Anna

November 26, 2013 by

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I was drawn to Anna’s room this morning because I missed her in the dining room at breakfast. She was always there before me. As I clocked in at the nursing home each morning, and walked through the big open room, no one would be there but Anna. She’d wave me over, and make me twirl in front of her old eyes so she could marvel at my outfit for the day. If she absolutely loved the entire ensamble, she’d clap her hands, and reach out to kiss me. Otherwise, she’d give me a compliment on the bit of pink in my scarf, or the buckle on my belt, or tell me the blue of my blouse matched my eyes.

She wasn’t there this morning. At ninety-six, she’s been like one of those proverbial cats with nine lives. She’s fought off every cold and pneumonia that came her way, and continued to smoke through it all. “When you’re my age, honey, and you’ve lost all your real loves, your twin sister, your husband, your friends, who cares if you die from lung cancer? There’s no one left to grieve for you, and I love me a cigarette.”

I went to her room where I found her small frail body nestled among blankets and pillows. The oxygen tubing ran from her nose to a whirring machine at her bedside. Her eyes were closed and she struggled with every shallow breath.

I pulled up a chair, and took her hand. I sat for a long time rubbing my thumb across the fragile vein-lined skin of her hand. I remembered our trip to the football game where her husband’s University of Virginia Cavaliers played her Virginia Tech Hokies. She stood and cheered and laughed about how her husband was frowning down on her antics from heaven. “He never was a good loser,” she’d said.

At times Anna searched for Virginia, her twin. When reminded that Virginia had passed away some years ago, Anna would say, “Oh hell, that’s right. Once you’re connected with someone from the start, it’s hard to let go.”

As I got up to leave Anna’s bedside, I leaned over and hugged her one last time. I whispered in her ear that it was alright to let go, that Virginia and that Cavalier husband of hers were waiting for her with their arms outstretched, all she had to do was let go. I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her.

Anna completed her journey on this earth today. Godspeed my friend

My New Friend

July 29, 2013 by

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My drier has developed an awful squeak. It’s happened before, and my husband can fix it, but it’s not a high priority on his list of repairs, so I hang my clothes outside. I’ve threatened to get my own tool box.

My clothespin bag hangs on a hook on the back porch. It’s convenient to the washer and to the steps leading out to the yard and the clothesline. Two weeks ago, I grabbed the clothespin bag and threw it into the basket of wet laundry. I noticed a small clump of dried mud as it fell from the inside of the bag onto my clean blouse. A mud dauber’s nest.

I threw my now dirty blouse back into the washer and stomped out the door to the clothesline, throwing the infamous clump of mud into the yard.

After hanging the rest of my clean clothes, I returned to the porch, hung my clothespin bag back on its hook and turned to work on the rest of the laundry. That’s when I noticed her, the mud dauber, a thin, black and yellow wasp-like insect. She flew back and forth across the front of the clothespin bag. She didn’t land on it, just passed in front of it over and over again. Oh no, I thought. She’s searching for her nest.

My conscience got the better of me. I hurried back out to the yard in search of the clump of dried mud I’d thrown. It took me the better part of fifteen minutes to find it. I picked it up and examined it for cracks. It was intact, including a small round hole near the bottom. I hoped no eggs had rolled out when my anger got the better of me.

I marched myself back to the clothespin bag where I examined the damage I’d caused. The nest had been attached fairly high up in the bag. I wondered what might happen if I propped the nest close to where it had been. Maybe the mud dauber would come back to it and repair my insult, re-attach her creation. Of course, I’d used some of the clothes pins for the wash, so I needed to build up the mound in order to put “operation rebuild” back into place. Meanwhile, Ms. Mud Dauber kept her vigil of hovering, turning every once in a while to look at me, accusingly.

“I need to find some more clothespins,” I explained. “Don’t worry, I think I have some in the attic.”

I ran to the stash and opened the new bag. Piling the pins as close to the original placement of the nest as I could, I gingerly placed the bottom of the mud nest into the clothespins and propped its top against the back fabric of the bag.

I turned to Ms. Dauber. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I promise not to bother it again, if you’ll see to the repair and rebuilding.”

She landed on the opening to the bag and surveyed the damage. I could imagine her shaking her tiny head as I went back into the house, closing the backdoor behind me.

I check on Muddy often now. We’re on a first name basis. My family members smirk as they ask me how my new friend is doing. I frown at them. They don’t understand my connection with Muddy.

The two of us meet on the back porch at least once a day. She works hard daubing new little round patches on the covering of her legacy, and she listens as I tell her my frustrations about my own nest building. She thinks it’s a good idea for me to get my own set of tools. Women are capable.

I wave as Muddy slips through the crack around the storm door frame, heading to the yard for more mud, or to capture a spider to feed her babies. “That door needs fixing,” I say, as I watch Muddy’s slim body hover for a second in the sunshine.

“Really?” she asks, then she flies off on her errand.

Music

May 28, 2013 by

I have worked with institutionalized elders for over thirty years. I’ve seen first hand what a difference music makes in the lives of these people. Residents who never speak, sing. Residents who cannot remember their names or the faces of family members, can sing the words to favorite songs, from beginning to end.

My epiphany came on Mother’s Day. What do you give a woman who has everything and wants nothing? The answer came in an ipod shuffle with hundreds of her favorite songs, by her favorite artists. The look on her face when I turned on the ipod was priceless. Hands down, best gift ever!

Then, I envisioned every elder at my facility with an ipod. I imagined the looks on their faces. I imagined them humming, singing, and tapping their toes.

My imagination carries me to the elder I’ve seen often, the one suffering with advanced dementia, the one without family, without a history known to staff. She sits in a wheelchair at the nurses station, head bowed. She suffers from loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. She is fed, changed and kept physically warm.

I imagine myself placing earbuds on this woman, turning on an ipod with music from her younger years. She sings.

A visitor walking down the hall hears this resident’s voice and turns. He walks back to where the lyrics of Morning Has Broken lilt in a sweet soprano.

“Oh my gosh. It’s Mrs. Taylor.” the visitor says.

“Yes it is.”

“She was my music teacher in seventh grade. I haven’t heard that song since she taught it to us.”

I wait until Mrs. Taylor stops singing. I take the ear buds from her ears. Her eyes open, and I introduce her to her former student. He drops to a knee beside her and takes her hand in his. Mrs. Taylor smiles.

Maya Angelou said, “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

I imagine that Maya Angelou is right.

How you can help:

https://www.fundraise.com/doris-gelbman/not-so-oldie-music-for-the-70s-80s-and-90s-maybe-100s?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=f&utm_campaign=Yx1Q

Ride Like the Wind

March 20, 2013 by

thirsty

She sat on the kitchen floor, playing with her plastic horses. She saddled up a mustang and rode across the squares of green tile, through the Indian badlands, around train robbers, and cattle rustlers. She rode fast, bent low, stopping to rest in the forest of chair legs under the kitchen table.

“Most men wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes,” her mother teased the man at the sink. He was tall, a dishtowel over his shoulder, a cigarette in his mouth.

He laughed. “Most men wouldn’t do a lot of things I do.”

Her mother giggled, kissing him. The man’s hands came out of the water and landed on her mother’s bottom.

“Now look what you’ve done,” her mother said, smiling.

He crushed the cigarette. “Let’s get you out of these wet clothes,” he said.

“Shhh,” her mother said, pointing.

The little girl jumped on her horse, dug in her heels, closed her eyes, and rode like the wind.

************************************

The Original Version:

Ride Like the Wind

She sat on the kitchen floor. A triangle of sunshine from the window spread across the linoleum making a paddock for her plastic horses. She lined them up side by side to feast on grain and hay. Her favorite was a brown mustang with a white mane and tale. She’d take him from the herd and ride across the squares of green tile, through the Indian badlands and around gangs of train robbers and cattle rustlers. She was brave and free, riding fast, bent low over her horse’s neck, the wind blowing her hair back from her face. They’d stop to rest only after reaching the forest of chair legs under the kitchen table. It was safe there. She had cover.

“I like watching you wash dishes,” her mother said to the man at the sink. The little girl peeked out from under the man’s shirt hanging on the back of the chair. He was tall, wearing his green work pants and a white undershirt. He had a dishtowel thrown over his shoulder, and a cigarette in his mouth. He was up to his elbows in soap bubbles. “Most men wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes,” her mother teased.

The man laughed and talked around his cigarette. “Most men wouldn’t do a lot of things I do.”

Her mother giggled, stood on tip toe and kissed the man’s cheek. His hands came out of the water and landed on her bottom.

“Now look what you’ve done,” she fussed, twisting around to look behind her at the wet spots on her jeans. She wasn’t mad though, she was smiling.

The man pulled the cigarette from his mouth and crushed it out in the ashtray. “I think we need to get you out of those wet clothes,” he whispered.

Her mother shushed him and pointed at the child.

The little girl ducked behind the cover of the man’s shirt.

Her horse whinnied, ready to ride again. She jumped on his back, dug her heels into his flanks, closed her eyes, and rode like the wind.

Friday Fictioneers’ (http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/) is hosted every week by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. It’s a pretty awesome idea that goes like this: A weekly photograph is posted and the writer is challenged to create a 100-word story or poem inspired by the photo. Post your work on your blog and link it to the Friday Fictioneers’ post where comments and feedback are shared. Give it a shot! This week’s photograph is by Douglas McIlroy.

Her Still, Perfect Form (part 3-fin)

March 10, 2013 by

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Part 1 here: http://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/her-still-perfect-form-part-1/

Part 2 here: http://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/her-still-perfect-form-part-2/

Part 3

Emma was in the bed by the door, oxygen tubing in her nose, an IV attached to her bruised arm. Her eyes were closed.

“Oh my God, what happened?” Jack asked. “Was she in some sort of an accident? Emma, Sweetheart, can you hear me?”

Emma opened her eyes and gave a faint smile. “Hello Jack,” she said in a whisper.

“Do you know who this is?” Jack asked.

“Of course I know who you are Jack,” she said, before closing her eyes again.

He took her hand in his. “It’s cold as ice,” he said, rubbing it between his two. Then, he bowed his head and said to no one in particular, “Oh God, what happened to my baby?”

The driver put a hand on Jack’s shoulder, and said, “Emma fell last week, and broke her hip.”

“Oh my poor baby,” he said. “I know how that feels. I fell on a rail in the coal mines one time and dislocated my hip. It was so painful. Do you think she’s in pain? Emma, are you in pain, Sweetheart?” he asked.

Emma opened her eyes again and said, “Everything hurts.”

“I’m going to the desk to find the nurse, Jack,” the driver said. “You sit here with Emma. I’ll be right back.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jack said.

In a few minutes the nurse came into the room with a syringe.

Jack looked up. “I’m Jack Arthur, Emma’s husband. What happened to her?” he asked.

“She had surgery on her hip,” the nurse said.

“What?” Jack asked.

In a louder voice, the nurse re-stated, “She fell and broke her hip. She had surgery on Saturday.”

“Oh my poor Emma,” Jack said. “Why didn’t someone tell me she fell? When did this happen? I could have been here with her.”

Jack turned back to Emma and took her hand. He rubbed and patted it, watching her face. She opened her eyes and tried to smile at him.

The nurse looked at Jack and then at the driver. “I’m so sorry,” she said, shaking her head.

The nurse injected the syringe of medicine into the IV and left the room.

“The nurse gave her some pain medication, Jack,” the driver said. “She’ll probably sleep now. I think we should let her rest.”

Jack pushed up from the wheelchair with effort. His legs shook, barely holding his weight as he leaned over Emma’s frail body. He stroked her cheek with bent fingers. Putting his face very close to hers, he asked again, “Do you know who this is?”

Emma looked so small and fragile there in the bed with tubes running from her arm and to her nose with oxygen. Her usually neat, coiffed hair was in a tangle on her head and her face was so pale it blended with the white of the pillow case. She looked up at Jack and said again, “Of course I know who you are Jack.”

He had turned his good ear to her mouth after he asked the question. “Of course you know who I am,” he said. “I’m the man who beats you within an inch of your life every day.”

Emma smiled. They both chuckled at the long running joke between them. Jack moved his hand to Emma’s shoulder. It was bare where the faded blue and white hospital gown had slipped off. Her shoulder was thin and fit in Jack’s palm. He rubbed her skin before pulling the gown back up. He moved in close again, right over Emma’s face and said, “I need you to get better and come back to me. I miss you.”

Emma closed her eyes tightly, then opened them again. She lifted her hand with effort to Jack’s head and smoothed his white hair. She put on a weak smile again and whispered, “I miss you too.”

As he had done every night since they were married, Jack kissed her forehead, then, each of her eyelids, and finally, moved to her mouth. Emma lifted her lips to his and they kissed each other three times in succession, gently, with only a breath of sound. “I’m going now so you can rest,” Jack said. “You behave, no running after good looking doctors.”

Emma closed her eyes and shook her head, smiling again at her Jack. “You can always make me laugh Jack, even when I don’t think it’s in me,” she said.

Emma came back to the nursing home a few days later, back to room 242, back to Jack, but with a new diagnosis of bone cancer. Surgery to repair the hip was unsuccessful. Morphine kept her comfortable. She slept most of the time with Jack by her side, holding her hand. His worry was etched in the lines on his forehead. Emma awakened sometimes when he kissed her forehead. She reassured him with her smile.

Emma had no appetite and her disinterest in food carried over to Jack. Staff members encouraged him, telling him he needed to keep his strength up for Emma. That afternoon, Jack finally accepted a bowl of his favorite soup. He bowed his head over the bowl and sent up a prayer for his Emma.

As he brought the spoon to his mouth, soup spilled onto the front of his starched white shirt. He looked down at the stain, and frowned. As he unbuttoned his shirt, his hands began to shake and tears welled in his eyes. He finished stripping the shirt off and wiped his eyes with it, then threw it to the floor. He wheeled to the closet, pulled out a fresh one, struggled into it, and fastened the buttons. He pushed the wheeled table with the bowl of soup on it out to the hallway and closed the door.

Jack hadn’t taken his colored pencils out since Emma fell. His worry had filled him, and his inspiration had slipped away.

That evening, Emma opened her eyes when Jack leaned in to kiss her.

She lifted her hand to his cheek with effort. “You need a shave handsome,” she whispered, smiling.

Jack reached up and put his hand over hers, pulled her palm to his mouth and kissed it. They held each other’s gaze until Emma’s eyes closed.

A little while later, he wheeled over to the night stand and gathered his sketchpad. Going back over to Emma’s bedside, he took out his pencil and began drawing her still, perfect form.

Her Still, Perfect Form (Part 2)

March 3, 2013 by

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link to Part 1:

http://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/her-still-perfect-form-part-1/

On Saturday afternoon Jack came out of the room looking for Emma. He wandered the long hallways, knocking on doors, peering inside to see if she was there. That night, his usual sound sleep was interrupted. He got himself up in the wheelchair to check her bed. She was gone. He wondered where she was, what had happened to her. It wasn’t like her to be out after dark, gone in the middle of the night. He wheeled to the door of the room and asked a nursing assistant passing by if she had seen his wife.

“She’s still in the hospital Jack.”

“In the hospital? What happened? Why didn’t someone tell me?” he asked.

“We did Jack. You must have forgotten,” the nursing assistant said.

“How could I forget something like that?” he asked.

“You just woke up Jack. It’s easy to forget things when you’ve been asleep. I’ll call the hospital and check on her for you. Let me tuck you in and I’ll come back with the news,” she said.

“Thank you,” Jack said, letting the nursing assistant help him.

On Sunday, Jack fell. He had gotten the wheelchair stuck between the double doors leading to the parking lot. He was trying to pull the chair free. A nurse found him on his knees, struggling. When she asked what happened, he said, “I lost my balance. I need to find Emma.”

At lunch Monday, he wasn’t eating. “Just try a little bit Jack,” the nurse said.

“I’m worried sick,” Jack said. “I can’t take a bite of anything until she gets here. Emma is always here for lunch.”

“She’s in the hospital Jack. Remember? She fell and broke her hip Friday.”

Jack looked up, alarm on his face. “Oh, no. She fell and broke her hip?”

“Yes, on Friday. She was standing at the sink, lost her balance and fell. She broke her hip. They operated on Saturday. She’ll be home soon.”

After his shower on Tuesday, Jack stopped at the nurse’s station. “Can you tell me where Jack Arthur lives?” he asked.

“Just down the hall, Jack. Room 242. It’s the third door on the left,” the nurse said.

“Can you tell me where Emma is? I haven’t seen her this morning,” Jack said.

“She’s in the hospital, Jack.”

“In the hospital?” he asked, his voice rising, his eyes wide. “What do you mean she’s in the hospital? What happened? Why didn’t someone let me know?”

And so it went. Jack searched and asked. Staff members reassured and explained. Mid-morning, a housekeeper found Jack sitting with his head in his hands, sobbing. “I’ve lost the only woman I’ve ever loved,” he said. “Why would Emma leave me?”

A nurse called the hospital to ask someone to take a phone to Emma so she could reassure Jack. The staff there tried, but Emma’s voice was weak, and Jack’s hearing was poor.

That afternoon, the nursing home arranged for the facility bus to carry Jack to the hospital. He might not remember he had been to see Emma, but in the moment he was there, seeing her, being with her, he might find some comfort.

It had been awhile since Jack was outside. “It sure is beautiful out here. Look at all these colors. I don’t remember the trees being this big. Look at all these cars. Emma would love riding on this bus. I wish she was here. I want to tell her about this,” he said on the twenty minute trip to the hospital.

“Room 502,” the volunteer at the front desk said. “Take this hallway to the elevators. She’s on the fifth floor.”

“Fancy place,” Jack said. “Look at all these paintings. They’re beautiful. Emma would love them. She likes my drawings, but they aren’t nearly as fancy or pretty as these. She should come here and visit. Remind me to tell her about it and maybe you could bring us back here sometime.”

“Sure Jack, I’ll be glad to,” the driver said as she pushed his wheelchair toward Emma’s room.

Emma was in the bed by the door, oxygen tubing in her nose, an IV attached to her bruised arm. Her eyes were closed.

“Oh my God, what happened?” Jack asked. “Was she in some sort of an accident? Emma, Sweetheart, can you hear me?”

TBC

Pearl

March 1, 2013 by

home-made_car

“Pictures of your mother taped to the door? What the hell’s wrong with you man?”

“She’s a great woman. Have I showed you my tattoo?”

“No wonder you never been married. Something’s seriously wrong with you, ‘Mom’ tattooed there? And these seats. What’s up with these damn seats?”

“Turns women’s heads, gets their attention.”

“What women? Bag ladies?”

“Look, you’re the one wantin’ to buy a car. I ain’t gotta sell her.”

“Her? Poor four-door girl. What’s her name.”

“Pearl, her name’s Pearl.”

“Let me guess, after your mom.”

“Are you crazy? This baby’s vintage. She’s named after my grandma.”

Friday Fictioneers’ (http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/) is hosted every week by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. It’s a pretty awesome idea that goes like this: A weekly photograph is posted and the writer is challenged to create a 100-word story or poem inspired by the photo. Post your work on your blog and link it to the Friday Fictioneers’ post where comments and feedback are shared. Give it a shot! This week’s photograph is by Beth Carter.

Her Still, Perfect Form (part 1)

February 24, 2013 by

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They liked to sleep in. Emma’s breathing was not the best, and it took her a while to gather energy. Jack just liked to laze in bed. Emma was usually the first one up, walking barefoot in her long flannel nightgown to the sink to wash her face and brush her teeth. She looked in the mirror, patted her hair into place and pinched her cheeks for color. Then, padding over to Jack’s bed, she leaned down and kissed him awake.

Opening his eyes, he reached up, touched her face and said, “there’s my morning sun.”

“Oh stop that foolishness Jack and get yourself up. Breakfast is coming,” she said.

They ate all three meals together in their room at the nursing home. The dining room was just too crowded and they would have to share a table with other people. Somehow, in their sixty-two years of marriage, they stayed selfish enough to be an exclusive pair. They didn’t plan to be childless, but when no babies came, it was alright.

Emma knew how to arrange a dining experience; she had lots of practice. Forty-three years before, she and Jack met at the cafeteria in town. She set tables.

“I knew she was the one for me the minute I looked at that sweet face,” Jack told everyone who met them. “Just look at her. Could you have resisted?”

“Don’t you believe his stories,” Emma said, smiling. “He didn’t really know until the second date.” Then, they both laughed.

Emma pushed their over-the-bed hospital tables together in the center of the room, covered them with a white linen cloth, and placed the vase with a silk rose in the middle. Jack had given her the flower for her birthday. When the stainless steel cart brought their meal trays down the hall, Emma assumed the role of waitress, placing the plates, glasses and utensils in perfect order on the couple’s make-shift dining table. She unfolded the napkin and tucked it under Jack’s chin. His button-up shirts never had a stain.

Jack didn’t have nice shirts until retirement. He was a hard worker, did manual labor, got his hands and clothes dirty. He and Emma lived in West Virginia. He dug coal from the age of ten. Emma had the education. She could read, Jack couldn’t.

The couple enjoyed a small mountain cabin with a garden spot out back. Electricity and running water came later on. Family was close by, and their church was just down the road. They lived in the same small town, in the same house, until Jack retired. That year, their minister died. His widow gave Jack all of the pastor’s clothes because the two men were the same size. Emma liked seeing Jack dressed up, so did Jack. Wearing those clothes made him feel a little closer to God. When he and Emma moved into the nursing home, Emma only packed Jack’s “preacher clothes.”

In the afternoon, when Emma napped, Jack drew. He used colored pencils, and though his artwork was not learned by formal training, he showed natural talent. “My Mama used to ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ over my pictures when I was a boy,” Jack said. “She would take me outside with my paper and pencils and point to trees, flowers, mountain ranges, creeks and animals for me to draw, then she’d tack the pictures up on the wall at home. She’d show them off to anyone who visited. Weren’t for her, it never would have amounted to much. Heck, didn’t really amount to much anyway, but people from as far away as town came up to the house for me to draw them. I even made a little money sometimes.”

Several of Jack’s pictures were framed and hung on the wall in his and Emma’s room. The one of Popeye was his favorite. “I always loved ‘ol Popeye. He’d pick up that can of spinach and get so strong, nothing could beat him or take his girl away,” Jack said.

Some of Jack’s projects took days, some only hours. He drew cars, trains, mountains, birds and houses. Sometimes he sketched staff members’ faces to give away as a thank you for being kind. A nursing assistant asked him once, “Where are your drawings of Emma, Jack?”

“I never drew Emma,” Jack said. “Oh I tried. Just couldn’t do her justice. Look at her. Only God could draw something so beautiful, so I drew love birds instead. That one’s her and this one’s me,” he said pointing to the pair of framed birds on the wall.

When people came to visit, Jack looked over to Emma for all the answers. His hearing was not so good anymore, and of the two, he considered her the smartest. He always had. She smiled graciously, and carried the conversation, while he smiled and nodded. Emma’s steadfastness reassured Jack.

One Saturday afternoon Jack came out of the room looking for Emma. He wandered the long hallways, knocking on doors, peering inside to see if she was there. That night, his usual sound sleep was interrupted. He got himself up in the wheelchair to check her bed. She was gone. He wondered where she was, what had happened to her. It wasn’t like her to be out after dark, gone in the middle of the night. He wheeled to the door of the room and asked a nursing assistant passing by if she had seen his wife.

Part 2 here:

http://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/her-still-perfect-form-part-2/

Granddad’s Barn

February 23, 2013 by

copyright-janet-webb

Friday Fictioneers’ (http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/) is hosted every week by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. It’s a pretty awesome idea that goes like this: A weekly photograph is posted and the writer is challenged to create a 100-word story or poem inspired by the photo. Post your work on your blog and link it to the Friday Fictioneers’ post where comments and feedback are shared. Give it a shot! This week’s photograph is by Janet Webb

Grandad’s Barn

“How much for this reclaimed lumber?” sings the auctioneer. He stands over the weathered wood that was once Granddad’s barn.

Forty years ago, we kids sat in the hayloft tossing handfuls of straw at each other, laughing as our feet dangled out the open door.

In the house, Grammie put a cherry pie on the windowsill to cool, and yelled, “Don’t ya’ll break your necks up there.”

Back then, in the loft, we were bigger than anything, and owned our place in the world.

Today, we can only touch the rough texture of those old oak boards, and almost remember the aroma of Grammie’s pie.

“Sold!” The auctioneer calls.

Waiting

February 17, 2013 by

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If I didn’t know better, I’d say buying this house was just an excuse for Bruce to acquire another trailer. He’s obsessed with them. Is there such a thing as a hauling fetish?

“We have to be able to pull it with the Explorer,” he said.

“We have another truck you know?” I said.

“We have a flatbed work truck and a dump truck. You want to haul the stuff to the little house in Chincoteague with the dump truck?”

“Yes ,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Let’s take the dump truck and park it on the tiny lawn on Ocean Blvd.”

“See what I mean,” he said. “We need a smaller trailer, one we can park beside the house.”

I sighed. There was no sense arguing. He’d win anyway. So we built a trailer, painted it and waited for the state trooper to come approve it for tags. We loaded it and left at two-thirty on a Thursday morning, headed for Chincoteague, and a one o’clock closing appointment at the office of a lawyer on the island.

We pulled into McDonald’s parking lot at eight-thirty and went in for a cup of coffee and a long wait. Storm clouds gathered to the west and the air hung heavy. We took a corner booth and watched as a light mist turned into a solid downpour. I wondered if this was a sign. I’m always looking for metaphors, rain is a big one.

“It’s been raining like this for a week,” the man in gum boots sitting across from us said. “Mosquitoes worst I’ve ever seen.”

I was ready to run, taking my down payment, our brand new trailer filled with household items, and my dreams back home again. An epic flood and/or plague of mosquitoes was about to descend on my hopes and I didn’t seem to have sense enough to heed the warning.

“Stop worrying,” Bruce said, sighing. I looked at him. I hadn’t said a word. He patted my hand.

The phone rang at ten o’clock. It was Debbie, our real estate agent. Her son was being taken to the emergency room with shortness of breath and chest pains. Did we mind holding off on the final walk through of the house until she went to check on him? Oh dear, another sign.

I assured her that was not a problem, we didn’t have the appointment to close until one o’clock and I wasn’t worried about the walk through anyway. We had met Melva’s daughter and son-in-law on a previous visit and were certain they hadn’t stripped the house of copper pipes or aluminum siding. Debbie agreed to call as soon as she was certain her son was alright.

The phone rang at eleven-fifteen. It was Debbie. “He has pneumonia and they’ve given him some heavy doses of antibiotics. He’ll be fine. Can I meet you in ten minutes?”

We drove with windshield wipers sweeping water away at high speed and arrived at at the house at the appointed time. We pulled into Melva’s driveway. I stepped out of the truck and into soggy grass. Water seeped over the soles of my sneakers. We dashed through the door of the screen porch, and watched as rain poured off and through the green plastic awning above us. Leaks we hadn’t seen on sunny day visits dripped at our feet. Another sign, I thought.

Debbie unlocked the door to the house explaining that Melva’s daughter had been overwhelmed with packing and the ordeal of moving her things. They’d expected the house to stay on the market for awhile and thought they’d have time to go through the process slowly. Whatever was left in the house and sheds that we didn’t want, we could donate to the local Opportunity Shop or the Hospice Thrift Store.

The house was as if Melva had cleaned up after her breakfast and gone for a walk. Everything was clean and in its place, all the rooster dishes on plate hangers lined the kitchen walls. Cabinets held china, glassware, pots, pans, and even food and spices. Drawers contained silverware, cooking utensils, handmade hot pads, and birthday candles. Melva’s mop and broom hung in the closet along with the apron she wore to keep her dress clean. Fabric softener with the picture of a teddy bear on it, sat on top of the washer.

I wandered the house, picking up her things, wondering how she must have felt, leaving them all behind for the last time. Her bed was made with lavender scented sheets and a hand made quilt was pulled neatly under the pillows.

Her toothbrush and tube of toothpaste stood in the china holder at the sink in the bathroom; her shower cap hung on the back of the door. Up in the attic, her canning jars and pressure cookers waited for her to return from the farm stand with beans, or tomatoes, or cucumbers.

I felt like I was breaking Melva’s heart. Oh my, another sign.

Bruce inspected the front window and door locks, the screens on the porch, the attic for leaks and the bathroom for water pressure. All was in order.

The phone rang. “Hello,” Bruce said, then silence. Finally he said, “Sure, we’ll see you at three then.”

My face must have revealed my anxiousness. “It’s alright,” Bruce said to me. “Some of the closing papers haven’t arrived from the bank yet. He’s pushed closing ahead two hours.” Oh no, another sign.

After the inspection, Debbie suggested we go to one of the local restaurants for lunch and listed some gift and art shops we might be interested in visiting. She said we could unhook the trailer and leave it in the driveway. It was no problem.

We returned to McDonalds and ordered from the dollar menu, ate slowly, deciding what we would do with our time until three o’clock. The forecast hadn’t called for rain, only a twenty percent chance of showers. It fell steadily and in driving sheets at times. Bruce, always prepared, had packed tarps for the trailer and covered everything securely before we unhooked from the trailer. Neither of us packed our foul weather gear though, and agreed that thrift store rain coats were in order. We headed to the Opp shop. The coat rack sported two slickers just our size. Was this a good sign? I wondered.

We spent over an hour in the junk shop, browsing, trying to remember what Melva didn’t leave in the house that we might need. We came away with a coffee maker and two mugs. Melva had fancy tea cups and instant coffee.

At three-fifteen we hadn’t heard from the lawyer and I couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. “No word yet,” he said, sounding frustrated. “They emailed wanting to know if you had flood insurance. I’d sent them the policy five days ago, but I re-sent it,” he said. “I’m still waiting to hear from the bank’s closing officer so I can fill out the numbers and email them back to her. Settlement shouldn’t be this difficult.”

“Do you think it’ll still be today?” I asked. “We planned to stay the night at the house. We didn’t make other arrangements.” My heart sank, this was another sign.

“I’ll call the loan officer and let them know that. You call them too. They’ve had every document they need for almost a week. There’s no excuse for this.”

I telephoned our loan officer at the bank. She and I have been corresponding since the process began, and she’s been nothing but helpful. She felt my frustration and assured me that she would stay as late as she needed in the office to make sure that the closing officer had our papers to the lawyer before the end of the day. “You won’t have to drive five hours home tonight, if I have to drive the papers to you from here,” she said.

Bruce and I slogged out to the truck and drove to the beach at Assateague. We parked facing the ocean. I sat silently, watching the waves crash onto the shore under a now gray drizzle of rain. Everything looked deserted, no colorful umbrellas, no children running after beach balls. Even the gulls were hunkered down, looking bleak.

“Do you remember when we bought your Grandma’s house in ’86?” Bruce asked.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling.

“We suffered the same red tape and frustration. It took a week longer to close than we thought it would. Some HUD paper was lost, remember?”

I had to think way back. “Seems to me I do remember,” I said.

“It’ll work out. You worry too much. If we don’t get in tonight, we’ll stay at the Best Western, no big deal.”

I kept looking at my phone, at the time readout, willing the thing to ring. It was almost five o’clock. Didn’t lawyer’s offices close at five o’clock? We opened the cooler and shared a box of raspberries and a banana. I dug around in the glove box and found a plastic spoon. We shared a container of cottage cheese and blueberry yogurt. Bruce scraped the sides of the plastic yogurt box and looked in the cooler again. “Nothing else in here,” he said. “I could go for some seafood.”

“I’m not very hungry,” I pouted.

At five-fifteen I had given up hope and was ready to head to a hotel. We turned the truck around and started for Chincoteague. The phone rang. “I think we’re ready,” our lawyer’s voice said. “Come on to the office; we’ll start signing the papers.”

It took five minutes to get there. Our soggy shoes squeaked our arrival as we hung our slickers to drip from the coat rack in the corner. Mr. West, dressed in his tweed jacket welcomed us with a firm handshake and a smile, then pointed in the direction of the conference room. “I’ll be right with you,” he said. “Just have to make a few more copies.”

We sat down at the long conference table. The windows faced the bay. Ducks waddled through the yard, pecking at something in the grass. Bruce pointed to the sky. “Rain’s on its way out,” he said. “Sky’s getting lighter.” He comes from a farming family. He knows the weather.

Twenty minutes later, after signing what felt like hundreds of forms, Mr. West handed us the keys to our new house, to Melva’s home. We gathered our raincoats and draped them over our arms as we walked to the truck. The sun was shining over Chincoteague Bay. I took it as a sign.


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