I have an addiction. And it’s not to chocolate, or Netflix, or to coffee, but it’s to old ladies. You know, those little old ladies that carry humongous purses and who wear strong perfume and whose homes smell funny. They walk very slowly in their Alfred Dunner outfits and they buy their shoes from the SAS store. I love them.
I grew up watching my mother love old ladies. Honestly, as a teenager, I thought it was a waste of time. She would take me to their homes and I would be bored to tears. Her first old lady was sweet Gwendolyn – she lived alone in the bad part of town and she was strongly independent. The next old lady was Catherine, who was a genteel Southern lady who loved to make crafts. And then there was Sybil, an avid gardener whose daylilies continue to grow in my yard.
My mother set a wonderful example for me of how to love old ladies. Her old ladies have all passed on, but their friendships with my mother shaped the woman I would become.
I found my first old lady when I was 29 years old. I saw her puttering down the sidewalk in my neighborhood and I thought she had escaped from the nearby retirement home. She saw me gardening, and since I am short and had short hair at the time, she thought I was a child left alone outside and she wondered where my mother was. At 87 years old, “Miss Ivy,” as my family called her, was three times my age. We met and we became fast friends.
She did not drive so the children (ages 2 and 4 at the time) and I took her to doctor’s appointments, to the bank and to the grocery store. In return, she took us out took to lunch, which was the ticket to my heart. She also walked to my home each Sunday afternoon and folded our massive loads of laundry. She was Cuban so she told us stories of how she fled Cuba during the Baptista revolution and immigrated to New York City. She tried, unsuccessfully, to teach me Spanish.
Ivy became a part of our family and we loved and cared for her for five years. She came to dance recitals and birthday parties. Once she was locked outside of her house and five year old Greg and I broke into a bathroom window. We said goodbye to Ivy in 2005 and I still miss her. Every year for the past 12 years, I have taken fresh flowers to her grave. She wished she could watch my children grow up, so I always give her an update. I loved her so much.
Not long after Ivy passed, God gave me a new old lady to love that I met through the “Meals on Wheels” program. One day, the director said to me, “I’m going to assign you to the route that Frances Smith is on. She’s amazing. You need to look out for her.” So then the children and I met “Ms. Frances.” She was wearing mismatched plaid clothing and trudging around her kitchen with her walker. She was 93 when we met, but her mind was as sharp as a tack. She was brilliant and her large vocabulary astounded me.
Frances soon became bedridden so I would visit her in her bedroom. She hoarded newspapers so you could barely move around in her bedroom. On one such visit, Frances told me that she was afraid to die. I shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with her and she asked Jesus to be her Lord and savior. What an honor to be a part of that important decision that determined where she would spend eternity. Soon after, Frances was moved to a nursing home.
For the next eight years, I visited Frances about once a month in the nursing home. I would always put on my flashiest shirts and shiniest jewelry because Frances liked beautiful things. She would touch the material of my clothing, and touch my necklace, bracelet and earrings. Since had three sons and no daughters, my feminine touches brightened up her day. I will never forget her smile of delight when we came to visit.
I would take her little gifts, like pens or magnifying glasses or scissors. She loved biscuits, sharp cheddar cheese, blueberries, and of course chocolate! We decorated her room with photos and pictures that Brian, Gregory, and Hannah drew for her. She loved when I combed her hair and she loved to watch anyone dance, especially Hannah. She became a part of our family.
Frances turned 103 years old on Christmas day. I could tell in the last six months that she was declining. She slept a lot, didn’t eat very much, and her memory started to fade. Even when she couldn’t remember my name, she still noticed my hair and my shirt and my jewelry. Two weeks ago, she left this world and entered eternity with Jesus. I was the woman at the funeral who was not dressed in black, but who had on a flashy shirt and gaudy jewelry. Just for her.
For the last sixteen yeas of my life, I’ve had an “old lady” to love and once again I am without one. I’m already praying and asking God to send me a new old lady.
These women have given to me far more than the time and attention that I gave to them.
We live in a society where the elderly are often forgotten and not valued. They no longer have attractive faces or agile bodies, but they possess a wisdom and value that cannot be measured. We need these old ladies. They have something to offer us that is hard for us to find in other places. It is unconditional love.
They are wrinkled and gnarled and outspoken and debilitated, but they are so beautiful.
As I pray for a new old lady to love, I pray that your life will also intersect with an old man or an lady that you can love, too. Your life will be forever impacted by the friendship that God creates. I promise.