Auld Acquaintance Ne’er Forgot
Thelma tapped to the porch swing, lowered her fragile body and turned her gaze next door. The moving van squatted in the back lane, doors open. A stocky man in a sleeveless T-shirt, taut muscles glistening from the early summer heat, emerged from behind the truck carrying something covered with a dirty mover’s quilt toward the Boyer house next door.
A thought startled Thelma. It was no longer the Boyer's house after 55 years, she reminded herself. Kyle and Verna were gone, but they had moved next door as newlyweds when she and Rit had already been married ten years. “A habit of a lifetime is hard to break,” she thought ruefully and shook her head.
Thelma’s life was solitary after Rit died, but village news reached her daily when Aldine delivered the mail, a backdoor chat with the postal carrier being a pleasure of village life. Sometimes it was the only social contact for housebound widows.
The couple who bought the house seemed too youthful to be in their 60s. The husband looked like a boy, lean without an ounce of fat. He carried two dining room chairs briskly across the grass toward the house.
“I knew that new woman’s mother,” Aldine commented. “We worked together at the courthouse years ago right after I graduated. She’d have been a little younger than you, I guess, Thelma. A Mrs. Diehl, she was.”
Thelma started. Could it be? Could it really be? She asked Aldine if she knew Mrs. Diehl’s husband’s first name. Aldine thought for a minute. “Lynn,” Aldine ventured. “I’m pretty sure it was Lynn.”
The church bells at Holy Family chimed twelve and the recorded noontime hymn began, signaling lunchtime. After hasty cheese and crackers with a glass of iced tea, Thelma settled again onto the porch swing. The burly movers were lugging bigger pieces of furniture across the grass now. Almost finished, then, she thought. Thelma closed her eyes in the warm afternoon sunshine, lulled by the rocking.
Suddenly she sensed someone approaching and opened her eyes. “Hello,” said a pleasant woman whose face looked somehow familiar. “We’re just moving in and I wanted to introduce myself. I’m Linda DeLia. My dad and his family lived here in the 30s. My grandfather preached at the little church on Clark Street. I wonder if you knew them?”
It’s true. Thelma saw it clearly now. “I’m very glad to meet you, dear,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for you. Sit here while I get something from the dining room.”
The younger woman watched as her elderly neighbor pushed up from the swing. Leaning on her cane, Thelma moved toward the screen door.
Linda’s foot rocked the swing gently back and forth. She breathed in the lilacs she had so longed for in Colorado. Retiring to rural western Pennsylvania had never been a serious consideration during her working life, but nostalgia had won out. The cost of living was enticingly low, and she and Tom had fallen in love with the beautiful century-old Boyer house.
Long minutes passed before Thelma returned gripping a thin brown book. “I want to show you my yearbook, dear. I graduated in 1934, and I thought you might be interested in some village history. The town has shrunk to half the size since the mines gave out, but we used to have plenty of stores. The school’s boarded up now, of course, but I used to walk down the Ridge from the farm every day no matter what the weather. It’s pretty in the fall when the maples flame up on the mountain.”
“Oh, my goodness,” Linda exclaimed. “My father graduated from Hooversville High in the ‘30s. Did you know Lynn Diehl?”
“I did,” said Thelma. “He was in the class behind me. Here’s his picture. Lynn was so quiet and shy, but he always had a friendly word for me.
Linda touched the brittle page carefully and stared at the face of her father. At 17 life was waiting, but he looked rather grim, neither expectant nor pleased about life’s possibilities. He served in WWII, married her mother, raised three daughters. Depressed his whole life, he worked for the A & P for nearly 40 years before a heart attack killed him at 63, younger than Linda was now.
“My son Dean farms up on the Ridge and my daughter Linda lives across Laurel Mountain in Ligonier,” Thelma said.
“Isn’t that a coincidence?” Linda smiled. “I guess the name ‘Linda’ was pretty popular in the 40’s.”
“Yes,” Thelma agreed, also smiling. “I always loved that name for a little girl.”
Idaho Falls, ID
We lived in that village in the southwestern PA county where I grew up for six years, but "going home" was not a good idea, so we moved to Idaho Falls earlier this year because my husband missed the West. It was the best move we ever made!