How many times did a mama look out this window, waiting for her boy to get back from war? She sees him walk down the dirt road to their hard scrabble farm, struggling to eek out a living on rapidly diminishing wheat prices and a season with too little rain. Did she eventually hang a gold star in the window? A yellow ribbon?
Weather beaten and pock-marked by too many hail storms.
Flaking paint and weak joints.
Why fish this window out of the garbage?
Splintered ends, worn brown and dry where paint had long ago retreated from its edges.
A rotten lower left corner.
The old woman sits in her drafty bungalow on Oleander Street. Her feet are propped up on a footstool, the one with the embroidered flowers on top. Daisies and day lilies are arranged in a circular pattern, concentrated in the middle and growing ever less so outward. An odd combination of flowers, unless you knew Aunt June. She considered the pair of flowers her favorites in honor of her departed sisters: Daisy and Lily.
She wraps her shawl tighter and wakes the cat, curled on the footstool, purring. Now irritated, awakened from her peaceful slumber. She hates the cat, but the damn thing keeps her feet warm at night. So she buys the cans of food, moist and stinky, and fills the water dish and waits for the damn thing to die.
The wind howls as the storm batters the old window next to her chair. The rain sounds like sand emptied from a bottle, a shhhh shhh sound of a thousand pins hitting the ground over and over and over. She adjusts her glasses that have inched slowly down her nose, the nose pads nearly worn through. Another expense on a fixed income.
Her book lies listlessly on her lap, Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Her favorite, but today the words do not comfort. It reminds her of Clyde, her recently departed husband. He was old. Natural causes, they said. She's old, waiting for her own natural causes to erupt into an unnatural ending. Everyone dies a natural death except when it's you doing the dying.
She refuses to give up the house and move into one of those damnable retirement communities where it smells like Watkins' Petro-Carbo Salve and everyone knows your business. The upkeep on the house is beyond her ability. Too expensive to maintain, too exhausting to update. The future depressed sale price will sink the revitalized neighborhood home values. Good, she thinks. I hate all of these yuppies, anyway, with their shiny, debt-laden existences and their spoiled, snobby children.
And yet, she doesn't sell because of this window.
Through this window she saw her first boy off to war, her second off to college. She saw her husband leave in anger and return in remorse. She watched her (non-spoiled, non-snobby) grandchildren draw chalk masterpieces on the sidewalk, fellow old neighbors politely stepping over precious works, only to be washed away by a midnight soaker, like tonight.
She watched children come and go, replaced by college girls and their walks of shame, barefooted and swaying slightly, when the University expanded and a percentage of houses on the block converted to rentals. Rotten wood siding was replaced with maintenance free aluminum. New windows and second-floor escape stairways, per city code, became a plentiful eyesore on her tree-lined street.
And yet, this window escaped the improvement craze. Clyde re-glazed the glass when that damn neighbor boy hit a golf ball - a golf ball! - through the lower left pane. Ever the cheap bastard, that Clyde, she begged him to replace the window, but his depression-era frugality won and she acquiesced. The window never quite sealed properly after Clyde got hold of it. Years of slow seeping moisture, allowed in by time and temperature, weather and winter, have taken its toll in the splintering corner, now drafty and loose.
Oh how she wishes Clyde were here to fix the pane, however poorly, however clumsily. At least he kept her warm next to the drafty window; he was always hot. He sat in front of this window even during the most bitter of Minnesota winters. Now her only source of body heat is the temperamental cat and her sandpaper tongue.
She sees the rain turn to snow. Not snow, flurries - there's a difference. Snow falls. Flurries float. The panes are frosted now, her breath spreading across the glass like steam from a cup of joe as she strains to see outside. She reaches a bony finger, joints inflamed and stiff, and touches the single pane, the rotten corner. She thinks the window has seen its day, like her.
They were born in the same year, this window and her. She supposes she's got some splintering joints and seeping leakage somewhere too. Life has made her brittle, but she holds her shape. Daring people to remodel and discard her like so many of the old ones. Clyde didn't completely fix this pane, but he fixed her pain with love and courage and kindness. No one can see his best handiwork. She's not transparent like this aging window with the sagging sash.
She looks beyond the long ago faded white paint, beyond the broken clasp and uneven glazing, and sees the world as it is. Beautiful.
Her window pane is beautiful.
Her widow's pain is beautiful, too.
What can an old window teach us?
Look through the pane.
Look through the pain.
Love what you see.
Dr. Jana Craft is a Christian, wife, mother, business professor, fake biker and terrible cook who writes about the struggle to balance these identities and the joy derived from them all. She writes daily on Holding True @ janacraft.blogspot.com