I can never think about Apple Sunday without remembering Marvin Nelson’s last day.
It was late on the Sunday before Apple Sunday that I got the call. Marvin had a heart attack; he was in the hospital. I found him in the open ward at the ICU. Marvin, being Marvin, was alert, perky and concerned. He kept pushing aside the ventilator to talk.
I had to yell to be understood; between the whoosh of the ventilator and the shrapnel induced deafness, communication was a challenge.
Marvin wanted to know: would he be out in time to see the soccer game at the high school? would he be able to get the Apples for Apple Sunday?
Ever since he had arrived in Fairfax Marvin and I made the annual trip to Allenholm’s to get the apples for Apple Sunday. First we would look at the animals. The burro: he reminded me that a burro has a cross because it was a donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; then the belgian: Marvin was a classic horse whisperer, he loved all horses.
Then, we would go inside and order the apples. As we waited he would buy me fudge and I would buy us maple cremees.
He would miss this. Marvin knew, in his heart of hearts that he was facing the end. “I want to get the apples this time,” he told me. “Take the money out of my billfold.” And so I did, laughing to myself; I had never heard someone usse the word ‘billfold.’ It was oldfashioned; of a bygone era, like Marvin.
It was a long week. He fussed because they wouldn’t give him coffee; camomile tea just didn’t make it. We decided to give him coffee. On Friday, the day I planned to get the apples, I went to spend the day with him. He realized it was time to take off the machine and put his life in God’s hands. He knew what it meant and was unafraid. I knew it was the last day of his life; I am not sure if his friends did, or if they did, wanted to recognize it.
And then it began. First Joanne Delaney stopped by. Then his good friends the Bakers from Newport Center came by. Now, Mr Baker, a former pro football player, was a big man with a big voice. Along with him, his wife and daughter, we were making a lot of noise in the open ward area, visiting,laughing; far too much noise for the ICU. One of the nurses gladly told us of the empty room and we all paraded to the room laughing and talking as Marvin was rolled in his bed.
Marvin’s brother Roger called and they had a good, long conversation. Unfortunately, his very good friends the Gamms, with whom he had spent many holidays, were not there,
Next the DuPeysters came, another group of old and dear friends from Arlington. Marvin had spent many days helping out with the animals on their farm. He was a beloved friend, as he was to many more than any of us possibly knew.
We were all chatting, smiling, but behind it all was a deep sadness.
“Mahvin,” the Elder DePeyster said in his gravelly Vermont voice, “Mahvin, when you get better you can come down and we can hitch up the horses.”
“But what about the mule, “ Marvin asked.
“Oh, well hitch him up too.”
“How will I get there?”
“Oh, we’ll come and get you.
As the elder DePeyster spoke with Marvin, his daughter and I listened and looked out the window over the city, trying not to cry.
And then one by one, they said their goodbyes and left
It was my turn. I said the Lord’s Prayer with him; thanked him for being who he was; told him I’d see him tomorrow, and left.
By now he was sitting shirtless, his small body moist with perspiration.
I sat in the lobby with a cup of hot chocolate, trying not to think. Arriving at Allenholm’s I went to look at the burro, tears beginning to well in the corners of my eyes. I noted the cross on its back; I looked at the horse.
Going inside I bravely went to the counter to ask for two bushels of utility macs. I opened my mouth to speak and burst into tears.
Walking away, I wondered what the clerk thought about this strange old lady crying over apples.
Arriving home I checked my messages. The nurse from the ICU called and asked that I call him.
In a kindly voice he told me that he was in the room with Marvin, and he turned around and Marvin had, without a sound, gently gone into that good night. I am glad Marvin wasn’t alone.
Marvin had died at about the time I was out there getting apples.
The entire BFA running team was at my house for their pre-race pasta dinner. Running outside I found my husband who needed no words and hugged me.
Dan Gibson was standing nearby and I told him that Marvin Nelson had died.
‘Oh, ‘ he said, “The little man who helps.
I went into the house to make the phone calls.