Each Monday I have lunch with Judy. She’s almost 92 and living at a senior care facility. She’s still sharp as a tack and wears neither hearing aids nor eye glasses. She uses a walker, but mostly relies on her highly mechanized wheelchair, that she’s mastered well enough to do wheelies. Well, almost.
As Time Goes By
Judy and I raised our families in Rolla, taught Sunday School at the Baptist church, and attended clown school and clog dancing classes together. We even belong to the same sorority (Kappa Delta) and a couple of Rolla women’s clubs. We once made a gourmet chicken salad with a dozen ingredients for forty-some people. Do you realize how many whole chickens we had to cook, debone, and chop for that? Yes, we’ve got a lot of history—kitchen and otherwise.
Knowing that we share a fondness for good food, I sometime take her a few tidbits, like small bottles of hot sauce, she can carry to the dining room to jazz up a bland dish. I recently took a fresh peach from Eckert’s orchards, the kind you can bite into and let the juice trickle up your arm. And, she’s read all my books, a feat that certainly deserves The Meritorious Friendship award. She even reads aloud to a group at the facility.
When I first met Judy during the 60s, she was a Republican, back when the GOP numbers in Rolla could be counted on your fingers and toes. I exaggerate, but the party had a hard time coming up with judges and clerks for all the polling places. Of course, that situation has flipped in recent years. And, Judy has flipped, too. She’s now a Democrat and once again in the minority.
Her kids gave her a subscription to This Week magazine, so when I show up on Mondays she’s far more informed than I am on a great many issues. She’s ready to talk about everything from the condition of the economy, climate and Supreme Court to the latest political tirades, trials and terminations.
Do You Remember?
We touch on a lot of topics during our weekly lunches. We both recognize how seldom we talk to anyone whose memory goes back farther than the Cuban missile crisis. We relish our scattered recollections, which often turn out to sound like this:
Me: “What ever happen to, uhh . . . you know who I mean, the woman who lived on Ridgeway and had the two boys.”
Judy: “Oh, yeah, I know who you’re talking about, can’t remember her name either, but her husband worked at the Survey.”
Me: “Right, that’s the one.”
Judy: “She’s still living. Marilyn! That’s her name! I remember the time that . . . (one or the other of us inserts a long story here.) Marilyn’s got a bad back now, so she moved out West to live with her son.”
Our conversations are sprinkled with many such recollections of people and events. Despite the years, the two of us can usually put together a pretty decent narrative of something that happened in the 60s.
Yes, I look forward to our Monday meetups and the chance to share recollections and to solve world problems. She tells me that Mrs. W, an Alzheimer patient, who often joins us for lunch, is having a bad day; that Mr. S, who enjoys telling slightly off-color jokes has a story to tell me before I leave; or she might just pause in our deliberations to compliment a server or caregiver.
Judy has taken up gambling since coming to St. Louis. After I leave on Monday she goes to her blackjack game, where she rakes in a few coins. The stakes are small, but the game is great fun.
“Stay and play blackjack,” she often says with a twinkle in her eye, “and afterwards we can go to the wine and cheese tasting.”
I laugh. “Aren’t you glad you didn’t go to live at the Baptist Home?” I say. “I doubt there’s any such frivolity on their recreation schedule.”
With that, she reiterates a favorite theme: “Bloom where you’re planted,” she declares, “no matter where that turns out to be.”
In addition to the card game, I once joined her for craft time. We painted bird houses together, which was far less tedious than fixing that gourmet chicken salad. I’ve also attended her new “church.” The weekly Protestant service is conducted by a kindly woman from a local Episcopalian congregation and lasts 15 minutes; no more, no less. A scripture reading, a short commentary, and communion and they’re out of there before anyone has time to doze off.
Judy’s son and daughter live in California. Even so, they are quite attentive and make frequent trips to see her. During such times, she gets out to shows and restaurants and even makes trips to Rolla to see old friends and attend club meetings. I remember her daughter and son as kids, so it’s heartwarming to see them as successful, caring adults.
Last week Judy got a bad cut on her leg after exceeding the speed limit in her motorized wheelchair and running into a table edge. We spent all of 30 seconds reviewing the ER room saga before she asked how I liked her new pants. They had at least ten colors and a flashy design. (See opening photo)
“Don’t laugh,” she said, “I get lots of compliments on these pants. Too many people wear dark colors; my pants help to brighten up the place.”
It’s not just the pants, but Judy’s cheerful attitude and can-do spirit, that brighten her life and the lives of those around her. I find these lines from Sharon Brani suit her well:
This world needs your brightness, your color, your beauty.
Yes, even though your particular situation today is hard, bloom anyway.
You have no idea who needs to see you today.
Your smile. Your words. Your presence gracing their lives.
You have no idea the difference you make.
Update: Judy Dean passed away peacefully on December 16, 2019 at the age of 93.