03 June 2010
Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com
I remember my very first best friend. Her name was Ruth Smudrick. She was a lady ensconced behind her son's house in a pale burgundy trailer home. I discovered her one day at the same time I discovered her roses. We hit it off and after my parents approved of my visits, I would go see her almost every day. These were quiet times, when kids were pushed outdoors in the morning and didn't come home til it was very nearly dark. In time, I felt a love for this woman like my own grandmother, and learned how many different kinds of roses there really were in the world.
I remember the inside of her house like it was yesterday: dark, cool‑the gentle hum of the window unit as it ran non-stop. She played old-time radio and made fig preserves from our tree that grew on the property line between our yard and theirs.
Her son was flashy and drove a big black Lincoln. Shiny, with leather interior. I got to sit in it once. It was brand new, just like everything else behind their grand white two-story home. But Ruth's house was a modest place, everything in its place: a small table with two metal chairs predating the atomic age, a recliner that she said belonged to her husband. He was in Heaven, she said.
"There isn't a heaven like that," I said. "People wait, like the elders at church teach us." I was raised Jehovah's Witness, and they didn't believe in going to heaven, except for 144,000 people. Mom says those were the old ones, like Ruth maybe. She didn't know.
I loved to hear her talk. She was like a magnet for me. She wore flowered dresses and black orthopedic shoes. She said the white ones got dirty too easy. She kept sales brochures around, and wore an id bracelet that said she had diabetes. She made sugary treats, because I liked them, and I came nearly every day.
Then one day, dad brought home a big, big truck with the ominous "U-HAUL" emblazoned on the sides. Mom told me to tell Ruth goodbye, and that we would come visit. I hugged Ruth and cried. She always smelled good and her hair was always curled. She went into her bedroom, the room I never saw before. I followed her and saw pictures of her husband. I saw pictures of her flashy son when he was still just a kid. She opened an ancient oak trunk and pulled out a carefully-wrapped package. It was a quilt. She said she'd made it from scraps collected over a few years. It was warm, and she wanted me to have it.
I got in the big truck with dad and we drove away, the monster burdened with our house-full of things. Mom and I visited her at her house once, but it wasn't the same. It wasn't just me and Ruth and mom kept telling me not to touch Ruth's things, when before Ruth let me touch her knickknacks as long as I didn't break them.
I wanted to visit again, but mom got a phone call. Ruth was in the hospital. Mom stopped at the store and I picked out some nice orange flowers. They weren't marigolds, but it was the closest thing I could find.
The lady in the bed didn't look quite as plump as Ruth had been. I gave her the flowers and recognized her by her smile. We hugged again, careful not to pull the tubes from her arms. It was the last time I ever saw her.
I hope she made it to heaven.