When We Were Young by Lonna Enox
Only a few domestic geese waddled along the pond’s banks, and they turned expectantly
at the crunch of our tires. Garry’s chuckles deteriorated into a violent coughing attack,
and the geese stopped at the sound. When he recovered, his voice held affectionate
amusement. “Spoiled birds!”
“Surely you can’t call Zeus spoiled!” I teased, pointing to the large cocoa colored
gander. I walked around to the passenger side of the car, opened his door, and reached in
the back seat for the bag of old bread.
“Not this time,” Garry said when I leaned to pull him up. I looked closer at the darkened
smudges under his eyes, the fragile bones in his face, and the labored breathing behind
the oxygen nosepiece.
“I’ll just be a minute, then,” I said. “Let me toss the bread.”
“No, Lonna.” He had another coughing spell, but held tightly onto my arm. Finally he
whispered, “You feed them. Like you did. When we were young.”
“I’m too old for that nonsense. Besides, I need to get you back to the apartment.”
He was expecting too much of me, I thought as I headed to the pond and the fat geese. It
had been over thirty years! I’d been a college student and he a young soldier
returning from Southeast Asia. I couldn’t turn back into the dreamy girl who’d fed the
geese and planned a future.
“Will you think I’m still beautiful when we’re old?” I’d teased.
“You’ll always be a beautiful woman, even when you’re old,” he’d answered.
“Oh, so I’ll be the only old one!”
“Maybe.” A shadow had passed over his face. “Somehow, I don’t think I’ll
reach old age.”
“You’ll have to,” I’d answered quickly. “According to the poets, that’s what the first of
life is all about—growing old together.”
That was so long ago—long before the births of our children, before the rise of our
careers, and before his cancer. Now, with the oncologist’s words echoing in
our hearts—“We have lost this war.”—Garry and I had returned to this simple method of
spending precious moments together.
“I’m off!” I called over my shoulder, and trotted along the banks, breathing in the fresh
spring evening. The greedy geese waddled after me, protesting as I gathered speed.
Instead, I lost track of everything—chemotherapy, fear, anger. Soon, I
raced around the pond, my hair flying in the light breeze, laughing back at the
complaining followers. Life pulsed through me.
Garry’s delighted smile greeted me when I returned . “Lonna,” he said.
“You have to promise me. Promise that when I’m gone, you’ll do this.”
“Don’t—“ I said.
“Promise!” He smiled. “I never liked it you know. I just loved watching you. You
make me smile. When I’m gone, make someone else smile too.”
Today, I have faithfully followed Garry’s wishes regarding services and “endings” and
this one is the most difficult. A gorgeous white gander sidles up to me. “You look like
Apollo,” I tell him.
He is unimpressed with his new name, but he answers in hopeful “greed”. Slowly, I tear
pieces of bread and toss them in the breeze. First one, then two, then a dozen geese
follow the bread trail, faster and faster, until I must trot to stay ahead. I giggle as they
squabble over each scrap. I pause too long—my new gander stretches a long neck to nip
my leg, but he only nips my jeans. I run faster, the breeze ruffling my hair. For the
first time in several weeks, I do not feel guilty because Garry is ill and I am well. I reach
for the last slice of bread An elderly gentleman, out for his evening stroll, is watching—
Later, I find solace in the Psalms. “Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles,
shalt quicken me again, And shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth”
(71:20). Maybe I have not discovered this verse sooner because I have buried myself in
grief. Now, it is time to “quicken”.
Such a simple act, feeding geese and giggling, remind me of love—things I love to
do, people whom I love and have loved, and God’s love. It is time to return to God’s
plans for the rest of my life. I’ll never return to the young girl I was, but the woman I am
today smiles at her fondly, and faces the next months with renewed determination and