I had a vivid flashback on my nice, leisurely walk around the neighbourhood this afternoon (thank you, Lord, for sunshine and a breeze!) about a side job I had “back in college,” say around 2002. The job came via the college career services office @ Valdosta State, and all I knew about it before I called the lady was that she needed some yard work done. Turns out she wanted some pruning done on her muscadine vines, and I blatantly lied about having knowledge of this task since I needed the money to pay off a speeding ticket. We agreed on a day and time, and I arrived at her stately Old Wood Valley home right on time that morning, while it was still cool out. She quickly figured out I knew nothing whatsoever about grape vines, so she came out with her cane in hand and showed me how to trim them properly. I set to work, and she stood nearby and talked to me whilst making sure I was following her instructions correctly. (Funny side story…I knew the girl who lived next door to her, and when my “boss” went in her house to use the bathroom, I ran next door and Carrie told me what a you-know-what she was. That was the extent of the conversation, as she then shooed me back into the old lady’s yard so we wouldn’t both get yelled at!)
Here’s where things get poignant–after only trimming for maybe 45 minutes, she told me to come in for some lemonade. I asked her (this is how Southerners write) didn’t she want me to rake up her pine straw for her, and she said I could do that later. We went in her house, and I quickly was overwhelmed by stale cigarette smoke. She got out the lemonade and a glass, and she told me she’d made it fresh (from concentrate!) the night before, since she knew I was coming over. We went in her parlour to sit down (I tried to help her sit, but she warded me off with her cane), and I couldn’t even sit still because I was so enamoured with all her furniture. As she lit a cigarette (she never asked me if she could smoke, but it was her house, right?), I walked around the parlour and her foyer and she explained where each piece came from, how old it was, and how much it was probably worth. I literally felt like I was in a museum, because it was chock-full of very rich, plush, sturdy furnishings. I also remember peeping through her heavy drapes and plantation blinds at my progress on the grape vines, and she finally asked me to be seated. She began talking, and I quickly realized my work for the day was done. This lady needed a friend; someone to just sit there and keep her company. She smoked cigarette after cigarette, telling me how her kids didn’t care about her, how they only cared about all the furniture, and how the nurse who came to look in on her daily was surely stealing from her. I sat and listened, her husky voice and her pile of fluffy, white hair mesmerizing me. She was all alone in this gorgeous, smokey home, rotting away in her house dress and drowning in bitterness.
I think she paid me for three hours’ work that day, even though I only actually worked less than an hour. She told me she’d call me when she needed me again, but I never heard from her. During one of my visits home last year, I drove through Old Wood Valley and her house was for sale, and looked like it had been for awhile. Something immediately made me realize she was dead, and that her kids had, in fact, gotten their hands on all that furniture. All I could do was grimace, but I hope she died happier than the day I made her acquaintance. I won’t type out any moral to this story, because it’s all implied for anyone who can read between the lines. I just wanted to share it while it was in the forefront of my mind. For once, I’ll let the story speak for itself.
Happy 1st Day of Spring to Everyone,