Saturday, January 14, 2012

Counting Days, Counting Flowers

The woods at Barholomew's Cobble where Floyd and I often walked...
I read a wonderful story at this site about a decades-ago friendship between two young girls and a 40 year old man that asked the question - could that kind of friendship even be possible in today's world? The answer, of course, and sadly, is no. But it put me in mind of my own childhood and a wonderful man, single, in his forties, caretaker at several city-people-owned houses in our rural community who took the time to befriend and teach a solitary little girl about the wonder of the natural world and the power of words.

Floyd was an old friend. Together we'd walked many a woodland trail and winding road. It was Floyd who taught me in my childhood the names of the trees and plants that bordered the roadside and populated the forests. He taught me how to shoot a rifle one morning and make a strawberry shortcake that afternoon. He awakened in me an interest in poetry, for often while we walked he would recite from memory long verses by some of his favorite authors. We kept in touch even as I graduated from high school, went off to college, married, and traveled to far places. He was one of the first people I looked up when I returned to live in my childhood hometown.

Years passed but we still found time to walk together. Then one spring, Floyd fell ill. I visited him as he lay in a hospital bed, unable to move his legs at all. There would be no more walks for us, I realized. Floyd looked at me, stalwart and not a bit sorry for himself. "I have no feeling in my legs," he said. "I imagine I'll go from here to the graveyard but maybe you'll keep me company here for a while."

Always before, Floyd had been the giver, I the receiver. Over the next few weeks that changed. Now it was my turn to give. Every day I found an hour or two to spend at his bedside. I brought him bits of news from around town, read letters from his friends and articles from the newspaper. I even published one about our friendship. That made him smile. "Maybe you'll write another about our time now?" he asked. And each week he grew a little quieter, his breathing a little more labored.

I began to count the time he stayed there by the flowers that were in bloom. When he first entered the hospital, violets were just poking their shy heads from beneath dark green foliage. He couldn't have flowers in his room because he was asthmatic, but I could tell him what was blossoming. We marked the weeks by color - paper white hyacinths, sunny yellow daffodils, buttercups and purple swamp iris and apple blossoms that blushed pink and white.

As the flowers multiplied and thrived, Floyd seemed to shrink. The light in his eyes dimmed and his strength left him until he was unable to do more than lift his hands. I remembered how strong he'd been, how those hands had wielded axe and hammer and saw. I remembered their gentleness when he doctored small animals and children with bumps and scrapes. When the June roses began to bud, Floyd's conditioned worsened. I left word with the floor nurses to call me whenever he was awake and wanted company. Then I would pull my chair close to his bed and hold his hand, letting the companionship we'd established years ago enfold us.

By the last week of June, when daisies dotted the green meadows like summer snowflakes, Floyd was hooked to an oxygen tube. When I touched his hand, his eyes would flutter open and focus and a look of recognition would light his face. Then his eyes would close again. The room was filled with his raspy breathing. One day I brought a book of his favorite verses with me. We could no longer converse but the nurse assured me he could still hear me so I read on through the afternoon, telling the sagas he'd so often recited to me as we walked the sunlit woods. On the last day of June, the day the first orange lilies lifted their shining faces to the sun, Floyd took his last walk with me, a walk of the mind and heart.

That was twenty years ago. Today I am going on a hike/write with a local naturalist as we've done for several years. Floyd will walk with us unseen but not unheard. 

14 comments:

Brian Miller said...

what an endearing write...yeah i know he heard you as you read beside...as faithful as he now walking along with you...smiles.

Molly said...

Oh Pauline, what a lovely story! You were so lucky to have him as a friend and mentor, and he was blessed with your love and companionship at the end. I couldn't help wondering about his family. He sounds like the kind of man any family would be proud to claim.......

steven said...

pauline - i'm grateful for this reminder of the power of relationship. it's a beautiful story that speaks in my own experience of love in the purest sense. and care. and goodness. steven

Steve Reed said...

What a terrific remembrance. I can't imagine how much Floyd appreciated your presence and your devotion.

It IS sad that those sorts of friendships are more difficult now. It's too bad that fear eclipses goodness in much of our society.

Reya Mellicker said...

It's still possible to develop friendships like this, though you'll never read about the happy connections anywhere. We like the sad stories, unfortunately. Or maybe should say that the sad stories sell.

Tabor said...

What a wonderful gift you gave him and he gave you! You are certainly blessed to have such a lovely memory and I am glad you shared it.

Barbara Shallue said...

Pauline, this story tells as much about you as about Floyd. What a beautiful friendship and it's so true, this wouldn't even be possible these days. But this is proof that friendship transcends age and gender. What blessings you were to each other. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

Out on the prairie said...

Very nice tribute, i hope you have a good time with your hike

Pauline said...

Brian - I think of Floyd every time i walk in the woods. I'm sure he's still here in some form...

Molly, he had one living sister who joined me often at his bedside. I hardly knew her but she said Floyd often talked about me over the years.

Steven - it was good and in so many ways. We nourished each other.

I agree Steve - I can't imagine any mother these days letting her daughter roam the woods with an older man. But, my mom and dad knew him and they knew me and they had no qualms for my safety.

Reya - I hope you're right. And am sad that you may be.

Tabor - memories like that are worth sharing. Thanks :)

Barbara - I loved being with Floyd. He taught me about so many things. I can identify trees and plants, start a fire with nothing but birch bark and a match, shoot straight and recite poetry while I'm doing it, relate well to children and older folks, make my own walking sticks, and test the doneness of spaghetti by tossing it against the ceiling ;)

OOTP - it was too cold to hike far but 3 new poems came of it so every minute of being out of doors was worth it.

Gary said...

This reminds me of a Dolly Parton song. I'd be interested in reading your first story about your relationship with Floyd. Is there a link to it or a way to find it?

Anne said...

As I read this my eyes filled with tears. So sad, so beautiful.

Friko said...

This is a wonderful tale, so gentle and full of kindness and understanding.
You are very fortunate to have had Floyd in your life. His great influence on you came through in every sentence of your story.

t isn't given to many to be remembered so naturally and with so much love.

Pauline said...

gary - that story was written a long while ago. I have it in a printed file but it's not on the computer yet. Perhaps some day I will type it here...

Anne - Floyd and I had some wonderful years together, even after I grew up

Friko - he was a rare soul.

herhimnbryn said...

True friendship indeed. He is with you still and that is good. x