Penance was probably the reason I walked an elderly lady around
the drug store helping her shop. I had left her waiting behind
me while I grilled the pharmacy assistant about drugs. So when
the senior asked the assistant to help her locate several items
– “I can’t read the labels,” she said – I stepped forward.
As we circled the store selecting her favorite things, she told
me how she had inexplicably lost the sight in one of her eyes
and the other is too blurry to read things close up.
Mission accomplished, she heaped praise on me, failing to see
that she had done me the favor. As Gwyneth Paltrow once said, we
can only truly feel love by doing it – not by receiving it from
Our interlude later reminded me of something I am finding
increasingly painful: Hattie, my former neighbor, surrogate
mother, best friend and earlier enemy, is turning 83 this month
and she is slowing down.
She, too, has lost sight in one eye after a stroke and is now
having trouble with the “good” eye. Add to that the number
arthritis is doing on her and she is moving more like a turtle
than a jack rabbit - something I never imagined in the 30 years
we were neighbors.
In our early years, we fought over her ivy – a cancer crawling
all over my fence. And she had opinions about everything I did,
including leaving my sprinkler on until I flooded her ditch.
I think the day we got over the bickering was in ’89 when we
stood, hugging each other, while The Big One rattled our common
fence and we checked on each other throughout the night.
Nowadays when I visit her we have kvetching sessions about our
arthritis and bad backs and she usually wins. However, on days
that I up the ante with each new complaint, we usually end up
dissolving in laughter.
You have to picture Hattie to understand why her slowing down is
so shocking. This sturdy German, staunch Catholic and Republican
(we don’t talk religion or politics), decades after her military
husband died, has groomed her acre of plants and gardens
She works from sunup to sunset, climbing the roof to paint the
eaves, scrubbing windows, mending fences. She has more tools
than a plumber and has taught me every handy woman trick I know.
Albeit, she is a perfectionist and my fix-ups usually dangle by
But we both Git ‘er dun.
Anyway, it’s hard to see her limping with a cane now. I’d rather
think of her at 55, taking her daily constitutional with her
Iris Setter: both of them with long, reddish brown tresses
shining and swinging in the sun.
I love the way she stands at the door when I am leaving her
house and never closes the door until I am out of sight; how she
allows me to drop in any time of night or day and always has
time for me.
I am struck remembering the inspiration for Iris Dart’s book
“Beaches,” which became a blockbuster movie. In our interview,
Dart recalled her lifelong friend who once said to her, “I sure
hope I die before you, because I can't imagine living in a world
I so empathize. And all I can do about Hattie’s aging is to
cherish every single day that my beloved friend and I share on
this planet . . .