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Cherry Branch 2011

A month or two ago I mentioned in passing the sweet little Russian couple who live upstairs from me. We continue to wave to each other – me from my chair on the patio, they from their many trips up and down the stairs.

Last weekend the Mr., whose name was once told to me but I’ve since forgotten – I am tempted to say Vladislav but know I am just making it up – was dropped off at 7 in the evening by another short, graying man wearing a flannel shirt and driving a jeep.

After a quick discussion at the back of the vehicle in a language I did not understand, the Mr. unloaded a fishing pole, a no-nonsense steel rimmed fishing net, sturdy tackle box and backpack. As he mounted the stairs I made pole casting motions with my arms and smiled and he replied with a laugh and said, “Fish, yes. Fishing, I go.”

Yesterday, upon returning from running first-of-the-month errands, I came home to find a red fire truck parked in front of the apartment. This is always a bad sign, particularly at a senior apartment complex, for it means ambulances and paramedics. Since the truck was blocking my parking space, I pulled over to the side of the drive and waited.

About ten minutes later, three men carried a gurney down the outside stairs, packed it in the truck and left. I was relieved to see the gurney was empty, meaning the situation was not critical but I didn’t know if it was the Mr. or the Mrs. who had required attention.

Yesterday afternoon as I was enjoying the spring sun, the Mrs. came down the stairs and when she saw me she said hello. This was unusual in itself for she is the more silent of the two and rarely makes an effort to communicate other than a smile or nod.

This time, however, her face was tense and worn, and her hands were trembling. Through a combination of sign language, broken English and telepathy I discovered that the Mr. was suffering from kidney stones and was at home resting. “Old. Not good,” she said with a shrug that carried a depth of silent meaning. “Yes,” I agreed to her what-can-you-do message.

Today I heard the Mrs. coming down the stairs again and as soon as she came into view, she said, “Hello.” I put aside the book I was reading and asked “How is your husband?” pointing upstairs. “No good,” she replied, shaking her kerchiefed head and hanging on to the stair railing, her brown eyes blinking.

“Pain,” I inquired. She nodded yes and pointed to her back and stomach, explaining how the kidney stone was torturing him. “I’m so sorry,” I said, wanting her to know through these inadequate words that I understood. She shook her head in resignation. “It’s hard,” I added, and thought not only for him who is suffering but for her who is witnessing.

I wanted to hug her to lend her some strength but the iron railings separated us so I blew her a kiss. “God bless you,” she said in her broken English and blew one back. There were tears in both our eyes as we acknowledged that Life sometimes shows its power rather than its mercy.

When she left I was reminded that just last Sunday I had hugged another of the ladies in residence here. That time it was Gina, the one I had formerly thought of as Jayne Mansfield because of her waist-length blonde wig and large bosom. It was the first time Gina and I had talked and she shared some of her history – her forty-plus years as a waitress, her love of plants, her sadness that she no longer had a garden to tend.

But it was the story of Lenora, her parrot of more than twenty years that had prompted the tears. “I never had no children and didn’t want none. Lenora was my little companion and now I’m all alone.” As she dabbed a kleenex on her eyes, she said, “Please don’t be mad I cried,” and I wondered who had made her ashamed of tears.

There are so many stories waiting to be told and the richest ones have a thread of sadness running through to give it depth and definition. Those are the stories that teach us about life and resilience and the beauty of the heart.

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