Her glancing at the paper that early Tuesday, second cup of coffee in hand, was what finally moved Jennie Allen to do something about her 'old house." It wasn't exactly that she had 'let it go', as people tend to say. It's just that she normally never thought about having things done.
Old habits died hard; she was aware of that. The whole realm of dealing with house items, and needs was one of her Andy's main pleasures. She thought of the many, many times that she would scold him about working so hard at his practice and then working so hard around the house.
Andy Allen, Dr. Andrew Allen to be precise, was a proud and stubborn man. He loved being a children's doctor as much as he loved puttering around with their 'old house'. It fell to Jennie to be the 'grounds, plants, and shrubs' lady, and she took that job seriously.
As the years went by they had aged comfortably together until that terrible, terrible day, when the policeman at the door had stolen her heart and her youth and her love, telling her of the accident and Andy's death.
The years since then had been the difficult ones. Jennie struggled; she struggled constantly, since it seemed that everything became such a task suddenly. It was as though life had become leaden somehow, and simply weighed her down.
She never neglected the way she looked but it was never a priority afterwards. She looked into her drawer of fancy underwear, one day and simply thought that all those frilly, lacy, sexy things that Andy loved to see her wear, were silly for an older lady. She put them away in a box in the closet. She associated them too closely with Andy's memory to toss them out. So, in the closet they stayed.
For herself alone she went to common, but still what she thought was pretty, kinds of underwear. Not flashy, not breathtaking but pretty colors and fabrics. It was only important to her still because it had always been important to him.
There were those kinds of things that she invariably got around to. Her clothes were more sensible than fetching. She saw herself settling into the mode of an aging widow. Friends took her to task about that kind of mind set at only 38 but to her it fit. Her Andy was gone and she had no further expectations for such things.
One of the areas where she was displeased with herself, however, was the house, Andy's 'old house'. She loved it, of course, as much as he had but she hadn't the same instincts for keeping it up, tending to it, fixing it, seeing it in repair, as he had.
But she did notice the fact that the outside was getting a bit shabby. It no longer was the spectacular brick beauty with the brilliant white trim that it had once been. And even she began to notice that.
Over a time period she said to herself periodically:
"I really have to get that taken care of, and soon."
But for Jennie 'soon' didn't come right away. It was almost as if the lovely old house being a bit shabby around the edges matched her own personality, outlook and physical appearance exactly.
To herself she quipped:
"She's an old babe like me, and we're being weathered together."
Then she glanced at the paper that Tuesday and she noticed an advertisement in the local about a handyman to do any kind of work around. That in itself was not particularly outstanding but the fact that the handyman's name was John Stewart did catch her eye.
"I wonder if that's Johnnie Stewart from over on Finder's Lane," she asked herself.
She used to baby sit for Johnnie Stewart, when she was a middle teen. Her baby sitting for him went on for a number of years, when she was in high school.
She determined to call and see if it was that particular Johnnie Stewart.
The call turned out to be a treat. He said a loud and happy:
"Mrs. Allen! Mrs. Dr. Allen! What a treat to hear from you."
"I understand from the paper that you've set up a kind of handyman's business, Johnnie," she said.
"Yes," he answered, "I've just begun and am trying to drum up some business."
"Well," she answered, "I'll be one of your first customers then."
"Mrs. Allen, what a treat that'll be. Tell me when's a good time for me to see you?" he said enthusiastically
"Any time, sweetie," she said, lapsing into her old ways of dealing with him from those years ago, when she tried, often vainly, to curb his enthusiasm, while baby sitting.
"Still living in that lovely old brick beauty," he asked.
"Yes," she said, "Still living in Dr. Andy's love!"
"Well," he said, his voice obviously pleased, "I'll be right over."
"I'm afraid you'll find me dirty," she said, "I've been in the garden this morning and haven't cleaned off the dirt yet."
"Seeing you any way at all will be a treat, Mrs. Allen," he said.
"Jennie, please," she said.
"Jennie it is then," were his words, as he rang off the phone.
She made herself a cup of tea, after cleaning a bit and while she waited for him to arrive. He wasn't very long in getting there at all.
Jennie was smiling as soon as the doorbell rang. She hurried to the door to let him in, and had a hug for him, as he came into the house.
"My what a lovely man you've become, Johhnie," she said to him and then quickly:
"I guess I should apologize; one doesn't call a man 'lovely' these days, I suppose!"
"You certainly can call me that!" he said with a big grin on his face. "It's such a marvelous treat to see you, Mrs ... uh Jennie!"
"It had better be 'Jennie', young man!" she said with mock severity. She went on then:
"But tell me what have you been doing with yourself?"
"Well, I realized after a year of college that it wasn't what I wanted. I so love working with my hands. I decided that maybe the service would help me out, so I've spent the past12 years doing tours of duty with the Marines."
"My, my," she said wistfully, "I used to baby sit him and he turns out to be a hero!"
"Hardly a hero," he protested.
She held up a hand and said:
"No, no, Johnnie, you are all heroes to me; that's simply a fact!"
"Thank you for that," he said. Then:
"But anyway, I've mustered out and decided against another tour, so I came to the home town and decided to begin doing what I love the best. Now I'm the handyman, Johnnie the Handyman."
"And a good one I'll bet," was her comment.
"Well, that remains to be seen, Mrs ... Jennie!" he said.
"Hard to get used to?" she asked softly.
"Very," he said. "You have always been Dr Andy's wife in my mind."
"Yes, yes, I know," she said wistfully.
"And a wonderful thing it was to be," he went on, "Everyone thought that."
"Oh, Johnnie Steward, don't you make me cry now!" she said, dabbing her eyes.
"Sorry, Jennie," he said, putting his hand over hers.
Jennie sniffed and said:
"Well, let's look the old gal over and see what she needs."
He laughed suddenly a very rich laugh. He immediately apologized to her:
"Sorry, Jennie," he said, "That was impolite!"
But she was already grinning at that point and said:
"Well I was referring to the house!"
They ended both of them laughing about it.
They looked the house over and he indicated that it wasn't in bad shape but should be 'seen to' very soon. He mentioned tuck pointing and also said the wood trim needed to be painted, and in places scraped right away, as the first part of the job.
"There might be other things that we see need to be done but those things stand out right away. Shall I give you an estimate?"
"You just show up and begin to do the job, whether I'm here or not," she said. "You can tell me, when you get here about how much you think it's going to cost."
"Fair enough, Jennie," he said. "I'll likely be back tomorrow to begin with the windows and such. I'll start with the second floor windows in the back and do the uppers first; they'll be the more difficult ones."
"Fine," she said, "I might be out tomorrow, since it's my shopping morning. So, please just begin and I'll catch up with you, when I'm around."
"You've got it, Mrs A," he said and then a quick: "Oops! I mean, Jennie!" he grinned a huge winning smile at her, when he said this and, when he left she was smiling too.
"What a treat!" she said to herself, "To have old friends like that back in my life. What a lift!"
She then began laughing, when she thought of the wayward remark about 'looking the old gal over and seeing what she needs!'
"Old gal, indeed!" she said, "You should be ashamed of yourself, Johnnie Stewart!"
But then she sighed and said: "Come on, Jen, 'old gal' fits you to a tee these days."
After some reflection she said a soft:
"Yes, I guess it does."
The next day, Jennie was out early for her shopping. She liked to get to the big super market before there was a crowd out and shopping. She lingered just a little bit over the things that she wanted. As was her sometimes practice, she'd gotten up, combed her hair, cleaned her teeth, put on a pair of old jeans and a tee shirt and, after one cup of coffee, was off to the market. It was a routine that she used to get her up and going early. She always gave herself a lovely hot shower or a bath, when she got back.
When she got back to the house, Johnnie was already setting up his ladder and they waved. He seemed busy, so she decided that she'd wait and invite him for some coffee after a bit. She bought some croissants and a few apple fritters, to tempt him with. She got her things put away and, with another cup of coffee in hand, went upstairs.
.... There is more of this story ...