A matter of intention



St. Petersburg Times
Special to the Times

    The year before he died, half-

paralyzed and twice-widowed, my father

fell in love with the housekeeper.

    We hired her from the Yellow Pages.

She ran a cleaning service called the

Candy Apples. They arrived in a shiny red

van. The three-woman team wore red

T-shirts with "Candy Apples" spelled out

in Coca-Cola script across their chests.

Candy was the leader, small, brunet,

fast-moving and very cute.

    My father, who had suffered a stroke and could not speak or walk more than a few steps, was entranced.

    On that first visit, as a welcome gift, Candy brought him a red carnation. You would have thought he'd never seen a flower before. She made over him, as we say in the South, saying what a handsome man he was and how, not even talking, she could see he must have been a devil with the ladies.

    On the second visit, she brought him a potted red azalea and put it on top of the television, opposite the chair where he sat all day watching the birds outside at the feeders and old reruns of Ironside.

    My sister, who had quit a good job in Dallas and rented her house to strangers so she could come take care of him, smelled trouble. She was friendly but distant with Candy. "Aren't you sweet?" she'd say. "Do you do this for all your customers?" Meaning to anyone with ears to hear: You shouldn't have, and back off.

    On the third visit, Candy brought Daddy a box of candy. "Don't let me hear that you ate it all at one time." Dimpling and simpering.

    "Ummmm." My father wiggled his eyebrows and made eyes at her.

    "Good thing you're in that wheelchair," Candy said. "I wouldn't trust you if you could walk."

    Whenever he wanted to talk about Candy, Daddy made the vacuum noise - "Rummm-rummm." By gesture and sound, he let my sister know he wanted to invite Candy to dinner. She came with wine and flowers for my father, and chattered and charmed her way through the meal.

    "I don't trust her," my sister said. "She's up to something. While the other girls are cleaning, I catch her in there whispering and giggling with Daddy."

    There was a big ceremony at my father's law firm to celebrate the unveiling of his portrait. Candy was invited and when we got the pictures back, there were more of Daddy with her than with us.

    He hadn't been able to say more than a word or two since the stroke. "I don't think so," meant no. "Fine," meant yes. The rest we did with pantomime and guessing. Just before Christmas, he spoke his first whole sentence. Slowly, struggling, but perfectly clearly, he said, "I-want-to-get-married."

    My sister blew up. "No, you will not get married. I can't believe you said it. Here we are struggling to get by. What can you be thinking?"

    Candy was invited to the family Christmas Eve celebration. My sister saw her coming up the driveway in her bright red dress and went out to meet her. "I don't know what you're trying to pull, but it won't work. You may think he has money." She indicated the house and the lake. "But you're sadly mistaken. He doesn't. There's barely enough to keep him here."

    "I was just trying to be nice," Candy said. "I get in trouble that way." She handed over the present she had brought for Daddy, an elaborate bird feeder, and left.

    "And we won't be needing any more cleaning," my sister called after her.

    All during the party and for the next few weeks, my father kept making the "Rummm-rummm" noise. "I don't know where she is," my sister said. He'd make it again and point to the phone. "I did call, but she doesn't call back."

    He quit trying when my sister said she'd heard from another client that Candy gave up cleaning houses and went into real estate. He went downhill after that. Just lost his zest for life. "Maybe I did the wrong thing," my sister said. "Denied him his last wish."

    "I-want-to-get-married." She'd imitate Daddy for me on the telephone. "Can you believe that old buzzard?"

***

Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal. Her memoir, The Last Resort, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2011.

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