From deep despair to a life worth living.
|Life is a wonderful journey. It takes us all down a different path, and yet for all those differences our personal experiences are shared. This is a story of one such journey. We have all experienced the ups and downs of life. Some travel up so far they never come back. Some travel to low points, and sometimes it is quite difficult to find the life line that we can pull ourselves up out of this pit of despair we find ourselves in. Some are blessed to find such a line. This is such a story.
I found myself traveling through the Texas Hill Country. It was spring and I was returning home to Colorado Springs from a much too boring sales convention held down in Houston. Why is it corporate types always seem to pick these places, that are just concrete and glass? Not too bad if you're a mall hopper I'm sure, but if it's the rejuvenation of natural wonders that gets your blood to flowing staying in a big city can be quite depressing to say the least. It's why I drive instead of flying.
So here I was in the area near Brenham, Tx, and the beauty of the wildflowers along US 290, were working their wonderful magic on my soul. The deep blues of the bluebonnets, Texas' state flower, with splashes of red paintbrush and pink and white buttercups, offset by the bright yellow daisies and sunflowers, were almost overwhelming. The thing about this magical area is, that no matter which road you choose, every curve and every hill brings forth a new vista for your own personal enjoyment.
So I decided to take a side trip down an old country blacktop two lane road. FM something or another. You see out in Texas they call them FM roads meaning farm to market. Goes back to when it was all farmland. I came over about my third hill and there was a broken down truck on the side and all I could see was a lady up under the hood, so I thought I'd stop and offer assistance if I could. Not that I'm a mechanic mind you , but if nothing else I could get the lady home or let her use my phone to call for help.
I pulled over and got out and walked back to where she was. Her dog started barking furiously from the front seat. I hesitated as she looked up to see what her dog was so excited about. She just looked at me turned to her dog and told her to shush. I said " Howdy ma'am. Can I help you? "
" Not unless you know something about old trucks." she answered.
" Well I know a little. Can I take a look? "
" You're more'n welcome to, but I think she done gave up the farm."
" My names Justin. Justin Simpleton."
" Mine's Elloree Clayton. Folks 'round here just call me Ell. Where you from Mr. Simpleton?"
" Please. Call me Justin. Was born in Houston, but I call Colorado Springs home now. I see your problem. There's a hole in your radiator hose. Got a knife?"
" Sure thing. Hold on a sec."
As she went fishing in her box in the back I asked, " What's your dog's name?" The dog was watching me like a hawk. She let out a whine.
" That would be Molly. She's a little protective of me. Don't mind her none, she don't bite. She's my little savior." As if sensing she was being talked about her tail started wagging quickly, as she kept looking from Ell to me. " Here ya go." She handed me a razor knife, and we returned to the engine.
" She seems really protective of you, like she wants to take after me."
" Yeah she excitable 'round strangers. I don't think she'd do anyone any harm though."
" So tell me Ell. What did you mean when you said she was your savior?"
" Sometimes I wonder about that. Seems like we kinda saved each other, truth be told."
" Sounds like an interesting story there. Mind sharing it with me?" As I finished the repair I asked if she had any water. After informing me she didn't I said not to worry, I have some spare coolant. I was pouring the coolant in and she said," I'd like to pay you for your time and your coolant."
" Tell you what Ell. If you know of a good place to eat, you can share your story with me, how you came about, Molly, Wasn't it?"
" OK. I guess I could do that. But if your not too particular how about coming up to the house, and I could whup us up some good eats. What do you like?"
" I'm good with just about anything, but breakfast would be good."
" Breakfast it is then. Just follow me up."
So I followed her in her old green '69 Ford pickup. She said it was on it's last leg , but there wasn't a whiff of smoke coming from that old girl. As I followed her I noticed Molly sitting in the passenger seat watching her and stealing glances my way. We had gone about a mile when we turned right onto a dirt rut road. Man was she ever kicking up dust. I stayed as close as I dared, yet it was still hard to see.
I'm not quite sure what I expected when we got there, but I assure you I wasn't ready for what I saw as we went around the last bend and up over a slight rise. A vast meadow as far as the eye could see, a carpet of many colored wildflowers. Such a crisp blue sky day, with evergreens off in the distance, and then I saw the house. My goodness! A two story white clapboard, with a porch running all the way across the front. Trimmed in a soft blue-gray color, a yard well kept and out buildings of various sizes, painted in rustic red.
I was lost in my wonderment at the beauty of it all when she rapped on the passenger side window. Gave me a start, and she laughed. Ell is a one of a kind woman. Dressed in a blue denim shirt and jeans, she looked to be in her early 60's maybe, and such a nice pleasant smile, set off by her light blue eyes and shoulder length gray hair pulled back in a ponytail. I was beginning to wonder if I had stepped through the looking glass. Molly was healed by her side, as she kept her wary eyes on me. A mix breed I was sure, but of what I had no idea. She was a muscular dog of about 60 pounds, with a black and white short hair coat, and these deep brown eyes that you felt could look right through you.
As we headed up to the house I asked, " Such a beautiful place, how long you lived here?"
" Oh I don't know. Pretty much most of my life. Moved here when I got married. Mmm. Let's see. I reckon pert near 75 years."
" If you don't mind my asking,.." I didn't get to finish the sentence before she cut me off.
" How old I am?"
" You read my mind."
She giggled. " I never get used to people asking that. Seems like everyone wants to know. I'm 78, and come the end of the month, I'll be 79."
" Man, was I way off."
" How old did you think I was?"
" As silly as it sounds, I had you pegged in your early 60's."
She let out a bark of laughter, " Well I guess being out here tends to keep one young, but no, I ain't no spring chicken."
As we walked around back she continued, " There's the barn. Don't have much use for it anymore, except for storage." We entered through a wood and screen door into a screened in porch, with a gray painted floor of wood. A bench and an abundance of potted plants of every size and shape, all green and flowering with many colors. Hanging baskets of Spider plants of various species. Like a jungle in there. Crossed over through the kitchen door, and as she opened it, the sound of a cow bell broke the silence.
" Ell said, " Why don't you head on down the hall there, and on the right you'll find the bathroom. Thought you might want to get washed up before we eat. "
So I dutifully went to wash up, as she busied herself in the kitchen. Ahh. The lived-in smell of an old house. All wood floors, with various pictures along the hall, and throw rugs at each rooms entryway. The bathroom had an old white pedestal sink, the cracked porcelain stained from many years of use. Her tub was four legged cast iron with a white porcelain coating, and stains of rust at the faucet end. So many good memories of my relatives came to mind, of when I was growing up and we'd go vsiting as country folk like to say. Spent many an hour in that tub of theirs, thriving off my imagination.
As I returned to the kitchen I could smell the coffee brewing, mixed with the fresh smell of bacon frying in the pan. As I entered Molly turned her attention from the stove to me, and didn't turn around till I sat at the yellow formica and aluminum trim table. Ell was humming as she cooked. She poured some coffee and set it in front of me.
" You need some milk or sugar?" she asked.
" No. This is fine. So tell me, Ell. How did you come by Molly?"
As she returned to her cooking she started to tell the story.
" Well there's really not that much to tell. Long about 8 years ago my husband Marcus passed."
" I'm sorry."
" Thank you. It was after a long battle with cancer, so his passing was a blessing of sorts."
" How long were you married?"
" Almost 53 years. We were high school sweethearts. As far as I was concerned, he was the handsomest boy I'd ever seen, and I knew I was gonna marry him after our first date." She grew silent for a time in that far away moment. She finished up our eggs and bacon, and continued between bites.
" We were so happy then. The Korean conflict came along, but he was rejected, due to a hearing problem. He was quite despondent. As for me, I must admit I was relieved. Anyway, as our years went by he became quite the farmer. Even did a little ranching. He was so very good to me. I just never seen how the good Lord saw fit to bless me so wonderfully. We had 3 children. Mary, John, and Timothy. I lost a forth in labor and wasn't able to bear him anymore."
After she cleared the table and set the dishes to soak, we moved out to the front porch. Like the back porch, it had blue-gray wooden floors but no screen. In the front of the house was a large patch of dirt surrounding the most majestic and gnarled oak tree you ever saw. It was as wide as the house was long. Hard to believe I hardly noticed it as I pulled around back.
Sunlight was dancing on the ground as a breeze gently flowed through it's expansive green branches. A few chickens wandered aimlessly as squirrels skittered in the tree. Molly catching site of them stood attentively wagging her tail as she watched them carefully. She continued.
" Let's see. Where was I? Oh yes. We watched our children grow up here, and many a set backs as the years so quickly passed. We got through them all together. I never got tired of him coming through the back door, with his muddy boots and sweat stained hat. My heart would jump with joy when he would look at me and smile."
From the look on her face you could tell her strong love for him hadn't diminished at all.
" Anyway after he passed it was like being lost. Maybe a better way of putting it would be, set adrift in a row boat on a lake, without a rudder or paddle to get anywhere with. I just didn't think I could go on. Oh don't get me wrong. My friends and children came by quite regularly. It's just so big a whole in my soul I didn't want to go on. One day as I was sitting here by myself, in limps this half grown pup. I was wallowing so deep in self pity, I didn't even take notice of her at first.
Her whimpering finally got my attention. So finally after about a half hour of just staring each other down I got up and took her in the house. Called the vet and he saw to her injuries. Turns out she had a broken hip."
" Wow. How did that happen?"
" Well we figured she got hit by a car or something. The vet suggested I give her to the pound to put her down, but when I looked down into her eyes she looked like she was smiling back at me. My heart just melted. I told him to fix her up and bring her back here. I tried to find her owner, but no one came forward. Shortly after he brought her back, she would limp around behind me everywhere I went. I finally saw how bad I had let this place become. So I spent many days cleaning it up. The kids came by with the grandkids, and Molly is just so gentle with them. We been friends ever since."
As if on cue when she heard her name, she came over to get some attention from Elle who obliged her with some ear scratching. " Yep. If it weren't for her needing me so much, I'm not sure I would ever have come out again. My children couldn't be happier, they said it was as though I had been in a far away place, and just going through the motion. Know what I mean? But my girl here brought me back. I believe my husband saw and sent her to me. Whether or not that's true, who can say. One thing I learned. It sure helps to have someone to look after, even if she is only a dog."
I was filled with joy at the telling. I guess it showed, because she laughed an easy laugh. In that moment I knew why Marcus had loved this woman. She was joyful. She excused herself, because she had somewhere to go. We said our farewell, and as I drove on down the road, I finally understood the real value of a dog, and thought of my family and children.
You see it is the people in our lives that matter. When they leave it is as though we have this gaping hole in our soul longing to be filled. I finally understood what my wife meant we she said to me, I love you. I vowed in that moment to change my priorities. Time for a new job that would allow me to stay closer to home. I called home. To hear my wifes voice as she answered... well I had to pull over.
I told her my plans to change jobs. She told me the kids had been bugging her about getting a dog. I laughed. Told her if she could wait till I got home, we'd all go down to the shelter and pick one out.
By Paul Farrell