Old Mrs. Keller lived up the street from us just beyond the Presbyterian church and across the street from the big oak tree that sheltered the bus barn for the school district.
I had gotten to know Mrs. Keller pretty well if only by sight during my forced marches to and from the prison aka school. School had been introduced into my life that fall thus marking a major end and beginning in my life. So far as I was concerned this marked the end of my joy and contentment and the beginning of being forced to sit in a room full of noisy and oddly behaving strangers.
My days up til then had been marked in bluer than blue morning skies that I could watch and daydream about from my swing in the front yard. With church business and Audrey to attend to, my folks were very busy and no doubt thankful that I could so easily go off into a world of my own making.
Now that world had intruders who ate glue, stabbed one another with scissors and took things that didn't belong to them. The teacher was a nice enough lady but I was growing weary of her constant demands of my time in which she insisted I learn things like letters and how to tie my shoes.
Having to sit in that room with all those strangers doing things that made no sense to me was jarring to say the least. Obviously, I had done something very wrong to have wound up here and I wished with all my heart I could find out what it was I did to deserve this.
The sight of old Mrs. Keller bending over her garden in the morning and on her back porch in the afternoon was somewhat comforting to me. At least there was one soul left in the world who could do as they pleased with the day. I often wished that I could just veer off the sidewalk and go pull weeds with her rather than having to watch the teacher pull some foreign object out of so and so's nose.
(I should add here that my class was an exception to the rule from day one. The roll call included 5 boys who despite their tender years were already known trouble makers. I am told that teachers would visibly pale at the sight of their names on their class room assignments. In Sunday school, these 5 had helped introduce the practice of husband/wife teams teaching the class instead of just the ladies. One would teach, the other would shake, smack and pull first one boy and then another out of the room for a private "talking to".)
But there came a Wednesday when Mrs. Keller was not in her garden. Nor was she on the back porch at day's end. In fact, the house had a mysterious air of emptiness about it in the afternoon sun. Coming home, I was informed that Mrs. Keller had up and gone to live with Jesus.
I found it odd if not rude that she had never mentioned this. She might have at least called over the fence that she was going to leave soon and tell all us kids goodbye.
Two days later, Mother had me come home for lunch so that if I wanted, I could go and see Mrs. Keller at the church before she left.
I had never been to a send off before and was excited at the prospect of seeing what box she had picked out and what kind of flowers she would be taking to Jesus.
Imagine then my confusion over the sight of Mrs. Keller already in her box and seemingly fast asleep! Why would she be in the box already? Is she going to sleep thru her party?
Mother started to go over the points of why she looked to be asleep but in no time, my mind had wandered off from her and was arriving at it's own conclusions. Of course, it would make sense to be asleep on the journey. I had wondered that myself over how one would handle being in that box for the trip and sleeping would make it easier. None the less, what a shame to miss the party!
My critical child's eye focused on the box. It was rather plain. A pale gold, no decorations. The inside was a tan color, no fancy stitching and the flowers were about as simple as could be. To say nothing of her dress, a muted green number. This was not right! Not at all!
Mother's reply over the plainness of the items was that Mrs. Keller had outlived everyone in her family and that there hadn't been anyone left to help pick things out for her. That struck me as being very sad.
At Mother's prompting, I said my good byes to Mrs. Keller but doubted that she had heard me as she looked to be very fast asleep and then made my lonely march back to the prison past the house without Mrs. Keller in it.
At naptime, during which I never slept, I pondered over the basic boring box Mrs. Keller was being shipped in and made up my mind right then and there that when Audrey went to go live with Jesus, she was not traveling in a boring box!
Burgundy, I decided, burgundy with a pink interior what had button tuffting like our couch did.
On the side, I envisioned gold scrolling to look like hearts or better yet, to look like a string of paper dolls in a row. Oh, that would be grand!
At home, I sat at the kitchen table and tried to put my plan on paper. The colors weren't right and the scrolling went over the margin but I had the general idea which I explained in great detail to my Mother as I drew. I then handed her the pages and went outside to play.
My poor Mother. Years later, I can only imagine what must have gone thru her head and her heart as she stood in the kitchen holding my renderings. Other Mothers got pictures of houses and flowers and maybe the family pet from their children.
Her youngest was drawing up plans for the oldest child's casket and acting as if this was the most normal thing in the world.
Needless to say they never went on the refrigerator. I don't know what she did with them.
I never saw them again.