I was really in a frail state for some of the days of February. Not sick enough to be in the hospital, but infirm enough that I had developed an unbecoming stagger and, if you didn't know me, one would swear that I was into tasting the "juice" that was made famous in West Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee. That was not true, I was simply shaky on my feet and beginning to think little of myself. That happens when your hair looks terrible, your clothes hang like an old, worn-out housedress, and that costly Estee Lauder makeup sneaks its way into to all those wrinkles that make your face resemble a road map. I was close to being depressed. Not a state that I have endured in my long life, always believing that something wonderful was going to happen just around the next turn, and sure enough, it always has.
My Boykin spaniel, Mr. Brown, first alerted me to a car pulling up to the house. I ran to the window and, sure enough, there was a dapper-looking fellow getting out of his high-cotton Lexus carrying a tissue-covered something, tied with a lovely pink, gauzy ribbon. I rushed to the front door to peek though the little hole, and there he stood, elegant, a well-clipped mustache and a linen shirt.
I looked again, and it was that sophisticated Dan O'Connell from over in Richburg. I flung the door open and tried to appear well groomed, and it was not an easy task.
"Come in, come, in and sit down. Would you like a cup of tea?" I asked.
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"That would be lovely," he said. "I haven't had a cup of tea in years."
"Well, you just sit right there and get to know Mr. Brown," who by this time had jumped up in his lap and was working diligently toward his ears, a spot he loves to investigate.
I know Dan's dog, Heidi, a schnauzer who sits quietly and, in a ladylike manner, observes the visitors and makes her own decisions about their social standing, their bank balance and if she wants to be friends or not. She acts the way a properly raised dog should.
When I got to the kitchen, I started to look for a tray, a cover that was hand-embroidered, cups of porcelain from France or England, and a teapot that did not look like a bloodhound or a turtle. There were none of these objects in my house. I had a piece of fabric purchased and then trimmed with my mother's old pinking shears, two clay mugs made in Seagrove, N.C., with handles large enough to slip four fingers through, and a teapot that leaked. I found sugar cubes in the freezer and, of course, there was no lemon. I put the sugar in a little crystal dish and the skimmed milk (no sweet cream, either) in a matching pitcher. Poured the boiling water in the pot and hurried to the living room trying to outrun the leak.
Dan ignored the antics of the dog and proceeded to ask me if I would like to put the rose in water. Oh, heavens, I had not taken the present he offered me. I apologized and grabbed a crystal water bottle and said, "I'll be right back." In the meantime, the teapot was leaking.
The pink rose is the main part of this story. It was a tight bud, surrounded by beautiful flat-leafed fern and enhanced by lovely little "spriggy" purple flowers that were not even a centimeter wide, blooming in all of their "wee" elegance. The rose stood above all the accoutrements in regal beauty. It fit in the small top of the bottle, and its pink hue was reflected in the cut crystal. This magnificent flower had the only adequate service in my house. I put it on the coffee table, and it rested there in natural artistry, making the tea taste better out of bulky cups and letting us forget that we didn't even have a cookie.
I stopped shaking, and we talked about where Dan was born, in El Paso, Texas. His mother, Adra Theo Love, was described as a woman of exquisite taste and high morals. Her husband, Leland Daniel O'Connell Sr., was with Westinghouse all of his working life, and the family moved and lived in many places across the nation. We talked about all of the things Dan and his wife, Phyllis, had enjoyed since moving to South Carolina.
He talked about years of delivering lunches for Meals on Wheels and all of the folks he met and the stories he heard in the small South Carolina community.
"I have made a lot of friends," he said, "and I treasure knowing every one of them."
Then he casually mentioned that he had gone to New Orleans when Katrina struck. "Really," I commented, "Why did you do that?"
"Well," he said, "I just wanted to help, called the Red Cross, volunteered and away I went. When I got to New Orleans, I presented myself at the truck driving center and told the person that I had driven for years for Meals on Wheels. Then he asked, in a matter-of-fact way, 'Do you have a CDL?'
"No, I just have a regular S.C. license," I said.
"'Well,' he quickly commented, 'you can't drive here.'
"What do you mean I can't drive? I can fly a plane and drive a car or truck."
He admitted his voice was showing lack of control.
"That fellow looked at me for a minute and handed me the truck keys. It was truly the worst two weeks of my life. It was hot, dirty and never-ending, but I stuck it out and stayed my full term driving in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I learned to sleep when the guy in next cot snored all night. I learned not to be bothered by damp clothes and lack of showers, and I certainly learned to appreciate my wife, my home, my dog and my life in Richburg. It will be long time before I ever volunteer again, especially when it has been raining."
We talked some more, and then he left. I reminisced over our visit, and I believe the nicest thing he has done was to bring this staggering lady a rose. It has been years since I have enjoyed that delicate and wonderful pleasure.
Therefore, just in passing, I wish to thank him, this man of charm and grace, and to wish my friend a very happy birthday tomorrow and many more years of taking venerable ladies a beautiful rose and making them feel admired, even when they are wearing an old gray sweat suit. It was a noble thing to do.