Charlotte Davis saved all her life to make sure she’d have enough to live on in her old age, but she had never counted on living to the age of 102.
Charlotte Davis’s greatest fear had always been that she’d outlive her husband, and that happened when she was only 71. Orson had been a great big man with a loud laugh and a kind word for everyone, but at 78 he was gone.
Some terrible disease she couldn’t pronounce whittled away every scrap of flesh from his bones, and one day, Charlotte found him dead, sitting on his chair on the porch, just gone. She sat down and just cried because she was alone. And she’d be alone for a lot longer than she’d ever imagined.
If there was one thing Orson and Charlotte had always been careful about, it’s money. They married young, back before the war (Charlotte always thought of the war against Hitler and them Nazis as ‘the War’) and Orson had been sent off to the South Pacific front.
Charlotte had started working in a uniform factory, and when the war was won and Orson was home, the factory started making smart shirts for businessmen.
Charlotte had been a good seamstress, the best they had, so they asked her to stay on. Orson didn’t like her working at first, he grumbled a lot about how it was a man’s place to provide, but she talked him round.
Even when their son, little Orson, was born in ’48, she carried on working. Every paycheck that came in from the factory went into a special bank account. “This here,” Charlotte told Orson, “is for Lil’Orson’s future.”
Orson wasn’t doing so badly either. He did the accounts for the tool & die shop, and the drug store, and just about every small business in town. They were doing well and were even talking about buying a new car.
Lil’Orson wasn’t so little anymore, so he got his driver’s license. He kept pushing Orson to go to that fancy car stand every single day, but it all ended when Lil’Orson got a letter from the government telling him he had to go to war.
Orson read the letter and said, “Well, boy, I went and did my bit, and I guess now it’s your turn.” Lil’ Orson shrugged and said he’d reckon he’d go though he didn’t rightly know where Vietnam was, and he did.
Charlotte never saw her boy again. They sent a metal box to her two years later and said Lil’Orson was inside, but it wasn’t real to Charlotte. Orson cried a lot when he thought Charlotte couldn’t hear, but she never shed a tear.
She just carried on her life, going to the factory, running the machine, trimming the thread. Those were things she understood, things that had order and reason, not like boys coming back in steel boxes.
For a long time, Charlotte went away inside herself, she didn’t even speak to Orson. Then one day, her neighbor Daisy-Anne came by. “Charlotte,” she said. “I need a favor from you and it’s a mighty big one.”
Charlotte just looked at her and nodded. Daisy-Anne’s boy Timothy had died in the little war too. They understood each other. “I have to go to Ohio to see my girl, but now I have this child they say is Timmy and some china girl’s…”
Charlotte saw that she was holding the hand of a kid about three years old, with black hair and long green eyes. Daisy-Anne shook the kid’s hand but he didn’t move. “Will you take care of him for me? Just for a few days.”
Charlotte couldn’t say no. “Yes,” she said shortly. “Bring his stuff, but tell him I don’t hold with no sass.” But Daisy-Anne’s grandson wasn’t sassy. He didn’t even speak. He just stood there.
When Charlotte thought it was time for him to eat, he ate, when it was time to pee, he peed, when it was time for bed, he slept. And he never said a word. His silence riled Charlotte, so she started humming to him.
He seemed to like “Moonriver” best of all and even started humming along. He was a sweet kid, but he looked dreadful. His clothes were worn, Charlotte noticed.
Then she remembered she had a box of Lil’Orson’s old things back when he was small and asked Orson to fetch it from the attic. Somehow, while she was trying on Lil’Orson’s pajamas on the boy, Charlotte discovered she was crying.
The boy put out his fingers and touched her cheek. Then he put his arms around and cried too. He never did become much of a talker, but he and Charlotte became companions in silence, even after Daisy-Anne came back — and by then the few days had turned into six months.
Oh, those years went so fast! Before long Orson was retiring and stomping around the house complaining about everything. There were some good years before Orson became sick, though.
Then he called Charlotte. “Listen, I’m not going to be lasting long, so you have to take care of yourself.” In his careful accountant’s way he worked out that with her pension supplemented by their savings, she’d live comfortably. “Why,” Orson said, “you can live until you’re 90, and you’ll still be alright!”
But Orson didn’t count on Charlotte living past 90, let alone 100. Charlotte reached 90 with no sign of dying, and now she was 102 and the saved-up money was all gone.
The bills still came, regular as clockwork, and Charlotte didn’t know what to do. There was no one left to turn to. Every friend — and enemy — had died. Charlotte was the oldest woman in town, and she had no family.
The government sent a letter saying she owed taxes on her house, but she didn’t even have money for the water and lights, let alone taxes. Charlotte first told Mr. Greyson who’d been delivering her groceries for years.
“Mr. Greyson, you’d best not put in my weekly order anymore,” she said.
Mr. Greyson put down the groceries on Charlotte’s kitchen table and stared. “Why not, Miss Charlotte? Are you ordering in from that big supermarket now?”
“No, sir,” said Charlotte. “But I don’t order goods I don’t have money to pay.”
“But…How will you…” Mr. Greyson saw Charlotte’s determined face and gave up. He had an idea of his own, and he was going to get right on it.
Three days later, Charlotte put on her best hat and went to the bank. She drew her last few dollars and went to settle her bills as best she could. The woman looked at her electricity bill, then at the computer, and said, “There must be a mistake, ma’am, this is fully paid.”
“But…” Charlotte said. “But I didn’t pay it!”
At the water company, the same thing happened. “Ma’am, your account is settled,” the man told Charlotte. Even more surprising for Charlotte, the IRS said the land taxes were all paid up too.
“That’s just not possible!” Charlotte cried. “I want to know who paid!”
“It was your grandson, Mrs. Davis,” the man said. “A Mr. T. Karling. I believe he works for the city? He’s an engineer.”
“I don’t HAVE a grandson, young man!” Charlotte cried. “My only son died in Vietnam in 1969!”
Charlotte went straight to City Hall and demanded to speak to Mr. T. Karling. After a lot of running back and forth and bother, a tall man in his 50s with white hair appeared.
Charlotte stared at him. He had gentle features and long green eyes, and he smiled when he saw her.
“Who are you?” Charlotte asked. “And why are you paying my bills?” The man didn’t answer, instead, he started humming “Moon River” and Charlotte knew! It was Daisy-Anne’s little grandson, all grown up!
Tim stepped forward and put his arms around her. “It’s OK, Charlotte, Mr. Greyson told me everything,” he said. “You’re not alone and I’m going to help you just like you helped me.” And Charlotte hugged him right back.
Tim had never been much for talking, but he always said the right words! When people heard that the town’s oldest woman didn’t have money to pay her bills, they started a GoFundMe page and Charlotte’s empty savings account quickly filled up again.
Charlotte has become quite a celebrity. She’s been hanging around with Tim and his grandchildren and looks forward to celebrating her 103rd birthday with no worries!
What can we learn from this story?
- An act of kindness is never forgotten. Charlotte’s kindness to one tiny war orphan was remembered 50 years later and brought her the security she thought she’d lost.
- The elderly are the memory of our community and they need to be protected. Charlotte became more and more alone, and only her community’s help saved her.
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