By Tim Hayes
One otherwise nondescript Wednesday evening in 1973, Mrs. Gorinski rose from her Formica-top kitchen table, scraped her picked-over chicken bones into the garbage, and walked slowly over to the porcelain sink, wiping her hands on her apron. She leaned on the counter, looked out the window to the tiny back yard marked by burned-brown crabgrass, and started to cry.
Not heavy heaving sobs, mind you. Just a welling up and a trickle down each cheek. The damp tracks that a woman of nearly 60, widowed for some 30 years, her children all relocated to distant time zones, who rarely called or wrote and who held her grandchildren hostage from her, had earned.
Out that window she saw all the things she had planned to do, to make of her life, alongside her beloved husband. They had met near a waterfall during the Depression, she loved to tell people. Her family had pulled together enough bits of food for a modest outdoor picnic, and he had a job as a surveyor with the Works Progress Administration, clearing land for a state park.
Even from 100 feet away, as she would recount the story, their eyes locked and their futures fused. It took him two months to track her down, asking anybody who visited that waterfall if they knew the girl in the dark blue dress with the rose print.
They married within a year, and got straight to business, producing three children, a boy and two younger sisters. When the war came, he got drafted and assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers for the European theatre. While surveying a ravine where a bridge needed to be built, a mortar shell exploded nearby, leaving his remains never to be recovered. He was, literally, gone.
Left to fend for herself at 28, with three small children in tow, the temptation to give up, to abandon those kids to the mercies of foster homes, to simply lose your mind and run screaming into the night – she felt them all, but succumbed to none. She, like so many people on the front lines overseas and on the home front back here, simply did what had to be done. The Greatest Generation, indeed.
She took in sewing and cleaning work to earn money. She took care of those young ones with all of the heart and muscle and courage she could muster. She held her family together and taught them how to create a life of value by showing them. A lesson she believed they learned, although her deep crushing loneliness would prove otherwise at times.
During those long, trying years, however, she did surrender one thing to her grief. She never wore that dark blue dress with the rose print again.
All of these images swirled around her mind as she gazed out her back window, when a ringing phone startled her back into conscious reality. Reaching across the kitchen to the wall-mounted rotary set, she answered and began speaking to one of her neighbors down the street. Seems this nice young wife and her husband would be going out to a dinner on Saturday night and wanted to know if Mrs. Gorinski were available to babysit.
“Oh, I don’t know…Your children don’t even really know me, do they?…It’s been quite a while since I took care of such young kids…Well, that’s awfully nice of you to say, but I’m not sure I’m who you really need for this…Yes, well, thank you for asking anyway.”
The next afternoon, Mrs. Gorinski could be found in her little back yard, pinning up laundry onto a clothesline to dry, as the young wife from down the street walked by on her way back from the neighborhood store.
“Have you found anyone to watch your kids yet?…Oh, I’m sorry…How many kids do you have again?…A boy and two younger girls?…Is that right?…You know, if the offer still stands, I think I could do it after all.”
With 48 hours to prepare, she went to work, just like in the old days. The needle and thread may have not moved with quite the speed as in her prime, but she got the job done.
And when Mrs. Gorinski knocked on her neighbors’ door that Saturday evening, to take care of that boy and his two younger sisters, even as a tiny tear of joy trickled down her cheek, she looked wonderful in a slightly let-out dark blue dress with the rose print.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting