Ed Colby: Memories of a good neighbor
Until a bold fox nabbed her three ducks in broad daylight, our good neighbor Irene herded them back to the duck house every evening.
“Ducks, ducks!” she’d call out. “Time for bed, my little ducks.”
The other day at Irene’s graveside service at the New Castle cemetery, the heat shimmered in waves off the baked earth, and the dried-up cheat-grass stubble crackled underfoot. The greenest thing up there was sagebrush. The thermometer read 98.
Shading herself with a parasol, the singer sauntered over to where Linda and I set up Linda’s keyboard. Mildred is up in years.
I introduced myself. I already knew, but I asked anyway: “I don’t suppose people call you `Millie,’ do they?”
“Everybody does,” she laughed.
Millie and Elmer run sheep up on the Flattops, and on their place behind Harvey Gap.
I said, “Mark and I were hunting arrowheads in the high country the other day, and this big Akbash sheep guard dog came bounding through the lupine. He wanted his ears scratched. The sheep were way down the road.”
“Oh, those dogs roam some,” Millie said. “They can be pretty friendly, but not all of them.”
When word came to unload the casket from the hearse, we lifted sweet Irene in her cherry-wood casket onto the suspension cradle above her grave. Then we “returned to our families,” as instructed.
Facing the crowd red-faced in the scorching heat, Father Bob spoke words of hope – no, certainty – and a better life beyond this mortal coil.
In these parts men doff their caps when a preacher speaks. The sun beat mercilessly onto my bald head as I stood holding Linda’s piano music against a dry wind.
Millie sat next to us and sang, “How Great Thou Art.” She never missed a note, not even a high one. When I heard the words, “When through the woods and forest glades I wander, I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,” Millie’s clear voice transported me to another, simpler, time. Or was it just the heat?
Irene’s son-in-law Steve accompanied Irene’s grandchildren on the guitar, as they sang:
“Some say they’re goin’ to a place called Glory, and I ain’t saying it ain’t a fact.
But I’ve heard that I’m on the road to Purgatory, and I don’t like the sound of that.
Well, I believe in love, and I live my life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.”
Millie got up, looking faint. I straightened her chair so she might sit again, but she said, “I’m fine.” Holding her parasol over Elmer, she said, “Now the shade does for all.”
After the service Father Bob said, “I just hired Linda.”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
He said, “I hired her to be our new church pianist.”
I said, “Did you convert her?”
“Didn’t have to,” he said.
On the way back I said to Linda, “Father Bob said you’re taking Sister Mary’s job.”
Linda said, “Actually, I told Father Bob we could talk about it. He said, `Thanks. That’s a load off my mind.’ And walked away.”
At the get-together at Chuck and Irene’s, the covered deck offered scant respite from the still-suffocating heat. I drank a Coke, then a beer, and suddenly I didn’t feel so great. I slipped away, stepped over the fence to our place, turned on the air conditioner in Linda’s piano studio and slept for a long time.
On the bright side, I did get to see some old friends. I got to meet Millie. It was a nice turnout and a good get-together afterward. Irene would have enjoyed it.
[Sometimes at dusk, when the Peach Valley heat finally breaks, ski patroller/beekeeper Ed Colby still hears Irene calling her ducks. Ed’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]
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