HOWDY MA'AM - I'M GORDY THE YARDMAN

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: DOWN-HOME

Divorced, loss of three daughters, low income, Gordy living alone in his cabin, sets out to find work as a yardman. Fortune awaits Gordy unexpectedly, that will change his and the grand lady from England he befriends. But there will be an obstacle along the way, and to overcome it will take fortitude on behalf of the lady.

HOWDY, MA’AM - I’M GORDY THE YARDMAN

Story and Painting by Virgil Dubé – Copyright 2021

At his rural home weeks earlier, and alone, Gordon Pratt had celebrated his 50th birthday. Today Saturday, he was out and about, had pertinent weekend errands to run.

Commonly known as Gordy in North Georgia’s Fannin County, he stopped his vintage red 1994 Ford F-150 pickup at the three way stop, where Highway 5, which he had just driven ten miles, intersected in a T with Highway 60. The intersection clear and he next, Gordy shifted the floor shift into first gear and proceeded directly across Highway 60 into the grocery stores’ parking lot.

“I was in McCayesville, Georgia one moment ... next moment I’m in Copperhill, Tennessee,” Gordy muttered humorously. Tagalong, his reddish tan part Irish sitter and part Lab sitting on his haunches next to him in the passenger seat, barked. He thought it uncanny his canine pals’ responses were so insightful, the agreeable bark an example.

Gordy steered in a loop on the parking lot, then pulled into a specific marked space and cut the engine. He always split the difference, his truck straddling a faint orange line designating the borders of Georgia and Tennessee. The line continued beyond his truck and up the exterior brick wall of Hometown IGA Grocery Store occupying some of each states’ territory, his destination. He got out, tidied himself, instructed Tagalong through the partially-opened window he would be back shortly. Then he strolled toward the stores’ entrance. Just inside the front double door and a narrow shopping cart storage area, he freed a cart from a long stack. Pushing the cart into the main store through a second set of doors, he directly entered the produce section. Pausing, he checked his grocery list, confirming a bag of potatoes headed ten items. He picked a favorable-looking bag and placed it in his cart. At the end of the isle skirting the storefront, he approached a woman inspecting bagged unions. Maneuvering the cart left and attempting to steer in a narrow space adjacent her and her cart, and a center-isle produce counter, she suddenly lifted a bag, which ripped. The unions spilled on the floor and rolled everywhere, many under the produce counter.

“Dad-burn-it!” she responded, frustrated. Embarrassed, she bent over to pick up the toppled vegetables.

Gordy nudged his cart to one side, careful not to strike any spilled unions, commented, “Not to worry, ma’am; I’ll gather them for you.” Then he bent to help her, both on hands and knees and side-by-side. 

Shortly, a store clerk rushed to help them. Seeing the two had stood erect after gathering reachable unions, the middle age man courteously handed the lady a fresh bag. He apologized and told her not to fret, it happens commonly when the plastic mesh bags aren’t properly stapled to the product name and info seal. He excused himself and rushed away to continue stocking canned pork & beans he had undertaken earlier. 

As the woman placed the union bag in her cart, Gordy had a good look at her lovely face and blonde hair minimally streaked with gray. Wearing a lavender form-fitting dress spotted with white and red flowers, she appeared fit, was tall and near his height of five-feet, ten-inches, and about his age. 

He grasped his carts’ handle to move beyond her. But before he had taken two steps, she called after him with noticeable English accent, “Oh, sir, I appreciate your help, do have a dandy day.”

He turned, smiled, tipped his hat, replied, “Yes’m, I certainly will.”

As he continued onward and gathered his items mostly in Tennessee, and later paid cash for them at the cash register in Georgia, he spotted her on occasion one isle to another. She appeared focused on shopping and didn’t seem to have noticed him any further.

* * *

Recently jobless, two days later on Monday morning, April 29, 2013, Gordy stepped from the small red-stained log cabin. On the front porch spanning the cabins’ front length, he sipped then placed his hot cup of coffee on the bannisters’ top rail. Leaning over, he affectionately ruffled Tagalongs’ fur after he had scurried from the side yard and up the porch steps to greet him. Straightening, Gordy picked his cup up and sipped again, at the same time surveyed his spacious woodland property fronting Fightingtown Creek in New Hope Rural Community. He savored the coffee several minutes, enjoying the spring morning air laced with fresh spring flower scent, wildflowers blooming in spots across his neatly manicured yard. And he chuckled listening to crows overhead squeak ritualistic communiqués. Coffee cup drained, he returned inside, rinsed and placed it in the drainer. Returning outdoors with a can of dog food, and water pitcher, he scooped meat in a bowl, and poured fresh water in Tagalongs’ second bowl. Relaxing on the porch swing, he watched his pet devour the meat concoction like he hadn’t eaten in a week. The food guzzled, Gordy rinsed the bowl with a garden hose and replaced it in its usual spot on the porch. From the side yard utility shed, he gathered an old shovel with a shoulder rope he had attached to the handle, plus yard rake, leather gloves, and sling blade and ax just sharpened. He placed the items along with an overhauled wheelbarrow into the flatbed of his truck parked on his concrete driveway. Stepping on the running board, he scooted into the cab to settle behind the wheel, Tagalong squeezing in with him. With a deep sigh, he said, “Well, Tagalong, here goes: I gotta make a living somehow ... starting today.”

* * *

Though middle aged, Gordy felt fine physically. Aging over years, he had maintained a regimen of activity out and about his cabin on his one-acre lot, where always something needed tending. 

But emotionally, well, that’s another matter. When you’re knocked to your knees by falsehoods from an unscrupulous spouse seeking to bleed you of yours and hers entire life’s’ earnings, lying before a judge sympathetic to her and her lawyer about to lift your scalp, then your future survival becomes stark-reality. Yes, that had happened to Gordy. And he had survived after all the legal formalities and back and forth bickering that culminated in financial disintegration of his valued portion. Still, now, and holding himself together, he had to self-appraise to get off his butt and challenge the huge world outside his cabin sanctuary to make ends meet. To remain sane, maintain focus, he resigned he must adhere to optimism and face the future and whatever fate awaited him.

Waking, rising, cooking breakfast, then feeding Tagalong this morning, was routine. But suddenly and at this moment of anxiety sitting behind his trucks’ steering wheel, grim reality gripped him, his mind astir in a whirlwind. Why? Well, it was due to apprehension. Overnight he had decided he must take a direct approach to employment; become a residential yardman. What else could he do lacking specialized education and broad working experience? His once professional and family life was a shambles and as over as over could be. He had no choice but to meet life head-on and make the most of his immediate capabilities with what time he had remaining on this earth. 

Tagalong sitting tall on the passenger seat, Gordy sighed heavily, as he inserted the key and cranked the straight line six, one of the best ever engines made by Ford. In reverse, he backed from beside his cabin to the lower end of his sloping concrete driveway, then shifted to first gear to initiate the slight incline from his property hollow. He would begin by inquiring door to door in McCayesville, and if necessary, Fannin County now sprinkled broadly with upstart residential neighborhoods, urbanites having fled congested Atlanta 90 miles south, the tri-state region rapidly transforming into a resort area. Dressed in his around-the-house work clothes, boots, and cap, all displaying years of labor, his objective was to be hired no matter the outdoor jobs’ difficulty and whatever payment as long as it was reasonable.

With resolve, he drove onward and out of his rural neighborhood. Soon, he was ringing doorbells.

* * *

Gordy’s initial workweek amounted to marginal success, mostly rejections. Of several jobs, three lasted the day with reasonably good pay, utilities and grocery money secured for the month.

On a Thursday mid-afternoon heading home, Gordy impulsively turned off Highway 5 and parked on the grassy edge near a turnoff, Hilltop Drive. He was tired, should continue home, but the day was far from over. Shifting into neutral, he question whether he should proceed onward to rest, or act upon a sudden curiosity, to venture up Hilltop Drive. Slumping in the seat, he looked across at his companion, “Tagalong, I wish you could advise me. However, you look as beleaguered as me.” 

Tagalong glanced from the front windshield to his master, barked loudly, same as saying, ‘why not see what might transpire up that road ... so, drive on, partner’.

You’re so smart … why not, Gordy also reasoned. 

Sitting straight, Gordy shifted into first gear and began to climb the road into a McCayesville neighborhood he had previously avoided. Initially, he observed the homes were lesser class, many well kept verses some neglected, plus on occasion a trailer of varying state of condition. Onward and higher elevation, the residences graduated to more upscale, likewise varying in upkeep. Still wondering if this excursion held any promise for him, he parked alongside the asphalt road and got out at a four-way stop, looked about, chose a direction. After pushing the tool-loaded wheelbarrow several blocks, he approached a slanted single lane asphalt drive off to his left. Pausing, he observed a stylish sign bolted to a steel pole, ‘Newberry Manor Lane - Private Drive’. Hesitant to intrude but resigned to find work, he trudged up the slight assent. To the drives’ right, a mountain ridge rose distantly above a well-manicured grassy knoll. To the left, woodland gave way to a row of young sugar maple trees. Beyond the maple trees and an open grass field, he spotted additional distant woodland, and in gaps between trees a downward expanse of countryside and a river. Judging by his lofty location, he assumed the scenic vista to be McCayesville’s east side and the public park situated alongside Ocoee River. The river reflected a silvery glow, as it flowed from its origin, Blue Ridge Dam unseen, soon to meander through and divide McCayesville and Copperhill as twin cities.

Ground leveling, he soon crested the hill. Except for gentle breeze blowing through maple trees, the only other sound were several squeaking crows flying overhead. Behind the maples there appeared an ivy-covered red brick fence approximately six feet tall. The standout property boundary was unique for the area; bricks clean, not moldy as one might expect. From a grassy shoulder between the road and wall extending onward beyond his immediate sight, neatly manicured ivy grew upward to embrace the fence. 

“What do we have here,” he murmured, as he approached two eight-foot-high brick columns about sixteen feet apart, separated by partially open steel-frame double gates? Curious, he stepped between the gates, stayed just outside the property. At the far end of a curved walkway, he observed a path of pastel-colored stone set in grey-color concrete, eyes following the path, a three-story red brick mansion about eighty feet distance. Tempted further, he eased the wheelbarrow forward expecting any moment a hidden speaker to warn him not to advance. No warning sounded and temptation mounting, cautiously, he entered the yard to stand motionless on a broad stone entrance patio, likely for guest parking. Fifteen feet or so before him lay the stone walkway entrance. Beyond, a low boxwood hedge bordered the path that wound through a freshly mowed lawn. To each side and outward, neatly trimmed and isolated boxwoods were spaced proportionately, elsewhere some of the most beautiful flower gardens he had ever seen. The scene enthralled him, so much he ignored possible consequence and parked his wheelbarrow to one side on the patio. Taking an apprehensive deep breath, he stepped a distance before halting again about forty feet from the house, Tagalong instep behind him. To his left a driveway curved away. It paralleled the ivy-covered brick fence that visibly circumvented the property enclosure he estimated five, maybe ten acres. It terminated at a red brick backyard garage, one corner barely visible. The property’s right boundary, and area beyond the house and his view, was graced with towering hickory, maple, sycamore, and American elm trees. Intertwined in broad spaces beneath trees, breathtaking flower gardens reached outward from shade to sunlight. Awestruck, he continued down the walkway angling toward the center receiving porch of the three story mansion, it and the house trimmed elegantly with cream-colored granite, and swaths of the house covered with ivy from ground to roof line, white flowers splashed within green foliage.

Gordy compared the home he estimated one hundred feet wide, to an elegant English country estate. Nobody in sight, suddenly he felt like an intruder in such a luxurious domain that was situated in the boondocks of all places. The stark beauty all about him gripped him immensely, averted him from turning and leaving. A slave to curiosity, he moved onward, slowly, Tagalong keeping pace, as he relished the sights, blended them with a chorus of sounds: gentle breeze fluffing tree leaves, insects in a buzz, plus an array of songbirds in heated concert. 

Of a sudden, a melodic sound interceded all others, thus seized his state of fascination and stopped him dead in his tracks. A person was humming, that individual partly hidden because of garden bushes twenty feet away. Moving another ten feet, he stopped just before stepping on a garden hose stretched across the walkway and beneath the hedge. To his right a woman on hands and knees was working. She wore a broad-brim straw hat, cotton yard apron over a brightly colored checkered shirt, yellow leather gloves, and jeans from what he could see spotted copiously with dirt stains. Trowel in hand, she busily scooped dirt from beneath a rose bush in a garden that extended from the right side of the house and outward in a circular fashion bordered by petite yellow flowers and aztec border grass. She hadn’t heard him approach; seemed lost in labor as she hummed a tune he was unfamiliar.

He coughed intentionally, remained still.

She gasped, turned her head abruptly, in the same motion twisted around on both knees. Lifting her free hand up to shade her eyes from the bright sun at Gordy's back silhouetting him, she evaluated him briefly. Recognizing the stranger hadn’t moved toward her threateningly, as a menacing intruder might, she spoke in distinguished English accent, “Whom might you be, fair gentleman?”

“Howdy, ma’am, I’m Gordy, the yardman, actually, Gordon Pratt. I’m sorry to have intruded, perhaps disturbed and frightened you.”

She removed protective glasses, pushed back the straw hat and wiped sweat from her brow with a shirt sleeve. Bracing a gloved hand on her knee for support, the other grasping the trowel, she stood up, sighed relief as she stretched out kinks. Once she readjusted her hat, dusted off apron and lower jeans, she commented, “Well, Mr. Gordy the yardman, now that I’m a smite more presentable, my name is Trisha Newberry, the proprietor here.”

“Pleasure to meet you, ma’am. I’m from New Hope neighborhood off Madola Road out from Epworth. I’m out looking for work should you desire my service.”

“I see. You showing up is sort of a surprise, Gordy.”

“Again, ma’am, I apologize.”

“The area you’re speaking of …I know it quite well, have a friend lives a short distance off Madola Road, Elaine Dukes. Elaine is a talented seamstress and crafter, does some special interior work for me, curtains, quilts, and such.”

She tossed the trowel on the ground next to a toolbox containing an array of yard tools, then stepped carefully across the low hedge and onto the walkway. Several feet from him, she propped both gloved hands on her hips and studied him intently. Not truly receptive immediately to a total stranger and his dog venturing into her gated premises, he with a shovel attached to a rope slung over one shoulder, a wheelbarrow left inside the entrance gate, dressed casually much as any hard yard-worker might, she measured him up and down, surmised him to be forthright, honest, harmless. Normally she or any wary person would have immediately dismissed him and the dog. But there seemed something special about this man Gordy. He was clean-shaven. His wavy brownish not too shaggy hair was kept mostly under a workman’s cap, not disorderly as with some local fellows. Most intriguing, he seemed kind, and mannerly, dog also. Yes, there was something unexplainable about Gordy that intrigued her and she refused to discharge him. She looked from him and off, to scan her enclosure with numerous gardens abounding with manicured plants, blooming flowers, shrubs, small trees — some that bore fruit, tall trees, several patches of clover. In the backyard an expansive apple grove provided late summer and fall delicious apples of several varieties. Her eyes swept to the colorful stone walkway and hedge bordering it, and onward across to the brick wall skirting her property with ivy adorning it. All in all her kingdom of delight was a collection she had worked years to be the envy of town citizens and the Fragrant Roses Garden Club for which she was a charter member.

“Do you have a business card, Mr. Pratt?”

“No ma’am, I’ve just started looking and need work badly. There’s a reason I’d rather not mention, even think about, has to do with family.”

“I see; understand.”

Gordy fell silent, as did Trisha shifting her stance and considering pros and cons, I have worked the spring growing season from sunrise to dusk, could use an extra hand other than the motley sometimes reckless pair I had hired to manicure my yard. The two did well awhile, but became complacent and sloppy. Soon, they disrupted flower beds and broke plants, for which I had to declare off-limits to them trimming in close quarters. When one mowed over several newly planted pink lady apple trees and he blamed the other, I fired both. Since, and working myself to the bone, I need help. But how must I perceive this stranger propositioning me unexpectedly? He is rather rugged looking and somewhat shabbily dressed. Yet, his humble face and general demeanor doesn’t match his apparel. Yes, that face … those hazel almost pleading eyes looks familiar to me, but from where.

She studied him intently several moments, then her face lit up. She gasped, slapped her gloved hands together, said excitedly, “Oh, my, you are that chap who helped me in Hometown Grocery Store when the onion bag tore and spilled. Mary Queen of Scots, this is such a surprise, Gordy.”

Caught by surprise, her clothes and hat also duping him, he recognized her as the frantic lady in the stores’ vegetable isle. He chuckled, exclaimed, “Yes’m, I too recall you and that incident; it’s been over a week.”

Bubbly, she said, “My, my ... okay, Gordy, a kind deed deserves rewarding. Can you be here at eight o’clock tomorrow morning?”

“Thank you. Yes’m, living not so far, I can be here as early as you wish.”

“Excellent. Please call me Trisha, or Trish, which is fine since relatives and close friends call me that.”

“Okay.”

“Another thing before you leave, tomorrow I’ll introduce you to my house keeper Elisa Conners and her cousin Carlene Carpenter my cook. They live in the upper floor suite. Elisa and Carlene from Newcastle are old friends of our English family living there, came over with me my last visit to England, which I may tell you about sometime if things work out. Since I’m an outdoors person and alone now, both cousins are exceedingly helpful to me keeping the house and various operations up these days.”

“I look forward to meeting your helpers. Suppose I had better go.” He tipped his hat and backed away, “Good afternoon, Trish.”

“You too … goodbye, Gordy.”

* * *

Gordy, with Tagalong beside him, began Trisha’s yard work on time, and was exceedingly helpful that first day. She enjoyed his company outright, appreciated his steadfast work-ethic. His working for her three or four times weekly, in time, she grew fond of Tagalong, and he of her. Besides heavy workload: plant and tree trimming, weeding the yard and apple grove, hedging, mowing, and multipurpose digging, Gordy worked alongside Trisha with finesse projects she had planned and tackled to enhance her property’s natural beauty. She taught him how to become a better gardener: not to use cheap potting mix that could be teeming with detrimental chemical or seed or bug, what to plant in season, best to plant root crops and legumes as seeds and not seedlings, to recognize the difference between sun and shade-loving plants, to water properly and allow sufficient drainage, prune correctly, and creatively rearrange plants and the proper way to transplant them. She liked his enthusiasm for learning and insight she hadn’t expected, oftentimes his helpful suggestions for garden alterations. Before long she discovered he wasn’t merely a yardman but a crafty handyman and employed him handsomely for household projects needing prompt attention that Elisa and Carlene were physically incapable.

As the labor and companionship worked wonders for both jointly, and weeks swept by, Gordy’s body trimmed considerably and his shoulders filled out. He rose each morning refreshed body and mind. His outlook on life had altered consequently, despite his past clinging underneath an outward guise, highlighted by his three daughters’ tragic loss to him, plus the subsequent divorce, both events forming a deep wound and never-healing scar. But now a change had to some degree transformed him, a newfound cause thus far had diminished insufferable thoughts and eased old pains. For Gordy, Trisha befriending him was emotional salvation.

The two had become dear friends with each passing day, Trisha adoring the man, he likewise adoring her.

Regardless, for Trisha his companionship wouldn’t replace her former husband whom she had dearly loved prior to his unexpected passing not long ago. Now with life moving forward, a genuine yet unusual fellowship had emerged that she would embrace no matter what challenging social pressures might emerge.

Soon, Gordy had money in his pocket that enabled him to wear nicer clothes in Trisha’s presence, oftentimes on free weekends for which the pair ventured downtown McCayesville and Copperhill to browse gift shops and dine in Katz’s New York Deli, the Ocoee River Cafe, or The Copper Grill. They often shared midday breaks walking down the sloping woodland hill on a path from her back property to the McCayesville public park beside the Ocoee River. Commonly, they enjoyed sandwich lunches at a picnic table, or a blanket spread on the ground just feet from the rushing whitewater. Breaks over, both climbed the wooded hill to complete afternoon projects.

On the first visit to the park, the two took extra time to share their histories, including unpleasant experiences.

Trisha took the lead.

“Gordy, I was handed by fate an elaborate property when my businessman husband died quite suddenly. It is still hard to accept reality that he is gone to leave a vacuum in my life, he and I with no children. Theodore and I met in London in 1988. He was a Great Brit Oil Company executive, me a secretary to Parliamentarian Liberal Lord Harry Pinkleton. Theodore was transferred to the United States to manage the companies’ expansion on the eastern seaboard. Within a year the company promoted him to a permanent chief executive position. Established in America, we purchased a nice home and spacious countryside property near Charlotte, where he setup headquarters. Enough property and it properly zoned, the FAA approved a helicopter pad for him quick access to wherever he requested on the spur of the moment. We lived a grand life many years, became established in Charlotte social circles and elsewhere in the states. But pressures mounted and we needed diversion. So he and I researched ideal getaway properties, liked this general area showing much promise: Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. Of the alluring prospects, we chose this flattened hilltop ideally situated in the Tri-State area, for which we had this English country house constructed on ten of the total thirty acres we purchased with scenic view. We desired semblance of the old country we once lived, and as a second home, Newberry Manor filled our desire. I grew fond of it, began to embrace its seclusion from Charlotte’s big-city hustle and bustle, spent increasingly more time here than there. 

“February 6 four years ago, I got the distressing call here - Theodore had suffered a heart attack at corporate headquarters and passed quickly. In addition to the funeral in Newcastle, I had a consoling visit with my family and the Newberry family there, for which since, I have flown to and from England every six months to visit them. I followed initially by returning to visit established friends in Charlotte, plus a grievance visit with Theodore’s co-employees at headquarters. Finally, I requested and was granted a company executive meeting to settle my benefits package as spouse of a deceased company officer. Lastly after a grueling six months away, I sold our Charlotte home and returned to Newberry Manor intending to live out my days here and among this area’s wonderful down-to-earth country folk.”

Silence ensued, Trisha and Gordy reflecting on what she said, had disclosed openly and warmly to him.

Gordy appreciated her candor, decided to follow with full disclosure, but first said breaking the interlude, “Wow, Trish, that was quite a story, sorry about Theodore and the stressful position you were put in ... my sympathies to you.”

“Thank, you, Gordy.”

“You know, Trish, you’re fortunate you had somebody you loved and Theodore loved you equally. My story is a convoluted contrast, beginning with what my wife Hattie and I had in the good years of our marriage after we met in school ... commitment, initially a romance mirroring Cinderella and her handsome prince expecting eternal love. Married while in college, we lived a textbook American life many years, were successful in our endeavors and attained upper middle class lifestyle in Brookhaven, an Atlanta suburb. Then one day our three lovely daughters: Jean age thirteen, Lana age ten, and Norma age seven, were kidnapped at gunpoint in a grocery store parking lot two miles from our home. The crime went national, three torturous weeks until the girls’ mangled and violated bodies were discovered by a biker in woodland west of Marietta.”

Trisha gasped, wept, said chokingly, “Gordy, I remember that tragedy on the news. Horrific; I’m so sorry.”

Wiping tears with her napkin, she listened as Gordy continued.

“I appreciate that, Trish. Hattie and I as parents and primary suspects, were put through the ringer by investigators. Soon cleared, the case went cold after eight horrifying months, no clues and the killers never apprehended. Devastated, we turned to booze to dull our heartaches. Romance ceased, in time our friendship collapsed. When I became a drunken and unruly sot, Hattie chose to toss her alcohol indulgence. Increasingly disgusted with me, she switched to an alternative escape mechanism ... companionship of other men. Then an ugly thing happened when it all ended in divorce. Hattie accused me of infidelity with a close friend of hers, which she employed into a scheme to ruin me prior to filing. She had the gall to testify in divorce court I was having a long-time affair with a woman named Leona, even before our daughters were killed. In reality, I had befriended Leona during her time of need as she had supposedly suffered a nervous breakdown after a mysterious pregnancy. Her husband was sterile, and the ensuing miscarriage ended her marriage with a church deacon and shyster car dealership salesman. Fact - Leona and I never had an affair; she wasn’t pregnant and faked her illness in cahoots with Hattie offering her a tantalizing reward. Their word over mine, Judge Cochran had reasonable cause and kicked my butt. My lawyer inept defending me, the judge drained me of most of my assets, my lawyer taking his chunk. So, here I am, living alone in a cabin that Hattie and I built for much the same reason as you and Theodore had your country home ... property she and I purchased years earlier as a quiet weekend getaway. Conferring with Judge Cochran, Hattie graciously granted me at least that much to avoid total homelessness. Unbeknownst to her, my creek property has recently escalated in value. Regardless of the prospect to regain my wealth, I’ve no intention to sell what I truly value, and love.

“Trish, I hate the taste of alcohol, was never an alcoholic. Emotionally crushed, I yielded to it and defeat. The divorce finalized, ultimately, I screwed my head back on and tossed the habit allowing myself a path to recovery. Sitting here today, you’ve been the only true friend I’ve had in many a year.”

Trisha wept again, slid next to Gordy and leaned against her friend who also embraced her. They remained cuddled a long time, finally parted and talked plainly and openly about whatever crossed their minds. Chores cancelled for the day, the pair enjoyed each other’s company until dusk, when they gathered picnic items and retraced their steps to her country house up the hill.

* * *

The Fragrant Roses Garden Club was a stalwart community volunteer fraternity. It promoted and actively worked to beautify both McCayesville and Copperhill, and in conjunction with local churches, civic organizations, and schools, organized fund drives to aid needy locals. The club had won prestigious awards and was recognized widely for its conscientious charitable endeavors.

Madeline Berk, the current club president, was mid-term in her two-year chair before another member was to be voted to replace her, a rotating process. A devout citizen of McCayesville, she was also reputed as leading local gossip, her comments lavishly relayed by successive busybodies ... there being plenty, almost a club in itself. 

Madeline with a keen eye for the slightest misplacement, civic or otherwise, made her an excellent gardener, scrutinizer, and to many people’s dismay, a ferocious blabbermouth. She noticed right away the togetherness and budding companionship between Trisha and Gordy, spread the word, even pulled Trisha aside from Gordy one day on Copperhill’s Main Street to remind her she was a stately woman, prime citizen regarded to have integrity, therefore keeping company with a backwoods hick and his mutt, was unbecoming her. Trisha shocked and unresponsive initially, absorbed the onslaught as Madeline continued to bash her, accusations of deploring unladylike conduct, that as a woman of notoriety and a former club secretary, she was conveying to the general public she was lose with men, which reflected negatively on the gardening club and McCayesville and Copperhill communities at large.

Trisha normally soft-spoken and dignified in public, finally rebounded from the attack. Hammered enough, gathering her wit, she pointed a finger in Madeline’s face and cut-loose, “Madeline Berk, my friend Gordon Pratt, who you have publicly smeared here on Main Street, insulted him in his presence, is a decent hardworking man.” She peered penetratingly at people clustering around, pointed from them to Madeline, “Each of you, look closely at this bloody busybody, a despicable community gossiper.” Stepping closer and nose to nose with Madeline, she shouted, spittle driving the woman back, “You should be ashamed of yourself recklessly attacking two persons’ private affairs whom you know nothing about, conjuring up untruths to spread copiously, not just to townsfolk and neighbors, but to my dear friends also.”

Madeline had no comeback. Shaken, embarrassed, on the verge of fainting before the gathered crowd, she pulled together and huffed away. 

The incident didn’t help matters. It only added to Madeline’s spiteful crusade with recipients soaking up her every word. 

Trisha turned a blind eye to subsequent gossip, began to ignore Madeline publicly and at bi-monthly club meetings in the McCayesville Civic Center. Then at the beginning of a meeting two weeks later, with most members seated around the project work table, including Trisha solemn and quiet, a member leaned close and whispered to another of the street encounter, that the confrontation she witnessed was quite entertaining. The comment carried better than the speaker intended and subsequent tension filled the room. Madeline seated at the table end, heard it clearly, anger stewing within her. Bringing the meeting to order right away, she drew attention to Trisha’s unsavory relationship and public behavior by continuing after the confrontation to flaunt her lover, thus damaging the club’s honor as a community standout consortium. No rebuttal, she placed in motion to have a special session called for members to vote Trisha to remain a member or be expelled from the club. Mixed feelings surfaced, a majority of members agreeing with Madeline, those who didn’t wilted away. She proposed a special unannounced session later to be set, and it was okayed, the defendant prohibited attendance. Soon, order returned with members continuing to organize their respective projects. 

Throughout, Trisha boiled underneath, measured friend and foe within. She had remained composed, quiet, for the time would arrive when she would speak her peace, but not now with Madeline grandstanding her fate. Restraint was hard, but she showered courtesy on all and left the building an hour later when everybody else exited, avoided contact prior to reaching her car, especially Madeline gloating in gossipy groups. She calmed over successive days, did not inform Gordy of the latest incident, collected herself for the secret committee action she was forbidden to attend.

When the meeting was clandestinely arranged a week later, the next Wednesday night, Trisha got wind from a friend in Madeline’s loud mouth pipeline. She waited outside until members were inside and seated in the Civic Center conference room to begin voting. She stormed in, every member in attendance and about to cast his or her expulsion or non-expulsion vote, was caught by surprise. Shocked, many wadded their written ballots and stuffed them somewhere personally. Not taking a seat and moving around the table, first Trisha lit into Madeline like an enraged wolverine. Finished with her totally rattled and beet-face-red, Trisha moved counterclockwise, and accordingly pointed a finger at every shame-faced member, consisting of ten housewives and two notable businessmen, the latter Emanuel Harris, a heavy machine distributor, and Francis Farley owner of Farley Hardware west of town on Highway 64. 

Trisha moved to stand directly behind Madeline seated. Hovering above the woman shaking like tree limb in a hurricane, she spoke with heated intensity, every attendee stunned beyond reaction at the ferocity this English woman of nobility blasted them utterly off guard. “Ladies, gentlemen, I dare you to trash Gordon Pratt, a resilient human being of incredible fortitude. His conduct around my staff and me is exceptional, respectable. He is a highly intelligent person, who has suffered much loss - three daughters lost to murderers, a wife by a despicable divorce. Then there is me victimized by public slander after loosing a wonderful husband. By your complacency before and your action now, you along with Madeline Berk have openly damned our friendship, made it a vile spectacle publicly. For the record, Gordy is my enduring and dear friend, nothing more personally. Even if so, our relationship would be none of your bloody concerns. He is more decent than the lot of you convening in secrecy to cast judgment and bring expulsion upon me a dedicated member and contributor to this club, consequently, this community. You have taken it upon yourselves to pass judgment minus evidence other than cheap town gossip initiated by a person I had once considered as my club associate, Madeline … even as a friend. Since the lot of you has listened to her bloody frothing mouth, caved in to her lies and sunken this low tonight, I hereby resign from this club and withdraw my active support. Even so, I wish the club to prosper henceforth and the area benefit many years from its noble efforts fostered within this building.”

Humiliated, some truly heartsick, nobody responded, either to rebuke or offer a compassionate word to her. Trisha, head held high, said goodbye, then she walked resolutely from the McCayesville Civic Center and Fragrant Roses Garden Club. Not a person gathered therein felt she a person of conviction would ever return. 

The meetings’ fireworks spread like wildfire. Yet, the community didn’t ostracize Gordy and Trisha by any means. People from surprising places and levels stepped forward to congratulate Trisha standing tall for her dear friend, and herself. The locals greeted the pair many times in each other’s company in and around McCayesville and Copperhill. 

In reality, Trisha and Gordy truly loved each other, considered themselves as close as kin rather than any physical or intimate attachment that might lead to future marriage. Their attachment was set in stone to endure their lifetimes. That was the way it would be, he helping her around her gorgeous English-style country home, she helping him renovate his cabin to match that of any fine rural cottage, plus upgrade his property alongside the swift flowing creek to an eye-pleasing excellence. Their fellowship had its far-reaching influence within North Georgia Fannin and South Tennessee Polk Counties. So much so, the pairs’ gardening partnership began to challenge the consciousness of surviving Fragrant Roses Garden Club members, Madeline Berk notably, she generally shunned by those coming to their senses. Most of her fellow members sent Trisha a signed letter of apology; Madeline and two others did not. She packed up and left for an unannounced Mid-Western town, where in a modestly populated community, she could reestablish herself and have plenty of subjects to socially befriend, scrutinize, and without doubt, exploit.

* * * 

A Saturday morning shortly thereafter, Trisha phoned Gordy. She asked him over to meet an old friend of hers, Glenda Hammer from Charlotte. He said he’d be right over.

Seated on the back courtyard patio in lounge chairs, the apple grove just beyond and a panoramic view of eastern McCayesville opposite the back wall, Trisha, Gordy, guest Glenda, Elisa Conners and Carlene Carpenter, socialized, drinking ice tea along with a platter of English biscuits Carlene had freshly baked. Presently, Glenda looked from Trisha to Gordy, said, “I’d like you two to listen and mull over what I’m about to suggest, okay.”

“Okay, Glenda,” both responded, sitting more upright and looking one to the other apprehensively, then expectantly back to her.

“Since you’ve shared with me such a splendid human interest story, I’ve a tantalizing idea if both of you are receptive and it isn’t an infringement on your lives.”

“Well, tell us that tantalizing idea, my friend,” Trisha suggested.

And Glenda laid out her prospective idea, for which both were instantly receptive. The result would change many lives.

* * *

What transpired from that day set in motion a better life for Gordy. And it allowed Trisha extra funds to donate to McCayesville and Copperhill through the Fragrant Roses Garden Club although she was no longer a member. Her intent — to publicly beautify both municipalities in a fashion the town councils agreed unilaterally and in compliance with her the donor, Gordy agreeably a co-advisor. 

Glenda a literary agent with persuasive book publisher connection, suggested to Trisha and Gordy they write a book together and have it published with Canary Book Publisher headquartered in Charlotte. The pair listened and warmed to her idea. Months spent in free time at her home, sometimes at his property lounging beside the creek, Trisha and Gordy crafted the unabridged accounts of their lives, titling the book, ‘The Country Handyman Meets The Fair English Lady’. Manuscript completed, Glenda presented it and it was accepted and published, the book to become a New York Times best seller, success ultimately worldwide. There was talk from an Atlanta movie producer to make a film in the near future. It happened, and the pair did their promotional part. Though famous from both the book and the film, the couple grew weary and ultimately shunned overextending themselves publicly, resigned instead to preserve their privacy.

All parties benefited: the Tri-State area greatly, Gordy with security, Trisha to gratify her charitable nature, and the pair bonded with everlasting friendship. Trisha even suggested Gordy fly with her to England to meet her family, which he did, not once but repeatedly over the years that seemed like another lifetime for each. Any particular day one might find them gardening together at one of their homes, or on occasion away exploring natures’ wonders across the world.

THE END


Submitted: October 10, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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