The following story I shared on my first blog about a lady whom we grew to love during the course of the ten years that we knew her. I will let the story say the rest.
The front door opened ever so slightly and one bespectacled eye peered through the opening. The eye observed me and the two clingy shadows on each side of me with intensity and aloofness. Hesitatingly, I spoke.
“Hi, Ms. Norma. I am Sandy H. My husband has already been here to see the rental house and we talked on the phone…”, I said. The eye continued to stare at me unblinkingly for another second then, almost imperceptibly, the door began to swing open.
“Come in,” she said in a flat, business-like voice.
We entered a spacious entryway that was graced with a vaulted ceiling, crystal chandelier, and on each side of the front door were stained glass windows. My little shadows stared with open mouths and wide eyes. She waved us into an office room and with little formality, laid out the rental agreement terms. Little bodies wiggled against mine.
“We’ll take a walk over to the apartment and down the drive,” and with those words, she rose from her chair and headed to the office door. A little hand reached up to me and my son whispered, “Mama, I need to use the bathroom.”
“Ms. Norma, may we please use your restroom,” I asked. She peered at us, then waved a hand toward the general direction. “Down the hallway, the door on the right.”
I headed in the direction of the bathroom with both little ones right on my heels.
My son didn’t want to go in by himself and little sister didn’t want to to be left out in the hallway by herself, so we all piled into the little bathroom.
As we shuffled out, I looked up and saw her staring at us, a little glint in her eye. “Does it take all three of you for one to go to the bathroom?” she quipped. I opened and closed my mouth, unsure of this bit of humorous criticism. “Well, they’re a little nervous what with this being a new place and all,” I feebly replied. She turned and continued leading the way to the front door.
From the moment that we drove up the driveway, I had fallen in love with the place. The two houses, a large brick home that she lived in and a gray barn style house, were situated among acres of trees making for a peaceful and idyllic setting. We headed over to the gray barn house.
Halfway there, I heard a tinkling sound and then a ferocious bark behind me. Turning, I saw a medium-sized black dog with a face reminiscent of a pit bull. My daughter, then two-and-a-half, began crying and grabbing my leg. Ms. Norma looked back at us and said, “He won’t hurt you.” But her words were not enough to soothe my daughter, so up into my arms she went. I too was a bit nervous about the ferocious sounding creature with his row of teeth glistening with each bark and growl.
“Be quiet, Buddy,” she gently said to him. “They’re supposed to be here. It’s alright.”
We entered through the red door, climbed up a flight of stairs and stepped into a spacious living area. Buddy was right by our side, watching us doubtfully, his collar tag tinkling as we walked around.
After touring the house, we walked down the paved drive. Never had I seen such beautiful property. A thrill of anticipation ran up my back at the thought that we were considering living there. A little creek meandered through the woods on the right and left side of the drive. Further up, a bigger creek with steep banks flowed under a covered bridge. A tree-lined path led to a one acre field that was used for gardening.
I was sold.
We said our good-byes with a promise that my husband would give her a call as soon as we made a decision.
A month later, we moved into the gray barn house. The same weekend that we moved in, my grandmother passed away.
It was all that we had anticipated, but there were two things that bothered me-Ms. Norma and Buddy. The kids now had twenty acres to explore but my youngest was scared to death of Buddy and refused to go outside unless if I went with her. As far as Ms. Norma, I just couldn’t seem to break through the aloofness. From time-to-time, I would head over to the big house, ring the doorbell and give her the rent check or give her some cookies. The same characteristic opening of the door just slightly, studying me with her eye, and exchanging a few words occurred each time. When she deemed the visit over, without warning or goodbye, the door would begin to shut in my face. I took no offense to it, I simply determined to find a way to break the ice.
One day, it happened with Buddy. My son was already friends with Buddy and I was cautiously accepted by him, but my daughter was terrified. I kept pushing her to go out and pet him, only to have her cry. On this particular day, I was busy in the kitchen and noticed that Sedona was no longer in the house. I looked out of the living room and saw her outside with Buddy by her side. With her little hand, she was rubbing his back and head while he stood calmly, clearly enjoying the attention of this little girl. For the next ten years, he would truly become her buddy.
Ms. Norma, at about the same time, began to open the door a little more whenever I came over. We had longer conversations and even exchanged goodbyes before she would shut the door. The ice was melting.
It was three months before she began to open up.
Two weeks before we moved in, she had lost her husband to cancer. As she began to heal from the grief and open up to me, I discovered a caring, humorous, adventurous, stubborn and sarcastic woman who wasn’t afraid to say what she thought and who wasn’t afraid to share her home with others. To her, all friends were family and all people were potential friends.
She became my second grandmother.
Ms. Norma especially delighted in watching the kids. Sitting at her desk in the office, she could look out the window and see what antics the two kids were up to, or watch them sled when it snowed in winter. A twinkle would flash in her eyes as she would share with me how much it meant to her to see them enjoying the property. As time progressed, she often brought the kids random gifts for no reason other than love.
On a spring day in 2015, we received a phone call from Ms. Norma’s daughter saying that they had taken her to the emergency room after an accident there in her daughter’s home that left her with a broken hip. She would be sent to a rehabilitation facility after surgery and we could go visit her then.
Later in the week, we walked into the room she was in and there she was, lying in bed looking so frail, but still with a glint in her eyes.
After preliminary greetings, she settled into a quiet introspective mood and my husband and I talked with some of the family members. Half and hour later, she perked up again and began to talk.
“If I hadn’t tried to make friends with that grumpy old cat I wouldn’t be lying here in this bed right now. But I can’t change it now.” Her voice was thick with regret. She fell into a restless sleep.
I looked over at her son. “What happened,” I asked.
“Well, you know the cat that Jackie has?” I did. Just the other week, Ms. Norma and her daughter had been telling me about the ornery, mean cat that Jackie owned and Ms. Norma had mentioned then that she was determined to become friends with it. “Mom was visiting Jackie that evening and saw the cat sitting on the stairs. She went to the cat, stepped down on the first step and then reached down to pet the cat. As she did so, she lost her balance and fell down the stairs,” he said.
Emotions swirled in my head as I listened to the account-it was all so surrealistic, so unfair, so painful. All because of a cat. All because of Ms. Norma’s love.
But optimistically, I walked away. After all, surgery had gone well and she had been alert. She was going to be okay.
Two days later we were told she was put into a hospice facility. The coumadin prescribed to her to prevent blood clots had caused a brain bleed and she was coming in and out of consciousness. They didn’t think she would be able to pull out of it being as that she was eighty-two years old.
The next day, we went to visit her and as soon as we walked into her room, the change was blatantly apparent. Her face was swollen and not a muscle twitched. I had always heard that unconscious people can still hear so loudly I called, “Ms. Norma!”. Ever so slightly her eyes fluttered and she turned her head. This was a familiar greeting to her because many times I had walked into her house and called her name loudly due to being hard-of-hearing.
She reached a hand out and I took it, squeezing gently. She searched with her eyes until she saw the kids, then she withdrew her hand and closed her eyes, once more lapsing into unconsciousness. We left.
The following morning, she passed away and the pain of losing my biological grandmother was reawakened as we lost our adopted grandmother.
The family held an estate sale and we watched as people walked out of Ms. Norma’s home with pieces of her home, with pieces of her life. To them these items were new treasures. To us, they told stories of a marriage, of adventures, of an amazing lady who loved us so deeply and who we never imagined we could love so much.