We sit together, Teacher and I, and watch out her dining room windows. At 100 years old, she has looked out these same windows at the same fields for 80 of those years. She never seems to tire of the view, talking of years long gone and watching the birds as they flit from feeder to lilac to tree and back. Teacher has fed her children at this same table, and her grand-children. Now she looks at pictures of great-great-grandchildren from the same chair she sat in for so many meals. She doesn’t really remember who the pictures are of, but she likes to look at the children’s smiles. Sometimes there is enough of a family resemblance that she knows they are her relatives, sometimes she just smiles at the beautiful faces of strangers looking up at her from the album.
Two pheasants come to peck at the sunflower seeds that the raucous jays have spilled on the ground, and even Teacher’s failing eyes can pick out their vibrant colors. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds, and we both “ahhhhh” like the crowds on the Fourth of July. “There’s the sun!” she says, “Isn’t that just beautiful…” I ask if she is warm enough (she never is these days) and offer a blanket to wrap around her shoulders. Teacher smiles her thanks and goes back to watching as the golden sunlight pours over the fields, contrasting deliciously with the purple shadows where the snow has drifted and dimpled.
We spend much of our time in silence. Teacher drifts through the memories of the years she has seen, and I wait for the tidbits she chooses to share. I crochet a lot when I am with her, just sitting and enjoying the silence. I keep an eye on the bird feeder, letting her know when an unusual bird arrives for a visit or commenting on the antics of our “regulars”. I used to ask her to identify some of the different birds for me, but now I get out the bird guide and we look them up together. I like to watch the way Teacher touches the pages of her bird guide. She caresses each page, tracing the colors and outlines of the different birds. There is a tender joy in her movements. Two of her favorite things, birds and books, combined in one object that she can touch.
Today, the snow is blowing across the fields, rising in clouds that blur the stand of pines beyond. I turn on some soothing classical music – she is partial to Debussy – and we let the music drift over us. Teacher asks (again) what project I am working on, and I hold it up, shaking out the wrinkles so she can see the bright colors I am weaving together. “It’s going to be an afghan. I hope Big Sprout will want it when it’s done” I reply (again). This sparks the same conversation we have already had 3 times today. She asks how old the Sprouts are, what grades they are in, and if they are happy. I answer her questions, and tell her a few amusing anecdotes about their behavior. Then we settle into silence again. It never bothers me to answer her questions over and over through the day. Teacher doesn’t remember asking, and I like that she is interested enough to ask.
Sometimes, Teacher will hold the end of my crocheting project while I work. Her hands are still strong, the fingers nimble, and she seems to enjoy the textures of yarn as she traces the loops and swirls of each stitch. Teacher watches as the hook darts in and out of loops of yarn, light flashing off the colored metal. I think she gets a little hypnotized by the motion. I can see her eyelids droop and her eyes lose their focus as she watches. Soon her eyes close altogether, and I stay as quiet as I can to let her nap.
The day will come (probably sooner rather than later) when she will move on to whatever comes after this life. There will be no more afternoons spent in companionable silence, no more pecks on the cheek and promises to “see you soon”. I can’t worry about that. Every day is treated like it is our last day together, and I know that when the time comes for us to part ways, I will be happy for her. I will have the memories of 12 years of her friendship. I will have all the many things she has taught me to keep her with me over the years. And I will cherish every one.