“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.”
– Katharine Hepburn
It was nigh upon the gloaming hour when I happened upon her, almost out of ear shot beyond the iron gate. Deer roamed in the distance beyond her. She’s lived on the same two acres for 58 years now. Raised her four children up by her lonesome after she threw out their old man for cavorting with other women.
“I never did divorce him though,” she said. Her generation took a wrong-headed pride in such loyalties to the unfaithful and unworthy. The children weren’t even yet in school when their parents split. She didn’t say it but I’d venture to guess that those kids may not have ever regarded their father as anything more than a stranger with whom they shared DNA.
“You can’t tell it now but I was a beautiful woman back then,” she said.
“You still are,” I replied and meant it. Her Norwegian ancestry prominent in her angular shapes and lean physique.
She earned a business and art degree from Oregon State University, my alma mater. She majored in business only because her father considered art majors unemployable. After she kicked her two-timing husband out, she landed a job teaching art at the local school.
The gardens that surround her 1970s brick ranch are a work of art: red rhodies, purple lilacs, lavender phlox, pink hydrangeas. It’s a kaleidoscope of color throughout the year. She’s in the yard most everyday, wearing a straw hat reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn gardening.
She fell while gardening last July.
“I don’t remember it much,” she said.
Smack dab on her face on the concrete sidewalk, or a bucket, or something or other. There was nobody around to find her. She awoke to the metallic smell and taste of her own blood, used the cell phone in her pocket to call for help. She was in the hospital several days.
As if a deadly pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with.
Hers was the first fall I heard about that week. Within 48 hours, a friend in Florida fell off a curb and broke her leg and her ankle, broke and displaced it so that it was just hanging there. All the day before she was to head off to Arizona. Then a girlfriend’s mother fell at her home in Idaho, struck her head on concrete, causing a devastating brain bleed. And another friend’s husband in Portland fell, causing serious but survivable damage.
For several days last week it was as if gravity had gone off-kilter and otherwise healthy people were being yanked forward against their will. Perhaps pushed by some unseen presence? Who can say for sure? Does falls happen in threes the way deaths do?
She knows she’s one of the fortunate ones, this neighbor of mine. She recovered in the hospital without contracting Covid, which, around here, is a likely place to contract it.
And now she is back in her garden during the gloaming hour, wishing the new neighbors hadn’t cut down all the trees where the Flickers and Downies took refuge. There are fewer goldfinches now, too.
“They said they are going to plant maples there,” she told me. “And lavender up there.” She pointed to the hillside where the new neighbors had used their tractor to push up all the dirt. “They said they are going to put in an orchard, too.”
Perhaps if they do the birds will return. But for now, it’s just pasture where the deer gather a good distance off from the “moo-moos,” as my granddaughter calls them.
After all, this good neighbor is proof enough that restoration can occur.
There is always good reason to hope and work for a better future. No matter what the naysayers insist upon, or the many falls that occur along the way, make your life a work of art.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).