Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meeting Mrs N

From my journal this summer, when we traveled to Maine:

Old age has never seemed a horrible thing to me, because I’ve always liked what a lot of time can make of a person.  Today, for example, after church, I turned around and saw a small, spry, elderly woman with few teeth and many wrinkles, alone in the pew behind me.  With one leg swung up on the seat, she sat looking around at the others standing and talking after the service.  I didn’t even think about it; I just got up, took my cushions, and moved to sit next to her.  I knew I would be welcome.

We immediately held hands.  I let her hit me on the back.  “You don’t mind if I pat you, do you?” she asked.  The “patting” wasn’t so good for me, but it seemed very good for her, so I let her.  She patted me a lot.

She said, “It isn’t right to have to live alone,” and started crying.  I located her purse and she located the tissues in the side pocket.  She said that although she lives alone she has a bench outside her house where she sits and blows kisses to the handsome men who walk by.  I asked her some questions, and as she answered, she came around again to the bench, the handsome men, and the kisses.  Then she said she was just teasing.  Teasing me, or teasing them?  Spinning a tale, or reporting her activities?  I wasn’t sure.  When the rector came by to say hello, she blew him a kiss, and I guessed my answer.

She said she was from Aroostook County.  She didn’t remember what her parents did; she did remember picking potatoes.  “There’s a lot of potatoes in Aroostook county.”  I said that’s what I’d heard.

“Oh yes, have you ever picked potatoes?” she asked.

“No,” I confessed.

“You have a basket,” she said.  “You dig in the ground, pull the potatoes out, put them in the basket, and then transfer your basket into the barrel.  When the man comes around to empty your barrel, he writes you down for 25 cents.”

She left as a teenager to attend vocational college, where she learned to type, which she demonstrated for me in the air with her notably agile digits.  She married, had one child.  He was a taxi driver.  Now he’s retired—she says, joking, “I call him retarded.”  She tells me this several times.  Her husband died a few years ago but she “keeps him on the dresser,” which I took to mean his photograph, but she did not specify.  Her two brothers and sister are dead as well.

“It must be hard to lose all the people close to you,” I said.

“Yes, oh yes,” she said, tearing up again.  Then she sat up very straight and announced, “I’m going to be big and strong and I’m going to, as I like to say . . .” She paused a moment before leaning forward to my ear and saying quietly, “kick ass.”

She sat back and looked at me.  I smiled and said, “Oh, you do.”

“Don’t grow old,” she told me.  I hope I do, I thought silently.  The alternative is dying young.  And I hope I can love age in myself, though I know it won’t be easy.


  1. No, not easy for anyone, I think. But easier for people who have practised a little.

    Wonderful post, Priscilla.

  2. The older I get, the wiser I don't. If it's awkward to feel like I'm still figuring everything out at almost 41, I'm going to be extremely chagrinned when I'm in my 80s.

    But yeah, beats the alternative.

  3. Lovely post Priscilla. As always, it's good to hear from you.

  4. love this: "“Don’t grow old,” she told me. I hope I do, I thought silently. The alternative is dying young. And I hope I can love age in myself, though I know it won’t be easy."


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