Winsome

Winsome.
That’s how she described the Western North Carolina Mountains. How she spoke of them as the train rolled up the tracks laboring against the increase in elevation. I didn’t know what the word meant. She often used words I didn’t know, but it didn’t matter much to me. I liked the pleasure she took in saying them. The way there was almost a spark in the air in front of her lips as they came out of her mouth.

Murky.
That’s the way she described the French Broad River as we rode by it in our carriage. This word I knew and I agreed with her as we watched the water flow by. The spring rains had made the water fast and cold. The driver told us the river was an old one, and I took him at his word. It felt old that day. It is possible it felt that way because I felt old. Sometimes it is difficult to disentangle descriptions of such things.

Charming.
That’s how she described the building when we arrived. I could understand why she said this. It was the best we could afford. The elements that made up the word charming were present in the building. I said nothing, not wanting to darken the mood or any positive thoughts she had. There are times when your thoughts run counter to a loved one’s and the best course of action is silence. Charming was not my word for it. Not my word at all.

Palliative.
That’s the word he used when we sat in the leather chairs of his office. We heard the familiar sound of coughing in the distance. Neither one of us had heard the word before, but we both understood what it meant. His eyes and posture said what it meant. It was a promise and apology of sorts combined as one word. We had known this was the case without knowing the word, but all had to be explained. All always had to be explained. Words used as braces and props, pinned, not stitched, to an unnamed thing.

Rhododendron.
That’s what they called the flowers that surrounded the hills behind the sanitarium and bloomed in the early summer. We knew them from other places, but not like these. They were vibrant and strong and had no qualms about the fickle weather of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We held hands and looked at them saying little most nights. Words were scarce by then.

Riverside.
That’s the name of the place I buried her. It was late fall and leaves around me were bright and brilliant. In those days, the cemetery did brisk business and I was not the only mourner. I don’t know if it was easier on me or harder, knowing it had been coming for so long. I only have the words to describe what I encountered along the way. I try to speak them with a spark like her. Not yet, though. Not yet.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2017

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