There he was. He was ginormous in stature as I gazed at him, standing tall next to his lovely wife. His long, strong arm wrapped around her tiny, petite waist as they stood to leave the building. His grizzled hands, large as baseball mitts, revealed years of hard work farming, logging, working in the aluminum plant and working his acres of land.
As he passed by, he extended his hand to greet us. Jim’s leathery, worn but warm hand enveloped mine. His grip almost brought tears to my eyes it was so strong. His wife, with her twinkling eyes, radiated the beauty of the earth. Her whitening, yet still somewhat peppered hair was in her trademark bun, wrapped as it had been, I am sure for years.
As big and tall as Jim was, Ellen was tiny and somewhat frail looking, but feisty and fierce, and funny at the same time. Years of her hard works showed, too, her frame slightly bent forward
We chatted of getting our fall firewood in, how many cords we had each split, how not only glad we would be when we were done, but how toasty warm we will stay as we heat with wood stoves. We would be able to keep the cold of winter at bay. We talked of the yields of the fruits of our spring and summer labors, and the bounties we were yielding. We spoke with gratitude that we lived where we could grow apples and berries, cucumbers and squash. Then there would be the herbs and spices we would grind, and the pickles and pies we would make, and the vegetables we would preserve.
Time has a way of slipping by. We saw them weekly. They considered us one of their “kids”. When we moved over a dozen years ago, our communication continued. Ellen would write pages of local news and send in the post. I would call when they would come to mind. Often our calls and cards would cross in the air! How much they had taught us about honest hard work, of true love and the importance of relationships.
The last time I saw them, time had more than taken its toll. Jim was hobbling and could hardly hear or talk. Ellen’s frame was bent over – not just with age, but as if the weight of the world was upon her. She was taking more care of Jim, but also responsible for two of her nine grown children who had abilities different than most who still lived at home, plus the cooking and gardening, which was getting harder each year.
The phone rang. Ellen had forgotten the time zone difference. It didn’t matter. I knew. It was two days before Christmas. Two days before their 53rd wedding anniversary. Jim had whispered to her in bed the night before as he hugged her tight, that he was going ‘home’. He would be OK, and always remember how much he loved her.
Two months passed. I called Ellen last week, sobbing, in tears. I asked her to forgive me. I had let time slip by, and I had not touched base with her, not for lack of not thinking of her, but letting “life” get in the way. We talked for an hour. She shared that Jim (much like my Bill) didn’t like holidays – we should be thankful every day, why do we need Thanksgiving? We should treat everyone special every day – why do we need birthday celebrations? And isn’t every day Christmas – a new present to open? And we should love everyone EVERY day.
A neighbor had stopped by on Valentine’s Day with a ‘gift’ from Jim. What? She had NEVER in 53 years ever received a card or gift from Jim. It was a picture of Jim and his best friend, huddled over one of Jim’s old (really old!) tractors, tinkering to get it to fire up again. Jim had had his wife sneak over and take the photo and his friend hand crafted the frame.
That was the true and essence of Jim. It was what Ellen needed – she had no photo of him – they lived so simply, camera’s and photos weren’t even on their radar. “Who needed them anyway – it’s just extra stuff”, Ellen would say.
We cried together, and laughed through our tears, missing each other terribly. Me? I was grateful for her forgiveness of not my staying in touch – she had taught me better over the years.
Relationships. Who do you need to call today?
Care Tuk is a nationally known speaker, educator, and retreat/workshop leader. She has been a school, hospital, and home health occupational therapist for more than 30 years. She has been named as a Top Business Woman in America and recognized for her work with youth, disability outreach and awareness, and the American Cancer Society.