Every couple of weeks I get a call from a woman who runs a non-profit in our area. It helps to provide hospice services to elderly and dying patients in the region who prefer to remain at home until the end. This organization is supported entirely from donations and by a small resale shop where people can donate old furniture and household items and those looking to decorate a Summer home on the lake or a dorm room at the college can find a few pieces for a good price. I have a truck and a couple of trailers and a teenage son. That qualifies me as a good call for pickups of armoires and sofa beds providing they are on the third floor and heavy enough. This woman knows I will not tell her no and she is sweet and kind in that elderly, professional volunteer way that makes even her most difficult requests hard to deny. In exchange we always get first dibs on old tools that are donated but rarely sold and my son and I get to work on our moving skills.
If you have never navigated a large dresser around tight corners and down a flight of steps with another person it is hard to imagine just how much is going on in what seems like a simple task. There is the lifting aspect, sure. I am nowhere near as strong as I once was, but I have learned a few tricks over the years on how to use my body as effectively as possible in order to avoid injury. I can size up a piece fairly well and tell if a door needs to come of the hinges, if it needs to be inverted, which room it must be backed into before we negotiate the descent to the ground floor or if it must be taken apart before we begin. In most cases the home owners are of no use at all. Gray and frail now they were raising families when the piece was last moved, in some instance we discover that whole additions to the house were added since the breakfront went in through a french door that hasn’t been there since Lawrence Welk was still in first run.
The thing I enjoy about doing this is that my son and I get to work on our unspoken communications, our understanding of each other by the shift in piece as we descend stairs, how we can both look at a piece and sense how to angle it before we approach the door frames or how to best load the pieces into the bed of the truck without pinching a finger between the crown mold and the tailgate. Moving large objects with another person demands mutual effort and understanding and at the same time complete submission to the immediate needs of another person when the load shifts. One man can’t do it all and if any task ever proved it, moving furniture is the closest I have ever encountered.
We are always grateful for the donations, always patient with the donors. We often compliment their home, for its tasteful furnishings or its lovely view. We make sure to let them know about the farm and if they need fresh eggs or firewood this Fall that we are available. 9 times our of 10 they are glad to share some tip, compliment us on our youth, our strength or our enthusiasm or even offer something to eat. We make sure to say thank you again and then we return to the shop to unload and go about the rest of our day.
Several years ago when my mother was dying, she asked if we could take her home so she could die in her own bed. Hospice was arranged and we set her up in the downstairs overlooking the pond out back and I slept on the couch nearby. During the day a visiting nurse would come and tend to her most personal needs. They alternated- I can’t remember a single one specifically- but they all had a similar calm about them. These nurses were end of life specialists and they obviously had been trained in how to prepare not only the patient, but the family for the inevitable. On the last day that my mother was conscious she awoke just after dawn. The sun was pouring into the room at a slant, bouncing off the surface of the water outside and throwing flickering gold light across the bed and the wall. I was up already reading something by her bedside when she spoke to me.
“I thought I was in heaven.” she said.
“You are, Mom.” I said. “You are.”
When we do things for other people without being paid it doesn’t mean there is no reward. Some things you do because you can’t pay back a debt in any other way. Other things are paid out in efforts that others cannot give, but there is an ebb and flow in everything we do, good and bad.
Driving back from the drop off my son and I looked out at the landscape and we both remarked on the soft maples in the low spots, already showing bright red leaves. Fall is coming and Winter will be hard on its heels even though it ought to be the hottest part of Summer. It doesn’t matter what ought to be and it does no use to worry about it or be sad that it is rapidly disappearing from view, what matters is that we need to get ready for what’s next, to prepare for the inevitable even as we spend a few more moments enjoying the warmth of the sun.
When we got back to the farm we headed out to the garden and harvested haircot vert, carrots, cukes and sweet corn. We’d defrosted a filet mignon as a reward for the day and we decided to grill the meat and the corn, roast the carrots and make a cucumber and onion salad to go along with the green beans. My wife and our younger children are visiting family this week so it is just the two us in the house, often without lights except where we read, and a great deal more silence than we normally experience. We talked the whole time that we prepared our meal and when we ate we did it standing up at the cutting block as the last light of evening died outdoors.
We do indeed tend our garden and we enjoy the bounty that we receive and are grateful for it, but we’d be foolish to believe that it is the result of our work alone. Some one saved the seeds for hundreds of years so that we could enjoy the flavor of the beans and another someone cleared this land originally under far more primitive conditions than anything we’ve ever dealt with. I look at my son and remember how careful my wife was when she carried him, how many untold hours went into forming the character of this young man who is so helpful to us, so gracious towards strangers and think that at least some of that is a credit to the woman who raised me who will never see how he turned out. The people in those homes who dispossess themselves of their holdings to make way for what is coming do so with sadness, I’m sure, but they also do it with a sense of joy. They are often proud of each piece that they give away as if they had built it themselves and the woman who sells those pieces to other people for their use helps a lot of other people besides- people spending their last hours at home before moving on to somewhere else.
People should tend their gardens, but they should remember to share their harvest as well.