“I wish it would stop raining,” Randy, one of the maintenance men, said. “The rain is playing hell with my garden. The squash and cucumbers are gone – root rot. But the tomatoes and peppers are OK.
“You know what’s really doing good? The eggplant. It’s the Japanese kind. They look like bananas, but they’re purple. You slice them long ways, so they’re like French fries, cornmeal them all up and fry them. You don’t have to get uppity and make eggplant Parmesan. This is the South; this ain’t Manhattan. You don’t need no Parmesan, just some cornmeal and fry them.”
A while later, in response to Shirley’s call that there was a package for me at the desk, I went to the lobby. “Poop,” I muttered, or perhaps it was a synonym of poop, when I saw Ron at the desk talking to Shirley. Ron has a myriad of stories. Every one of them is about Ron, and there isn’t the slightest hint of humility, modesty, self-effacement or self-deprecatory humor in the bunch.
“Hey, Flash,” Ron said to me, then turning to Shirley, he added, “I nicknamed him Flash.”
“Good morning, Ron,” I said, doing what I could to mask the more obvious signs of insincerity. After all, I was only going to be there long enough for Shirley to hand the package to me.
My hope for a quick reprieve from Ron ended when Shirley answered the phone and Dennis, the new bus driver, walked by clad in a long-sleeve white shirt and a bright red vest. The man Dennis replaced behind the wheel of the Covenant Wood’s bus was also named Dennis. It must be a prerequisite for the job.
“Flash, did I ever tell you about the time my wife made me a vest just like that?” Ron said. “Well, Betty loved to sew, and she could sew anything. And this one time she had some extra red material and she made me a vest just like the one Dennis is wearing. I really looked sharp in it. I wore it work once in a while, and one day this guy in the office asked where I got it. I told him Betty made it for me. He asked if she would make one for him.”
A Mounty always gets his man, and Ron always puts the other guy in his place. With a look of gleeful disdain, he finished his story with, “I told him she’d quit sewing.”
Shirley handed me the package, and I fled the scene. The package contained two jars of preserves from Beth’s kitchen. I slathered some on a piece of toast and soon the world was a better place again.
Al reminisced for a while that afternoon.
“When I still lived in my house here in town, I’d sit on the swing in the backyard and feed the birds,” he said. “There were two woodpeckers, a male and a female. And there was a robin, a brown thrasher, and a few others. I would sit for hours, watching the birds and feeding them. I’d cut up apples and grapes to give to them. Some of the birds would come up and eat out right out of my hand. Do you think other people do stuff like that?”
And he talked about the present.
“Sometimes I sit out on the porch here and think about dying. I know I won’t jump [Al lives on the second floor] but sometimes I think about getting on the floor and rolling off. There are so many things I can’t do anymore. I’m going to have to start asking the staff to do more things for me. I can’t do it all anymore.
“It’s not a question of damned if I do or damned if I don’t. It’s just, ‘Damn.’ It’s ‘Double damn.’”
That evening, as I made my way around the Covenant Woods’ parking lots, I saw Bobby. He was staring at the groceries in the trunk of his car.
“Nothing is easy these days,” he said. “The things that used to take two minutes take five minutes. And the things that used to take five minutes take forever. I think I’m going to have to make two trips.”
There were two boxes of groceries in the trunk. The boxes were too big to put side by side on Bobby’s walker, and they were both too full to stack.
“Can I give you a hand?” I asked.
“You won’t be able to handle these.”
“My lap is available,” I said. “Set a box on it. I’ll be fine.”
Bobby wasn’t convinced, but he was willing to take a chance. He took a several items out of one of the boxes and set it on my lap.
“Can you handle that?”
I looked at the half-filled box and assured him I could. He grabbed a head of lettuce from the trunk and put it in the box on my lap.
“How ’bout now?”
He put a bag of rice in the box and asked if I could still manage. I said I could. He repeated the question and I repeated the answer when he added a box of raisin bran to my load. Bobby then got the other box of groceries out of the trunk and set it on his walker, and off we went to his apartment.
The following morning, I found an e-mail from Beth in the in-box. It was a video of smiling little MaKenna.
“Can you say, ‘Good morning?” Beth asked, and MaKenna smiled. “Can you say, ‘Good morning, Grandpa?” And MaKenna looked like she might burst out laughing.
I smiled, said “good morning, MaKenna,” very nearly shed a tear and got on with things, knowing that a smile from MaKenna in the morning makes any day a good day.