In early 1989 I was living in a small two room apartment on West 42nd Street in Richmond, VA. In response to my invitation, an elderly woman living across the street in a beautiful home her husband built as a wedding gift, and her companion, a spinster of “reduced circumstances” came to afternoon tea. Both were of the generation to wear nylon stockings, white gloves and small lace veiled fascinator atop blue tinted hair.
After a lovely conversation where I was quizzed about me, my family, etc. they decided to tell me, “Miss Campbell’s home, beside me, is for sale; why don’t you buy it? We’ll give you her brother’s contact information.”
So they did, so I did and in a late February snowstorm, I began carrying my belongings from my apartment to my new home. From the warm side of his window, the neighbor on the other side watched as I trudged back and forth but eventually, bundled against the cold, came outside, walked to the end of his porch and called out, “Do you need any help?”
“Puhleeze!” I thought. Seriously? Concerned I’d moved into the village of idiots, through frozen lips I called out, “Yes, please and thanks!”
Dave trudged over and from the looks of him, wasn’t going to be a lot of use in the heavy lifting department. I gave him a lamp or hassock or small box which he dutifully carried to my new abode.
After three trips, it seemed he might need a caffeine and nicotine break so I offered coffee. His eyes lit up in anticipation of both and he said, “Instant is just fine” to which I said, “I don’t think so” and started the coffee pot.
The ten minute break stretched into thirty as he, in the fine tradition of the ladies, quizzed me about why I was moving, how I found out about Miss Campbell’s house, etc. Then he admitted, “I thought you might be stealing from her house and knowing she was dead, thought I needed to call her brother.” Hmmmm.
I glanced at him and asked, “But if I were stealing, wouldn’t I be taking things out of, and not into, her house?”
His look was sheepish. “Oh, yeah.”
A couple three hours later he announced, “I’m hungry; how about going to supper with me?” After washing up, we met at his car and drove the few blocks to a neighborhood restaurant. He told me to choose anything I liked and began smiling when I ordered salad, baked potato and steak. He nodded appreciatively, “I’m so glad you’re not one of “those females” who say (which he did in a mincing voice”, “Oh, I’m not hungry, I’ll just eat a salad.”
I laughed. “Well, I am hungry and along with a salad, I’ll have a steak and potato. And, by the way, don’t expect sexual favors for this meal because that ain’t happening.”
He laughed, I laughed and as the meal progressed he told me Cathy, his wife, died eleven months earlier. As I listened, his grief was barely controlled and enormous pain evident in every breath and I began to glimpse the man who was capable of such love.
From that day, we were hardly ever apart even as he lived in his house and I lived in my cozy cottage. Every day, we would touch base, usually eating a meal together, sometimes going to the local pub but slowly making our way forward toward an uncertain future. He was battered and shattered from the months of Cathy’s illness and subsequent death from cancer while I was battered and shattered from too many broken relationships and, I’m ashamed to say it, two broken marriages. As with so many women, and perhaps men, in a quest for a spouse who was old fashioned, steadfast and true, foolishly, I chose men who were the exact opposite. Neither Dave nor I brought much to the table; nothing much except our naked and bare souls with the hope we would be treated gently and with great kindness. Neither were disappointed although it took six years for us to begin talking about a future with both of us living in the same house. From that first meeting, we began moving forward at glacial speed.