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If You Believe In Heaven
by David Norris





      Dear David,

      I am sorry I did not get to see you while you were at Loriís. I havenít been able to live alone since I fell and broke my wrist and hip. I am living with my sister Lottie over here in Ronceverte. Lottie has a bad heart and canít do much. We have both had too many birthdays. I will be 93 in December, and Lottie will be 91 in January.

      Thanks for all the pretty cards you sent me, of the trees in the West.

      I know you miss your mother. She was so good to me. I sure miss her.

      If I could get around better, I would have come to Loriís to see you. I have to walk with a walker. Lottie and I both have a walker.

      I will always love you and remember your coming to my house when you were little. Hope you have a safe trip home. Write me. I want to hear from you.

      I love you,
      Kathleen F.
      October 15, 2002


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


If you believe in heaven, and if indeed there is a heaven, then on the day Kathleen Fridley arrives, Saint Peter himself will step outside the gate and hold it open in welcome for her as she walks in. He will close the gate behind him and extend his hand in the direction she is to continue walking. She will be surrounded by the children denied to her own womb, though she became the second mother for two nearly lost children whose lives she helped to save and deeply enrich.

Mrs. Fridley, Dewey, and Grandma lived just down the road from Pop and Bud and me. Our little stretch of Mallow Road, which only had 7 houses on it, ran about a quarter mile in a straight line before taking a sharp turn to the right and running the rest of its way around the ridge to where it hooked up with the main road that ran to town. On Saturdays, Pop and I would walk around that ridge, about a mile or a little over it, to catch the city bus. Covington had one bus and it ran one route. We waited in front of the Sutphinsí little market that they ran out of the front part of their home. I used to buy penny bubble gum and 6-cent Cokes there, the short ones in glass bottles that you had to open on the side of the red metal cooler you had just taken it out of.

Pop and Iíd ride the bus into town. I didnít see Momma a lot during that time. She was married and living up on Indian Draft Road and working as the front aisle checker at the Kroger store, and it was hard work, shift-work, getting off late one night and then going in early the next day, often with a hangover. Pop and Iíd get off the bus in front of Rusty Fridleyís newsstand, and I would make a quick run to Krogerís while he and Rusty talked. Iíd crowd into that little spot in her workplace behind where she stood as she checked people through. Nobody minded us talking, people talked to each other more in those days, and they werenít always in such a hurry with nowhere to go.

After my visit to say hi to Mom and score my $2 weekly allowance, Pop and Iíd walk on down Maple Avenue and turn right on Main Street. Pop would stop off at the Covington National Bank to meet and talk with the other old men who had lived long enough to show up that day. Iíd head on up to the Saturday matinee at the Strand Theater, which cost 15 cents. I liked to sit up close, on the second row, and then sneak down behind the chairs in front of me and peak out at the scary scenes through the cracks between the seats. The scariest movie I ever saw was about a giant black widow spider wandering all around the place tearing up houses and killing people; even to this day, it gives me the creeps to think about it. Itís funny how stuff like that gets inside our heads.

Pop and the other old gentlemen would sit on the little bench built into the wall of the bank, a place constructed for folks to congregate and commune among themselves. And many times I saw him lean over and place his hand on a friendís knee as they talked; it was an often-used gesture of assuredness, of emphasis being placed on the importance of an idea, of sharing a common ground. It was about trust. People werenít afraid to touch one another in those days.

We donít touch as much these days, we keep our distances. And trust seems often in short supply.

In the summer time, instead of sitting on the porch in a swing or a comfortable chair and watching the sun set while breathing in the fragrance of lilacs growing along each side of the front porch, we now retreat inside our air-conditioned houses in the summer, complete with home entertainment systems and the Internet. We multi-task, we work and play at the same time; we spend our time parallel-processing, turning over multiple ideas in our minds at the same time. And on those occasions when we are at home and into our own private space, any stranger who shows up uninvited at our door is unwelcome and promptly informed of that matter.

* * *

It was 1955, and the Fridleys say I was the first visitor they had when they moved on to Mallow Road from their family home up in Rich Patch. They were country people, but Dewey had gotten a job at the Paper Mill, and that was good work, and the mill was what ran the town. So they moved to a place closer to his work, bringing along Kathleenís mother. This was her first marriage, his second. Iíve never known any of the details of that, but I know in my heart that Kathleen had never loved a man before Dewey and never gave herself to another man. She was as gentle as the summer and kind to the center of her soul. When you looked into her eyes, you could see the goodness for which humans have the capability.

They had just moved into their new house and were still unwrapping things when they ďlooked to the front door, and a little boy with a dirty face and a white dog was standing there.Ē They opened the door, and I marched right in, while Whitey waited outside for me, just like she always did. I was about six then and already used to going off in my own directions. Mom was always at work, Bud was usually off somewhere on a job painting houses, and Pop would sit under the pear tree beside the road and wave at folks as they drove by. So Iíd gotten into the habit of just wandering off on my own. Once I even went bear hunting in my little Davey Crockett coonskin hat with my plastic rifle. Earl Cash told Bud heíd seen bear tracks, and the next day when no one was looking, off I went. I got as far as the woods around that sharp curve before I was promptly summoned home. I may have gotten a whipping over that, but I donít think so; on the other hand, I do distinctly remember one whipping that my momma gave me.

She was at work, and I had snuck into her room for some reason. I liked to look at her magazines and just snoop around, and like all little boys, smell things that I never smelled anywhere else and touch silky things that I never touched anywhere else. Later, she said that I had moved a lamp and that the place where I had set it had caused it to be blown over by the wind. Now I ask you, how could the wind blow over a lamp? She chased me down Mallow Road, beating me with the soft end of a broom and cussing every step of the way! I hollered and screamed and pretended to cry, because it didnít hurt being hit by that end of the broom, but I knew that if she figured that out, I would really be in trouble.

The Fridleys welcomed me into their home on that first day, and they continued to welcome me into their home for the rest of their lives. When I showed up at their door that first time, unannounced, they didnít have the slightest idea who I was or to whom I belonged. I donít remember much of that visit. I wish I did. Iíve seen the pictures they took, and Iíve listened to their stories. But that particular day still eludes me. However, I do remember those visits that I started making later on at age ten when my mother married Russell and moved on up to Indian Draft. Pop was 80 by then, and the syphilis had started to cripple Bud. Bud didnít cook at all, so Pop did most of it. We ate a lot of brown beans, corn bread, and vegetables from the garden. Every man on Mallow Road raised a garden, and they all took great pride in them. Pop made a good garden: squash and cucumbers on the outside rows near the road, followed by corn and then tomatos, potatoes and green beans as you moved on down over the side of the hill toward the little unpaved maintenance road that ran from the side of where Popís garden started on out behind our houses to Deweyís garage and then on back up to the main road.

Just below the maintenance road is where we grew the fruit trees. We had a pear tree, a walnut tree, a peach tree, concord grapes growing on wooden frames, two green apple trees, a big strawberry patch, and a great big raspberry bush that Gary and I used as a hiding place. Dewey always had a good garden, but his fruit trees were his gift. He had cherry trees, peach trees and apple trees that produced the richest, most succulent fruit, and Mrs. Fridley made pies and cobblers and preserves out of each of them. And every year after they had gone out as a family and picked the berries, she baked a blackberry cobbler that can still make my mouth water when I think about it.

She and Grandma canned the blackberries, apples, peaches, corn, beans and tomatos every year for the winter months. During baking season, if I couldnít wait until supper time, Iíd show up and knock on her door and say, ďDid you do any baking today, Mrs. Fridley?Ē And God bless her, she never hesitated to open the door and invite me into her kitchen. She would pour me a glass of iced tea and then cut me a slice of whatever she had baked that day. My favorite was that blackberry cobbler with a little milk poured over it. I loved her cherry pies as well. And if I showed up on a day when she hadnít done any baking, then sheíd give me some leftover biscuits with canned home preserves on them. My favorites were the blackberry, the cherry and the raspberry.

I knew what time the Fridleys ate dinner every day, always at 5 oíclock. And I was there on many nights. Sometimes, Iíd go over early and then go down into the basement and sit and talk with Dewey. He would sit there beside his big coal furnace that heated the house, and heíd whittle. He had a nice little knife that he loved to sharpen with a little bit of oil on a whetstone. He taught me how to sharpen a knife down there in that basement, and Iíd watch him take a nice piece of wood and then start to whittle on it. He would turn a big stick into a little stick, sometimes as small as a toothpick. That is how Dewey meditated.

We all have our own ways for reaching that place where we are entirely within ourselves.

We all need to go there sometimes.

Usually, Iíd show up about a quarter to 5. Iíd sit in the living room on the couch and talk with Grandma sitting in her rocking chair and Dewey leaning back in his easy chair. Sometimes, Grandma would be in the kitchen helping Kathleen. Dewey liked to read The Covington Virginian, our local paper, every day, and his favorite comic strip was Dagwood Bumstead. Sometimes, he would read it out loud to me. One day, Dewey took me for a walk, and he named every tree that we passed. Kathleen had been a teacher; I donít think Dewey had much formal education, but he understood the world he lived in, and he knew the names of everything that grew around him.

Mrs. Fridley would walk in and tell us that ďDinnerís ready.Ē I had my own little spot on my own side of the table facing Mrs. Fridley across and just to the left of me, and Grandma across and just to the right of me. Dewey sat at the head of the table to my left. The main dish would change but the basic part, the part I loved the most, was always the same. Hot homemade biscuits with butter melting between the layers, topped off with some preserves or apple butter, both homemade, along with mashed potatoes and brown beans. Dewey would take his dinner knife and flatten the mashed potatoes down into the shape of a pancake. Then heíd melt butter on top of them and add a little salt and pepper. I learned to love my taters the same way. We had that every meal, no matter how big and fancy, or quickly thrown together. Whenever I cook a pot of beans, I remember my dinners with the Fridleys.

* * *

About a year after my momma had left, I was riding with her in the car. For some reason, she was taking me to school, which was unusual, and I was wondering about that. She asked me to touch her stomach, and while I had my hand on her belly, she told me she was pregnant. I was in the sixth grade by this time, and also by this time, my mother had developed a serious drinking problem, shared by her husband. This scared me, so I went to see Mrs. Fridley one afternoon a few hours before dinner. She fixed me some of her leftover biscuits and poured me a glass of milk. Then she sat down at the table to talk with me while I ate. We were alone in the kitchen.

I looked up at this aging woman, now too old to have a child, a woman who should have been given dozens of children to raise and nurture, and I told her my mom was pregnant. When I did that, I saw both a happiness and a concern in her eyes. I told her, ďMy momís going to need a baby sitter. Will you do it, please?Ē She sat there shocked; though it had been her dream, she had never been a mother, had never given birth, yet she had been blessed with the quintessential essence of motherhood. I saw fear in her eyes as she expressed her consternation, but only half-felt. I asked her again; I insisted on its importance.

I ate my biscuits and left. Months later, long after private consultations with my mother and soon after the birth of my sister Lori, Mrs. Fridley found herself both assuming and being consumed by more motherly duties than she had ever imagined existed. She had become at last a mother, and my sister had been placed under her tutelage.

When I see the goodness in my sisterís eyes and the kindness in her heart, standing strong in the nightmare endurance of caring for two sons with special needs, still loving both of those sons with the same immeasurable love as she has for her oldest son, I see Mrs. Fridley in her quiet strength and never faltering love for her family.


        Mrs. Fridleyís Biscuit Recipe

        2 cups all purpose flour
        1 teaspoon baking powder
        ľ teaspoon soda
        Ĺ teaspoon salt
        ľ cup shortening
        1 cup buttermilk

        Heat oven to 475 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda.
        Cut in shortening until mixture looks like meal. Stir in buttermilk with a fork
        until soft dough is formed. Knead and roll out on light floured board or
        pastry cloth. Cut to desired thickness. Bake about ten minutes.

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Want to read more of Davidís writing at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
The Ants
Sometimes We Just Have To Let Them Go
55 Minutes Past the Hour
Harlan Martinís 7 Turkeys
Dawg Days

David has more great stories listed in our USADS Articles pages.

Thanks for visiting USADEEPSOUTH!

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