The summer visitor

August 16, 1994|By Beverly K. Fine

BORED WITH the speed and hassles of highway driving, my husband and I decided to take "the road less traveled" to the beach last summer.

A stop in a small, nondescript Eastern Shore town led to an incident that will forever remain in our memory.

It began simple enough. The traffic light at the corner of Main and Queen streets turned red. As we waited for the signal to change, I glanced at the faded red brick nursing home.

Seated on a white wicker chair on the front porch was an elderly lady. Her eyes, intent upon mine, seemed to beckon, almost implore me to come to her.

The traffic light turned green. Suddenly, I blurted, "Jim, park the car around the corner."

Taking Jim's hand, I headed toward the walkway to the nursing home. Jim stopped. "Wait a minute; we don't know anyone here." With the gentle persuasion that has been successful for most of our 47 years of marriage, I convinced my husband that my purpose was worthwhile.

The lady whose magnetic gaze had drawn me to her, rose from her chair and, leaning on a cane, walked slowly toward us.

"I'm so glad you stopped," she smiled gratefully. "I prayed that you would. Have you a few minutes to sit and chat?" We followed her to a shady, secluded spot on the side of the porch.

I was impressed by our hostess' natural beauty. She was slender, but not thin. Aside from a few wrinkles at the corners of her hazel eyes, her ivory complexion was unlined, almost translucent. her silky silver hair was tucked back neatly into a knot at the nape of her neck.

"Many people pass by here," she began, "especially in the summer. They peer from their car windows and see nothing more than an old building that houses old people. But you saw me, Margaret Murphy. And you took time to stop." Thoughtfully, Margaret said, "Some people believe that all old people are senile; the truth is that we're just plain lonely." Then, self-mockingly, she said, "But we old folks do rattle on, don't we?"

Fingering a beautiful diamond-framed oval cameo on the lace collar of her floral cotton dress, Margaret asked our names and where we were from. When I said, "Baltimore," her face brightened and, eyes sparkling, said, "My sister, bless her soul, lived on Gorsuch Avenue in Baltimore all of her life." Excitedly, I explained, "As a child, I lived just a few blocks away, on Homestead Street. What was your sister's name?" Immediately, I remembered Marie Gibbons. She had been my classmate and best girlfriend. For over an hour, Margaret and I shared reminiscences of our youth.

We were engaged in animated conversation when a nurse appeared. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she said pleasantly, "but it's time for your medication and afternoon nap, Miss Margaret." In the nurse's hands were a glass of water and two small pink tablets. "We've got to keep that ticker ticking, you know," she smiled, handing Margaret the medicine. Jim and I exchanged meaningful glances.

Without protest, Margaret swallowed the pills. "Can't I stay with my friends a few minutes longer, Miss Baxter?" Margaret asked. Kindly, but firmly, the nurse refused.

Miss Baxter extended her arm and helped Margaret from the chair. Margaret sighed. Jim and I assured her that we would stop and see her the next week when we returned from the beach. Her unhappy expression changed to gladness: "That would be wonderful," Margaret said.

After a week of sunny weather, the day Jim and I left for home was cloudy and damp. The nursing home seemed especially dreary under the slate-colored clouds.

After we waited for a few minutes, desk, Miss Baxter appeared. She handed us a small box with a letter attached. Then she held my hand as Jim read the letter:

"Dear Ones,

These past few days have been the happiest ones in my life since Henry, my beloved husband, died two years ago. Once more, I have a family I love and who cares about me.

Last night, the doctor seemed concerned about my heart problem. However, I feel wonderful. And while I am in this happy mood, I want to thank you for the joy you both have brought into my life.

Beverly dear, this gift for you is the cameo brooch I wore the day we met. My husband gave it to me on our wedding day, June 30, 1939. It had belonged to his mother. Enjoy wearing it, and I hope that someday it will belong to your daughters and their children. With the brooch comes my everlasting love.

Margaret"

Three days after our visit Margaret had died peacefully in her sleep.

Warm teardrops stained my cheeks as I held the cameo in my hands. Tenderly, I turned it over and read the inscription engraved on the sterling silver rim of the brooch: "Love is forever."

So are memories, dear Margaret, so are memories.

Beverly K. Fine writes from Baltimore.

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