Ellen sighed, stood up and stretched. Looking around she saw a family gathered around a grave site. An elderly man was overcome with emotion and young adults clustered around in sympathy and support.
Ellen shook her head sadly. There’s something special about a relationship like that she thought as she picked up her purse and headed for the car. She wondered what it would have been like to grow up with brothers and parents. The thought was quickly put aside. She had no desire to see them, they would have nothing in common now.
She thought of her graduation. Grandmother Cunningham had been there to see her receive her MBA and in spite of age had stood and clapped the loudest as the certificate was handed to Ellen. Mabel had proudly stood beside her as friends gathered around to congratulate after the ceremony ended.
Ellen turned to the old lady. “Grandma, thank you for taking care of me and making this night possible.”
Ellen’s eyes widened as she looked at her Grandma’s face. Mabel was registering shock and hurt as she stared at something behind Ellen.
“Grandma, are you OK? Ellen turned to look in the direction Mabel was focusing but saw nothing of interest. She turned back to look questioningly at her Grandmother.
The old lady stumbled toward the nearest seat and sat down followed by a concerned granddaughter.
It’s your Mother!” The old lady said weakly pointing in the direction Ellen had searched before.
Ellen turned to see a poorly dressed woman with grey hair moving slowly toward them.
“Hello Mom.” The grey haired lady stood in front of her quietly sobbing Mother looking very uncomfortable. She turned to Ellen, “Congratulations daughter, you have made us all proud.”
Then as silently as she’d appeared she turned with a sigh and was lost in the press of the crowd while Ellen stood too shocked by this turn of events to move.
“Go look for her!! Mabel said quietly. Ellen ran through the crowd searching in all directions with mixed emotions. Was it anger she felt, regret, yearning? Then at the end of her unsuccessful search she returned to her Grandmother.
“Let’s go home!” Mabel said smiling. The incident was never mentioned again in her presence but Ellen filed it in the back of her mind. She wondered if it would be the last she’d see of this grey haired woman, her Mother!
Ellen started her car and headed for the exit, taking a left turn onto the long tree lined boulevard she was headed for the freeway that would take her to the city where she now worked. On a sudden impulse she turned off the boulevard and wound her way through old familiar streets and parked outside the house she’d spent most of her life. A pleasant lady was out in the front rose garden and she stood up to peer at the car. Dropping her garden tools she sauntered over to the car.
“I thought I recognized you, you’re the granddaughter of Grandma Cunningham aren’t you? I bought the place after she died two years ago. You’re working in the city aren’t you?”
“Why don’t you come in and share a cool drink and some cookies with me and we can get acquainted?”
Ellen looked at her watch and shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t have time today, perhaps sometime in the future when I come to check on Grandma’s grave?” She smiled. “I really shouldn’t have made this diversion as I’m supposed to be back at my apartment where there’s loads of work to do before work tomorrow.”
After graduation Ellen had spent weeks looking at job ads, approaching recruitment agencies and attending interviews before finding a job that really appealed to her. Mabel had been a strong source of encouragement during this stressful time.
The job that really appealed was in the city and initially Ellen put it out of mind as she wanted to be a support to the woman, now aged, who’d given her nurture and support in her younger years. But the discerning old lady understood the job in the city would be best and urged her to take it.
“I’ll be OK and it’s probably best I take it quietly now after all you are a noisy person to have in the home.” Both of the women laughed loudly remembering the boisterous years when Ellen would bring friends home to play games, share homework time together and have sleepovers. The house had rocked with happy sounds in those years.
So Ellen took the job, Mabel and she checked out apartments in the city for rent and furnished it to their mutual satisfaction.
The new job required a steep learning curve so Ellen had little time to visit Mabel over the next few months. Occasionally Mabel would make a trip to the city to see her granddaughter but those visits became less frequent.
Then six months into her new job Ellen suddenly had a premonition all was not well at home and headed down the freeway next weekend to check out why she had these strange feelings of apprehension. She’d phoned ahead but no one had picked up that ancient phone to take her call.
Must be out talking to the neighbours Ellen thought as she smiled at memories of Mabel doing the rounds of the street. It was a friendly town, neighbours being in and out of each other’s homes all the time. Ellen smiled as nostalgia gripped her. Those were happier days, in the world she lived in now people were so busy with work they barely had time to greet each other as they passed in the hallway of the apartment building. She missed the friendliness of a small town environment.
But there was no one at home on her arrival, so she checked with neighbours and was told Mabel was in hospital with a suspected heart condition. They were running tests that day. Ellen sped off to the hospital to check out the report.
Mabel was just returning from diagnostics when Ellen arrived.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Ellen said crossly.
“Nothing to worry about dear!” The old lady laughed reassuringly but reading her face Ellen could see and underlying fear.
“I’m taking you back to the city with me so I can keep an eye on you. I wondered why you hadn’t been occupying your room in my apartment and thought you must be courting!”
The tension of the moment was broken as both women laughed loudly. Nurses looked up from the nursing station in surprise, then smiled.
Reports from the doctor were reassuring. Grandma would weather the health scare. But Ellen insisted on taking Mabel with her and it was to be a permanent arrangement from then on with occasional visits back home on weekends to keep the garden up and house clean. Mabel always insisted she would be moving back home again, but both of them understood that would not happen.
Ellen was glad to have her Grandmother with her with her work load increasing as she moved up the ladder in her corporation. It was nice to have breakfast prepared and dinner on the table when she could make it home after a hard day at the office. Ellen made sure Mabel scheduled regular medical appointments and kept her eye on the old lady’s needs.
Then one day when Ellen arrived home late from the office there was no dinner on the table. She checked Mabel’s room and found her passed on to rest with a contented smile on her face. Ellen checked to see there were no vital signs remaining then sat by the bed silently shedding tears and holding the old lady’s now cold hands. After a couple of hours of silent grief she got up to make necessary phone calls and waited while a procession of authorities did their work with the final removal of Ellen’s last link with family.
She picked up the phone and contacted her immediate boss to ask he cover for her next day while she attended to formalities. With that assurance she sat down in her favourite chair and prepared for a lonely grief filled night. There would be no sleep that night she thought.
Then the phone rang and Ellen mechanically picked it up wondering who would call that time of night. It was her boss and her secretary. Could they come up and see her?
So Ellen wearily opened the security door and they took the elevator up. Ellen opened the door to let them in. Both of them gave her a hug. Dennis apologized that he’d not be able to stay with her through her tragic experience that night and said he’d cover for her that week as she was to be granted compassionate leave until she felt ready to return to work, but Jane her secretary came prepared to spend the night with her. Ellen sobbed in gratitude for their kind intervention.
Dennis checked in on Ellen every evening much to her surprise. Corporation staff are generally impersonal as they have to deal with the demands of their respective jobs and in a sense are in competition for the next level of advancement. Dennis was a bachelor and always professional so this was quite an unexpected interest. The rest of the staff were surprisingly supportive too during her time away from the office.
To be continued
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