Bent over pulling weeds in the beloved backyard of the house that I own with by husband and where we no longer live permanently, I hear the sound of a car stopping nearby and the engine being halted. From years of being in a similar situation, certain sounds are identifiable even though I am unable to confirm their whereabouts. I know the car has pulled onto the driveway skirt of my neighbor Joanna. I suspect, it is her son who has stopped by to help with some task needing done inside or out. I rise, get my balance and glance over to the drive where indeed stands Joanna’s son. He pleasantly offers his “Hello” and I greet in kind. I wander over because I think he might be able to suggest a contractor for a home repair need we have discovered on this visit. After he thinks a moment, he does have a suggestion to which I am grateful. I ask how his mom, my neighbor and friend, is doing. His voice takes on a sad note and he replies, “She’s not good.” He explains her brain has stopped telling her vocal chords what to do and it has left her unable to speak. I ask if I can visit, not knowing if there are other health concerns and that perhaps she prefers her privacy. He informs me she has to write all her questions and responses on paper, that it is often difficult to read what she has written, and, that she doesn’t go out anymore. Then he adds “I’ll ask.” In a few minutes he returns to where I have continued my weeding and says, “Tomorrow, at one?” I agree and am thankful.
Thirty-one years ago we moved in to a bungalow in Findlay, Ohio. And thirty-one years ago I met this wonderful woman and neighbor, Joanna. Recently widowed, she befriended me and my family as a beloved aunt. She was nearly twenty years older than myself and yet we spoke as if we had known one another forever. She took me and my small children on shopping outings, introduced me to her seamstress, she offered curtains she could no longer use, split whole cakes for dinner’s delight, and one weekend we visited her lovely lake house in Indiana. We’ve shared kitchen tools, extension ladders, Thanksgiving meals. We’ve taken her many chocolate labs on walks when she was recuperating or under the weather. She encouraged my gardening and loved receiving Lily of the Valley, lilacs and tulip bouquets.
At one o’clock on Saturday afternoon I knocked on Joanna’s back door, the door I always chose when visiting. I had a small jelly jar vase filled with grape hyacinths, some forsythia, a coral tulip and some greenery from our bushes. I had purchased a pretty pad and pen set the day before and brought that as well. She was in the kitchen and opened the door. Our eyes connected, then our hearts. She reached out to hug me and immediately my eyes pooled. She reached for a large Post It pad and a pen that was comfortable, and began questioning me about how long our visit was, how I was doing at work and answered my questions of whether she needed me to get or do something while I was there. She kept looking so intently that I felt her communication was now a silent language emnating from her eyes but no less heartfelt, no less informative. At one point she wrote she was “tired of all this.” She wrote that her son stops every day to check on her and help her as needed. I was aware of how quickly she tired so I asked if I could stop in tomorrow before we left town to return to Wisconsin. She nodded and hugged me and she once again looked at me as if to say all the salutations we had exchanged throughout the years in that one look.
At eleven o’clock on Sunday morning I stood knocking at Joanna’s back door. She had great difficulty unlocking the door. I reassured her I was in no hurry and to not panic. At last, she got the door open and those loving arms immediately enveloped me once again. I asked if she’d like to sit somewhere and chat. She led us toward the living room couch. I told her of our daughter and family moving to Oregon, the work she does from home, the travels of our son-in-law, our wonderful grandson and how she would adore him. I told her of the Little Free Pantry of McComb and how our son and his friend have helped get that project off the ground. She would write a question and participate in the conversation. I told her she was an incredible woman, strong, and persevering and that I am so honored to be her friend. Needing to leave and not wanting to tire her I said I needed to get on the road. We hugged, there was that intense look again, and as I didn’t want to have her follow me to the back door, I left by way of the front door. The door closed, I walked across the brick porch floor, down the steps and onto the path that leads to the black iron gate at the sidewalk. I lift the latch that I have lifted and replaced so many times over the years and prayerfully offer my “Thank You.”
Carol Iles is a weeder of decals and gardens. She enjoys reading, traveling rustic roads in Wisconsin and hearing other people’s stories.