By: Ruth Z Deming
How delighted I was to learn that Eileen was moving in with her grown son after living with her husband Bill in Florida. Bill had died a lingering death of emphysema. When they had visited here in Willow Grove, PA, he had trailed behind him a breathing machine, like a little Chihuahua. Finally, his time was up, so Eileen became my new next-door neighbor.
My darling Eileen, whom I loved as if I had known her my entire life, is still alive, but she is not the same as when I knew her. But let’s remember now the happy times we had together. And, yes, I will not skip over the other days.
This woman was a real fashion plate. Who knew? When going through her hundreds of outfits and pocketbooks, she asked me if I wanted any.
Did I ever!
She was tinier than I, small boned, with blue eyes the color of the Mediterranean. Her new family didn’t allow her to drive.
“Mom,” they would say, “you raised us and this is the least we can do to show our appreciation.”
She and I would joke with Bill and his wife Stacey that she would borrow my car and we’d drive around the neighborhood.
Very few things looked familiar to her and why should they? She and her husband had lived here in son Bill’s house until they retired to a gated community in Florida.
Every day she lived with her children, I would visit and let myself in the side door, which they kept open.
“Intruder alert! Intruder alert!” I’d call.
And there she was, sitting at the table with her companion, Kate. They would either be finishing lunch or playing games and cards.
Daisy, the handsome, but aging Golden Retriever, would lie at Eileen’s feet, poking his head up to see who came inside.
In her prime, Eileen had been a remedial reading teacher. How she loved her young pupils in what they used to call, “junior high.”
One day I said to Eileen, “What is your pleasure, my lady. The day is ours and we can go anywhere we wish.”
“You mean it?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said.
She trusted me. Over the years, she would place all her jewelry on the table and we’d sift through it, as if we were jewel thieves.
“I want this, this and this!” I’d joke.
Today we would visit Mildred Avenue in nearby Abington, in the house where she had grown up.
She met me at my car, buckled herself in and off we went.
Who gave the directions?
As if she were a bloodhound, she remembered exactly where the house was.
It was an old brick house. I parked the car in front and we both got out.
Holding onto her arm, we marched up half a dozen stairs to get inside.
We rang the doorbell. No one answered.
Then she tried the next house.
A woman answered, stepped outside and Eileen quizzed her.
“Do you remember the house next door? I used to live there with my family.”
She explained she had rheumatic fever and was quarantined for nearly a year, while her siblings brought her homework home from school. This was a family that worked together.
The Junods. Truckers.
“Yes,” said the woman, “Yes, indeed, I remember your lovely family.”
The woman was older than Eileen.
“They loved flowers,” said the woman. And pointed to potted plants of red geraniums and yellow snapdragons and colorful portulacas – red, yellow, cinnamon.
We got back in the car.
“Oh, I hate to leave,” said Eileen.
I wished she could move back into her old house and stop time.
Now she lives in an assisted living facility in nearby Abington, PA. I visited her a time or two. She barely remembered me.
Yet here I am walking on this chilly November day in her tweed coat – black and white – with a herringbone pattern.
That’s a V-shaped weaving, the small “V’s” creating the pattern.
I swing my arms. Sometimes I thrust my hands deep in her pockets, expecting to find something in there. Anything. Even a cookie that Stacey bakes. Chocolate chip. Or her small crucifixion or pearl necklace.
My purple sunglasses shade my eyes from the brilliant sun that shines down on all her children.
And don’t ask me about God.
I pray of course but I don’t believe.
When they finally bury me, they will find Eileen’s coat in my front closet, hanging on a strong wooden hanger. Truthfully, my front closet reminds me of my late parents’ closet.
Doesn’t anything ever change?