“The best gift anyone has ever given me!” she announced as she pulled it out of the bag I had stuffed it in. She had looked into ways of preserving it, even carrying it over to the Archeological Museum to see how they preserved skeletons.
Pulled drapes hide much of her yard. My dogs and I called this Camp Helen. They loved to come down, run through the rocks, around the ponds. Lizards lived here!
To the right is the goat pen. As cottonwood trees began to decay, tree surgeons came in, chopped them down. Then Helen and I scurried around the fallen wood, picking up the lacy termite sections, the intricate sticks. Once, Dodi, intrigued by our interest in the wood, broke into the enclosure herself. She ran through the goat legs a few times, then decided she needed to escape. The electric fence proved more formidable on her way out. Finally she emerged, screaming at the top of her lungs from the electric shocks. She never went back.
In the back of the lot is Helen’s above-ground pool. How many hot summer afternoons we spent in there, cooling off in lukewarm water, talking. I remember how I had retreated down to this pool the day I found out my brother was dying. We didn’t talk that day, just soaked in the water.
Her back stoop is still littered with the wood we collected from the Verde River, less than a mile from her house. That day it was cold and rainy. The wood we found was rather uninteresting, so we looked it over, then just left it. I wonder how long it will sit there. Will her husband, Robert, throw it away some day?
Today Robert has asked me to sit with her while he talks with his son. Helen is sleeping peacefully in her bedroom, fifteen feet from me. I walk into her room from time to time, rub her shoulder, whisper, “I love you, Helen” and walk out.
Memories abound in this house. Photographs stud every wall. Here she is smiling with her husband, both dressed in formal wear. And there are certificates. I know how proud Helen was of her Red Cross service, particularly after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Soon Helen’s breathing will stop. I doubt I will come back here frequently after that. But this afternoon I revel in our shared experiences, in those times she lived through, told me about. When I walk out of this house for the last time, I know a small piece of Helen will stay with me. I love you Helen.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"