© 2008, Karen Van Fossan
I shouldn't start this story with Ferne. I should start with the vandalism. The crime. Impeachment. No offense, Ferne. But 98-year-old women don't make headlines very much. Anyway, I have to start this story with you. This story is all because of you – your habit of living uphill. See, mostly, I'm a bicycle person. I'd rather be a boat person. But you and I live in Bismarck. You, at the top of the highest hill. Me, at the bottom. Which brings me back to my bicycle. I am not in love with uphill biking. As far as I'm concerned, it sucks. (Have you heard that expression?) It sucks so much that sometimes I don't bike – I walk.
And that's where it started. For me anyway. I was scaling Hillside Park. On my way to you, Ferne. Finding every shortcut I could find. Squeezing past fences. Winding around the springtime trees. Darting through parts of the park I otherwise wouldn't have known.
And that's when it happened. Bam! I was face to face with...something. At first, I thought, a gravestone. But, Ferne, do you know what it was? The Ten Commandments. And I don't mind telling you, I gaped. I gaped hard.
But that gape was nothing. Compared to this. By now it was winter, the coldest day of the year. Huffing and puffing, my eyelashes freezing, my fingers turning stiff in my gloves, I wound my way through Hillside Park – making my visit to you.
And here we go. Another bam. The Ten Commandments, vandalized. Footprints on the ground. Spray paint on the monument. One simple word. “Fascism.”
So I ask you, “What does 'fascism' mean to you?”
You lean forward in your easy chair. “What?”
“Fascism,” I answer.
“Oh,” you say. “Fashion?”
I inch myself closer. “Fascism. You know, the political term. Does it mean anything to you?”
Yes, it means plenty. Italy. Heads of state. World War II. Even Bush.
“Now, why hasn't he been impeached?” you like to say.
Then I read you the news. The hardest news we can get. So you can go, “Oh,” with 98 years of compassion in your voice. And later when I'm gone, say a prayer.
People say that nursing homes are lonely, Ferne. People don't want to hear what elderly women have to say. But if you could meet the person who did graffiti on the Commandments – I guess I'm just wondering. Would you and she have plenty to discuss?