September 15, 2012
Not long ago, Alice and I attended a small service held for Celia in the activity room at The Place. Her grandson, a man around fifty, walked in carrying an enormous bouquet, a laptop, screen, and disk of photographs showing Celia throughout her life. He also brought cookies, punch, and some good stories.
For example, he revealed that Celia had once kept company with a lynx.
The big cat shared her bed and slept with his head on her shoulder.
That was just the beginning.
One summer night not long after her sixteenth birthday, Celia was walking across the then new St. Johns bridge with her boyfriend, Cecil. Cecil leaped up onto the railing and started to climb toward the lights up high over the bridge. At one point he turned around and was startled to see Celia climbing right behind him. He’d expected her to wait below. They made it 408 feet to the top and back down again and got married not long afterward.
This next photo shows the lights they climbed to:
It turned out Celia had also cruised the Nile, traveled by camel, scaled Beacon Rock, flown on the Concorde, worked hard to find homes for shelter animals, and managed the heritage center for her area of the city – all this in addition to raising four children and keeping a spectacular flower garden.
Alice sat with her head down, looking at the floor. She couldn’t hear any of this, but she reached over and squeezed Mr. Fickle’s hand when he came shuffling in and sat beside her.
After the service, we walked the long hall back to her apartment and I told her everything that had been said about her friend Celia, the monkey girl who’d climbed steep rocks and bridges and slept with a lynx. It was all news, but none of it surprised her. What surprised her was the tap at the door and the appearance of Celia’s grandson with the bouquet. “For you,” he said. “The family wants you to have it. Celia would have wanted you to have it. She was so worried about you. Some of the last things she said in the hospital were about you, what you meant to her.”
Alice started to cry.
He knelt next to her and she took his face in her hands. “She was perfect,” she said, and then out came everything she’s been wanting to say about Celia all these weeks.
She kept the flowers on the small table in the kitchen of her apartment in exactly the spot where Celia’s grandson had placed them.
One day I came over and found a water stain covering half the tablecloth. She’d been adding water daily but forgot to check the level, and neither her eyes nor her ears caught the drip, drip, drip over the vase’s lip. All that mattered was that those flowers not die.
But today we finally had to dismantle the wilted bouquet. We threw everything into the compost except for the roses. Those we gently tore apart and dropped into Alice’s special bag of petals. Wherever she’s going with those petals, a little of Celia is going with her.