Sunday, June 5, 2022

FAMILY MATTERS - Chapter 11


 





                        Chapter 11


Kathy and Delaney were downstairs on that Sunday afternoon. back from a downtown lunch. Still shaken by Gary’s sudden departure, Kathy was getting ready for her return to Newport. 

I was upstairs in the family room when Nell poked her head in from the hallway. “I’m on my way to the Garden Club tour with Trudy,” she said.

Perhaps she was seeking some kind of closure when she added, “I hope you’re over that silly ‘winter in Arizona’ idea you were getting all excited about this morning. I really don’t want to hear any more of that kind of talk.”

“Tell me,” I grumbled. “How did I manage to find the only lady in all of Tanner who hates warm, sunny winters?”

“That’s not true. You just haven’t thought it through. That’s all. Besides, just think how bad the timing would be if we did that.” 

There she was, about to add a new layer to her argument. “We finally have Kathy here in Tanner, and Delaney too. For the first time in years we’re together. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be real family holidays. Why would you want to miss out on that?”

I leaned back, silently listening, knowing it was not a good time to be interrupting....not when she was off on her family kick.

“And then, before you know it, it’ll be spring again,” Nell continued. “How could we be gone then? The weeds don’t stop growing just because we’ve left town. If I give them a head start I’ll never catch up. The whole garden would go to pot.” 

Tugging at her purse strap, she was ready to end our skirmish and be on her way. “Can’t you see?” she said, starting down the hall. “There’s no reason for us to go anywhere? Everything a retirement is supposed to be is right here.”

I was a step behind her as she made her escape. Before she reached the door I had hold of her arm, pulling her to a stop. It was the first summer of my retirement. Already, three months had slipped away. And what did we have to show for it? To date our retirement travels had consisted of two weeks at the coast and a pair of totally-boring garden tours in Portland. 

“Can’t you see what you’re describing?” I asked. “Your idea of retirement will have us sitting on the patio, watching the world go by. Yet we both know that every day the end is coming a little closer. We only have so many years, you know. Why should we spend them sitting around doing nothing?”

That bit of wisdom won Nell’s wicked little laugh. “Will you stop being like that? I assure you, I won’t be spending my time ‘sitting on the patio.’ I won’t be watching anything ‘go by.’ I’ll be doing things, not wasting my time running around in a stupid motor home.” 

There was no sense in fighting that fight again. I was ready to let it go, at least until Nell stepped up to add her parting shot.

“Here’s the thing, Dan Padgett. If you can’t bring yourself to spend your retirement here, with me and our family, then why don’t you just go off and see the world on your own, like you want to. Maybe that would make us both happier.”

Before I realized what I’d done, my palm slammed down on the small entry-hall table, sending Nell’s address book skidding to the floor. I took a few awkward seconds to retrieve the scattered papers before standing to make my point. By then I was loud enough to have her blinking in surprise. 

“You know damn well I don’t want to go anywhere by myself. Whatever I’m doing I want to do with you. I’ve never wanted anything else.” I paused, trying for a more conversational tone. “I’ve told you a dozen times, everything is better when you’re there.”

“There you go again, not hearing a word I said. You just rattle on about seeing places and doing things.” 

For an instant her grim scowl struck me as a bit menacing. “Don’t you remember?" she continued. "We’ve already been everywhere....Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans. I could go on and on. We’ve been all over the place. And we’ve always gone together.”

“And how did we get to those places?” I countered. I had rehearsed that part of my reply a few times, hoping for a chance to use it. “I’ll tell you how. We flew clear across the country to some convention. We saw airports and fancy hotels, and hardly anything in between. 

“We were always in such a hurry we missed the real stuff. When you add it all up, we haven’t really seen much at all. We hit a few high spots, that’s all. But now we finally have the time to do it right, to take our time and see the parts we missed.”

“I can assure you.” I was hearing Nell at her sarcastic best. “You would not enjoy seeing all those ‘parts we missed’ with me. And neither would I. I’d be miserable the whole time, knowing I should be here at home.”

“Hells bells, Nell. Will you listen to yourself?” I was pacing, to the end of the hall and back. “You’re making no sense at all.”

“How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t like you swearing like that.”

“Swearing?”

“Yes, swearing. You may think that’s necessary when you’re with that bunch at the Elks Club, but it doesn’t belong in our home. Especially not when your granddaughter is living here.”

“Come on, lady. I’m not swearing. Besides, you can bet that girl knows.....” About then her icy glare brought me up short. I felt my hands clenching into tight fists as my frustration gave way to outright anger.

“Do you have any idea how it feels?” I finally sputtered. “To want something so bad, and be told over and over you can’t have it. I’ve tried everything I can think of to make you understand. It feels like I must be speaking a different language.”

“Of course I know how it feels.” Her aggressive determination was as loud as mine. “If you’d stop talking long enough to listen, you’d know that’s exactly how I feel every time you tell me that what I want is wrong, or stupid.”

I turned away, telling myself to calm down. What was the sense of upsetting her even more. A moment later my own pleading words were doing just that.

“Just imagine being on a leash your whole life?” I was trying for a matter-of-fact tone. Her frown signaled that I was missing the mark, probably by a mile. 

“That’s what a job is, you know....something that ties you to one place and takes all your time in exchange for a paycheck. And now that I’ve finally worked my way past all that, here you are telling me I need to get a hobby or something, to be satisfied with some new kind of leash.

“Well I tried that, remember? I started on some of that last year, ‘getting ready for retirement,’ I called it. You haven’t forgotten that, have you?

"There was the woodworking stuff, the fancy table saw I never did like. I even looked at Jerry’s lapidary stuff, at least long enough to figure out that I don’t even like rocks.” I banged a fist into my palm and fired off a last salvo. “It’s like I’m still on that leash, watching other people do what they want and not being able to do that myself.

“You do understand, don’t you?” I asked, trying for a last bit of logic. “We’re not going to be healthy forever. You’ve seen how that works. Just look at our friends at church, the ones who keep getting sick or going off to a nursing home. Wouldn’t you like to have a real retirement before that happens to us? That’s all I’m asking.”

Nell was buttoning her jacket, ready for her garden tour. I was half expecting her to unload on me one last time....loud and angry. Instead, she pulled the front door open, then paused to offer her quiet, almost-whispered parting. 

“You’re right, of course,” she said. “It’s time for you to let yourself off that leash you’re talking about. It’s obvious that your own home and your own family aren’t enough to keep you here, so why don’t you just go.”

“Alone. By myself?”

“Yes. Alone. There’s no reason for any more debate. You’d be happier doing your thing. And so would I. I’m ready for some peace and quiet while you go off and see the world.”

Seconds later, shielding the tears I could tell were coming, she slammed the door behind her, leaving me there to make sense of her unexpected declaration.



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