I told Miss Mabel that Katy’s mother had never responded to my pleas and expressed my utter disappointment and yes, my outrage. Miss Mabel said “for everything there is a season…and a reason…and a time for every purpose under Heaven. Only God knows what her reason is.” I liked her rendition of that Biblical scripture.
I absolutely adored Miss Mabel and she had become a sort of surrogate mother to me. Over the next few months, my visits became less frequent but I went as often as I could. One day I went over and she handed me a paper bag. “You need to have this now,” she said.
“What is it?” I asked. She smiled and said “open it.”
When I opened it, I pulled out a stuffed panda bear. “That was Katy’s” Miss Mabel said. “I bought it for her and she kept it here so her father wouldn’t tear it up. She used to sit in that chair over there and hold onto it like it was her very own little child.”
I couldn’t help myself. I started crying uncontrollably. What a wonderful, wonderful gift. I started hugging the bear, probably the same way that Katy had.
Then Miss Mabel surprised me when she said “run along home now.” She didn’t follow it with “we’ll talk more tomorrow.” I thought maybe she was feeling as emotional as I was. She had given me a part of Katy which had become a part of her and would now become a part of me. I gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek and told her I’d see her later.
I went back home and later that evening, against my better judgment, decided to open a note. It said “Dear God. I still hate you. I don’t believe in you anymore.” It was dated 1967. Katy was still praying to a God she no longer believed in.
I picked up her bear and held it, wishing it was Katy. I imagined that she had never known the warmth of a hug and she was most likely touch-starved. I remember Miss Mabel telling me that if she moved too quickly or got too close, Katy screamed.
That was the night I decided not to open any more notes. They would remain folded and carefully rest in that box. My thought was that if I didn’t open them, I couldn’t read any more unanswered prayers from a lonely, heart-broken little girl.
In the wee hours of the morning, I was awakened by flashing lights. I got up and stumbled to the window. There was an ambulance at Miss Mabel’s house. I threw on my dressing gown and flew out of the house. I saw Miss Mabel strapped to a stretcher, straddled by a paramedic who was pumping her chest.
The medics asked if I was a relative and I told them I wasn’t. It was at that very instant, I realized I knew nothing about Miss Mabel’s past. She had talked about marriage and men in a rather disparaging way but had never mentioned siblings. They asked about her medical history but I told them I knew nothing, other than that she was wheel-chair bound.
Miss Mabel died that night. I wondered if she knew she was going to leave and that’s why she gave me Katy’s bear. I felt helpless and hopeless. I cried for almost week. My beloved friend was gone and I was going to miss her terribly.
Having no next of kin, she was buried in the City Cemetery where all the other indigent people rested and although she was now just a number, she would not be forgotten. I had a small marble plaque made which said “Miss Mabel, My friend.”
Her house was taken by the state and prepared for auction. If I had been able, I would have bought it, for two reasons. It was hers and it housed Katy’s painting. I went to the auction and bought her Bible. Katy’s note was still inside and that’s where it would stay.
Her house went to a flipper who had no intention of preserving its originality. Their idea was to completely gut it, equip it with modern appliances and accouterments more in step with the present time and then make a quick profit on the re-sale.
The contractors arrived and I walked over to talk to them. I asked them exactly what their plans were. They said they were commissioned to knock down all the walls and make it an open floor plan. I showed them the painting and asked if there was any way to save it. I even offered to pay them to just cut out that one wall. They were I think, trying not to make me feel like a complete idiot when they said it wouldn’t be possible.
I remember thinking that I would never hear another story about Katy. I had no idea what she looked like. I had no idea how old she was. Had the man who bought her granny’s house not painted over the mural, I might have been able to see her as a little girl. I was sure the “old woman and a little girl” must have been Katy and her granny.
I was grief-stricken over the loss of Miss Mabel. I would never know the story behind her disgust toward marriage and men. I would never know why she was in a wheelchair. I would never know her hopes and dreams, other than what Katy had depicted in the mural.
We think there’s always going to be one more day, one more Coca Cola and one more story, but life and death are unpredictable. We all have our own expiration date and Miss Mabel’s had come. I think maybe she was ready but I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to lose this extraordinary woman who had left an indelible mark on my life and my heart and I would be forever grateful that I had been blessed to have known her.
I knew that she wouldn’t want me to be sad nor would she want me to sit around and mourn. I decided to get busy and put all of my efforts into my house. One room at a time. One day at a time.
Eventually the restoration of my house was complete but Katy’s story was not. I knew there was one more thing I had to do.
I had to find Katy.