Home Again

When I called their home, Avery’s wife answered the phone. “I thought I might drive down for a visit,” I said.

“Come on down,” she said. “Avery could use some company.”

It had cooled off considerably overnight. Some of the leaves on the trees along the interstate had already begun to turn. Fall was just around the corner.

I found the house number on the mailbox and pulled into the driveway. Avery and his wife were sitting out back with their yellow lab mix puppy. The dog was busy chewing on a plastic toy. He was all over me as I walked up.

“Down!” Avery’s wife shouted in a stern voice. The dog paid no attention.

“He’ll settle down in a bit,” Avery said. “He’s a bundle of energy.”

“What’s his name?”

“Low-key.”

I laughed and took a seat in the chair next to Avery. His wife pulled the plastic toy from the dog’s mouth and tossed it across the yard. Low-key bolted after it.

“You’ve got a nice spread here,” I mused, looking out over the expanse of yard with its fenced-in flower garden and tall trees.

“About three and a half acres,” Avery said. “We didn’t know the lot was that big when we bought the house. It was in rough shape, but we got it for a song. It still needs some work, but no telling when I’ll get to it now.”

“When do you start chemo?”

“Next Wednesday. Once a week for three weeks, then they’ll reevaluate to see if it’s worth proceeding or not.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Not bad, really. I keep the oxygen on for several hours a day. And the pain medication keeps me comfortable.”

“Would you like some coffee?” Avery’s wife asked me.

“If you’ve got it made, sure.”

“I just brewed a fresh pot.” She disappeared into the house.

We sat and looked out over the yard. Chickadees and goldfinches flitted back and forth from tree branches to the feeders. I saw a nuthatch making its way headfirst down a tree trunk. Two small whirling gyros caught my eye. “You’ve got hummingbirds there,” I pointed.

“That’s the last of them for the season,” Avery said. “They’ve been swarming at the feeders for the last week. They’ve been going through a quart of sugar solution a day—it’s unbelievable how much they can eat. They’re tanking up for the flight across the gulf to South America.”

“What are those tall flowers in the garden?”

“Purple cones,” Avery said. “And those bushes on the far side are butterfly bushes. I’ve got a purple one and a white one.”

“They’re a pretty good size,” I said. “Did you raise them from seed?”

“I raised one from a seedling; the other from seed. They grow like wildfire. I prune them back, but the harder they’re pruned, the more they grow.”

“That’s not a monarch, is it?” I said, pointing out the big orange butterfly on one of the white flowers.

“No, that’s a fritillary. There’s a number of different fritillary species. That one may be a great fritillary; I’m not sure.”

“Coffee’s ready,” Avery’s wife said, returning with two big white mugs. “Afterwards, I’ve got some fresh baked apple dumplings, if you’d care for some.”

We sat and talked about Avery’s brother, an electrical engineer who spent one year researching microwaves in Antarctica and another year exploring the arctic. Lately he’s been in the process of buying a farm and a parcel of mountain land in Pennsylvania.

We finished the coffee and walked inside. I helped Avery with the oxygen tank. He pointed out the plants hanging from homemade brackets attached to the eves of the house and garage. “Ordinarily I’d have a full complement of begonias and impatiens up there, but this year I just couldn’t get to it.”

We sat down to bowls of fresh dumplings at the kitchen table. The talk drifted to cars. Avery told me about his first car—a ’52 DeSoto he had inherited from his brother. “It was a great car,” he said. “I drove the wheels off of it.”

When his wife left to take the dog to the neighbors for a run inside their fenced in yard, Avery told me about his stroke. “It was like my left side wasn’t responding to what my brain was telling it to do,” he said. “Someone had thrown away the service manual.”

“It’s a miracle you got all of the function back,” I said.

“Yeah. The steroids reduced the swelling in my brain, but then I had to put up with twenty pounds of fluid in my legs,” Avery said. “Still, it wasn’t all that bad.”

“It could have been a lot worse.”

“For sure. I’m thankful for the way it’s all worked out so far. I consider myself fortunate, all things considered. I really can’t complain. Every day is a new adventure now.”

“Every day always was a new adventure. It’s just that we don’t appreciate it for what it is.”

“That’s true. It used to be hard not to complain. Now I’m just thankful for each day I’ve got.”

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