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One of the things I love most about puzzles is how necessary it is that I have a high tolerance for disorder, knowing in the end, order will be restored. It is a very nice jigsaw; 1000 piece Hautman Brothers Collection, “Standing Proud.”
If it was a simple throw away, I would have finished by now and moved along from it.
It is not simple ~ and I like that. Plus it gives me a relief from writing, reading and allows me to continue to think while my hands and eyes are active.
Song Sparrow on a twig calling a mate.
You hear it all the time when you’re out in the yard, or walking in the neighborhood; the sirens from Fire District 6 or an ambulance or Rescue Unit going to and from the Hospital, which is a mile away as the crow flies. So when the sound comes closer, and is heading your direction, you notice and pay attention. But it’s when the Rescue Unit and Fire Engine stop in front of your neighbor’s door, that a pang of fear for fragile friends heightens your senses; tasting your dry mouth, hearing your heart skip a beat.
We were downstairs with a fire in the wood stove, drinking our morning coffees when the sound of sirens started getting closer. Hearing the truck pulled up across the street, we went out on the front porch to check. Fire Rescue Personnel entered the house, and then the AMR team arrived and went right in.
“This doesn’t look good.” Creighton said.
“No, it doesn’t.” I agreed.
We returned inside and waited for a while. Another Fire Truck arrived, but did not stay. I waited a bit longer then took my coffee out onto the porch steps to watch.
While I sat there, the AMR team returned to their vehicle, without a patient on a stretcher, and drove quietly out of the neighborhood.
Not a good sign at all,
I thought, as I listened to the powerful idle of the remaining Fire Truck’s engine.
I need to find out what happened; I’ve waited long enough.
So I walked on the curb side of the Fire Truck to see if anyone was there - no.
Knock and the door opens to a line of firemen in the midst of an exit interview. Other neighbors are here too. I enter.
Arriving at the scene just after someone has died doesn’t happen to you very often; certainly not while you’re still holding tight to your morning mug of java on a Saturday.
Skirting past the line of firemen, I saw three other neighbors with Linda in her living room. As I came into view she reached out.
“I lost him this time.”
Always straight forward, she cried as we hugged. I praised her perseverance. She talked about their long loving relationship, what made it work - the absolute necessity to enjoy one another’s sense of humor - to laugh together.
Linda praising them, thanking them from her heart, and telling them a story.
“My Mom just loved firemen like you!” She said, looking into each of their faces, in turn.
“She’d bring them fresh baked cookies and we would wait outside, smiling and waving as the men tossed kisses from the windows.”
The spokesman’s eyes
I squinted at him;
“Was that ~ anger?”
She cheers them as they exit
leaving the man
they could not rescue
dead on the floor.
I walked into the kitchen and saw Gary not completely covered; on his back, face ashen, one arm out to the side, his hand turning grey. I stood agape as their daughter Kim arrived and rushed to him. On her knees, leaning over his body she sobbed; “You were the best father ever.” Two of Kim’s daughters were with her. They joined their mom and grandma in heartfelt grief.
With her family present, we neighbors knew our job for now was done. I dashed home to tell Creighton. He sat shocked wondering what to do. “Shall I go over?”
“I don’t know what to do.” Creighton said.
“Do you want to go over?” I asked.
“Do you think it’s OK?”
“I’ll go with you.”
When we entered, everyone was sitting in the family room on couches and chairs with Gary’s body in the same position I had seen it. His hand had turned black by now.
Startled, Creighton reached out to me.
“You OK? I asked.
“No.” He answered. “I didn’t expect this.”
Then Linda saw Creighton and called to him. He gave her a warm hug and told her how sorry he was.
Their dog, July Johnson, a Jack Russell, was still outside. We’d had a discussion earlier about whether July should be allowed to see Gary dead. With encouragement from Dee and me, Linda had agreed it would be best.
“I’m so glad you came back,” Linda said to me. “ I was just about to let July in.”
In keeping with his nature, July rushed in and jumped up to lick my face, jumped down, sniffed Gary, jumped up on another chair, ran around the room, the house, came back, sniffed Gary, licked his face, jumped up and licked mine.
“They don’t tell you, when you fall in love, that one of you will end up alone. It will happen to one of you too.” Linda said, as Creighton came over to sit by me.
“So true…” I replied.
“How long have you guys been married?” She asked.
July was still bouncing around the room, and I was kneeling down to pet him, calm him.
“Let’s see - how old am I? - sixty-five - we married when I was twenty, met when I was eighteen, so we’ve known each other forty-seven years and been married forty-five.
“Then you’ve been married longer than anyone else on the block! I thought Gary and I held that record.” Linda smiled and threw up her hands.
“Gary was my third, but we stuck together thirty-seven years. The first ten we were so active; he was a genius you know - had an IQ of 157, that is until the accident. He lost his short term memory - that’s when he was first diagnosed disabled. For the next twenty-seven years I cared for him exclusively. Oh we had such a fun time though - our sense of humor saved us."
“Having a compatible sense humor is essential.” I agreed. “It has kept Creighton and me going through many tough times.”
July was calming down some, and Creighton told me he was going back home. I stayed a few minutes longer while the sheriff took care of details. As I left, our regular postman was driving down the block. I stood in my driveway and he came over to hand me our mail. I noticed him glancing at the sheriff’s car.
“We have lost a dear neighbor this morning.” I told him. “Gary A. died, just about an hour ago.”
Our postman, James, looked at me and grimaced.
“I’m so sorry. Thank you for telling me. We try to be very sensitive when we know this has happened.”
“I thought maybe I could take Linda’s mail to her - save her thinking about needing to get it.”
“Yes, let’s see.” Jim replied.
He sorted through her mail, removing solicitations that might cause her pain. I concurred with his judgement, accepted the neat stack of letters and trotted back over. I opened the door, shouted in that I had intercepted her mail, and set it on the side table.
On Sunday morning I brought Linda some fresh strawberries and stayed to talk . Kim and Emily had stayed the night and all three women were still in the ‘suspended animation’ phase of shock. For the next three days I watched and prayed, but minded my own business, knowing they were taking care of theirs.
Thursday morning I snipped three bright stalks of Hyacinth and knocked on her door. Linda opened it with tears in her eyes.
“You came at just the right time.” She said as we hugged. It’s just so final…and my whole life revolved around him.”
She had a fire in the wood stove and invited me in. Sitting together in the room where his life had ended, I listened attentively; the best gift anyone can give a person who is grieving.
“He was forty-seven when he had the car accident; he’d been drinking and drove into a light pole in his VW bug. His head crashed through the windshield and then jerked back through the broken glass - severely damaged his brain - disabling him. He was an accountant before that. He couldn’t work and I quit my job to take care of him.”
“We had a VW bug too. Thank God I had on the seatbelt when I rolled it into a ditch on a country road. I was hanging upside down inside the cab, in shock but alive.” I shared.
“With the engine in back, Gary didn’t stand a chance.” Linda continued. “He was lucky to be alive, and that’s how we went about the rest of our lives. I took over all the duties that most women my age let their husbands do. It strengthened me. And you know Lindy, I feel like God was taking care of us.”
“You know Gary was starting to show signs of dimensia, not severe, but definitely the first stages. God didn’t want to put him or me through that, He took Gary now, while he was still cogent and we were still able to laugh and enjoy what life we had.”
“You were a tremendous care giver to him.” I said.
“I was everything; his lover, wife, mother, keeper, so now I have a lot of time on my hands - and it is new. Even last night, I went to my granddaughter’s cheer banquet. I couldn’t do that before.”
“I’m so glad you have dear family living so close. They’ll help you get through this - you’ll all help one another. Will there be a service or celebration?” I asked, as we had not seen any death notice or obituary to date.
“No. I’ll pick up his urn tomorrow. I’m planning to have it sitting in his armchair when the family comes here for dinner Saturday. Then I’ll move it to his chair at the table when we eat. It would make him smile - we shared a sometimes macabre sense of humor!” Linda laughed.
I wrote out a condolence note and slipped the card into Linda’s mailbox. That evening she called to thank me and suggested we get together sometime for some wine.
“Let’s just get snockered!” She laughed.
“I can handle it,” I answered. “You name the time.”
It has been two weeks. Linda walks July every day; sometimes with another neighbor and her dog, sometimes with Kim and Emily. When I see her, I stop what I’m doing and go to greet her. She is always showered, perfumed, and well groomed.
“How is she doing?” I asked Kim today.
“It is getting harder for her.” Kim replied. “The longer it has been, the more she notices.” Linda was talking with Jim, another neighbor who had been with her the morning Gary died. I overheard her telling Jim, “…he is everywhere in the house.”
“I have tried to be close, but respect the family’s need for privacy.” I said to Kim. “I don’t want to be intrusive.”
“It’s OK,” Kim assured me. “We come over three or more times a week, and sometimes the girls or I will stay over night. But we have other obligations too.”
“So when are we gonna get snockered?” Linda quipped as July nuzzled against my leg.
“You name the day!” I answered.
“Wine time at mom’s starts about 2:00, way too early for me!” Kim said aside to me, rolling her eyes.
“Sometimes in the summer I like to have an early afternoon glass, after the days work is done.” I said. “But it’s good to know Linda is OK with an earlier happy hour!”
“How about you Jim? Wanta got snockered with us?”
He shook his head. His mother-in-law passed the same week Gary died.
I think of her rattling around the empty house, trying to focus on what needs doing, yet stuck in the fog of loss. It is time for me to make another visit, to knock on that door with some little something - or maybe just me - to listen as she pours out her grief, and hold her when she cries, and laugh - yes I want to bring her laughter. Josie and July will provide us plenty of that; July always wanting to sniff Josie’s butt and mount, Josie growling her “get the fuck off me” snarl and promptly sitting down.
Vernal Equinox 2014, and I am into the gardens. Last fall our next door neighbors had thirty feet of cedar fencing added to the south side. It provides a backdrop against which I am imagining a beautiful landscape display.
Until now all I wanted was to provide as much natural and inexpensive flora screening as possible. The only neighbor before the Williams’ who cared to keep the space tidy, was E E. He spread a thin layer of pea gravel on the ground over there. When the weather was fair he raked it gently, distributing nuggets - said it calmed him.
March is the month to do this kind of digging out, transplanting, and digging in shrubs. It is chilly, so I don’t sweat out, the earth is wet, but only sometimes boggy in the clay swaths, so plants that are established slip out of their holes without a lot of root damage, and the cool air keeps the roots from drying out.
Last year I planted two Vibernum, a shrub I had not planted and really didn’t know much about. Now I am a total fan and plan to add two or three more into this new landscape.
Once bitten by the spring fever bug, I don’t want to do anything else but play in the gardens. I clean out the beds of fall and winter detritus, going over the place essentially on my hands and knees. I rip out invasive and unwanted plants, survey the health of everything, and decide where the unhappy plants might have a better time of it. Six Nandina, which I understood would do well in shade, looked like they had been sat on all year. I moved them all into the new landscape where they will get dappled sunlight all day.
While planting and transplanting, I find Hosta nubbins where I forgot they would be, and after trampling on them rudely, I put wire rings around them to avoid any further damage. Then there are the stumps of trees that fell in windstorms or were cut down when dead. I never had the stumps ground because it didn’t matter. Now I dig around the edges of their root system and, using my chainsaw and splitting maul, cut them out - piece by piece - until the only parts remaining are well below ground level. Again, I praise the cool breezes of March.
A couple years ago I made a pathway between our yard and the Williams’. Removing the big stump by the path, opened up possibilities for a path and garden redo. With a half dozen primroses left over (I buy them at HD on post off) and some fresh Vinca I want to introduce throughout the plot as ground cover, I set out to make the pathway accessible and welcoming.
Much of landscaping is in seeing how the lines of hardscape mesh with and enhance the softscape of ground and plants. Bolders, rocks and pea gravel are my favorite hardscape materials.
Josie and I have taken over seven yards of yard debris to the local recycle center already, and I am working on another load. After this one I will switch back to the every-other-week curbside yard debris pick up service offered in the county. Whew!
Dicentra, bleeding heart, is blooming now, its fragile curved stems dripping a strand of bright pink flowers. Another of my favorite early spring deciduous perennials, wild trillium also lift their white (sometimes slightly pink) three petalled faces to the sun, while periwinkle meanders underfoot, its bright violet blossoms peeking out along the way.
One of my works of writing and photography,
, is being published by
Postcards, Poems and Prose
zine. When the last day of winter passed, and I hadn’t heard when it would be published, I figured they would wait until next year. Then I received the publish date; March 31. Of course! The last day of winter, or hopefully so, for the far northern states and high mountain areas.
Here I am surrounded by jonquils, with tulips starting to open, and flowering plum already bloomed out, while much of the northern hemisphere is barely emerging from deep winter.
People who live in climates where snow is a constant, have names for the various kinds of snow that occur. Around here the weather is dominated by rainfall, so I have developed my own gauge of what is real RAIN, and what is just showers, or light sprinkles, or simply clouds flying high and wild, dark and threatening, but letting down somewhere else. Most of the month I have been able to dodge heavy rains, and be in my gardens for a few hours every day. Not today. From morning until dusk it poured, and I enjoyed a welcome rest.
Today is mild and clear. Almost tempts me to consider a BBQ - but by dinner time the winds blowing in off the Pacific chills me. Instead, I am content to take my wine glass out and tour the yard; admiring the work already complete, checking recent transplants, looking about for what needs to happen next, and planning what I might accomplished tomorrow. While walking along the new path I mentioned earlier, I heard the call of a Pileated Woodpecker. When I looked up, there it was sitting in the tree above me, calling - for a mate or to establish territory.
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