Once upon a time a girl was asked to deliver meals to the elderly. She said she would do it, but please to give her an easy route. One that wouldn’t take her too long. One that would not cause her stress.
At a quarter to eleven the next morning the girl showed up, a little apprehensive, but ready.
She found her clip-board, consulted the addresses.
A door opened. Insulated bags proceeded a worker out.
“That’s my route!” the girl said.
The girl, not exactly knowing where she was going, grasped the bags with a smile and headed out the door.
She only had to pass the first house twice before figuring out which one it was. Running late already, she griped. I won’t be the first one done.
Then she unzipped the insulated bag. Oops! Wrong zipper. She unzipped a different zipper. Oops again! How many zippers does this thing have?
She found the right zipper, removed the proper salad and dessert, then reached for the second insulated chest for the meal. Oops. Of course. Wrong zipper. AGAIN. Good grief! This is no fun.
She knocked on the front door, remembered she was supposed to go to the back door, and scurried around the side of the house. Knock, knock!
“Lunch time!” she called, turning the handle and entering the laundry room.
“Come on in,” an old man’s voice replied.
“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting,” she said, smiling.
“You didn’t,” the old man said kindly. “You can park in the alley, though. Less of a walk.”
“What’s your name?”
She told him.
“Ah, you’re Irish!”
The girl smiled. “By marriage, anyway,” she said.
The man smiled, held up the meal. “Thank you! See you tomorrow!”
That wasn’t so bad.
Then came the second house. She knew the street. Slowly, slowly, she cruised past. Too far. Where was it? Annoyed cars rushed past her as she turned. Circled the block. Turned again. Past it again. Past it again. Finally found it.
Knocking, she entered into the house. “Mobile meals! I hope I didn’t keep you.” This is becoming a mantra.
The smiling man said, “You drive a big white get-up?”
“Saw you go past a few times.”
The girl laughed, admitting the truth.
But the man didn’t mind. “What’s for lunch?” he asked, opening the Styrofoam tray. “Mmmm. Riblets.” He grinned.
She had found the third house while passing the second, so that worked out well.
The next three stops weren’t too hard. Only had to back-track three times. Par for the course, right? Parked in the wrong spot, but it was okay. Probably going to be the last person back…
Friendly, smiling women. Talkative. Appreciative. Inquisitive.
Finally, just one place left. Phew! That wasn’t so hard. Even if she did park in the neighbor’s driveway by mistake. Good grief!
“Hi there! Mobile meals!”
“Come in. How’s the weather out there?”
“Not bad, pretty nice, actually.”
“I remember a terrible storm one time…”
And thus began a story, followed by more stories, followed by, “What’s your name?” followed by information the girl probably didn’t need to know, followed by advice and more stories, followed by medical facts, followed by, “What’s your name?” followed by a pause and a look as if the woman knew, somehow, that she’d asked that question before…
The girl got back into her car. Her eyes were full of tears. Chastised. Contemplative. She thought of her own grandparents that she had barely known. She thought of other old houses she’d been in, filled with other old people. Like the one she’d entered, years before, which surely hadn’t been cleaned in two decades or more, which, in addition to the dust and greasy dirt, smelled of unspeakable things. It is a scent she will never forget.
She thought of her own future, her hope that she’d never be alone, lying unfound on the floor from a stroke like the story she had just heard the chatty woman tell.
She thought, too, of the elderly woman she had met several years before while delivering meals, who had chatted with her so long and so eagerly and had even asked if she could add the girl to her Christmas card list.
The girl had agreed. And, when Christmas rolled around, she’d taken the envelope from the box and thought, now who on earth is this? And then she remembered as she read the two-page, typed-on-a-typewriter letter. And she couldn’t help but smile.
A few months later, the newspaper printed the woman’s obituary, and the girl’s heart ached for the woman she barely knew, but who wrote the most marvelous letters…
The girl returned to the hospital, brought the bags inside, replaced the checked-off clip-board onto its little shelf. It had taken her about an hour. One little hour from her life. A few minutes here, a few minutes there, and table after table of old people, their places set and ready – forks, spoons, knives, napkins, a glass of milk, a cup of water – all ready and waiting for their meals.
All ready and waiting for a visit.
The next day (“Ahh, it’s our Irish Girl again!”) it took less time, as I knew where I was going. But I stayed longer at each place.
Because it isn’t a race. It’s a blessing.
And I am the one being blessed.