I wrote an introductory piece about how I signed ruth and I up as volunteers back in the winter for our local meals on wheels program and kind of dropped it, but we have been faithfully driving our route together (Ruth has only missed a handful of times even in sub zero temps) since, every Friday. I am always surprised by the fact that even though she could stay home with her dad and brother and play while I do our route, she usually always wants to come. And, more than that, even though I always give her the option to wait in the car while I run up the meals to the seniors, she always wants to come and carry the “cold meal” ( each person gets a hot and a cold meal) and hand it to her “customer” as she calls them. As much as I have a hard time with her perfectionism and control issues, this girl has some serious perseverance and a great sense of responsibility. It’s quite impressive and awesome when you see so much of your weaknesses in your kid, which is really hard, but then they go on to have strengths you never dreamed of possessing. Just one of the many wonders of parenthood.
In any case, I wanted to write about a specific incident that occurred at our last meals on wheels. Don’t even get me started on the terrible conditions many of our elderly are living in. Many of the people we deliver to have issues with mobility and have trouble taking care of themselves and their homes (don’t get me wrong. I often smell like b.o. and am surrounded by squalor myself. plus these days, at least, with my big ol’ belly, I seem to have just one speed: neutral or coasting. If it’s not downhill or I’m being pushed by a strong wind, I have no momentum). Sometimes we stop to chat for a minute and they often tell me about how they are either alone with no family around or that their kids do live nearby but are too busy with lives of their own to stop by much or help with things. Needless to say, it gets a person thinking.
One of the people that was recently added to our list is an older woman who takes a little while to open the door and when she does, only opens it enough of a crack for me to reach in and set the meals on the back of a living room chair. The room is always dim, smells of smoke but is neat. “Can you please set it here?” she asks me in a scratchy voice. She won’t come from behind the door for us to see her. “Have a good day,” I usually say, thinking she doesn’t even know that Ruth is with me, because Ruth, though she occupies most of her time in a day with me talking, talking, talking her head off, usually never deigns to say a word to most other people, even ones she knows pretty well, and definitely not strangers.
Which is kind of a shame (for the lady), because, even though she doesn’t usually speak, Ruth always hands the people their cold meal and they really, really like her. I’ve noticed this phenomenon about older people. They just like to look at and watch young kids. Even ones like Ruth. Even ones that don’t speak to them, I mean. Even ones that are somewhat serious and stoic. Maybe especially ones like them.
But, the other day, something different happened. I set down the meals and the woman said something like, “Do you have a cat?” And I said, “Yes, I do, actually.” She hesitated. “Oh, you do?” she said and then pulled the door back and looked at us. It was the first time since we had been delivering to her that I saw her face. I tried to give her my warmest, most reassuring smile. In her hand, she held something. “I’m sorry about the way I look,” she said sort of pulling back for a second, remembering herself, “I’m very sick.” This was it, one of those moments, I thought to myself, where I, little insignificant me, can perhaps make a real difference to someone, and I kept my smile broad and kind and said, “You look fine to me,” with a shrug. Which she did. I mean, it was clear that she was self-conscious about her appearance, but, to me, she just looked like an older woman. She seemed to accept this and extended to me the hand holding the object. It was a toy. For ruth. A cat. A dancing cat with a thick coating of dust on the box.
What can I say? Moments like that just break my heart, when someone would put themselves out there, be seen after hiding from everyone, in order to hand my daughter a toy cat. And one that I’m sure she had dug out of her attic or something. It was so touching. And all this time, I didn’t even think that she knew that Ruth was there.
I just thought that was a nice moment to share.