I see her these days, walking amidst her orange trees, watering her flowers, hummingbirds flitting about the spray from the hose. Or another time, walking gingerly out to take out the garbage. Her appearances about the neighborhood are now so rare, when she does emerge from her little house it is an affirmation that she's still alive this month.
Her decline into old age has been swift. It is her first winter without majestic Walter, the giant of a man, handyman, builder….Walter of the booming voice. Walter, with the blackened nails, struck by the hammer too many times. She was always the introvert, Walter the extrovert as he wandered the neighborhood greeting all with a hearty and hail good morning and perhaps relating once too often his history…the events of his life. Walter, who saw all, but saw little for he was poorly sighted by diabetes by the time he reached his 75th year.
It was Walter, her sweetheart, who drove her from Minnesota to Arizona each year, at the first sign of a northern frost. They came, these two snowbirds, seeming to leap from their car in the driveway as soon as it came to a stop. It was she who threw back the windows to air out the place, then brushed away the summer dust and threw a pot or two on the stove. Walter would hammer down a few loose nails, the hammer cocked as he contemplated his next "project." Last winter it was a breakfast bar to the kitchen and pastel borders for the shutters, the year before a potting house so that she might transfer her plantings without a strain on the back.
Old friends, who had been walking by their door for days, anticipating the snowbird couple's return, would drop by for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. The evenings would be filled with supper and a bridge game after and a wave goodbye to old pals as they walked the few steps to their own house down the way.
But age creeps up on the good and the bad, and, last year, she and Walter would come back again, she behind the wheel last year. As they exited their old car Walter needed the assistance of a walker to reach the front door….it would take him several minutes to do so.
And so, the next morning, as I'm walking the dogs, I come upon Walter, fully a block away from his house, seemingly frozen in mid step as he clings to his walker. He stares straight ahead, and as I reach him, I ask if he needs any help. He says nothing, just shakes his head, continuing to stare down the street. So, I walk on with the dogs, and just as I'm getting ready to turn the corner, I see Walter nudging his walker a few feet further down the walk.
And, as the weeks progress, as I am heading out to the store, or to run an errand, there is Walter, now moving steadily down the street, still leaning on the walker, but moving light years faster than a few weeks back. I surmise that old Walt has had a stroke over the summer, back in Minnesota, thus the long slow walks to overcome the weakness of limb and the fogginess of the mind. Without being told I know that proud Walt will not allow her to help, or even walk with him, until he's able to keep up with her.
Finally, one evening, toward the end of winter, I am out in my front yard, watering my citrus trees. My face breaks out in smile as Walt AND she come strolling by, sans walker, walking strongly and steadily into an evening that promises spring is near. Soon they will harvest the lemons and oranges and tangerines and pile them into the trunk of their old car, and head back to Minnesota for the summer.
And so they did.
So she has come back this year, brought home by a caring daughter, or niece, sadly, without Walter who could no longer walk his way through one more summer…Walter who now rests forever, hopefully in some family plot of dear ones who've passed in an earlier season.
She seems even more fragile now..even more so than when, in earlier years, they walked hand in hand, she small and dainty and he, tall in stature and booming voice, with arms that swung a hammer true.
I was astounded when, at Christmas, she covered our neighborhood with invitations for coffee or tea and cookies on New Years Day! For it was she who was always the introvert and he the "hail well met" fellow who knew all the neighbors. Was she driven by loneliness to proffer invites in celebration of the new year? Or was the spirit of old Walt whispering in her ear to get out and about…and along with her life? I guess it doesn't matter either way.
Arizona has been kind to her this year; not a single night of frost to chill her fragile old bones…and the citrus trees are bountiful, and, come soon, some one will come for her and ferry her back for another Minnesota summer..and perhaps to lay roses on her loved one's grave.
It remains to be seen if she will return in the fall…or whether Walt calls her once again to his side…so that they may walk together again down the walks of forever.
Happy Valentine's Day to you all…and may you forever have a hand to hold as you walk through your long and lovely life.