I was always closer to Ray than I had been to his wife, Joan. He was the one who would stop by to chit chat on the way to the mailbox. One day when I was on the ladder cleaning out the gutters he stopped by to tell me, “If I wasn’t spoken for, I’d marry you!”
I was single and divorced. I had to do all those things myself...gutters...yard. One year at the beginning of spring I pulled out my lawn mower after having it tucked away in the shed all winter. I yanked and yanked on that pull cord until finally it started up. The lawn mower must have been tilted on its side at some point because the oil mixed in with the gas and this terrible white smoke was billowing into the air. Being a single, working mother I didn’t have time to mess around. I kept mowing, hoping the smoke would burn off. After a few moments Joan came running out of her house and began yelling at me for polluting the air and killing the flowers. I immediately turned off the mower, apologized and scurried inside. She was right, and I was embarrassed. I hate having anyone upset with me. From that moment on, I kept Joan at an arm’s length, afraid I would do something else to make her mad.
Her husband, Ray, always took the time to talk to all the neighbors, paying special attention to their passions whether it be cars, bikes, their children or sports. He never talked about himself. In fact, it wasn’t until his funeral I learned of the very elite medals he had received from his time in the service.
When he passed away, my heart ached for his wife, just as it ached for my own mother. Two women who had lost their husbands after a long beautiful companionship. Two women who had been adored and cared for in a way that could never be replaced. Both Joan and my mother had husbands who were warm, friendly and beloved by all. Sometimes the men’s bright light cast shadows on the unique and special sparkle of their wives.
A few weeks after Ray died, my heart strings pulled me to Joan’s doorstep to check in. I began doing this every so often to see if she wanted to talk or needed me to help run any errands. Eventually Joan asked if I could drive her to a doctor’s appointment. Every time since then when she asks for a ride she will graciously say “I know how busy you are. If it doesn’t work, please don’t feel pressured.” She is always so thankful when I pull her van into her driveway telling me how much she appreciates me helping her with her errands.
Over the last couple years, I’ve driven her to a few doctor’s appointments, blood transfusions and a hair appointment. During our car rides we talk about family, grief, writing and what it was like for a divorced woman in the 1940’s.
A few weeks ago when we pulled into her driveway I told her “Joan, just so you know, this is never an errand to me. I love our time together.”
At first it may have started as something I felt I needed to do to help someone in need. It only took me a few car rides to realize we were giving equally to our relationship.
Today as she walked to the mailbox with her cane in hand, she knocked on my door. In her other free hand she held a gift bag. Inside was a card and some of her favorite books. These were books she had previously read to help with her own writing before arthritis took its toll. My heart warmed as I read the inscription she wrote on the inside of the book cover. I felt a swell of emotion and tears crest in the corners of my eyes. Experience has told me time with loved ones does not last forever. I am so grateful for our special time together.
I feel blessed to have found a friend in Joan.