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Welcome to my story blog. I will post one new story here every day. You are welcome to comment on any or all of them. Enjoy!
                   --Lee Pound

Day 36 - The Old Lady

Vanessa sat on the front porch like she did every day. From here she could see the cars drive by, the schoolchildren on their way to class, and the comings and goings of the neighbors. It was a peaceful way to spend the day, particularly since she had nothing else to do.

She remembered back to her 80th birthday, two months before. The neighbor kids had gotten together to throw her a party and like kids, they had a cake, candles, eighty of them, and presents. Of course she sat on her porch like always, overseeing her own party, enjoying the dozen children celebrating on her lawn. After a few hours she grew tired but the kids were having such fun she forced herself to stay awake.

It had been pretty quiet since them. Vanessa lost track of time in the routine of neighborhood life. One morning Jan and Dale next door would leave the house in their Chevy Suburban together; the next morning they would leave in separate cars, she with two children in tow, he alone. Jan and Dale brought her cookies every so often, chocolate chip with tiny sprinkles on them. She had no idea what either of them did for a living and they hadn’t volunteered.

Across the street the young man, she thought his name was Ralph, only went out a few times a week but always emerged on Saturday night dressed in a suit and tie and drove off. He never returned before she went to bed.

The Pederson twins, eight-year-old boys, waved to her as they biked to school. They’d never stopped and said more than hello but she liked them nevertheless. Since they occasionally rode by in soccer uniforms, she guessed that they played soccer at the field behind the school two blocks away.

Vanessa didn’t walk any more. Her left hip had given out two years before and she had no money for a replacement. She could get around the house but it was painful to go much farther. Her doctor wanted her to have the operation but she kept putting him off.

He wanted her to ask her daughter for the money but Jeannie lived in Kansas City, half-way across the country and didn’t have much money herself. She couldn’t ask Jeannie for help when she had three young children to take care of and not that much money.

Vanessa still missed her husband. He had died three years earlier after 55 years of marriage. They used to sit here on porch together and share tales of the past, which they’d both heard many times, but they were such good stories. The money? He left her some but the crash had left her with little more than Social Security.

As the sun dropped lower in the west, she watched the children walking home from after school sports, the parents driving in from work, and the trash men emptying curbside containers.

The scene didn’t change much from day to day. Most people had their routines, just as she had hers. They had their troubles, just as she had hers. She didn’t bother anybody and they didn’t bother her. She just sat at her observation post on the front porch of her 100-year-old house on a street that could be anywhere in the United States. Day-to-day life didn’t seem that interesting.

She missed her husband Jake. He’d always kept life interesting. What she wouldn’t give to have his wit and intellect, his drive and his energy. Jake had worked at a dozen jobs before he retired, moved half a dozen times, hauling her off with him each time, and made and lost two fortunes. Unfortunately he lost the last one too late to make another. Time had caught up with him.

She watched the daily life of her neighbors. Time would catch up with them one day too. Their ordered lives would change, maybe vanish. Their routines that meant so much would become meaningless, just as Vanessa’s daily observations meant nothing. She knew this would happen. She knew it had to happen. It happened to almost everyone.

Her husband had ended his life with little but he enjoyed the ride immensely. He knew the exhilaration of success and the despair of failure. He always picked himself up and started over.

Her neighbors had things, had routines, had jobs, but they had never known true success and had perhaps never know much failure. They existed until time ran out, then they died, like the man three doors down last year. They had things which meant nothing and relationships that moved in tired lockstep.

As she sat on her porch, she was gratified to know that there were a few like her husband who followed their passions, took risks, lived high, loved well, and crashed from time to time. We used to have a nation of people like that, she thought. Now people were afraid to take risks of any kind. As a consequence they lived little lives of meaningless routine.

Just before the sun went down, she saw Ralph across the street emerge from his house. “Ralph,” she called across to him. “Come here a moment.”

Ralph looked up and crossed the street. “Tell me something,” she said. “If there was one thing you wanted to do above all else, what would it be?”

“Why?”

“Just humor an old lady who’s a bit batty.”

Ralph considered the question a moment, almost answering a couple of times. Then he said. “When I was a child, I always wanted to sail across the ocean. I never did it. Too dangerous.”

“Some people have done it.”

“I know. But it takes time and money and I don’t have either.”

“Son, maybe it’s time you figured out a way.”

After Ralph left, Vanessa smiled. My goodness, she thought, that felt good. Maybe Ralph would listen.

She sat on her porch a while more before going inside.

The next morning Ralph knocked on her door. “I lied,” he said when she opened the door. “I don’t know why I never did it. Just scared maybe. Thanks to you, I’m signing up for sailing lessons. I may never sail across the ocean but I will sail, even if it’s just across the bay.”

Vanessa sat on the porch, smiling. She couldn’t wait for the Pederson twins to arrive and then later for Jan and Dave to get home. Jake would be proud of her. And just maybe a few of these neighbors would decide to begin living their passions instead of their routines. She was just one person but she could make a difference in her small way. She realized she had plenty to do now. She smiled.

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