3 March 2019
An Essay for Patt
The day will be cloudy and gray this Tuesday in Newcastle, California. On that day, I will join others to celebrate the memory of a woman who had been my neighbor and friend for twenty years.
It was with quiet misgiving that I moved away from Patt in early May of 2018 because I sensed that she was not long for this world. She’d lived a life of ninety years, and I knew that I did not have the right to expect more from this woman who had shaped my world in oh so many ways. We spoke on the telephone just days before she passed on to her Reward; and then I’d impulsively emailed to her a photo of me from a day trip to Lake Tahoe the previous day.
She’d sent to me a very touching message that mentioned my serene respite, and I knew that she was in search of her own. We had a tacit way of knowing when to say goodbye to one another. There had indeed been lengthy periods of time between the hellos that we shared, as well as lengthy periods of time between the goodbyes.
Our goodbye in early October was not lengthy. Patt left one dimension and entered another. She assists me now in ways that she always did: picking out plants for gardening; setting aside complaints that do not merit my time, attention or emotion; tackling the newest project; and committing myself (or re-committing myself) to existing projects that require that “steady pushing forward” that she knew is a talent of mine.
We had our differences. Sometimes, they were many. But we never differed in the fundamentals of life. She met me when Dear Husband and I first moved to the Peach House in Newcastle with two bright young children. I was much younger then, in many ways. In her eyes, I was, and forever will be, the spark plug in the neighborhood, the one to turn to when all hell was breaking loose.
And all hell broke loose fairly regularly during our time together there, on Peach Lane. The most hellish time was during the craziness of the Subprime Construction that hemmed Patt and me in on at least 3 sides of our respective domiciles. She adored my use of the term, hovel, for the shacks that were being expanded and jacked up to J—-.
Her answer to the noise and, for one hovel, to the noisome pestilence (as in rats), was to drive away from it, far far away, and to be gone for as long as she needed to be gone. My answer was to stand firm and man, or woman, the barricades of my property. There were times when I called the Placer County Sheriff to protect those boundaries.
I must have impressed this old woman with my feisty fight. I was not aware of having shone in her eyes; she did not let me know for many years how much she admired me. I learned of the homage from this crusty, sensitive bird through her imitation of me. To be a role model to someone decades older than yourself is a phenomenal achievement.
She’d lived at least two lifetimes by the time I entered her lifetime. And my family and all of the lives and times within that blessed House on Peach Lane were touched by this woman born in 1928.
There were many times when my ideas matched hers almost precisely. The only differences between those ideas came from the fact that I had had to deal with the Leviathan that American governments have become. Patt grew up in a country where she’d been free in ways that I shall never be. And yet, her freedoms did not prevent her from making the mistakes that I did not make, simply because I’d learned, from an early age, how to make choices to defend liberties that I knew were being threatened.
One could say that we came from opposite angles of the quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I watched her find, during the final decade of her life, the happiness that she’d not found during her “youth”. Because Patt was young in heart, even though she only permitted a rare few to enter that heart. I was one of those rare few, and my celebration of the memory of this woman on Tuesday, in the gloomy rain, will be all the brighter for the place that I earned in her heart, and for the place that she earned in mine.
Those bargains were hard fought. I stood my ground at times when she did not like me doing so. I remember telling her once when she thought that she could barter a favor from me: “Now is not the time to call in that marker.”
And I recall her telling me, in response to my terse observation regarding a private matter of hers: “I know you’re right, but I don’t have to agree with you.”
Eventually, she did!
For whatever reason, I was sent into her life to provide a counter-irritant during those times when she might have faltered and weakened her will. She was, I believe, sent into my life for the very same reason. That reason may be why we each loved the Cecile Brunner sweetheart rose so very much. That rose can climb, no matter what the odds against her!
My family, specifically my son as a pre-teen, helped Patt to plant a mandarin orchard. I’d told her at the time that she was planting too many trees; 15 years later, her scowl told me that I was right. Along with our cultivation of citrus trees, we shared a love of plants and botany and gardening that educated me in not only flora, but in the ways of love and life.
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Patt planted gardens beyond tomorrow. I shall do the same for our Dream Home amidst the pine trees.
The cottage known as Patt’s House, on Peach Lane, will one day no longer be Patt’s House. The neighborhood left when the Milligan’s moved out on May 1 and sold their House. Patt “left” six months later, and I felt some relief that she did not have to harvest those mandarins this cold, wet winter.
Madame Charbonnet in THE DAWN takes care of that harvest now.