This story aired Monday morning, November 22, 2021 on the Sundial Writers Corner on 89.3, WLRH
In the autumn of her life, Louise Bevel had short, dark gray, curly hair, sported high waisted slacks and rarely wore a smile. Even though she was of average size, she gave the appearance of someone much larger and more broad-shouldered. She was no nonsense country, whereas her best friend, Margaret, was petite and a bit refined. You see Margaret was my grandmother. She had been a teacher, been married to a lawyer and played piano for her church, but Louise was the epitome of rough. She wasn’t prone to much dialogue and when she did speak, her collective amount of words didn’t add to much. She would most often grumble an “hmm, mmm” in response to someone else. This was the picture of Louise that most people knew.
Even in her eulogy, the minister couldn’t paint the softest of images, he said that anyone who knew her would say she was gruff. But despite her gruffness, Louise could be tender, but only as tender as Louise could be. On occasion, she would baby sit me when my grandmother could not. One time I remember looking up at her and saying “Ouise, I love ooo, do ooo love me?”
And instead responding like most people by saying, “Of course Sam, I love you”, she looked down, and in her brusque fashion said, “Sam, everyone loves ooo.”
Coincidentally, my grandmother and Louise both had lost their husbands in their thirties. My grandfather, Roy, was killed when a train ran into his truck as he was coming back from his family’s dairy farm and Louise’s husband had had a heart attack. Neither remarried. When my grandmother was asked why she never married again, she would always say that she could never replace the best. When Louise was asked the same question, I imagine her response might have been, “What Margaret said”.
Instead of remarrying, they chose to remain single and used each other for companionship. This included vacations, dinners, and of course, trips to the movies.
Before Rotten Tomatoes, I would get short summations from them about what movie they had seen the night before at our small one screener, The Ritz. Reviews were always mixed, but one movie that they both agreed they liked was, Ron Howard’s 1984 comedy, Splash.
For those of you too young to remember, Splash was the story of Allen Bauer, played by Tom Hanks, a produce business owner in New York and how he finds his soulmate, but she just happens to be a real-life mermaid. The movie begins with a sepia toned flashback where an eight-year old Hanks instinctively jumps off a small sight-seeing boat off the coast of Cape Cod even though he cannot swim. He sees a blonde girl of the same age in the ocean and realizes that with her he can now breathe underwater. Hanks is quickly pulled back to the surface, and as an adult he believes his experience with the young mermaid to be a hallucination.
When Splash came to home-video I was about seven. If you believe my embarrassing misconception about the movie was that I thought mermaids were real, then you’d be dead wrong. But I was in awe of how innovative and lucky the filmmakers were to have started filming the movie twenty years prior to capture the flashback scene between Hanks and Darryl Hannah when they were only kids. It never even occurred to me that the director had hired two different actors to play the same character.
My greater misconception was that Grandma and Louise were just two old women whose lives were compartmentalized to enjoying movies, cruises and food, but companionship is nothing without a little adventure. Evident of their deep friendship was the fact that Louise would ride around with my grandmother forcing their way into other people’s business. Perhaps inspired by Grandma’s love for Harlequin Romances mixed with and unhealthy amount of soaps and Divorce Court, they both became sleuths. An outsider would have called them busybodies, but since it’s my own grandma, I’ll say that she and Louise were amateur extra marital detectives. On a whim, Grandma and Louise would chariot around a rumored victim in an affair and stalk the two-timing husband and try to catch him in the act. Sometimes this would take weeks. Many times, they would give the aggrieved wife the evidence and/or the courage that she needed to move on with her life.
I can imagine, my grandma, binoculars around her neck, behind the steering wheel, moving through rural Georgia. Louise is in the passenger seat, lit cigarette in her mouth, taking notes and occasionally grumbling, “What a bastard,” while a bewildered wife looks on wildly from the backseat of Grandma’s green Chevy Nova, wondering what in the ever-living hell had she gotten herself into.
When she turned 80, my grandmother was admitted to Providence Care Nursing home. After a year at her new residence something peculiar happened. My dad went by for his daily visit with her and what he found was not the cheerful mother that he usually saw; the one who was either reading her Harlequins or watching the Braves game. Grandma was slumped over in her bed, sobbing into her pillow.
“Mama, what is it? What’s wrong?”, he said.
“Oh, Louise!”, Grandma said. “Louise is dead!”
My father assured her that Louise was very much alive.
Maybe it was a premonition by someone who was so connected to another person, but the next day Louise did indeed die. My grandmother was heartbroken.
Two years later, my grandmother died from her own heart failure.
Soulmate doesn’t always mean the person that you’ve fallen in love with. Sometimes a soul mate is the person who you’ve grown with the most. Soulmates can be forged by experience. And I truly believe that Grandma and Louise were partners in crime, partners in life, and were most assuredly soulmates.
For my grandmother, if heaven exists, I imagine it in sepia tones and instead of pearly gates, I see her being ferried to heaven in a small tour boat. She has been transformed to a young girl of eight. She looks out in the water and sees another young girl with short dark curls, swimming freely in the water, a high waisted mermaid. It’s Louise. Grandma jumps in, they swim toward each other, they clasp one another’s hands and my grandmother can breathe once again.