©Vickey Stamps 2/10/14
She knew the young generation looked on her and thought her old. Truth be told, sometimes she felt that way herself. Eighty-five wasn’t old, it was just a number. She shook off the feeling, going deeper inside herself to retrieve her ‘young at heart’ self. She had plans for the day and might as well get on with them. She put on her almost worn out knit jacket with its sagging over-large pockets, filling them with unsalted, un-hulled peanuts. She tried to go at least once a week to feed the squirrals, in the little park fronting the ocean. She’d discovered them last summer, in little tunnel homes, that ran along a tiny hill, like crevasses in the soil. The bus would drop her near-by. Between that and her cane. she would have no trouble getting there. She smiled to herself remembering last time when a fat sassy squirrel had raced up onto her knee. It sat on its fat hind legs stretching its face up, as if to say “Got more food?”. Grabbing the one she handed it, he had run quickly back to the shelter of home. Lord knew she loved those squirrals. She tucked her worn Bible under her arm, in case she got weary and needed to sit at one of the tables in the small park. She’d have something to read. Its pages were torn and ragged from the frequent page turning. She wondered if it would outlive her, and decided it would make no difference. She’d buy another if she had too.
The town had opened up an ‘art gallery’ a couple of blocks from the park, and she’d been curious as to what was inside its doors. She’d never been to such a place before. She’d go. First she’d stop for a cup of hot chocolate and maybe a slice of nicely buttered toast. She’d treat herself to another bus ride home, after visiting the gallery. She’d better hurry. It was getting late. She didn’t like being out late these days.
She’d shuffled around inside looking at paintings decorating the walls of the large room. There had been a couple she hadn’t understood so well, and she’d quickly moved on to others. She stood now gazing at a simple picture depicting a small home on a hill, surrounded by huge trees in fall colors, with tall grass blowing in what must have been a breeze. It woke up memories in her mind as she stood there. It was as if she had been in that place long ago. She wondered if somehow in her imagination, she could put herself into that picture. Why was it so strong in her mind? It reminded her of something old, something precious . Before she could hardly draw a breath and as if she were part of the painting itself, she found herself upon the narrow path leading to the house on the low hill. Her legs were no longer tired. As a matter of fact, she felt like a young girl. Ellie ‘Little Britches’ , her folks had called her when she’d lived in that place. This was her childhood home from the old country. She stood in silence ignoring the noises coming from the little town on the other side and a few hundred feet away. Now Ellie returned to the present, she’d go and see what was in the old town. Had it changed?
Everything was the same. There was the old water wheel turning into the stream, making energy to work the mill within its building . The blacksmith shop was there and the mercantile. A saloon was there. Old Mr. Smith was sweeping the walk in front of his store. A few people wandered the streets here and there. No one seemed to know she was there. Within the small town outside the businesses, a cluster of houses passed the day together, with a few further out of town. Farms were much further away. Perhaps one could not go back to what was. She did not know. She would return where she was known. She left the town behind to retrace her steps.
Now she was remembering the trip on the great boat and over the sea that was to take them to America. Papa had worked every job he could find to save the fare, for Mama, her and baby Jane. There was no good future here, Papa had said. People were getting rich in the land of milk and honey across the great waters. At last they had gotten on the boat. “Don’t cry, Little Britches” papa had said, as they stood against the rails waving good-by to family and friends….probably a final good-by. Mama held the baby, tears running down her eyes. She could feel the pitch and keeling of the boat and the sickness that rose up in her from sea sickness. She wondered if it meant they all would die, and never see the wonderful land that waited somewhere ahead. Then they had finaly recovered. Ellie ‘little britches’ had watched over the baby in their tiny little cabin, seeing papa and mama counting out their coins and paper money. Looking over their shoulders at the drawing papa had made of the fine home they’d live in one day.
Now they’d been accepted in the new country, and knew they must put aside the old memories and move forward. It wasn’t all they had expected, but surely with hard work, they’d make a good living in this special place. It has come true. Mama had taken in sewing and cleaning homes, and she had become like a second mother to baby Jane. Papa took a job in a place that made fine furniture. One day when they’d saved all they could, papa bought his own business. It was a good time.
One day Mama got ill all of a sudden and was gone. Baby Jane was in high school and had her first boyfriend. Ellie was shy and had yet to find a young man of her own, so she’d left the idea of college and decided to help out papa in the store and keep house. It was important to them both that Jane finish school and get all the education she could. The years went fast, and Jane married and moved away. Papa had continued to call her ‘little britches’ even though, she was now quickly becoming a spinster. with a touch of gray to her hair. She wasn’t lonely. She had become a writer and sold many books over the years. She felt like she’d always known how to knit and crochet, for mama had taught her those things long ago. She’d learned to use old clothes and make quilts to warm their beds. Life was busy and good with all these things, and she liked her life.
Papa had woke up with a smile on his face that morning. “Little Britches, why don’t you take the day off? There isn’t much needs doing at the shop.” She would enjoy that. There were some unfinished things she could take care of. Maybe she’d have a cup of tea in the little garden in the afternoon. That was where the Sheriff found her that day. He’d told her that her father had suffered a massive heart attack. They’d found him sitting at his desk in the office, smiling as if looking at something nice off in the distance. Baby Jane and her family had come. They’d begged Ellie to come and be with them, but she hadn’t wanted too. They’d sold the business and the home, and she’d moved into a small apartment.
Room 104 in the Redwood Rest Home, was at least, for now, it was a private room, for Ellie was the only patient in it . On a cork bulletin board and near her bed, were the words ‘Little Britches’, cut of balsa wood across the top of the board. Tacks pushed into, and held up pictures of Ellie’s friends and family. It was a happy looking board for those few that came to visit her. Her steps had become a shuffle and she’d began using a walker. Sometimes she’d go down to the dining room, where the lighting was better, and read one of the books she’d written such a long time ago, remembering the words, as they had come to her. She wished it was in large print. She’d ask Baby Jane about why they hadn’t done that so old people could read her books more easily. Her nurse friend Betty had come to tell her a cup of hot chocolate with marsh mallows was waiting in her room, and would she might like a nap, before time for the evening meal.
Late afternoon had come, and Betty thought perhaps she would check on her favorite patient, before closing the door of her Directors office, and calling it a night. She knew she and the other nurses were better off not getting overly attached to the patients, for almost always, they would pass on and leave them behind, and their hearts would feel a bit torn and tattered from it. She walked over noticing the empty cup with its stains from the hot chocolate. She had no idea of the long dream journey her patient friend had taken that day. She did note her sweet friend Ellie looked a bit more tired than was usual. Leaning over the side of the bed, she pressed a gentle kiss to her friends cheek. She tucked the covers more snuggly around her. She’d take Ellies cup to the kitchen, and ask the staff to wait as long as they could to wake her up for the evening meal. Let her rest.
Life was good.