September 20, 2008

Bye George

I knew he was very sick, and very old. I even knew that he had gone to that part of the hospital you don't come out of. But I thought someone would tell me when he was gone, so I could go back and say goodbye. 

George and his wife Juanita are hallmarks of my growing up, and I frequently think of them. They were an older couple from the church I grew up in and had taken a special interest in the kids and young families, having adult children themselves with distant grandkids. 

Driving through the country just this afternoon, images of old country roads travelled at the onset of fall came to mind. I remember hiking through the woods and listening carefully for the distant hum of water falling into nameless brooks and rivers. They weren't nameless to George and Juanita. They took us to places we would never have seen or known about otherwise. Places where the snow holds on well past the logical end of winter. Where ragged ropes wind around the trunks of birches to steady a ten year olds descent to the water's edge. 

My family went to visit them fairly often, less as we got older. Juanita always had paper and markers for us to make her a picture. I was shocked as she pulled them out when I went to visit the weekend before I moved away to university. All of them were there, and not only mine, but that of every kid that had visited.

I remember walking by the river behind their house, listening to stories and learning the names of flowers and watching for the faeries at their apartment building (an old stump with mushrooms growing up the side). I remember my brother carelessly picking a ladies slipper and Juanita's honest reaction - she let us know gently that you're supposed to let these things grow. I remember their dog Sandy dragging me up the hill through the brush and hearing Juanita giggle at the top. 

When it got dark, we would go inside and chew on homemade maple syrup candy and squint at the thousands of slides they had developed over the years. Every flower, every insect, every rock on the shore was painstakingly catalogued, and they loved sharing it with us, even though we'd smudge them. They used to paddle down the river in the morning and photograph the flowers as they opened for the sun, and then again in the evening to watch them go to sleep. I remember talking in their living room after supper (or more likely listening to them talk) with their siamese cat Ming curled up on my lap.  

George and Juanita's flower garden was a masterpiece. I went to visit once after I had moved away and she showed me an easel she had set up so that when you looked through it the purple and white flowers were framed in such a way that it looked like ocean waves. There were hidden treasures like that everywhere. Little animals hidden behind trees and plants that in any other yard would be tacky, but there they were perfect.

Everything about their house was perfect and it was all up for sharing (I think I still have a book of theirs...). George had been a paratrooper during WWII and was an expert carpenter. Juanita was a painter, cook, reader. There have never been two people more meant for each other, and I can't imagine one without the other. 

George had dealt with cancer for a number of years and I knew he had been moved into palliative care, but I had assumed someone from the church would call us and let us know when he passed away. Tonight I was looking around the local paper's website and ran across his obituary. Needless to say I'm a little upset that no one let us know back on August 5th, but that's how it happened and here we are. 

In the little flower garden beside their front doorstep there was a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi with little ceramic animals gathered in front of him. In a frame leaning against the wall was this prayer. I think it fits perfectly.

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for your loss. :(