She looked like someone’s sweet granny. She stood on her porch watching me paint the house next door. Her hair was flawless white. She wore pearls, lipstick, and a holiday sweater with sequins.
And since God gave me the natural gift of running my mouth, I found a way to break the ice.
“Chilly weather we’re having,” I said, using laser sharp observational skills.
But she didn’t answer, she just went back inside.
“Geez,” said my pal. “You must’a scared her.”
“I was just being friendly.”
“Yeah well, friendly or not, you look like an escaped convict with all that hair.”
But as it happened, I hadn’t frightened her. A few minutes later, she returned holding a thermos of hot cocoa.
It took exactly two seconds for the ex-convicts to slide down their ladders. She poured two Styrofoam mugs. The hot cups felt good in our cold hands.
The first sip was god-awful.
Her instant cocoa tasted like chalk-water and baked pickles. The packets must’ve been sitting in her pantry since mid 40’s.
Anyway, we talked with her. She told us her husband had died. She missed him. Then, she asked if we’d be interested in helping her with odd jobs.
“No ma’am,” my partner said. “Our boss wouldn’t let us do that. We only do renovations.”
She went on, “All I want are some limbs cut and some Christmas lights hung.”
My partner drained his cup. “Sorry.”
We thank-you-ma’amed her, and got to work.
When the sun lowered, I cleaned paintbrushes at the faucet and looked through the the woman’s lit up window.
She was clipping coupons at her kitchen table.
That night, my wife asked how my day went. So I told her about the woman, the instant cocoa dating back to the Second World War, and how lonely she looked.
“And you didn’t offer to HELP her?” my wife said.
The ex-convict shrugged his dumb, hairy shoulders.
Early the next morning, my wife yanked off my bed covers. She was already bundled in flannel, stocking cap, hunting boots, and scarf.
“Get dressed,” she said, using my truck keys as a weapon.
“But honey, it’s Saturday.”
A few hours later, we were driving through a plain, North Florida subdivision, listening to Bing Crosby sing about snow. I threw the truck into park.
Before I could say anything, my wife was already traipsing the sidewalk. The old woman answered the door.
“Merry Christmas, ma’am,” said my wife, pointing to my truck—which was loaded with pinestraw, chainsaws, and ladders. “We’re here for hot cocoa.”
We didn’t leave until sundown.
They broke the mold when they made that woman.