She would be standing on the shoulder of the road, across from the small shed that was once a gas station. My dog Cody and I would stroll by on the lane that leads from the highway and through the woods to the open fields. With her chin up and her back straight, she would be looking out over the cornfield. She was about eighty and rather small, her gray hair styled in a short youthful cut, her body trim.
“Hello!” I would say genially, and she would greet me over her shoulder. On I would walk, to the beginning of what was once a macadam road and now leads to a breezy knoll where a wooden bridge once crossed the river. That was my daily destination: the knoll. There I would sit Cody down and feast my eyes. Refreshed, I would head back home. By then my friend would be gone.
One day she was standing behind the house, her hands folded on her breast, her head erect. She seemed to be peering not only across the field but beyond, to the line of trees where Cody and I were headed. Out of impulse I stopped as I said hello. She smiled and waved like a toy soldier. Making sure that the dog was close at my side, I introduced myself.
Her name was Vivian, she said, while her eyes gazed back and forth from me to the field. She was self-conscious, I decided, but somehow I liked that. “Gone With the Wind!” I said. ‘Vivien Leigh!’ That‘s how I‘ll remember your name. My home is across the highway.”
“I see. I live over there.” She shook her head. “Eight rooms.”
“My daughter and her husband live on the other side. When Judy was a child and we lived across the river, she said, ‘Mom, some day I want to live over there on that hill.’ She meant right here.”
Cody was sniffing her. “He likes you. That’s unusual.”
“I’ve always loved dogs but I’ve had problems with them. One time, this dog bit me. Another time our dog killed one of our brood of rabbits. It was awful.”
I made Cody lie down. He’s a hyper soul but just then he seemed relaxed. Both Vivian and I chose that moment to look up at the sky, a canopy of softest blue, almost white. We listened to the sounds around us: a robin here, a dove there, all resonating from within that dome.
“Space,” I said smiling to myself.
She nodded as if she understood.
“I have another daughter; in New York. I’m glad she has a summer home on the ocean. People around here smile and say hello even if they don‘t know you. New Yorkers are not like that. I think it has to do with space.”
Vivian looked up at the sky again. “That’s what you have here, isn’t it? No, I wouldn’t want to be without it.”
“Tell me. Do you remember this road when it was being used?”
“I certainly do. That shack was a gas station. Things have changed.”
“But it’s still beautiful, wouldn‘t you say?”
She nodded but only a bit. “Across the river where the camp grounds are we had a farm.”
I smiled in admiration. “What keeps you going now? I mean without the farm.”
“Oh, the church mostly. I went on a missionary trip to Ghana. We had sent them shoes, you know. In the Honduras we helped to build a hospital. It wasn‘t easy. But things usually turned out alright. Then there‘s the community work.”
We looked up at the sky again; we looked at the dog. “Isn’t it funny about canines?” I said. “They need to be so close. It’s because we’ve taken them from the pack but that doesn’t explain why they had to be connected in the first place, does it? Anyway, connected to what?”
Her eyes rolled upward.
I was the one who nodded this time.
“You’ll have to come over and meet my wife.”
She agreed, but I wasn‘t convinced. I pulled on Cody’s leash. He stood up.
“Gone With the Wind!” I said smirking and jabbing a finger her way. “Vivian.”
I was hoping that she would be there when we came back but she was gone. My heart sank but I knew that I would not be talking to her again. With our ages—I mean, I wasn’t that far behind her—and yes, with that faraway look of hers…
I saw her occasionally after that and waved to her but I kept a distance. One autumn day I was driving home when I found my path blocked by patrol cars with flashing lights. A young State Police woman asked me if I lived nearby. I pointed out my house and she let me pass. That evening I learned that the elderly woman who lived across the highway and down the lane had lost her life in an auto accident. The person driving behind her had reported that the woman had simply veered off the road. I knew at once who it was: “Gone With the Wind.” Vivian.
I tried to keep on hiking to the knoll, but each time I took that road Cody would try to pull me toward the spot where the conversation took place. Was he reacting to a tug within me? I’m not sure. I do know that I couldn‘t bring myself to look in that direction. Finally I just stopped walking that way.
Editor’s note: Vivian V. Beatty was born Vivian Van Duzer on August 4, 1924. Her husband Joseph G. Beatty passed away on March 30, 1995. Vivian died on November 5, 2007. Having adopted several foster children,she left behind six daughters, three sons, thirteen grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren.