My work among the elderly brings me into contact with some very special people. The greatest gift I can give to them, I believe, is the ministry of presence...being with, listening, hearing what they have to say. And recently I have begun not only remembering but recording their words, trying to convey the essence of who they are- for myself, but also for you, my readers. I hope these "sketches" draw word pictures for you of 3 wonderful, uniquely different women who I have come to love and respect.
Elizabeth’s thank you…
There were nine of us, she said.
Nine of us and mama raised us all,
‘til she died…
Only forty-three, she was, and
I was twenty-one- married with two chirren
Of my own, but I raised them up, every one.
My sister next to me, she did the ironin’
And got them all a-dressed and fixed for school
‘Cause I went off to work.
Eight hours on my knees, scrubbin’ tiles-
Didn’t have no mops in those times,
Just time spent on my knees. Three places
I scrubbed floors, then went home and
Did the cookin’ and the washin’…
And somehow, we all made it,
And they’re all fine- good people, every one,
No drinkin’ or hangin’ with the gangs,
But good, God-fearin’ folks. You know,
My grandmother took us to church every Sunday-
Even when we didn’t want to go.
She saw to it we went- to church and Sunday school
And the BCYO- we was there all day! But that
Made no mind to her. It was God’s day and we
Was to be in God’s house. That’s just the way
It was- and now I thank her every day for
Bein’ how she was with us. It set our minds
Where they should be and kept us in the Lord.
And now my grandchirren walk that same good path-
My one granddaughter has got straight As all
Through her school but just one B- and now she’s
In her junior year and just as smart as she can be-
And good! She don’t hang with no bad’uns but
Has three friends and they’re good girls-
Go to the movies and such together and put
They studies first…well, next to God. She’s such a
Pretty girl, inside, too, you know…her heart is big
And full of thanks to God.
On Thanksgiving Day, I was just a-lyin’ here,
Tellin’ God how thankful I am for all I have,
And when I looked up, they was eleven of ‘em
Here- my family- come to surprise me and
Bring me Thanksgiving dinner. Chirren and
Grandchirren, here just to see me. My heart
Was overflowin’ with joy. How blessed I am!
And that night, when I laid here waitin’ for
Sleep to come, I thanked God for every one
Of them…and it come to me that every person
Everywhere is God’s own child- and that
I should pray, not only for my family and those
I love, but for people everywhere- in every place,
No matter where, no matter who. God made ‘em all.
And so I do,
Because that is what I think God wants me
I don’t know how I came to be
In zis place. It doesn’t seem like
Very long ago that I was young and strong,
Doing what I wanted, caring for my family,
Traveling with my good friend…
And now, look! Can’t even take a shower by
Myself or get into my chair. And my
Breazing- it’s not good most days,
But thank Gott for oxygen and these
Little tanks I can take with me.
I think sometimes that this is
Payment for my sins…for all zose
Things I did and didn’t do that I
Should have. I wasn’t a good person-
Not as good as I should have been. Even now,
I am not always kind or patient,
Though I try. I try to pray, to ask Gott
For forgiveness. But sadness and shame
Sit heavy in my heart and I vonder
Vat vill happen to me in the days
To come. I vant to believe I’m
Forgiven…that I’ll go to Heaven
When I die, but I think instead I’ll
Be spending long years in Purgatory,
In payment for my sins.
Oh, Chaplain, pray for me, since I
Have such a hard time praying
For myself. I miss my daughter still,
And vonder if I’ll see her again.
And none of it really makes sense
My sons don’t come to see me…of
Course they live far away. My daughter
Comes sometimes but mostly I’m alone.
It seems like no one pays attention to
What I say, and I just don’t know why
I’m here, when I have a home and
Would rather be there. But I’m not
The one making decisions for me. That’s
All been taken out of my hands. It’s
The worst part about getting old, you know-
This inability to control your own fate.
And no one pays attention to what I say-
Like when someone comes into my
Room at night and goes through my
Closet and my drawers and takes
My things. Why would they want my
Things? There’s nothing new, just
Things well-used, so why would any
Person want them? I just don’t understand-
And no one pays attention to what I say.