The George Schaeffer Files, Based on a True Story

by Ruth Z Deming

Neighbors! What a fit old man! Here he was striding up the street with Beau, his golden retriever. Our neighborhood blossomed dogs. George was my favorite neighbor. Born in 1924, he and his wife Ellie had traveled the globe and gone on an African safari as if he were Ernest Hemingway himself. He and I would often meet halfway up our hilly street, me walking my little white pooch, Dicky.

            "Aren't you ever gonna invite me over for lunch, George?" I asked.

            Oh, he was a handsome man. A fistful of white hair, a mile-high smile that was a lady-killer (did he ever stray, I wondered) and a bamboo-straight posture. An old man? Never.

            "Ya like tuna fish?" he winked.

            "Who doesn't?" I replied.

            "We'll have it ready in, oh," he looked at his watch, "45 minutes."

            Dicky and I turned around and walked quickly home.

            My tall Black-eyed Susans were blooming. Grabbing my shears I cut about a dozen, popped them into a vase, a former Crystal Lite jar, and prepared to take them down to the Schaeffers.

            If there is anything this girl loves, it's seeing the inside of people's houses. Better than sex.

            "Dicky, you stay home. Won't be but a minute."

            She looked up at me with sad eyes and trotted over to her cushion on the floor in the kitchen.

            I fairly ran down the street in my Keds sneakers. Until I met George, I never wore sneakers. He chastised me, so I relented and bought these Keds at Walmart. Blue, the prettiest color.

            The Schaeffers had an old stone fireplace in the living room that still smelled from burnt embers. The table was set in the dining room. Three pink placemats awaited us. Ellie, who had a long white braid down her back as if she were a fairy godmother, asked me to sit down.

            "Melissa," she said to me. "We should have had you over before. Frankly, it never occurred to us, did it, George?"

            Married couples always check with one another. I was never married, worked at the local newspaper, and loved studying people.

            "Delicious," I said. The tiny pieces of celery and walnuts really made it uncommonly good.

            We could hear Beau whining in the other room, with the door closed.

On the shelf in the dining room, I saw some sherry. George saw me looking at it.

            "Ellie, go get our champagne glasses and pour Melissa some sherry."

            We repaired to the living room and chose our chairs, or, rather, ole George told us where to sit.

            He made a fire, pulled out his pipe, and we all sat and talked.

            "You won't believe this," he said, "but I'm the fifth generation Schaeffer who's fought on the battlefield. My granddaddy was in the Civil War and got a bullet stuck in his leg. Guess who has the bullet now?"

            "Ellie, mind getting Gramp's bullet?"

            She shuffled down the hall. Her back had "gone out," he explained. When she returned, she held something in her cupped hand.

            She presented it to me as if I were the queen of Cowbell Road.

            I picked it up with both hands. I sure didn't want to drop it. It looked like a tiny missile. And fondled it with my thumb, rolling it over and over.

            "This sure is something," I said, handing it back.

            "It's yours to keep," said George.

            "Really?" I exclaimed. "I will treasure this forever."

            A week later, there was a knock on my door. It was George.

            "You'll never believe this," he said. "Our name came up at the old ladies' home."

            "Old ladies' home?"

            "DuBray Manor," he said. "We've been on the list for five years. Waitin' for enough old folks to croak so we could get in. We've got some things for you. C'mon over."

            We trotted down Cowbell Road, went inside, where he presented me with a typewriter, vinyl records of swing bands, a cracked mixing bowl, a powdered sugar container and a twirling metal fan.

            When they got to DuBray, George began sending those silly "forwards" to his email list. "Must see! Photo of soldiers planting American flag on Iwo Jima."

            That was the only forward I opened. Months later, a personal email was sent to his friends. "My beloved Ellie has passed. Lost her struggle with ovarian cancer."

            What? At her advanced age? Dare I say I was mad at God! George and I were firm in our belief God didn't exist, but I had to blame someone.

            Sure hope George doesn't die of grief over Ellie.

            The silly forwards stopped. He's grieving, I thought.

            Without thinking, I went to the obit page.

            Damn! Damn! Damn!

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