Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why I add cocoa to spaghetti sauce

"Hey, girl, whatcha doing there?"

The ponderous, loud voiced woman across the street seemed used to commanding a great deal of respect. I stood up, dusted the dirt from my jeans, and called out "planting bulbs".

"Hey, that's not your place, what do you mean?"

So I crossed over, and explained that I was renting the little white cottage with the rose garden and the leaning plum tree, and that I'd be moving in as soon as the deceased owners belongings were taken south by her sister. But I needed to get the crocus bulbs in now, in October.

That was how I met Lucille, who was my neighbor in the few years I lived in the white cottage, cherishing the roses, planting more flowers, happy to have found so lovely a little shelter. Lucille was a survivor of the San Francisco earthquake. She fancied black lace dresses and flowers with some color in them. She had no patience for cats or boys, and in the time we were neighbors I was always interceding on behalf of both--the little boys who would come to play at my house and bake cookies with me, and the cats, my own and those of my other neighbor, who persisted in entering Lucille's little garden.

She had a dog, a little mutt. "Smart as a whip, too" said Lucille, who was mostly called Chub by her friends. I never dared.

Lucille had been a nurse at the local hospital, and so had been her friend Leona, who lived on the other side, in another tiny cottage. Leona was thin as Lucille was fat, and wore jeans, even though she was, I thought, quite old. Leona was friendly, but Lucille would have me over for tea and chats from time to time.

Strong black tea in a rose patterned cup. Two Oreo cookies. A lot of stories. She told me she'd known Leona since they were girls together in the Gold Country. They'd married at about the same time.

"Weak men" said Lucille, staring off into space. "Chicken farmers".

I sipped my tea.

"We did all the work, all of it, mind you. We was getting sick doing so much work, and the mens were just drinking it up, drinking it all up"

So what happened, I asked. "They died" said Lucille, and sipped her tea. "and then we went to nursing school, and then we came here"

Okay, then. I wish now I had asked more questions, but my own life was engulfing me. And pretty soon Lucille asked "so, when?" staring at my waist. I told her. "Well, it's a crying shame" she said, "but I think you are a good girl anyway".

When my first son was born--and I was obviously single, living by myself in my white cottage--Lucille gave me a lacy, hand knit, yellow blanket for him. It had belonged to her baby, who hadn't lived very long. "Seems strong enough" said she, staring at my infant. "Would have been better to have a girl, but you can't help it, I guess".

And she gave me handgathered blue columbine seeds, and the secret ingredient for her spaghetti sauce, handed down from her grandmother. Lucille always made me smile.

Years after I had moved to another place, beside the river, with my little boy, I'd check on Lucille and Leona. Leona had a stroke, wasn't expected to pull through. Lucille nursed her, day after day...and she lived. The whole town marveled.

It's funny, the people who pass through our lives. I hadn't thought much about Leona and Lucille for years, until the other day I was wandering the cemetery, where now the wild flowers and planted flowers are in full glory, great heads of lilacs, scatters of buttercups, and I came across a small marker I hadn't noticed before. I brushed aside the leaves and read it--yes there, together as they'd been for so many years, well into their 80's, rested my friends, in a single grave. Lucille had lived just a year longer than her dear, and they've rested there about a quarter of a century now.

But I can still hear that rough voice. And I still smile at that loving heart.

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Blogger Amy Branham said...

What a wonderful story and memory! thank you for sharing it!

11:49 AM, April 15, 2009  
Blogger Sandra said...

I'm so glad you stopped by my blog or I would have never found you. This is a lovely story.

5:15 AM, April 30, 2009  

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