Every now and again things start to get to me (and yes, I realize that this is the understatement of at least this new century). I mean there are times when Murphy’s Law seem to target me and can be oppressive. I probably shouldn’t, but to better explain my line of thought I will list a few of the highlights:
My car is 14 years old, and has served me well for all but the last 2 or 3 years. After about $6,000 in repairs over the last couple, I find I no longer have the money or the patience to pour into it. Currently I’ve been told it needs a head gasket (an item which I was once able to replace myself, but with computerized engines and electronic sensors everywhere, I couldn’t begin to try.) The shop man cheerfully informed me that the “book” says it’s a 12-hour job to begin with (at $75-per-hour) and that if the cylinder head is warped we could be talking $3000 before it’s finished. As a result, the car is splashing oil into the cylinders, burning a quart of oil every 50-60 miles. This makes the plugs foul, causing the engine to sputter and miss like crazy.
Well, in my usual meek and mild way I threw a tantrum 2 weeks ago that I was sure would lead me to at least the third or fourth ring of hell, depending on exactly how personally my Maker took my rants – directed at Him, of course. To my utter shock, after running so rough I thought the car was on it’s way to the crusher, it suddenly started to IMPROVE. First, the frantic flashing of the “Service Engine Soon” light slowed and eventually stopped. The car ran smoother and smoother, until about 4 days ago the light went out! Now unless it’s possible for cars to HEAL over time, I was flabbergasted. It actually spooked me.
The light is back, now, but only sporadically; and the car is still running rather smoothly. To this frustrating string of events, add the weather that has accompanied my new job (delivering prescriptions for a local pharmacy). I’ve delivered in sub-zero wind chills, in white-out storms, in driving rains, and due to the timing of the job (1:00 until done) it is largely done by driving through school zones and behind school busses that stop every six-and-a-half feet. Plus: My lovely wife has been dogged by some of the worst arthritis complications I’ve ever seen and I can’t do ANYTHING to help her or lessen her pain. Frankly, I desperately needed a respite.
And this afternoon it came out of the blue: Carole and Dale asked if we’d like company on Thursday! You have to understand this relationship to understand how welcome this is: Carole is my wife’s cousin, and they’ve been close since childhood. Dale is her constant companion (now that he’s retired) and one of the most unassuming, most pleasant guys to be around that I’ve ever met. When we see them (a 2-hour drive that is rarely compatible with our schedules) it’s like we just left them yesterday. Conversations center on family and recent activities, and they seem instantly to understand and contribute to any personal goal or achievement. There are no pretexts, “airs”, or judgements here, just close friendship.
So, while the “miracle of the car” was nice while it lasted, the real relief will be to completely forget car, job, arthritis, and even my eventual “reward” for that outburst at the Big Guy. For an afternoon we’ll just enjoy the company and celebrate these two people, and that is, in the final analysis, the real importance of life: People.
My wife has had many titles in her life, most assigned to her, and some engineered by her for her own reasons. “The Peanut Lady” comes to mind as an example: There are three rather large squirrels, several chipmunks, a flock of blue jays and at least one bold rabbit who haunt my back porch pretty much all year round. This is because several years ago my loving wife spotted a chipmunk scouring the landscape for something to eat, and she automatically tossed out some peanuts for him to “find”. She decided to buy more and feed him regularly, and of course the critter couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Soon there were more critters than food, and the whole thing grew into a regular relationship between my “peanut lady” and the wildlife of Willow Wood Village (where we live).
A similar phenomenon has emerged with cookies: When we first moved into our apartment, (it’s in a large complex of apartments with a whole staff of employees maintaining the property for the landlord) we naturally found small things to be corrected in our townhouse as we settled in. On one of these maintenance visits my wife offered some homemade cookies to the young fellow who was helping us. H e accepted, and raved over the taste of the cookies. shortly thereafter we discovered that crew members were jostling each other for a chance to service OUR place, in hopes of more goodies. And she was flattered enough to see that we usually had a few cookies around for the guys.
That winter she took a tray of cookies to the office girls when we paid our rent. Soon we were getting calls at home thanking us for the gift, and raving about the many kinds of cookies we’d brought them. I’m sure you can see what’s next. As my wife increased each year’s cookies contribution to the office people, with admonitions to share them with the maintenance crew, her reputation grew and grew. Until this year, when the young woman who first rented us our apartment spotted us coming in with trays held high she literally ran to the desk to greet us. When her co-workers frowned at her enthusiasm, we saw her mouth “Cookie Lady!” and they instantly beamed hellos at us.
Now all of this is fine. I’m secretly proud to be associated with the cookie lady of our complex, and although she won’t let me sample the wares as she makes the house smell like heaven every day for weeks, I understand what drives her. Fiest, she has come to honestly believe that Christmas and the general feeling of the season would actually suffer without her cookies. The people in the landlord’s employ really do anticipate her yearly gift, as do our kids and grandkids and their friends. (One young girl in South Carolina, when told my granddaughters’ Gram was comming to visit, asked excitedly: “COOKIE GRANDMA???”) Second, she is trying with all her heart to fend off the inevitable time when she can no longer put smiles on the faces of those she loves. I see her limp her way into the kitchen, muttering unprintable things on her way to take a tray out of the oven and replace it with another. The psoriatic arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy, and frankly years of use are beginning to take their toll on muscles and joints and nerve endings that just never seemed to care before.
Whether justified or self-deluded, she has come to believe that supplying peanuts to her “critters” and cookies to those around her is an almost sacred obligation, not a choice. “How can I disappoint the kids?” “Where will the chippies and squirrells eat?” “What kind of christmas will the office girls have if I don’t brighten their day?” These are things she actually asks herself. And I know in my heart that while none would die, or be emotionally scarred, if she was not able to provide, they really WOULD feel the loss in a substantial way. I love my cookie lady more than I know how to say. And I know it will break my heart as much as it will hers the day she can no longer bake the cookies and show her love.