We have an acquaintance, a very tiny, very elderly woman in her 90s who actually lives across the street from one of our rentals. She was always very interested in the renovation work we were doing, and she loved William, having followed his exploits in the newspaper for some years.
Tim has been mowing her tiny lawn for her for a couple of summers now. She stored her lawnmower in the basement of her house, and at the age of 90, was finding it just too difficult to wrestle it up the stairs.
We try to look out for her. Just by happenstance, we happened to discover that in the early days of the pandemic, she was afraid to leave her house. She didn't have a mask. We were horrified to think of her afraid to leave her house for groceries or anything else. I know a friend who makes them and gives them away (shout out to Mary who, after a year, has made over 5000 masks). I messaged Mary, and God love her, she had two masks on my doorstep within 24 hours. I dropped them off in Miss W's mailbox, but we knew we needed to keep a close eye on her doing the isolation.
Anyway, Miss W lives in her neat as a pin little house, with a carpeted porch that gets swept daily. She's a feisty thing and a woman of strong opinions and this can turn people off. It doesn't bother us.
She likes to talk, and I think she is a very lonely soul. I do have to tell you that sometimes when she calls, I just can't bring myself to answer it because once I do, it is hard to get off the line with her. Why just last week, she called at what would be Tim's break time. I happened to to be on my way to the bathroom, and grabbed the phone in passing without checking the ID. I assumed it was Tim and you know what they say about people who assume.
Long story short, it's not a big deal to speak with my husband while peeing, but I was mortified to do that within earshot of anyone else. I tried desperately to cut the conversation short, and my spirits would raise when I heard her say, "Well, okay then..." only to have it followed up with "Say, I meant to ask..." You will be pleased to know that I did not wet my pants, but I. Thought. I. Was. Going. To. Die.
I always feel a little guilty at cutting the poor dear short, because she really is an amazing woman. She was raised in a home with an alcoholic father and a very sick mother (crippling arthritis that gradually left her bedbound and so contracted she could not even feed herself). Her father left as soon as our friend graduated high school, and that was that. She went to work at a local company and worked there for the rest of her life, rushing home to care for her mother on her lunch hour, and raising her younger siblings. She sent them to college, too, and simply assumed the increasing responsibilities of caring for her failing mother.
After her mother died, she simply remained in the little house they had always lived in, and she worked the rest of her life at the local company. She never married. It is not a sad story, not the way she tells it. It was simply doing what needed to be done. Now 90, she has one sister left.
She's had to be very thrifty all her life, and she watches every penny. Something that became increasingly worrisome to her was her carpeted steps. After years, they had worn through on the edges where the riser meets the tread, and she was afraid that someone would trip on them and sue her, although, as she said, the only one who actually used her front porch was the mailman. I imagine also that it had something to do with her little house. She is very houseproud, as people of her generation tended to be. She didn't like the look of those frayed steps.
She asked Tim if he would help her with that project. Tim always says yes. He'd hate to think of someone taking advantage of her, and sad to say, there are a lot of people who prey on the elderly.
The job had an indefinite time frame that became (of necessity) definite when our friend took it upon herself to go into her attic where she'd stashed the left over carpeting from when she had her porch covered 15 or more years ago. She grabbed the roll and began pulling it out of the attic and then down the stairs, scooting on her butt and pulling it along. She'd gotten it all the way down to the first floor and could not lift it, so there is sat, blocking her stairway. "It's okay, though!" she cheerfully said, "I have a bathroom on the first floor!"
We were horrified, but there was absolutely no sense to tell her that she oughtn't be doing that. She does what she pleases.
On one of the beautiful days last week, when Tim came home early because they were out of work, we went over to Miss. W's house and tore that old carpet off, and scraped the old glue, and pulled the old staples.
While we worked, Miss W regaled us with the stories of what it was like to grow up in this town 80 years ago, back in the day when children left school to come home for lunch if they wanted. Nobody thought anything at all of her walking down Pennsylvania Ave and across the Glade Bridge to visit an aunt (a distance of over a mile). She talked about the games they played and the teachers she had, the bread that they baked for Easter that was in the shape of a basket, because that's what Polish people do, and about the wooden Easter basket that she had, with little metal rosettes that was used for the Easter table. She still had that, and would never get rid of it. It was her mother's and had belonged to her mother...
Her voice trailed off. Standing at the bottom of the steps, I looked up at her standing on her porch. "Nobody will want this stuff when I'm gone. I've been getting rid of it. My mother had an old bowl she used for bread. It was huge, a crockery thing, with blue and pink rings around it. I held on to it for years. I don't know why. It doesn't match with my kitchen. I put it out in the recycle. I put it out on top. I hoped that someone would see it and want it.
I recognized the color scheme, and wondered if it was McCoy, something that was popular back in the 20s/30s and I was horrified. "Miss W, you do NOT want to be throwing stuff like that in your recycle. Bowls like that are very collectible. It is worth money!"
She looked surprised. "Really?"
"Yes," I answered. "I would have grabbed that bowl out of your recycling."
She considered this. "I had a sugar bowl and creamer set, it was a strange color of green..."
I said, "Was it jadeite?"
"What's jadeite?" she asked.
I said, "Miss W. The best advice that I can give you is that you shouldn't throw one more thing away until you run it by an appraiser."
She considered this.
We finished up her steps and left the trimming on the side for the next day. I told her about my cherry tomato plants and offered to bring her one.
When we left, we argued about money, as usual. Gas has gone up and her monthly gas budget had gone up by $20. She was very vocal about blaming Mr. Biden, since he's shut down a lot of gas lines since he took office. We didn't bother trying to explain that it wasn't true. She's talking about the Keystone Pipeline which already exists, and the 'building' they spoke of was rerouting an already operational pipeline. The jobs touted would have been temporary jobs that ended when reconstruction was complete. But the pipeline is and remains functioning. She also ranted about the poor children being abused in the detention camps. We listened without comment. She explained that she sets her alarm for one am to get up and listen to a Catholic newscast that she feels gives her the truth.
She was pleased with her steps and asked about the price. We charged a nominal fee, enough to outrage her because she felt as if we were giving her a special deal (we were) and we allowed her to dicker the price up, and then gave half of it back. It's a tradition at this point, but she's a woman who supported her family from her teen years making 40 cents an hour. She's spent a lifetime looking out for everyone else, and we like to tell her that it is her turn...we're looking out for her.