She leans back in the recliner, her legs, dressed in powder blue slacks, stretch out long between us. Her white hair, short, Mary Martin in Peter Pan short. It is warm enough outside, sit by the river and read a book warm, but she has the heater on inside, cranked up so that upon first entering her place, it feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out. A woman ninety-seven has a hard time staying warm. Thin blood, you know.
“Sometimes I wrap myself up in that blanket there,” she says, pointing long fingers toward a blanket on the back of a chair cattywampus to her.
There’s a photo of a handsome young soldier, faded green, on the shelf nearby.
“That’s my boy,” she said. “He was killed in an accident when he was twenty.”
He’d come home from military service, safe and sound, but eager to get back into the civilian way of life. He had a girl he intended to marry. He was driving truck for the May Company, outside Weiser, Idaho, but he come down off an incline to a sharp right corner. He didn’t make the corner. Her sister got word first. The boy had been staying with them, up near the family’s old farmstead, out in the middle of yonder.
It was the awfullest of days, when word came that her handsome boy, her only child, was dead. She waves off the tears.
“I think we should start our lives out in our old age first,” she says. If we did that, we might approach life with a good bit of wisdom, instead of just letting life smack us around the way it does sometimes.
She says she’s got a lot of regrets. It’s a hard thing to hear coming from someone ninety-seven. We live under this notion that somehow when our time is pressing in on us, we won’t look back with regrets. We will have lived our lives so fully present, so in the moment, that we are so much smarter than the old folks were then, that we won’t have any.
If we make it to ninety-seven, we’ll regret thinking that.
“I don’t know about all that,” she says. “But if that’s so I sure could’ve helped God out with that plan.”
For one thing, the seed of her womb would be around to care for his momma, to have given her grandchildren.
She’s pretty comfortable where she is. Dorm living for the elderly. A long hallway of “apartments”, a communal dining hall, laundry room, and TV room. This former school teacher keeps the communal library stocked. They prefer books in the big type. Easier on the eyes.
Her momma was a writer. She was always walking around that big old farmhouse writing things down on whatever paper she could find. She wanted to write books, wanted to get published but her husband wasn’t having none of that nonsense. They had a ranch to run. There were three meals a day to fix. Board was part of the ranch hands pay. They expected to be fed well. And there were all those children to fed and tend to — four of their own and then her sister’s three.
Her momma’s sister was a beautiful woman. That was her downfall. Everybody told her all the time that she was so pretty she ought to be a model. Well, why would any woman want to stick around a farm and raise up a brood of children when she could be in New York City, or LA, wearing fine gowns, drinking champagne and going to the theater, perhaps even being on the stage, herself? So she up and deserted those children, left them with her sister, the writer.
Sometimes she’d come back — when the maternal instinct, or guilt struck her — and be a regular momma for a few months, but then she’d get restless and have to take off again.
Seven children and a passel of farm hands, and calves to pull and gardens to plant don’t leave a woman much time for writing. Even so, when her momma died they found her stories in dresser drawers and paper boxes all over the house.
She was a woman with something to say caught up in a world where nobody was listening. They were more interested in her serving them.
Wonder, does God ever feel like the rancher’s wife, does God have any regrets?