Older Than the Earth, Younger Than the Stars

I was only six the year that Miss Martha moved into our neighborhood.

She was from up North, but mostly people didn’t mind. For one thing, she was friendly and open from the start, and for another, she didn’t act as if God had sent her here to enlighten us poor ignorant Southerners. Finally, (and most importantly from my viewpoint, and that of my four-year-old sister Beatie), she made the best chocolate chip cookies I had ever tasted, even better than my mama’s.  I think it’s almost sacrilege for a Southerner to say that, but it’s the God’s honest truth.

She had moved into the house next to M’sieu’ Daniel’s. Daniel Landry was a Cajun man, tall, grey and imposing, but always kind.  Looking back, I would say he was in his early fifties, but to a six-year-old, that was older than dirt, as old as Papère LeMay in town.  Miss Martha was a little younger, but in my eyes she was pretty much the same as he. They had something else in common, too, in the beginning. Even I noticed it, or maybe it would be more accurate to say I was the only one who seemed to see it.  Many times when one or the other of them would smile, it never seemed to reach their eyes.

I never knew what tragedy had made Miss Martha uproot herself.  I do know I heard Mama say once that M’sieu’ Daniel had built his house for his young wife. She’d died of cancer two years after they got married, and after that, he got old suddenly and withdrew from many of the town activities. M’sieu’ Daniel and Miss Martha hit it off right away, and they raised a few eyebrows when he squired her to the fais do do in town her first weekend there.

People thought maybe they were in love, but I doubted that.  Love was for young people, like Lacey Pratt and Jacques Caissy, not for old folks. At Lacey’s and Jacques’ wedding, I watched Lacey twirl, dancing with her new husband, and dreamed of the day when I would be the bride, beautiful in lace and tulle. Old people, were, well — old, and I was sure they were past such youthful pursuits as falling in love.

Aged or not, Miss Martha was always nice to us kids, but even we thought she might be a little nuts when she bought the Wishing Rock. They dug up the foundation for a new store in town, and there was a large boulder in the site that might have  looked kind of like a big frog, if you squinted hard enough. The next day, Joe Thibodaux’s dump truck pulled up in front of Miss Martha’s house and Joe and some of his friends used a block and tackle to move the rock to her back yard.

When Papa asked incredulously what possessed her, Miss Martha blushed and said that when she was a little girl, there had been a rock just like this one in her family’s yard. She had called it her Wishing Rock and loved to sit on it and watch the stars. She took a lot of ribbing, but she held her ground and on warm, clear nights, she would go and sit on the new Wishing Rock and enjoy the evening skies.

It was one night in mid-August that year when I came to understand her and M’sieu’ Daniel a little better.  Papa said there were going to be some pursy-hids that night, better than fireworks.  He winked at Mama, and she pursed her lips in pretended disapproval, but the twinkle in her eyes gave her away.  Beatie and me, we were shooed out of the house, with the suggestion that we might want to sit on the Wishing Rock and watch for the pursy-hids.

When we got to the side of Miss Martha’ s home, we saw the Rock was already taken.  M’sieu’ Daniel was sitting behind Miss Martha, with his arms around her, and she was sitting sideways, leaning on him, her head on his shoulder. As we watched silently, he put one hand under her chin, tilted her head back, leaned forward and kissed her. I was shocked.  What in earth are they doing? I knew that Papa kissed Mama, but that was them.  They were supposed to. They weren’t old people yet, not  like M’sieu’ Daniel and Miss Martha were.

Beatie broke the spell by giggling. Mortified, I clapped my hand over her mouth, but it was already too late.  Neither of our elders seemed to mind; they smiled at each other and waved us over.

“You come here now, Annie and Beatie.  Come here and sit wit’ us.”

Beatie always preferred sitting with M’sieu’ Daniel, so I wound up on Miss Martha’s lap.

“Papa sent us to see the pursy-hids.  What’s a pursy-hid, Miss Martha?”

She laughed gently.  “It’s Perseids, my dear,” and spelled it for me.  “Look, there! See that?” as a light streaked across the sky.  “That’s a meteor.  The Perseids are a whole shower of those lights — those meteors. And tonight’s the best night to see them. Look!” as an even brighter light flashed to earth, and another and another. Beatie watched the lights in awe, a little smile on her face. And me? I looked back at Miss Martha and M’sieu’ Daniel.  In the flashes of starlight, their faces seemed of no age — neither old nor young, exactly, but beautiful and timeless.  With a wisdom I still can’t understand the source of, I suddenly realized that sharing hearts wasn’t about age.  One could be older than the earth or younger than the stars, and still love.

Six months later, Miss Martha and M’sieu’ Daniel married and moved into Miss Martha’s house.  They’re still there, twenty-some years on, a little older, a little greyer. And on warm, clear nights they still sit on the Wishing Rock, holding hands and watching the constellations together.