The sun beat down taking no prisoners. I looked up at the sky and couldn’t see a cloud in the dark blue vastness and knew there would be no relief to the punishing heat. On my car’s radio, I had heard that it had topped 100 degrees. After I had parked my car and started walking up the walkway to the old house, I believed it.
“I hope she has air conditioning,” I muttered to myself as I looked at the old pink house. I walked between two dry lilac trees that had probably smelled sweet a month or so earlier but now the purple flowers were dry, golden yellow and drooping. As I stepped onto the porch, the change from the direct heat to the shaded heat caused me to gasp a moment for air and I tried wiping my forehead with my sweaty hand.
I looked around on the porch after I knocked on the door and saw flowers in vases all around. Despite the heat, they were still blooming and I could tell someone had taken great care of them to allow them to live during this time of sweltering heat. I turned and looked at the door again. There had been no response so I knocked again, this time louder.
“I heard ya the first time,” someone from inside yelled faintly through the big, thick wooden door. The locks started clinking as they were unlocked, one by one, from the other side so I stepped back and waited. Finally, after several moments the door opened slowly. The chain was still fastened and all I could see was an eye staring at me intently.
“You’d think you lived in the city,” I tried joking to ease the situation. I’ve never been considered a charmer, and I always seem to pick the wrong moments to joke. This was no exception.
The door slammed shut again. I knocked again. “Hello?” I called through the door though it was so thick I felt like it muffled and absorbed my yell. “I’m Lisa Davis from the paper. I have an appointment with Ms. Tara Snellfield.” I paused to wait for a response. “I do have an appointment.”
The door slowly opened again and I was staring at a white haired older lady. I held out my hand, “I’m Lisa Davis,” I repeated.
She looked down at my hand then shook it briefly. “I’m Tara Snellfield.”
“Oh,” I said somewhat surprised, “then you’re the town’s citizen of the year?” It came out as a question due to her behavior just moments before.
A warm smile spread across her lips. “You’re a reporter?” she asked almost under her breath but audible enough for me to hear.
I could feel my hot, red cheeks deepen in color. “I just meant,” I fumbled for an explanation but knew there wasn’t one.
“Please, come in,” she opened the screen door for me, “before all my cold air gets out.”
I felt happy to hear she had air conditioning and felt the relief as soon as I stepped inside. “Thank you.” “
Have a seat,” she motioned with one hand as the other fastened the door shut. “I just made some lemonade, would you like a glass?”
“That would be nice, thank you,” I replied as I looked around at the small room. It was big enough for her couch and two chairs, but it seemed small due to the fact nearly every square inch was covered by some memorabilia. Pictures of children in various stages of growth were on the walls, and mementoes from travels and friends were on shelves. I sensed things had gotten off to a bad start and tried to make up for it, “Lovely family,” I called out.
After a moment, she walked in the room carrying a tray and two glasses. “Nice family,” I repeated.
She smiled politely. “Thank you. Please have a seat.”
I sat down and the plastic lined couch squeaked. “Do you mind if I tape record our conversation?” I asked as I pulled out my mini-recorder from my bag.
“Do what you gotta do,” she looked nervously at the recorder.
I pushed record and set it on the table. “You won’t even notice it,” I reassured her. She continued to stare at the recorder and nodded her head slowly. I flipped my small notebook open and got my pen ready to write. “The town’s citizen of the year?” I asked to draw her eyes to mine.
She looked at me and nodded.
“That’s quite an honor,” I smiled.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“You don’t think so?” I asked.
She leaned closer to me, “My dear, the only accomplishment that requires such an honor is living long enough to receive it.”
“Maybe so,” I couldn’t argue. The town’s tradition had been, since I could remember, to hand out the award to the oldest person still living and able to function rather independently. “But think of the alternative.”
She thought about it a moment and then a low, hoarse sound started coming from her. I looked at her in horror until I realized she was laughing. She bowed her head slowly towards me.
“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” I asked relieved she was now smiling warmly. “Tell me about your family.”
Her eyes looked past me and seemed to be studying some distant scenery. She was lost in thought as she reviewed her life history inside her mind. Slowly she nodded her head. “It is time.”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“It is time someone else knew the whole story. A story only I know about now,”she drifted off again thinking. I was expecting some run of the mill story of a sweet old lady. Funny how fast things can change.