My client today was an elderly one I helped in the past. I thought of her these last few years sometimes, driving past the turn that takes one to her small house, a mile down in the woods. “I wonder how old she is now.” I thought to myself, as I tried to remember which driveway is hers. I had to stop and ask an old man I saw sitting on the front porch of his home where Helen lives. He directed me back the way I came and I found the turn. As I pulled up in front of her house, her two old Chihuahuas came out to greet me. They were not as fierce as they were in the past. I spoke to them as I put my hand down in front of them to sniff. I walked past them.
She was standing with her walker, barefoot, partway down the ramp, built since the last time I had seen her, at least six years before. She wore a red sweater tucked into a floral-patterned cotton skirt. As I stood in front of her, looking at the hand crocheted off white hat that covered her shoulder length white hair, I asked her if she remembered me, Tina, who had been to see her in the past. She looked up into my face and said, “No, I do not remember you. But come inside.” She still had the lilting, German accent, although her voice seemed quieter. She turned slowly and made her way back up the ramp to the porch and her open front door.
I was happy to see she was not all that changed. True, she lost some weight, but her eyes were as alert as ever, and she stayed engaged whenever I spoke to her. As we walked into the front room, she pointed to the ceiling fan and light fixture and said, “I need you to put a bulb in for me, as I cannot reach it. I must find a light bulb.” I asked if I might use her phone in order to “clock in.” She pointed to it, saying she hoped it worked. She slowly made her way into the next room. When I finished clocking in, I went to find her. She found a new bulb. As I took it from her, she said she was glad to see me. She went on, a momentary sad look in her eyes, “It gets very lonesome here sometimes!” I told her how well I understand, as I spend all my time alone, and see other people only when I go out.
I put the new light bulb in the fixture and went back into her kitchen. Helen was almost to her kitchen table. I said, “You know, I am here to help you get a bath.” She waved her right hand in the air, her left hand still holding on to the walker, and said, “Don’t worry about that! Sit down there in that chair and visit with me!” She stood at the table and brushed away the crumbs from the zucchini bread she had just eaten earlier. I told her I would bring her a washcloth and she should wash her face, at least. As she slowly sat down in her chair at the table, I went to the bathroom and found a clean washcloth, wet it, and took it to her. She wiped her face with it, and her hands, and set it to the side.
She asked me to make a pot of coffee. “Don’t make it too strong!” I poured two cups of coffee and got the milk she requested from the refrigerator. I sat in my assigned seat and faced her.
We talked about gardening, how she had planted a few tomatoes and peppers but that the tomatoes had not produced. I told her of my thirty plants that were still giving. She said, “Oh! Bring me some!” I responded that I would. She said, “I heard a little voice when I was out there with my tomatoes. It said, “Why does everyone wish to be like Helen?” I said, “I know the answer to that question! You are the example for all of us. You live here in the woods, still planting food, living simply, still doing as much as you can. You contribute to world peace with your life!” She smiled. I said, “Helen, do you mind if I ask? How young are you now?” She laughed aloud, eyes sparkling, “How young am I now? I am eighty-nine!” “See!” I said, “I hope I am as “with it” as much as you are when I am that age! And the fact that you can laugh is wonderful, in spite of everything!” I was referring to how she had mentioned earlier how everything is harder to do these days, how her body hurts all the time. Helen talked about how all the wildlife had eaten all of the fruit from her fruit trees. She said she had gotten only three apples off the apple tree. She recalled how years back her garden had always been prolific. She had fed guests from her garden, bowls full of greens and all sorts of vegetables.
As we sat there, I told her of my writing a blog. “What is a blog?” “It is a place on the Internet where I may share whatever I wish, with anyone that cares to read it. May I write about you?” She shrugged her small shoulders, “That would be okay.”
It was time for me to leave. I looked at the dishes sitting to the side of the sink and said, “I should have done more! I hope whoever comes tomorrow does not say anything about how little was done today.” Helen waved her left hand in the air, “Nobody is going to say nothing!” I told her I would go back to my house and pick some tomatoes for her, that I would bring them by on my way into town, as I still needed to go do laundry. She said how good that would be. I got the phone and clocked out. Just as I was about to get up from the table, Helen said, “One more thing! Give me your hand.” I put out my left hand, and as she held mine between her two, looked in my eyes and said, “In the Bible, we are told, “Where two or three are gathered, there AM I.” You and I are two, and the Holy Spirit is the third. Thank you! Thank you for being here!” I felt so honored, so blessed to hear her express this. I said, “I agree, and feel the same!” I got up and gave her a gentle hug.
“I will be back. See you later!” She said, “Be safe, and I’ll see you.”
I just wanted to go home and write, but I also wanted to bring Helen the tomatoes I promised her. When I got home, it was almost 12:30 p.m. I put a pot of water to boil, cooked some pasta. I warmed the spaghetti sauce I made a few days back and added it to the cooked pasta. I set aside a portion of it for my lunch and put a couple of servings in a recycled Feta cheese container. I warmed up some kale and put it in another container. I ate my lunch in about five minutes, grabbed a paper sack, and with the warm food, got back in my car. At the garden, I had more than enough tomatoes that were red, ripe, and shiny. When I had the bottom of the small sack covered with a mound of tomatoes, I got back in the car and drove the sixteen miles to Helen’s home.
I called out as I let myself in to Helen’s front room. I heard her high, dim voice call back, “I am in the bedroom.” She was getting up from having a nap. I told her, “I brought you some lunch, some spaghetti and kale.” “How wonderful!” she responded, as she slowly came through the hallway into the kitchen. I found a shallow bowl and a spoon and served her a small portion of the food. She was hungry, and seemed to like my cooking. As she ate, I found another bowl for the fresh tomatoes. “No pesticides on these, Helen. They are organically grown.” “The way I always raised my food! I am going to eat one right now!” she said, reaching for one. Her Chihuahuas were at her feet, waiting for a treat. She gave them each a taste, then took another tomato and divided it between them. It was novel to see dogs enjoy eating tomatoes!
“I brought my camera, Helen. May I take a photo or two of you?” I asked, as she sat chewing her spaghetti. She asked, hands going to her hair about her face, “Is my hair all right?” “It’s fine!” I answered, focusing in on her.
I sat and watched her eat for a few minutes, then said, “I need to go on. I still have to go to the bank, and do my laundry. I will see you next time.” She thanked me for the lunch, and said she had a little something for me. She gave me three jalapeno peppers she had picked for me after I had left earlier. I put them in the paper sack I used for the tomatoes, gave her a hug, and left. I drove down her driveway thinking how from now on, I will stop in to visit whenever I take the back way into town. It is only a mile off the beaten track. Helen is a sweet heart. She is the exemplar elderly, wise one, and an example I hope I can follow!