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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Miz Evelyn

Her house was diagonally across from the cemetery where William Faulkner is buried. The house had seen better days (so had Faulkner), but it retained a degree of sober elegance, much like its owner.

Miz Eveleyn was rail-thin, white-haired and her cane was more battering ram than walking stick. She moved slowly but implacably and forced herself to walk around the block on every sunny day; a 5-minute jaunt for me, a 45-minute epic for her.

She spoke clearly and directly, never wasting words. She rented out the second floor of her home because "Money is a tool and I need tools." She selected her tenants on two criteria: "Good manners and good grammar." A former English and literature teacher, she was forever challenging whomever she spoke with to "Drop that 'ain't'" and "Nothing is broken so don't say 'fixing'."

Her two great joys at the end of her life were baked potatoes and pancakes. During that lazy summer, I'd frequently bake a few potatoes and share them with her. A couple of times a week I'd mix up some pancake batter, knock on her door and make breakfast for us. She was always a gracious host and in the battle of wills over who would do the dishes, I won because I raced to the sink ahead of her.

She told me a little about her life. After getting married, she discovered that her husband "Was not good for anything or anyone," so in the mid-20s, in her mid-20s, she went to Europe and bicycled around the continent for two years. She came back because "Europe was headed for disaster." She didn't get a divorce because her husband "did the smart thing and died." I asked her if she missed him and she glared at me and asked "Would you miss a bad toothache?"

Our conversations that summer were frequent, but brief. I had my own interests, whatever they might have been, and Miz Evelyn reminded me too much of my paternal grandmother, in both looks and attitude. I felt drawn and repelled. The months went by, I saw her every day... and yet I didn't really see her.

What could I have learned from a woman who biked around Europe in the Jazz Age? And what could I have learned from a woman who referred to Faulkner as "Billy," as in "Billy was always a brat" and "Billy thought he was clever, but all he ever did was tell secrets?"

Miz Evelyn is gone now, when and how I'll never know. Youth often disdains old age, almost always for the wrong reasons. I missed a golden opportunity to explore a life utterly unlike my own, to live a time that will never return. I once read that what you do and regret you can recover from: what you don't do leaves a regret that never heals. How true.


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