Take my first few days of retirement. Yep, finally made it. I'm retired. From my day job, that is, certainly not from life. My first few days of retirement were going to be spent in luxurious relaxation in my new rocker-recliner, watching a back-log of recorded television shows I never have time to watch during the evenings and just in general doing, well, not too much of nuttin'.
Then my grandson Austin developed a fever of 102+, origin unknown. Just one of those pesky bugs passed back and forth in the school halls. So even though I actually didn't do too much of nuttin', I didn't do it at home. I did it at my daughter Rebecca's house, hanging out with my nine year old grandson Austin, while my three year old granddaughter Kinsley hung out with hubby at our house, because for damn sure nobody needs two kids with a fever of 102+, origin unknown. Not that hanging out with Austin's what you'd call a real hardship, because like every other grandmother in the world, just lookin' at my grandchildren makes my heart sing.
Besides, I love my daughter's house. And being there made me remember a very special person. The type of person I had in mind when I first created this blog, as a place to tell stories over the kitchen table and share memories of special moments and special people in our lives. And the original lady of that house is definitely a flower on my fence of memories.
I first met Miss Joyce oh, ten years or so back. Maybe more. That time flies thing again. The librarian of our small town library retired, and Miss Joyce assumed stewardship of the Jeffersonville Library. She was in her late sixties (I believe) at the time, though she certainly didn't look it, and it was very obvious she'd been a beautiful young woman because she was a beautiful older woman. The library was one of the few places in town I frequented with great regularity, since working in a large neighboring city didn't actually put me in position to interact much with local society other than the kids in my children's circle. I'd kind of gotten special treatment from the prior librarian, Miss Merle, who'd been known to slip a new book or two aside to await my next library visit because she knew I loved the author or the genre. Besides that, Miss Merle was my go-to source of information on town happenings, births, deaths, politics, joys and catastrophes. I'd met Miss Joyce now and then when she'd subbed at the library for Miss Merle over the years, but I didn't know her well, and was rather fearful my days of "easy" library pickings might be over. Not to mention my main source of town information.
No worries. The transition was seamless. Miss Joyce knew her library patrons and their tastes as well as Miss Merle had in no time flat. Her husband Mr. Straw stopped in frequently to visit and occasionally even manned the front desk while she took a break. (No, I don't know why Mr. Straw is Mr. Straw. His given name is John. What I do know is that Mr. Straw is as fine a southern gentleman as Miss Joyce was a southern lady. And I'm sure he turned quite a few girls' heads in his younger days, too.) Our little library was as welcoming as ever, and time marched on. With dizzying speed.
Overnight, or so it seemed, my vivacious teenage daughter and the members of her close circle of sisters-by-friendship weren't teenagers anymore. They were all grown up, starting their careers, most of them married, and several of them already young mothers. Including my Becca. Damn. Time truly does fly.
Becca and son-in-law Jason started the search for their first house, looking first in several neighboring counties with larger towns than our own little cross-roads and extremely good school systems. As is the case with most young couples, they didn't like anything they could afford, and they couldn't quite afford what they did like. Not in those counties. They'd been looking for almost a year when Becca noticed a "Home for Sale by Owner" sign at the top of Virginia Circle. She called the number and then called me.
"Mama!! Did you know Miss Joyce and Mr. Straw are sellin' their house?!"
Well, actually, come to think of it, in the back of mine I sort of did. It hadn't registered with me as something to mention (obviously) because the kids weren't looking for a house in little ol' J'ville.
"I--yeah, I did. But that's not where y'all have been lookin' or where you wanted, so I didn't think about it."
"Well, we're going to go see it tomorrow! I'm tired of lookin' and gettin' disappointed and I want Austin in his own house before he's much older!"
They looked at the house the next day--on Austin's third birthday, in fact. August 31. Proving once again that the universe frequently manages to put you exactly where you need to be, exactly when you need to be there.
So why, you ask, would an older couple with a home like that have it up for sale? Well, that's back to the "the universe puts you where you need to be, when you need to be there" thing. Miss Joyce had explained that to me back before it triggered in my mind that of course this was Becca's house. They'd raised their children in that house. And they'd lost their daughter to heart problems about three years back . It goes without saying they never recovered from that. No one ever recovers from such an unimaginable tragedy. They just--go on, and life breaks and reforms into a new pattern around the hole that's left, a pattern that's bearable. But recover? No. Never. Grief takes everybody differently. There's no right way and no wrong way to grieve. They put the house on the market and made plans to built a new home on some family acreage they owned next door to the spot where their son had built his house.
"I see Becky everywhere, Gail. I can't live in that house anymore." Yes. Their daughter's name was Rebecca.
And so it came to pass that my Rebecca and her young family walked into that house on the afternoon of Austin's third birthday. And just by the way, Miss Joyce and Mr. Straw's youngest grandson's name is--Austin. Tell me some things aren't just meant. Well, of course, you can tell me till you're blue in the face. But you'll never convince me. Within five minutes, there was no doubt in either the Sellers' or the Buyers' minds. That house would become home to a new young family. The house's perfect new family.
During the next few months, throughout all the hoopla involved in loan applications and regulations governing purchase and sale of houses, I grew closer to Miss Joyce, who confided that it warmed her heart to think of another "Becky" in the house. Now "Becky" is the one obvious nickname my Rebecca's never used. She's Becca, Beck, Rebecca. Even, to her youngest brother, "Ca". But she's never been Becky. Except to Miss Joyce, for whom she was always Becky.
It wasn't an easy pack-up and move for a couple of their age but Becca and Jason weren't in a hurry, as they lived in a rental unit Jason's family owned. (And packing Becca and Jason up wasn't a picnic either, I tell you that.) The house welcomed its new family in December, in time for them to celebrate Christmas.
Miss Joyce left a present behind. She'd always kept a pretty little lamp on the small kitchen counter/bar that separated the kitchen area from the rest of the Great Room and kept it on so the room would never be full dark. She left that pretty little lamp and a note. I don't remember the words exactly, but I definitely remember the gist of the message. "Dear Becky, I'm leaving the lamp for you, I've always loved it in this spot. I hope I got the master bath completely clean, I did my best but I'm 72 so don't think too badly of me. It makes me so happy to know that a new Becky will be raising her family here. Love, Miss Joyce." That was six years ago.
Miss Joyce and Mr. Straw built an absolutely stunningly gorgeous new home on their acreage, right beside a nice fishing lake, sort of a cross between a Low-Country style with a big wrap-around porch and a mountain cabin with an upstairs loft bedroom. But time marches on, human frailties progress and now Mr. Straw lives by himself in that beautiful house by his fishing lake though his son's family is right next door for company. I worry about him, but not about Miss Joyce. I know she misses Mr. Straw but she's with her Becky now.
And that lovely little lamp she left to light my Becca's kitchen? It left this world--pretty much the same time Miss Joyce did. Oh, not literally, of course. But figuratively. Becca called me.
"Mama, the oddest thing--you know the lamp Miss Joyce left me?"
"It stopped working. Within a few days of when she passed."
"Did you change the bulb?"
"Of course. Jason says it's the wiring. Like--Mama, you think she was sayin' goodbye to the house?"
"Honey, it wouldn't surprise me. Not in the slightest."
"No. Me, either."
Well, I guess that's it for today, folks. The story of one of the flowers I've collected on my fence of memories. A memory that just jumped up and bit me. So forcefully I thought I'd share it with all of you. I'm hoping that with retirement, memories like that will bite me a lot more often, and when they do, I'll share them all of you. Along with more frequent updates on my professional writing life, which are posted on my "professional" blog--wherein I attempt to sound more "professional". Take a jump over if you're inclined to check it out. Y'all come back now, hear?