Drat those gnats! They were at it again, and they were driving Clara nuts. How long ago had it started? She cocked her head to the side and tried to think over the noise. Why, it must have been right after that big wavy thing hit that country (she couldn’t think of what country it was right now) but it was some country on the other side of the world. She looked in the mirror as she finished putting on her lipstick. How long ago was that?
Picking up her flowery tea cup in one hand and digging at her right ear with her crooked pinky, she needed to get on with the business of the day. By now, she was used to the gnatty buzz, even if it was annoying, and could process almost normally for a young nonagenarian (at least, she thought of herself as young). However, after that last wave thingy in Japan (oh yes, now she remembered), ignoring the buzz was getting harder. She set the cup in the sink and looked around her room. Was there anything else she needed?
Clara sighed and turned off the light as she opened the door to the hallway. The antiseptic smell that was always present had somehow become a comforting part of her life. Everything was still right in her world, and she smiled. The noise of the dining room drifted down the hallway as did the laughter of the nurses at their stations. She could tell from their easy chatter and slow movements that they were wrapping up the paper work from their early morning rounds. ‘I wonder if we’re playing bingo or having book club today after breakfast?” she thought as she approached them.
“Hey, Miz Clara, how was your night?” the younger nurse looked up from her clip board jockeying.
“Just fine, Sue Ellen, just fine.” Clara thought these nurses looked like they belonged in high school instead of being old enough to hand out medicine to anyone.
“Why look at you. We’re going to have to start calling you Red,” said the other nurse who at least didn’t have any strange piercings on her face.
“Just call me Lucille Ball,” Clara laughed as she patted her sprayed stiff hair and slowly made her way past them. ‘Probably don’t even know who that was,” she humphed under her breath.
“Well, breakfast looks mighty good this morning. You enjoy,” one of them called after her.
Clara just focused on moving her feet forward. Moving slow was even a challenge now. ‘Why is that, God? Isn’t it enough we get old? Do we have to lose our eyesight, our hearing and our balance just because we’ve lived a long life?” She laughed to herself, ’Talking to herself again.’ Even her taste buds felt old. Food never sounded good anyway. Somehow the desire to eat had ceased the moment she tasted the daily fare of bland food that they served here. What would it be like to cook some of her very own chicken noodle soup again? It would certainly spice the residents up a little. Red peppers, small jalapenos, onion, peas…her mouth watered and a sigh escaped her lips.
“Scientists believe that the sun has released the largest solar flare ever…” the newscasters’ words drifted out the door of one of the apartments as she passed.
The gnats buzzed loudly in her ears again, and Clara stopped. The dining room was just a little way up the hall, but to her left, she could see a bright spring day through the large windowed doors. How long had it been since she had just walked out a door on her own? No guardian walking beside her. No family member hovering. Just her, and maybe, the little electronic book thingy that that was strapped around her waist in a small bag. She may be old, but she was technologically savvy…at least that is what her granddaughter, Cora, always said. The buzzing ceased a little as her feet turned towards the light.
A dishful of candy sat on the entryway desk, and Clara took a peppermint as she walked out the door. For once, the attendant wasn’t there and this was the one door without an alarm that buzzed as a person walked out or in. Then again, maybe they just turned the dang thing off during the day since it was the main entry for visitors and deliveries. The sun blessed her head with its warmth and Clara kept walking. The gnats were not as loud now, and she felt a purpose behind her walk that she hadn’t felt in a long time. A vision was forming in her mind.
“‘…though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my
unfailing love for you will not be shaken’ … says the Lord, who has
compassion on you…” (Isaiah 54:10, NIV).
The old Bible verse came through her head as easily as it did when she was ten and reciting the verses in front of Mrs. Horn, her favorite Sunday school teacher. The cars zoomed passed her as she reached the busy street. Stopping, she watched them for a while and reflected that the world had certainly changed since those long ago days. She could see herself running ahead of her parents as they walked to church or went for a walk on a warm spring night. The world had seemed so bright and exciting then. She looked around her and was surprised that she felt the same way today; she just wasn’t running….at least….not yet. She actually laughed out loud. What a day.
The birds’ songs had replaced the gnats, and the sweet smell of lilacs and new leaves filled her with peace that all was as it was supposed to be at this time. The comfortable, trendy walking shoes cushioned her feet as she strolled on the sidewalk towards town. What was the name of that store that Bonnie Belle always took her to shop? Such a great daught. She took her shopping every few months even though Clara never wore out her clothes anymore. Her daughter was so good at trying to make her final days on this earth feel special – even down to the clothes she wore.
“Let there be peace in the valley for me someday,” the old hymn touched her lips, and soon she was singing just as she had long ago. “There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble, I see, O Lord…” The words flowed, one song into another, with the birds’ accompaniment until Clara found that she had reached the courthouse square. There were many already there, and for a minute, Clara was puzzled. ‘Why in the world did I walk here?’ The courthouse was a long way from the retirement village; yet, she didn’t even seem tired. Even her knees felt fine.
There was a man sitting under the old oak tree; he looked up and smiled at her. She didn’t recognize him, but then those days were past. She didn’t recognize most people in town anymore. She looked away and tried to figure out why all these people were here. Lots of people. Oldsters – like her. Young ones. Middle agers. Clara was amazed. It was like Central Park when she was just a youngster…before television and radios had invaded every house and stolen time spent out in the community. ‘What was going on?’ She half expected to see her daddy walk down the sidewalk.
Clara looked back at the man for a while. He was playing a guitar and singing softly, but he seemed to smile just for her. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to sit for just awhile. It had been so long since she had been out all on her own. “Would you like my seat?” a small voice interrupted her perusal.
“That would be very nice, dear, thank you.”
The little girl reached up her hand, and Clara found its small warmth easing the questions that had been spinning in her mind.
“This is my mommy. I’m four.”
“Hello, my name is Delores…Dee” the woman smiled, “and this is Cyanne.”
“It’s good to meet you, Delores. I’m Clara .”
Cyanne sat on the grass by her mother and began playing with her dolly, whispering tiny words that escaped Clara’s hearing. The mother’s well-worn Bible lay open on her lap and under her protruding belly. Dee’s one hand rested on the book, and the other on the new life she was safely sheltering.
“Can you tell me what is going on?” Clara asked. “I surely haven’t seen this many people downtown in years.”
“I know.” Delores responded in kind, “crazy , isn’t it? We were grocery shopping and just decided to stop on the way home to sit on the bench,” she paused before she continued, “and enjoy the day. My husband is still overseas. He’s in the marines, and I just didn’t feel like going home quite yet. I’ve always loved this park. We came here on our first “date” in 8th grade.” Dee eyes were warmed by the memory as she continued, “ I don’t know why the others are here.”
“Oh….” Clara’s mind seemed to tumble as she continued to gaze around her. Looking back at the woman in front of her, a smaller, much younger version of that face emerged in Clara’s mind. “Delores….” her voice trembled a little, “Delores Adames?”
Dee nodded as she looked more closely at the older woman. “Miz Osborne, I wondered if you would recognize me.”
Clara reached out and grabbed the hand that Dee was offering. “My, my…it has been quite a while, hasn’t it? I can never recognize my former male students. Their faces change so much from when they were in my classroom. But sometimes, I do catch a glimpse of the ‘girl-that-was’ in the face of a grown woman.”
“Eighth grade was seems like it was just yesterday,” Dee laughed.
Cars roared past and loud conversations erupted on the steps of the courthouse as people entered and left the premises. Yet, sitting in this grassy area, Clara and Dee traveled over many memories of long ago days until they found the comfortable silence of old friends happy to just be together. Looking around, Clara was astounded at the stillness and serenity of being where she was supposed to be; although, she imagined someone at the village was probably a little concerned, if they had noticed her missing.
The wind shifted slightly, and Clara breathed deeply, feeling the fragrance and the freshness swirl within her. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the rough planks of the old bench. For a time her mind drifted on the notes that seemed to encircle the area.
“MY people.” The words spoke from nowhere within her mind. Clara opened her eyes and looked around. There were certainly more people gathered on the lawn. Smiling, laughing, singing, playing games. It was almost crowded.
“Quite a diverse crowd; don’t ya think?”
Clara looked up and saw a policeman standing over her shoulder. The tag on his uniform said, “John Reese”.
“Johnny Reese, is that you?”
“It certainly is, Miz Osborne. I saw you sitting here and felt I really needed to come over and say howdy; not to mention, that there are a few people who are mighty concerned about where you are right now.”
“Oh my goodness, Johnny, can’t a person take a walk without getting in trouble anymore?”
“Well, I seem to remember that you never let me just walk out of English class. In fact, I seem to remember we did have to ask permission to leave.”
“Now, don’t you lecture me, young man. I am just a little bit…” Clara started.
“I know, I know, but you know they care about you. Not to mention that Bonnie Belle is raking them over the coals as we speak.”
“I know, but now that you know where I am, can’t a woman just sit a spell. I promise I’ll head back to the village shortly.”
“Tell you what, Miz Osborne, seeing as how you’re the only teacher who really encouraged me way back in junior high, I’ll call the home back and tell them I’ll be bringing you back shortly. You got your phone with you?”
“Of course, I do. My daughter would have a conniption if I didn’t have it in my bag every day. Not that I use it all that much. Not many of my friends left these days.”
Johnny reached down an patted her shoulder. “Well, if you just hand it over, I’ll plug in my personal number. You just call me when you’re ready to go back, and I’ll give you a ride. In fact, if you don’t mind, I might call you every now and then. I got a junior high daughter that is driving me nuts and I could use some advice. My mom passed on a year ago. I didn’t realize how much I would miss her advice until she was gone.”
“Johnny, I knew when I had you in English, that someday, you would be a classy young man,” her voice cracked as she handed over her phone. She hadn’t realized how much she longed to stay. Lifting her hand, she rubbed the corner of her eyes to stop the tears’ paths.
Officer Reese touched her shoulder again as he returned her phone. “You know, I wish I was off work, so I could stay as well. There is still so much I feel you could teach me, and there is something…” his voice drifted off as his ever observant eyes searched the area. The hyper senses had saved his life multiple times during his times overseas, were picking up something, and it was like nothing he had ever encountered before – on or off the job.
Clara watched him walk away. She felt content watching him. He had listened so intently in class, and she could see he still was listening and gaining wisdom. Johnny changed a lot when he moved to that city a time ago. ‘What was the name…oh well.’ she sighed and closed her eyes as she listened to one of those newer hymns that Dee was singing next to her. What did they call it? Oh yes, a praise song:
“We are standing on holy ground
For I know that there are angels all around …”
Clara didn’t know the words very well, but her voice hummed softly along with the others. Time passed, other songs were sung, and Clara just enjoyed watching it all. She opened her eyes and found that even more people were gathered in the grassy quadrant of the courthouse, and it was such a beautiful spring day. She sighed and closed her eyes again as if she could absorb it better without her sight. However, she supposed that it was about time to return to the village and was reaching into her purse when the bright light pulled her eyes upwards.
“What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.” 2 Timothy 2:2
CLARA OSBORNE: TEACHER
Buried in soft folds, rheumy eyes…
Crinkly winkles that hold laughter’s sparkles
and slow, lazy rivers of wisdom grasped.
29 thousand plus days….
Buried in files upon files of memory
cradled in elongated, tubal physicalities.
Dusty remnants of a life endured…
Until it encompassed creation’s holiness
In swirls of finely spun, golden hued