Getting old is no walk in the park. I volunteered a while ago to drive Angie, a lady in her late eighties, to the store to pick up some needed items. The California Department of Motor Vehicles took umbrage with the fact Angie continued operating a motor vehicle once her eyesight had deteriorated to a point an elephant on her couch would have gone unnoticed, and pulled her license several years back. Since then, children out of state, she has depended on volunteers or county ride programs to get her where she needs to go. Must be tough, I’m thinking. Tugging the “in” right out of independence. Independence is chipped away piece by piece as the years pass like a sculptor shaping a face out of marble until the original structure of the stone is no longer recognizable. Knowing Angie is unable to get out of the house often, I suggested we stop for a quick bite of lunch. Still struggling to gather bits of conversations with her second set of hearing aids our dialog consisted of me screaming to be understood and Angie asking “what” when I haven’t uttered a word. Unwilling to allow me to “treat” in spite of her fixed income, I opted for a small coffee shop in town catering to seniors and their pocketbooks. The menu, more a tome, featured a 55+ page with selections such as half sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, pot pies and waffles. It seems as we age we regress in the mind of the writers of such things, because senior menus are generally located right next to the “kids meals”, as though both groups share a common link. Next they’ll be handing out crayons a coloring pages to those with a bit of snow on the roof.
A self-professed “good eater” and little hampered by the dentures recently acquired, the diminutive woman tore into the generously filled tuna sandwich as though the judge had declared it her last meal. Dwarfing her sandwich was a mound of fries suitable for sustaining a family of twelve in Cambodia as well as keeping their livestock going for a month. Words poured out of her between bites as though they’d been stored up and finally set free. I learned as we spoke of her childhood on the east coast, her father’s ministry there and the son she’d lost to appendicitis before he’d celebrated his fifth birthday. Growing up in a farmhouse on an island in Maine, she explained, isolated them from the mainland. Angie was home schooled, and with no children her age nearby shared her childhood instead with the abundant wildlife prevalent in the area. Whispering her secrets and dreams in the ear of a lounging seal on a rocky beach, porpoises playing in the waves, or a hundred pound Labrador retriever answering to Bud not averse to being dressed in hats and coming to tea. The middle child in a family of six and the only girl, on days when the weather conspired to keep her indoors she would write in her diary or draw in her sketch books. Later she would recall her stories in a series of children’s books published to what she referred to as a “selective audience” mainly family and friends. Her deeply grooved face appeared youthful while she spoke, the rich narratives making it easy to picture the beauty of the spot almost allowing me to hear the dark blue waves of the Atlantic slapping against the rock laden beaches.
At night, she went on to say, “Father opened the bible following our supper. In the flickering light of the melting candle, the worn leather book was passed from child to child, each of us asked to read a chapter of our choosing aloud to those in attendance. I always read from Genesis, as it was easiest for my young mind to understand. There are only three of us left these days, but whenever I look at the bible now displayed on my writing desk, I can almost hear their voices. In my mind, of course, for they are long gone and that seems to be the best way to hear for me these days, in my mind”.
I was told Jean, her mother, died before Angie conceived her first child. A virulent cancer which progressed mercifully in a quick and unrelenting manner. At twenty-two she had been an aspiring actress living in New York, Broadway’s footlights squarely in her headlights. Angie’s father met her on a bench in Central Park while visiting for the summer. Before fall dropped it’s first leaf he’d changed her name to his. Filled with enthusiasm and brimming with energy, life had suited her well on the remote island. Despite never hearing her complain of the isolation, Angie always felt there was a hint of sadness lingering behind the ever-present twinkle in her mother’s eyes perhaps telling of a path not taken and a chance passed by. On occasion she would find her mother in the attic sitting next to her lovely silk dresses laid out on the floor, but if there were any regrets, they were never spoken of, at least not to her.
How many blanks were filled in for me during our lunch. Bits and pieces I would never have known about Angie. So much more to the woman beyond her gift for crocheting, evidenced by the delicate afghans adorning the furniture in her small apartment. Names were assigned to the people in the photographs lined up on her piano, and a past tied into her present. It is easy to discount an elderly person, particularly if you are young and fearless, but they have so much to share. They lived through times we never will and are the narrators of things gone past and our access to it.
So, I enjoyed my lunch and will do it again. This little salad is one of my favorites. I pull it out when I’m having sticky rice, or as pictured to add a little zing to a sandwich and chips.
Here are some pics of the new house. The yard has so many interesting plants growing about. I will have to investigate when I’m sure “slither” and “slink” aren’t about. Not up to snakes.
Thai Cucumber Salad
2 English cucumbers, sliced very thin
1/3 cup red onion, sliced very thin
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced very thin
4 shallots, sliced very thin
Mix salad ingredients together in small mixing bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar (I used Splenda)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Mix all dressing ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Pour over salad and allow to marinate for 1/2 hour.