July 5, 2012

Old people rock

I just returned to DC from two weeks in Alabama.  Every time I go down south, I make sure to go visit my grandmother in her assisted living facility that’s in a town so small you could halfway blink and miss it.  But within the walls of this 16-room facility lie some amazing characters and fascinating people.  The man that owns and runs the facility is a living saint.  He also raises cows and honeybees, and I am the proud owner of a small bottle of honey from his farm.  

But the true characters are the residents themselves.  While sitting out on the lovely screened in porch with my grandmother, one of her fellow facility-mates, Miss Jo, came out to join us.  After finding out I live (mostly) in DC, she proceeded to tell me that she worked in the supply department of the Pentagon back in the 1950s.  She was originally hired to be a driver, but upon finding out she could type, she was quickly put behind a desk.  A young man in the Army that worked in the same office took a liking to her, and soon she found herself taking breaks and conversing with him on a regular basis - often right inside President Eisenhower’s car that was kept in the basement where they worked and contained hidden guns in just about every nook and cranny.  They got married and lived the good ol’ Army life.  Her husband has long since passed away, but she clearly loved her time working at the Pentagon.  According to my grandmother, she tells that story quite frequently.  I was glad I got to hear it.

Later that same afternoon, still on the porch, Miss Suzanne came and sat with us for a bit.  Miss Suzanne is from France, and is a bit difficult to understand given the fact that she’s had a stroke and speaks with an accent.  She was worth paying extra attention to, though.  Miss Suzanne is from Normandy, and she and her family apparently had quite a rough time of it during World War II.  They often went hungry.  Suzanne’s first husband passed away early in life.  At the age of 50, Suzanne decided she wanted to come to the US.  Her friend and family thought she was insane, not to mention the fact that they didn’t have the highest opinion of Americans.  Suzanne thought otherwise of America and didn’t give a lick what anyone else thought of her desire to move here.  With no money and no knowledge of English, she boarded a boat all by herself and came to the United States.  She got along just fine, learned English, and married (and was widowed) two more times.  

And then there’s Miss Mildred, my grandmother’s best friend in this place.  Miss Mildred has a snarky streak.  She won’t tell dirty jokes, but she’ll tell “washed jokes”.  This is her favorite:

Q: What can a woman do with her skirt up that a man can’t do with his pants down?
A:  Run.

And now you know what a washed joke is.  

Miss Mildred is very particular about her food.  Thou shalt not put mayo on both sides of a hot dog.  One side is for mayo, and the other is for mustard.  And don’t you forget it.  She is also afraid of very random things, including clouds, damp air, and leaving the facility for any reason.  And if you give her a birthday card involving high kicks and showing off underwear, she will love you for it.  She never ceases to crack me up.

When I get old and crotchety, I want to have stories like Miss Jo, gumption like Miss Suzanne, and a sense of humor like Miss Mildred.  At the age these people are, it can be difficult to speak, difficult to remember when you’ve already told a story 25 times, and probably difficult to find someone to even attempt to listen when you need it.  But they are a treasure trove of history and entertainment, and I’m glad I was in a place to be able to listen and watch.  I’m not sure how some of them ended up in this tiny speck of an Alabama farm town, but I’m grateful they’re there.

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