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Contents copyright 2024 by Valerie Harms

some portraits I've been writing

The Old Ones
His wife died after years of suffering in a nursing home.  She served the husband who was a conductor with several orchestras. Became the voice of his American Indian Institute.  Why always the server, not the initiator?  He would say they were partners, that he couldn't have done a thing without her.  But still. He lives in a big house, has meals served by Meals on Wheels, and a housecleaner. He is deaf and cannot drive anymore.  He's 90.
Another 90-year-old woman still drives even in snow.  She has family members who do things for her. A cat found her house. In the morning she gets coffee and cereal and takes to her bed.  She lingers over her inspirational books.  She goes to the Episcopal  Church and several AA meetings weekly and is devoted to any AA member.  She is pretty, warm, coiffed, and fashionable.  She reads mysteries and likes movies.  One of her sons was killed by a truck.  She adopted two.  Her daughter is a soft-spoken seamstress.
A woman in her 80s does not remember much but she remains cheerful and political.  She lives in an assisted living after she lost the ability to see very well.  She is also nearly deaf.  She and friends meet to discuss politics.
My friends and I look ahead with dread.
Girls, like women in gym.  Being "in.".  In junior high I started a new school in Texas.  It seemed friendships were already formed.  On the playground I hung out with another shy girl.  Her name was Sylvia.  She was big and wore tent dresses.  We swung on the swings and made small talk.  Even then I knew she was a hick compared to me who had come from the big city of Chicago.  There was a group of swish girls, who dressed well and were more or less pretty.  One was homely but was a neighbor of the prettiest so she was in.  Suddenly I was included.  I don't know why nor if it was good for me.
The same at the gym class I go to now.  At first I watched how a group of 6-7 clustered around each other before class started, laughing and talking.  I would nod and exchange a word or two with one of them.  Mostly I waited alone looking out the window.  Then suddenly I've become part of the group. 
What is it that makes girls decide you're ok?  It's like a group of swallows changing direction.
Richard. ... has tended to my yard for 20 years.  He works hard even in the cold and heat.  He is strong with a jutting stomach.  Wears suspenders on his old, baggy jeans.  His mouth puckers sometimes uncomfortably close to mine, his hair and eyes are gray.  He doesn't charge much.  He has a hard time keeping track of his jobs.  He is not professional but he knows his trees and shrubs and plants by their Latin names.  Every winter he goes to seminars on trees, insects, and soil.  In the spring he composes a "letter" to his clients.  I type it up for him so it looks "good." The problem with Richard is that he is a repetitive talker.  He could chew the fat for hours. Mostly complaining about all that he has to do or how wrong this or that landscaper is.  I have had to learn to stop the flow.

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