The yard. The car. The taxes.

This post was written by Rev. Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services.

Mary had been a widow for six days when Andre first appeared in her front yard.

Not many people can imagine what Mary felt that first night at home by herself. Sure, she had spent nights there by herself when George was in the hospital, but this was different. George was gone now. Everything about that first night felt so ... final. After decades of having George at her side, she felt so alone.

In the coming days, her thoughts were a blur. In the midst of the blur, a number of scenes flashed repeatedly. She could see George's face, young and fresh on their wedding day, looking into her eyes. She could see him at the dinner table with friends, laughing and joking. And she could see his face when he was sick and in pain.

Mary and George never had children. Many of their siblings had already died. Their parents had been gone for years.

As George became sicker, attending their social activities became more difficult. Now, it would be very difficult for Mary to muster the strength to re-engage in those activities without him.

Mary had retired from her career as a professor of history at the local college nearly 15 years earlier, and she and George had enjoyed many adventures together since then.

When they were younger, Mary used to joke that if she died first, George would starve to death shortly thereafter. He did not cook, and he did not like to eat at restaurants. He was from a very frugal family, which was also why he did the couple's taxes and finances from the beginning.

Mary is sophisticated. She likes the theater, fashion, museums and long books with no pictures.

George was more practical and particular. He liked numbers and finishing little jobs at home and work. So, it was only natural that George was always the one who took care of the lawn and the car as well.

Now that George was gone, these were the three things that keep coming up in Mary's mind.

The yard.

The car.

The taxes.

The day after George's funeral was nearly enough to crush Mary. She had seen some old friends at the viewing and the funeral, but now, she felt, everyone else was returning to their "normal" lives. However, she knew, deep inside, that she never would.

It was a Saturday in the summer. In the past, this would have been a great time for her and George to have an adventure. Maybe a road trip or just a walk through their neighborhood.

But not today. Mary's thoughts were spinning again. Her mind was jumping from the emptiness she felt to the quietness in the house. Then from the finances, to the yard, to the car and back again. She could feel herself losing her grip on her emotions. Suddenly, her thoughts were interrupted by a loud roar from outside her front window.

She stood and walked across the room and peered outside.

In her yard stood Andre, a boy about 11 years old, from down the street.

She and George had always admired Andre. He came to their house when he was selling items to raise money for school or sports. Normally George hated it when solicitors came to the door, but he had a soft spot for kids raising money for activities. Plus, Andre had an effusive personality.

One day, Mary came home from the store to find three large tins of popcorn on the kitchen island.

"George?" She called. "Where did all this popcorn come from?"

George came in from the study. Taking off his glasses, he asked, "You remember Andre from down the street? He came by and was carrying all three of these!" He shook his head and smiled. "We chatted about his football team, school and his family. Somehow, when he left, he had my money and I had his popcorn."

George turned and started walking to the garage to help Mary carry in bags from the grocery.

"But you don't even like popcorn!" She called after him as he walked away.

 

Now Andre stood in her front yard.

On the driveway behind him sat a small red gas can and a loud roar came from the lawn mower he was pushing across Mary's front yard. The grass was a little long. He was going slow and being careful.

Mary was puzzled but went to the kitchen and made a tall pitcher of cold lemonade. Then, she found her purse in the hall and pulled out some cash to give Andre when he was through.

About an hour later, when the sound from the mower came to a stop, Mary hopped up. She grabbed a tall glass of lemonade and the money and headed out the front door.

Andre accepted the lemonade and smiled at Mary. After she had thanked him several times, she held out the money she had gotten from her purse.

"Ma'am?" Andre questioned. "Your husband already paid me."

Mary's eyes widened.

"Honey, that's not possible. He died just last week."

"I know, ma'am. My father told me. That's why I am here."

"Your father told you to come mow my lawn? That's very sweet, but I do want to pay you," Mary said.

"But, it's like I told you, your husband already paid me," he replied.

Now Mary looked completely confused and set her hands in her lap.

Andre could tell she wanted an explanation. He set down his glass and launched in to a story he had figured she already knew.

"A couple months ago, our doorbell rang. My dad answered. It was your husband. He didn't look like he felt very well, but he leaned around my dad and winked at me while I was doing my schoolwork." Andre took a sip of lemonade.

"After he left, my dad asked me to sit down. That's when he told me that your husband was sick. I still didn't know why he rang our doorbell, but my dad pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. It was a check with your husband's name on it, for my dad. Then he explained to me that your husband wanted to hire me to mow your grass after he ..." Andre paused.

"After he died?" asked Mary, wanting Andre to continue the story.

"Yes ma'am." Andre looked down, realizing he had been talking too fast. He took another sip of the lemonade and brought his story to a close. "He paid me to do this for the next two summers." He said slowly, looking at Mary's face. But when a new thought entered his mind, he started speaking quickly again. "But I'll do it till I'm an old man, just like your husband." He looked back at the well-mowed lawn. Then turned back to Mary. "It makes me proud. Makes me ..."

"Happy," said Mary.

"Yes ma'am," said Andre.

After they said their goodbyes, Mary went back inside the house. As she entered the study, her eyes landed on a picture in which George had a wide smile–like he was laughing. She pretended she was mad at him. "Oh, you think you really pulled one over on me, don't you? Thought you knew just what I might need when you were gone, did you? Well ... sweetie ... you weren't wrong. Thank you. I love you."

Andre was as good as his word, and quite a good little lawn mower­–quite particular. Mary always liked seeing the grass get longer because it meant that Andre would be by soon, often along with a couple of his family members.

 

George had two more surprises in store for Mary. Two more opportunities for her to “yell” at the picture of him laughing.

About two months after George died, Mary's phone rang with a number she recognized. It was the business number of a local auto service shop. It was a very small shop, and for many years George trusted the man who ran it.

"Mary, I don't think we have met since George was always the one bringing the car in, but my name's Denny."

Denny cleared his throat and continued.

"Awhile back George stopped in with a proposal." Mary had just set out the pitcher to start making lemonade for the next time Andre would come by. Her eyes unconsciously shot over to the lemonade pitcher when Denny told a story about George setting up regular maintenance on the car and prepaying the whole thing for a long time to come.

George had taken care of the yard with the help of Andre.

George had taken care of the car with the help of Denny.

Mary's final surprise from George came in mid-January, about the time Mary started worrying about tax season. It had been awhile since Mary had seen Andre and his family, although she had agreed to watch their dog for them when they went on an upcoming adventure. This time when her phone rang and a local trusted tax-preparer started telling her about a visit from George, Mary walked right into the study, looked at the "laughing George" picture and started wagging her finger. "You did it, you got me again!" She said out loud, while the woman with the tax agency was still on the phone.

"I'm sorry ma'am?" She sounded confused.

"Oh nothing. It's just that George still seems to be very much present with me in times like this. It helps. Otherwise I would feel so alone." Mary tried to explain about Andre and Denny, but felt like it probably sounded like a jumbled mess of words. When she finished, the woman paused before replying.

"I understand, a least a little... My mom died two years ago, and I still feel her absence every day... Say, when we get together for me to help you with your taxes, how about we grab lunch instead of just meeting here in my office?"

Mary was surprised by the suggestion but graciously agreed.

That lunch appointment was the first of many. They talked about taxes for about ten minutes. Then they talked about George, the woman's mother, and their journeys since their deaths, and lost all track of time.

When she returned after that first lunch, she did not yell at George's picture. She held it and laughed. Then cried. Then laughed some more.

 

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