Tuesday, March 13, 2012
It is the middle of March in Ohio and 70 degrees outside. This is a rare and beautiful thing so Westley, Scout and I appropriately decided to seize the day and go for a walk at the park in our neighborhood. The weather had brought out lots of people and we took our normal path. Westley bounced in his sling on my hip and Scout dug in her heals to sniff the grass. We walked past the playground and the community center, through some squishy wet grass and back again.
On the path back to where we started there was a small old woman ahead with white hair, a teal jacket and a large branch she was using as a walking stick. I knew immediately when I saw her that we would stop and talk with her. I counted on it. I obviously don’t feel this way about everyone, but there are these rare special moments sometimes when I see someone and I just know somehow that we will connect. So as we walked by she looked up, smiled, greeted us, stopped to see the baby and commented on the weather. “Can you believe how warm? It’s supposed to be this nice all week! Better not open up the storm windows until at least Easter though, just in case.” She was wearing sunglasses with a slight cat eye and had a leopard print silk scarf around her neck. Petit and pretty with a warm inviting spirit to her. I felt instantly comfortable.
She told me she was 86 years old and she had 5 children.
Ronald, Joshua, Susan, Timothy and one that I have trouble recalling the name of.
Her husband and her met in high school. They were juniors. He graduated and got drafted into World War II. She worked while he was away and when he came home on a leave they got married.
Her eldest son died in his mid-sixties. He traveled all over the world as a CEO of a company. One day he was working out and had a massive heart attack.
Her husband had passed away 2 years ago this month. They were married 65 years and 2 months to the day.
I told her I was so sorry and asked her how she was doing with that.
She said to me, “The only thing I can think is that God must be keeping me here for a purpose. Everyday I ask him to take me so I can be with him. It is so hard.”
Her voice broke and we hugged. It was a long hug. The kind you would give to someone you know well.
I told her I could not imagine that sort of pain. I said that I had only been married for 4 years to my husband, but that to lose him would be like losing part of me.
She nodded, tears in her eyes. I wiped some from mine.
I told her that 65 years was amazing. That it was inspirational. That I needed to hear that marriages could last. That I wanted to hear more success stories, because sometimes it feels like all I know are the divorce stories.
She gave me advice. She said that it isn’t about you going off to do your thing and him going off to do his. That marriage is compromise. She said that her husband worked two jobs to provide and ended up with pneumonia and so she started working. She worked for a company with biscuit in the name of it, I can’t remember exactly. But I do remember that she packed cookies and crackers into boxes.
She said that they would take 4 mile long walks together around their neighborhood until one day a young kid in a car jeered out his window, “Your woman is leaving you behind!” in jest because she always walked faster than him. And he said, “Well that is it!” and they laughed about it together but didn’t go on walks anymore. She told me, “When you get married it is about you and your husband and your children. Not anyone else. You can’t take care of everyone else, you have to put your own family first. I told my kids not to worry about us. If we get sick God will take care of us here, they shouldn’t disrupt their families. God would know how to take care of us.”
She said that she promised her husband she would never ever put him in a home. No matter how sick he got. That she didn’t care if she had to crawl to take care of him, she would keep her promise. And she did. I could have lost it right there if I would have let myself. But I wanted to hear more so I held it together and asked about how her kids were doing.
She told me that her eldest son enlisted in the Vietnam War. She said he went to Ohio State for 2 semesters, came home one day and said “I enlisted.” and she said to him, “Do you have any idea what you just signed up for?” and he said yes. He said he knew that she and his Father couldn’t afford to send him to school and he wanted to take care of it somehow. She said that he was part of intelligence and that he never talked about what he did. She said her husband never talked about World War II either. Never said a word about it. She was against the current war. She said, “we never should have gone there in the first place”. Even though her son that went to Vietnam, survived, came home, became a successful business man and had since died of a heart attack you could still sense worry in her about him going off to war as if it happened yesterday. As if that moment never left her. And somehow, being a Mother myself now, I understood.
Her second oldest son died at the age of 17. “He was born with a heart condition. The doctors were shocked that he made it as long as he did.” And that is all she said about that.
She told me how she had one more child that she “missed” and I knew by the way she said it that she meant miscarried. It was her 6th. “All I can think is that it wasn’t meant to be.” Her eyes looked far away somewhere. I imagined that she could see that unborn baby’s face. Westley’s face has always been with me even before he was born, I knew him somehow and so I’m sure that baby’s face and spirit is with her too.
She was proud of her children. She said they didn’t have much but they stole from Peter to pay Paul and sent their kids to private school so they could get good educations.
“I don’t let the kids know how I am really doing though.” she said.
“When they call and ask how I am I say, ‘Good!’ and tell them about my day.” she paused, “I don’t tell them that I cry everyday.”
Her voice broke again and I could see tears welling up behind the tint of her sunglasses.
Then she told me that twice while she was sleeping she woke up to her husband standing at the foot of their bed.
I asked her if that was nice. If it was peaceful.
She said “Oh yes. It brings me so much comfort knowing that he is there for me.”
“Did he say anything to you?” I asked gently. Curious.
“No, no he didn’t say anything. Was just standing there. Yes, God must be keeping me here for something.” She said again. Wistfully.
“I’m sure He is.” I said to her. Not knowing what else to say. Not knowing much compared to this lovely woman.
I asked her if she had anyone close by, if she wanted to take my number in case she needed anything ever. She said she had wonderful neighbors and that she was taken care of. Truth be told, I was asking selfishly. I wanted to talk to her more. I wanted to spend more time with her hearing about her life, her kids, how she raised 5 of them, how it felt to be in love with a man fighting in World War II. I wanted to know more about being married for 65 years.
I could have asked her questions and listened to her answers all day long. But the sun was in Westley’s eyes and he kept dropping our house keys I had handed him which is his sign for, “I’m bored lets get outta here.” and I knew we had to go.
“I’m Candis” I said to her. “And this is Westley and Scout.”
“Mary” she said smiling at us. “He is just beautiful.”
We hugged again.
I wanted to make plans for a walk tomorrow. I wanted to bring her flowers on March 27th. I wanted to become her friend.
But we said “goodbye!”, “hope we run into each other again soon!”, “be safe!” and walked in opposite directions. I looked back at her and she was strolling with confidence at a brisk pace that would never let on that she was 86 years of age. That would never let on that she cries every day.
***The names of the woman at the park and her children have been changed