Monday, 26 October 2015
By Janet Thompson
Waiting to be picked up, maybe for the last time, on my kitchen counter rests a 10-ounce, clear bottle. A red satin ribbon crosses in front from around the neck over a gold-bordered, off-white label announcing Private Stock, also gold. At the bottom, stained and shopworn, almost faded to obscurity, in my best friends’ handwriting it says, Chokecherry Cordial 1985.
Moving between nine different homes since, each time I packed the cordial as carefully as I'd done my newborn preemie. It has always slept with my vodka, tequila, Bailey's, and Kahlua.
Rationing it for 30 years, I've only shared about a half-teaspoonful drizzled over vanilla ice-cream with a special guest. Otherwise, feeling covetous, it’s been my own private indulgence.
Vonnie was a year older than I in Fort Collins when we met at a late 1940s frat party. From hopping on the back of motorcycles with guys headed for breakfast in Cheyenne to slugging beer on the side of a hill on the way to Estes Park, we were a pair to draw to back then.
She married first; I was in her wedding. She moved away, her daughters grew up, she divorced and returned to Denver. We resumed our friendship again the same as if we'd never been apart.
We listened to music and visited art. She expertly created Mexican food and margaritas; I was best at roasts and stews. We shared secrets, cried and laughed over our good and bad experiences, and it never changed.
After she returned, every summer we went to her folks primitive cabin about 25-30 feet (up on stone steps) from the road in Poudre Canyon. Opening it up, the first chore was she'd turn on heat, water and propane. We swept cobwebs from the ceiling, gathered mouse turds from the corners and mucked out the two-holer outside in back.
After we gathered wood, made beds and scrubbed the floor, Vonnie would go about 15 feet below the road to the river and catch trout for dinner. I would read. As we vegged out, it took only a little of this gentle stuff to carry away any stress.
We were copycats. From famous Jonas Brothers Furs, Vonnie bought a silver-grey Persian lamb jacket and I found a special-brown-dyed Persian lamb jacket and hat. Her 1970’s Dodge Dart was green and mine gold.
Vonnie was tall, striking and fashionable; I, short but cute. For my Model-Talent Agency accounting client, she became the “older woman model.” There, we learned better ways to apply eyelashes so they stuck, tuck our shirts inside our panties to eliminate bulk at our middles and care for our skin. We could wear hot pants and go-go boots. Then in our 40s, fashion was FUN.
I was almost 50 when I bought a circa 1888 two-story, vacant, Victorian house to restore in the historic district. I dared Vonnie to buy an older one in the next block.
Winos had camped in both beauties. Starting in September, we froze without heat and sustained our lifetime Hazmat loads from stripping walls, ceilings and linoleum, hot-gunning decades-old paint and wallpaper without wearing masks.
Her stunning, curved staircase was black walnut, my elderly dogs nails clicked on my golden oak steps until he could no longer climb them. We both agreed, those 11-12 months of fix up were the best in our lives. Saturday respites for Wendy's chili, a burger and coffee restored us to keep on keeping on.
We joined the vintage 20th Street Gym, went to concerts, parades and partied with our younger, gay urban pioneers. We made close friends with our senior black and Hispanic neighbors and volunteered at community events. At the Gym is a memorial room named for Vonnie.
Vonnie’s next-to-last gentleman friend died of heart failure in her bed before “picking up my change from the dresser” (their private joke.) She put him on a blanket and gently slid his body down her elegant staircase before calling 911. Given her close friendships with the local firemen, they NEVER divulged her secret.
I was in California about eight years ago when sickness caused Vonnie’s two daughters to uproot and move her from her beautiful home and friends to assisted living. An old neighbor took her sweet little dog.
From then, it was ongoing dementia until about three summers ago when she joined the historic district in the sky.
Sad question: After my last “l'chaim," will I still treasure the empty 30-year-old bottle?
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]