Views from Annie's Cabin

miscellaneous musings on aging and living and loving

Twilight Afternoon

on July 22, 2014

mann batson 001

Twilight Afternoon

Driving home, eyes foggy with tears, my heart’s so full I’m scared it could burst. The ache is palpable, measured in heartbeats against the pounding of sorrow, of loss, of hope even within utter hopelessness.

I am returning from visiting my devoted friend and mentor. For the past 20 years I’ve known him in sunshine, amid gardens abundant with flowers, and old barns abundant in “plunder”; have known him with rich and folksy stories to tell of people and times of old, stories shared freely and repeatedly so that they would perpetuate— stories shared with me so I could carry the baton and keep the ever-dimming pockets of history alive for coming generations.

He was lying down when I got there and struggled to stand up when he saw me enter the room. He was confused though he’d not had time to fall fully asleep after luncheon; he raised himself and then made the effort—and succeeded—to stand, gentlemanliness being deeply bred into his constitution. I took his hand and asked the caretaker for a chair, but when she looked bewildered, I said never mind, I’ll sit on the bedside with my friend.

“I’m not sure I know where I am, I’m not even sure I know who you are….” he faltered at first, then he looked closely at me beside him and said, “Are you Anne—Anne Blythe? You’re beautiful,” he smiled. “So good to see you, it lifts my heart to see you, it gives me a boost.”

And so amid smiles and memories and promises we sat there together, stripped of all worldly barriers, holding hands, holding all four hands, one atop the other. Holding tight and not letting go. Holding our hearts in that pile of clasped hands and fingers.

I told him his blueberry bushes were yielding. “Remember when you came up and planted them in my garden?” I asked. “Oh yes, I still remember and they’re blooming now?”  “Yes,” I said, “though there are not nearly as many berries as your bushes have…but I’m still hoping to get enough for a cobbler soon, and I’ll bring you a dish,” I smiled. “Oh that’ll be nice,” he said, his memories trailing back to his own garden, to his own blueberry bushes, the progenitors of those he gave to me.

“And the Confederate roses you planted, and the old-time azaleas you brought up to my mountain and planted by the river…..they’re all thriving as well.”

“So, I’m there every day in your garden, then, aren’t I? “  “Oh yes,”  I smiled, “indeed you are.” And then he said, again more in memory than in real time, “They’ll live long after we’re both gone…they’ll still carry on, long after we’re both gone….”

And we held hands.

We’re both December babies, celebrate our birthdays together. But December always brings back other memories again, coupled with the pain of those memories, memories of December 1945, of The Battle of the Bulge. A survivor who saw the worst as a young man of 19, he was awarded the Purple Heart for his actions during the battle. He’s given me that story, too, but always with the same caveat he gave again today. “There is no such thing as a hero, you know….a hero is a person who does a thing that needs to be done…for no other reason than that.”

He grows frailer every day….”How old am I,” he asks me.  “I can’t really remember…I know I’m in my eighties….”  A soft sigh, and memories take him again backward in time. “I’ve known a lot of people,” he says, looking up at me. “But you and I have something special.”  “Yes,” I say, “we have books and gardens and flowers and the history of the Dark Corner—We’re the Mann & Anne Show, remember?“

All the world put aside again, in tenderness he says, “I want you to say a few words at my funeral…I know I’ve asked you before, but I’m asking you again, now. We don’t know when or how or anything about it, but I like to be ready for whatever happens.”

“Of course I will,” I say to him gently. “But then— [in a slightly stronger voice, I manage to say]—and same thing applies to you—I want you to say a few words at my funeral. For who knows…I may go first!”

That drew a little laugh. And, sitting side by side on that hard little bed, holding all four hands together, amid the stale fetid smells of that dingy place, we instead smelled the flowers and the sunshine and the rain. And smiling into each other’s eyes, we gave each other our old familiar “All is Well” squeeze of the hands. A trademark. A banner. A flag held high in our hearts to remind us that indeed, yes, all is well with life.  And with Mann and Anne.


7 responses to “Twilight Afternoon

  1. JEAN OHMSEN says:

    Anne, I cried and cried. It’s so sad about Mann, but he remembers you and how special you have always been He will never forget that. You both have such a love for one another and that is a beautiful thing to remember. Keep going by to see him even as hard as it is. Love you, Jean

    • Jean, bless your heart—your words brought more tears to my eyes just now. Thank you for telling me to keep going….it’s so hard on my heart. But I’m so glad we had this time….and I’ll keep going. You help me so much…thank you! I love you—Anne

  2. Lyn Ohmsen Owen says:

    Anne…..he is the most wonderful man I have known….his kindness….his love of ALL that God has given us…everyone is blessed to have even spoken to him…..I know his journey now is difficult but we know at the end of the rainbow he will telling all the wonderful stories he knows best…DARK CORNERS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Drew Hines says:

    Beautiful, dear friend. You captured the essence of Mann in those paragraphs. How could we ever forget him?

  4. CC Jenkins says:

    I am writing through tears of saddness but also tears of happiness that Mann and Anne have written so much about Greenville County. Mann is definitely a gentleman of the old South and I am so grateful to know him and learn from him.

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