Bessie Christopher wasn’t rich, married or young when I met her, even though my mother said she had once been all three. My mother also said that Bessie went quiet and crazy after her husband died in the same war my dad lived through. It seemed to me that 30 years was an awful long time to be either one.
Happy with her long ago past, Bessie was reminded by widowhood and infirmity that she no longer lived in it, so she dedicated proof of better times to the walls of her home. In every room, she had photographs of good looking Teddy Christopher, her Greek restaurant entrepreneur. As a kid, I didn’t find Teddy nearly as fascinating as the garden in which he was buried…on Bessie’s wallpaper.
Bessie’s walls told that she was equally wild for her husband, flowers and the color blue. Each Mid-Atlantic summer, her front yard swayed with old fashioned posies. In the off season, the interior walls, papered with immense hydrangeas, made up for what the garden couldn’t grow. Teddy’s photographs withered black and white against generous sapphire.
It was no wonder that Teddy’s best pictures seemed coziest on Bessie’s pedestal table. Everybody had one of those tables--tall, single pillared wood and high polish, the kind of table that you would never profane with foolishness. My parents had JFK and Pope John Paul II sharing a tatted memorial doily on their pedestal table which led to a fair childhood assumption that the only people who got displayed were 1) dead and preferably 2) martyred. I had no idea how qualified he was, but in Bessie’s house, Teddy got a doily all to himself.
Bessie’s tiny home, where she had been without Teddy for so long, sat at the back of her property. All her neighbors’ homes perched at the front of theirs, making it seem like Bessie’s house was shy or too good to mingle. It wasn’t true. She liked being away from the noisy street and having a private view of the perennials first set down in the earth by the man who only ever called her Elizabeth, but Bessie and the house were as warm and welcoming as any I’d ever visited.
Her last long decades were spent alone. Bessie ambled room to room, a little more slowly each year, looking out windows that all faced the garden. She could often be found in a soft covered rocker on the back porch…thanking her beloved out loud for leaving behind the blooms of blue and wishing in her crazy quiet that he was there, so she could still have all the things she was wild about…….