the irwin sisters

When Bonnie fell and broke her hip, she moved in with Blanche. Home health care provided an adjustable bed, a wheelchair, and an assortment of walkers. To ease the burden on Blanche caring for Bonnie, Jay moved in from her green clapboard house across Linden Street just a month or so later. They were all three long time widowers, never living more than 40 yards from each other, even in their married years. There they were, the three remaining Irwin sisters, all together again on Linden Street due to circumstance. Blanche rode herd on the two older birds, naturally. Younger sisters are prone to do that when the older ones fall on difficult times.

Blanche lived in her gray two-story that Uncle Dewey built for her years ago. Wooden helm wheels had been fashioned into light fixtures and the window sashes all had decorative anchors cut into them. Uncle Dewey built boats in a backyard shed that bootlegged the Tennessee River from Savannah to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Uncle Dewey and whiskey profits built the house, too. It had weathered many a great storm that swayed the giant cottonwoods up and down Linden Street. And it would safely shelter the three sisters through many more.

Most summer evenings would find them clad in their bed-clothes long before sundown, swinging back and forth on Blanche’s porch furniture and discussing events of the day between cigarettes. They’d wave and speak to those they knew and eyeball those that were not familiar. Everyone knew them, however; the three old women who sit the afternoons in their bathrobes and curlers on Linden Street.

Blanche had a backyard beauty parlor and her talents were in demand among the downtown little old women. Weekday mornings, the house reeked of ammonia and other hairdo smells. And with such an operation came small town gossip by the boatloads. Unsubstantiated rumors of every shape and form and degree flew around in that shop like so many pecan leaves in a brisk wind. So after a day of being up to the elbows in scalp scaulders with names like Frivilous Fawn and White Minx, Blanche enjoyed laying breaking news from the hair dryers on the front porch gang when the day was done.

Rarely was there shock or dismay or even laughter. Mostly just the sound of the afternoon breezes moving through the tops of the giant cottonwoods. Rusty hinges squeaked in reply to three high kicking corduroy house shoes attached to three tightly crossed, pajama-clad legs. Graying heads rolled right to left to follow a passing car on down the street and safely to the next block. A bland discussion might follow, but for the most part, the conversation never lingered. No one forwarded much of an opinion on anything, unless it dealt with today’s Crossword or local politics. Other people’s stupidity or misery or good fortune held no genuine fascination, really. It was just a way to pass the time and perhaps detour away the lurking specter of personal mortality for a moment. After all, no one was getting any younger on the porch.

They were never malicious, really. Just bored.

Sundown brought a pre-slumber hand of bridge and perhaps a glass of buttermilk or two. A card table was always in easy reach from just about any room in the house.

The trumps and no trumps were quietly exchanged and the smoke lazily curled from overworked ashtrays until good nights had been exchanged. Surely tomorrow brought another busy day.


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