. But damnit, Todd should get to take a few joints with him.”
Rae kept quiet, which bothered Tommie. She’d been hushed since the middle of last week, when Todd died suddenly of a stroke. They had just seen him the week before at the family barbecue, and he’d looked fine, that thin gray ponytail not tucked into the back of his collar. He had spent most of the evening speaking with Sam and Jenny Cassel, whose son Eric had taken over for Todd, at least within this family. Todd had grown the best medicinal weed within Oregon’s Willamette Valley, probably some of the best pot in the whole state. Of course, it wasn’t for just anyone’s use; it was for Rae and Jenny, and whoever else needed a healing boost.
But since last week, Rae had barely had a toke, nor had she baked any pound cake. Not that she cooked like she used to; she had just turned seventy-five a few days before Todd passed away. Tommie knew it wasn’t another birthday to quiet his wife. And it wasn’t all about Todd dying either, but that was a notable chunk of her mood.
Tommie gazed at her cane, then into her tired gray eyes. He wouldn’t say anything that early in the morning, he might not mention it for another day or three. Todd’s funeral had just taken place yesterday, quite a crowd for the seventy-six-year-old. Few Lamberts had been there, most of the mourners were Smiths and Cassels. It hadn’t been the kind of service that called for black suits and ties; Todd Lambert wasn’t the sort to demand fuss and feathers. That it had been held at the local Catholic Church was as elaborate as it got, and Tommie still hoped three or four joints had been waiting in the casket. Todd deserved a proper send-off.
Most mornings Tommie woke with one ache or another, but he refrained from getting high. Abstinence had been a hard-fought battle, with a few spills along the road. Only if he got a terminal disease would Tommie light up, or indulge in his wife’s famous chocolate pound cake. Everyone in Linn County quietly raved about Rae’s specialty, which according to Rae had changed somewhat when Todd handed over the cultivating duties to Eric. It was sweeter now, and certainly more potent. How one variety of weed could be sweeter than another, Tommie wasn’t certain. As for the strength of the herb…
Tommie smiled, then finished his coffee. He poured another cup, then glanced at his wife. Rae wasn’t even half-done with her first mug.
She didn’t meet his gaze, but nodded her head. So many years they had been married, and while the last few had been filled with great-grandchildren, death was never far away. It had steered clear of their inner circle, but Todd had been like one of the family, and if nothing else, there weren’t many old-timers left. If not for all of Tommie’s clan, the church would have been nearly empty, but kids had jostled amid the priest’s solemn words. Tommie had been glad for the buzz, it reaffirmed that life continued. Others Tommie had loved, then lost, were probably helping Todd get acclimated to where joints weren’t necessary, although God probably wouldn’t mind if they all lit up right before St. Peter led Todd through the pearly gates.
Tommie nearly chuckled, then he sighed. Down here, where physical ailments were prevalent, it was the women to suffer. Rae hated her cane, but it was better than a walker, or God forbid, a chair like Jenny’s. Yet, pot kept Jenny on her feet most of the time, and it had done wonders for Rae’s bad leg, the injury a remnant of childhood polio. Tommie glanced back at his wife, who was dabbing at her eyes with a napkin. Soon enough Rae would have a good cry, but that would be behind their closed bedroom door, long after the last great-grandchild had said goodnight. And once that was over, Tommie hoped that Rae’s recent malaise would lift. Life and death intermingled, there was no way to get around it.
Tommie spent most of that morning checking the cows. When he came in at ten, Rae was on the phone, probably with Jenny, from the sounds of the conversation. Tommie poured more coffee, but didn’t sit. The women were speaking about Thursday’s lunch, which according to Rae would be chicken soup. Tommie sighed inwardly; that meant Rae would be on her feet for much of tomorrow, her cane set aside. Rae had only been using the cane since spring, when Jenny was bedridden from a bad flare-up of her multiple sclerosis. Jenny was better now, although she had been in her wheelchair at the funeral, at her husband Sam’s insistence. Rae hadn’t said anything about that chair, nor did she speak much about Jenny’s walker. But a walker was looming for Rae, and probably wasn’t too far off in the future. While Jenny had accepted her illness’s demands, Rae had fought accessories tooth and nail.
Tommie never chided his wife, for only in that manner had she balked. It had taken ages for them to convince Jenny to try cannabis, yet Rae had first used beer, then weed, to remove the edge. But self-medication was one thing, equipment was another. Rae hadn’t permitted a ramp to be built at their farmhouse, nor had she allowed hand rails to be installed alongside the toilet or within their shower. Tommie didn’t fear she would slip, only because if he did, he would then worry about another dozen possible scenarios in which Rae might lose her balance, then break a hip. If she broke her hip…
Tommie inhaled, still smelling that dampness from the morning. He sniffed again, but didn’t note the distinctive whiff of pot that permeated his kitchen when Rae got high, or every few months when she and their daughters made a batch of cannabutter for Rae to bake with. The scent was new to Tommie, and not altogether pleasant. It was change, he realized, as Rae shifted from foot to foot, trying to ease her sore leg.
“All right honey, we’ll see you and Sam tomorrow.” Rae huffed slightly, only because she was tired of standing. She hung up the phone, then gripped the counter, gazing for her cane, her good right leg taking the brunt of her weight.
Tommie brought the stick to his wife, but didn’t say anything, as Rae noted that the Cassels were bringing dessert. Tommie nodded as Rae grasped the cane’s handle with as much force as Jenny gripped her walker. Change was indeed afoot in the Smith household, but perhaps Rae wouldn’t fight it the way Jenny had bristled about smoking pot.
Two days later, Sam and Jenny came for lunch. For many years, Tommie and Rae had gone to the Cassels every Thursday for the noon meal. But when Jenny got her walker, Rae had insisted that the location change. Tommie hadn’t missed how Rae took umbrage at Jenny’s decline, and once Rae made up her mind, there was no altering it.
To Rae, it was silly for Sam to make lunch, but she’d left unstated that for the last several years Jenny had stopped making her usual contributions to the August barbecue and other family functions. Sam fixed the potato salad and baked the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with assistance from many grandchildren. Sam was seven years younger than Tommie, and he’d gotten a much later start on fatherhood. As Tommie bobbed great-grandchildren on his aged knees, Sam was still gathering grandsons and granddaughters onto his lap.
But those years mattered not