In a small blue room on College Street sits a woman who, seventy one years ago, fell in love with a red-haired man whom she knew from her childhood. When they were small she watched him swinging around the columns on his front porch across the street while she played with dolls on hers. When they met again, she recognized him before he ever took off his hat to reveal that red hair underneath. Theirs was a six month courtship that culminated in a wedding at the parson's study.
They built a life in a small house with a wrap around front porch and a screened in back porch. She watched him go to war with a young girl beside her and a babe on the way. She welcomed him home and introduced him to a second daughter. Everyday she polished his shoes and he took the list she gave him to do the shopping. She baked cookies and he delivered them. He sat at the kitchen table and diced and chopped, sliced and cut and she cooked. She shopped and he paid the bills. She fertilized and he cut the grass. She waved goodbye as he drove to his shift as a prison guard, and prayed he would come home safely.
Each Sunday he dressed neatly in the shirt she pressed, the suit and tie she picked. She put on “ear bobs”, touched up her hair with a pick, asked him to zip her dress and off they drove. Three blocks to church and three blocks back. They raised their daughters, Pat and Linda, in the quiet little house with the big backyard. They loved them through thick and thin, though there wasn't very much thin. How could two girls brought up in such love ever raise much of a ruckus?
Eventually they welcomed grandchildren and rocked and read and babysat. She patched the knees of torn dungarees and sewed buttons back on shirts. He bought crickets and packed up the long cane poles so they hung out the car window, a flag that said without words: “Going fishing!” and patiently baited hooks, took off the catch and never once dipped his own line in the pond. Then there were great grandchildren and they repeated all that had gone before with the same books and toys, needle, thimble and cane poles (but new crickets).
And then. He was sick. The recurrent bronchitis turned to pneumonia that turned to something else. And he was in a hospital 60 miles from home. Home being not the little white house with the red columns and detached garage, but her. And then he did come home and he cried to see her again. She was no longer the slender blond whom he had married on a cold day in February, but do you imagine that he had never thought her more lovely? Not long after, his breathing changed. Infection had set in and this time he would return neither to the little house on the double-lined drive nor to her.
Ten years from that day she sits, no longer in the house where they lived together but in a nursing home. A summer wreath hangs on the door. Framed pictures of the girls hang on the wall next to the window. A hummingbird calendar tracks the days and months as they pass. Outside her windows blue jays, redbirds and little black cowbirds swoop to the bird feeder. Linda has updated the magnet boards that hold family pictures with photos of the first great-great grandchild and Pat has made the bed and turned back the covers. She can no longer chat with them as they sit with her day in and day out, morning and afternoon. The life that lit her blue eyes is fading as quickly as their color.
Today, one of them will help the staff use the lift to move her from bed to chair and back again. One of them will take care of personal needs the mother is no longer embarrassed to endure at the hands of others. The daughter, Linda or Pat, will bathe her, gently scratch her scalp, spoon feed her small helpings of yogurt, plump the pillows just the way she likes them. The daughter will call for medicine and tuck a small gift in the breast pocket of the hospital gown, so her mother, whose lips can no longer form the words “thank you” can, nonetheless, say “thank you” to whoever comes to help. And these daughters still search for, and find, the woman who fell in love with a red haired boy so many years ago. And they love her, with gentle words and hands, as she has loved them.