Friday, September 17, 2010
She lived a couple of houses down the road, an elderly lady with the sweetest smile God ever painted on the face of a human. Her name was Liz - I always called her Miss Liz, both out of respect for her years and also because in the South, where I spent part of my life, that's what you called ladies who were familiar enough to not be 'Mrs. Somebody,' but certainly one never called them by their standalone Christian name. Just not done. Not ever.
Miss Liz walked her little dog at least four times a day; the dog was a rescue critter that had obviously been pretty badly treated before she adopted her. Scarred and ugly, the dog at first stood her ground in front of Miss Liz, daring anyone to get past her curled lip, her bared teeth. Miss Liz gentled the curled lip from the dog, but the fierceness remained. I swear, that dog would have ripped apart anyone who messed with Miss Liz; and when Miss Liz told me she was afraid her dog was "a little unfriendly," I told her I thought the dog was protecting her.
She smiled (oh, that smile!) and said, "I like your version better."
We walked past each other at least ten times each week; on hot days we both walked our dogs on the shady hill just behind Miss Liz's house and on sunny days, we walked the Horseshoe - a path that winds up a fairly steep hill, giving you a view that makes the hike worth the effort. Miss Liz told me stories about the neighborhood - like the old Danish broad in the movie "Out of Africa," I'm one of those 'tell me your stories' types.
I learned that ours is the oldest of neighborhoods in Snotty Suburb, that Miss Liz lived here her entire life, which streets were previously dirt two-lane country roads - that sort of thing. Factoids that don't really make a whit of difference in anyone's day-to-day existence, but I loved knowing them.
At some point, a couple of years ago I guess, I realized Miss Liz was not feeling well - she radiated pain, but never once did she mention it. Then there was the evening The Spouse went out to drop off one of our kids at a nearby school dance, and didn't come home for almost an hour. I knew something was off - and when The Spouse walked in the door, I saw it written across that familiar, well-loved face.
"I was turning the corner up our street and saw Miss Liz lying on the ground. Her dog was next to her. I hit the brakes, put on my flashers and got out of the car. I went to help her up and saw a huge puddle of blood on the ground - she'd split open the back of her head.
"So I told her, 'Oh, just sit there a second while I call for someone to help.'
"She told me she didn't need help, and I asked her sort of jokingly if she was a doctor, and she right away said, 'Are you?'
"Pretty feisty for someone with a split melon, I thought. When the ambulance showed up, she fussed again about not needing this silly attention - but the paramedic told me quietly that she'd talked them out of bringing her to the hospital twice already this week. She'd fallen several times."
I told The Spouse that no matter who it was, lying on the ground, the best face in the whole world to look into was the one belonging to The Spouse. Totally true; if kindness and gentleness were Olympic sports, The Spouse would win gold every single time. I'm glad Miss Liz had The Spouse there to help her.
So the paramedics bundled her into the ambulance; her daughter picked up her dog and I only saw Miss Liz alive one time after that - when she came home to die. At the hospital, the doctors discovered when she'd been hiding from everyone; pancreatic cancer that had been consuming her for quite some time.
She came home in an ambulance and died in her house and for that, I'm really grateful.
But shit, I sure do miss my friend.
Her house is for sale and I'm trying to talk The Spouse into buying it for one of our family members. Fingers crossed. . .