I drive through the apartment complex to the last dusty street. When I find No. 210, at dusk, it faces a ragged field where fill dirt is dumped among the weeds. From the outside, the apartment is similar to those I have rented other winters. The front door will open to a small hall; the kitchen is on the other side of the window facing me now. These places are always bright and comfortable -- flowered plates in the china cabinet, pictures of Paris or London on the wall, that kind of thing. For a month I will settle in. I will spend time with my daughter and her family, who live in this small Florida town.
I turn the key and go in. There is a dismal difference. In the living room are a sofa and upholstered chair, an end table, a lamp, a table for eating, and a dresser. In the other bedroom, a desk and lamp. It looks like the last day of a sale. I sit down in the semidarkness and peer through the glass doors that lead to a patio. I can see grass and a darkened apartment across the way.
I rented the place sight unseen. My husband will be flying down from Ohio in a week. I move a lamp to the bedroom with the bed in it and find sheets in the hall closet. So far so good. Tomorrow I will consider painting a mural and hiring a trio.
In the morning, I drive to my daughter's and call the rental agent. He is sympathetic and offers to refund the month's rent. The gesture is unexpected and boosts my spirits. I open the Yellow Pages and call every rental agent in town. It is February, the height of the season, and nothing is available. I gaze into the telephone looking for help. It is my husband's vacation, too, and I want a few rainbows for him.
I sit there dully and hear my daughter say, ``Mother, let's make an adventure of it.'' The day brightens. I smile at her. Her name is Lephia, with a long ``e.''
Good things begin to happen. I call the pro shop at the golf course and ask if I can ``find a game.'' Someone returns the call and tells me to come on out. I am introduced to Win and John Milton. They are witty and fun to be with. Before we reach the second tee, I tell them my story, and they become part of the adventure. It is a harmonious morning. When we leave the golf course, I show them the apartment, and then I follow them home.
When I leave their house, I have a framed picture of a cathedral, two footstools with orange and yellow leather tops, a bouquet of silken poppies much prettier than any mural I can paint, and a small television. I can cancel the trio. These kind people met me today, and they are, with delight, furnishing my home.
The real estate agent offers to pay half the cost, so Lephia and I hire a man with a pickup truck to move box springs and mattresses from her sleeping porch. These will be set up in the second bedroom for Matt, Julie, and Paul, the grandchildren.
From my daughter's yard, I borrow a garden table with fancy metal legs and an imitation marble top.
Then she and I go to the shopping mall and course through the aisles of a department store. We find a lamp like a yellow mushroom, kitchen curtains with a ruffle, and, in the fabric department, a remnant of yellow material for the dinette chairs. She presents me with a gift of staples: rice, tea, flour, and sugar. At the grocery store, we add oranges and bananas, breakfast food, milk, two candles, and yellow paper towels.
Back in the apartment, I sew the curtains under those already at the kitchen window. Adds a little something. She takes the seats out of the chairs and cuts yellow fabric in squares to fit, leaving an allowance, as they say, to turn under and fasten with big safety pins. When we are finished, we sit down to admire our handiwork. With the help of friends, we have made a rainbow.
The grandchildren take turns staying with me. They bring books and magazines. I bake an upside-down cake, light the candles, and we have a party.
Brutus, the Labrador retriever, visits. He loves the ragged field with its tantalizing rabbits, and he takes me walking in the evening.
I look forward to my husband's arrival. I will tell him about the Miltons, about the apartment. ``Mother, let's make an adventure of it.'' First I will tell him of that transforming moment when I heard those words.