I have a long list of exciting things I want to do before I kick the bucket, but there’s one regret that I wish I could fix. But as we know, life offers no do-overs and for this, I have to make my peace.
Growing up, I felt like a tall giraffe in a glass store, awkward and out of place. If there was something to be broken, I broke it. I could stumble on air and fall. Quiet clumsy, It was like: Watch Watch, crash . . . break.
My mom took my sister and I to church, where I began making friends, getting involved in youth group, rehearsing for plays, and so on. This is when I met Mr. Garvin and Ms. Way-dee, an older couple that would change my life forever.
They would invite us to their house to stay the weekends, after church or weekdays if school was out. When I entered their property, I left all my worries at the front gate. They lived on a huge farm with lots of cows. They both seemed old, with young hearts. I guess when you’re little, everyone looks old, though I think she was only in her late 50’s and him in his mid 60’s.
I felt like I had hit the jack pot. The church was full of kids, but they chose us. I don’t know why, but it didn’t matter because they were mine and I was there’s. I felt so special at their house. Ms. Wadie taught us how to make fun desserts, can sweet pickles and make a mean “molasses pancake breakfast.” Mr. Garvin was like the Avon man for men. He drove down the dirts roads and sold men’s cologne, men’s hats and clothing, hair products, you name it. He was a tall, medium built guy, sort of gruff-looking with full gray hair and a smile.
He had a shed, slash home office out back that housed a mannequin, an office desk, dial up phone and adding machine; my sister and I would pretend to run our own business and make deals. And when we got tired, Mrs. Wadie would send us out to the barn and we would make tunnels out of hay bails.
One day Mr. Garvin unveiled a Go Cart that had been hidden in the barn. A treasure we had spotted in the past, but hadn’t been cranked up in years and didn’t know if it even worked. He explained that they got it for their grandkids long ago, but because they lived in another state, the visits were few and far between. I dreamed about -what it was like to be blood related to Mr. Garvin and Mrs. Wadie. How lucky their grandkids were, to be able to have them as their grand parents. But I was lucky because I got to spend many weekends with them.
Wadie never hollered, never got angry and was always sweet. You couldn’t twist her arm to say anything bad about anybody. She never gossiped, was always honest and had the patience of Job. But there was one thing that could make her mad. Don’t touch her feet. I did one time and got this mean look that I never wanted to see again. It actually seemed as though the “mean look” pulled energy from her body.
When I was 11, my real grandpa died. I never knew anyone that had passed away. And though he was sick, I hadn’t expected him to go so sudden. I loved my paw-paw and was devastated that I would never see him again. He and I use to drive the tractor and bail hay all day long. We were close. I stayed at Mrs. Wadie’s house for what seemed like a week, during all the funeral arrangements and endless errands.
One day, while looking through old records in the living room, I discovered “Swing Low, Sweet Chariots.” I listened to that song for hours and cried. It was depressing and comforting all rolled into one. Mrs. Wadie must have heard me play it over and over. That house was tiny, but she knew I needed time to myself and never came in once, never interrupted, just let me be. I knew it and she knew it.
Mr. Garvin was quiet a bit older than Wadie and was retired from running a grocery store, where they met and got married in their older years. He would get up in the middle of the night, in boxers, talking to himself, and scratch his back like a bear on the hallway post, up and down, up and down. I used to giggle because he had no idea anyone saw him. I don’t even think he was completely awake for that matter.
They use to have snoring competitions and boy did it get loud. Neither of them slept in the same bed or the same room, for that matter, because they said the other snored too loud, but believe me, either one could have won that contest. Once, Mrs. Wadie quit snoring really loud and I thought she was dead. I got out of bed and leaned over her face to see if she was alive. When she woke up, I was hovering over her. In her quiet voice and startled eyes, she said: What are you doing? I said: I thought you were dead. She just rolled over and went back to snoring.
Mrs. Garvin use to take us with him on his rounds, to check on the neighbor’s cows or visit friends. We would hop into his old red truck and drive down all the dirt roads and hollows, knowing our next adventure was around the corner. I remember Mrs. P down the way. Her husband was a doctor and they were the sweetest folks. She had long gray hair that was always swooped up like a messed up bird’s nest. With a smile and kind voice, she usually met us in the driveway. When we stopped by, they would always talk about their grandkids, how proud they were of their children, were never in a rush and always had time for impromptu drop-ins.
Then late one night, the phone rang. The kind of late when no one should be calling unless something was wrong. It was Mrs. P frantically hollering: He’s gone! He’s gone! We didn’t know who was gone. By the time we got there, Dr. P had had a heart attack on the floor and our preacher was doing CPR until the ambulance arrived. This would be my 2nd dealing with death. We rode behind the ambulance, trying to keep up, as it ran all the red lights. The siren was at an ear piercing level. It felt like the slowest and fasted ride I had ever encountered. When we got there, Mrs. P was crying and begging God not to take her husband and I had no words.
I will never forget the Dr.coming into the waiting room shaking his head, saying He didn’t make it. We had just visited with him the day before. As she heard the news: She fell to the floor and kept asking: What am I going to do? I wanted to fix it, but Mr. Garvin and Mrs. Wadie just held her and cried.
That afternoon, Mr. Garvin tuned up the Go Cart and we took off, my sister and I, screaming and Ya hooing all over the cow field that day, hitting thin hard-shelled cow patties and watching them blow up as we drove over them. We chased cows, hit all the bumps and flew over all the hills we could find and it felt liberating. We didn’t have a care in the world, it was just us, the cows and the wind that day.
Garvin got a call not too long after that. His only grandson had been killed in a car accident. He was test driving a Porsche and it flipped on the interstate. I think that was the saddest day of his life. I wanted to fix the pain, but nothing could. I felt a little guilty about being there, sort of being the surrogate grandchild, especially when his grandchild had been taken from him, but somehow, we both fit the bill for each other that day.
Not long after, Wadie came to my house. My parents took her out on the boat, where we went with friends to “The Swing,” the Mountain Dew swing to be exact, which consisted of about 7 frayed ski ropes tied together, hanging from a huge leaning oak tree. The only way you could get to it was by swimming up to the bottom of the steep embankment and grabbing tree roots. Then you would grab the ski ropes, climb a little higher, jump on the swing and hoped to goodness your rear end didn’t drag the ground until you could swing out over the water and drop. It was loads of fun, mostly because you feared greatly for your life.
Wadie had borrowed one of my mom’s one piece bathing suits. I had never seen her in one and frankly was shocked when she agreed to go swimming. She put that bathing suit on and we had a laugh because the pattern was bright white magnolias on the bottom and when she bend over, it looked like they were blooming. She didn’t know that, but we did. It didn’t matter who wore that bathing suit, the flowers always bloomed. We were on the boat when I asked Wadie if she’d be willing to swing from the rope. With her great big eyes, she said: NO WAY! I laughingly said: “I’ll never come to your house again if you don’t go.” I was kidding. Hey, I was 11. She climbed out of that boat, swam to shore and made her way up the bank and swung over the water. In that moment, I realized just how much she loved me. She took that challenge seriously and I was awestruck by her quick response.
HERE IS MY REGRET. As time went by, we grew older, moved away, got married and never really kept in touch. They were always in my heart and quiet frankly changed my life for the better in many ways, but I never told them how I felt.
A few years ago, Mr. Garvin popped up in my mind. Not sure why, but he was on my heart. I thought about him everyday and felt like I needed to write him a letter: tell him how much he meant to me, how he changed my life and how much I appreciated him taking me in and loving me like I was his own. I felt a since of urgency to write, but I kept thinking I”LL DO IT tomorrow. Then I wrote the letter, but didn’t have a stamp or his new address. I had that “hand sweating, heart beating” do it now, but never did. Then one day, just like that, the urgency was gone.
A week later, while visiting my dad a few hours away, I told him about not being able to get Garvin off my mind and how I FINALLY wrote him a letter (much later than I had anticipated, but better late than never, right). I sent it off yesterday. He said: Oh Stephanie, Garvin DIED LAST WEEK!
OH, My heart sank. I wanted him to know how much I loved him, how much he meant to me, but it was too late. I had all the time in the world months earlier and yet I waited till it was too late. My dad tried to encourage me by saying how much it would mean to Wadie to read the letter, but I should have listened to my heart, to God’s prompting.
Do you have someone you’ve been thinking about, but haven’t made the call, because you don’t know what to say, you don’t have their address, a stamp, or the time to make a quick visit? Perhaps it’s “Their Fault.” We can come up with a 1000 excuses, but it doesn’t matter.
Make the call, pick up the phone, write a letter, text them, write it in the sky, but do something to tell them before it’s too late. Tomorrow is not promised. Let go of your pride and make it right. Be the bigger person: The way things were, doesn’t mean it is how they have to be.
Do you have a Wadie and Garvin? Tell them how much you love them. They sacrificed part of their life for you and will find much joy in knowing they helped make you a better person. Good or bad, if you have someone on your heart or mind, give them a call; we may not even understand the reason behind their name popping in our head, but give them a call, for nobody is promised tomorrow. Keep the bucket list long and the regret list short. Here’s to Great People in Our Lives.