I have a special knock I use on her door so she knows it’s me. That is, if she can even hear it. If not, I have to use my key and yell to her to undo the chain. Or I call her from my phone.
This time I knock. Tap. Tap./Tap. Tap. Tap./Tap. Tap. It takes a couple of minutes and she asks, “Is it you, Sue?” I don’t like to be called Sue, but I’m ok with her doing it. At ninety-nine, she’s earned the right to do what she wants. I tell her it’s me.
The door opens a crack. She peeps from beneath the chain and asks, “Do I know you?” I think it must be a bad day since I told her it was. Then she laughs and I know she’s messing with me.
I come inside and she asks me if I have the time or mind taking her to pick up her medications and to the grocery store. I tell her I have all the time in the world, that I am hers for the day. She smiles and claps her hands. She asks if we can stop to get P&B. That is code for pizza and beer. I tell her certainly. I think to myself, now my diet is blown to hell, but she’s worth every calorie.
She shows me her new hair color and asks me to check out her eyebrows as she’s dyed them as well. She says she can no longer see well enough to color them in with pencil. She goes to her room to get dressed and asks me to go over her checkbook to make sure she entered everything in correctly. She comes back out sporting crimson lips and a wig. She asks about the balance in her checkbook. I told her she’d added $50 instead of subtracting it. The color drains from her face.
“You mean I have fifty dollars less than I thought?” I nod yes. She asks me to style her wig. I finger it a bit, not much because it is actually in place.
“Watch this.“ She bends from the waist, knees straight, and touches the floor. She’s slightly more than twice my age, and I can’t do that. Heck, I’ve never been able to do that!
“Show off!” I tease her, and she touches the floor again for good measure.
She tells me how impressed her cardiologist is when she does that. I’m impressed as well. She tells me how all the girls at the doctor’s offices come in to admire her skin when she has an appointment. The woman does not have a single wrinkle. Who wouldn’t be shocked to see skin like that on a ninety-nine year old? They have her chart so they know her age. Of course, she doesn’t know that I know how old she is. She once told me she’d never tell me or anyone else her age. The only reason I know is her nephew told me. He asked her why she didn’t want anyone to know, and she replied that she didn’t want people to treat her like an old woman. He replied, “But you are an old woman!” Her retort to him what that even so no one needed to know.
I ask her if she’s going to wear Nellie. “Have I got the mail?” she asks, thinking she is repeating what I’ve said.
“No, what about Nellie?”
“Nellie. Oh yes, I guess I might need my hearing aide.”
The temperature is in the eighties, but she says she needs a jacket.
We go to the pharmacy first and then to the pizza place she loves. I remind her they don’t serve beer. “The hell with the beer. The pizza is good.” On the way in she says “I want to treat you this time. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Understand?“ Her forehead is scrunched, and I know she will be hurt if I don’t allow her to do this one thing, so I agree. The last time we were there, she inquired from the waitress, “What kind of a pizza joint doesn’t serve beer?” This time when the waiter asks what we’d like to drink she replies, “Since you don’t serve beer, I guess we’ll have water.” After he leaves, she tells me that she bets he thinks she’s a drunk.
When we get back in the car, she tells me I’m pretty. I laugh and tell her, “Remember I know you can’t see!” She has poor eyesight due to Macular Degeneration. She has to use a magnifying glass to read the numbers on her oven dials. She laughs and tells me how she complimented her eye doctor and he told her the same thing I did. She insists she still knows beauty.
While we were on our next errand, I happen to get a text message from a friend who delivers mail. The name on the package is Dick Hurtz. No joke. We are crossing a street, cars stopped in both directions, as I relay this to her. She stops dead in her tracks and doubles over laughing hysterically. We’re both almost rolling in the road. Who doesn’t love a ninety-nine year old with a sense of humor? And who ever said all old people are grouchy?
We get back to her place and she tells me that she has some dishes she wants to give me. They belonged to her mother. She says they’re at least fifty years old. I know they’re probably over a hundred. She gives me some other pieces she says has been in her family for over a hundred years. We sit on the floor in front of the cabinet and pull out the dishes. Her face brightens as she tells me stories about each piece. I revel in the history and the love. When we finish, she tells me she’s not sure if she can get up. I realize my back is stuck and tell her I’m not sure if I can get up.
“Maybe when no one has heard from us for three days, they’ll come looking for us!” she says. I tell her I don’t even have my cell phone in my pocket to call for help. After we stop laughing about being stuck, I pull myself up and then help her to her feet. She is surprisingly steady once she’s upright.
She insists we have a shot of Amaretto while we pack the dishes in newspaper. I tell her not to let me forget to take her laundry with me. “I give you such trouble.” I assure her she is no trouble what so ever. We chit chat while I wrap the dishes, and then she gathers her laundry. When we finish, we sit and chat some more with another shot of Amaretto.
As I walk out with her laundry, she says, “May God bless you and your family ten times over for all you do for me. No, one hundred times.” I remind her that I do what I do because I care about her, and I want to do it. She hugs me tightly, and tells me she loves me and I’m like a daughter to her. And being the fine Italian lady she is her last word to me on every visit is “Ciao”.