Leah Lovesey Lepage
“Kelly Darling, how many husbands have I had?”
Kelly casts a quick glance over her shoulder, pausing briefly from her task of sorting her mother’s socks and lingerie drawer. Her mother, June, “Junie” to her inner circle, is perched on her institutional bed in her room at her new longterm care centre.
It’s springtime and the afternoon sun slants in the large window, rimming her head and giving her a halo of silvery curls. Kelly catches herself smiling at the illusion created of a tiny angelic being bathed in an ethereal light. But that’s picture perfect Junie-complicated and cute her whole life. At least that hasn’t changed. It’s comforting to be able to count on certain things.
“Well Mumsy, how many husbands do you think you have had?” Kelly answers back with a slight note of amusement. Her eyes are twinkling too reflecting the same brown colour and the same merriment.
“I don’t know dear… I can’t remember for the life of me. Five I think.” Junie attempts to stifle a giggle. Useless. “ Some of them were good , some not so good; but I was always a very good wife!” She now erupts into full-throated laughter. Always so infectious!
“Alrighty Mumsy, I can help you recall your husbands. We’ve got time now - why don’t you try naming them?” Kelly turns back to the seemingly endless task of sorting her mother’s clothes. Argyll socks-oh nice! Black one- hmmm-where’s its’ mate? One large girl pull-up. What’s this? Men’s reading glasses? Oh dear, some poor fellow must be suffering blurry vision somewhere. Yuck - a half eaten chocolate bar-pitch! Oops, something else that may be stolen goods - purple plastic rosary beads. Even though “The Villa” is Catholic in mandate, Junie is Protestant and now apparently oblivious to the religious accouterments. Just as well, Kelly chuckles, asking for God’s blessing on her opinionated mother.
“So Mom, your first husband… you were young, just 16. You met when the two of you worked together at an upscale clothing store. He was a terrific athlete - a semi-pro baseball player and a golfer….”
Junie sparks back into the moment from her distant reverie. “Oh yes, I remember him. Glenn. But he was also a Dud! A No-Good Louse! The sooner I got rid of him, the better! He wasn’t going to get away carrying-on with all those floozies. He even got one pregnant!” Kelly is still struck by the changes in her mother. Up until a few years ago, that little factoid was a wellguarded family secret. Not now. Junie puts it all out there for public consumption. Sometimes even Kelly is surprised by the amount of residual vitriol harboured in her mom’s tiny person.
But wait, there’s more that Junie needs to say. “When my Mom and Dad found out Glenn had cheated on me, they kicked him out of their house and threw all of his things on the sidewalk. Hah…couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!!”
Kelly could pick up the story from here. Her Gramma then did what any self-respecting mother-in-law in 1951 would do. She put a Black Irish curse on him. Yup. In Gaelic no less. Kelly shuddered with a little chill thinking of her beloved Gramma as she conjured an evil black cloud to follow reckless, unsuspecting Glenn the rest of his days.
“Good riddance Bird Brain!” Junie chimed in triumphantly.
“Okay, onto happier days with Husband #2. Do you remember his name? Kelly prods gently. He was our dad… and our hero!”
“No I can’t recall his name at the moment: but I know I loved him!”
“How about Herb? Herbert Oswald”, Kelly presents to her mom.
“Herb, oh yes. How I loved my Herbie!” Junie’s eyes mist over as she somehow draws upon a cache of secret memories. “He was a great singer. He loved singing in the church choir.” Junie recalled clearly.
“Must have been that Welsh bloodline”, Kelly adds since her grandfather came from that country renowned for their talented native sons.
Junie didn’t acknowledge her daughter. She is on a roll this afternoon. “And Herb could dance! And so full of fun-what a tease!
“But we mustn’t forget Winton-husband #3. Daddy passed away and Winton lost his wife a few years later. The four of you had all been very good friends. So you and Winton decided to get married.” Kelly moves onto folding bedding and linens in Junie’s cupboards now.
“Oh Winton was so smart and such a good man. Not the grand passion of my life mind you - that was your father. But our marriage was happy… wasn’t it dear?”
“Yes, Mumsy. As good as it gets”, Kelly recalls their world travels and volunteer work. “Hey Mom, do you remember… you two even got arrested for protesting a uranium mine development. You were 77 then and Winton was 84! The police didn’t know what exactly to do with you and your gang of rowdy white haired activists!” More giggles.
“Thank for your help darling. Now I need you to stop fussing and come sit down.”
Junie pats the rocking chair beside the bed. “I have something to tell you.” She drops her voice to a whisper. “I have met someone here and I am thinking about getting married again.”
Kelly’s head swivels around to get a clear view of her remarkable mother. This definitely merits a pause in the clothes sorting. “ Mumsy - you just moved here! Who is the lucky guy?”
“I think he was a fighter pilot in the war and then a hockey player in the NHL.”
“Busy guy… does your fiancé have a name?”
“Oh darn - I was afraid you would ask me that… it’s on the tip of my tongue…I can picture him before me… sigh…but really dear, what does it matter?
“Junie Prunie, how do you expect to say ‘I do’? Oh never mind… He probably can’t remember your name either!” This brings forth a gale of laughter from both women.
Enough for today…the detective work will have to wait until next visit. As Kelly walks across the parking lot to her car, the one crystalline thought is that Junie is still very much in this life of hers.
To Kelly’s amazement and excited willingness of the staff, she learns that Junie’s broken heart was indeed swelling with love for a rather fetching and boyish looking resident. And it appears that his triple bypassed mended heart was responding to Junie’s heart rhythm beat for beat. Kelly meets Ron and is comforted to see that Ron is a total gentleman, patient and impeccably mannered. If the kitchen staff mistakenly serves Ron his dinner first, he will quickly slide his plate to Junie. In his free time, Ron will push his neighbours calmly up and down the corridors in their wheelchairs. Ron himself is a man of very few words, and now only one syllable ones remain in his vocabulary. Yet even in his diminished state, he is still a perfect ambassador of his generation - a generation soon to be lost to us.
A movie comes to mind. Kelly recalls a plotline where the leading lady suffers a severe head trauma in a car accident. Each night while sleeping, she forgets vital personal information like who she is, what she has done in her life and who she is in love with. Definitely makes for a funny and intriguing storyline. For Ron and Junie, everyday starts new. Like the tabula rasa in the movie, they fall in love with each other over and over. They get to re-live the flirtations, the courtship and the wedding planning over and over. Yes wedding planning! Evidently they get married often always inviting everyone around them!
Summer comes and Kelly takes her mom home to her much missed lake for a visit. Upon return to “The Villa” in the evening at bedtime, the staff welcomes Junie back into her new home with lots of affection. Looking down the hallway, she sees a familiar figure in blue pyjamas padding slowly along with his nurse. In true homecoming fashion, Ron catches sight of his Junie and beams a smile across the darkening dining room. He raises his arms and beckons with his finger tips, “Hey, look!!” The two shuffle towards each other, Junie in a slightly higher gear! They hug and Ron gives Junie a tender kiss on her forehead. As the two continue their canoodling unaware of their audience, the gathering of nurses and care givers stand rooted in their spots - transfixed at the purity of the love playing out before them. Most dab their eyes and one blows her nose. Life is simple in that moment for everyone. Distilled down to its essence maybe.
Suddenly Junie pulls back, remembering she has a gift for Ron. “Look I brought you something, I missed you.” Fumbling in her pocket with shaky hands, she produces a little bag of potato chips, a leftover from her roadtrip supper ‘Meal Deal” with Kelly.
© Leah Lovesey Lepage