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Winter is Coming (Growing Old- A Story Out of Minnesota) Chapters 1 & 2 "The House and the Church"
Winter is Coming
Dr. Sammy H. Jeffers
Ezra L. Davis
Robert Brandt (Children: One boy, two sisters)
It looked like it was going to be a white Christmas. Sammy, who had all the false notions of a green one, seemed worried, but then the heat bill would be less if it was green, and less folks would die in Minnesota of the cold, thus, he welcomed the mild or if not so mild winter that was approaching, and if it be snowy weather all the same, but at present it was damp weather for the most part, and autumn was the best part of the year in Minnesota, with the changing of colors, that is, the color of the leaves, now dropping off the trees almost as fast as rain drops in a storm, quietly floating in the air, timidly hanging onto the trees. The place, his home had become friendly to him, the rigid skies, their frosty mornings, frost on the tiles on roofs of houses, his house in particular, his roof, yes, he beckoned to himself: one way or the other, winter was coming.
He and Ezra Davis got gradually more well each summer, winters seemed to take the best out of them; it was a relationship a mutual relationship, both owning the house, having their own privacy at any given time, the house was old, but well kept by them, Sammy living upstairs, the other down. Sammy had four rooms, and Ezra had six, thin-walled, a stairway that rounded going up to Sammy’s rooms, a garden in the back, and along side of the house, a crooked staircase going downstairs leading into the cellar, where the washroom was, and where the heating system was, an old time furnace, perhaps seventy-years old; except for occasionally meeting down there by accident, and infrequently wanting to talk of old times (for often they used he phone to do that), or planning something, and as time went on, they met less and less, spent their evening alone covered with a blanket and a good book to read, as every winter came creeping in, and by.
Roberta had gone from Munich, Germany to Vicenza, Italy; when Sammy asked for news of her, Ezra said, “She’s been to a number of countries over in Europe. Her private letters are all lost and I read them of course, and contain nothing of value.” Sammy was still thinking of something to say, he added, “We’re both used to it by now I suppose…I really don’t care that much anymore.”
Ezra, usually did follow up an such comments, and did not comment, and Sammy offered no more.
“Oh, incidentally, what happened to that woman who almost died at the Church–the one you saved I hear…?” Said Sammy to Ezra.
“Excuse me…what woman?” asked Ezra L.
“Well,” said Sammy smartly, “for once you can’t remember what you do, so I don’t feel so bad, we are both getting old. I heard you did quite well; in fact she’s living a more healthy life now. You know her family, the Brandt’s. She’s a widow, I fancy. She and her boy and daughter live out in White Bear Lake.”
“Oh, now I remember, that was a year ago…!” said Ezra.
“You still are a good doctor, old but good!” said Sammy H.
“The children are not very posed, rather uptight, sort of worried they may lose a gold mine if she gets married off at 78-years old, and the boy–Donald, isn’t the main problem, it’s the two girls, one far too good-looking for her own good, and the other not so good and older and more spoiled than the other two, she wants everything. I’m sure they will keep her away from the marriage alter, not that she’ll mind, I dare say.”
Sammy said casually, “I’ve run into her at the old Market Place downtown, during last summer, twice at the bagel stand, I like cheese on mine, and she eats hers with meat. I was going to ask what she does for activities, but of course I didn’t.”
“Ah yes, I’ve heard she likes to do this and that, but she never does, her kids again, fearful she might meet someone, her husband was killed in Korea, I think anyways–left her with enough money to live quietly on for the rest of her life I expect. I guess the kids don’t want any gigolos around her,” commented Ezra.
“Yes, I’m sure that is what it is,” said Sammy, and observed then after, that it was time for an afternoon rest (they both were talking over the phone, Sammy had called Ezra downstairs).
Neither Sammy nor Ezra had plans for Thanksgiving, they never did. Sammy H. who had a large family in Kansas City, was too ill and weak to go (nor was asked), and his family would not come up to Minnesota to visit–always too busy. Ezra was eager to receive his family whom lived in town, a daughter across the street, but they were now used to doing such events without him, so he took his medicine and fell to sleep as usual, a book in hand. They both really did not look forward to the festivities of the holidays, but rather had a sense of strangeness to it, a gloom by the prospect that their families were so preoccupied, they were too busy to know them–they had forgot who they were, perhaps a phone call, if indeed they did that, or could remember to do it, but seldom did they do it.
Roberta, who was all she could hoe for, decorated her house accordingly, as she had done for a half century without her husband, now long dead, saving her cut out turkeys and other ornaments. And she was mutually grateful for her children who kept her company most of the time. She told her children she was saving to go to Las Vegas, she liked to get away, and gambling was a kind of sport for her, something to do, and it seemed safe for her children to allow it, since she went alone. Actually, she wanted to go on Thanksgiving, and her children didn’t like that idea, they wanted her around for the grandchildren, perhaps do a little baby sitting, if time allowed, and she cooked a good huge pot of chicken soup with the turkey usually.
It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and she received a card in the mail, it was from Sammy, it was written very neatly, “When are you coming to Church next?” it read, then she turned it over, something seemed unusual, it was a talking card, it seemed to irritate her, that he could not make a phone call or have talked to her in the past in Church, thinking this was not adult behavior, and she pushed the card onto the floor from the end table, where the phone was.
It was but a week to Thanksgiving, and she could hardly remember what Sammy looked like, the few times they met, at the Market and church, and during each of those times had but a few minutes encounter, they had little to offer each other, so she said to herself, it was a mere coincidence, and now he writes a card, what is he contriving, to bond with her, drag her out in to the woods at 78-years old, he talked very little to her, if at all, was all she could remember, and what he had to say, was really about nothing, apart from he said he was, or used to be a doctor. Now he writes a card, is frank on it, writes as if he knew her for years, she wanted to tell him to dry up, she could be outspoken if need be. His structure, his face was not vivid to her even, emphatic if anything, unclear, only that sparkling concentration could she remember he had.
As soon as she had pushed the card onto the floor, it did not resolve a thing in her mind, it was not a pleasant moment, she was diffident for the moment, waiting perhaps for the card to leap back up, to finish the reading, she had only read a few lines, there was a few more to be read, but if she picked it up, would it strike another discord with her, a good question she thought.
Now and again Sammy would stare at the phone, waiting for it to right. He did it, he told himself, I did it, not quite mannishly, but calculated suddenness, that is what it was, he told himself, he surprised himself he did it, sent the card, the one she noticed, and now ignored, which Sammy of course didn’t know. Meanwhile, Ezra, called her on the phone, he was not as shy as Sammy.
That night it got very cold, Ezra had to bring extra blankets out of the storeroom, and Sammy had a hard time going to sleep, he woke up several times to go to the bathroom, his eyelids half opened, pale from stiffness, and cold air in the house. The windows were letting in a draft, which circulated the household, almost producing crystals of frost on the windowsills. He rubbed his hands to thaw them out. Looked at the phone, ‘she didn’t call,’ he told himself, ‘…but perhaps later on.’
Sammy looked out his window, the first real frost had come, it was thick on the roses, thick like cat fuzz, the leaves on the trees hand white cobwebs of frost other veins, or so it seemed. The bird nests in the trees in front of the house were white rimed. Sammy and Ezra stood in at their windows looking out towards the road, eyeing the frost, the trees, the roses. Feeling the tingling cool air of the house, looking, just looking, thinking another day closer to Thanksgiving, and Christmas beyond that, and a New Year; Sammy would be 87, and Ezra, 83, before the New Year started.
Roberta knew the early frost would turn over soon to be the first snow fall, pure and fresh it always seemed to her, the first snow fall, the grass crisp like wool, she rushed not to be late for church, she had to drive her old 1972-Ford Galaxy 500, yellow in color, and had but a quarter of an hour to make it to church. She had forgotten where she put the keys, a lapse in mind for the moment. Sammy had dressed up in a black suit and black tie, exquisitely. His mind was not much concerning private lie, but he wondered if she would be there, if if so, wound her children also be with her.
Walking to the corner he saw the bus, it stopped, waited for him to get on, “Jackson and Wheelock” he told the bus driver. Perhaps it was obvious to the bus driver, thought Sammy, he’d forget the address, he had to look at a piece of paper, but old age, he told himself, cuts into the brain, the short term memory, and leaves all the long term for man to go over, and over and over, it was a way, he thought, for God to punish man for all the wrongs he done, thus, he had them to remembered like it or not. And now, old as the hills, he was too old to do wrong.
He saw the brown of the telephone poles go one by one pass him, the buildings flash in a clap of an eye, bulk and solid the buildings were, walls, and streets, and frozen gardens now, crystallized with frost, passed the eyes.
The streets were still stolid, not icy yet, under the frost was a sheet of sand and salt the city had sprayed the night before in fear the first snow would fall and ice build up on the streets by early morning, while folks were going to church, thus creating a crisis with accidents, Minnesota was good for prevention in this area.
The bus stopped, and Roberta parked her car in the lot, and walked a few steps to the church doors. Sammy walked up Rice street to Wheelock, to Jackson, took a right, and a hundred feet or so was the church, he took the steps up the embankment to the front door, and Roberta was walking in from the side of the church to the front door at the same time. He left this overcast inside the church, in the coatroom, and buttoned up his woolen sweater to the rim of the bottom of his neck.
They both found themselves unexpectedly by one another as they started walking down the isle to be seated, perhaps pleased, but neither one made a full glance at the other, Roberta said conventionally, “Thank you for the card, it was charming.” Now she questioned why she said that, I mean, it wasn’t charming a week ago, amazed she was at what she said, “I’m glad you liked it. I hope you are not telling me that to pacify me, because it was kind of grubby handwriting.” She laughed, he was right she thought, it was grubby.
“It’ll do, for a doctor!” she said.
“I wish I thought like that,” Sammy commented. Wish the sun would come out and stay, but you know these winters, I mean fall’s the time we get out of fall and winter, I’ll be another year older, at my age every year counts as triple.”
“I was thinking that, also.” She moved a little ahead of Sammy, and scooted over to a pew, looking at him, she waved him along, to join her. Some kind of a thrill excitement came over both of them, a buzz, with a tinge of laughter. They sat for a minute tense and silent. Almost as if they were both empty of words, then suddenly he dragged out some thoughts, her fingers tapping on her bible, “I see here the sermon is going to be on ‘…irrational feelings,’ the preacher here has an attitude for psychology issues if I recall right.”
“I hope it helps the young folks here.” Said Roberta.
He looked at his watch; it was ten minutes to nine, “A few minutes more.”
She paused for a moment, watching him fix his tie, move his watch about on his wrist, she looked deep into his blue eyes from the side, the shadows around them, almost dark, and his copper skin from the sun, it was fading. Roberta broke out with a heavy sigh, looked about, caught the light coming through the windows, then looking up from the windows to the ceiling, “Did you know they painted them angels on the ceiling a year ago?” she said.
He didn’t speak for the next five minutes, his expressions showed insignificance, so she examined, and felt, but it was the autumn of 1989. Sammy felt as if, without warning, a squeezing hand around his heart. Then with insignificant seriousness, she said, “Try to work up a bit of cheer, the holidays are close. You seem a bit anti-social, if not sad.”
“Yes, I know. I couldn’t figure out the word myself, but that will do just fine, I need to overlook so much. Oh well, let me try by asking you if you’d like to join me for Thanksgiving?”
He stopped abruptly then, and turned his eyes to her, folks were filling up the pews now, and the preacher had stepped out of a door, alongside the podium.
“I virtually go no place without my children, or by myself, never with a man alone, since my husband has passed away, especially not on the spot.”
“Roberta you absurd woman; what are you doing asking me to sit here with you then?” Said Sammy.
“We are just beginning.” She said politely.
Sammy thought how different his vice was now, it must sound unrelated, expansive. It was really not his sky style today it was something new for him to be so open with his wants.
“Perhaps I slightly overdone my expectations, but I’m not thoroughly anti-social you see, and I’m working on humor.”
“For some reason, I do not feel prepared for this encounter,” said Roberta.
“I tried to snatch up the situation; I was hoping you would consider Turkey at my house, and chicken soup.”
“Why, Dr. Sammy H. Jeffers. I was thinking that surely we could be good friends, and cum about perhaps. I have often thought it would be fun to do things with another person–a man, but men always become so impatient, twenty-four hours after I meet you, from what I remember, and what my children tell me nowadays it is even worse. You mustn’t let this be a nuisance for us.”
She looked at him, as she spoke, with friendly regret. Thinking this would be their last meeting, which was really their first; and an unusual one at that. It would seem the words and the looks would have needed to be a little more graceful, pleasant, but this was work for both of them, and new.
Sammy said, “I was just hoping you could come, and I could admire your loveliness.”
“At our age loveliness is not in the mirror, as much as I’d like it to be, or in a gracious figure, as I once had, but in dress and dignity and taste, softness, we expect it, it’s rarity is a spice we need, and it is of course a realistic work of art for a man to produce this. Otherwise why misuse my time; I’m somewhat happy as I am.”
Sammy smiled, “I’m working at it,” he said, and she laughed, gave a societal smile; her beauty did seem to withdraw itself from inside of her. “You are a quite hopeless romantic, I’m afraid. I suggest you unbutton your sweater, it is getting hot in here.”
He was starting to sweat, “Of course” he said,–she then turned courteously toward the preacher, he was about to address the congregation.
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