I had scheduled this post yesterday but then thought better of it and cancelled the day/time for it to appear. Obviously my capabilities continue at dunce-level. In any case, I realized that this post should have more about visiting the elderly with coronavirus smashing around the world. My chances of carrying it are extremely low since I work at home, am an introvert and follow all the rules whenever I do go out. Still, I called her community before I left to see if they’re alright with me staying with her and so far, with no reported cases in Philadelphia, it’s okay. I asked my aunt how she felt about it and she said, “I rather have fun with you.” And with that, read on….
I’m driving down to Philadelphia today to spend some time with my Aunt Margie. She’s 90 years old, the last of my aunts and uncles, my parents gone. For most of my life I didn’t know her because she had joined the Foreign Service when she was 21 and living in the Far East. As much as she loved her family, it was a way out for an orphan in a poor family. Every couple of years she and her husband, Frank, arrived at our house for a visit. Among her sisters reminiscing and the uncles one-upping each other with bawdy jokes, Margie seemed exotic, impossibly sophisticated, Frank, with a debonair mustache and a Boston accent, extremely worldly. It was insurmountable for a deeply shy child to do anything but press herself unseen in a corner and be mesmerized by them.
They retired to California by the time I reached my twenties and, unlike the rest of the family, my sister and brother included, I never went out to see them. I had young children and, between our paying jobs and writing, the husband and I worked seven days a week. But these were merely convenient excuses. The truth was this shy child grew up to be a first-class introvert and the idea of having to stay with people I so admired was frightening.
Ten years ago, when I had finally patched myself together and the husband had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles, I called Margie up and booked a flight. By this time, Margie was 80, Frank in his late 80s and not well. At night after she cared for him and he was in bed, we curled up in their living room and, over glasses of white wine, discovered we had much to laugh, gossip, and parse together. She couldn’t stop telling stories about her life. I couldn’t stop prying for more details. I found in Margie what I couldn’t have with my own parents, a measure of understanding and acceptance.
After Frank died, and she grew increasingly frail, my sister and I lobbied hard for her to agree to move back to Philadelphia where we could watch over her better. She finally decided it wasn’t a bad idea and we found her a lovely apartment in a vibrant community close to my sister and brother.
I visit whenever I can now, staying overnight in very much a slumber party mode. After bouts of too much CNN, we usually do stupid things, dressing up, driving to Home Goods (she’s obsessed with that store), and stopping for a long lunch and white wine at some suitably cheap-ish restaurant.
Over the years, Margie has given me license to be who I want to be, what she calls a “curious woman.” That is an inquisitive, caring, well-informed, humorous woman who greets each day as it comes, who knows her strengths and weaknesses and, most of all, never takes herself too seriously. All of this, plus the importance of a good red lipstick.