My Love Affair with the Late Carroll Beame
Ruth Z DemingCall me a garden groupie. When I find a spectacular garden, I must meet the invisible gardener. And so it was I finally met Carroll Beame. He was only eighty-seven when we met, to my fifty. He lived on a busy street in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. Some newspapers and flyers had blown into his irises on the side of his house.
I picked them up, then went cautiously up to him in his huge back yard where he was scrubbing his bubbling fountain.
“Come on inside,” he said, grabbing the newspapers.
We sat at his kitchen table where we could view his back yard. Birds swooped by and sipped from the fountain. The wind blew his azalea bushes and lilac bush.
“What can I get you to drink?” he asked.
“Water,” I said.
He went into his old fashioned refrigerator and pulled out a Britta container of filtered water.
“Sure,” I said.
When I left, he kissed me on the lips. This was his way.
Although this was our first visit, there would be many more. Here and on his brother’s farm.
He was a twin.
We walked around the corner to meet Caroline.
Like her brother she wasn’t content to sit around and do nothing. She was folding laundry and stirring a pot of pea soup. When I walked in, it was summer, and I was wearing shorts and a tank top. Her antennae went up. I was going to marry her brother and get all his money. Somehow I worked it into the conversation that I was Jewish. Without a doubt, I knew she was anti-semitic, though her brother was not.
In his former life as a hairdresser, Carroll had seen all sorts of clients. His huge home had contained his hairdressing shop.
I imagined the wedding invitation:
"Bernice Greenwold has the honor of presenting her daughter, Ruth Zali Greenwold Deming in marriage to Carroll Beam."
Literally five minutes after I walked inside, two “vultures” knocked on the door. They were two female neighbors, fairly young, who were after Caroline’s money.
“How can I help you today?” one of them asked and grabbed a broom.
Laughing inside, I learned that this was the fate of the elderly.
I wanted to convince Carroll I was not after his money.
One day when I visited him I asked if he’d ever eaten at The Daily Grind.
When he said no, I said, “How ‘bout we go now, my treat.”
I hoped Kevin would not be behind the counter. He was. Sarcastic and just plain mean, he did, however, offer delicious food.
Carroll ordered a tuna salad, which came with potato chips, and a Diet Coke. I had a bowl of chili and a cup of coffee.
Soft rock music played in the distance.
We sat by the window so we could see people walking down the sidewalk. Trucks huffed down the street as did automobiles. Carroll still drove his black late-model Chrysler, which was in the garage. So many walkers were fat and walked with canes or walkers.
Here was Carroll, eighty-seven, in tip-top shape.
He did have a lady friend, Bea, but there was no way he would marry her.
At home, he had a picture of his wife Florence, a beautiful woman with red hair he had met in his beauty salon. His parents forbad him to marry her – no one was good enough for their Carroll – but after a couple of years, he defied their orders and they married in a Presbyterian church up the street.
Carroll himself had a nice head of blond-white hair.
Everyone in Carroll’s family lived until their nineties. They were nonchalant about death, knowing there was an afterlife.
His elder brother Justice was ninety-seven and dying in a nursing home. Carroll would visit Justice’s farm and make sure everything was running smoothly. After Justice died, the developers would take his farm and turn it into ridiculously expensive huge homes.
One day I drove out there. I could not wait to see a real farm. When I was a kid, my favorite Little Golden Book was called “Life on a Farm.” I would pretend I was the little blond girl with the pigtails who lived there and gathered eggs from the chickens.
Well, chickens I did see when I got to Justice’s farm.
“I’ve never been to a chicken coop,” I told my friend.
The property was huge. We walked a ways over the grass on this beautiful sunny day. In the distance was a glimmering lake, where the cows and horses would drink.
“Watch your step,” I told Carroll, “the grass is uneven.” We walked hand in hand to the chicken coop. I started to smell it when we got close.
“Duck your head, Ruthie,” he said.
We walked inside. Our eyes accustomed themselves to the darkness. I jumped when I heard a rooster crowing.
It sounded just like a rooster, with the cock-a-doodle-do!
I was, well, ecstatic! Could this be the happiest day of my life?
“Why does the barn smell so bad?” I asked.
“Justice was too sick to take care of it.”
My friend told me he wanted to show me a kitten.
Underneath a pine tree, a tiny black kitten was lying down. Carroll opined that the mother had been killed, perhaps by a hawk, and this kitten was fighting for her life. He picked it up and brought it to the farmhouse.
He explained he wouldn’t bring it in the house as he wanted the kitten to learn to live by herself.
I held out my hands and he put the tiny soft black kitten into them. I held her against my cheek. Although I love cats and kittens I didn’t want the responsibility of owning one.
He opened the door to the house for me. We sat down at the kitchen table.
He told me, not for the first time, what he would do with his money when he passed. The Boy Scouts and the USO. He must have served in the Second World War.
“Great places,” I said.
“Oh,” I said. “I saw some white feathers outside. May I have them?”
“Sure,” he said. “Don’t forget them when you leave.”
I have a feather collection on my windowsill. A yellow one from a goldfinch, a new huge white feather from a goose a friend gave me, bluejay feathers and a hard-to-get goldfinch feather, a bright sunny yellow .
My boyfriend, Scott, bought me wooden birdhouses, which I painted bright colors. The birds dwell within, only a few yards from my yellow house.
One day I was at the Hatboro post office. A woman about town, named Hildegund, saw me.
In her German accent, she said, “I think you were a friend of Carroll Beame.”
“Yes,” I said, worried that he had died and I would never be in his presence again.
“He had a couple of strokes,” she said. “His nephew and his wife came down from Michigan to take care of him.”
Such love, such devotion. They weren’t going to throw him into a nursing home and let him rot there.
“He did pass away. Ninety-six.”
“What about his twin sister Caroline?” I asked.
“She died two weeks before him. She was the younger sister.”
When I strolled through Hatboro again, a “for sale” sign swung in front of his house.
Who would pick up the newspapers and flyers on the side of his house?
Who would water the iris and scrub his double-decker fountain?
He was a good man. A mensch, we say in Hebrew. A mensch, and I loved him. And still do.
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