Who?

autumn joy

Herbstfreud. Sedum “Autumn Joy”

Cloudy equals cool, and I had energy.

Out I went. Took up the hose and showered the containers and drier spots on the flat corner lot. While I drenched the grapevine, a woman with shoulder-length grey hair strolled by. She stopped and chatted over the chain-link fence about the weather. How strangely cool it is, how quickly it can change in Colorado. Although, in her tidy black pants and pastel striped shirt, she wasn’t exactly familiar, it’s the sort of exchange I’m used to in a neighborhood of wide sidewalks and pedestrians. With a look of purpose and a contented smile, she strolled on.

By the time I made it down to the Sambucus, she was striding up the other side of the street. “Must be visiting one of the neighbors,” I thought as she stopped some 15 feet before the intersection and crossed toward me, again. She stepped up the curb with a little difficulty and seemed to get tangled as she walked through the tansy, coneflowers, and asters. Fearing she might stumble, I asked her if she needed a hand. “No,” she said, “if I can just make it through these weeds.”

Again, not so unusual. Natural equates wild equates weeds for lots of folks. Trying to sound firm and gentle, I said, “Those aren’t weeds. I actually work pretty hard to take care of that garden.” She stepped out onto the safety of the sidewalk. “Oh,” she said looking a little guilty. She regained her stride in her original direction.

As I finished up, she walked up the other side of the street, this time crossing the intersection. I thought, “Good for her, getting in such a nice walk.”

In I went, poked down something from the fridge for supper, and turned on the computer. Just as I opened an email, there was a knock at the door.

There she stood. Lost. Really lost.

“I was on my way home from work,” she said, “and my car stopped working. Then, I think it was my nephew who came and got it. Now, I don’t know where my car is.”

“Oh!” I said. “Would you like to come in?”

“I don’t want to bother you,” she said.

“Not at all,” I said. “Please, come in.”

“Thank you!”

“Here, sit wherever you’d like.” She perched on the love seat, her feet in tiny white walking shoes, snuggled next to each other. “Are you thirsty? May I get you a glass of water?”

She insisted she was fine.

I recapped her dilemma. “So, your car stopped working on your way home from work and your nephew came for it…”

“Or maybe it was my Dad…”

I notice she is empty-handed. “Someone you knew took your car with your purse and keys, and now you don’t know where it is.”

Though she looks not a day younger than 65, she nods like a school girl.

“Do you know where you are?”

“I think I’m somewhere between work and home.”

“Oh! Where do you live?”

She lights up. “Somewhere near downtown.”

“Do you know your address?”

“I think it’s 515.” Her air is at once satisfied and evasive. Five years ago, I had conversations like this with my dad. His dodging and deceits infuriated and frightened me. Suddenly, in the middle of my gut, I understood them more generously.

“Oh! Nice! Your house number is 515. And what street do you live on?”

“I. I don’t know.”

“Oh, I see!” I’m feeling tender and charmed. “Is there someone who might know where you live?”

She said her sister would know. But, if we called her, it would take a long time for her sister to get here. She tells me the name of the town where her sister lives. Had I heard of it? No, but if you tell me your sister’s name, maybe we can find her.

Over the next little while, I learn her name, her sister’s and brother-in-law’s names, her dad’s name. I try to locate them all via the internet on my phone. I find a number for her sister. It rings and rings. Every other line of inquiry leads us in circles. Her dad should be home from work by now, she’s certain. He always comes and gets her. He works at the hardware store. Did I know which one?

She worries, over and over, that she’s interrupting my supper. Are you hungry, I ask? Oh, no. My mom always has bowls of snacks set out for us when I get home from school.

I try her sister’s number again.

“What do we do now?” she asks.

“I know. How about if I call the police and see if anyone is looking for you?”

“OK! Maybe they’ll know where my dad is.”

“Or your car!”

“Right!”

So, I dial 911. All the while I describe her to the operator, she looks at those tiny white shoes, her hands folded in her lap. “Is she cooperative?” they ask. “Call, again, immediately, if she leaves.”

My new friend is going nowhere, if I have anything to say about it.

“What do we do now?” she asks.

“We’re going to wait for someone to come and take you home.”

“I don’t want to interrupt your supper.”

“Oh!” I laugh. “I’ve already eaten. Are you sure you’re not hungry?”

“No, no. I’m fine. My mom always has bowls of things out for me when I get home from school. I like your house. This is a nice house.”

“Thank you! How do you feel?”

“Oh, you know, it’s a little hard when you can’t remember things.”

“Ah. You’re a little anxious?”

“No, no, no. I’m comfortable here. This is a nice house.”

“I’m so glad.”

“But I’m taking up all your time. I should go.”

“Not at all! I’m enjoying your company.”

We talk in loops and tendrils until a young officer comes to the door. “And your name is?”

“Chris.”

“Chris, this is my friend, Karen. Karen, this is Chris. He’s come to give you a ride home.”

“Do you know where I live?” Her soft voice is full of wonder and relief. She stands as he tells her the address.

The evening is just fading as they walk out the gate.

“Thank you for coming!”

Absorbed in her conversation with Chris, she doesn’t turn.

I wave, anyway.

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Edward the Handsome

Edward the Handsome, though snow-white, hasn’t an arctic bone in his feline body. It was officially cold in the gardenhood earlier this week, minus ten one morning. He asked politely to be let out the back door. Each time he stepped head and shoulders onto the stoop, lifted his nose for scents, and curled back around to the kitchen.

I had my suspicions, but never knew this about Ed. You see, he lived for 13 or so years with my dad. There, until last March, he played second, third, or fourth fiddle to the dogs. I didn’t see much of him when I visited. Since then we’ve had the chance to learn a lot about each other.

He had access to the outside world whenever he wanted it, through a pet door which Dad, stubborn spoiler of animals, duct taped open day and night. Pokey, the last of Dad’s canine companions, wouldn’t press through the plexiglass flaps. With the doors permanently open, Pokey could run out and bark at crows or squirrels whenever he pleased, and mice, racoons, and skunks found their way in to bowls of food and a litter of untouched treats and chews. What a nightmare.

Yet despite his low ranking, intruders to his safe place, and constant access to a world of other possibilities, Edward the Faithful stuck around. When Pokey departed, Ed lent Dad his furry and lanky self for petting, warmth, and comfort. Dad was mighty grateful. Later, when incontinence got the better of him, Dad would say he was wet and stinky because Eddy jumped on his tummy, releasing his bladder. It might have been a feeble story, but it was the only face-saving logic Dad had. Ed didn’t seem to take it personally.

Later, when Dad no longer had the wherewithal to object, the pet door was shut. Edward the Remaining learned to use it. That was my first witness to just how smart, or at least adaptable, Ed the cat is.

By then, sundowning syndrome disrupted what was left of Dad’s daily routine. In a large shaky script, Dad wrote “6:30 CHORES” on a sheet of paper and left it on the stove. These chores were feeding the birds and squirrels, taking a walk, and feeding Ed. Sadly, predictably, the note to self didn’t help. Ed got used to asking sweetly and getting fed by whichever child was on hand. And when he wasn’t out for a bit of sun and a roll in the dirt, Ed coiled and stretched next to Dad, in the double recliner in the TV room or on his bed. Then, only on his bed.

Ed snuggled next to Dad’s left hip through the wee hours of the Wednesday morning when a thundering wind helped Dad fly home.

The moon-white cat has lived in this tiny, flat-roofed house for a month now. He’s been a good sport, considering. He’s had to teach me a few things, too. For starters, the expensive good-for-the-senior-kitty food – both kibble and canned – simply won’t do. “Give me what Ol’ Merlie gave me, or I won’t eat.” The message was clear. Secondly, all the enrichment in the world doesn’t equal the thrill of being terrified by a flock of geese chatting as they wing over. “Trust me. I’ll be careful. But unless I go outside, I will refuse to thrive.” Not at all last is this: “Petting is done on my time. I initiate.”

He’s made a few concessions and even some pleasant discoveries. He accepts that canned food comes twice a day and kibble is nibbled in between. He watches the cursor dash about the computer screen. Toys are actually fun. Catnip rocks. In his old house, the curtains were always drawn and the windows high and practically without sills. Here, windows are better than TV for entertainment, and the sun comes through them, too.

Edward the Comfortable has found every sunny spot and moves from one to the next as they change. He has also discovered my lap. Although his new and oddly familiar person doesn’t sit still nearly as long nor as regularly as Ol’ Merlie, which is somewhat annoying to the boy, he often prefers my lap to sofas, chairs, or the bed.

This morning before sunrise, Ed and I both stepped onto the back stoop. He jumped down for his morning roll, and I wondered at the moon being bitten into a crescent by the shadow of the earth. What glow remained reflected the early evening light half-way around the world. I marveled at the dance of orbs, of light chasing dark chasing light, the wholeness and perfection of it all. The urge rose to run back in and call Dad to have him step outside and share the eclipse. I don’t imagine that urge will ever go away.

Instead, after his promised careful perusal of the back yard, Edward the Handsome ran up the straight walk from the shed to the stoop. We both went inside to warm up and welcome the dawn.

Departure

At the farthest end of the parking median, cold rain gently drives High Plains flower seeds into welcoming soil.

Neighborhood beaks make serious dips into the feeders, pecks at the suet, and territorial chirps from dripping branches. The predicted low will flirt with freezing, and as a precaution, both shed and livingroom are stuffed with annuals, most of which arrived Friday on a semi from Denver.

Delivery day was nothing short of manic. While sun spangled this flat corner lot, a collective of gardeners thrilled at the beauty of vibrant plants and blossoms, freshly liberated from growing houses. We counted flats, shuffled them into a mosaic of who ordered what, toted them off to further destinations, and chatted over chilling coffee on the front porch.

Between arrivals and departures, I got laundry out on the lines, ran the mower, sorted my own stash, and tackled some serious tidying out in the utility area behind the cedar fence. It seemed like I was totally engaged. In all honesty, I was barely there and had to remember to breathe.

The chain link gate between car port and back yard stood horribly open, accommodating garden cart traffic, yes, and signifying a keen absence. No Willie to watch for escape.

Two weeks ago, May Day, and while the neighbors gathered friends to dance ribbons around a tall pole, snow fell. The temperature followed. A low of 25 Fahrenheit, with crab apples, cherries, and plums in full bloom. Fragrant spires of lilacs towered along the alley. Thinking a hard freeze might take them, I took the kitchen shears and cut a bouquet. It perfumed the livingroom where I shut all the window shades and let the thermostat kick on the furnace.

I told myself I’m more prepared for this in the fall. Waning daylight and cooling air ready my expectations. I take in the geraniums, say goodbye to the tomatoes. A rightful sense of melancholy adds a note of poignance to my thoughts, appropriate, in season. A spring freeze, by contrast, is counterintuitive, contraindicated, and surfeits doom.

I did my best to shut out that blasted night.

Then, standing still, deciding whether to go outside or look for a bed to nap on, Willie’s legs slipped out from under him. He was an old dog. Systems fail. He’d been slowly, increasingly wobbly. These things happen, only, damn, not in Spring. Spring is for friskiness. We let go of pounds, inhibitions, useless clothing, not old friends.

I shivered through the next day, even though we stayed home from the Monday garden and kept quiet together in the office. We visited the vet and came home with pain medication and hope. After 48 hours, there was only further decline. Two more office visits and two more medications and still worse.

Each stage of departure became the new norm. I adjusted. I knew. I accepted. I resisted. I consulted. I waited. I witnessed. I hesitated. I wanted. I decided.

Very late, at the tipping point of Mother’s Day, asleep in my arms, his heart stopped.

My body remembered how to wail, a deep and awful surprise.

Mother’s Day, what could I do? The brave old soul was gone. My companion’s deep brown eyes, nowhere to be seen, nowhere seeing me. I gardened. I dragged hoses, ran the mower over cowlicks of grasses, planted penstemons in the rock garden, apologized to weeds before blading them out of the earth. And, as I plodded in and out of the back yard, I always shut the gate.

Willie never cared for the days I darted all over the place, front to back, side to side, going nowhere interesting while giving the appearance that I was about to depart. When I settled back inside, he’d step on the nearest bed and pin me with a look, “Alright, will you stay put?”

But none of us do, nor can we, stay put.

There’s a mammoth river in the center of this continent. I grew up 85 miles from it’s dark water. As children, we tried to hold our breath over the bridge to the old home grounds where kin abided. We held our breath so that our souls might not fall in among the catfish and fertile silt. Every creek and river whose name I knew ended there, no matter where it began, or how it sang, or whose forest or field it slid inexorably through.

Today, an unholiday Sunday, that river is swollen almost beyond memory. And though I walk and breathe, converse and garden, even laugh a thousand miles away, it’s that river I feel.

Thank goodness it will crest and recede.

Thanks to every friend who understands when I carry the little ash-filled box from room to room.

And thank you, Willie.