By Martial LaRoche
Tuesday, July 3
Hello Colonel (Ret.) and Mrs. Anderson,
Norton died yesterday.
Iím sorry, but I canít seem to find the strength to talk on the telephone and so Iíve sent an e~ and dropped cards of notice in the post to everyone who knew and cared.
Iíve just today buried his ashes at noon, Nortonís favorite time of the day. Heís now in the rock garden, a place that gave him such vicarious drama from the back porchiere every mid-day. I promised him that Iíd especially take care to watch over the flowers. As anyone of my 80 years knows only too well; things need to go on. Miss Penelope and I will find much joy at watching his butterfly friends sitting on their milkweed barstools, raising pints to his smiling stillness. The goldfinches will stop by the early light to gossip the dayís news and the bumblebees will keep watch for intruders as the treesí moving shades change hues through the whole of the day. By evening the mourning doves will pick around the rocks dutifully keeping the memorial clean and neat. And Nortonís favorites, the Morning Glories mixed with climbing beans all clinging to our late Haroldís 12 foot tall sculpture of copper pipe, will keep their place of honor. As Haroldís plan would have it, the deliberate off centeredness of this green behemoth is always a surprising delight. Iíll fondly explain to chance visitors that underneath the large piece of American Brownstone is where weíve decided to place Nortonís ashes and spirit. Forever the fun-loving teaser, this space is perfect.
Miss Penelope and I were only just noticing a short while ago, as we looked up to the early night sky, that weíve never seen so many bats as tonight. Must just be our imagination. I can still see the fireís reflections in Nortonís faraway eyes as I close mine. I think he particularly lived for late evenings, by the fire, quite fascinated by the smokeís waiterly ability to feed his bats their assorted courses.
I donít know if this is a psychological defense on my part, though I confess I know nothing of such things, but I was actually happy at the service. And I know that this may sound selfish but I have to confess it to someone: I have already grieved long ago when the reality of Nortonís illness had settled in. After a long period of guiltless and then guilty anger and finally resignation, life just sort of flattened out for the household. And it was then, I think, that I grieved for quite a long time. From then on, for years I didnít live with the Norton Iíd known and adored but with the memories of a healthy shared life. These memories, the moving pictures and conversations, have kept me going. And so will the beautiful rocks and flowers which will replace them. I hope this doesnít sound harsh, but I know the time will come when I can lose the look of him, in his end, a crumpled silhouette dropped into a special chair...
Thatís why today was such an uplifting experience for us, I think. Our postman was kind enough to be with the group. Such a nice and handsome young fellow. Heís been knocking at our side gate every morning just to say hello. I suspect heís checking on us, as old as we are. Certainly going beyond his duties.
Professor Gale, the neighbor that Norton most disliked, even dropped a rose on the granite ball we had sent down from Norwichtown Mines. One from his own garden yet. Iíve been around long enough to know that sudden funerary kindness is a sign of old-age anxiety whose only remedy is kindness rubbed hard against oneís characterís grain.
Norton was always civil to the Professor no matter what manner of mood he was addressed by. Norton kindly accepted everyone for whatever they were and always looked for something good in them. You can well imagine how disagreeable this Mr. Gale is then. Iím sure that from now there wonít be anything more than cordial Ďgood morning nodsí between us.
Our permanent house guest, Miss Penelope Montez, was a welcomed addition to the proceedings. She stood just as resplendent as when she reigned as the champion German Shepard of the 1957 Westminster show, the British one. Our Mr. Postman helped me roll her out onto the brick walk. Her custom Irish oak stand, ceremoniously draped in yellow bunting, thrust her up as tall and proud as she should be. Of course nothing less would do, considering her standing. Her coat is looking a bit worn and dusty and dulled. Iím afraid she needs a good looking after.
Vicar Roberts said mass. He was the nice fellow who re-married you at your fiftieth in our sun room. I was afraid to approach him at first, being that the resting place seemed unusual, but he was so kind and congenial. What a nice man. He brought his lovely wife and new baby. The youth standing Ďround the stones just seemed to make it all so right and I know Norton would have approved. I will miss him. He was my best friend.
Wednesday, July 4
This is now tomorrow morning and Happy Birthday America! Wherever you are on the road in that massive coach of yours I hope youíll find a fireworks show to cap it all off. I apologize that I didnít send this out to you yesterday but Iíve been so tired. Iíve tried stringing together a thought or two at a time hoping to create something legible but Iím afraid these old reporterís fingers are slowing quickly.
We were nearly always inseparable. Like Laurel and Hardy. Norton didnít care much for dieting and I ate like a bird. Oh, the arguments weíd had. Hundreds Iím sure. No matter what Iíd put down in front of him heíd complain for more. Always more and more of anything. No, Iíd say, no...your weight! And heíd give me that sideways look and heíd tweak an ear and heíd bobble his head, side to side and up and down like a small childís, how could I say no?
We both of us loved flowers. Although Norton had a particular fondness for weeds. He loved butterflies and even moths. The plain kind. We both amused ourselves endlessly at the antics of the workingmanís moths, those plain, top-heavy dirty-white things. They are comical, actually, trying to stand up-right on a grass stalk. But he especially loved the orange and deep red wings of the Calcimite butterfly. He was absolutely captivated by their activity. And of course he loved bright colors; a singularly masculine trait. He would never try to catch them. Heíd sit in the tall grass outside the rock garden and just watch, sometimes for hours. They only came through two or three days as they migrated north during their season. I think we saw hundreds during our years together.
As temperamental as he was he always backed down from an argument, though. He could be combative, mind you, but heíd just walk away if the tussling got too serious. That was his nature. And he was so very affectionate. To the point of just making a pest of himself at times. But, eventually, he began to almost recoil at affection. I always thought Iíd done or said something wrong. And yet as quickly as heíd pulled away up heíd bounce looking for cuddling. And then his appetite changed. He lost weight. It wasnít like him to swipe out at me with a mad gurgle and angry frown, yet this happened more and more as the days wore. I remember taking away the breakfast he hadnít touched and watch and wonder where his mind was as he sat staring out the window, dreaming. It didnít take much longer than a fortnight to see that Norton was ill.
Thursday, July 5
I know youíll get this much later than youíd like to but I am so ever fatigued that I find it difficult to write more than a few phrases. And I think that just writing about my Norton (our Norton...actually everyoneís Norton) has helped me in letting go. I woke up with a heavy chest this morning and cried until sun-up; two hours. I thought I was handling it better but the dreams of Norton in his vigorous youth haunt me still. I can see his handsomness so clearly, his masculinity so besotted with virility that I feel almost some shame, though we were together for so many years. I canít understand this but it must be real grief.
I had to stop earlier and return. Itís now 7:30 in the evening and itís raining. I slept the better part of the day. I must have bruised my shoulder it hurts so. The general practitioner, a young man with much education, called me back and told me to take two Berovan. He said theyíre mostly like aspirin. Anyway, the pain is better and I can type, though I am very tired from this weather and all the commotion.
I was going through photos of our trip to the US two years ago. Oh, how we had a time traveling about in your coach! I love looking at the pictures of the four of us at every landmark or National Park weíd visit. It is so nice how Americans will take their time to furnish complete strangers with a couple of snaps, isnít it? Do we look younger in these pictures? I suspect when you reach our age one or two years makes quite a bit of difference!
Sunday, July 8
Hello Colonel and Mrs. Anderson,
This is Gordon. I have bad news.
Auntie died on Friday afternoon. I tried calling the two telephone numbers that she had in her book but I couldnít get through. I left a message on your daugtherís machine but havenít heard back. I didnít realize I could reach you by e~mail until I returned to the cottage this morning. I had to go back to London and get Aggie and the dogs for the funeral service this afternoon.
When I spent the night on Friday I was dog tired and went right to bed and straight out and home first thing Saturday. I only just a few moments ago found that her computer has been on this whole time. Had I been not so wiped out and addle-minded I would have looked in the den, as well. This is where her personal computer is. She used only for personal correspondence and whimsical writing, a hobby sheís kept pretty much private for most of her life.
Anyway, here I am distractedly finishing whatever correspondence sheíd begun. The perfume of this enormous morning glory, underwhich her ashes will be rested, alongside of Nortonís, steals my attention as its youthful scent twinkles through the open window. I find myself occasionally looking out to my lovely Gail with our two German Shepards, exploring and walking the back gardens. Auntie had wrought herself the ideal life here in SnowTree House. Itís funny how I used to think it so odd that such a small house and grounds would have such a grand name. But the older I get the more I appreciate her native sense of order and priority.
At 11:30 Friday morning, the Postman found her lying in the grass by the rock garden. Heíd rung her front door several times and got no answer. He could hear the London Philharmonic from the BBC and knew she had to be home. He walked Ďround to the back of the house and there she was, talking nonsense. He said she was reaching out to him, smiling and begging for a cuddle. Right off, he ran into the house and phoned for an ambulance. A very nice man. He was quite upset
The surgeonís assessment was dire. They brought her into surgery at 12:15. She was gone by 12:30. Mr. Postman was allowed to leave work on emergency. He reached the hospital at 12:45 and called me here at the Times by 1:00, after getting an update from the surgeon and the Head Matron. I drove down straight away and got there at about 3:00 and talked to her surgeon. A kind fellow, Iím sure he did all that was possible. After all, she was 80. I realized how touched he was, saddened actually, that Auntie didnít make it. He made sure to tell me how heíd enjoyed her work and had always opened the morning paper with her column as his first destination. "What a creative and bright woman", he told me. "She always started my long days off with a chuckle." He also said that now the column was truly my inheritance and he knew that Iíd carry it into the next generation. I heard his words but they didnít sink in until this morning.