The day starts with one of my newer holiday rituals.
I dust off two of the dining room chairs and prop a baby booster on each of them, grunting like a bodybuilder as I pull the straps tight, tight and tighter still. There’ll be no tumbling grandbabies on my watch this Thanksgiving.
I push the chairs against the wall, near the windows so the afternoon light hits them just so. I hear the jing-jing-jing of Franklin’s dog collar as he pads over and stares at the chairs, fantasizing about the floor feast to come. I laugh and reach for the camera and later post the photo on my public Facebook page, with the caption, “Counting the days until Thanksgiving.”
The “likes” climb by the hundreds because any post with Franklin and babies beats breaking news on my wall just about every time. An innocent compliment in the comments thread knocks the wind out of me: “Love the fabric on those chairs!!”
I lean against the back of my chair, deflated. “Deb,” I whisper.
How that woman could make me laugh.
Deb helped me pick out the fabric for those chairs two years ago, after weeks of pushing me to change the 60-year-old upholstery. “Unless I’m missing something,” she said, “these seats have to go. Maybe George Washington sat in them? Wait. Who am I talking to? It’s Eleanor Roosevelt, right?”
Deb suggested I pick out the fabric and padding, and she’d do the upholstering. After our usual round of bickering, she agreed to let me pay for her work.
We met at the crafts store and headed for the mountain of fabric bolts, each of them several feet long. We were quite the team. I’d pick up a bolt and swing it toward Deb for an opinion, and she’d duck just in time. We were red-faced with laughter and — bonus! — managed to annoy fellow customers, who saw nothing funny about two middle-aged women who found adventure in floral chintz. Some people.
She finished those chairs in a week. She never tired of pointing out that without any nudging from her, I’d picked the same fabric covering the chairs in her kitchen.
I met Deb in the summer of 2006, after I hired her to clean my house. This was a first for me, and I was never comfortable with the idea of someone else’s doing what I was raised to do myself. With Deb, it was friendship at first sight, which made it even harder to see her mopping my floors. She regularly reminded me that she had a right to make a living, too. “Get over yourself,” she loved to say.
One early morning in May, on a day when spring had finally made up its mind to stay, my cellphone dinged with a friend’s text message. “Have you heard any more about Deb?”
Heard any more about what? I called his number. No answer.
Immediately, I clicked onto Facebook and went to Deb’s page, where I found an update from one of her twin daughters, posted the night before. “I love you mom! Stay strong, I know you can pull through this!!”
A flurry of calls and messages pieced together a story that could have no happy ending. An asthma attack had brought Deb’s generous 58-year-old heart to a stop. Several minutes passed before CPR revived her heart. An ambulance raced her to the hospital, where she lay in intensive care. She was tethered to a ventilator. She was not responding to pain.
Prayers filled her Facebook page, many of them worded as if, somewhere out there, Deb could read them. Her many friends exchanged updates, all of them grim. By week’s end, Deb was gone.
Only months earlier, each of Deb’s daughters had given her a grandchild. Deb loved texting photos of them. “My grandbabies,” she called them.
Stop, I tell myself. Stop thinking about what she’s missing.
What we’re missing, I mean.
So often, I want to talk to Deb.
I want to tell her about my new floor steamer and the great recipe I found for chicken piccata.
I want to tell her I love the pictures of her grandbabies popping up on her daughters’ Facebook feeds, how I see her in their eyes, their smiles.
I want to call her and wish her a happy Thanksgiving. No, that’s not it. I want to call and hear her answer, “CON-nie. What?”
I want, I want.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo: Rob Marquardt via Flickr