The man down the street answered the cry
of the young man with the child’s mind
who was being bullied by the neighborhood gang
and for his trouble was knifed in the stomach;
now beneath the giant oak with the rope swing
that stands in his front yard under a blue sky
are a dozen votive candles resting in peace
and a poster sized picture of his face
which now smiles down from heaven
where no bullies are allowed and all children
are smart and beautiful and strong and safe.
A cloudy day and misty evening punctuated by fat lazy raindrops has made this morning fresh and clean and fragrant with the scent of pine. The unrelenting August heat has been temporarily suspended and the day is shaking its shoulders to toss off the clenched fist of the parched earth. The neighborhood is stirring, too.
My neighbor, Gina, drops in to recount her first-of-the-month errands that took her from the bank to Walmart to the grocery store to the 99 cents store. “I had to wait to go to Walmart because there was a wedding on my soap opera I didn’t want to miss.”
She has watched the soap for nearly forty years and this day would mark the marriage of a couple who had wed and then divorced, and now many years later would be remarried. In an aside she adds “It’s a long and complicated story so I won’t go into it.”
In a rush of words she relates that the groom came up the aisle in a wheelchair but stood up to say his vows to the astonished delight of his old/new bride. “He had had an accident, you see, because he was texting on the phone while he was driving his car. So now he can’t walk. I learn all kinds of things. These stories are so educational!” she concludes gasping with admiration. I have to love her for her openness and sincerity.
Meanwhile, the lady and terrier who wear matching outfits wheel by rapidly, she on a mission perhaps from God while the aging Siamese cat follows in their wake. The little Japanese lady scampers on by slippered feet, bobbing head murmurs encouragement to the white Shih Tzu who stalls and stretches his neck to sniff at entrancing spots along the sidewalk.
The Russian couple who live upstairs descend, loaded down with pails and trowels and bags to tend their patch in the community garden. Sweetie Pie the cat bows her head with regal condescension to the “Kitty, kitty,” they coo as they stretch out their gnarled hands.
The old man with the baseball cap rides his bicycle swiftly past, his back straight and erect as a heron’s leg, his eyes forward as a new soldier’s gaze. Round and round he circles the drive, white knit chest pumping in and out as his legs piston up and down in time to a cadence heard only in his inner ear. Round and round, a one-horse carousel, he winds up the morning like a clockmaker.
The gentle delta breeze glides inland over ripening fields and drying reservoirs traveling northward after its night in the big city that lies south and west, a painted lady by the sea lapped by pacific shores known for their cosmopolitan tolerance. Turning this way and that the air pirouettes within the cerulean sky like a coquette showering kisses on a generous patron.
What heavy promises lay waiting now in August harvests near bursting from juices made in sun’s sugar rays. Soon, next week, or the week after, a snap will be heard as the sun spears the horizon and autumn signals its imminent arrival. Overhead nine Canadian geese honk on their way to a nearby pond.
After several weeks of fairly constant rain, the sun arrived a few days ago and in response the trees are in leaf – a million shades of green from chartreuse to apple to emerald. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to push the comforter from the bed and today the temperature is expected to hit 80 (where are my shorts!). We are getting a taste of the summer to come.
The little Russian Mister who lives upstairs came down yesterday with a smile on his face. The kidney stone he was suffering from has either passed or is in abeyance. He patted his stomach and said, “Good, good.” I congratulated him and waved as he started off on a walk around the block.
Speaking of walking, another phenomenon has recently arisen along with the clement weather and longer days. About four o’clock every afternoon a parade of dog walkers emerge from their various apartments. Armed with plastic poop bags, water bottles and sun hats these intrepid exercisers make numerous circuits around the complex while loudly chatting to each other about the other residents.
The old observation about dogs resembling their masters is mostly true, the exception being those who are the exact opposite of the owners in which case it is perhaps an anima/animus thing (no pun intended); to whit, the very large, mean-looking lady using a walker who has a small black submissive Silky Terrier. (I don’t think I got all the commas and semi-colons right in that sentence).
Then there is the short, sprightly, gray haired lady who owns a small, sprightly, gray haired Airedale terrier; the large, sort of sloppy guy who wear Bermuda shorts and black nylon socks with oxfords who drives an extra large, floppy King Charles Spaniel; the skinny fluttery lady who is in charge of two excitable Chihuahuas; and the slim, Asian lady who furtively scoots up and down the sidewalk with her black and white Lhasa Apso.
Sweetie Pie enjoys viewing this daily parade from the comfort of her patio seat and I often join her to share observations. Yesterday I had to gently remonstrate when she loudly sniggered as the King Charles Spaniel sat down and yawned mid-walk and her owner wagged a chubby finger trying to overrule her intractable behavior.
Then there was the time the two Chihuahuas circled and criss-crossed so many times the fluttery lady was completely tied up with leashes. That provoked a guffaw on both our parts as we happily traded anecdotes about other tie-me-up, tie-me-down scenarios we had experienced in our younger days.
The parade also has its runway aspect which is not to be confused with any kind of air travel unless you’re flying to Paris. The submissive Silky Terrier and the gray-haired Airedale Terrier are both Fashionistas, which is like being a Fascist but without wearing black shirts and tall boots although there is an obvious European connection particularly when you consider the pedigree of the dogs in question.
Both Terriers sport an array of costumes, from cute emerald green jackets with four leaf clover designs for St. Patrick’s Day, to bright plaid overcoats suitable for a day at links, and not to mention the yellow slicker a la Paddington Bear for rainy afternoons.
In fact, Sweetie and I noticed, with some astonishment and raised eyebrows I might add, the rainy day the Silky Terrier rode in the big lady’s walker and cast a jaundiced eye, which is similar to being supercilious but more yellow, on the slightly soaked King Charles Spaniel that was now dutifully trotting beside his owner.
Now that summer is just around the corner Sweetie Pie and I are both looking forward to long lazy afternoons spent drinking mint juleps on the patio and making snide (which is related to supercilious but sneakier) comments to each other as we watch the every changing parade pass by.
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.