Howard Jones woke on this bright summer Sunday and was happy to be alive on his eighty-first birthday. He reviewed the photo gallery of his family on the wall, children and grandchildren, photographs of Mabel and him when they were younger and just before she passed away. He had planned for this day for at least the last year, saved a few dollars. He went to the bathroom and shaved, slicked back what remained of his hair. Howard put on a pair of pants and shirt. He attached his suspenders to hold up the pants and slipped on a pair of Velcro sneakers.
It was breakfast time and he watched as the aides and nurses wheeled his neighbors to the cafeteria and made his way to a table. He ate oatmeal with blueberries with a small glass of orange juice. Howard longed for a cup of coffee, but it hadn’t been available to him since his arrival. He watched as the aides fed those who couldn’t feed themselves. The servers always attempted to make eating as pleasant as possible. When he finished he walked back toward his room, eyed the empty nursing station and pushed the down button on the elevator. The elevator reached the first floor and Howard walked into the lobby where the guard was reading the newspaper. Howard smiled and walked out the automatic door to the parking lot. Howard walked down Bustleton Avenue until he spotted a SEPTA bus stop sign. He caught a bus and got off at Rhawn Street and began to walk Rhawn. His breathing became heavy as he approached Dungan Road and he decided to wait for another bus, it arrived and he traveled down Rhawn getting off by the Fox Chase train station. The rest on the bus did him some good as his breathing returned to normal. He spotted a Dunkin Donuts just off Pine Road at Oxford and went in for his first cup of coffee in years and to top it off ordered a chocolate glazed donut. Howard saw a group of old folks gathered at the tables by the far window and asked if they would mind if he joined them. He listened intently as they spoke of their ailments, kids and what they planned for the day. Howard chimed in from time to time with stories of old Fox Chase and delighted those with a story of a young woman he dated named Carolee Schneemann. He told them how she would write poems and stories, painted strange things. Howard said she was the most famous person to have ever lived in Fox Chase that she became famous all over the world for her art including a meat dance. He said he knew she would move on and they broke up after only a few months. They were all surprised they had never heard of her. Howard told of how he met Mabel and how happy they were together, of his planned visit to Lawnview Cemetery to visit Mable on his birthday. Before he left they sang happy birthday to him and Howard was on his way down Huntington Pike.
Howard stopped by Blake Florist, picked up a few flowers and passed by the Rockledge Pub where back in the day he was known for downing a few. He paused at the war memorial located at the entrance of the cemetery, said a prayer. Howard was getting winded again and sat on a bench to relax. He watched as the cars sped along the pike, noticed the young people walking by and enjoyed the sun on his face. A local cop stopped and asked if he was ok, Howard said he was that he had walked from Rhawn Street and needed a rest of how he came to visit his wife. The cop offered to give him a ride to the grave. They drove down the long winding road to the heart of the cemetery. Howard told him to stop, that this was the spot. He thanked the officer and they parted ways.
He looked at the stone with Mable and his name on it. Howard said a few prayers and began to talk to Mabel. He told her how surprised he was that the kids put him in a home and that they had all moved far away. Howard touched the stone, teared up and told Mable how much he missed her, how a part of him was in the cold ground with her. He stayed with Mabel for over an hour, noticed a young couple at another grave. Howard walked toward them as they were departing and asked if they could give him a ride to the entrance which they did. It was already eleven o’clock as Howard entered the Rockledge Pub, ordered a draft beer. He told the bartender of how he and Mabel would dance to the jukebox and of the old owners. After a few sips of beer Howard said goodbye. He had forgotten how great a sip of beer was on a warm summer day. His walk commenced again. Saint Cecilia’s was just down Rhawn near the train station. He arrived just in time for the 12:30 mass and took a seat in the back. He didn’t see anyone he knew including the priest. It had been five years since he had been to mass. As he sat in the back pew he said a confession to God and when the time came received communion. Howard was getting hungry and headed to bus loop for the 18 bus. He looked out the window of the bus at his old stomping grounds, blessed himself as the bus passed the memorial at Five Points. Howard got off by the post office and headed to the Quaker Diner for lunch. There was something about a diner he always enjoyed, how the waitress would call you “hon” and the quick service. He ordered a cheeseburger and fries. When he finished he decided he wouldn’t walk much now. Howard decided to take SEPTA buses back to the home. He traveled up Rising Sun to Oxford to the loop. Caught a bus down Rhawn to Bustleton and back to the home. He arrived at about 4:30 walked to the back of the home to the Garden of Life and took a seat in the gazebo. An aide walked by and saw him.
“Howard we’ve been looking for you! You missed lunch!”
Howard told him he was just fine.
“Did anyone come to visit today?”
The aide told him no one had come to see him. He walked with Howard and took the elevator to his floor. They headed to the cafeteria for dinner. A few residents asked where he had gone, Howard smiled and ate his meatloaf. He watched as the aides wheeled them out to the television area, lined them all up. Those that could walk were seated on couches. Howard joined them noticing nobody watched the television, they all just sat there. He thought of his day and his visit to Mabel, how he enjoyed the visit and his travels of the day. Howard began plotting for next year. He might take a train after his visit to Mabel and he might just not come back. After all they never noticed he was gone.