“Raise,” said one of the fellows at the round table holding his cards steady.
“I fold,” said another.
Bob nudged me as I put my chips out. I won.
“Oh!” the table of old men erupted with laughter and guffaws. Bob patted me on the back. “We’re sending you to Vegas when you’re old enough, Kid!”
I was thirteen so they had some time to save up. Some years later I went back to visit the assisted living home and found them to all be gone. For some reason, I was surprised.
Ada was born in 1892. I did not realize how old she was when I visited. At thirteen, I really had very few friends. I was born an old soul, attracted to the spirits and experiences of those much older than I. After school I would walk across the parking lot from my small Catholic school to Maryhaven, the home for the aged, that sat on the edge of the property. I would go into Ada’s room and sit with her. I would listen to her stories. I wanted to know everything I had missed.
“There was a trolley down Broadway, you know,” she would start, “We lived near it. In the winter we always had a large bag of potatoes in the cellar to get us through.” She would dictate a delicious sounding recipe for scalloped potatoes. Perhaps I should have written it down. In that time and place I was just her friend, in my mind her equal. She showed me her paintings of birds, pointed out her favorites. Lamented that her children never came to see her. Told me more stories.
Ada had been a piano player for the silent movies in the twenties. She would often go into the common room and if prompted would play the most beautiful melodies I had ever heard. Back in her room we would speak some more. When she would fall asleep I would go into the dining room and play poker with the men.
I watched the older woman in the corner eating her food slowly while speaking to three people only seen by her. I came to know death was near when elders started seeing and speaking to their deceased loved ones.
Bob had a drinking problem and if I came to his room to see if he wanted to sit and chat, I would be surprised when he snapped at me. Slammed the door. I saw the anguish of loneliness descend on the people there. I was witness to their amazing stories and lives. And as quickly as 1892 came, 1992 found not a single one of them alive.
My beautiful friends.
Brother John was always busy caring for the residents. He graciously put up with my hanging out at the home so often. He would take me with him to get donated food. He would listen to me. Isn’t that the greatest gift you can give to a person?
As a lonely child, perhaps I found my respite among lonely adults. Whilst searching for a photograph of Maryhaven I stumbled upon his obituary. Perhaps having older friends my whole life made it blatantly clear to me at an early age that life is indeed short, sweet, sometimes lonely, and that there is always enchantment to be found. One of my peers from Our Lady of Lourdes passed away this weekend. My age. It makes me nervous. Perhaps I ought to get a Volkswagen bus and we can hit the road like we always wanted to. Better finish my book. Anxiety wells in my chest. Or, I can just make another cup of coffee and watch the newborn squirrels frolic in my yard. Go to my little shop, see my girls, make sure they know they are loved immensely. Smile at people I see. Enjoy the drive. Enjoy the ride. Life is filled with beautiful moments.