In spite of the snow and cold, the restaurant's closed-in porch was warm and pleasant. Surrounded by windows, we could see traffic churning at the busy intersection while the snow fell in fat, wet flakes. One absurdly tiny woodstove was keeping us all warm. It seemed impossible.
"Nance, we saved a seat for you right by the fire," someone said, and Rick and I took our places after a bit of requisite mingling. It was, after all, a company party, and the long table would keep most of us apart during dinner. I found myself next to the boss's wife, whom I like very much, but then, I like everyone with whom Rick works. She had recently lost her father, quite unexpectedly, and a party was the last place she wanted to be. In an effort to help them both, she had brought her mother along, and they were clearly struggling in this festive, happy environment.
In her grief, her mother could not sit still, but wandered back and forth behind the table. She stopped by the stove, trying to stay warm. She seemed distracted and flighty. Marielle, the boss's wife, drew her over and introduced her to me. As is often the case, I was her nephew's teacher. He is now a greatly successful financial advisor (mine, in fact). She was so happy to talk about him and his accomplishments. "Let's get you a chair," said Rick. "You can sit right here at the end of the table by the fire for dinner. Stay here and talk with us."
She did. She never left that chair. She could not eat very much, but she talked at length about her husband, being alone in her big house now, her plans, and what she does to fill up her days. "One thing I do is to volunteer out at Wells Glen. I go out there and run an exercise class for the old people. I--"
But I had stopped truly listening as soon as I heard "Wells Glen." I looked up at Rick, heart hammering. Tish lived at Wells Glen! He smiled. I waited patiently for a chance to ask if she knew of Tish, if she had any information at all about my former neighbor. She paused for a moment, chuckling a little about the ladies at Wells Glen doing their exercises.
"A former neighbor of mine lives at Wells Glen now, " I started, "and we've been wondering about her. Tish Cash, do you ever see her? The last we heard was--"
"Oh, Tish! With her glorious silver pageboy! She's great! She takes my class, and she goes to the beauty parlor every week. Her son...ugh. But yeah, she's fine. Her son took her car away, and she's a little forgetful, but she's great. She has a lot of friends and when the weather is good, she goes outside for her walks. She plays cards and all kinds of activities. You should come and see her. Yeah!"
It's entirely possible that she never noticed my eyes filling with tears during her entire recitation. Rick did, of course, and patted my hand throughout. I know I thanked her for telling me about Tish's life now and for setting my mind at ease; that we had no way of finding information and did not want to impose on anyone's privacy. That it was happy and reassuring news she had brought us about Tish.
By the end of the evening, many jackets had been shrugged out of and sweaters slipped off shoulders. One little woodstove had created enough warmth to comfort the entire room, and then some.
There will be no trips to Wells Glen for me; I was not a visitor in Tish's life when she lived across the street. We would have nothing to talk about, and I would struggle to keep from telling her about her driveway adrift in snow, her uncurtained, unblinking windows, the sad fate of her redbud tree. No, instead I will smile, knowing she is warm and happy--in her home.