by James D. Wolf, Jr on May 8, 2012

“That episode is laid away in the most pleasant lavender of my past.”
–  F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Bowl”

I knew, logically, that Penny was dead. We’d been preparing for that reality for a while now, almost as much as we’d prepared to fight her cancer and win.

And, logically, I understood what it all meant. I’d just stood for four hours next to the hospital bed where she had died, standing guard over her body while beginning plans for a funeral that we hadn’t expected to come for at least another month.

I still felt guilty going through her purse when I got back home. As I sat on our couch and searched for her insurance card and social security number, I kept looking over my shoulder. I made sure I left everything in proper order or placed it back where it belonged.

She had an insurance card from her previous teaching job and one from her current school system, but I wasn’t sure which was which. I sorted through business or appointment cards from doctors and clinics and medical labs. Tucked behind her license, I found a credit card receipt from a restaurant in Coralville, a city in Iowa where we hadn’t been for more than a year. She must have transferred it with her driver’s license and credit cards through at least one change of purse, and I didn’t know why.

Then I saw the restaurant’s name and the date.

For two-and-a-half years, she’d kept a receipt from our first date close to her, never letting me know she carried it everywhere.

I heard my voice breathe, “Oh, hon. . .”

I knew, logically, that Penny was dead. We’d been preparing for the possibility for a few months now.

But I was just beginning to realize what it meant.

* * * *

“A Meager Harvest” is the preface to A Private Tragedy: Love, Cancer and Death in the Days of 9/11, a memoir about two never-married 30-somethings in Iowa who meet through online dating, fall in love and move to the Chicago area, where she dies of cancer during the time the Twin Towers were attacked. James D. Wolf  Jr. is a correspondent for The Post-Tribune in Northwest Indiana and is looking for a literary agent. Copyright James D. Wolf Jr.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Miriam May 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Excellent writing James. Still so sorry about your loss. I want to read the rest, even though I feel, at this moment, like crying and throwing up. You are a fantastic writer….you already know that.


Angel May 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Very intriguing and touching preface. I look forward to reading the entire story.

Best wishes,


Michael Skau May 9, 2012 at 12:45 am

Very tender and moving. You have a good sense of pace and development.


Kim Ranegar May 21, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Thanks for sharing this. Sorry that it’s a true story that you had to live through to tell. All the best as you pursue publication!


Kenny M April 14, 2013 at 6:57 am

As mentioned above, you’re a great writer. I don’t think I’ll be able to read the book though; my girlfriend was killed in 2010 & just reading the preface took me right back that first moment at home after I got back from the mortuary.


Jane February 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Thanks for sharing your love story…’s touching and moved…..


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