Several years ago, I befriended a woman in Cincinnati, but then you know that, don’t you? I’ve told you all about Miss Loretta.
If you’re new to this column, I’ll fill you in. She is the widow of a Cincinnati policeman. She did not marry until she was 37 because when she was 20, her mother died at 42 and left a passel of children behind. The youngest was 2 years old, so Miss Loretta stepped up and took over. Only when the last child — a boy — was raised and on his own did she allow herself to find love.
They were married for only a few years when he died suddenly of a heart attack and left Miss Loretta alone with no children. Her niece, Donna, is a blonde, blue-eyed angel and takes good care of Miss Loretta. We write each other, something that few people do any more. But we’re the old-fashioned letter-writing kind, so we stay in touch by words actually written on a page. When on occasion, I’m in Cincinnati, I see Miss Loretta.
Hers hasn’t been an easy life, but she doesn’t complain. She looks at only the good and talks about that. Nothing at all about the tears that have stained her cheeks or the loneliness that has been her most constant companion. Her beloved Earl died 50 years ago and she still talks about him with the glow of a young girl newly in love. She is amazing, that Miss Loretta.
She wrote the other day, and I had to laugh out loud at one of her comments. She was talking about our friendship and how she has my photo on her wall and all my letters stacked by her chair.
“I’m only 95 years old,” she scrawled in her familiar writing. Only? That should tell you a great deal about her optimism on life.
She continued, “All my friends are gone. My friends at church. Even my pastor is gone. It’s good that I still have you and Donna.” She seems bewildered as to how a 95-year-old could lose so many friends and family to death. Yet, she seems determined to keep on going since she’s only 95.
I thought of Mama. She thought differently than Miss Loretta. She would say, “I’m 85 years old and I’m too tired to go to church. I believe I’ll just stay home today.”
I could tell from her tone that she was set to argue with me, expecting a lecture on why she needed to go to church. For there is, as you know or will surely learn, an invisible dividing line in life where we become the parents of our parents. There was a time when she lectured me about going to church, no excuses allowed.
Instead, I said, “Well, that’s just fine. If you want to stay home, you just stay at home. I’ll request prayer for you, sinner that you are.”
“Don’t you dare. If I hear anything about you puttin’ me on the prayer list, you’ll be the one in need of prayer.”
Mama pulled the age card when it helped her — senior discounts, too tired to go to weddings of people she didn’t particularly like or she needed her porch swept. Other times, she dismissed it such as in the case of, “Everyone tells me how good I look for my age and you know, they’re right. Just look at Beatrice. She’s younger than me but she looks older. She gives into her aches and pains, too. I don’t.”
But unlike Miss Loretta, when Mama discussed how many of her loved ones were gone, she understood. “Look how old I am. That’s the sad thing about getting old, you outlive people you love.”
Miss Loretta, though, is going strong. She’s still writing, walking, shopping and, importantly, making plans for the next 10 years. That’s admirable optimism.