“Good Tuesday to you, Henry. Right on time, as usual,” the burly doorman said.
“Thank you, Edward. Good to see you again,” I doffed my hat to him.
“Go right on through, Mr. Blanthom,” the duty nurse smiled. “She on the patio taking in some good sun.”
“Thank you kindly, Miss Sarah. She does enjoy the outdoors,” I assured her. “How is she today?”
“Oh, ‘bout usual. Yesterday she was yelling about all her rabbits dying under her bed. Huh, Lord knows what all that was about,” she chuckled.
My eyes crinkled at the fond memory. Our youth together was always magical.
“That actually happened a long time ago. Mrs Blanthom kept rabbit kits under her bed over the winter. Didn’t want them to freeze, you know.”
“Oh, well that make sense. But why she say they was all dying?”
“Funny thing,” I said, gathering my words. “I had,” heat rose around my collar at the memory, “just left her house that day. I forgot to close her window so her folks wouldn’t find out that we were… spending time together.”
Nurse Sarah let out a big belly laugh.
“Oho, Mr. Blanthom! I get it now,” she smiled large, giving me a big wink.
“Well, overnight a big rat snake slithered in and made himself to home in the bed frame. Had him some midnight snacks of rabbit without so much as a thank you, ma’am. Nobody knew it was there until we…” I brushed my hand over my balding head in embarrassment. “Well, you know how kids can get when they’re in love.”
“I’m listening,” she smiled again. Her large eyes shone bright against her ebony skin.
“Suffice to say, we had to throw out that broke ol’ bed to the firepit and found that snake all twisted up in the springs,” I laughed.
“Ha! I bet you two lovebirds were quite a pair back in the day, Mr. Blanthom!” Sarah laughed, gently slapping my arm and returning to her rounds.
I looked out the big double doors of the Rest Haven Nursing Home. They led to the patio and then on to the gardens. I saw my lovely bride sitting at one of the small, oval tables. ‘Still thin as a bird, but strong as an ox’, I’d tell her. No amount of wrinkles could cover the spark in her eyes, or the set of her jaw. She was a feisty woman and a courageous lover. Once she caught you, you were hers forever. It didn’t matter who you were. She was my true love.
I usually wear my old Air Force Captain’s uniform when I go to see her. That’s how she remembers me best—her hero from Dub-ya Dub-ya Two. But that venerable relic has gotten so moth-eaten lately that I thought it would rip in embarrassing places just wearing it. I might have to retire it to its final resting place one day. I can find another one at the GI trading shop if need be. There’s always one come in every few weeks nowadays. I know my final time to turn in my uniform will come soon.
Today I wore my best Sunday suit with a yellow pansy in the lapel. Yellow is her favorite color. It matched her long, flowing hair when she was younger. Nothing caught my eye faster than her silky hair waving in the breeze.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Blanthom,” I said, reaching her table. “May I sit with you?”
“You may not,” she said quickly, shooting me a fast glance. “I don’t entertain strange men.” Her voice had not lost any of its strength in the 60 years I’d known her.
“I should hope not,” I laughed, sitting. “You and I have been friends for a very long time.”
“Get away from me, you rapscallion, or I’ll have my father cast you out into the street! Help, Papa! Help!”
“Calm down, Lavinia. It’s me, Henry.”
“How dare you demand anything of me, Sir! I don’t know you from Adam! The nerve of some young men!” she yelled, looking around the patio. “Where is that colored girl? Never around when you need them. Help!”
I could see that she was back in her younger formative years, and revving up for a prolonged tirade about the decline of gentlemanly manners. I knew it was best to give her space.
“I’ll find your nurse for you,” I said and stood. “I’m sure she’s just inside.” I excused myself and left her there grumbling that her father would hear about how the servants were allowing strangers onto the property without supervision nor proper introductions. I wondered how her father would have reacted seeing his daughter in this condition. It would have certainly broken his heart.
The nurses tended to her quickly and carted her back to her room. She was screaming the whole way about the indecency of strange men accosting women in their homes. I stayed in the lobby and straightened the brim of my hat that I had crushed in my hands. I hated to see her in such a delirium but that was the nature of Dementia. One thing out of place and her whole world can shatter around her. Today was my fault, wearing clothes she wasn’t familiar with, but I hoped she would have remembered my face.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Blanthom,” nurse Sarah said running up to me, “but I had to promise your missus that I’d make you leave the premises. I’m so sorry, sir.”
“That’s fine, Miss Sarah. It’s my own fault for not wearing my uniform today.”
“I noticed that, but you got on a fine looking suit today, though. She didn’t like it?”
“It’s new, thank you. She just didn’t recognize it, is all,” I told her. “I’ll go on back home and come back another time. You tell her you pitched me out on my ear, won’t you?” I smiled.
Sarah laughed one of her full belly laughs that makes everything seem better.
“If you say so, Mr. Blanthom. I’ll tell her just that.” She turned to her fellow nurses. “I probably could, too! I should do that to my ex husband, lazy bum. Won’t get outta my house! Mm!” She dusted her hands in pantomime of the deed and we all laughed at her antics.
The G.I. trade shop was closed on Wednesdays. Military surplus dealers need a day off, too, I suppose. Thursday I found two uniforms that still had their name tapes sewn on them; Lewis and McGinty. I knew a Lieutenant Lewis when I was flying the old bombers so I passed on that one. I didn’t want to add a stain to his reputation by wearing his uniform. I took McGinty’s uniform, even though he had longer arms and legs than I did, but I can fix that.
Lavinia was a wiz at stitching up my uniforms before the war. She demanded that I always looked sharp, no matter what we were doing. When I came home into her arms after the war, the first thing she noticed were a few loose buttons. Five minutes later, she had me looking like a dapper military man again. My eyes threatened to overflow from the flood of memories. She doesn’t look at me the same way now.
I took the olive drab jacket and slacks off the hangers and held them up to the lights. They hadn’t been worn much. McGinty, and most of the fliers, didn’t last long in the air. I’ll be able to wear this one out, so to speak.
It felt good to lay out my uniform after all those years. I’d forgotten some of the exact measurements for the lapel insignias, but a quick look in my old regs got me flying straight. Polishing my shoes put a few cramps in my hands, but they turned out fine.
Friday morning I turned up at the Home in my fresh uniform and a big bouquet of yellow pansies. Her favorites. They brought her out to have breakfast with me on the patio and I greeted her with a smile. She graciously took the flowers, taking time to smell them, before she addressed me. Her eyes were less than friendly.
“You have me at a disadvantage, sir. I was unprepared to receive company so early in the morning. And as my father or brothers are not here, a proper introduction can not be made. You may use the delivery exit to the side of the house. Good day to you.”
I was not shaken by her words. This was an old trick she used on me the first time we met. I smiled warmly and bent close to answer her.
“I worked for your father for several years. We are well acquainted. It was he who sent me to see you. And... I know for a fact that you don’t have any brothers, Lavinia Blantham.”
I held my laughter as I watched her eyes grow large at having been caught in a lie—something she absolutely hated above all else. By the Grace of God, I saw the dawn break on her face as she recognized me.
“Blantham?” she whispered. “Aren’t... aren’t you that boy, Henry, who used to bring in the firewood for me all those years ago?” Her dainty fingers lingered at her cheeks as the memories flooded back to her.
“You were my hero,” she smiled and put a gentle hand on mine. I shivered at the feel of her warmth. I missed her touch, her soul, so much. Her presence in the moment is always like a miracle to me. I didn’t want it to end.
“Yes, and I did it until my fingers bled, just to be able to see you smile again.”
“I never even gave you a rag to wrap around your hands. Oh, you must have thought me an absolute villain,” she gasped.
“I certainly did. And I came back every day for a month to bring in your firewood, and see if that beautiful villain would mend her ways and apologize for treating me so poorly,” I smiled.
“Oh, Henry, you poor thing. I’m surprised I didn’t ask you to light all the fires, too,” she smirked.
“But you did, you terrible beast,” I laughed. “I burned the tips of all the fingers on my left hand, lighting them, all so my beautiful villain could stay warm all winter.” We both laughed at the memories and sat staring deeply into each other’s eyes.
“Since when do heroes care about villains?” she whispered.
I squeezed her hand in mine and kissed her fingers.
“Without a villain, there is no need for a hero,” I said. “I’d do it forever, just to see you smile again.”
We had three glorious days together—me in my uniform, and her in a yellow bonnet. We talked and laughed endlessly about all our adventures during the war, moving from place to place and raising our daughter together. I didn’t have the heart to tell her our Evelyn died in a car crash four years previously. I only wanted her to remember the good times.
She passed away the next night, a Wednesday. Perhaps she knew it was her last hours on earth. Perhaps it was God’s gift to us. Either way, I was grateful. I made arrangements to place her in the family crypt and passed the word to everyone I knew.
The day of the entombment, over five thousand people came to give their respects to Mrs. Lavinia Clare Edwards Blanthom. It was the largest funeral people had ever seen in Kentucky. Very few knew of her last years in the Home, and they offered such wonderful remembrances of her life at the reception. Even Miss Sarah, her nurse, gave a side splitting recount of how she ‘took Miss Lavinia’s advice and threw her lazy ex-husband to the curb’.
There will never be another lady like that wonderful villain. I shall always miss my villain.