When I was a kid my mom cleaned houses for a living. One of the houses she cleaned belonged to a husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley. The Tinsleys were very retired, and lived in a large house in Leavenworth, near the public library. I’m not sure what they had done in their working lives, but Mr. Tinsley, who sat in his home office all day, smoking cigars, and swiveling around in an old wooden rolling chair, had the mark of a lawyer, or maybe a CPA. He wore suspenders, and used a cane, on the rare occasions that I saw him get up from his desk.
Mrs. Tinsley could have been a school teacher, or a stay-at-home mom, or even a piano instructor. Maybe she was all those things. Maybe she was none of those things, I just don’t know, I don’t remember ever asking. What I do remember is sitting on the steps that connected the family room with the second level, while my mom vacuumed the upstairs bedrooms, and watching Jeopardy with Mrs. Tinsley, while she sat across the room in a recliner, and offered me fistfuls of those hard strawberry candies, with the gooey centers.
Mrs. Tinsely loved Bill Clinton. Mr. Tinsley hated him. Mrs. Tinsley crouched doilies and read magazines. Mr. Tinsely yelled at the Meals on Wheels delivery woman, and wrote my mother checks every Tuesday afternoon for her services.
Their house was in a row of houses on their street that were all very old. Some had started to fall down, while others were being bought and remodeled. Their house was somewhere in the middle, in dire need of updating, but still working for the two of them. Regardless, they had a formal living room, which I always associated with “rich people,” and I liked to spend a lot of time sitting in the “fancy” chairs in there, reading teeny-bopper magazines, and watching out the big picture window.
Their house even had a large wrap-around porch on the front, with a couple of rocking chairs. Somedays I would pass the two hours or so rocking on their porch. At the end of the street there was a house that had been turned into a retirement home. Or maybe it was less of a retirement home, and more of a nursing home. It had a lot of people in wheel chairs, sitting outside when we pulled up, and in the exact same spot when we left. I often wondered who pushed them out there, and who brought them back in. I hoped someone brought them back in.
It was an interesting dichotomy, trying to figure out how those people at the end of the street, sitting alone all day in wheelchairs in the grass, who were relatively the same age as The Tinsleys, managed to find themselves there, rather than living in their own large home, with a woman who cleaned it for them once a week, and people who delivered their food everyday. It didn’t add up to me, and if I’m being honest, it still doesn’t. Though it’s certainly more sad now, because I’m older and I know what I know. Still…
One of the last times I remember going to The Tinsleys’ my mom asked me to take a bag of trash out back for her. I didn’t usually do much helping when she cleaned houses, but every once in awhile she would ask me to take some trash out, or wipe down a mirror or something menial, particularly if I was following her around being annoying. This day I had the bag of trash in my hand and I walked out the back door, down a few steps, and out the back of the fence to the alley where the trash cans sat. I heaved the trash bag over the fence, into the can, when something shiny caught my eye.
Down the alley was an older woman, with a walker, slowly making her way toward me. She was dressed in sweats, and a shirt that looked like it had been worn for days. She was saying something but I couldn’t understand her. The more I waited, the closer she came, the closer she got to me, I realized she was calling for something, or someone. I wasn’t sure what to do so I sort of just froze at the fence, nervously looking back at the Tinsley’s house, hoping my mom would come out. Before she got any closer to me a woman dressed in scrubs came running down the alley after the woman with the walker. She ran up behind the woman, and put her hand on her shoulder. This scared the woman, and the nurse assured her she was okay, then told her they needed to go back in. The nurse saw me then, and told me that the woman was looking for her missing cat. I was immediately upset for her, and told the nurse that I hadn’t seen a cat, but that I would keep an eye out. The nurse just smiled, and waved my suggestion away, “There’s no cat,” she said, and she put her arm around the woman and they walked slowly back to the house at the end of the street.
Later that night when I told my mom what I had seen, she told me that some people forget things when they get older. What the nurse likely meant, was that the woman was looking for a cat she had once had, probably years and years ago, back when she lived in her own house. This was hard for me to understand at the time, but now, of course, I do.
I’m not sure what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley, I have a faint memory of my mother telling me of their passing at some point in my teen years, but I always wondered about them. And I’ve often wondered about the woman in the alley searching for her lost cat. I suppose I always will, because if you ask me, we all have our cats we are looking for. And we always will.