by Alan Davies
What A Character Entry
|Word Count 1,346
WISDOM IN THE GARDEN
Millicent Covington was wealthy. She was not the type of comfortable wealthy like some; no, she was very rich, worth over three hundred million. This had been true her whole life. Her wealth had never made her happy, nor sad; it had simply always been so; until now.
Millicent was 92, and her nephew was becoming insistent that she leave her home, which she’d lived in since birth.
Millicent went by Millie to her closest friends, but to Nathaniel, her nephew, she was Auntie Millicent.
Tall and willowy, her back straight, her legs strong her eye site sufficient, except for reader-cheaters she wore to read the damn micro sized printing on some of her pill bottles.
Nathaniel’s relentless campaign to get her to leave her home and accept the idea of living in an assisted living center had started with one of those damned pill bottles.
It was six weeks ago that Millie had grabbed a pill bottle. She couldn’t see the label clearly but it was certainly her Calcium +D pills which her doctor had insisted she take for her bone density. Her reader-cheaters were in the library, and she sure wasn’t going to walk back down two stair cases to take a couple of vitamins.
They were not vitamins, and for the first time in the ten years since being forced to wear Rapid Response Personal Alert device around her neck, she pressed the button.
The paramedics arrived and though they did transport her to San Francisco General, she was released the very next day.
This single simple mistake was the catalyst for her nephew’s relentless push for her to leave her home.
Millie was not alone in The Covington Mansion on Nob Hill; she had two cooks, several house keepers and a personal assistant.
Nathaniel’s argument for her commitment to Serenity Acres in Palo Alto had become the agreed upon position by her entire family; so talking to any of them would bring no relief.
She was very upset every time the phone rang or the door bells chimed. Nathaniel or one of his compatriots would either be on the phone or in the entry hall. Of course there would be pleasantries, even gifts, then without fail; the visitor would bring up the accident express their deep concern and then begin telling her about the benefits of living at Serenity Acres in Palo Alto.
This was driving Millie half mad! She was 92; she had been widowed 32 years ago, and had taken care of herself and the responsibilities of the Covington Mansion and the multiple business interests that her great grandfather had begun when he arrived in San Francisco Bay from Hong Kong in the late 1800’s.
Even the household staff around her had joined Nathaniel’s drive to persuade her to give in to his wishes for her safety, which could only be satisfied by her moving to Serenity Acres.
She was just plain upset. She could not rid herself of the shadow over her heart and mind. She knew where to go to be rid of this feeling. She had been going there for respite and revival for a very long time.
Acres and acres of beauty, flowers of such variety and colors no one who ever walked the gardens there could possibly have any doubt that God had created these things and given us the gifts to care for them; all found within Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Gardens, acres of landscaped gardens and thousands different kinds of plants from around the world.
As beautiful as this place was, it was not the beauty of it alone that caused her to run there when she was upset. It was not the place; it was her friend Moses.
Millie met Moses over 74 years ago. The first time was when she was just 18, the summer of 1940 during "The Season." and the night of her coming out. (Not to be confused with the current idea of coming-out now in San Francisco!) There were a number of specific social events connected with the season, but the most important event for Millicent, according to her mother, aunt, and grandmother was her formal entrance into society of the young women of the upper class.
Coming out was a very Victorian ritual with its origins well before her time; yet for the daughters of the Nob Hill aristocracy, this meant presentation at Court. This commonly occurred when a young woman reached the age of eighteen and was, in the words of one etiquette book "the hall-mark demanded of those who aspire to fashionable life."
Millie hated every aspect of these events which to her was ridiculously old fashioned for modern young women in 1940!
It had been determined that the most sensible match for her would be with Norman Livingston the Third. He was ridiculously homely, had a laugh like a donkey’s bray, breath like the alley ways in the Bowery and was very grabby.
The night she was supposed to be alone with him in the parlor, she fled to a taxi having no idea where to tell the driver to take her, she blurted out, “Golden Gate Park, the Botanical Gardens please!”
When she got out of the cab she was instantly aware of her ridiculous attire! There she stood in a Schiaperelli Gown, Midnight blue velvet w/ plum rayon side panels, strapless, boned & fitted bodice, wide bell-shaped skirt, with iridescent blue glass buttons w/ stylized black center cross. Imported from Schiaparelli, 21 place Vendome, Paris.
Suddenly tears began to flow, which upset her more! Here she was weeping when she wanted to be yelling, screaming and ripping off her beautiful and insanely expensive dress.
“Come over here, sit down and tell me what has such a beautiful young woman as you crying on such a wonderful summer’s evening.”
The soothing husky voice came from a black man who was not too much older than Millie.
To her amazement she did sit on the bench (a discreet distance from him).
“I’m surrounded by people who want me to marry a hideous jerk!” she said, amazing herself at the force of her words, and immediately sure she should apologize the grounds keeper.
“I’m so sorry, how rude of me to shout at you.”
“Shout all you like...maybe go give that bag of peat moss a swift kick or two!” he suggested with a wide smile that caused Millie to smile and consider her foot wear’s ability to do as he suggested.
“I should have worn boots.” She said gamely, laughed, her heart suddenly lighter.
She focused on her companion on the bench under a beautiful dogwood tree in full bloom.
He was truly ebony black, about as black as a man could be, she imagined. His green grounds keeper shirt had “Moses” embroidered in a white oval patch over his left pocket.
That night he simply listened and laughed a wonderful deep chuckle as she described her life.
“I know it sounds spoiled and maybe crazy to be complaining about my life in one of the great houses on Nob Hill, or as you may have called it “Snob Hill”, but I’m trapped by traditions from the 18th century!
“I’ve never called it that. My father started me out with taking care of gardens up on the hill. I loved all of those grand homes.”
The fell into a comfortable banter until Moses flagged another cab for her and sent her back to her life, inviting her to come talk “any time”.
Millie called a cab; it was time to go visit with Moses. He was older than her. Long retired, but sure to be found at the gardens on the same bench where they had first spoken.
As she rode in the cab she realized that just knowing she was going to talk to Moses was cheering her. How many events had they talked through? Marriages, births, deaths, wars and always he brought her peace and joy, helping her reframe aspects of her life and his.