I shall begin with what I thought was the end. Although, the ending of our story is far too abstruse for most. You have been warned; please do proceed with caution. The future of the story, both written and in real life, takes place something like this. Gertrude, or Gertie as I call her, is now my lover and muse. I have read that all great authors need such to finish their masterpieces. And it was indeed true, as Gertie has taught me how to live life and love it. Gertie is a gift.
Gertrude is my inspiration for success in my novel titled "The world's greatest love affair." And for my life which I call the same name. It will be a best seller in the futuristic year of 1961, Gertie told me so. And at the time our story began, I believed her with all my heart and soul. That’s when I learned to believe in myself.
I'm eccentric, I will admit it. I'm a writer, so I come by it naturally. Would you mind allowing me to tell you a little about my time with Gertrude Miller? You might know her. She is the adorable little woman who feeds the pigeons in the park off 20th Boulevard and Quail in my neighborhood here in Edgewater, Colorado. Well, she used to be that anyway.
Gertie and I, her James, have never let time or age difference come between us. The day I carried her to my room in the 19th street boarding house, she didn't know my name other than Prince Charming.
"It's James, James Turner, so lovely to meet you," I spoke.
She kissed my cheek ever so gently and said, "Oh my, I didn't know your name, did I? What's in a name anyway? You know I am your Gertie, but it's Miller, Gertie Miller if we insist on being formal."
Strangely we had this conversation while both nude in my bed. In May of that year, I had just turned 22 years old and was highly inexperienced. My love, Gertie, will turn 62 years old on November 26, our nation’s first official national day of thanksgiving, as President Hoover wants to call it.
While the forty years between us is sometimes apparent, I don't let numbers define us. Thanks to Gertie, the only numbers I have ever worried about are financial. Just organization, really, but that wasn't always the case.
I met my Gertie on my way home from work on the longest day of 1931. That Summer was a hot one, and I was walking as I had no transportation. I was young and, in those days, worked a day job as a mortician's assistant to pay my bills and support my insidious typewriter habit of pretentious storytelling.
Before Gertie, my stories were drab and dull; they had no point as I had not experienced life to its fullest. However, I wasn't a quitter. My writing practice was so bad that my landlady Mrs. Phelps moved me into an open room at the end of the hallway so she wouldn't have to listen to my fingers banging the keys of my old Royal all through the night. It seems Mrs. Phelps was always angry with me, as was old man Foster, the mortician. There were stories for me in those acquaintance relationships but nothing to hold a candle to the flame my Gertie has given to me.
So, there was no doubt in my mind while strolling through the park that afternoon that I would stop. There she was, the happiest woman in the world. I watched as she filled her tiny hand with seed and called to the pigeons who danced and strutted all around her. My heart melted. So petite and always smiling, she looked my way and winked, "what might you be up to, my fine young Prince Charming?" she asked.
I was struck with a moment of youth. As silly as I felt, I put my right hand on top of my cap and replied, "about up to here." I moved my hand back and forth to show her how tall I was.
She pleasantly stared at me for a moment, then laughed a full laugh that could have belonged to someone twice her size. "I like your style, young gentleman," she said. You remind me of that young fellow in a moving picture I once saw. Rudolph Valentino, yes, that is who you look like. It's the dark dreamy eyes. Tall, dark, and handsome, why you must be someone's greatest love."
"No, no one thinks of me like that. I'm not married and have no significant other." I reluctantly replied.
She hugged me in a friendly manner and said, "Well, old Gertie will love you as my Prince Charming," I wanted to believe her, although I thought she was pleasantly joking.
She kept the dried corn, millet, and peas she fed to the pigeons in an apron that she had tied its strings in a bow that bounced on her backside as she walked. Then she took a seat on the park bench, straightening her cotton dress that was only a frock, but the blue and white checkered pattern was charming. She noticed that I noticed.
I don't remember what color her apron was, but I remember that bow as it looked like one that I had once seen on a gift, the only gift I had ever received from my parents when I was just a small lad. And she wore sensible shoes that looked so comfortable—I'm just that kind of guy to notice. As someone who doesn't own a vehicle, I always admire comfortable shoes and someone who has a bounce in their step.
Over the next few weeks, I sat with her on that park bench, smiling. Gertie reminded me of what a lonely shallow person I had become since being released from the home for unwanted children where I grew up.
I told Gertie about it, "My parents abandoned me. They had packed up their truck and dropped me off at the Daisies and Clover home for unwanted children in Denver one December morning when I was nine, and they never came back. Of all things, they told me we were going to look for a Christmas tree. Well, I found a tree in the waiting room of that place. I looked around to show my mother the shining silver ornament that hung on its miserable little sagging bough. She was gone. All that was left was a box with my stuff in it. She didn't even give me a suitcase. I lived there until I was released for aging out at eighteen. The lady who ran the place operated it something like a prison. So, saying they were going to release me was, well, appropriate."
Gertie held my hand as a gesture of understanding. I noticed how her hands were crinkled and had small lines on them, yet her blondish hair glistened in the sunlight. When I looked at her, I felt great. Even though my story makes me cry, it felt so good to have a friend I could tell. Up until that point, I never had shared that information with anyone.
I admired her as she told me everything I would want to know about pigeons. Gertie was a living, complete unabridged encyclopedia of them as she taught me the difference between a cock and a hen. She told me that both the mother and father make milk for their babies and how the father takes control of the family by pecking the hen on the head and forcing her to sit on the nest and lay the eggs; I thought the pigeons have their family life far better organized than us people do.
Thanks to Gertie, I can now tell the difference between a cock and a hen pigeon from 50 paces away and can name most of their colors. She instructed, "Now that's a blue bar, while that's a blue check, and look at that red hen being pursued by all those cocks. She's a lucky girl now, isn't she?"
One night I bought her dinner in gratitude for being my friend. I have learned many lessons I call my gifts from Gertie. Such as, a good friend truly is worth their weight in gold and to be happy with what you have. I suppose I should include learning about something you care about; I mean, really understand until you become a foremost expert on the subject.
I saw her each day that I returned from the day job that I used to hate but now loved. Every day now included a chance to see Gertie.
One day I was amazed as she called to a giant white pigeon, she called King. He was sitting on an electric post just above us. She whistled out the side of her lips like I always wished I could, and low and behold, the pigeon flew right to her and pecked the corn right out of her pocket. "Good job, King," I said as I tried to pat the pigeon on the head. He protested and went about pecking me. We laughed and laughed. I think that was the day I found out laughter is the best medicine for what ails you, and one would believe in that there should be a lesson.
Then one blustery day just before Halloween, My Gertie was sitting on her bench all bundled in her moth torn wool coat shivering.
"Gertie!" I roared and awoke her.
Her eyes and nose were red, and she could hardly breathe. She was gasping for air, wheezing loudly. I grabbed her elbow and said, "Gertie, you should be in bed; please let me help you home."
Then she shocked me by telling me that this park, our park, was her home.
I got her to her feet and noticed how light she was. “Why you are nothing but skin and bones, my dear," I said. "I won't take no for an answer. I'm taking you home with me. It's not much to look at, and I'm a terrible housekeeper, but there is a bed, and you will be warm. And I, your Prince Charming, will be at your service, madam."
I expected a giggle but got none.
I had a hot plate in my room at the top of the stairs above a popular drugstore. I bought broth and bread from Frank's Diner that was just down the block and fed it to her a tablespoon at a time.
It was also a good thing that I once tutored the Pharmacist's son in the drugstore below. As I told him of my friend Gertie's plight, he gave me medicines that helped relieve her condition. Three days later, after sleeping for nearly 20 hours, she awoke to a broken fever. Thank goodness. That's when I walked in on her sitting on my bed with her hair let down from the bun, as she generally kept it. Gertie was beautiful. I believe that was about the time we learned each other's last names.
As November came on, I worried that Mrs. Phelps would know Gertie lived with me in my room. We gave her no clues. I kept my typing up to par, and Gertie kept as quiet as a mouse. I make just enough to pay the rent on this decaying room with my day job at Fosters Mortuary. Not enough to provide Gertie with a lovely birthday gift and an excellent meal on top of it. My writing hasn't paid off yet, but it will in 1961.
I must rejoice, though it seems fortuitous circumstances have created spontaneous serendipity for me, and I didn't have to wait 30 years to get a gift. A customer down at the mortuary saved my day, the recently dead Mrs. Artemis Reeves. Vivienne as her toe tag noted. Although she currently lay stiff as a board down at the parlor. It seems Vivienne rode the gurney into the mortuary with an undisclosed diamond ring in her pocket. It was in her robe hidden by the pocket lint; she must have put it in there for safekeeping before her bath. That bath must have been her last activity because her body was clean, and I didn't need to do much to prepare for her viewing.
Fosters Mortuary's motto to treat all who pass through with honor and respect. It's my job to undress the dearly departed, wash them up, and then dress in a more appropriate outfit the family supplied. It is It was a good thing the ambulance wrote down all her possessions on their way in and had not included the exquisite diamond and ruby ring encased firmly within the lint of the pocket.
I took off my rubber gloves and took a bow. Don't you love those moments in life where things or situations look rather bleak, and then suddenly, they fix themselves? Those moments always make me feel like dancing! Dancing with my Gertie, and that we will do because, voilà, as if by magic I now had a gift for my dear sweet Gertie on her birthday tomorrow.
Gertie fixed her hair and wore a dress she said she had found in a box of clothes that someone had left in the alley. The red velvet dress matched the red lipstick she put on. I couldn't believe she had found such a lovely dress in the garbage. We dined on that special day on the hot turkey sandwiches that Frank of Frank’s Diner prepared for us at the counter. He even gave us a discount for being good customers. The meal was delicious and the company exceptional.
Then I handed Gertie my small, wrapped gift. She opened it and looked at it, then looked at me with tears in her greying blue eyes and said, "James, where did you get the money for such an extravagant gift? I love you very much but know you cannot afford such a thing."
I told her where it had come from, and immediately without thinking about it first, she said we must return it to its rightful owner. "I told you, my James, that you are and will always be my Prince Charming, and someday you will be able to afford such a treasure. You alone are all the gift I need. But let's do it the right way. Please take it to its rightful owner."
I'm sure I looked hurt and torn as the woman I loved had just rejected my beautiful gift. But I acted upon her wishes and went out to use the payphone on the corner. It cost me the last dime in my pocket.
I called Mrs. Reeves, daughter, who I had seen just a few days before grieving over her beloved dead mother, Vivienne. I told her that I had found her mother's ring amongst her mother's possessions. I told her that I had thought about keeping it, but a little bird had chirped in my ear; that was not the right thing to do. I heard no reply, only sobbing. Her husband came to the phone to speak in her place.
He said, "My wife was frantic when she thought she had lost her mother's most cherished ring. It means the world to her as it was promised to her while her mother lay sick. Her mother, Vivienne, wished for it to be given to my wife upon her death. You see, the ring was priceless. The Queen of Scotts herself had been the one who passed it down initially."
And then he said, "I must pay you for finding it." and without thinking about it, I declined.
I felt so good; the truth had lifted a heavy burden from my shoulders. And I absolutely would not have accepted a penny under such pretenses. I ran home to tell Gertie.
She sat on my bed with her possessions packed. "Oh Gertie, no, don't leave me," I begged. I told her what I had done, how I told the truth, and how good it felt to do the right thing without thinking about it.
She looked at me solemnly and told me, "James, you are the man of my dreams, you are my one and only Prince Charming, but I must tell you I lied to you too. I didn't live in the park as I told you. I have a home; I live alone in the big old red brick mansion on 23rd and Maple. The pigeons were the only family I had until you came along, and I could not bear to watch them scrounge for food when I had so much. Please forgive me, my love."
At that moment, Gertie taught me my greatest lesson on forgiveness. We held hands then made love in the old decaying room at Mrs. Phelps boarding house for the last time. It was the first and best Thanksgiving Day of our entire lives. And by the way, it was only the last time for our lovemaking in that room. There was plenty more to come, as I was invited to move my old Royal and all my worldly possessions into the house that she inherited from her father all those years ago. Unbeknownst to me, she was rich.
Pardon the lack of an excursus on having no conclusion to this story. There isn't one in sight. I would love to give you a wrap, but my story with Gertie has never concluded. She teaches me something new every day, and our relationship has never grown cold. Gertie is still going strong; she remains here with me in this year of 1961. We dance and laugh daily and are preparing for my book signing together. And we have built a spectacular pigeon loft in the back.