Chuck Brooks: "Life," part 4: A selfless act
This marks the fourth of my five December columns. Once again this year, I have decided to give you a Christmas present of a new short story I've written. Could this be book No. 4 next year? Hard to say, but options are open, and I'm inclined to listen to people's reaction to this new tale. I hope you like it. It was written for you. It will come to you in five parts. Patience. And now, I am hoping you'll enjoy... "It WAS A Wonderful Life...In Rosemount!"
"This is where I met Rose." Harold spoke as if speaking only to himself.
"I know, Harold. Something else happened here that might have meant nothing to you at the time." And with those words, the interior of the store became its parking lot, and Harold's eyes immediately locked on to the image before him.
"Th..tha...that's me...when I was in college." Harold saw his younger self walking to his car with a bag of groceries. Harold instantly knew this was his third year of college; he had moved out of the dorms and was living with three friends off-campus. "Why are we here?"
His traveling partner pointed to a woman entering the parking lot. She looked to be in her early 70s, trying to maneuver both her cane and her own personal cart used to push her groceries home. Her movement was unsteady, but she seemed determined to get what she came for. Harold watched as she moved through the parking lot and into the store.
"Mrs. Ziltz." The aged Harold softly spoke her name with wonderment. He knew her.
"Yes," said the young woman accompanying him. "This was the day you met Mrs. Ziltz. She reminded you of your grandmother, and you couldn't leave the parking lot because you felt compelled to wait until she returned from the store." She gently waved her hand through the air, and as Harold felt a wisp of a breeze strike his face, Mrs. Ziltz did indeed exit the store with her traveling cart containing two bags of groceries.
Old Harold knew exactly what was coming next. The younger Harold spoke to the elderly woman, discovering she lived just three blocks down the street from the store. He insisted he help her by putting her cart and groceries in his car and driving her home.
As they drove from the parking lot, the scene again changed and these two time travelers found themselves standing on Mrs. Ziltz's front lawn.
"Harold, you had a soft spot in your heart for the elderly as a little boy. You never lost that compassion. You saw Mrs. Ziltz struggling, and you did what was second nature for you; you chose to help her." They watched young Harold take the groceries and the cart into her home and then return to assist Mrs. Ziltz up the porch steps.
"Her husband had died years earlier; they had no children and she had to fend for herself. I merely offered to help her each week with her shopping." Harold smiled as he remembered this friendship he had started.
"Throughout your junior year, Harold, your emotional connection with this woman grew. She thought of you as a son. You continued to help her well into your senior year. Then, one week, she didn't call to indicate she was ready for grocery shopping." Harold was already blinking fiercely to combat the tears that were forming.
"She eventually trusted me with her house key. When I couldn't reach her, I drove over; she didn't answer the doorbell, so I used the key. I think I already knew what I'd find. She was sitting in her living room rocker with the TV tray next to her, complete with tea and crackers. Her radio was playing , but she was already gone."
"She died peacefully, Harold. Your friendship with Mrs. Ziltz was the best thing that had happened to her since before her husband had passed. You made the final 15 months of her life months of happiness. Her life was easier because you were in her life."
"She was such a sweet woman." Harold fought against his own emotions to utter those words. "She did remind me of my grandmother. I just couldn't ignore the likelihood she was making this trip every week." Harold's voice no longer could disguise the impact of this memory. "I just wanted to help her."
"It meant so much to Mrs. Ziltz, and when the store owner learned of what you were doing, he eventually initiated a program for other struggling senior citizens in the community who needed similar assistance. Your one selfless act made life easier for a small population of others for years. In our lives, Harold, we need to believe our goodness with people makes life a better place for them and others in which to live."
"Your kindness to Mrs. Ziltz also caught the eye of a young woman who was working part-time in the store while attending college. Her name was Rose. And that's where your story with Rose began."
"And when our story ended, I served no purpose beyond surviving a life I no longer understood."
"Do you really believe that, Harold? That your life since Rose's death has meant nothing to others?"
"Yes," Harold flatly and unequivocally responded.
"Then my role here is not done and midnight approaches. I shall make one final attempt to show you your life continued to mean more than you're able to acknowledge. This will be the most important phase of our journey together."
To be concluded next week...