Up until a few days ago, we had a next door neighbor who lived on the second floor of our apartment. Her name is Pat, and she has beautiful gray hair and a broad, open face, with hardly a wrinkle on it, despite her years. She has a pear-shaped body and never fails to have a big bright smile on her face. I've never heard her say a negative word about anything. That might account for the absence of wrinkles.
She also has a hunch to her back, which makes it extremely difficult to get around. Some days I would watch her make her way up the stairs and wondered what it was like to live like that. She'd slouch down, and she'd grab on to the railing. Then, step by step, she'd shuffle her way up the stairs, resigned and determined. She'd never asked for help, even if she had a big load of groceries she had to carry up the stairs. Our friend Linda had informed us early on that she'd have been offended if we had asked. She wanted to do it on her own, and did not want anyone to make a big deal of her disability.
The only time she actually asked for anything was during the winters, when it would snow out. Then, she would let Corb and me shovel out her car for it. She drove a white PT Cruiser, and the retro look suited and framed Pat. I could just see her tooling around in her jaunty vehicle, adventuring in a classic car with that big confident smile on her face.
Anyway, about a week ago, we started noticing signs that Pat was moving. Came home one day to find two guys moving a couch out of her house. Her daughter was stopping by more frequently, carrying boxes. And then,one day, there was a big moving van there, and a steady stream of stuff was heading out of her place.
I managed to grab Pat during one of these streams. "You leaving us?" I asked, trying to keep things light and fluffy, just the way I thought she liked it.
She beamed, her bright intelligent eyes squinting slightly, as she nodded her head enthusiastically. "Yep! Tomorrow's my last day here." And then, as if she had to get it out. "Thanks for shoveling the car for me, all those times. You guys were a lot of help!"
"How about if she's going to a nursing home?" I fretted to Corb, later that night, in bed. "That back of hers might be getting worse. How about if she's not able to get around any more? I'd hate to see her sad. I'd hate to see her in a nursing home."
"Relax," said Corb. It was ten and he was anxious to get to sleep. He had been awake enough for one day. "She'll be fine. Don't worry." These were words he has to say quite a bit to me, by the way. He is well used to them.
The next morning was Saturday and I had to bring Theo to work early. As I made my way to the first floor, I looked outside, and I noticed that Pat's Cruiser was parked in the front. There was Pat, in the driver's seat. Oh God, I thought, this is her good-bye.
Then I noticed something else. Standing next to the Cruiser was Pat's daughter with a big ceramic lawn gnome in her hands. As I walked down, she placed the gnome on the roof of the car, right over Pat's head. She stood back to take a photo. Pat flashed a winning smile.
I allowed time for the photo to be taken, then walked out. Pat had a sheepish look on her face, as if I had caught her doing something she hadn't wanted anyone else to see, "We're going traveling," she called out, sounding happier than I've ever heard her. "He's coming with us."
Immediately, my mood lifted. This was eaxctly how I wanted to think about Pat! Traveling the country, seeing the sites, along with her daughter and her lawn gnome. Taking photos, sharing them with friends. Pat in DC, Pat at Mt. Rushmore. That big broad smile, those bright eyes, seeing the country, taking a road trip. Adventuring.
Was it one last trip before a nursing home? I don't want to know and I don't care. I just want to think of Pat perpetually discovering America. Eating at diners. Bringing her lawn gnome in for a nibble. No flat tires, no car trouble, just blue skies, apple pie, and sunshine. And, Pat.
If you happen to spot a white PT Cruiser driven by an older lady with a lawn gnome, say hi, won't you? That's probably my friend Pat. Roaming.