Attend my ode to the venerable among us. This paean is long overdue. It is a song of gratitude for a great gift life, and old ladies bestowed me.
Many children mimic; monkey that I am, I was no exception. The odd delight parent take in this behavior encourages. In olden times preachers made house calls. I am told that this behavior started quite early with me though my memories are vague. I am told that I rode my tricycle up and down the block calling on the feminine elderly of the Methodist persuasion.
I was brazen and fearless once, before that crushed under the weight of society. We walked to school in those days. I seem to remember Mom walked me to and from kindergarten several times and emphasized the one corner I was to turn on.
When I matured and started third grade I was a man of the world. One who had sadly learned that home was a far cry from Heaven.
Ruth Poland was an elderly lady who lived across from the old brick middle school. Her picket fenced yard contained a modest house, a garden gloriously kept and a perfectly white cat. And Ruth.
I do not remember the details of our acquaintance. Perhaps I asked what her flowers were? Perhaps I remarked on her cat. Nor do I remember the first time she invited me in for a chat. I do remember that for several years after school let out, sitting in her small living room and delighting in her stories and her life and the many things she was to teach me.
One of the first things I learned was Ruth was not a Methodist. I had heard such people existed. I had heard they were evil, but Ruth didn’t seem evil. She seemed quite wonderful. The learning began.
I learned pure white cats are often deaf and need special love. I learned the joy of the song of her canary in the cage by the wing backed chair she always offered me. I learned about the nesting and mating of her parakeets in the side bedroom hushed away from distraction. I remember the first time she made me be very quiet and took me gently by the hand to see the mother parakeet sitting on her nest in the homemade aviary on her dresser.
I wish I remembered more of our conversations.
I remember The Courthouse Square with it’s imposing brick and domed building with the victorian turrets you could climb and gaze out at the village. Nothing was locked in those days.
Every business in our village face the courthouse in that square. Except the John Deer Dealership and the grain elevator on the edge of town.
The Woolworths five and dime was my favorite and the old ladies who worked there knew me by name and I knew them. I never went to shop, I went to visit. It was another refuge.
At Easter, Woolworths carried large baskets. They were real baskets in those days filled with green cellophane grass and tied up in tinted cellophane sheets with a big bow. Pre filled with wondrous candies, they looked a rainbow store shelf bouquet. I had receive my first bicycle for Christmas that year and was wildly mobile and a common sight around the village. I left that bike leaning against the wall of the Dime store once unchained. A month later I found it where I had left it.
I counted my quarters out on the counter and Rachel got down the biggest fanciest Easter pannier of them all for me. I balanced it on top of the bike basket and slowly walk the bike to Ruth Poland’s house. It was late I said and I couldn’t stay, but happy Easter.
A most upsetting thing soon happened. Ruth Poland pulled up to my house in a car. I had no idea she had a car. My parent sternly told me I was not permitted, as they went to talk to her through the car window. I disliked seeing my worlds touch and had no idea Ruth knew where I lived. My consorting with the heathen had been discovered.
A week later I woke to the one day a year I didn’t have to make my own bed. It was my birthday! I rose with a smile, dressed, and went down for a bowl of Cheerios.
There in the living room was a deluxe bird cage with a young frightened and very beautiful blue and white parakeet. There was a card from Ruth Poland. The story of the relationship I developed with that special bird will keep for now. Ruth Poland, I thank you.
Change is the only constant I have known and sixth grade was in another impressive brick building across from the park. I never walked the main streets on my way home. The interesting victorian houses were off the main path. I loved the brick a brac and towers and turned wood porch posts in the older parts of the village. I imagined these rotting beauties were Miss Havisham’s wedding cake shedding the odd piece of trim or frosting swag.
I saw and old woman on the porch of her home batting furiously at the air, I tightened my Cub Scout neck Bandana and charged to her rescue. “Wasps,” she said, “wasps”. A very small nest had started on the ceiling over her front door. There were indeed 4 or five wasps flying about. I ushered her safely back inside the gloriously spindled screen door and went to do battle. I drew my sword (broom) and batted the nest a good 20 feet. I callously crushed it under my Keds.
And so I met Anna Mackenzie. Anna needed me as much as I needed her. She was surrounded by scoundrels and enemies. On my new 2 hour stop over the chore came before the stories. Frequently the saloon keeper “Jibby” next door had leaped the spite fence she had erected and caused terrible mischief inside her home. I soon learned that he always hid her house key under the oil cloth on the kitchen table.
Needs met, tea was served in the victorian parlor where she seated me in an almost frightening deeply carved oak Mother West Wind chair and began her tale….
Ana was quite the lady. She had married rich and widowed early. Everything about the place looked new though it had been purchased in 1880. The stories were of high society and a life I had never dreamed. She claimed to have been at Kitty Hawk and I believed her. She had traveled widely. There were tales of the great ships that ferried the elite to Europe and so much more. I soon adjusted to the peculiar story telling method she had invented where a narrative stopped in the middle and a new one took its place. I learned that a week later the tale would return in full.
She often showed me a remarkable dried gourd leaning against one of the mahogany fireplace columns. I do not remember why. It was quite long and ancient. The seeds rattled in it each time she showed it to me for the first time. She began to tell me someday that gourd would be mine.
The life of a preachers kid starts over when you are in the God business and we moved again. Anna died a year after I left. She had put me in her will. The vulture relatives were furious. I never got the gourd. I was left a beautiful cranberry hobnail hanging oil lamp festooned with crystal prisms and a magnificent oak side board with curved glass panels and a mirror. And Money.
One late night several years later I was rousted from my bed and hauled down to the dining room where Mom and dad had all the lights blazing and the table littered with papers. I stood on call in my pajamas. It seems that Dad had invested my funds with a Methodist doing God’s work and earning folks a remarkable return for their money. This gentleman had absconded with the money and gone to Argentina. I forgave my father and went back to bed. I never knew how much money was involved. The lord works in mysterious ways.
The debt is mine. Here is to old ladies. Hell, I practically am one.