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Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Player Among the Old Ladies

I knew that working the Census I would be rapping my knuckles against the door of many a person with a tale. Sitting myself down, I would be given much more than the customary information of the number of individuals that park their heads down at night.

Little did I know, the rapt attention that the Golden Girls would be paying me, or more like it, I would be paying them.
I find in more and more people a delightful story, of which I can't help but share with other people. While the clerical information that I gather may be confidential, the fireside chat, the entire charm of this job, is not...and I wish to share them with you.

I have here the story of three older ladies. All of them widows. So, let my wandering pen manage to steal your attention away from the glamour-obsessed, plastic-indulged magazine racks (double meaning in that last word) and hearken you back to a time when beauty just simply was. It was rarely photoshopped, starved nor glitzy.
But I should critique myself here, for does real beauty ever really fade. That is the question. The feverish man inside me, says "yes". The quiet-willed poet inside me says, "no".
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever", the wonder boy Keats wrote. Maybe real beauty is permanence.

No matter how your eyes may now rock the hearts of men. Winter shall come.

I had the likely fortune to meet an old woman of celebrated repute. For Mrs. Wheeler is now the last surviving widow of a WWI veteran. Times keep passing. The old wars that were once faintly echoed in my childhood, are now relics of a forgotten age. When I first drove up to her drive, I found her unassuming. She was sitting in a chair in the carport, and a brief interaction, spelled out for me someone half-deaf, going bald, and not in her sharpest form. I knew that I had to get my information from her caretaker. Who in my book was another elderly lady, though there was a vast difference in the age of the two. I was invited in and sat down on a couch. The caretaker was intent on getting through the interview, but this ancient woman would approach me, leaning over, and would say in a quiet voice, "What is it that you are doing?" I couldn't tell by the tone if this was an attempt at a guard-dog stance of authority wrought soft by feebleness, or if she was just curious and wanting to make chit-chat. The caretaker had to yell that I was the Census. For anything that I said to her wasn't heard. I have a real fault sometimes of not being able tp speak out loudly. And I proudly admit that it is not in my nature to yell at old people.

This lady was only in her nineties. "Only" is an indication of the theme. For this lady to be able to be a widow to a WWI veteran, if you do the math, then she would have to be much older. She was born in 1915. That would make her a small child at the outbreak of the Great War. But you must understand while she was in diapers or whatever they used back then, her future husband was carrying a bayonet in a trench. For she ended up marrying a man that was 22 years older than her. And this was long after the War, almost into the 2nd horrific war of that century.
So, it was by this age gap that I had the good fortune of meeting this widow of an old Bosch-fighting warrior.
At this I responded in surprise, commenting on the age difference, and then something peculiar happened. This ancient lady, seemed to shake out the dust and the cobwebs from her mind, and a radiant child beamed. Champagne bubbled in her eyes. Somewhere, I am sure, a star sparkled. And she spoke, "Yes, everyone said that it would never work....but we were the happiest couple around!" She said this with such zest and lively joy that I've had half a mind to go about prowling elementary playgrounds intent on finding my soulmate too. (That's a joke. I'm sure you get the point. Don't call the police.)
I left feeling so very fortune to actually meet the last surviving widow of a WWI veteran.

The next lady is my favorite. Since, first visiting her...I've repeated my visits numerous times being fed with Cookies, Klondike Bars, and Coca-Cola, and hearing her stories. She lives off a main road that sees alot of traffic. And refuses to move even if her family urges her to do so. No, for her and her husband lived here since the 50's and this is home. They used to have a little grocery store adjoined to their building where I'd imagined old flatbed trucks would drive up and people would get their produce (the ones that they didn't grow themselves) and Coca-Cola. She said that whenever she goes to town nowadays, black women will come up to her and hug her. For they all remember her. Back before segregation she would give the black children all kinds of little snacks. Color of a person never mattered to her.
And these children would grow up and remember her.
She talked often enough of her husband. Said that he was a quiet man and he ended up falling on one knee within a week of knowing her asking her hand for marriage. At the time, she thought it was a joke. She laughed and told him to get up. I mean, who proposes to someone after only a week of knowing them? This man was so offended at not being taken serious and so he left town without saying a word to this dame he was after. She got curious about his disappearance and wrote a letter to him. He responded that was absolutely serious and not joking that he really wanted her to be his wife. So she said "Yes" and they lived the rest of their lives together. She would comment on their records that she still has, that they would play together on the record player and they would dance on special nights in this same house.
They also, through the years would turn their house/grocery store into a voting booth during election time. They'd be up for hours counting ballots and people coming from all the different meadows and woods to put their vote in. It was exciting.
Lately, this woman though, in her old age, has found her health going bad. Her struggle with cancer has been heroic. The startling thing is that at one time she had cancer all over her, the doctors at UAB in Birmingham were stumped when she showed up without a trace of cancer inside her. Her secret...the prayers of her church. The doctors now refer to her as "The Miracle Lady".

The 3rd lady, I will mention briefly for it was her that seemed a bit more bitter than these other two. She was not that old. Only in her late 60's. Maybe early 70's. And just went on talking about how she didn't care to put up with anybody. And that she had once gone to the fair with this 70 year old man and later she saw him at Walmart being a greeter and when he approached to give her a hug, she wouldn't let him because she was certain that he was going to grab her boob. I laughed at this. And she said that I don't know the half of it. That there is this entire culture of old men that drag old ladies on dates in order to bunk with them the same night. At which, I'm thinking how come no one portrays this side, the aftermath, of the Sexual Revolution?

Well, that's that.


Blogger trapperhoney said...

that is so cool. i look forward to more stories. i found your blog through a link from your brother in tanzania :)

4:01 AM  
Anonymous Brian Harrison said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Brian Harrison said...

Sadly, my census job is coming to a close. And there is little time to squeeze any more stories from it. But thanks for reading.

7:59 PM  

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