Deidre's Gift - Introduction
Aging is tough. Then again, what part of life has really been easy? From the shocking realities of infanthood to adolescence, the teens, prime of life to mid-life, has there been a decade free of worry and strife? “Used to,” has become a regular part of my vocabulary. I used to run. I used to fly…last night I dreamt of flying. That’s about as close as I can come to the real thing…There’s lots of things I used to do that no longer can be done due to this aging reality!
I used to be loved. I used to be needed. I used to…recall. And there are the times I wish those memories would stay buried forever…the heartbreak of life, death of relatives and friends who never had to worry about growing old. Traffic accidents that have stolen a sibling, disease a parent, war a good friend.
One of the reasons I enjoy gambling and the casino lifestyle is because I no longer am the old guy pushing sixty. Amongst the multitude of little old men and women with their canes, walkers and motorized chairs, I am the younger generation. Area resorts bus hundreds of geriatric anomalies to plug their retirement checks into the now electronic, computerized “one-arm bandits” commonly known as slot machines. Occasionally, one of the elders will land at my table. That’s how I met her.
She was hunkered over the table as if she was an eagle protecting her nest. Her decrepit old hands carefully snatched one green chip from its nest and slid it carefully into the bettor’s circle. I matched her twenty-five dollar bet and waited for the cards to be dealt. That same scenario went on for hours as we played double deck Blackjack winning some, losing other hands. Tante as we came to call her played well splitting eights and doubling when basic strategy dictated.
We’d been playing for a couple of hours when the pit boss said it was time to change the cards. Always a good time to stretch and take a bathroom break, I stood up and leaving my stacks of chips unattended, headed for the nearest restroom. Out of my peripheral vision I could tell the old woman wasn’t planning to move from her stool. She just stayed in the same position as she had been in all day.
After washing the chip crud and other unseen creepy crawlies from my hands, I splashed some icy cold water on my face to help keep me awake. I had been playing for much too long and was really too tired to be successful, but the cards were running good right now so I wasn’t ready to quit just yet. I returned to the table in time to be dealt in on the first hand of a new shuffle using fresh cards. Lots of players complain that new cards ruin the game; however I seem to do better with them.
Tante had left, her spot having been replaced by a younger woman. She was such a contrast to the seat’s previous tenant that it was most impossible to avoid looking at her. Her long, black hair flowed like a stallion’s mane while her almond eyes flicked a hint of mystery. I watched as she placed a stack of three green chips into the bettor’s circle with her delicate, slender fingers that were surprisingly void of jewelry. Other than the obvious and sometimes crude places a man will look at a woman, the ring finger is often the second place he will look.
She won that hand then pressed her luck adding another green chip to her bet. This time she received an opportunity to double down and added another stack of four green chips increasing her bet to $200 which she won. I watched her dumbfounded. I’d been playing good strategy for several hours having watched my chip stack increase and decrease, rise up and down like a busy department store elevator and she has doubled her investment in a few hands. By the end of the second shoe, she had $1500 in green chips which she had the dealer color up to three purple chips. She put them in her handbag for safekeeping. Strangely, she pulled another couple of hundred dollar bills out placing them on the table and received eight more green chips to continue play.
The game wore on with some of us winning a few hands, others losing a few. Like any good game, this one had its ups and downs. But the camaraderie was good and my chip stack was slowly growing and slowly turning from green to black. Maybe it was the fatigue but I found myself flirting with the young woman like I was a teenager. Though her age was difficult to discern, I knew she was easily fifteen to twenty years my junior and could have any man she wanted. But polite she was. She accepted the flirtatious advances with dignity and poise.
The cards suddenly took a turn for the worse signaling me to color up my chips and be on my way. I was tired, had finally won a nice stake and needed to get home.
It was a generous distance to the cashier’s cage and another to the exit closest to my car. Usually about half way I’d have to sit and rest my aching back but something out of the ordinary was about to occur. I cannot explain it…only relate it as it happened. No, there was no UFO racing across the sky or a sudden earthquake. The pretty woman I’d been flirting with snuck up beside me grabbing my arm with both hands and wrapping herself tightly against me. She placed her head on my shoulder looking up at me with her soft eyes and whispered, “Don’t you remember offering to cook me dinner or maybe breakfast?”
Knowing I’d made a fool of myself several times at the gaming table, I doubted she was making anything up. I was just surprised she was interested in taking me up on my offer…trivial as it had been. Suddenly filled with an energy I hadn’t had in years, all my aches and pains of getting older lessened. I was happy for the first time in a long time. Smiling I tested her, “You don’t want to hang out with an old guy like me?”
“Just let me tell my tante I am enjoying my evening with you.”
That was the second time in a day I’d heard the reference to tante. As we walked to my car, a fairly new CTS pulled up to the curb and the decrepit old woman from earlier in the day leaned her head out of the passenger’s side window. My companion literally skipped to the Cadillac and hugged the old woman. Staring a little too hard at her backside, I quickly averted my eyes. Could this really be happening? Was this woman really interested in me enough to have dinner with me? Could this be the start of a real relationship…something I’d missed out on for a long, long time?
Squealing tires awakened me from my thoughts. I looked up as the Caddy sped out of sight. Deidre as I soon learned her name stood on the sidewalk looking at me with just a slight tilt of her head. She said, “Tante, said it was so to be.”
Turns out Deidre was forty something to my fifty something. We quickly became more than just good friends and soon found ourselves living together under the same roof which happened to be my motorhome. Her friendship gave me a new outlook on life. For the last few years I had accepted my life to be just as it was and was ready for death’s visit. I hadn’t become the great success I’d hoped to be by this station of my life. I had no kinfolk. I would leave no legacy. I just took up space. But with Deidre, all that changed.
For the past decade one of the few things I really enjoyed was trying food from different parts of the country as I traveled about. It was just that reason I had stayed as long as I had not too far from New Orleans. A Louisiana advertisement at the time professed, “We don’t eat to live, we live to eat!” And they ate well. Deidre introduced me to Etoufe, cracklins and other local eats. She showed me how to twist the tails off of crawdads and suck the meat out of the ugly little creatures. Seems we had a shrimp boil almost every other week.