Meeting an interesting person – another difficult prompt. As I mull over this one and turn it over and over in my head. It keeps bringing back Mary to my mind, her relentless, undying spirit shines like a beacon of light and hope that nothing is impossible.
I remember the last time we saw her, two years ago. She had been reduced to a caricature of her former self, frail, hair undone and barely recognizable. And yet when she opened her eyes and saw us standing there, she smiled her beautiful, welcoming smile that filled up the room with warmth. She asked me to sit on her bed as she slowly shifted sideways to make room for me. I sat down, she held my hand and said, “It is cold, let me warm it up for you.” Typical Mary! Gracious, warm-hearted and loving as ever, always looking out for others, wondering what she can do to make others feel better.
We had met her about a year ago at the nursing home, she had spent a couple hours with us and other friends having cake and coffee; a little celebration for her birthday. As, she had sat on the wheelchair, her gray eyes sparkling with joy, wearing her favorite green jacket, and hair set in beautiful curls, immaculately dressed as usual! We were all talking and having a good time. When I had stood up to leave, she had held my hand firmly and said, “You sit here, you are not going anywhere.” As she had continued to hold my hand, I had felt so much love, it was overwhelming. If I had any doubt about love, here was the proof… that pure unconditional love existed!
I had held on to that feeling all the way home, as my heart burst with emotion and joy. It had always been on our agenda to try and visit Mary every other year or so, after moving away from Crosby. Crosby had been our home for two years, and slowly Mary had become a part of our family. She had welcomed us into the neighborhood and into her life with a lemon meringue pie. After taking the trouble of climbing up the stairs, with the pie in one hand, while holding on to the banister with the other hand, she had smiled and said, “welcome to Crosby, if you need anything let me know, I live in a green house, about two blocks away by the railroad tracks.” She had difficulty walking more than a few steps, climbing the stairs was an ordeal but that had not deterred her from visiting us.
Mary often baked goodies for fundraisers, she was the first one to offer help when somebody she knew was in the hospital or sick at home. She even did meals on wheels for folks younger than her, “they need help!”, she would say. Her house was warm and immaculate just like her, the coffee pot was always on, banana bread always on the table, just in case somebody popped in for a visit. The perpetual smile on her face hid a lot of pain that she never mentioned. I asked her one time if she was in pain, she said, “I am always in pain, at my age I have to accept it.”, then with a twinkle in her eye, she decided she was going to play a number-reversal game with her age. “Let’s say I am 68″, she told my kindergartner, who without a second thought said, ” It wouldn’t work when you are 89.” It made her laugh for a long time. My shy two year old would sit on her lap as they played legos and card games, while watching the birds from the big kitchen window.
Mary loved cooking, baking and trying out new recipes. She thoroughly enjoyed my Indian cooking, anything I made, be it roti, dosa, spicy daal or rajma. Chai Tea with pakoras (spicy fritters) was her all time favorite. She would make vegetarian food and have us over for dinners. She taught my boys to lay out the food and the plates on the table. One time she hosted a surprise birthday party for me at her house, another time a potluck dinner. Once we had made a lot of lefse and a pot of chicken for a gathering of friends at her house.
So many memories in those two years, but we had kept in touch for so many more. Mary smiled as she turned to look at the boys and said, ” They are growing up aren’t they?” The boys moved in closer and held her hand for a while as they talked with her. Then there was silence, slowly her eyes were closing and she let go of the boys’ hands, we decided to let her rest. This might be our final visit.
Two days later she was gone.