The first words he spoke to me. My knees were pushing into earth, my hands and fingers turned to trowels, back bent low and sweat dripping ~ I turned to see a man, straight and tall, walking shoes below and an old straw hat perched atop his grey. A tiny feather stuck out of the hat and in his hands was the old handle of a wooden broom, his walking stick.
I stood, walked over, smiling, then looked down at my hands and forearms-all black and grainy. Apologetically glancing at my hands, I introduced myself, and He returned, grabbing my hand firmly in a handshake and laughing. "Oh, we do a bit of gardening ourselves..." he said.
That was the first meeting with Bill Grey. We stood there kicking the dirt, visiting long enough for me to learn that his sister married my father-in-laws cousin and that Gram just happens to be her great friend and that he went to school with my husband's uncle; long enough to hear that there is a Mother Bear and her cubs that visit daily our properties and a boar bear that has been seen as well "A big one, he is." I now know that a pair of fawn have lived in the thicket beside our house and, while beautiful, are quite the nuisance in the gardens. We talked about our house, the work being done to it, the people who lived there before, the original settlers. "I'll have to show you some pictures I have of the old house when so and so lived here."
"Well," he said glancing up at the sun making it's way across the sky, "guess I better not hold you up here all day." Then off he went~ down the old road, past our barns and turned up the road to walk the pastures.
I watched him leave a moment before returning to my soil work and thought about how nice it is to have such a friendly sort living in the only house nearby. Good neighbors.
Every afternoon, I hop in car, drive across the country roads-past farms, Amish homesteads, animals and fields, and an old cemetary to visit our soon-to-be home, picking up the mail, checking on the progress of the construction work, working to make the outside beautiful since I can't make the inside beautiful right now. Every day, same time, Bill would come trudging along the old road, walking stick clomping the road before his footsteps. Every day we would meet up and find enough to talk about for the next 45 minutes to pass like a breath. "It sure is good to see you planting things here...the last owners trashed the place." Then, before he left, "You know, my wife and I were planning on dividing some hostas and we have some peonies, larkspur and a few other things we could give you-if you were interested..."
On Wednesday, Corynn and Andrew were picking up bits of plastic and garbage unearthed from bushhogging after 2 years of yard gone dormant, and I, again, was on hands and knees. This time, we met Shirley, the wife of nearly 50 years. She was as kind and friendly a country person as he and again, our visit was left with an inward sigh of contentment and thankfulness for such good neighbors.
Thursday, I woke, readied myself and the children for the day, and was just sitting to help a little one when my father-in-law Gary came in and told me, "I was just reading the obituary, and your neighbor Bill died last night." "Of course-your mistaken. I just spoke to him yesterday afternoon! We talked about sharing plants and him joining a fitness center come winter, when his country road walks would have to be put off. Lots of times people share the same names..." but my arguments were over when he showed me the obituary. My voice trailed off and my mind whirled with this new information. How can this be?!? He was fit as a fiddle! How must his wife be? I only met her yesterday...and they were joking around with one another. How can a person die that was perfectly fine yesterday?
Bill Grey was the first person who has died in my entire life, whose presence has not been a distant memory. Any other death and funeral that I have attended has been with people who I hadn't seen in months, years. Never yesterday. Never when there was no indication that this was to be the last time I would see them. My mind reeled with questions. I kept reliving the last 24 hours, and then putting myself in the shoes of Shirley. My heart ached and I was more affected with this man who was just a week and a half ago a complete stranger, than when my grandfather died who I remembered only from the dozen or so times I had visited as a child.
I wondered, "WHY Lord? Why did you bring this man, this family into my life just to take them away? Why didn't you plan our move a few weeks later-or his death a few years down the road? What is YOUR purpose in all of this? Why did we have to be here to be affected? It would have been far easier for us to not have known him, never to have seen him. Why was it in your plan to have us meet, even for the short time that we did?"
That horrible afternoon, we headed to the florist and bought a few of the most gorgeous blooms of roses and iris, went to the dollar store and bought a simple clear glass vase-and then I arranged them, marrying bought blooms that SHINE with more subtle, garden blooms that glow. While I trimmed stems and carefully placed them in the arrangement, Corynn too, wanted to do something to help make Mrs. Grey smile. So, she drew a poster-size picture of Mr. Grey holding God's hand in heaven.
We went to her house, an exhausted little girl who wanted to present her drawing having fallen asleep in the car. I quietly went to the door and knocked, and was met with swollen eyes. Mrs. Grey was incredibly thankful for the drawing and the visit. She said she never expected a visit from us, since we had just met. We talked for quite some time, and even a smile played on her face once or twice.
I realize now, perhaps the Lord brought us here at the PERFECT time. Perhaps Shirley needs someone closeby, a friend. People to distract her from her empty, now quiet home and invite her into the happy chaos of a family with little children. Maybe she needed to have someone to check in on her often, and bring little bouquets of wildflowers, and big wax drawings in rainbow colors.
I know nothing for sure except this: Shirley will NOT be alone.