Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
by Susan K. White
“How ‘bout this weather! Isn’t it great?” Leon added a six pack to the tub of ice as Kasey set up their chairs on the manicured lawn.
“Hey, Leon,” Bob punched his shoulder above the empty sleeve. “Did you hear about Nixa? The ice and snow are so bad it broke off most of the poles. Those crews will be working for six weeks to get all the power back in Stone County.”
Kasey paused to look at Leon. Pushing her long brown hair behind her ear, she breathed a prayer for the line crews. She remembered the winter three years ago when she met this tall, muscular man. The storm had taken his arm and nearly his life, as he worked to restore power. His deep black hair turned gray as he progressed through therapy in her department, but he had fully recovered. They were married a year ago, and retired on his settlement. Vowing to avoid ice and snow forevermore, they bought the motor home instead of a house, and headed south as the weather turned cold.
“Well, you just never know, do you?” Leon draped his arm across Kasey’s shoulders as she returned to his side. “Martha, how did you put up with this old geezer for 54 years?”
“You just take things as they come,”she hugged Kasey. “Enjoy life while you can.”
“Help yourselves to the snacks,” Bob handed them paper plates and turned his walker to greet more guests.
“Who is it we’re going to see?” June slowed her steps as they approached the crowd.
“Don’t you remember? It’s a party for Bob and Martha’s anniversary. Looks like they’ve got a good table of food already,” Harry pulled her arm through his. “There’s Kasey and Leon. Charlie and Susie were coming. Just look for people you know. You’ll be all right.”
“Oohh, I don’t know…..”
“Congrats, Martha, on making it this far with that old salt,” Harry handed her a bag of chips. “June forgot to cook.”
“Thank you. Chips are great. How are you tonight, June?”
“Hello,” June smiled weakly.
“Hey guys, glad you could come!” Bob gave them a wrinkled grin and shook their hands. “Martha’s going to give her fiddle a workout tonight. You’ll have to get Harry on the dance floor, June.”
June’s smile widened.
“Where’s Charlie? I thought he and Susie might walk over with you guys tonight.”
“They were late getting back from the flea market. Susie wanted him to rest a bit before they hit the dance floor.”
“Ok, then we won’t wait for them to start the music. Dig into the food,” he handed them paper plates.
“Sure thing. Thanks, Bob.” Harry steered June towards casserole dishes and desserts.
“Hey, Leon,” the men laughed as they fumbled a left handed shake. “Did you hear about the storm in Stone County?”
“Bob was telling me about it. We better enjoy this weather while we can!” Harry began piling his plate with goodies. “Kasey, you’re looking good tonight.”
“Thanks, Harry. How are you June?” Kasey gave her a quick hug. “Try these ham rollups. I know you’ll like them.”
“Ham? I don’t know…”
“Did you wear your dancing shoes?”
“I like to dance,” June was relieved at the change of subject.
“We’re sitting over there. Why don’t you and Harry join us?”
“We’re right behind you. Come on, June, I’ll carry your plate.”
Kasey linked arms with June and led her to their seats. A row of palm trees swayed as couples gathered on the strip of lawn between the massive motor homes and fifth-wheels. Gulf Paradise was the largest RV park in the Rio Grande Valley. Palm, blue oak, mesquite, and prickly pear interlaced a grid of paved streets and walkways throughout the park. A central clubhouse contained the pool and auditorium, billiards, exercise, and laundry rooms, as well as the office. In the height of the season, nearly five hundred rigs gathered there to wait out the northern winter in its tropical breezes.
As the group finished their snacks, Martha and her fiddle joined the steel and acoustic guitars and they began playing. Couples moved into the street to dance on the pavement.
“Do you want to dance?” Harry looked up from his empty plate, and June smiled at her husband. They rose to join the couples in the street.
“Martha and I don’t dance since my arthritis got so bad. But she would rather play the fiddle, anyway,” Bob remarked as he took their empty paper plates. “Go have yourselves a good time.”
“Are you ready for a little Texas Swing, honey?” Leon drew Kasey’s hand to his lips.
“We better dance while we can,” Kasey laughed. They gave their empty plates to Bob, then he led her into the paved street and slid his arm around her curves, singing “Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away…..” She returned his embrace, and they began to flow together in time to the music.
Harry held June gently as they swayed and circled. With her eyes closed and her head on his breast, she was at peace. He kissed her gray hair lightly and she smiled.
The distant wail of a siren grew in intensity. “The Texas Smokeys must be after a speed demon out on the interstate,” Leon remarked.
The dancers began to miss a step here and there, as the siren overwhelmed the music. June clung to Harry, looking around anxiously. The noise became piercing, and wrinkled fingers flew to turn off hearing aides among the crowd. An ambulance turned in at the gate, where the security guard was waiting in his golf cart. He led the ambulance down the street to the clubhouse and turned west. The vehicles disappeared into the depths of the park. Several of the more agile residents took off at a fast walk across strips of lawn and pavement to follow the ambulance. Others followed in their golf carts. Those who remained gathered in small groups and exchanged small talk.
“It’s Charlie,” Leon returned with the troop that had gone after news. “They’re taking him to Valley Regional. You just never know.” Gray heads all around nodded in agreement.
The siren blared again as the ambulance retraced its path and exited the park, with a gray van following close behind. The steel guitar slid into the opening chords of ‘Waltz Across Texas,’ and the dancers resumed their positions on the pavement, sandals and sneakers gliding in circles. They danced and talked till the western sky became a neon orange glow and the blue-black grackles flew in to roost in the mesquite and blue oak trees.
Empty casserole dishes were collected and the guests thanked Bob and Martha for the music and fun as they began drifting away from the gathering. Bob held the barrel and Leon pulled out a full bag of trash for Kasey to tie. Martha thanked the musicians as she slipped her fiddle into its velvet lined case.
“Harry and June are staying to play marbles. Why don’t you and Kasey join us? We can play the men against the women.”
“Thanks, but not this evening, Bob,” Leon declined. “We’re going to dinner at The Lost Galleon on the Island and watch the tide roll in, then call it an early night.” Kasey folded their lawn chairs and handed Leon one to carry back to their RV.
“Newlyweds,” Bob shook his bald head. “I guess the honeymoon isn’t over yet.” They all laughed and Leon and Kasey sauntered down the street to their RV.
Grasping the handles on each side of the doorway, Bob struggled up the steps into their motor home. “It’s quite a trick for you to get in and out, isn’t it?” Harry wanted to help him, but wasn’t sure how.
“Yes, but I’m going to do it while I can,” he smiled over his shoulder. “You just never know how long your health will hold for these winter vacations.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed. He glanced at his wife, standing patiently beside him. Martha set the marbles and the game board on the table and began popping corn in the kitchen. Harry drew June to the table and settled her in a corner of the booth.
“Harry, grab the cards and shuffler from that cabinet and you can get started shuffling. June, what color marbles would you like to play with this evening?”
“Ah…… These are pretty,” June looked at Harry.
“Yeah, you play with the lucky red ones tonight.” He set the cards in the center of the game board. “Here, I’ll help you put them in your castle.” He put the five red marbles in line, ready to start the game.
“Yes, red,” she seemed relieved to have the decision made.
Martha joined them with the popcorn. The cards were dealt and the play began. They took several turns, eating popcorn and talking.
“Did you go by that property in El Ranchito?” Harry asked as he moved a marble out of his castle.
“I wish I could get a face card. Now I’m the only one not on the board,” Martha exclaimed. “You should see the kitchen. There are windows all around two sides and a big blue oak for shade right in front.”
“Hey, I got an eight,” Bob moved a marble to his home stretch on the board. “I checked it out, and it’s structurally sound. Sits on a quiet street. It’s been sprayed for termites twice a year. He had all his receipts.”
“Windows, so you can see,” June seemed to be thinking out loud. She laid down a card and moved a red marble ahead nine spaces.
“No, sugar, now pay attention,” Harry reproved her gently. “Nines move two marbles. One goes forward and the other backwards. You remember.”
“Forward and backwards? Oh, I see,” she looked confused, as Harry adjusted her marbles, but didn’t press the point. He laid down a ten and moved his marble down the board.
“How is the neighborhood?”
“We met some of the neighbors. Lots of them are winter Texans. Finally!” Martha exclaimed as she drew a queen from the deck in the center of the marble board. She moved a yellow marble out of her castle.
“Well look what I drew,” Bob laid down a five of hearts, and moved a marble into the safety of his home on the board. “We’re doing some negotiating, but I think we’ll come to an agreement on the terms. You guys should buy a place down here, too.”
“Yes, buy a place down here,” Martha echoed. “Enjoy life while you can. What do you think about it, June?”
“Well, ah….” June looked to Harry for help.
“You just never know,” he said. Bob nodded in agreement.
The game continued as the players marched their marbles around the board. When one would get bumped, the rest would cry, “Oops, you lost another marble!” June followed the game anxiously, checking each move with Harry.
Bob and Harry won the game, and June slid from the booth to help Martha in the kitchen with ice and drinks.
“I’m sorry we lost. I don’t know what’s wrong. I just can’t seem to remember. “
“That’s ok, honey. It’s just a game,” Martha reassured her. “Enjoy it while you can. You just never know.”
“You never know?” June wondered what it was that you never knew, but she let it pass.
Suddenly, Bob’s phone rang out the opening bars of ‘The Battle Hymn’.
“Hello. Yes, Susie. What’s the news? Oh, my. When? Are you doing ok? Well, you just let us know what we can do. Martha and I are glad to help. Yes, Harry and June are here, I’ll tell them. OK. See you tomorrow.” He flipped the phone cover closed.
“He didn’t make it.”
“Oh,” June began to cry quietly. A heavy silence punctuated the room as Harry put his arm around June and handed her his handkerchief.
“It was a heart attack. They got him to the hospital, and he seemed to be doing better, but he had a massive coronary in the ER. They couldn’t save him. It happened about an hour ago.”
“How is Susie taking it?” Martha inquired.
“She’s pretty broke up. Matt’s flying down in the morning. They’ll be shipping the body home, I guess.”
“Wisconsin, isn’t it? I wonder how the weather is up there.”
“I heard they had a big snow a few days ago. Charlie was saying how thankful he was to be able to winter down here. No snow to shovel, no ice on the roads, no wood stove to feed. He and Susie were sure enjoying it down here while they could.” “Yeah, we’ve got to enjoy this weather while we can.”
“You just never know,” June said quietly, dabbing at her tears.
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