The winter of 1998 was particularly tough on all of us. The roads were plowed continuously yet never clear, the drifts rose so high we drove through tunnels and walkways and driveways were a never ending job. If you planned on getting out of the house in the morning, you shoveled last thing in the evening.
Of course, we were used to it, living in this part of the country demands preparation for the seasons and most of us loved it. I had come to occupy the family lake house full time while I attempted to put the fragments of my life back together: not at all like they used to be, yet mended back together in a way that would allow me to continue living on my own.
Discovering that my best friend and husband of twenty six years had a secret life which included a young lover and a child stomped out the fairy tale of happily ever after. I’ve learned it was all a mirage unfortunately. And now, for the second part of my life; a true one, an honest one. I will never let me down, I decided. I will take good care of me and rely on no one.
So, I shoveled until my back and shoulders were killing me and I could hardly imagine how I was going to manage until spring when one day there was a knock at my door. I cautiously looked out the side window only to see that weird guy with the dog named Vern standing with a shovel, apparently ready to get to work.
I cracked open the door, not undoing the chain and asked if I could help him. He offered to shovel the walk and driveway for whatever I felt it was worth. It eased my conscience to see he wore a good heavy jacket, hat, gloves and boots. His jeans though, looked frozen stiff. Suddenly embarrassed by my behavior, I undid the chain and accepted his offer, settling on a price that was well worth it to me. Vern stood shaking on the porch. My heart ached as I closed the door.
While he shoveled I put on a pot of coffee with the idea of offering him a thermos full to take with him when he was done. He could have the thermos and I would gladly fill it any time, thereby doing my part in taking care of one less fortunate, right? As for Vern, he wasn’t my dog after all and this guy shouldn’t have a dog if there were no way to protect him from the elements.
“Never mind the dog,” my conscience instructed. “What about the man, the person? Is he warm and cozy in the VW Bus? Or maybe in the tent? Is he sleeping well in an igloo he’s created out there on the desperate end of the summer campground?”
I slammed the canister shut and flipped the switch on. In a minute, the fresh ground aroma of gourmet coffee embraced the whole house, taking me out of my reverie and back to my perceived reality.
Of course the man was alright. Someone other than me, a single woman, must be taking him in, at least for a while. What was his name anyway? I put myself back in Norma’s living room on Thanksgiving Day nearly a month earlier, and tried to remember the introduction. He was such a quiet man. It was hard to remember much about him, mostly because I was doing my best to avoid him.
Flint! That was it. Flint something. There was something oddly familiar about him even though I was sure he wasn’t around when I was a kid, enjoying every summer at the lake. Right at that moment, I couldn’t actually say what he even looked like. Trying to conjure up an image in my mind proved fruitless.
I went to the window and took a good look. He appeared to be about my age. Well, it was hard to tell from my limited view point. He certainly shoveled like a young man rather than the old man I originally thought he was. Who was this guy and what was he doing living in the campground this time of year?
As he finished up, I ran to get my wallet and dug out the twenty bucks we’d agreed upon. I was ready and waiting, twenty dollar bill in one hand and a thermos of coffee in the other. I opened the door before he had a chance to knock.
There he stood, intense gray eyes, strong jaw line, just under six foot. His face was weathered, yet not old. I felt that uneasiness, almost a nervousness.
I handed him the money and the thermos.
“What’s this?” he asked quietly, taking the money but not the coffee.
“I thought you could use some coffee today. Keep you warm while you’re out shoveling. You can keep the thermos – it’s an extra.” I waved it off like it was nothing more than the air I breathe.
“Well,” Flint looked away for a minute then lifted those eyes to meet mine. “Thank you.” He accepted the thermos and turned to leave, Vern at his heals. I realized I was shaking, not knowing what I was doing or saying. There was a dizziness overtaking me as though I might pass out.
“Flint,” I called. My heart pounded. “Are you staying somewhere warm tonight?”
The man stood still, as though frozen in his tracks. Then he nodded affirmative, turned back to the road and slowly walked away.
The relief I felt was overwhelming. I frantically closed the door, locked it, and slid to the floor. Tears threatened. I stopped them. What was the matter with me?
To Be Continued