Have you ever met someone in passing, or heard a story that just stuck with you? You can't figure out why, but it just does and for some reason, they, or it, have a profound effect on you? Well, that was my day yesterday. We were out doing our usual errands and decided to grab a coffee in the mall. As we sipped our drinks, an older man, likely in his 80's approached, asking if he could sit with us. We agreed, the food court was full and we, the two of us, were seated at a 4 person table. He nodded and sat and of course, as people do, we got to chatting. He seemed so grateful to have some company, like he hadn't spoken to anyone in weeks and this was the highlight of his day. He spoke of his wife, long since deceased and when he did, the mix of profound love and sadness was evident in his face.
I thought about that old guy all day. And when I decided it was time to get to work later in the day, even though I thought I had finally put him out of my mind, he was still there, and as I painted, a story developed in my head. I called the piece Last Stop and the reason for the title will become evident from the story. It's not his story exactly, but it's what came into my mind and out onto the canvas, so I figured I'd share it, what the heck, they say a picture's worth a thousand words, so let's have a go:
I remember the first day I saw her, it was in September, 1951. I boarded the bus for school and there she was, a vision in a crisp white blouse and a blue skirt, her dark hair neatly tied back. I remember the blood rushing to my face as she wrinkled her nose at me in disapproval. She was obviously from "in town" and well out of my league. Here I was, all of 16, scrawny, clad in my very best new to me hand me downs, getting on the bus on the very last stop out on County Road 39, The Dregs, they called it. It wasn't a bad place, really, it was just "not in town", you know? It was about 20 minutes out, consisting of family farms mostly. And I was as far out in The Dregs as one could get, in fact, had I lived a mile further out, I would have had to go to school in the next county.
As for me, I can't say I was poor. In fact, my dad had the biggest farm in the area and we did okay, but my mother believed heavily in thrift. Waste not want not. New clothes for me, the fourth boy in the family, were just not on the cards. I mean, why waste money on that when there's perfectly good clothing my brothers were rapidly outgrowing that hadn't lived a full and useful life? And of course, my father, well, he believed in hard work, and my chores began each morning before school. Looking back, I imagine I was quite the sight, in ill-fitting pants and likely smelling of a mix of light sweat and cow dung. That and I lived out in "The Dregs".
Well, on that day, I walked past "her" to find a seat. There were none. I came back toward her, she sat there, perched like a beautiful statue, her books on the only available seat. I stood there, looking like a fool until she moved her books, inviting me to sit.
I won't bore you with all the details, but her name was Dianna Jenkins and as it turned out, she was as beautiful inside as she was outside! She was smart, funny, spirited and kind and we soon found ourselves dating. Well, fast forward 4 years, and we married. We made our home out in "The Dregs" for at least 50 years, raising 4 boys ourselves before we sold the homestead and moved into an apartment in town. It was just easier to manage as we got older. Life wasn't perfect, there were hard times, lean times, times we both thought of just calling it quits, but somehow we didn't. As tough as it got, and I mean it got tough (like the day the tax assessor came calling intent on putting the farm on the auction rolls for unpaid taxes), it was always Dianna who somehow dug deep down into herself and found a way to save our behinds. I'm pretty sure that day she used a mix of her beauty and a few tears to get the county official to turn around and walk away. She'd never admit it though. No matter, whatever she did, it worked and we were given the necessary time to get caught up. I still laugh about the day I broke something on my relic of a tractor and she came out and cobbled something together, told me to try it and then beamed with pride as it, yet again, puttered along.
The bus hasn't come out County Road 39 since 1962, I guess people all have cars now, so there's no need. The old wooden shelter is still there though, the very same one I stood at that September day, I know, my brothers built it. I find myself going out there from time to time, since Dianna passed. People keep telling me I shouldn't go, that it's too upsetting, too sad. Yes, it's sad, it's always sad when the love of your life, your soul mate, that person you've shared everything with, is no longer there, at least physically, but what these people don't understand is that she is still here, for me, she is, and that's where she is, at that old bus stop. I go there, to that place where we first met, and I talk to her. I tell her about my days, I reminisce, I give her the community gossip, and for a brief moment, it's like we're together again, young, full of fun. I see no harm in it, so I'll continue coming out as long as I'm able; I should probably bring flowers next time, a gentleman always brings his lady flowers.