By John Yager
Copyright © 2004

Usual stipulations apply. All my stories can be found in the NIFTY Prolific Net Authors section.  I also maintain a notification list. If you'd like to be added to it, let me know at the e-mail address below.

As always, many thanks to Andrew for proofing.

Part One

Marvin Hartley drove slowly between the overhanging trees, trees he'd helped plant just over fifty years ago.

He waved as he passed Mildred Long. She was a small woman, now slightly stooped with age. With her gray hair tied back in a tight bun and bound up in a cotton scarf, she returned the wave as she rested from tending the flowers in her front yard. The flower beds seemed to get smaller each year as her ability to care for them diminished.
Mildred and her husband Tom had been friends of his and Tillie's. She was one of the few people living on Laurel Street who'd been there almost as long as Marvin, but now, since Tillie's death, Marvin hadn't see much of his neighbors.

Mildred Long's husband, Tom, had died in 1973 and she'd never remarried. She raised their kids by herself on the meager income provided by Tom's insurance. Now her daughter, Laura and her son, Tom, Jr., both lived in California and Mildred didn't see them often, not more than a couple of times a year.

Mildred Long, like Marvin, was alone.

Marvin was fortunate, though. His daughters had married local boys and stayed close by, living only a few miles away in the newer suburbs. Now his grandchildren were grown and were beginning to have families of their own. Some of them, his daughters, his sons-in-law, or the grandkids, came by several times a week, checking up on things, seeing how Grandpa was doing.

Marvin drove carefully, too slowly for the people behind him. He was relieved to be home. Pulling his eleven-year-old Oldsmobile into the drive and then into the garage was always a relief. He knew at his age a single accident could cost him his driver's license. Even if the Department of Motor Vehicles didn't take it, his daughters would be after him again, telling him how dangerous it was for a man his age to still be driving.

A greater danger, he knew, was losing his insurance. Bill Carter, one of Marvin's oldest friends, had been in an accident a year before. It wasn't his fault. In fact, the girl who'd rear-ended him had been ticketed, but Bill's insurance premiums shot up and he could no longer afford coverage on his retirement income. It was awful for Bill, not being able to drive, and Marvin tried to go by to see his old friend and take him shopping at least once a week.

The afternoon was still hot but the shadows were lengthening as Marvin carried two bags of groceries into the house and put them away. The kitchen of the little bungalow was small. The entire house was small. He and Tillie had bought it in 1951, three years after they'd gotten married, and it had been the only place they'd ever owned.

The house was modest but they'd been happy there. They'd lived modestly, even after Marvin's business took off and they could have afforded a bigger, newer place. Instead of moving, they'd stayed put. The girls had shared the back bedroom until they went off to college and the other bedroom, the slightly larger one in front, had been his and Tillie's. It was there that his wife had died.

Instead of a larger house and newer cars, Marvin and Tillie had lived frugally. They'd saved their money, first for their daughters' college expenses, then for their own retirement. In 1990 he'd finally sold his real estate appraisal business. With the proceeds from the sale, and the money they'd invested each month for over fifty years, they had enough to live on, even a little extra to travel when they wanted.

Now alone, Marvin sometimes thought he was fairly well off. It wasn't the lack of funds which kept him home, which limited his life. It was the simple fact of being alone, not having anyone to go places with, do things with; that and his advancing age which made even simple expeditions such a chore.

Marvin poured himself a glass of iced tea and made his way into the front room. He got comfortable in his old leatherette recliner and flipped the TV remote. Later he'd make himself a sandwich or fix one of those frozen dinners.

Now in his eighties, Marvin was still a handsome man. He'd lost a little of his original height; six-two, he'd always said, but he was still above six feet. He watched his weight, which was still just under two hundred pounds, as it had been for thirty years. He took pride in his appearance and always dressed with care, not wanting to slip into the slovenly habits he saw in so many men his age.

His thick, gray hair, which complimented his steel-blue eyes, was neatly trimmed and he took care to comb it into place several times each day. He dressed casually, usually in neatly ironed khaki slacks and sport shirts, but more formally when the occasion demanded.

Now, at the end of the day, Marvin was home, his tasks were done and he was finally able to relax.

The news was depressing and he ran through the channels, stopping briefly to listen to the rantings of some TV evangelist. Marvin was not, at heart, a religious man. His own family, when he was a boy, had not attended church at all. When he met Tillie and got to know her family, he discovered that they were quite religious. They'd been pillars of the same church for three generations. Tillie had been in the choir since childhood and it was an important part of her life.

Marvin had begun attending church with Tillie while they were dating, and had continued over all the years of their married life. Now it was a part of his life, too. He went every Sunday, sitting in the "Hartley Pew," with the growing assembly of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

If asked what he believed, really believed, Marvin would have quoted the Creeds, but behind that easy formula of words he was less sure. The church for him was an important institution, a protector and conveyer of moral standards, the educator of children and the preserver of traditions he'd come to hold dear.

God, Marvin sometimes thought, must be amused at the antics of us humans, but God was a gentleman and he seemed to leave us mainly to our own devices. When Tillie was ill, Marvin had prayed, never knowing just how or what to ask; he'd prayed for an end of her suffering, knowing that end would probably be death.

Marvin switched the TV channels again, finding an old sit-com, one he'd seen before, years before with Tillie. Remembering that, remembering her, he felt a sudden wave of loneliness. She'd only been gone three months and he'd not gotten used to her not being there.

The last two years had been hard. The last few months of Tillie's life had been awful, but he'd kept her at home, as he'd promised he'd do. The hospice nurses had come two days a week, then three as things got worse. The last month they came every day, telling him each time they came that he really should move his wife to a nursing home. But he'd followed his wife's wishes. She'd been allowed to die at home and she had lived to see the spring, or at least the beginning of it. He'd brought her a little bouquet of daffodils from their garden the very day she'd died.

Marvin dozed a little, then returned to the kitchen to made himself a simple meal. He wasn't really hungry, but he knew he needed to eat.

The summer evening came on slowly. Twilight shadows filled the room. He fell asleep in the old recliner, as he seemed to do more and more frequently.

As the TV chattered softly, he woke and memories drifted back. He remembered those early years when he and Tillie were dating, and when they were first married. He remembered those years when he was working part time for old Mr. Hedges, learning the practical side of the real estate business while he took business classes at the local college on the GI Bill.

Marvin had been twenty-eight when they married, Tillie only twenty-two. In some ways he felt as if a big part of his life, or at least a big part of his youth, had been stolen by the War. He'd served four years in the Army, first in England, then in France, and he knew he'd been lucky. He'd returned unscathed, unlike the men who'd returned crippled and maimed, and so many who'd not made it home at all.

He and Tillie had had a good life together. They'd been married over fifty years, raising their two girls, watching grandkids grow up, and then the two great-grandkids Tillie had lived to see. Now another great-grandchild was on the way, the first who'd not know Tillie.

As the twilight deepened, Marvin's thoughts drifted further back, back to those years before the War. Just after he'd finished high school, for lack of a better plan or money for college, he'd joined the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. As he dozed, his thoughts drifted back to those days, to wonderful, sad memories, memories he didn't often allow himself, memories of Sam.

To be continued.