Previously published on CommuterLit.com
Copyright is held by the author.
LUCILLE PACKED all her clothes into green plastic garbage bags and fastened their tops with the white twist ties that came in the box with the bags. There were three bags in all not counting her two winter coats which, one at a time, she took off their wire hangers. It was not an easy task but she folded, pushed and prodded the knee-length blue polyester quilted coat into the cardboard box. On top of it she placed the easier to fold nylon ski jacket. She then sealed the sloping to the left top of the bulging box with the thin, beige, paper tape she had picked up at the Dollarama.
She remembered her daughter, Sara, asking, “If you are bound and determined to move north, why not just rent a little place, live in it for a year and see if you will even like living there?”
“I’ll like it,” Lucille had responded.
“But how can you consider buying a house on your tight budget, Mom?”
“I’ll get my government cheque now that I’m 65. The budget won’t be as tight as it was. And I don’t have to be in a hurry to pay my sister back for the down payment. I can spread it out and pay it along with the loan money.”
“But I’m worried about you living alone in a town where you know nobody.”
“I’ll meet people.”
“But you can’t afford a house!”
“I’ll get the supplement. I’ll manage.”
Lucille tried to lift the box of coats in order to carry it out to the truck parked in her daughter’s big city driveway. It was heavier than she expected it to be. With each step she took she slid the box along the bedroom floor with her feet which she noticed were still warmly wrapped in her slippers. She had forgotten she was wearing them and now it was too late to pack them.
Oh, Lordy, she thought, I hope I’ve left a pair of shoes out for me to wear. If they are already packed in the truck I will have to make the long drive and arrive at my new home in these scruffy bedroom slippers.
Her son-in-law, Martin Cooper, was going to drive the truck from Toronto to the small northern town. And he had generously offered to pay the gas expense too. His friend, Howard Langley, had offered to help with the move. Lucille was grateful to the two men and, although he had never said a word about it, she had a hunch Martin was grateful she was making this move. Not too many young men want an aging mother-in-law taking up space in their house these days.
At 65 years of age Lucille didn’t feel old. Moving to a retirement town was the sensible thing to do. She had been living with Lucille and Martin for too long. When she had been of some use to them by looking after the grandchildren so they could both work she felt she was paying her way. But now the children were half-way through high school. They didn’t need a baby-sitter anymore. Or maybe they do, Lucille thought, but they sure don’t want one. When not in school 17-year-old Gordie spent all his time in the basement with his friends playing rock music while 15-year-old Gillian spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror fretting over a new pimple.
Lucille loved her grandchildren. She knew her love was returned and she would miss the kids but it was time for her to move along. Since her divorce seven years ago she had burned some bridges and now it was time to mend some fences. Is 65 too old to start a new life for myself, she wondered.
Her ex-husband died within two years after their separation and divorce. Of course with his love of women and good Canadian rye whiskey he left no money behind him when he went to meet his Maker. He wouldn’t have wanted to waste a penny on life insurance when the same money would buy a case of beer, she thought as she stood in her daughter’s doorway and watched the men load the truck with her few belongings.
She didn’t own much anymore. She had either sold or given away most of what she had when she lost her secretarial job with the construction company and accepted the invitation to move in with her daughter six years ago. One result of this change of address was a downward slide from low income to no income. As a secretary in the small construction company in Metro Toronto Lucille didn’t earn a lot but it was enough to pay for her small studio apartment. When she lost this job the employment insurance just wasn’t enough to meet her big city expenses. And she was only eligible to collect the insurance for a short period of time.
As hard as she worked on her job search no employer was eager to hire a 59-year-old no matter how skilled she was. Just like her ex-husband, these bosses wanted younger women who would do more to dress up the office with their good looks.
It was really out of the goodness of her heart that her daughter, Sara, insisted that the children needed their grandmother for after-school care. Martin made a living as a postal worker. Sara waitressed in order to bring a little extra money into the home. Lucille had no housing or food expenses but with no income she had no life outside the house. She couldn’t afford a movie or a new dress. She was financially poor and as the years went by she was beginning to feel an emotional and a spiritual poverty as well.
During her years as a secretary in the Toronto construction industry Lucille had learned a lot about demographics.Throughout the recession housing starts were very slow. People couldn’t afford to buy new homes and were challenged in the effort to provide basic necessities like food, clothing, heat and other utilities. Lucille had read that 10.8 percent of all Canadians, which at that time meant 3.4 million people, were eking out a living below the poverty line. It was only because Lucille had made the decision to move in with her daughter that she wasn’t joining the thousands of others who were making frequent visits to food banks.
There was no pleasure in poverty. Now that the grandchildren were grown Lucille was aware that she had out-aged her usefulness. She had to do something.
Lucille had a sister, Karen, who had made different choices and who had made her career life one that achieved financial success. She was not a wealthy woman but she had enough money invested and saved that she was able to give Lucille the $2,000.00 she needed for a down payment on the old, small, northern town house. Lucille did not qualify for a traditional house mortgage. Instead Karen gave her sister the additional $48,000.00 in an interest-free loan to be repaid at the rate of $400.00 dollars per month.
Moving day had arrived.
Martin came into the house. “The truck is loaded,” he said. “Anything more to go on the truck, Mom?”
Lucille had been smart enough to leave a pair of shoes out of the packing boxes. “Just these old slippers,” she said. “But maybe I can just carry them in a bag.”
“Give them to me. I’ll find a spot for them in the back of the truck,” he offered.
“Then I guess that’s it. Guess I’m ready to go.”
That’s when Sara started to cry. Of course once she started Lucille could no longer contain her emotion. “I’ll miss you, Sara. I know it’s a long drive but I hope you and the kids can find a way to get up for some visits.”
“You know we will, Mom.”
It was a long drive. For more than five long hours Lucille sat scrunched on the truck’s front seat between Martin who drove and Howard who, not blessed with the slightest musical talent, constantly sang along with the radio which blared because Martin was a little hard of hearing.
When they pulled into the driveway of the little bungalow Lucille’s sigh of relief could have been heard by Sara in Toronto. “Thank you, boys,” was all she said.
It was just past noon. While the men set to work unloading the truck Lucille was the cop who stood on the verandah and directed traffic. “That goes to the bedroom. You can leave that box in the living-room.”
The men managed to get Lucille’s double bed up. They hooked up the little TV set and they managed to get furniture into the room where it belonged. Sara had made a big bag of sandwiches and this is what they had for their dinner.
That night the men slept in Lucille’s bed while she slept on the living-room couch.
There had been no time to unpack any boxes. When the men left early the next morning, Lucille stood amidst the chaos. Undaunted, she set to work.
Within three weeks Lucille had all the boxes unpacked. She had found a place for everything and being an organized woman Lucille knew how to keep everything in its place. Government cheques arrived. She was grateful for her old age pension with supplement and in addition to this she had a small monthly Canada Pension payment; a result of her many years working as a secretary.
Lucille’s income as a senior citizen at that time was just under $1,000.00 a month. She made an agreement with her sister, Karen, to repay $100.00 a month on the $2,000.00 down payment plus $400.00 a month on the mortgage. This payment amounted to a little more than half her total monthly income.
Still Lucille was determined. Once she was settled in her house she began looking around for a part-time job but jobs of any kind were not in abundance in the small northern town and employers were not eager to hire a woman in her senior years despite her valid work experience.
The first couple of months she made her repayments okay. But the bills were arriving faster than she could have hoped. There was a charge for installation of the telephone that she hadn’t counted on. The utility bills were higher than she had expected and though it was early fall the weather had turned very cool and the furnace started to kick in. Lucille had no idea heating bills could be so persistent.
During the years she had lived with her daughter, Lucille had no need to pay for her food. She was shocked to see how high food prices had risen and tried to put as little as possible into her grocery cart when she shopped. I shouldn’t eat so much anyway, she thought. It will do me good to lose a few pounds.
With no friends in town and being so far from her family it wasn’t long before Lucille began to withdraw into herself. She became afraid to venture out alone. She felt marginalized and isolated. Depression and anxiety increased when another month rolled around and she realized she did not have enough money to pay her mortgage.
Lucille knew that her sister would probably understand and give her a little more time to make the payment but Lucille also knew that if she began to fall behind she may never catch up.
Never a religious woman, Lucille, at her wits’ end, turned to prayer. She got into the habit of spending time in her backyard where she would do a little weeding and watering of the existing flowers that had been planted by the home’s previous owner. Once her gardening tasks were complete she would sit on a small wooden bench under the Lilac tree to rest. There was a large boulder on the ground beside the bench.
The mortgage payment was due in a few days. Lucille, in desperation, placed her hand on the rock and she prayed. Dear God, you know my needs. Please help me.
She felt a warm, powerful energy emanating from the rock. This energy travelled throughout her body and although she did not hear a voice, somehow she knew the words, “Hole in the Wall.”
“You think this house is a hole in the wall, Lord?” she asked.
Hole in the wall was the only response.
Throughout that day Lucille fretted and worried. I’ve been a fool to think I could pay for a house on my own. Still she believed that if she could get through this month which held so many extra expenses because of the move that she would be all right. Maybe I should call my sister and tell her I will be late with the payment this month. But she didn’t want to call her sister. She didn’t want to fall behind.
That night she lay sleepless in her bed. She thought of her own mother who was a woman of strong faith. As a child when her mother was struggling to keep the family fed she would often say, “The Lord will provide.”
These thoughts of her mother led Lucille to remember her answer to prayer that afternoon. Some answer! Hole in the wall! Thanks for nothing, God!
Hours passed. The morning sun was beginning to peek through the bedroom window and still Lucille had not slept. All she had been able to think about was what a fool she had been to think she would be able to pay for this hole in the wall all by herself. Hole in the head is more like it!
She got up from bed with her decision made. She would have a cup of coffee and then wait for a decent morning hour to call her sister and tell her she could not make a full payment on the mortgage this month. She could manage to pay her $200.00 but that would be $300.00 short of the required amount.
It was a beautiful bright fall morning. Lucille decided to carry her cup of coffee from the kitchen out into the backyard. Once again she sat on the bench beneath the tree. Once again she reached out, in a last ditch effort, for help. Coffee cup in one hand, with the other she placed it on the large boulder and prayed.
God answers every prayer.
The answer was Hole in the Wall.
Again she recalled her mother’s strong faith. I ask for financial help and God’s answer is hole in the wall. At once it dawned on her. Maybe the house is not a hole in the wall but maybe this house has a hole in a wall.
She began her search at the back of the house. She found nothing in the bedroom, the bathroom or the living room. It was a small house and this left only the tiny basement.
Down the stairs she went. It was an unfinished basement with poured concrete gray walls. To Lucille’s dismay these walls had no holes in them. There was a small room partitioned off in the back of the basement. The former owner had used this room for growing plants in preparation before transferring them into the backyard garden once spring arrived. The walls in this room had no holes in them either. In fact they were covered with sheets of shiny tinfoil.
Lucille’s eyes viewed an ugly room; one that did nothing to lift her spirits. Frustration found its way up through her body. To release the tension she made a fist and swung her right hand into the tinfoil. I’ll make a damn hole in the wall! she cried.
Her solid punch tore the tinfoil making a hole. Lucille began tearing the tinfoil from the wall. As it landed in small heaps around her feet, for reasons she could not explain, she felt better; lighter; more like her old self.
Then it happened. A white envelope that had been hidden in the wall behind the tinfoil fluttered to the basement floor. Probably an old love letter the old guy had hidden from his wife, she thought.
She picked up the small, sealed envelope. Sinking to the floor she sat, prepared to read. When she opened the envelope she could not stop her tears.
In her hands she held three $100.00 bills.
Just enough; it was just enough. Why the money had been hidden, Lucille had no idea.
She sat on the floor and thanked God for the hole in the wall. She thought once again of her mother who had always believed that the Lord would provide. As she made her way back upstairs, for the first time in what seemed a very long time, Lucille smiled.