My mother's grandmother lost her husband when their one child was only three years old. She moved in with her widowed father-in-law and raised her son there for the next decade, helping with the work in the house and in the fields. Then she and her son joined some of her cousins and a sister's family and made the move west to the panhandle of Oklahoma Territory. When he was grown, her son returned to Missouri and married the lovely, musical Harriet Crisswell, they drove back to the Panhandle and made their home there, in Cimarron County, with his mother.
Harriet was my grandmother and soon after they moved back to Alva, to escape the devastation of the Dust Bowl, her husband died quite suddenly. Left with five daughters to raise, they continued to live with her mother-in-law for the rest of her life. They were a house full of women trying to get by on a big garden, a tiny pension from International Harvester, one milk cow, and a few chickens. They worked very, very hard and, with the help of friends and making do, they got by.
My mother had a love for older people, probably because her entire life was spent in the company of this grandmother. When I was growing up, my mother would go around town, taking care of and visiting with the elderly women in the community. She would take them fresh vegetables from her gardens and baked goods, and generally check in on them, to see that all was well. She often took me with her on those visits.
We would sit and chat about how their days were going, sharing the news from around town. We shared glasses of water and sometimes cookies. One of them sold us homemade noodles whenever we needed some, even though my mom made the best noodles I ever tasted. Sometimes they made us scratch Angel-food cakes. I didn't say much of anything but I listened.
I listened to my mom's bright laughter, watched her look into their watery eyes as they told her stories of their younger days with their children, stories full of joy, adventures, hardships and sorrows. I watched her pat their hands and smile goodbye with a wave and a hug.
Today I took Miss Maggie J. with me as I took fresh peaches to friends and family in the city. We knocked on the doors of Maggie's neighbors and placed the sweet sunset colored orbs into their open palms, with a smile and some happy conversation. We listened to stories about recent happenings and asked after their health. She met my friends, answered their questions politely and quietly wandered their living rooms, looking at their treasures while they and I talked for a few minutes. Every one of them seemed to enjoy her presence immensely.
I was so happy to have her there with me, reenacting those visits my mother and I made when I was a young girl not much older than she is now. People love undivided attention, unexpected gifts of goodness and the presence of a friend in their too quiet homes.
We will do this again, Maggie and I, as often as I can make it happen. Someday I will be that older woman who sits alone in my home, waiting. Someday she will be too. Kindness and compassion are lifesaving skills that can and must be taught and it does indeed take the entire village to raise up capable, confident, caring human beings.