Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Sunny Side of the Street

And by and by Christopher Robin came to an end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world just wishing it wouldn’t stop.” ~A.A. Milne

Entirely too much time has passed since I visited the mother of my childhood friend. I look at the diminutive woman seated across from me and marvel that at eighty-four years old, her unlined face shows not even a trace of sorrow or sadness. Her smile is wide, her eyes brighter than mine, her laughter is a violin lightly plucking the strings of my heart.
“I remember the day we first laid eyes on you,” she says, as a mischievous glint appears in her old eyes. Thus begins a story told and retold for most of my life, yet one I never tire of hearing.
“Y’all had just moved to town.” She grins. “My chirren were in the backyard playing when all of a sudden Dickie let out an awful scream. Like to scared me to death.”
She looks at me, shakes her head and in a pretty good imitation of two-year-old Dickie, says, “Huh hit me on my head wit’ da’ cat!”
Contrite even after all these years, I feel the color of embarrassment slowly crawling up my face.
“Law, I looked up to where the child was pointing and saw you for the first time ever. When I asked who you were and where you had come from, the other kids said they didn’t know, that you just wandered up.”
She cocks her head to the side and purses her lips into a tight smile. “I was trying to figure out what I should do with you when I saw a lady walking toward the house. It was your mama, ‘course, looking for you all over the place. Child, you were just a baby, yet you crossed that big street all by yourself when you heard the other kids playing. I reckon you wanted to play, too.”
I was three-years-old at the time and from what I’ve been told, it would not be the last time I wandered away from the home fires. “So how come I hit Dickie with that mechanical cat I’ve been hearing about all these years?”
She shakes her head. “Who knows? You had hold of it. He wanted it. You had no intention of giving it to him and that was that. It was the day you and Peggy began your life-long friendship. People always thought y’all were cousins. Your mama, bless her heart, and I became friends for life, too.”
This beautiful lady sighs contentedly and shifts slightly in her straight-back chair, a necessity since her recent lumbar surgery. The almost imperceptible movement is as close as she will come to a complaint of any kind.
We speak of family, both hers and mine. We talk of my grandchildren and her grands and great-grands. She digs out a shoebox full of wedding pictures and babies born to people I have yet to meet. She tells me how happy she is in her new living space at The Home, and how lucky she is that there is a screen door she can open anytime she wants to feel a nice cross-breeze.
We don’t talk about Peggy, my very first friend, gone now over ten years. The pain is still too raw for us both. My gaze drifts from time to time to the same picture of Peggy that sits atop my desk at home, but still, neither of us broaches the subject. Instead, I ask about Peggy’s youngest son.
She laughs out loud. “That boy will never change. Why, he could tee-tee on your foot and make you believe it was raining.” She laughs some more. “But he’ll yank the shirt off his back and give it to you if you say you like it, then hug you so hard you’ll beg for mercy.”
So much like his mother, I think, and draw in a breath. “He was in Seattle with Peggy,” I say, “where she went for the bone marrow transplant. So was I. That boy was so concerned about his mother. We all were.”
My other mother looks down quickly and I fear I’ve opened a wound not yet healed and I’m immediately remorseful. She looks back up at me and for a moment, we share the depth of our sorrow and our need for closure.
“My Peggy was such a brave girl," she says. "She so hated having to give up. Because of her, we all learned a thing or two about courage, didn’t we?”
I catch my breath again and hold it inside. I don’t want to cry in front of this stalwart woman who has buried a son, a daughter, a husband. Who only three years ago survived the incredibly invasive Whipple Procedure for pancreatic cancer, who smiles at and speaks to every person she meets while pushing her walker down the narrow hallway of The Home. I know precisely where Peggy got her courage.
Stooping down, I give her an awkward hug and a light kiss on her rose-petal cheek. “I’ll come back to see you soon,” I tell her.
“Well then, we’ll catch up some more another time,” she replies. I nod my head, but my heart tells me that there will probably not be another time for the two of us. 
Only after her door has closed behind me do I allow a well of tears to bathe my sad, sad soul.

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