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Dear faithful readers,

Due to financial challenges, these columns will be updated bi-monthly rather than monthly. Thank you for your loyalty and input. And be sure to read the Mental Pause P.S. for a better explanation.

The Old Gate

The wind is rattling the hinge on my back gate and I turn, expecting to see Hattie. Hattie, out gardening her acreage and everyone else’s around her. Hattie, complaining loudly, “These people, they never clean up their yards.”

This German would clean up a ring on the table before you set down the glass; her hue and cry was always, “There’s so much work to be done.”

The gate hinge is crooked now, having lost a few screws. And the little locking device has rusted clean through. How many times she swung it open I cannot say. Maybe 20,000 coming over to say hello, both of us removing our gardening gloves, to pause awhile in the sunshine and stroke my cats. Then there were all the times she came to care for them while I was out of town . . .

That impish smile when she’d first peer over, trying to guess if I had time for her. And I always made it, as she did for me. We had an unspoken pact to drop by unannounced any time. How many times did she loan me a garden tool or took my hammer, her arthritic hands shaking wildly, to show me how to fix something the “right” way?

For the decade after my parents died and I thought I had enough money to retire (this was before the 2001 stock market “adjustment”) Hattie and I had ample time for tea and juicy gossip.

“So and so has a man friend now,” she’d decry. “I see him leaving early in the morning.”

Now my heart twists, because I realize I may never see her at that gate again. She is 83, in the hospital with a broken hip, and she may not be able to return to her home.

However, I had an elucidation on my recent visit with her. She was sitting in her wheelchair, pedaling a little workout device in the care center’s activity room. She was grinning and looking around the room at all the other patients who were doing everything from squeezing rubber balls to lifting small weights. As peppy music played, one of the assistants beckoned her to salsa dance with him, charming her into a bright pink blush.

I stroked her cheek, we talked a bit although her speech is not entirely clear, and when I offered her a bag of truffles, she chose a dark chocolate one and ate it with relish. “I have a lot of friends here,” she said of those who constantly attend to her needs.

And then I had an idea that greatly consoled me: she seems content for now. Maybe this is her time to be fussed over and given to. No more sweating finances, home repairs, plants that need trimmed, neighbors and friends who need her counsel.

Maybe it’s me who needs to develop more acceptance, because Hattie seems peaceful. “What else can I do?” she says, wide-eyed and sincere.

I look across the hall and see someone who looks mean and tell Hattie. Her response? “You need to be more accepting of people, Su-u-usan,” she says, hitting the nail on the head.

 

P.S. Here’s a humorous tidbit to balance the above tear-jerker columns: I recently told my banker neighbor that I had worked out a 6-tiered overview of my financial predicament.

“Which tier are you on now,” he asked.

“Oh, probably the one where I’m pursuing exactly what I want to for work. And then the tiers progress to, like, ‘take any job you can get even if it’s minimum wage and flipping burgers.’”

“Oh,” he answered. “And how about retirement?” “That’s where I steal a shopping cart and become a bag lady,” I said. And we both howled!

 

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