To James Godwin, your grace was a life lesson.
The expression, “When one door closes, God opens a window” has been edited in the
animation cloud above my head. If you could read it, it would say, “When God winks he leaves off the ‘K’” inspired by my meeting with James Godwin and destiny.
I had always wanted to write a book.
When I had the time, I did not have the resources, when I had the resources, I did not
have time. As the economy spiraled out of control and I squeaked by the holidays with the gift of family and nothing more, I knew I had to do something to lift my spirits and make a deposit in my
I was depressed both financially and emotionally. Every corner of my life in limbo: my
book a mass of confusion in a drawer, my motherboard connecting me, sputtered one last breath then died, and while I still had my job, there were no paychecks.
This book, it just was not going to happen, not this year, not ever.
I had almost wanted to take the drawer that contained my notes, dump it on the floor and
light the pile. In doing so, I would have solved a few problems- maybe even burn the house down- the house that had been on the market for over two years. My house, the wooden structure my husband
mentioned not fit for horses, was a cold reminder of another dream gone dead and another “limbo”.
In the last few months of his life, James Godwin went from a grumpy old man angry at
Barack Obama and a misguided election to a dear friend that loved life and Lucille. As a caregiver, I went from dreading sitting through Fox News to listening to Rush Limbaugh if it meant I could
spend one more hour with Mr. Godwin.
Together we conspired to cheat death and the few weeks he was promised, turned into a few
The wobbly first transfer to the wheelchair turned into five trips to the fireplace and
later equated to dinner by candlelight with Lucille. James Godwin worked hard: stretching arm bands and lifting his legs in repetition to build his strength. His persistence encouraged me to look at
my own lack of commitment with my projects.
An activist for the beautification program of North Carolina, he could no longer see the
wild flowered highways that lured me away from Tuscany. A once active man that loved the outdoors was now confined to just a few rooms of his home.
I was “his eyes” in his
meticulous garden, snapping pictures with my cell phone and to “bring in” the progress of the Azaleas and Cherry trees. I fed the birds and sprinkled seeds on his window sill hoping they would pay
him visit. When they did not, I tore the bird feeder from its slate landing and planted it directly in front of his window. When he could no longer move from his bed, the joy on his face seeing the
birds and of him telling the story of how I moved the bird feeder that day, would buy some forgiveness for me one day.
“You see that Bird Feeder? One day, I said ‘I wish I could see my bird feeder…’ and
before I knew it she put on her raincoat and in the pouring rain moved it in front of my window.”
As his body writhed in pain those last few weeks, he always made sure those around him
were comfortable. He was a gentleman and wanted to make sure everyone knew how much he appreciated them.
He had no children, so that Easter I shared mine with him. A little worried, how they
would feel spending an afternoon with a perfect stranger so close to his passing, I prepared myself for one of the “mom is such an odd ball lectures.” Instead, James Godwin told my children how much
he appreciated their mother. Seeing their uneasiness with sideway glances at his many tubes and bags that contained his dignity, he made them laugh with the stories of my first few days with him.
Later my children would each call to tell me how happy they were that someone appreciated me as much as James Godwin. They would tell me they felt their lives were safer because of the karma bank I
In the twilight of his twenty-four hour care, it was the bedtime stories that tied his
heart to mine. He would invite me in to watch TV. When I mentioned I did not have a TV, he was incredulous. I explained that it was a personal choice and that I preferred to read or write.
“Would you like to hear a story?” I offered one evening.
His insistence on hearing what I wrote each day finished, The Other Side of Tuscany, it
was the first week of April 2009. I wanted James Godwin to see another November birthday, so I never told him the book was done, instead I started another,“Above the Bakery”.
“Promise me I get to buy the first copy.” He would say. And I would counter,
“Promise me I can cook for your birthday party”
I would finish my reading and with a laugh and sometimes a tear he would say,
“That’s incredible! I love it! I wish I had more time…” I would close my laptop and tell
him he had all the time in the world, when he would shake his head sadly.
That was my cue.
I would start singing off key so loud that property values plummeted in Cameron village
with my tune:
“You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, five hungry children and a crop in the
He would start to laugh and triumphantly, I had confirmed his life-line one more
The first week of May, I came to show him the progress of my own garden, bringing a
cotton candy-like bloom from my Hydrangeas. I had taken a few days off to prepare for my twins’ graduation. He asked in a whisper, when the book would be done. Trying to hold back tears, I snuggled
up in his bed and buried my face in his pillow near his face to hide the tears and emotion that strangled my answer.
“Almost.” I choked out not wanting to lie but not able to continue our ritual.
That would be the last time I saw my dear friend, James Godwin.
On May 10, 2009 the sky darkened and clouds erupted on what was to be a garden party for
my children’s graduation. My husband and I hurriedly moved to our “rain plan”. I made a mental note to call Lucille and see if the boys could go and pick up Mr. Godwin. She had said that even if it
killed him it would have made him happy to be outside one last time, now I was sad knowing that would not be an option.
An hour before the party was to start, I was overcome with sadness. Though I had a
restaurant and could do a party at a drop of hat, I was lost. I felt like I had never seen my kitchen and had my friends not come over early to take command; no one would have eaten that
Then the sun like a hero on a white horse corralled the party once again outside in the
garden. The flowers seemed more brilliant. The grass lush and inviting screamed Corn Hole and Bocce. The sky was a perfect Carolina sky.
“Look mom it’s a God wink.” Benji said beaming moving the tables and chairs back outside
again with his father.
When Lucille called to tell me James had died a few moments before, I corrected
James was with us in our garden that day, in the flowers, in the children’s laughter and
in the bird’s song but mostly in that Godwink without the K.