Alecia Harrwood (January 6, 1890 - May 12, 1986) took great joy in checking men (and occasionally a few women) out…at Mike’s Hardware Shop where she worked for forty three years as a cashier. A woman would have to be tough as nails to survive in a man’s dome like Mike’s for so long, and many of her customers attest that the woman’s skin (which tended to roll off her in waves) was literally thick enough so that none of the nails which protrude from the floors of Mike’s fine establishment ever pierced her. The same can’t be said though for her husband, Jim Harrwood, whose piercing brought the couple three children, all now grown and scattered throughout the country. Harrwood-
“Mary! He did it again! Oh you have to read this, it’s a crack up,” hoots Willy Grearson, slamming his coffee down onto the lopsided table.
It takes a moment, but at his call, Mary, his wife of sixty-seven, shuffles into the kitchen with a basket of laundry under her left arm, dragging her oxygen behind her with her right.
“You’re not talking about those obituaries again are you, Willy?” she asks a bit out of breath.
“Damn right I am. I’m telling you, this Goldstein’s a genius! Listen to this.”
She sets the laundry basket on the rickety table, making it tilt and jostle the top wave of Willy’s coffee off onto the wood. “Ah, watch what you’re doing woman! After twenty years you still haven’t learned this thing’s a piece of junk. Just like the rest of this house. Almost got coffee all over me,” Willy huffs.
“I’m sorry, dear,” Mary replies, the words coming out instinctively.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. So listen to this one:
‘Meryl Buffet, 84, was a woman who clung to her maiden name. Her sister, Sheryl Montgomery, claims Meryl never found a man she was interested in enough to marry (which translated means that gentlemen never took much interest in her), but from the woman’s physique it was obvious to tell she clung to her surname in other ways as well, finding a common interest with what I’m sure were a plethora of buffets in her lifetime.’
Ain’t that great, Mar! A plethora of buffets! This man needs to win a Pulitzer trophy or something, I tell ya.”
“I just don’t think it’s right, Willy. You shouldn’t make fun of the dead like that. Imagine how their families feel,” says Mary, her eyes not leaving the shirt she’s begun folding.
“Oh baloney. The families are the ones who hire him out to write the obituaries. You know how much needs to be done after someone kicks the bucket. He just takes care of one of the chores for them. Besides, it’s making light of a tough time and might even bring ‘em a few laughs. You’re just too uptight to appreciate it, but I see where this guy’s coming from.”
“I’m just saying-”
“I know what you’re saying. You know, you tell me I’m never happy and then when I enjoy something you shoot it down. No wonder I’m never a bucket of laughs. I’ve been living with you for forty years.” He folds up the paper and places it onto the table, directly on top of the spilt coffee.
“Willy you don’t-”
“Damn, now look.” He hits the worn wood with his palm.
“Mean that,” Mary trails off.
“I’m going for cigars with Andy. I’ll be back for dinner. And please don’t make it meatloaf again. I can barely swallow the stuff anymore.” He gets up from his chair, his stomach catching the table and shaking it again, and leaves after another curse while Mary barely swallows down the guilt she chokes on every time her husband mentions his best friend.
“Since Mary’s got the oxygen, I can’t even smoke in my own home anymore, Andy. This is what I need.” Willy exhales out with the same relief of taking a deep breath in. Seated next to Andy on his front porch, overlooking the empty city street in front of him, he keeps one hand on his stomach like a pregnant mother.
He and Andy had worked for years together at a vacuum factory, but even in retirement they still got together once in a while, the man remaining as one of Willy’s only companions.
“How is Mary? She doing better now?” asks Andy, who overtime has become a walking skeleton with flesh.
“Yeah yeah. Much better. Still not breaking her routine. Breakfast, laundry, soap opera, dinner. I tell ya, getting that oxygen’s been the most exciting part of that woman’s life since little Jim-boy got remarried.”
“Well, just take care of her, Willy. She’s a good woman,” reminds Andy, thinking of the several casseroles and caresses Mary brought him after his own wife passed away.
“You don’t think I know that? The whole world reminds me I got myself a good woman. Don’t hear anyone ever telling her she’s got a good man.”
Andy lets the comment roll off of him and up into the smoke of the cigars that evaporates lazily, resisting like a pro the nineteen and seven month year old urge to punch the man. He knows it’d be him ending up on the floor in that situation anyways, a pile of bones with no muscle collapsed in a heap. Instead, he pictures in his head the woman that he keeps the oaf beside him around for.
In his mind, Mary’s a lioness that somehow got trapped in the grip of some hairy orangutan. Always elegant in a way that didn’t require designer clothes or jewelry, she never fit into the life Willy had given her.
“He treats you like crap, Mar. The way he yells at you, doesn’t appreciate you – you have to bring him his lunch almost once a week because he’s too stupid to remember to grab it, and every time he barely acknowledges you,” he ranted one day twenty years ago, finally fed up with seeing the woman who had been bringing him dinner once, sometimes twice a week for almost two months now mistreated - a woman he’d begun to care for.
“Please, Andy. You know I don’t like it when you talk about him that way.” She sat with her hands neatly folded on her lap, staring at the ground. Their knees bumped against each other whenever one of them shifted – one of the small, simple touches they’d been sharing more and more.
“I’d never treat you like that,” Andy said, maneuvering in front of her so she had to look at him. He tilted her chin up with his skinny fingers, guiding her gray eyes into his. And it was then that he knew she saw him - a gentle man with the utmost respect for her. A man who would’ve never dared compromise her honor but instead gave her all the power, so that when she leaned into his lips it was completely of her own accord, bringing both of them the consolation they needed - Andy for his lost wife and her for the life he knew she could’ve had had Willy not knocked her up and condemned her to a lifetime by his side all those years ago. They breathed life back into one another, and for almost two hours they laid impervious to grief and regret.
Then, he called. Wanting to know if Andy wanted to go out for a drink.
Due to some marital instinct Mary knew it was him, and she began grabbing her things, frantically trying to pin up her hair again and wipe away any smudges to her makeup. Andy hung up after giving Willy a quick no, and tried to calm her down, but the ring of the phone had awoken her to a reality she knew better than to escape.
“He’s not coming. It’s fine. Relax, Mar.” She shooed him away, tears covering her gray eyes but refusing to fall.
“It’s not fine. I have to go.” She grabbed her purse sprinting to the door.
“Mary…please,” Andy begged.
She stopped but wouldn’t turn to look at him.
“Willy sacrificed his life for me and my son. He could’ve left me all those years ago, but he married me and stayed by my side. I owe him enough to at least do the same.”
And she left. To this day, never stepping foot again even on Andy’s street.
Andy shakes himself out of the cobwebs of the past, excusing himself to get a glass of water and a second away from the man beside him.
Left on the porch alone, Willy snuffs out the few remains of his cigar and spots a several week year old newspaper underneath the wicker table’s right leg to keep it propped up straight. Mumbling about Andy always being so moody, Willy pulls the paper out and flips to his favorite section.
Greg McClaine (March 23, 1925 - April 10, 1986), a fourth grade teacher at H.C. Brown’s elementary school, passed away on Wednesday after a severe heart attack…which just goes to show you the side effects of working with children. Many would question the manhood of a man who spent his days as a dainty school teacher, but after eight children, it’s safe to say that Greg’s manhood was indeed functioning. A man who volunteered regularly at Westburg’s downtown soup kitchen but never took much interest in religion, his literally heart-wrenching death is bound to stir up controversy amongst debaters, Nazi-like Catholics, and his devotedly Christian and still kickin’ in-laws in a discussion about the “destiny of his soul.”
“Hey, Andy! Let me read this to you!”
“Jim called this morning. Him and Celia want to bring the kids up for a visit next month,” says Mary, her eyes, in their usual position, searching desperately upon Willy’s face.
“Can the boy afford the trip? If he’s as bad off as he complains I doubt they’d even be able to pay for the gas on the way up, let alone the way back too,” he huffs before a forkful of peas.
“Jim’s doing well for himself. He told me they might even be adding onto their hous-” Mary’s eyes widen slightly, a fear of hers being realized and mutating into panic and desperation – a panic and desperation that for a second melt into relief that the sentence she’s been forced to pay for over forty years may be ending, a sentence given to her all those years ago when she took advantage of a strong man with a protective nature (but then hidden temper) and coaxed him into bed in hopes of entrapping him into a family that she so desperately wanted so as to shed her twenty-seven year old marriageless status – a feat she’d accomplish, but at the price of binding herself to Willy forever and shouldering a conscience that left her slaving to make him happy.
“A new addition? Figures. I don’t know why all that boy does is complain to me.”
“It’s the only way you’ve taught him,” is what Mary would have said if she had no debt to the man in front of her and didn’t mind offending him, or if her body didn’t choose that moment to deplete itself of oxygen and propel her into a coughing fit from which she’d never recover.
From an optimist’s perspective, one can certainly never say Mary Grearson ( April 19, 1919 - May 15, 1986) was a long-winded woman after her death this past Monday, which is more than can be said for most women who spend their lives as housewives. Although, none appear to take the role as literally as Mrs. Grearson did, who barely left her front door step in three years, forgoing hobbies and interests to dedicate herself to the noble task all women should aspire towards: caring for her husband. Of course, a woman who never leaves the doors of her castle is likely to grind the grears…er, gears of her man, relying on him solely as her only relation and most definitely blaming him for when he cannot fulfill those countless needs all women seem to believe are essential. One such need her husband did fulfill was providing the Mrs. Grearson with a child, Jim E. Grearson, who was born suspiciously only four months after the couple’s marriage, proving that even the wild jezebels can be saved and converted into June Cleavers. Funeral services will be held…
“Oh, boy.” Willy sets his elbows on the table over the paper (effectively shifting the wooden rectangle to its left side) and places the palms of his hands over his eyes. “Mary, this wasn’t…I never…Oh, Mar…”
The front screen door opens and slams, a sound that barely disturbs Willy after three days of family and neighbors traipsing in and out with fruit baskets and white cone-shaped flowers.
“Willy!” Andy stomps into the kitchen with the force of a regular man’s walk. “Did you read the paper? Mary’s obituary?” His breath comes out raggedly, and for a second it frightens Willy, reminding him of the countless ragged breaths he’d become so used to hearing.
“Yeah I read it-” begins Willy, tossing on his crocodile-like persona.
“What did you tell him? He made her sound pathetic, Willy! A woman with nothing. No goals, no friends-”
“I told him she’d been housebound recently. And when he asked about that stuff I didn’t know. I don’t know how she spent her days. I told you all she did was-”
“And a wild jezebel!” Andy throws his arms up and down as if in one of the water aerobics classes he’s forced to go to by his physical therapist.
“I didn’t tell him that! You think I’d go saying that about my own wife? Especially in her own goddamned obituary?”
“Jesus, Willy,” says Andy under his breath. “After everything that woman did for you… She gave up her life for you, and this is how you broadcast her to the world she hasn’t been able to reach in years?”
“It’s over and done with, Andy. I can’t do-”
“You never deserved her.” The words stand like subtitles in the air, hovering around Andy as Willy lets them sink in.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? I cared for her. I was a good husband. And who the hell are you coming in here and telling me about my wife!” He gets to his feet and towers over the ever-thinning man in front of him.
Suddenly Andy remembers his left knee, in desperate need of a replacement, and the way his back twists his body with pain for days if he bends it even at the simplest of angles. He takes a step back, beginning a slow but obvious retreat to the door that Willy follows with each step, as if they were tied to the same string.
“I just mean you should have cared better for her,” Andy finally explains when his hand reaches the thin metal of the screen door handle.
“Why the hell do you care? You didn’t even know her,” growls Willy, daring him to say otherwise.
Andy looks down at the ground and leaves, but once outside he turns around as quickly as a man in his state can and faces through the screen door the man he’s come to despise.
“She made really good casseroles,” he says slowly. Then, with a nostalgic, distant smile he walks to his car, and drives away, leaving Willy alone in every way.
William Grearson (August 12, 1915 - June 28, 1986) departed from this earth this past Sunday evening, barely a month after the passing of his late wife, Mary Grearson, leading many to wonder if the grown man was capable of the instinctual human abilities needed to survive, or if in fact he was so reliant on his wife he had been sadly dwindling away for the past five weeks, calling into the darkness for someone to make him some meatloaf. Grearson enjoyed the finer things in life such as smoking cigars and his weekly bowling league; however, according to one of his closest friends, it was obvious this All-American manly man tended to have more of a connection with the color yellow than red, white, and blue. Always backing away from a fight, even when the honor of his beloved was at stake, it leads many to wonder whether he died simply in fear of no longer having someone there to comfort him in the dark. Grearson is survived by his son, James (Celia) Grearson, and grandchildren Rose and Michael. Calling hours will be held this Thursday, 6-8p.m., at Rossi&Son’s funeral home, 566 W. Park Ave., Eastland 42098. Funeral services will take place Friday at St. Peter’s, 9a.m.