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Friday, July 21, 2017

(5) NOW THAT I'M OLD, I APPRECIATE PATIENCE ALMOST MORE THAN LOVE.

     Out to Westwood for my usual Friday morning visit.  Kathie and Frank were sitting at the round table.  She was having a late breakfast of cinnamon toast. I began to talk about Timmy’s conversation with Aliceann, but Kathie held up her hand and asked me to say no more.  I looked over at the double fireplace and whispered, “Do you think Ed can hear me?”
     Frank, meanwhile, had stood up and said he had a couple of errands and would be back in about twenty minutes.  Then Kathie told me why she didn’t want me to discuss anything to do with her dad and Aliceann in front of Frank.   
     “He is totally devastated by what’s happened.  It’s too painful to him to talk about their moving out or even think about it.  He’s blocking out the whole traumatic experience as best he can and carrying on with his life.”
     When Frank returned with a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts, he gave us a smile and walked up the hall to the study he shares with Kathie.  “He’s all right, Mom,” she said.  “I can tell.”        
     “That’s a relief,” I said.  “I’ll be more careful after this.” 
     I slid open the kitchen door and had a quick visit with Aliceann.  I told her how much I enjoyed the spaghetti sauce she gave me last week.  She promptly took another container out of the freezer for me to take home.  Collecting Kathie’s grocery list, she left to have her hair done and to food-shop for both families.
     I headed for Ed’s study and showed him three cards for Aliceann’s upcoming birthday. He chose the one with the cat looking into the goldfish bowl.  What a time he had trying to open it to see the message inside.  My Mr. Fix-it ex-hubby, on whom Blake had depended every year to assemble Christmas presents for his children, couldn’t even open a greeting card without an enormous amount of effort.
     Ed reminded me about his frustration with being unable to write.  Gripping a pen with his sausage fingers, he demonstrated what he meant on a scrap of paper.  He began shaping the letters of my name and laboriously formed a fairly legible “Barbara,” but then the pen tapered off after the “M” for my last name.  The wobbly line looked like an electrocardiogram of someone’s heart, slowing down to its final beat. 
     “I can start out all right, but then my fingers get tired or something.  It’s the same way when I use the walker at the parking lot.  I go around a couple of times, and then I’m too tired to take another step.”
     I said he’d be able to practice walking every day once he returned to Florida’s warm climate, and this would surely build up his endurance.  
     “I see you brought one of your folders,” Ed said.  “What do you have for me this time?”
     “It’s a letter you wrote my mother when you sold the island property.  She saved it, and I found it among her keepsakes after she died . . . 

North Terminal Machine Co., Inc.                                         
November 26, 1954
Dearest Ernestine,
     As Barbara has probably told you, we have finally sold the island after getting the price I always thought it was worth.  She is sending Dick and his wife a thousand dollars, and five hundred to Janeth and Walter.  I am enclosing with this letter five hundred that we feel very strongly you should keep and use for yourself—not give to anyone else.
     We are leaving for a short vacation on Friday, December 3, and returning in time for Christmas. Although Barbara, the kids and I shall miss you during the holidays, we can’t help but envy you for spending the winter where it is warm.         
     Inasmuch as I can’t see you to tell you in person, I hope that Isha, the world’s nicest mother-in-law and practically my second mother, has a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s.  We are all looking forward to having you with us again in the spring.  Until then— Love, Eddie

     “You certainly knew how to write then,” I said, but Ed’s expression tells me this is of little comfort.  
     “Would you like to hear Mom’s answer, or are you getting too sleepy?      
     “No, my eyelids are a little tired, but I’m awake.  Read on, McDuff.”
November. 30, 1954
Winter Park, Fla.                                                                   
Dear Eddie,
     I have at last parachuted back to earth.  It took twenty-four hours for me to float down—it really did.  I couldn’t even attempt to write you although I wanted to at once.  I was afraid I’d embarrass you by speaking too much of my heart to you who cover up your sentiments with gaiety or playful brusquerie.  I know you well, for David did the same thing.  I wear my heart as a lapel ornament too often, and so consequently I lose it or it gets brushed a bit hard by some innocent passerby.  I am now trying my best to control the flood of adjectives and impetuous phrases which are natural to me.
   Therefore, speaking with the calmest judgment which I can summon to my garrulous typewriter I want to make an understatement to end all understatements: You, Ed, are a source of pride and joy to me constantly.  I delight in your success, I share your every pleasure, I applaud with true appreciation your growth in all good things of the mind and soul.  I feel that Barbara is the luckiest of girls to have sensed in you long before I did the qualities that are stable and growing.
     Living with you in the summer, I sometimes marvel at your handling of complex situations.  You and Barbara are both more adult than I despite the disparity of age.  I feel that I fail to be wise many times.  So your letter is reassuring; it makes me feel that you are a good forgiver! That you can care for me not for my all-too-few virtues but in spite of my many faults.  Your letter made the check for five hundred feel like two cents.  I so much more valued the former than the latter.
     In accepting it I make an Indian giver of myself, for the land was your wedding gift.  Barbara writes me that she had quite a time to get Janeth to accept the check she sent her.  I can understand, and I honor her attempt to pay you back the loan you made her.  However, I am very, very happy indeed that she yielded to Barbara’s persuasion, for she needs a washing machine and ironer, I think, and now she will surely get them.
   Have fun on your trip, dear.  I’m glad you are able to have a well-earned vacation and rest.
                                                                                                      Lovingly, Ernestine

     I started crying in the middle of this letter and could hardly get through it.  I had read it to myself earlier without getting emotional.  It had something to do with the contrast between the stolid figure beside me, nodding off in his wheelchair, and my dynamic young husband of long ago.  Mother had thought—everyone had thought—even I had thought I’d ruined my life when I had to leave Smith because I was pregnant.  Ed proved we were all wrong. 
     When I blew my nose, he raised his head and said, “I really did love your mother.  If she were still alive, I’ll bet she wouldn’t be against me.”
     “Ed, do you realize how paranoid you sound?”
     “You’re not paranoid if you have good reasons for being paranoid,” said Ed.
     I asked him if he’d heard from Tim.  He said no, he hadn’t, and he felt very unhappy about his son’s harsh words to his wife.   I said I was sure Tim would want to make amends.
     “Could you find it in your heart to forgive him?”
    “Oh sure,” he said.  “But I don’t know where the family gets this idea that all I’ve done is spend, spend, spend, year after year.  It’s not true and it’s not fair.  Well, piss on them!”
    “You don’t mean that any more than you meant what you used to say about your mother’s grave before she died.”
     “What was that?  Oh, yeah, I remember.  That was a terrible thing to say.  I was wrong, she was a good mother, a poor, ignorant woman from Prince Edward Island who did the best she could with what little she and my father had during the Depression.  She made great macaroni and cheese, even better than Aliceann’s.  I don’t know why I was so unkind to her in later years.”
     “Ed, she was a difficult woman to relate to.  Don’t you remember how she used to talk non-stop and annoy you to death?”
     “I should have been more patient.  Now that I’m old, I appreciate patience almost more than love.  There are only two people in this family that aren’t against me—you and Aliceann.”
     “Kathie isn’t against you,” I said.  “She accepts the fact that you want to move to Florida. She’s sad that she won’t be able to visit you in such a small house, but she still hopes you’ll come back here someday.”
     “No, I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again, any of us.  Aliceann will be happy because she has a lot of friends down there, she’s kept in touch, and she can’t wait to see them again.  I won’t have anyone.”
     “You’ll have Blake, only six blocks away, until he moves north in May.”
     “Yeah, I’ll have him six months of the year,” Ed said. 
     Aliceann told me not to forget the spaghetti sauce; Kathie and Frank were departing for Symphony Hall; I kissed everyone goodbye.  In a call to Tim as soon as I got home, I said I thought he shouldn’t postpone talking to his father, suppose he died all of a sudden, Timmy would regret for the rest of his life that he . . .
      “But I did talk to him,” he interrupted, and I said, “Today?  He said this morning he hadn’t heard from you.”
      “It was a couple of days ago.  He’s forgotten.  Aliceann answered the phone, and I started saying I was sorry about what had happened.  She said I should be, I had no right to talk to her that way.   Her one-sided point of view set me off again.  I said, `Aliceann, any time you criticize my sister, that’s the reaction you’re going to get.
      “My words didn’t make a dent.  She said she hoped I’d try to control my tongue in the future.   Then she turned the phone over to Dad.”
      “He has no recollection of talking to you.  What did you say?”       
     “I more or less repeated what I’d said to Aliceann about Kathie.  Then I told him how sorry I was that I’d hurt him.  I said that when I was getting ready for bed, I began thinking of what a great father he had been.  He still is.  I told him I loved him, and he said he loved me, but he wished the family would be more understanding.”    
          
      It's Saturday night, and I just talked to Ted about Ed and Aliceann’s visit to the storage space.             “Was anything accomplished?” I asked.
      “I hardly know what to tell you.  Most of the stuff they brought up here is mind-boggling. This whole thing is sad.  It’s too bad, but it’s driving me crazy.  I’m put in a position where I have to be `tough,’ as Dad puts it, but someone has to be or everything would go down the drain.”
      “What are some of the things that boggle your mind?” I asked out of morbid curiosity.
      “Well, his riding mower, for example.  He bought it a couple of years ago for two or three thousand, and why he shipped it up here, I can’t imagine.  He’ll never be able to use it again.  He should have sold it and got at least $500.   But that’s one thing Timmy will probably be glad to take off his hands.
      “Then there’s an edging tool—a machine that does edging.  Who’s going to use that?  There’s an old mattress, about ten fishing rods for a big boat, a little outboard motor he’s probably had for 15 years.  I said I could use that, the one I have keeps breaking down.
      “But here’s the thing.  It’s like, bite the bullet while you’re down there and make a lot of hard choices about what to sell or give away.  Once a second truck came into the picture, I guess Dad figured he might as well use up all the space and take everything.  Did I tell you he called me a few days ago, saying he wanted to explain his side of the story?”
      I said no, I hadn’t heard about that.
      “He says everybody hates him, and it’s true that he probably said he would help out with the expenses, but he had no idea Kathie would get in so deep.  Then Aliceann wanted to talk to me.  She said she is completely innocent in this mess.  Nobody ever consulted her, they just went ahead and made all these arrangements, so it’s not her fault it didn’t work out.  I felt like saying, `You both knew this disaster could happen since 1990, when I warned you we couldn’t count on keeping the old tenants forever, but did you ever cut back on the spending and put something aside for the future?  Never.  You’re as much a part of this as anybody else.’  But I didn’t say it, of course.”               
     It's the 28th of February, the day before the calendar announces that Leap Year has rolled around again.  I went over to Ted’s house to pick up my alimony check, which he said he’d had ready for days.  He knows I like to deposit it immediately, the better to have it start earning interest.  I remember my father trying to teach me about the importance of interest when I was in the 4th grade.  He took me to the bank next to the Mason School and opened an account in my name.  The next month he again went with me to the teller and showed me how the figure in my account book had increased without my adding a penny.  A great lesson.  Then I married a man who thought a bank was something you found at the edge of a river.               
     Ted said, “I know Dad thinks I’m tough, but I have to be.  There’s nothing I’d like better than to write a check for both of us for $100,000.  Inside of two years his share would be gone, and he’d be looking for more.  If anything went wrong, like one of my tenants going bankrupt, the problem would come back on me and my family.  I’ve worked too hard to provide for the future to jeopardize everything now.”

      A change in this week’s routine.  I got to Kathie’s house early enough to follow Frank to a Roslindale auto-repair shop where the mechanic would work on his truck’s stalling problem.  On the way back to Westwood, we conversed mainly about books and found we have a fondness for many of the same authors.  He is currently reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I  read twice and could recall well enough to contribute a few observations on natural selection and survival of the fittest.  All the while I was showing off, I was hoping I had my facts straight.
    I told Frank about my late sweetheart Jack, a charmer with an offbeat sense of humor and not the slightest interest in reading.  Once, when I went to Fort Lauderdale with Ed, I left Jack with a copy of Darwin’s book and told him I expected a report when I got home.  When I queried him with, “Tell me about how the species originated,” his answer was, “Well, it’s a long story.”
     I didn’t confess to Frank that thoughts of Jack entered my mind at least three times a day for a peculiar reason.  He had always maintained that the only logical way to hang a roll of toilet paper was with the outside unfolding from the top.  Trying not to think about this simply didn’t work.  I faithfully hung the paper his way, but still, there I was again, mentally saying hello, Jack.
     He couldn’t hear me because cigarettes killed him several years ago. Once I said to him, “I think of my darling Jack every time I open this kitchen drawer.”  He looked at the cigarette ash next to a pad and pencil and said, “I’ve got to get you something better.”
     After our return to Westwood, I sat with Kathie at the round table and gave her some pages to edit.  She'd been working with four students on their dissertations but still managed to find time for me.  I joined Ed in his apartment and read a couple of typed recollections.  Again, he not only stayed awake while I was reading but laughed aloud several times.  I love it when he laughs. The first vignette was dated March 9, 1965 . . .
     In spite of the threat of bankruptcy hanging over our heads, Ed is still his easy-come-easy-go self.  After telling me how desperate things were and exhorting me not to spend one unnecessary dime, he came home with a tape of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto—despite the fact that we already have all five concertos on records.  Quite pleased with himself he was, too, and quite hurt when I failed to enthuse over his purchase.  If he had to buy a tape, I scolded, he could have at least bought one we didn’t already have.
     “But the tape is so much better than the record,” he said.
     “What’s so much better about it?  I’ll bet if you went into the other room and I played first one and then the other, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
     “Yes, I would,” he said.  “And you would, too.”
     All right, so the record was a bit scratched, was that any reason to be such a spend-thrift?  I thought we were supposed to be economizing.  What kind of one-sided budget was this, anyway?
     Meanwhile, Beethoven’s glorious music was pouring from the speaker, and I could tell Ed was wishing he could shut me off.
     “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” he said.  That’s what he always says when he’s feeling picked on, and it always reaches me.  Boy, wouldn’t I be sorry!  I suppose there are worse things a man can do than collect Emperor Concertos, I decided.  We sat down with our cocktails and listened companionably to the unscratched version.
     Ed was wide awake and beaming.  One day when I was writing to the Malleys, I began the letter, “Dear ex-hobby and Aliceann.”  This was a typo I didn't correct.   My ex-hubby is still my ex-hobby.

     The March winds are howling, but there's a definite warming trend in the air.  Aliceann suggested that Ed and I go out for lunch.  
    “There’s an Uno’s not far away.  I’ll take you and Edward there after I have my hair done, then I’ll do the shopping and come and pick you up.”
    “Aliceann, why don’t the three of us go?  Wouldn’t that be fun?”
    She was firm.  Edward and I wouldn’t have much more time to spend together, and this was the way she wanted it.  
     I called Kathie to see if Ed was expecting to go out to lunch with me or had he forgotten.  She told me he was looking forward to it like an excited little kid.  Then she said, “They’re leaving two weeks from Tuesday.”
     I said good, being fed up with the whole sorry mess, and she managed a little laugh, “I don’t know how good it is.”  Despite the laugh, I detected a low note in her voice.  Something was troubling her, I was sure, something besides the departure of her father and the other nine neighbors. 
     When I showed up in Aliceann’s kitchen, she had our program efficiently arranged.  She would drive Ed and me to Uno’s, drop us off, then be back for us by 1:30 in order to take Ed for his shot at 2:30. Meanwhile, she would pick up his Luprin medication, which costs $100, and which she had to pay because the pharmacy computer said their Mass Blue Cross policy had been cancelled.   “We didn’t have to pay anything for it in Florida,” she said.
     “Ohmigod,” I said, recalling the reels and reels of red tape Kathie and I and Aliceann got tangled up in when we were trying to switch the Malleys’ Medicare and Blue Cross affiliations to Massa-chusetts.   “Now you’ll have to go through that rigmarole all over again.” 
     “I know. I hate the way they put you on hold and then seem to forget your existence. Sometimes you wait for half an hour, and the next thing you hear is a dial tone.”
     I advised her to keep one her novels beside the phone, so she could forget their existence while she waited.
     Aliceann and I helped Ed into his windbreaker, easily a two-woman job since his arms have lost the knack of thrusting themselves into the sleeves.  “Stand up, Edward,” she said, when the jacket got caught on the back of the wheelchair.  He stood on his shaky legs and was at last bundled up and ready to go.
    I watched Aliceann lift his wheelchair into the back of her car and marveled again at how powerful her arms were.  “It is heavy,” she said, with a final gasp and a push, “but I’m used to it.”
     At Uno’s, Aliceann asked for a booth, wheeled Ed to the one indicated by the hostess and helped him get seated.  “Oh darn,” she said, “I forgot to give you your medication.  Remind me, Barbara, as soon as we get home.”  Then she said, “Now have a good time, you two.”  A fingertips kiss for Ed and one for me.  I thanked her for all her help and told her she was a doll.
     Ed said Aliceann had been much kinder to him the last few weeks. “I don’t know what brought on the change, but it makes life a lot pleasanter.”
     “It must be because she’s so happy about going back to Florida.  I know how much she’s missed her friends and all her activities. Have you hired a mover yet for all your stuff in the basement?”
     A mumbled response.  “What?” I said.
     “We’re going to do it ourselves.  I asked Frank’s brother if he’d do it, and then he asked Frank to go with him.”
     So this was why Kathie’s spirits were low this morning.  She’ll worry about something going wrong every minute until Frank completes the round trip safely.  I pictured him, along with his assistants, lugging everything out of the basement. 
     I would have thought he’d want to leave the whole works in the middle of the yard and set fire to it.  But he is like Kathie.  No matter how much he is hurt, he remains outwardly calm and inwardly non-violent.  
     Ed said something, and I had to ask him to repeat it.  From here on, I will transcribe the mumbled words that issued from his swollen, chapped lips, understandable only after two or three encores.  He said he’d miss the activities he and Aliceann shared for so many years.  
     “I don’t know what I’ll do to keep busy without the boat.  We used to go fishing two or three times a week before I had to sell it.”
      I told him I was sorry his older years were ending up this way, with so many losses, both physical and financial.
     “I can stand the physical infirmities—it’s being poor that is killing me.”
     The waiter took our order.  Ed asked for grilled sirloin tips and mashed potatoes; I went for the Caesar salad and cream of broccoli soup.  When our beer arrived in freezer-frosted mugs, I poured Ed’s for him, then mine.  We clinked glasses and said cheers.
     “Any new gossip about Cohasset?” he asked.
     No new gossip that I could think of, so we resorted to old gossip.  One of the juiciest scandals was that memorable party when the hostess corralled all the male guests in her kitchen, one-by-one, as neatly as a cowgirl singling out steers, and issued to each the same invitation.  Anyone who at any time felt like stopping by for a visit on his way home from work would be welcomed with a drink, hors d’oeuvres, and a relaxing tête-à-tête.  A blanket invitation, you might say.
     The wives were the last to know, of course.  It wasn’t until this femme fatale had broken up a couple of marriages and estranged two aspirants who were brothers that the truth seeped out.  Then she divorced her husband and married a much richer man.  She married again and then again, each new catch wealthier than the last one. Her ex-husband married Ed’s secretary who had the hateful name of Hope Darling.  Oh, how I resented that name.  I used to think, how could he help but have a thing for a Hope Darling he saw daily?  But now he told me I had it backwards: darling Hope had a thing for him. 
     “I knew there was something going on,” I said.  It was kind of fun discussing secrets like this years later when you no longer gave a hoot.  Not even enough of a hoot to ask probing questions of a man who would once have clammed up but now seemed willing to confess all. 
     I listened politely while he described again the Cohasset party he went to after our divorce, where he was the last to leave and ended up with the hostess in his lap, weeping over her breakup with a boyfriend.  “When I wanted to pursue the relationship,” Ed continued, “she said no way would she go out with me, it was common knowledge I was still in love with you.  I lost a lot of potential dates because of you.”
     I figured I should say I was sorry about that, so I did, though I wasn’t.
     His lips were moving rapidly.  I knew he was talking, but I couldn’t hear him. 
     “Slow down, dear, I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”
     He said more slowly, “There was a time when I thought I might lure you back again.  That was fifteen years ago when you agreed you’d be willing to spend six months in Fort Lauderdale with me.”
     “No, Ed, I remember the conversation.  I said four months was all I could take of Florida.”
     “Okay, four months.  I figured if you spent that much time down there, you might find yourself liking to be with me.”
     “I always liked being with you, Ed,” I said.   “But I learned after we separated that I liked being my own person, too, a person who seemed to be lost in the shuffle during the years we were married.”
    The waiter served us, warning that the platters were hot.  I cut Ed’s sirloin tips into smaller, more manageable pieces.
     “I used to get terribly lonesome,” Ed said.  “Didn’t you ever get lonesome?”
     “Sure I did, once in awhile. But I’d say to myself, this will soon pass and life will feel good again.”
     “I couldn’t stand being alone, especially at night.  I had to have someone to keep me company or I’d go nuts.”
     I said I thought that was true of most men, or at least it was in those days.  They started out with their mothers taking care of them, and then married women who took over the nurturing role—feeding them, doing their laundry, cleaning their house, keeping their bed warm.
     “Wasn’t that in the back of your mind when you married Aliceann?  That when you got old you’d have this energetic younger woman to care for you?”
     “Not at the time,” he says.  “I knew I’d get old, but I didn’t dream I’d need as much help as I do.”
     I brought up the possibility of a support group.  Aliceann had mentioned it to me this morning when Ed was in the bathroom.  He responded with his usual refrain that he didn’t want to be involved with sick, old people he had nothing in common with.
      If ever there was a case of Utter Denial, this was it.
     “Ed, Aliceann needs the support of people who are having experiences similar to hers.  Why don’t you go with her for her sake?  She does so much for you, here’s a chance for you to do something for her.”  He mumbled that he didn’t think she cared that much.
   “But she does.  She told me she did.  And Ed, you might have ideas that would help other disabled people, and they might be able to help you.”
     Ed didn’t have many expressions left on his face, but his skepticism was clear.  He was mumbling that he’d think about it when Aliceann said breezily, “Hi, kids, have you had a nice time?  Come on, Edward, we’ve got to get you home so you can take your medication and brush your teeth.”
    The first thing Aliceann did when we got back to the apartment was to give Ed his pills.  She showed me the line-up of tablets, capsules, and liquid medicines on the kitchen counter.  Many of them were not for Ed but for the animals.  No wonder he put the cat’s stool hardener in his ear a few years ago.
     While Ed was brushing his teeth, Aliceann said, “I’m going to ask Kathie if it would be all right to bury four of my pets in her back yard.”  What a marvelous idea, I thought, happily irrational.  I assumed she’d have them put to sleep first, but how would she choose the ones to sacrifice?
     I must have been looking quizzical because Aliceann explained that the pets in question were the first Strumpfe, the second Miette, and cats Sybil and Nicholas. All long deceased and reduced to ashes.  Oh, so that’s what was in those four metal boxes!  Whenever she and Ed moved, the ashes moved, too, along with the grapefruit picker and other valuables.  But even though the animals were not originally from Massachusetts, she thought a woodsy location in Kathie’s yard would be a fitting final resting place.     
     I said I was sure Kathie would be happy to provide space for the interment, since she already had a Pet Cemetery for a couple of her own departed pets.
     Aliceann told me she could hardly wait to get back to Florida.  She intended to get a part-time job, maybe two or three times a week, and get back to her painting and crafts.  I kept my thoughts to myself—how would Ed survive being left alone, he was bound to keep falling, which he did again late the previous night.  Aliceann couldn’t get him back into his wheelchair so she had to call Frank.  Struggling to wrench himself out of a stupefied sleep, Frank for the first time was also unable to help his father-in-law up off the floor.  
    “What a night!” Aliceann groaned.  “None of us got any sleep until Kathie said to use her Quickie wheelchair and roll the back of it under him and get him up that way. We keep forgetting how to do that.”
     Ed wheeled in to join us, and Aliceann prepared him for the exercise she said he needed.  She started working his arms into his windbreaker.  I reached for his hand when it neared the end of the sleeve and said with a wink, “Here’s my chance to hold hands with my ex-husband.”  
    “If I could spare it, I’d let you keep it, as long as you promised to squeeze it now and then.”
    Aliceann said, “Can you hear him huffing, Barbara?  He drives me crazy with his huffing and puffing, but he says he’s always huffed.  Was that true when you were married to him?”
     “Only when we were making love,” I said.  

     It was Thursday, March 16th, and summer was here—72 warm, glorious degrees of it.  A day for walking on the beach at Nantasket if you were young and in love, for rolling down a hill in last fall’s leaves if you’re a kid, for saying to yourself if you were Ed Malley’s first wife, "So there, you old buzzard, just look at what you’ll be leaving when you migrate to hot and humid Florida."  A beautiful New England spring with birds singing and trees budding and crocuses coloring the soft brown earth.
     A sprightly voice on the phone: “Mrs. Malley, this is Mr. Malley’s social secretary.” Giggle.  “He wonders if you would care to have lunch with him tomorrow.”  Giggle.
     I didn’t need the giggles to alert me that Aliceann was calling.  Her voice was as distinctive as everything else about her.  I told her to tell Mr. Malley I would be delighted.
    Sure and it was Friday, the 17th of March. Winter was here, all 31 loathsome degrees of it, along with snow falling, cars skidding, and winds blustering.  Ah yes, a typical New England spring-time prank, toying with us, embarrassing us in front of our visitors from the south.  Mr. O’Malley’s social secretary, declaring the driveway in Westwood unnavigable, postponed the lunch until the following Saturday.
       When I stopped to say hello to Kathie on that Saturday, she asked me if I’d brought the promised tape of “Lost for Words,” Thursday night’s Masterpiece Theater presentation.          
     “Darn it, I left it in the car.  You’ll love it.  The old lady is the image of Mimi.  She’s confused and forgetful like Dad, and her son . . . well, I’ll let you see for yourself.  I’ll be right back.”
    I cautiously made my way down the frozen ruts in Kathie’s driveway to my Behemoth.  I collected the video of “Lost for Words,” leaned back to close the door and whap!  On its way by, the door’s edge clipped me on my cheekbone.  Ice, I was thinking as I trudged back toward the ramp; if I packed it with ice right away, maybe I wouldn’t get a black eye.
    “Are you all right, Mom?” Kathie asked, as I grabbed for a tissue. 
    I confessed I got in the way of my car door, but yes, I was all right.  And no, it wouldn’t be a black eye, it would be a flap of torn skin that would become a lucky horseshoe-shaped scar.  Everyone would want one.  I’d write up the instructions, along with a warning not to stand so close to the door that it broke your cheekbone.   
    Kathie supplied a Band-Aid that stemmed the bleeding but made me look like the loser in a women’s boxing match.  Aliceann slid open the kitchen door and said Ed was dressed and ready to go.
     I joined them in the hallway, and he said, “I see you’re having problems with your skin, too.”  I told him my car did it to get even with me for the most trivial scratches and scrapes.  “I’m going to trade the bully in for a less pugnacious model.”
     After Aliceann got us settled in a booth at Uno’s, she kissed Ed, kissed the air in my direction (giggle), and left us to whatever mischief we could cook up in the middle of a crowded restaurant.  
     “She’s been wonderful lately,” Ed said.  “She’s so much more patient and cheerful.  She hardly ever gets mad at me, and I don’t blame her when she does.  I’m a lot of trouble.”
     How do you convince someone who knows he's a lot of trouble that he's worth the trouble?  The waitress’s appearance was a welcome distraction.  She unloaded our beers and a glass of water for the pills Aliceann asked me to give Ed.  She now carries them in her purse in case she forgets them at home.
     I said I agreed that Aliceann was wonderful.  “She does so many things for you that she doesn’t have to.  Like taking you for a drive even on cold days, so you’ll get some fresh air and a chance to exercise with your walker.”
    While we waited for our order of crab cakes, I described to Ed a dream I’d had about him.  I was in the millinery department of a store, trying on hats.  I hadn’t worn a hat for years except to keep my ears from freezing, but in my dream I was methodically trying on one bonnet after another.  One in particular caught my fancy.  It had large felt petals in various shades of pink.  I tried it on and liked the way the petals framed my face—one of them stuck out in front like a visor.  I could wear it on the golf course.
      "Then I noticed that you were with me.  Generous man that you are, you offered to pay for the hat.  You said, ‘It looks kind of funny on you, but if you want it, I’ll buy it for you.’”
     Ed said, “I like being in your dreams.  I wish I could be in your life, but I guess we’re coming to the end of that possibility.  You don’t want to come to Florida, and I won’t be coming back here.
We’ll probably never see each other again.”
     I stretched my hands out, and so did he, and I swear I felt more like the girl I was before we married than the owner of those mottled old-lady hands.  Where the devil did all those decades go?
     Ed talked about the women he dated after we separated.  I knew the stories by heart.  I was able to supply details he’d forgotten—like it turning out that his temporary fiancee, Carol, had another fiancé who had been promising for years to divorce his wife.  When Ed came into the picture, Fiancé #1 got hysterical and followed her when she flew up to Boston to visit Ed, who found her at the airport embroiled in an emotional scene with a strange man. 
    “Carol stayed with you for a week, right?”
     “Right. When she wasn’t spending hours in the bathroom or on the telephone, she was doing her nails.  It was a big relief when we became unengaged and she went back to her other fiancé.”
     Ed said he’d talked enough about himself, how about me, were there any men in my life he didn’t know about?  No, I replied, I was contented with my single life and my women friends.  I long ago passed the age where I needed a man to fulfill me.
      “You should have married Bob Black,” he said for the second time since we’d started having these conversations.  “He was a steady sort of guy.  I’ll bet the marriage would have lasted.”
     I gave the same answer I did the last time.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss having my four wonderful children.  He said, “But you’d have other wonderful children.”
     I said I was glad to hear him say that.  Did he remember how he reacted years ago when I remarked that if abortion had been legal in 1939, I wouldn’t have hesitated to have one?
     “I remember.  I was very angry that you could say such a thing.”
     “But you didn’t listen to the rest of what I said.  I said I was thankful that abortion was not legal.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on Kathie and Teddy and Vonnie and Timmy for anything in the world.  No other children would do.  Do you understand better now what I was trying to say?”
     “I guess so.  It just brought back all the agonies I went through when you left me and went to stay with your mother in Florida all those months.  My only hope, it seemed, was the baby—and then you tell me years later . . .  “
     The waitress brought our crab cakes.  I cut Ed’s into small pieces, and after one bite we agreed these were the best crab cakes we’d ever tasted.  But he wasn’t ready to let go of the past yet.
     “That night in Worcester, after we were married . . . “
     ”Springfield, you mean.”
     “Yes, Springfield.  That was the most wretched night I have ever spent in my life.”
     “I know, dear, you’ve told me that before.  But why dwell on one awful night when we went on to have so many wonderful ones?  And wonderful days, too, boating and then flying.  It was so good of you to encourage me to get my pilot’s license.”
     Ed wanted ketchup for his crab cakes.  A passing waiter obliged, but my escort’s enfeebled hands were unable to get the top off.  I refrained from offering help but caught the eye of an older man who seemed to be in charge of the staff.  He stood by our table and wrestled with the cap.  Was he being a world-class diplomat when it appeared that he, too, couldn’t untwist it?   He departed with the ketchup and returned with a smile and the opened bottle.  A few minutes later I noticed  Ed was holding it upside-down, but no ketchup was forthcoming.  All right, now I would get into the act.  First I pounded the bottom of the bottle, which might as well have contained cement for all the good that maneuver did.  Then, with both elbows astride his plate, defying all laws of etiquette and gravity, I poked a table knife into the upside-down ketchup bottle and coaxed out enough to cover the crab cakes. 
     “That’s fine,” Ed said. 
     I quoted Ogden Nash’s quatrain on the subject of recalcitrant ketchup bottles:  “Shake and shake the ketchup bottle/None will come and then a lot’ll."
     "We’re lucky a lot’ll didn’t splatter gore all over that good-looking sweater you’re wearing.  Aliceann would think a really bad-tempered waitress had been wielding a steak knife.”
     Our crab cakes weren’t as warm as they were when they arrived, but we enjoyed them.  Ed murmured something about a lovely mature woman, and I assumed he had gone back to the topic of his romantic past.  
      “Which one was lovely and mature?” I asked, a bit weary, statistically speaking.
     “You.  That’s what you’ve become.”
     “Thank you for those kind words, dear, but it’s the funniest thing—inside I feel as young and foolish as ever. I remember hearing old ladies say what I just said, and young know-it-all that I was, I thought they were full of old shoes."
     Ed started talking about another night when he had been utterly miserable. 
      “What night was that?. “
     “It was in the nursing home, when I was recovering from the knee surgery.  When I realized my hopes and dreams about us would never come true, my heart was broken.  I was so disappointed, I cried all night.  Of course I know it was partly the medication, but—”
     “Hi there, you two, are you having a happy time” asked Aliceann, beaming down at us.  Oh yes, very happy, we told her.  She sat down and told us about the errands she’d been doing and the lousy veggie wrap she’d had for lunch—not half as yummy as the ones you get at the supermarket. She radiated so much good cheer, it was contagious.  I told her how much difficulty Ed and I had had, after the waitress took our plates away, trying to get his wallet out of his pocket.  He couldn’t do it, so I went over to his side of the table, put my arm around behind him, and fished in the first pocket I came to.  
     “I could tell I’d better not dig any deeper or I’d be in dangerous territory.”  
     Aliceann  giggled.          
    “Then Ed told me to try the back pocket, and after I unpried the Velcro, sure enough, there was the wallet.”    
    Aliceann helped Ed wobble out from the booth, struggle into his windbreaker, and edge into the wheelchair.  I saw the waitress standing with her tray and realized we were blocking the aisle. I said to her in an undertone, as Aliceann maneuvered the wheelchair, “Would you like to hear some interesting gossip?”
    “Sure,” she said, looking startled.
      “You see that nice gentleman I had lunch with?  Well, I’m his first wife, and the other lady is his second.”
      Her expression evolved from startled to astonished.  “Really!  Then the three of you are married?” she asked with complete innocence. 
     “Oh no, I’m divorced, but we’re all good friends.”
     She said she thought that was lovely, and she was quite right about that.

     Ed and Aliceann went out for Sunday brunch, as they had done every week for the fourteen years of their marriage.  Aliceann, having finished her meal, was reading a book she had brought along. Then she heard a thud, looked up, and saw to her horror that Ed had collapsed, with his head on the table and his cocoa spilled.  She jumped up and started shaking him, trying to restore him to consciousness. Three retired nurses at a nearby table also tried without success to revive Ed.
     “Perhaps he’s had a stroke,” said one.  The manager called for an ambulance.  The medics came, lifted Ed onto a stretcher and told Aliceann to follow them to the hospital.  Crying and panicky, she begged to be allowed to ride in the ambulance.  They said no; for safety reasons that couldn’t be permitted.  John, one of the regular patrons in the restaurant, pointed out that if Aliceann was forced to drive herself to the hospital, there was going to be an accident and they’d be needing another ambulance to transport her.  So they agreed that she could ride up front with the driver.
     On the way to Norwood Hospital, the first thing the medics did was rip off Ed’s shirt so they could check his vital signs.  One of them, filling out a form, asked Aliceann what her name was.  She told him.  The medic who was trying to bring his patient to full consciousness asked him a couple of classic questions: Did he know who he was?  Where he was?  What his wife’s name was?
    Aliceann told me later, “I was absolutely certain that Edward would say his wife’s name was Barbara. I could hardly believe it when he came out with `Aliceann.’  I figured if he was that sharp, he couldn’t have suffered any serious brain damage.”
     Meanwhile John, a genuine Good Samaritan, had followed the ambulance to the hospital. 
Locating Aliceann in the emergency room, he drove her back to the restaurant so she could get Ed’s wheelchair and return Kathie’s car to Westwood. Then, having followed her there, he drove her back to the hospital, where she anxiously awaited the result of Ed’s cat scan—as did the rest of the family, who by now had been alerted by Kathie.  Aliceann called her to report that Ed seemed to be all right, but the doctor wanted to be sure before releasing him.
     Kathie called me late in the afternoon to say that Ed and Aliceann had taken a taxi home, and both appeared to have recovered from their ordeal.  Tim was with me when his sister called, installing something magical in my computer that will enable him to fix any problem I might encounter via his computer at home.  He said he would head for Westwood for a last visit with his father before they left for Florida.

     Tim helped Aliceann put Ed to bed.  He was so distressed to see how weak his father had become, he couldn't hold back his tears.  How could this happen to the strong, ever-patient, dependable dad who had come to his rescue so many, many times, from his rebellious teenage years right up to a few months ago when he needed a loan?  Now he couldn’t even undress himself. 
     I had promised to be in Westwood at 10:30 to drive Edward to an appointment with an ear specialist.  Aliceann was unavailable because she had taken Sheba to the airport, after arranging to have her shipped by freight to Florida.  The standard crate was still one inch too small, so she’d be picked up and delivered to the family’s veterinarian to await the arrival of the other kids.
     Something else was going on that Monday morning—the rain-delayed final round of the Players Championship at Ponte Vedra, Florida.  Woods was on the verge of catching up with Sutton.  Tiger’s eagle on the 16th cut Hal’s lead to one.  Greater love hath no Tiger Woods fan than to turn off the TV at that spell-binding moment and heed the call to service. 
     We used Kathie’s car because I couldn’t possibly lift Ed’s wheelchair into my trunk.  She came out to the driveway to show us the lever that operated the contraption on the roof.  This invention automatically lowers Kathie’s travel wheelchair by a set of chains and then reverses the procedure when it's time to store it again.
     I was amazed that Ed remembered exactly how to get to the Medical Center.  He didn’t know his doctor’s name, but he directed me accurately to the correct intersections and turns.  He even warned me, “There’s some construction around the next bend,” and there was, along with two policemen handling traffic.
     Ed said I was a good driver.  “That’s because you have many of the attributes of a man,” he added.  I buttoned my lip, knowing he had honored me with the ultimate compliment. 
     I pulled to a stop in front of the building, and Ed did as Kathie had instructed—pulled the lever forward to lower the wheelchair.  We heard a humming sound as the mechanism went into action, then saw the chair sink past Ed’s window and onto the pavement.  I removed the metal rod that was supporting the folded seat and told Ed to push the lever the other way.  With a rattle and a clank, the chains rose toward the roof and were scooped into their container.
     Leaving Ed by the entrance (“Are your brakes on?”  “Yes, they’re on,”) I found a parking space.  At the front desk the receptionist asked if Ed had his blue card.  No, he didn’t have anything, not even his wallet.  The computer answered the necessary questions, and we were directed to the elevator and the second floor.  Dr. Benjamin’s office was at the end of a long corridor.
     In the waiting room I began filling out a form about Ed’s medical history, allergies, and his medications.  When I asked him about medications, he said, “Parkingson’s.”  No, I said, can you think of the names of any of your medications?  “Tylenol,” he said. 
     Operations?  Ed looked weary, and I didn’t see the point of going into his back-to-back triple-bypass and carotid-arteries surgeries of twelve years ago and his knee-replacement operations. This Dr. Benjamin was only going to be cleaning his ears, for goodness’ sake.  Then I remembered that Ed was troubled off and on by ear infections until he finally got one in 1968 that didn’t clear up as quickly as usual.  It interfered with his swimming, and that was it . . .
     The operation was something he should have had done years ago, but like all busy businessmen he kept putting it off.  The doctor chipped away at the excess bone growth, taking great care not to damage any facial nerves.  Then he stuffed a corncob in there.  At least that’s what Ed said it felt like, and he was very unhappy because the corncob wasn’t due to come out for a week.  Should have a pun here about ear and cob, shouldn’t I?  Nope, can’t think of one.
     Ed had his two-week checkup.  He came home and told me the doctor tested his hearing and said it was better than ever.
     Deciding to put him to a test of my own, I said softly:”Unphadundil prantivostic?”
     Without flickering an eyelid he answered, “Take your clothes off and lie down and I’ll show you!”
     Ed waited outside the medical center while I got Kathie’s car.  We eased the wheelchair up to the open door on the passenger side.  Ed stood, braced himself with one hand on top of the door, turned and backed toward the seat until he was able to sit down and lift his legs into the car.  “Good job,” I told him, impressed by his lack of grumbling and complaining.  Lately he has seemed almost as accepting of his disability as Kathie is of hers.  He did complain recently that his knee operation was a “disaster.”  It hurt to stand up.  
     Wife #2 said “Edward, that’s because you never do your exercises.”   
     Wife #1 said, “Ed, you must exercise that knee.  Otherwise, it will freeze up on you, as it’s already doing.”  Getting it from both barrels, my ex uttered nary a word.
     After he was settled in the passenger seat, I shut the door, and he pulled the lever that would bring the chains and metal rod down from the roof.  I had folded the wheelchair and had its folded seat ready to receive the rod that would lift it skyward.  It was still a few inches too high, so without being coached, Ed gave the lever another pull, and now everything was lined up as it should be.  I was so proud of him, this Parkinson’s patient who three months ago couldn’t operate a TV remote control. 
      “Okay, all set,” I said, and Ed pushed the lever the other way. I watched as the chair rose toward the roof’s big metal clamshell, which gasped a mighty gulp and then tidily shut its mouth.  I said to a man passing by, “Isn’t that the most fantastic invention?”  “Incredible!” he said.
      Aliceann was waiting for us when we got back to Westwood.  She had agreed to join us for lunch at Uno’s and let me treat on this final occasion.  I went into Kathie’s side of the house, while Ed used the bathroom.  Kathie was busy with a student and said yes, it would be all right to take her car again, so I wouldn’t have to take my golf clubs and shopping cart out of my trunk.
     Aliceann was in the kitchen, helping Ed push his arms into his warm down jacket.  It was just like Frank’s, which Ed wore for the first month he was up here.  Aliceann ordered an identical one from the Frank’s LL Bean catalogue.
     “I love this jacket,” Ed said.  “I’m going to take it to Florida with me in case it snows.”  
     “Careful,” he said, as he always did when we got to the end of the driveway.  A car was sitting there, courteously waiting for us to move onto Country Lane.  “Some of these guys go whipping by at 60 miles an hour.” 
     Aliceann agreed that there were a lot of reckless drivers in the neighborhood.  We had gone only half a block when the door next to Ed flew open.  Of course he was wearing his seat belt, but we were all startled.
     “Edward, what did you do?” cried Aliceann.
     “I didn’t do anything.  It opened by itself.”
    Aliceann and I got out and took turns trying to slam the door shut.  It made a banging noise but the latch seemed to be broken.   No matter what we did, the door hung open, waving in the breeze.  Ed said he was glad he was wearing his warm jacket because the breeze was freezing.  “My nose is dripping icicles.” .  
     “Edward,” said Aliceann, “maybe leaning on the door the way you do has lowered it, so it won’t latch.”
     “No, that wouldn’t do it,” said Wife #1, coming to the accused’s defense.  “Let’s turn around and go back.  Ted is coming over late this afternoon to say goodbye to Ed.  He’ll be able to figure it out.”
     I cautiously backed into the next driveway and returned to Kathie’s house.
    “Maybe she’ll know what’s wrong with it,” said Ed.  “Why don’t you go in and get her?”
     “No, she’s with a student and another one is coming.  I don’t want to disturb her.  We’ll go in my car, Aliceann, if you think you can get the wheelchair into the trunk.”
     I unloaded my golf clubs and shopping cart, while Aliceann helped Ed get settled in the front seat and fastened his safety belt.  She folded his wheelchair, turned it sideways, and lifted it into the trunk, where it stuck up and out, no matter which way we positioned it.  The problem was the spare tire, which neither Aliceann nor I felt like grappling with.
     “We’ll have to go ahead slowly with the trunk open,” said Aliceann.
     “Wait a minute, here’s something that may help.” I reached for a straightened-out coat-hanger.  It had come in handy more than once when I locked myself out of my vehicle.  Between us, Aliceann and I were able to partially secure the trunk’s lid, so I could drive at a normal speed.  
     At Uno’s, Ed ordered the crab cakes again, and Aliceann and I had chicken and veggie rollups.           This time the ketchup bottle behaved itself, and Ed doused his lunch liberally.  Then he tried to cut the crab cakes into pieces but his hands weren’t strong enough.  I watched him sawing away until at last he snagged a very large piece on his fork.  It was too big to put in his mouth, so he tilted his head and bit a section off the dangling chunk.  Oh, what a struggle he had, but I didn’t offer to help, as I did when we were alone.  Aliceann might be offended at any implication that Wife #1 was more thoughtful than Wife #2. 
     Aliceann had wine, and Ed ordered a second beer although he had drunk only half of the first one.  I drank a glass of plain H20, not being the type to order the kind of water that costs money, as so many people did these days.  Were they nuts or was I foolhardy?
     Aliceann said it was now or never if she was going to dig a hole in Kathie’s back yard for the ashes of her four deceased pets.  I told her I’d be glad to participate in any ceremony she might want to have.  
     “I’ll probably forget,” she laughed.  “If I do, they’ll just move back to Florida with us.”  I, too, was amused by the saga of the much-traveled ashes.
     Aliceann asked if I’d stop at the Westwood library, so she could drop off some books on our way home.  While Ed and I were waiting in the parking lot, I heard him muttering angrily; words like arrogant, egotistical, imbecilic, smart aleck drifted to my ears.  He seemed to be flagellating himself          
     “What’s the matter, dear?” I asked.
     “I never should have cheated on you.  I was a damned fool to jeopardize my marriage.”
     “Ed, don’t be so hard on yourself.  Infidelity isn’t all that unusual.  Why do you think the divorce rate is so high?  Men and women succumb to temptation all the time.”
     “It wasn’t worth it.”  Then his thoughts veered in a different direction.  “How I hated Rick Connor!  I hate him to this day.”
     Although Rick had been only a friendly, courtly acquaintance, not one of the hard-core inner circle, I knew immediately what he was talking about.  Like Ed, Rick often went on business trips.  Unlike Ed, he always brought his wife along.  Rick had told me one evening he not only liked Sue’s company but also considered her an asset at conferences and cocktail parties they attended.  “I wouldn’t think of traveling without her,” he said.  The lights burned late at the Malleys that night.
     “All right, Ed,” I conceded, “so Rick was the exception to the rule—a monogamous husband.”
     “Oh yeah, right.”
     “Are you suggesting that he wasn’t?”
     “He’s no different from any other man,” Ed said scornfully.  “They all cheat.”
     “Isn’t that what I’ve just been saying to you?  Why berate yourself for something that is so much a part of human nature?”       
     The discussion ended when Aliceann returned to the car.  

      Back at the Westwood house, I took a minute to interrupt Kathie and her second student visitor of the day, and tell her about her car door.  She said it had happened before, not only with this Chevy but with the previous one.  Ted would fix it for her when he arrived to say goodbye. 
     Aliceann came in, and while she was talking to Kathie, I sought out Ed. He was in the bathroom, sitting in his wheelchair in front of the basin. “I wanted to brush my teeth and wash my face before I kissed you goodbye.”  
     “Would it hurt your knee too much to stand for a minute?“ 
     He pushed backward and started an unsteady rise to his feet.
     “I’d like to hug you totally just one more time,” I said.  
     He felt more like a young boy in my arms than an old man.

     I called Tim to ask him how his trip to Westwood went.  He had brought young Timmy with him.  
     “Dad and Aliceann were out, so we visited with Kathie for awhile. Then the car pulled into the driveway and Aliceann went through the process of helping Dad out of the car and into his wheelchair. Timmy went running out of the house, calling `Grandpa, Grandpa!  I’m so glad to see you!’”
     Timmy halted momentarily when he saw his grandfather’s face, which looked worse than ever with its scabs and sores.  Then he manfully ran up to him and hugged him, pressing his cheek against a face that was a little bit scary.
     “Good for Timmy!” I said. 
     I asked if there was any tension between Tim and his dad and Aliceann.
     “No, there was no reference to past grievances.  Aliceann chattered about the wonderful antique doll show they’d gone to in Dedham after breakfast, and Dad chimed in with some affable remarks.”
     “That sounds like Aliceann.  She’s not one to hold a grudge.  This may be the last time you’ll see your father for a long time, so I’m glad nothing unpleasant happened.”
     My contribution to the Malleys’ exodus was to meet Jody Thaxter—who would be driving their car to Florida—at Blake and Jayne’s old house in Cohasset.  I wasn’t due until 1:30, so I had plenty of time to add several pages to my current writing project, hit the treadmill, haul out my 30-year-old vacuum cleaner (sometimes that was as far as I got because it grows heavier every month), dust here and there, and admire my African violets.  They like the view of the Weymouthport marina, love the glorious sunsets but entreated me to get some potting soil because they needed more root-room.  Thus went the morning of an aging lady living alone and loving every minute except the vacuuming.  And maybe the dusting.  And the violets were lovely, but did they have to be so demanding?
       On my way to collect Jody I got gas for the guzzler at the new exorbitant rate, and made a stop at the liquor store to get some small cardboard cartons for Ed, who mourned about how frustrating it was to be trapped in his wheelchair, unable to help with the packing and truck-loading.  He could  pack small items, like the contents of his desk but told me he needed more boxes.
     When Jody and I arrived in Westwood, the scene was chaotic.  A huge truck was backed up to the front of the apartment, and the driveway was so full of cars, Frank came out to direct me into a grassy area.  Ed and Kathie were sitting on the ramp’s sunny platform, finishing their lunch and watching the dismantling of the apartment.           
      “Look, Mom,” Kathie said, pointing.  I turned and saw that the truck was already full of furniture, the most imposing piece being a sideboard massively stretched midway.  I wondered how Frank and his brother Jake ever managed to hoist it up there.  It was so big that nothing stored behind it was visible.  Jake was in charge of finding spaces for stacks of cartons and large paintings that Frank and Aliceann handed up to him.  One of the cartons included the famous ashes.  When it actually came to burying them, Aliceann couldn’t bear to put them into the cold ground where there was no sign of a real pet cemetery with appropriate commemorative markers. So, like the rest of the family, Strumfe #1 et cetera, would be returning to warmer climes.  
     The front door was blocked, so Ed wheeled around the corner to the side door.  I opened it and tried without success to help him get over the threshold.  “You have to press down on the handles, Mom,” Kathie called.  Pushing the handles down lifted the two front wheels, and a minute later Ed was in his bedroom.  All around us, more chaos reigned.  Big cartons, medium-sized cartons, and Aliceann’s arts and crafts were stacked in every room, including the kitchen.  A few paintings still hung lopsidedly on the walls.  
     I helped Ed zig and zag his way to the bathroom, then spent a few peaceful minutes with Kathie.    She told me her father had said he wanted to come back to Westwood for a month this summer. 
     “To escape the heat, I suppose,” I said. 
     “No, it’s because he wants to see his family again.  He thinks Aliceann would enjoy visiting her mother while he was away.  We’d have him stay in our guest bedroom, since Jake will be in the apartment.  Anyway, I’d want to have him close by, in case he needed help.”
      I heard Ed struggling to get his wheelchair from the kitchen to his study. I cleared a path for him and wheeled him over to his desk.  I showed him the small empty cartons I had brought and he said to put them anywhere I could find a spot.  Aliceann and Frank made trip after trip into the study, transporting Stuff to Jake, who stowed it away in the truck’s “nooks and crannies.”  I noticed that Frank was piling cartons on top of each other, including the empty ones I had just brought.  I figured he was too numb at this point to be making any fine distinctions. This was the first of the two trucks he would be loading.
     The return of the natives is such a complicated process, it is almost impossible to describe, but I’ll try.  Someone was flying up from Florida to drive this truck back to Palm Beach Gardens the next day, and then Jake and Frank would load a second truck that they’d be driving to Florida.
     Ed informed me that he and Aliceann didn’t like the house they were moving into; they could tell from the snapshots that it was too small.  “We’ll be buying a bigger place as soon as we can afford it."
     I gritted my teeth and pushed my surge of annoyance to the back of my mind, reminding myself that Ed was not a selfish monster but a sick old man—a man who in happier days had welcomed into his household my mother, my second mother and childhood caretaker, Vaughan , my sister’s two children when she sorely needed a respite for a month, and my brother’s five-year-old daughter by his foundering first marriage, who lived with us for a year.  Ted told me his father was equally generous to people less fortunate than he in his business life.
     Jody came in, gathered an armload for the truck, then returned and said he really should leave, he’d promised his girl he’d take her out to dinner.  I looked at my watch and was shocked to see that it was 4:30.  I was scheduled to pick up a friend in Weymouth at 5:00 for dinner and a movie, so I’d better get going, too.  The evening’s commuter rush would already be under way.  I leaned over and kissed the back of Ed’s neck and massaged his shoulders, and he said, “I know, I know.” 
     
    Frank and Jake and the second truckload left Westwood early Sunday, arrived in Palm Beach Gardens the next night.  Ed and Aliceann and the rest of the menagerie were picked up at 6:00 a. m. this morning and are now soaring through the air to Florida.  Calvin, annoyed at the lack of attention he was getting during the last-minute arrangements yesterday, hid himself for the day, but was part of the flying family.  Ed, for the first time in his life expressed concern about flying and said he would be nervous until he was safe on the ground.  Even when our Comanche crashed back in 1963, he never for an instant considered giving up flying.

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