Monday, January 26, 2015

Mrs. Alford

The first home I remember was the home on Estate drive. It had a great smooth carport for rollerskating. We'd put on the record player outside and spend the morning perfecting tricks like "water skiing" by tying a jump rope to a tricycle. Our next door neighbor gave us clothes pins to attach cards to the spokes to make it even cooler.
Mrs. Alford had snow white hair perfectly shaped to look just like "Dear Abby's." When it rained, (which was often in Beaumont, Texas, flood capital of the Southeast) she'd wear a plastic triangle shaped hankerchief over her hair. She was for me, an extra grandmother who taught us how to play checkers and listened to my brother and me practice our beginner piano pieces. She taped pictures we colored on her refrigerator and gave out full sized chocolate bars at Halloween.
I loved her except when we'd have to stay through lunch, because she never had peanut butter and jelly and the only drink in the house was ice water or tea. She'd make cookies for us, but they were always cinnamon, never chocolate chip.
We'd sit in the back yard in folding chairs and she'd teach us about the different birds. Sometimes she'd let us put birdseed in the feeders and throw peanuts to the squirrels. She could even get them to come up close. We never could.
Mrs. Alford owned a blind deaf boring dog named Pearl (One eye looked like a pearl) and a cat named White. (It was white). One day we found a puppy which she adopted and named Brandy. Brandy had more life than Pearl, but soon mellowed under Pearl's tutelage and didn't even chase the squirrels. My brother and I worked to no avail to teach Brandy to chase sticks, it just meant we got to pick up a lot of tree branches in her back yard.
Life at her house seemed set to a different speed. Her husband biked to work every week day. They owned a television but I never once saw it turned on. As a kid, I wondered if she ever went swimming or rode a roller coaster. She always let us into the house, but it also always felt like I'd entered a library or a church. Even the air felt settled, stilled. She'd give us coloring books and those Highlights magazines to read. Sometimes I loved it. Sometimes it felt too slow, too still, and I wondered if she ever wore anything red or if anyone ever shouted. Even candles in her home, burned slowly, with no drip and no rush. She had a quiet interior life, I knew it held a deep stillness I'd never known. I found it both attractive and at times, terrifying. I didn't know how to explain it except to say, I loved her, but knew I could not be that still, ever.
But when we moved, I found I missed the quiet next door neighbor whose back yard was always open to us, and biked over at least a few times a year to say "Hi." She bought boxes of chocolate almonds and wrapping paper when we'd knock on the door. She gave me a framed picture of a rose I drew when I was six for a wedding gift.  She saved things, treasured the memories held in things.

"How is Sherry?" she'd ask if she ran into my mom.  Whenever I'd get reports, I could smell the hint of cinnamon and see the card table with a knit tablecloth over it, and the little wooden figurines, a little dutch boy and girl salt and pepper shakers. Mrs. Alford would tell me not to play with them but I always did.
The other day Mom called to say Mrs. Alford died, and I felt the stillness of her home, of her memory grow stiller still and went to the kitchen. I took out a jar of cinnamon spice and sniffed it, and put birdseed on the grocery list for the weekend.

Pray for her soul, and for all those who miss her.  

No comments:

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!