Thursday, June 8, 2017
"One, two, three..." Nora silently counted to eleven, filling her kettle with tap water. She had calculated this to be the exact amount needed to brew a pot of tea. She detested the amount of energy expended by her hated electric stove, so she had resorted to precision. The whole process of making a pot of tea had been affected by this new concept. Two measured tablespoons of English breakfast tea; the kettle heated for four minutes, then left to absorb the residual heat a minute or two; poured into the pot, tea basket set in for four minutes, then quickly removed... Very different from the old Nora, actually the younger Nora, who had loved to "wing it" in just about every aspect of life.
It was good timing, becoming more attuned to detail at this point. She needed the mental exercise, for one thing. A woman she had met on a flight from Chicago to San Antonio had explained to her that it was good to be making such a great change in life (moving from where she had lived her whole life--so that she knew the streets, shops, stores, and stoplights all so well that she hardly had to think) at this age (just about ready for dementia to start setting in). Anyway, such had been the case for her friend on the airplane, Veronica. She was a little older than Nora and had moved to San Antonio from Houston about ten years prior. It forced her to start using her mind again, she had said, instead of just floating along on the sea of familiarity while her brain turned to mush.
Now, what to do with this free time, while Gary and the boys were out... Nora looked around her kitchen. It was very different than when they had moved in. Blue-green walls with white wainscoting and painted white cabinets brightened and widened the space where it had been drab beige and dirty brown. They hadn't wanted a fixer-upper but the housing market had been crazy. So there had been a lot to deal with that first year, physically as well as psychologically. But they were getting to the end of it, and not having anything pressing, she wondered what to do next.
Enjoying the quiet, she poured a cup of tea and wandered into the dining room, now painted a bright terra-cotta that nobody seemed to like. Still, she didn't want to change it again. She was tired. She sat at the old round wooden claw-foot table, and opened her Bible to Psalm 71. Nora realized she had benefited greatly from having to struggle through so much, not that she had been heroic, or even patient, or in any way sane (Poor Gary). Also, she was fully aware that the obstacles she had faced were non-existent in comparison to what others around her were going through, and this just made matters worse. She really had nothing to complain about. So, she needed to stop complaining. She knew one thing could help--Drinking in the words she felt deeply refreshed.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Gary and Nora had been married for over thirty years. They had met at a low point in each of their lives. It was at the end of college, in a depressed economy--the previous four years of uproarious "fun" having slowly ground down as they saw their friends leaving, one by one, until hardly anyone was left. The two became acquainted at the last, fortunately. Otherwise they probably never would have "settled down" together in that loose and hazy setting.
That last year they both worked at the same pizza place on campus. She had first been attracted to him because he smiled at her. She thought this meant he liked her. He did, but he smiled at almost everybody. She had thought he was older than he was--maybe because he was so tall, or because he had long hair, which nobody their age did, or because he wore strange clothes kind of like an old hobo. Upon learning his true age, she still thought it would be impossible for them to be together because of their difference in height. This did not stop her from flirting with him; and within a year they were married.
Nora kicked aside the pile of flip-flops in her way and went in the orange back door. It was cool inside. Back in Illinois she had gotten away without running the air conditioner much, but not here. She was glad for the huge old oak trees which shaded the house. Also there were lots of birds around, including her favorites from home--bluejays and cardinals. Maybe it was worth living in a "Brady Bunch" house in exchange for such luxuries.
Joe and Millie were just coming in the front door.
"Hi Mom!" Joe bellowed happily. "What's for lunch?"
"I was just about to figure that out." Nora prided herself on her ability to scrounge up a pretty good meal with no forethought whatsoever, but right now she didn't feel like it. "How about peanut butter on tortillas?"
"How about burgers?"
"We don't have any."
"Let's go out!"
"Well you can ask your dad." She secretly hoped Gary would take the boys out for a while so she could have some time to herself.
Monday, June 5, 2017
Nora was the type of woman who liked to admire a job well done, especially when it was her own work. She stood, crossing her arms, in the front yard of her 70's orange brick two-story Texas home, happily surveying the neat row of little bushes she and her husband had painstakingly planted. Painfully, also, particularly for her husband, Gary, who had completed the task of digging the original thirty-seven-year-old hedges' tree-sized roots out from the bedrock they had clung to just below the soil.
He did, however, get a new tool out of the job--a seven-foot long, heavy black metal pole, with a sharp point at one end, and a wedge shaped chisel at the other. This type of tool had been unknown to the Millers before they moved to San Antonio, where the "digging bar," as it was called, was pretty much indispensable.
"Gary!" Nora called across the scrubby lawn to her husband, a nearly six-and-a-half-foot tall, thin, tanned, but aging fifty-something-year-old.
"What?" He turned his head in her direction, wiping dirt from his brow with his work-gloved hand.
"It looks great, doesn't it?" she beamed, walking toward him. Nora was a foot shorter than her husband, not as thin, not as tan, also aging. It was, in fact, the most difficult age of her life so far. Losing her 'looks,' whatever they had been, was the insult added to the injurious trial she was going through. She hated that part almost as much as the anxiety, or maybe more, depending on the moment.
"Yeah," agreed Gary. "Much better."
"And the door--what do you think?" Nora asked cautiously.
"I love it."
"You're just saying that so I won't paint it again."
"No, I really do. It looks good. Cooler." She had painted the front door a fairly bright grayish-blue. Neither one of them had cared for the previous pumpkin color, which had matched the trim, painted by the previous owners.
"It does look better, doesn't it--less orange," she stated truthfully.
"Oh yeah," smiled Gary, and they hugged a brief sweaty hug.
Barreling out the newly painted door came Millie, the dog, along with Frankie, the youngest son--age 10, and his brother Joe, age 14. Frankie was juggling a basketball and the dog's leash, while Joe scrambled after them, babbling something that Frankie was doing his best to ignore.
"What are you guys up to?" asked Nora.
"We're gonna shoot some hoops with Millie,"declared Frankie.
"Well, I was going to take her for a walk," protested Joe, "but then Frankie stole the leash."
"All right guys," Gary interjected, "Frankie, you can't play ball and hold the dog. Give the leash to Joe."
"But he always gets her!" Frankie complained.
"Well you can go for a walk with us," offered Joe, but Frankie stormed off toward the hoop, bouncing the ball, once again ignoring his brother.
"See what I mean?" Nora looked up at her husband. "They fight all the time. I'm so tired of it."
"I'll deal with it," Gary asserted.
"Yeah, right," Nora rolled her eyes and stomped across the driveway toward the back yard. Gary threw his gloves down and jogged over to the cul-de-sac where Frankie was dribbling the ball.
"Pass it!" Gary called, and Frankie tossed the ball to his dad, who took a shot and missed. Frankie got the rebound and went in for an easy layup.
"Wanna play 'horse'?" he asked.
In the backyard, Nora gazed into the large, blue, kidney-bean shaped pool. They had recently had the pool re-plastered, and the work crew had destroyed at least half of the already struggling lawn. Fences of string staked off geometric shaped areas where Gary had planted grass seed. The pool water shimmered crystal clear and cool, veins of sunlight gently rocking in the soft breeze.
Nora thought about how she had often dreamed of having her own in-ground swimming pool, thinking it an impossibility. But then again, living in Texas was not something she'd ever considered as being possible, or desirable. So here she was, once again, finding her life turning out to be nothing like she had expected.
House projects did not stop with the grass and bushes. There were presently several more in process, as had been the case ever since the family had moved in, just one year before. Currently the couple was working on a stone pathway from the back patio, around the house, through the fence gate, and into the front yard. Previously it had been mostly mud and some ugly pre-cast shifting stepping stones.
Plantings were going in here and there, in pots or along the foundation, around the pool and "the bean," a kidney-shaped pebblecrete patio, stuck strangely in the center of the sprawling, muddy, weedy, quarter-acre yard. Several large trees had already been trimmed or removed, but it was still "woodsy." Clumps of stumps protruded out of the ground in small groupings which were made into little islands with small shrubs, flowers, and boulders.
In the far back corner of the wedge-shaped lot stood a large white shed that looked like a little house--with a pitched roof, windows, and a door. It was nice, almost adorable, except that it was tipping pretty noticeably. Whoever had gone to all the trouble of building it had not bothered to level the foundation. "They couldn't do anything right," thought Nora, looking at it. But it did provide needed storage for pool supplies and yard maintenance equipment.
A six-foot high wooden privacy fence enclosed the entire backyard, as was the case for every house in the neighborhood. However, three other backyards bordered the Millers', some with fence-boards facing in, some facing out, each somewhat different in age, construction, or color. So it was a bit of a fractured fairy-tale backyard, which didn't surprise Nora. "We always seem to end up in quirky situations," she reasoned, though not knowing why.