Peck. Peck. Peck. At first I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. Then I realized it was coming from my front porch. It was Miss Mary, our elderly neighbor, bringing another rainbow token of her bounteous green thumb. She always brought me flowers. She would cross through the patch of woods between her house and ours in her little motorized chair. Ever since she’s had it she has given that chair a workout that NASCAR would envy.
If I didn’t visit her at least twice a week, she came over to find out why not, each time bringing a bouquet, or a cucumber, a couple of tomatoes, or a few homemade apple turnovers. But she always had something in her hands for us. Sometimes we would return in kind with a few blooms of our own, or share a holiday meal with her. Even had a multiple birthday party one year that included my family and hers. Miss Mary’s son and my daughter share the same birthday and Miss Mary’s own birthday is just the day before theirs. So we had a houseful. When my mother was alive, she and Miss Mary would visit back and forth and sometimes watch the NASCAR races together. After all, Alabama boasts the Talladega Superspeedway.
Christmas Eves we’d walk over to Miss Mary’s. She enjoyed cooking for us and setting a Christmas table. Then we would exchange gifts. She always insisted she have something for each of us. When we had Bible study at our house a few years ago (I think it lasted about a year) one of the guys would escort her little zooming chair from her door to ours. Everyone would bring food and we had a great time of learning and fellowship. Miss Mary was in her element then.
Over the years the trees Miss Mary planted have grown big and her little trailer blends, almost hidden among them. It is all she has left in the world. And she hangs on to everything. Every gift is precious. Every stick of furniture has a memory — most of it acquired through hard work and sacrifice. She grew up in a hard-scrabble farming family, moving from one place to another. She was often hungry, thankful even for the bruised apples people would sometimes give them. She was cooking for the family by the age of five.
And between early disastrous marriages and children, life didn’t get much better. She raised them mostly on her own, working for starvation wages here and there. Even today, she never ever takes food for granted. Her house looks like it’s being prepared for the apocalypse.
Even though her health steadily declined after moving out here beside her daughter, she never let bad days keep her from her flowers, or her vegetable garden. As her daughter works long hours, sometimes seven days a week, Miss Mary was often alone and lonely. The home health nurses started coming out, and, eventually, Hospice.
One of the nurses found her a dog. A little Scottie mix that she named “Scottie”. She sunk all her love into this constant and devoted companion. He slept by her bed and sat by her chair, or walked by her motorized chair whenever she could get out again. But Scottie had health problems. The person who helped her get the little dog also helped her pay for the vet bills. But Scottie never did get much better. When he died, Miss Mary was inconsolable. My husband Mike dug the grave and buried him beside her house with a pile of rocks to commemorate the site.
Afterward, her loneliness and grieving knew no bounds. But a few months later, someone found her another scottie. People kept trying to help Miss Mary find another name for him, but she just finally gave up. He became “Scottie II”. I’ll never forget the day Scottie II came home to Miss Mary. He was a hyper little character and promptly got loose from the lady who brought him. Mike tried to corner him, but Scottie II was one fast little doggie. As I watched everyone trail after and chase the little booger, I got the idea to just sit down and call to him with sweet talk. That did the trick. He was playing with the others, but he was curious about me — and apparently liked the sweet talk.
It wasn’t long before Miss Mary and Scottie II were inseparable. And Scottie lets no one near Miss Mary unless they pass his barking, growling inspection first. He’ll be your friend, but you have to show yourself to be totally non-threatening first.
A couple of months ago, Miss Mary’s body had a major showdown with her spirit. All power to stand or walk totally flowed from her and left her bedridden. “I could feel it when it happened,” she said. “All my energy dropped down down down.” Ever since then, her daughter has been looking for a nursing home. A good home, near all her old friends, and church family. Her daughter has been juggling long work hours and caregiving in between ever since. Now, finally, they have found a good home for Miss Mary, and she will be moved in a couple of weeks.
I’ve been filling in the gaps in the mornings and around lunch, sometimes a few minutes in the evening. My sister Katie spent a Saturday morning by her side. She has gotten a little more stable with time, and can sit up in her big mechanized chair two or three hours a day. I fix her coffee sometimes, a little oatmeal, and help her get up and down.
This morning I donned my big pink fluffy bathrobe over my clothes and trekked over. The sun was beaming beautifully in a bright blue sky through white puffy clouds, but the wind was crisp as it rattled and swirled the fall leaves, most of them brown now. The first order of business was to let Scottie out, then I turned to Miss Mary. She wasn’t doing well this morning. Her appetite, which has been on the decline, is now almost non-existent. I talked her into drinking one of those vitamin subsidy drinks like Ensure.
The girl who used to come to do housekeeping changed to another company, though she comes back periodically. After seeing to Miss Mary, I picked up a few leaves that had found their way in and dumped some dog chow into Scottie’s bowl, along with some fresh water into the other. I sat by Miss Mary’s bed for while. She told me she thought of my mother the other day. I told her that I sometimes dream of her and Scottie. That made her smile.
She worries about her flowers and plants. Someone had brought them all in for the cold weather. I watered them for her. Later, when I let Scottie back in, he ran to the toy box and brought me back his chosen plaything — I think it’s a floppy cloth frog. I played tug and keep-away for a couple of minutes, then threw it through the kitchen. He bounded after it time after time. Just when Miss Mary and I thought he was about ready for a rest, he took the old toy over to his toy box and selected a new one — Squeaky. And the game was afoot again.
This has been my routine except for a brief time-out for a nasty cold recently. It’s not the most pleasant of jobs for anyone. But neither is it pleasant for the older woman who now lies helpless. She is on oxygen and it wears her out to do even the most menial of bodily movements. Yes. I have to pray for a right attitude. And I have to remind myself that if I live long enough, I’ll be totally dependent on others also. But her eyes light up when she sees me and the Lord gives me an all-pervading peace and love for this woman who always brought us flowers. I’m simply bringing her flowers now — they are the color and essence of friendship and love in action, the only bouquet I can offer — which is what she has always brought to us.