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Sunday, November 8, 2015

A love story's final chapter


The Farmer meets me for lunch nearly every weekday. He wants a simple meal, like you can cook at home, so we usually meet at one of the local diners. I tell him I can make us soup and a sandwich to take to work and save him the twenty bucks. He says he likes the break in the middle of the day, where you get out of the office, and have someone else make your tea. I think it’s an old habit from his bachelor days but perhaps he is on to something.
Many times we would see the same couple dining at a nearby table. He was broad-shouldered with a ready grin. She was petite and often had her eyes turned to the newspaper. They both had white hair.
If the Farmer caught me watching them he would sometimes give me a little nudge with his foot under the table. I tried not to eavesdrop but I couldn’t help it. The gentleman had a voice that was soft, but it carried. He called his wife sweetheart in every second sentence.
Their conversations were mostly him asking questions, her answering. He would say, “Where are you from, again?” or “Why did we never move to British Columbia? I always wanted to live out West.” She would answer, patiently, in a manner that revealed she had provided the same responses to the same questions, many times before.
Sometimes we exchanged smiles and waves as we went our separate ways after lunch.
Then one day, perhaps a year ago, I saw the woman sitting alone. I realized I hadn’t seen the pair for a few weeks, and now it was just her, on her own, reading her paper. I ventured over.
“Hi there. Where’s your sweetheart?” I asked her.
“Oh, he’s in the home,” she responded, soft and sad.
“He’s at home?” I was confused, and a bit daft.
“No, he’s in the home sometimes, and he also has to go to the hospital sometimes, but now he’s back in the home.”
“Oh.” And then, “You must miss him.”
“I visit him, but he keeps asking me when he can come home,” she says, and I can tell she is getting upset. I tell her I’m sure they are taking very good care of him and I’m sure he loves her visits.
I make a point of going over and saying hi every time I see her sitting there on her own. Sometimes her daughter is with her. We talked about how difficult it is to make life-changing decisions, about getting rid of most of the contents of the home you’ve lived in for decades. About leaving town and simplifying your lifestyle to accommodate your new requirements.
“Well you don’t have to decide to move right now, do you?” I ask.
“They took away my license,” she reveals. “I sit there in that house and my daughter has to come from Ottawa to drive me out to see my husband in the home.”
Plans are made for a garage sale, so that a lifetime of model airplanes and other unique collectibles will go to appreciative new owners. I think of how hard it must be for her to part with the things that her husband made with his own hands. But there is no room for these things in her new home, and perhaps she is looking forward to her own little space without them.
She moves into her new home, beside her daughter, in Ottawa. She will have help for the yard and the driveway. Her living quarters will be small enough for her to manage on her own. And her family will be close by in case she needs them for anything. I tell her I think she is making a very good decision for herself.
And then, like a confirmation, her sweetheart dies. There is nothing tying her to the home they lived in for so long. She is free to go, to enjoy her life, in its new shape.
She may be in a completely different environment now, but I’m sure she often feels the presence of a broad-shouldered man with a ready grin, sitting across the table from her, his big hands reaching for hers. Rest in Peace, George.



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