As Time Goes By
Grandma’s memorial was held at the Episcopalian church that Uncle Ryan belonged to and was an Alderman. He gave a short and surprisingly lyrical eulogy to Grandma. I listen dry-eyed, but my mother did not. I finally slipped the box of tissues between us on the pew. The reception was catered by the ladies of the church. There were no friends of Grandma’s, all her closest in their eighties like her, had preceded her in dying. I had not expected to see anyone but family and was thrilled to recognize Mrs. Wessenfeld, hunched over a cane, overly dressed for the occasion with crinkled make-up, in the crowd. I hurried over to her.
“My, dear, my dear! Look at you, so grown up and pretty!” She clasped my hands and I gave her a gentle hug. “I am so sorry to hear about your Grandmother’s passing. Evelyn and I used to have our morning coffee on the deck and gossip. She was a wonderful person and a good friend.” She laughed that marvelous laugh of hers.
I wanted to ask about her husband and whatever became of the dogs, those bully dogs that used to chase me to school everyday. My mother had made me talk to Mr. Wessenfeld, and long story short, I got a job walking the dogs, met Dean on his paper route, and a had a new perspective on life. I figured Athos, Porthos and Aramis were long gone to the dog park in heaven, but Mr. W, as I affectionately called him, had had a heart attack way back when I was in junior high school, and been on oxygen when he came home; two years later, he and Mrs. W. sold their house and moved to a retirement community in Kent. I’d gone once to visit, with my parents and Grandma, but never made it back there to see them again.
“Are you still at that nice place in Kent?”
“Oh, gracious, no, Fran. After George died, March 11, 2002, I went to live with my sister, Helen in Issaquah.”
Oh, crap. I’m sure my mother told me George had died and they, with Grandma, had gone to his memorial. I was embarrassed by my thoughtlessness.
Mrs. W., was much too nice of a person to make any reference to my lack of civility. She continued, “Helen’s husband passed several years before George and she was all by herself in a big rambling rambler.” She snorted a little laugh, leaning into me with a lowered voice. “George never liked her much and I didn’t get to spend much time with her. Now all I have is time to spend, and it’s mostly with her.”
I was not going to touch that subject; let sleeping dogs and the male chauvinist lie.
“Come with me. I’ll get you a cup of coffee while you talk with Mom and Dad.” I took her free hand and guided her over to where my Mother and Father were standing talking with cousins.
“Oh, dear Fran, not coffee. Tea if you please. Sugar and milk.”
Changes, changes in everyone’s life. Time is the only immutable thing in our lives.
After everyone had left and we were on the way home, my Mom turned in her seat and spoke to me with a wistful note in her voice. “My, I thought Mrs. Wessenfeld has aged. I guess I hadn’t thought of her being eighty-two. It was nice of her son to drive her today. And he’s in his fifties!”
“She was Grandma’s age? I always thought of her as so much older than anyone I knew! Mrs. W. said she and Grandma used to sit on the deck with a cup of coffee and talk about people, gardening and irritating chin hairs.”
My mother rubbed her chin. “Yes, they are.”
Even my Dad laughed, and we were all in a wonderful moment together.
“I had planned on a special night out for your birthday, Fran. But, truthfully, would you mind if we did next week? I thought your Dad and I would take you to Canlis.”
“Next week would be perfect! I’ll have my dinner with Dean and Marcus, and maybe Annie, too, will come to their house. She’s a little too obsessed by her wedding plans.”
“Well, it is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Better that she is going forward and not in the place she was not too long ago.”
Annie met me at my house and we drove together to have dinner with Dean and Marcus. They had put up streamers and strung a glittered ‘Happy 21st Birthday Girl’ banner in the dining room from wall to wall, and made us wear party hats. Annie clicked picture after picture with her iPhone, until I shot her a look that made her cease and desist.
“Look at this spread! Spring rolls and crab cakes for hors d’oeuvres. Marcus, did you do this all yourself?”
“Oh, no, Dean helped.”
Dean handed me a glass of Asti Spumante. “Yes, I did everything he told me to do. I am quite good at taking orders.”
I looked from one to the other, hoping that his comment was not an indication of domestic strife. But they were both smiling at each other.
“Oh, none for me,” Annie waggled her fingers. “I have a low tolerance for alcohol. Besides, someone has to be sober to drive.”
I looked at Dean and he looked at me; this was a different incarnation of Annie than one we had known in a previous life in junior high and high school.
At one point during dinner, Annie excused herself to go to the bathroom. I sighed and leaned over to Dean. “I hope she’s not sticking her finger down her throat. It’d be a terrible waste of the salmon ala Hollandaise.”
“I don’t think so, Fran. She appears to be pretty much in control of herself these days.”
I raised my glass and Dean and Marcus clinked a silent toast to hope.
Annie had some of her dessert, I had all of mine. “Mmmm, this is delightful! Caramel flan and mangoes! I never gained the ‘freshman fifteen’ but I may put it on tonight.”
“Actually,” Dean steepled his hands, leaning forward on his elbows, “a study done by Ohio State University showed the average student gains only two to three pounds in the first year.”
“It’s comforting to know I’ve put on maybe two pounds. Anyway, Marcus, thank you again for all your culinary efforts to make this evening perfect!”
With a tilt of his head and palm up, he said, “M’lady, it was a pleasure. Happy Birthday,” and came over to kiss me on the cheek. They all sang the birthday song, and Annie was right; no one could carry a tune.
Annie popped up from her seat and a horrifying thought ran through my head that she was going to run off to the bathroom again. But she picked up plates and flatware instead. “Marcus, let me help clean up. I’d really like to do that.”
Oh, Annie! We had discussed how fastidious Marcus was, especially the right way to do this or that in the kitchen. Actually, I said peculiar and she had corrected me that he was particular.
I might have said his smile was a little strained, but his voice did not betray any stress.
“I’d be delighted to have your company in my kitchen. You can tell me, I hope, the name of a good wedding caterer. Let me show you how I load the dishwasher.”
Dean poured me a second glass of champagne. “Well, that’s new one.”
“Let’s see how long it lasts before the fur flies.” I tipped my glass, and felt the warmth of friendship and alcohol. “She has at least a dozen caterers he can choose from, with all the details no one should know.”
Dean put his glass down carefully. “That’s a gorgeous ring your Grandmother gave you. I’m glad you’re wearing it on your right hand.”
“Yes, it is sparkly, isn’t it? Funny, you’re not the first person to mention to me wearing it on my right hand. No worries about me getting engaged anytime soon.”
“Fran, promise me something. When you find your right mate, don’t change for him. So many people try to be an ideal, or have an ideal person, that they stop being true to themselves. You know, like Dusty did for Frank. It’s not only her, but I see it in a lot of relationships. It never works out.”
I chuckled. “Good advice, Dr. Dean. Soon you will probably have your own talk show or reality show, and I can be your first guest.”
He slid a blue velvet box towards me. “The terms and conditions for you birthday, my friend.”
I took out the necklace out, stroking the dove with my thumb. “This is beautiful. For more than aesthetic reasons. I appreciate what these precious stones mean.” I dangled it, the jewels winking. “Great symbolism.” I twirled it, light refracting into rainbows. “The ruby, the oldest symbol of passion and commitment, is red, the color of love. The diamond—-forever. The gentle dove, a symbol of the link between heaven and earth. Flowers and dove—-Fran and Dean.” I kissed his cheek softly and handed the necklace to him. “Put it on me?”
He squeezed my hand as he took the necklace. When he had clasped it around my neck, he bent and kissed the nape of my neck. “Forever and a day,” he whispered.
And this time, the chain lay cool against my skin. “I shall wear it to every wedding I go to: yours, Annie’s and mine.” I reached for and took his hand for a perfect moment, one that I would always remember as the best of all birthdays.