By Laura Grimes
I said hello and called her name. She sat on the side of her twin bed, reading an aged book. She didn’t respond. I called her name again. I stood in front of her for several moments. I raised my voice. Nothing. I finally stooped down and looked into her face.
Josephine raised her head just a little, looked at me and smiled. She put a mark in her book and closed it. Gold serif type spelled out two words on the blue cloth cover: Silent Spring.
I put my bag on the floor and moved a portable potty out of the way to give her a sideways hug.
I looked at her square in the front again. “Hello,” she said cheerfully. “It’s been a long time.”
“I know. I never meant to stay away so long.” It had been more than four months.
I looked around for the low wooden stool I usually sit on and found it under a wastebasket. She was wearing a purple dress with white polka dots, the material a thin synthetic. Two strands of Mardi Gras beads matched the color of her dress, one of little hearts and one of little dice. She wore a short-sleeve jacket with a cut out lacy design on the collar, all white like her hair.
She rummaged around. “I was going to tell you what books I’ve been reading.” She picked up a piece of paper and checked a list.
“I read Huckleberry Finn again. I like to read books again. Meditations by Marcus Arelius. I wasn’t very happy about that. I don’t think Marcus Arelius realized there was another sex. Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
“You’re on a Jules Verne kick.”
“You’re on a Jules Verne kick,” I said louder.
“I ought to,” she nodded, as if I had suggested she do something.
She checked her list again. “Little Dorrit. I started to read Anna Karenina, but I had great difficulty reading it and I had to give up. My right eye is getting clouded over, which is affecting my reading.”
She showed me a story she had written. It was nearly two pages, typed. She wanted to have it published in The Columbian. It was about when she and her husband, Pat, lived in Boston. He came home from work and she was eager for him to drive her to see the surf. It was stormy and the waves were big. Their car was small. It took them a long time to get home because trees blocked the streets and water covered the low areas. Near the end, she wrote of an account of how a man had bought a new barometer. It was stuck on “hurricane” so he took it back to the store to complain. When he got home again his house was gone.
The storm they trudged through came to be known as The Great Hurricane of 1938.
I handed the papers back to her. “How have you been?” I asked.
“I’m getting old. I’m feeling all of my 93 years, and I don’t want to live to be a hundred.”
“It’s just not comfortable. I have pains here and there. Nothing I can do about it.”
She recently memorized the nine muses, and she happily recited them:
- Calliope – epic poetry
- Clio – history
- Erato – lyric poetry
- Euterpe – music
- Melpomene – tragedy
- Polyhymnia – sacred poetry
- Terpsichore – dance
- Thalia – comedy
- Urania – astronomy
The muses are handwritten in a small, thick book with blank, lined pages. Another page has a list of songs such as Amazing Grace, My Wild Irish Rose and Winter Wonderland. Another page has a list of fairy tale themes such as “Old women are usually wicked witches.” Another page has all the U.S. Supreme Court justices.
One page says simply in all uppercase printing:
As I scribbled the words, she said, “When I think of you, I think of you sitting there writing. Have you been writing?”
I smiled. “A little bit.”
I noted the time and said I have to go. I gathered my things. I moved the portable potty to give her a sideways hug. I put the low wooden stool back under the wastebasket. I stooped down so she could see my face. I smiled, blew her a kiss and waved goodbye.
She grinned and blinked her eyes.
by Josephine Paterek
Slick smooth trough
The wave topples and then reforms
Into bubbling crest–
Slick smooth trough–
And again–and again–and again,
In the long sea swell or the choppy bay
Or the crashing surf on the desolate beach.
The surge and excitement of new enterprise;
The tranquil reflection in the aftermath.
Days when assurance beats the proud drum.
Nights when foreboding sinks into despair.
A vagrant sea breeze riffles the surface
As the plans of others cross our paths,
But the undersea swell remains the same,
The shape of the beat …
ILLUSTRATION: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 1962 Houghton Mifflin Company Boston/Photo courtesy Amazon.com.
Meet Josephine in Chapter 1 here.