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Monday, January 9, 2012

A Fireside Chat and Visit…

Jerald and Tina visitNo fireplace hearth, though, just the cozy warmth of our woodstove we shared the other day with our former Valley neighbors Tina and Jerald Streutker. When they lived in the Valley, every couple months we used to trade visits with the Jerald and Tina and chat over tea and cookies. Now that Jerald and Tina live in town, our Valley schedule always seems in conflict with their Merrill Gardens’ (Jerald and Tina’s home these days) town schedule. We hadn’t seen Tina since last Christmas season and even longer since we’d seen Jerald before the the pair moved to Merrill Gardens and hadn’t yet moved from their new house in town. Just before Christmas I called to extend our Christmas wishes to them but no one picked up the phone. After two more tries, I gave up.

But Tina must have felt our good intentions from the Valley and to my surprise called me the next day. I told her we were having problems arranging a visit and certainly didn’t want to drop in announced. “We can’t seem to get together in town,” I remarked, “Why don’t I come in, pick you up, and bring you out to visit for a while?” Tina said, “Oh, you don’t need to do that”…she could make the drive to the Valley herself. “Traffic has changed quite a bit since you lived here,” I warned. “Why don’t you let me chauffeur you out and back?” Tina agreed. “Is Jerald invited?” she asked. “Most certainly,” I replied,  “if you think he’s up for the trip.” We set up a 2:00 p.m. meeting time early the following week.

I arrived promptly at 2:00 and was surprised to find our usually punctual guests weren’t waiting for me in the foyer. I went in search of them, had hardly reached the front desk when they appeared, Jerald rolling comfortably in a wheelchair powered by Tina. Both were smiling broadly, obviously happy to see a familiar face from the Valley. And I was relieved to find my face was familiar to Jerald, too, was greeted with a hearty “Hi, Terry!” I extended my hand and received a nice, firm handshake, and once I felt that friendly grip, my earlier concerns faded away. Tina and I wheeled Jerald out the door to the car (“Brrrr,” Jerald said) and with surprisingly little difficulty, he maneuvered himself up and out of the chair and into the front seat where he promptly buckled himself in. I loaded Jerald’s walker in the trunk, helped Tina situate herself comfortably as my backseat driver and with Jerald my navigator (“All clear this way!”) off we went to the Valley.

As we approached Tualco, I asked Jerald if the scenery looked familiar. “Very familiar, yes…,” he chuckled. I wanted them to see their old home place, so I turned the corner and slowly drove past. “Look at all the apples on the lawn!” Tina exclaimed and I knew she was thinking about the pies and sauce she used to make from the apples on that tree. I turned around in Ed’s driveway and after slowing once again by their house, (Tina: “I see Brett has made a gravel driveway to the basement”and then, “My, my…all those apples”), we headed for the woodstove and our long overdue visit.

In our driveway in front of the garage, I positioned Jerald’s walker for easy access. I was amazed at his mobility; Jerald pushed himself up out of the seat, saddled up the walker, and headed for the woodstove, hot coffee and snacks. With me running interference on the obstacles, he forged ahead through the garage.  When he saw my wife, Jerald grinned, gave her a big kiss, and with Tina close behind, proceeded to his place of honor next to the purring stove.

For the next hour we shared family news with our old neighbors—our role as soon-t0-be grandparents-- followed by news of the Valley. Jerald, I was surprised, was listening and engaged in the conversation. The coffee and cookies sustained Jerald for about the same amount of time. Then either the comforting warmth of the woodstove or a special ingredient the mother-in-law added to her date-nut pinwheel cookies, put Jerald to sleep and throughout the rest of our visit he napped.

When it came time for us to say good-bye and chauffeur them back to Merrill Gardens, Jerald was so comfortably anesthetized by the woodstove, he didn’t want to wake up, and I thought we were going to have to put him up for the night. A little encouragement from Tina and my coaxing him with “Let’s take a drive,” finally brought him around. Jerald skillfully shuffled that walker through the garage and soon our company was buckled in and ready for the trip back to town. “That was  fun,” ( a sentiment he was to repeat twice more) Jerald said as I settled in beside him. He put on his navigator’s hat again at the end of the driveway: “All clear this way,”and we were off.

Knowing my passengers were enjoying the holiday light display on Lewis Street, I drove along slowly from one illuminated residence to the next. I could tell Jerald and Tina were having a good time out and away from their cloistered Merrill Garden’s routine. As I approached the Gardens, I thought about our neighbors’ longtime presence in the Valley, where they had lived the better part of their lives, and how they were now living in town, removed from their one well-kept acre on that corner in the Valley. I turned into Merrill Gardens’ parking lot and asked Jerald if things looked familiar to him. “Yes,” he replied, “You know… it’s not a bad place.” I helped them both from the car and into the facility, wished them a “Happy New Year. As I left our friends in Merrill Garden’s warm, holiday festooned lobby and walked out into the chill of the winter’s night, I recalled Jerald’s parting words: he was right…it wasn’t at all such a bad place, and as I drove through the cold winter rain back to the Valley, it was a comfort to think of them there.

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