I love spending time with my older lady friends. By older, I mean 90+. They were raised in an era with precious few career opportunities for women and groomed to excel in the domestic arts. I’m fascinated by their histories. In their company, I’m given the chance to rise to a higher level of civility and practice my manners.
Whenever they serve delicious lunches and desserts on elegant plates, I feel like a nurtured child. They are impeccable in their dress (no jeans, never sweatpants) and accessorize with earrings and matching necklaces. Over the years, a few have given me their outdated polyester castoffs.
Note to older self: Do not give younger women your old clothes.
I visit these ladies at their homes or in public places. I would never consider inviting them to my house unless I hired a cleaning crew weeks in advance, engaged the services of an interior decorator, and a caterer.
Note to older self: Continue to live like a slob so people won’t feel self-conscious about inviting you to their homes.
Recently, one of these beloved friends permanently hung up her baking gear (she made the best chocolate chips cookies ever) and I attended her memorial service.
Upon entering the church, I was beckoned to a pew by my 94-year old friend Mary and her daughter Patty. Next to Patty sat a petite Italian woman, her hair perfectly streaked steel and white and shaped into a Dorothy Hamel bob. She wore a purple polyester pant suit, white turtleneck, and was introduced as Mary’s friend Dora. She, Mary, and the dearly departed Dorothy, had gone through school together.
Note to older self: Wear purple often—it looks good with gray hair.
We exchanged such pleasantries as: “You look lovely today.” “What a beautiful necklace.” “Isn’t this warm fall weather exquisite?” “The family should have put a more recent picture of Dorothy on the memorial program, not her senior high school photo.” “I’ll miss her chocolate chip cookies.” “I hope there’s food in the social hall afterward.” “The last memorial we went to had a lot of food.”
As the conversation waned, I silently remembered Dorothy’s quiet kindness. Dora surveyed the chapel. She tapped my arm. “Where is everyone?”
I had no idea.
“Dorothy went to this church for many years. Her fellow parishioners should have come to pay their respects. There are so few people here. It’s disgraceful.”
In the social hall afterward, we sat at a round table. Coffee was available in a carafe, but the food had been placed on a long table at the far side of the room. Mary leaned over Dora and asked if I’d mind going to get some sandwiches. I didn’t mind at all.
There were four large trays of homemade cookies and brownies. There were no plates—only napkins. I piled a bunch of treats on a couple of napkins.
When I returned to our table, Dora asked, “Where are the sandwiches and plates?”
“There aren’t any.”
Her face pinched with the same look she had when surveying the chapel. She and Mary tried to be gracious about eating nothing but sugar off paper napkins, but I could feel their disapproval.
Note to older self: Always eat lunch before a memorial service.
I left the table to talk to Dorothy’s family and other guests. I returned to say my goodbyes.
Dora took my hand and we exclaimed how delighted we were to meet each other. “I’ll probably see you around town,” she said.
“Do you ever shop at The Purity?”
“Oh yes,” Dora said. “I love that store.”
Of course she does—everybody loves The Purity.
“Last week, I was at Safeway and when I got to the produce section I couldn’t find anything fresh. As I went through the checkout line, a young man with a white shirt and tie came over to bag my groceries. I knew he was a bigwig, given his manner of dress.
“He asked, ‘Did you find everything you need?’ and I said, ‘Most of it, but I’m going to Purity now to buy my produce. Have you looked at your produce department recently? Nothing is fresh. I picked up a green bean and it was limp.” She demonstrated with her right index finger.
Note to older self: Never use an index finger to show a man how limp his green beans are.
“I wouldn’t eat beans like that if you paid me,” Dora continued. “I’m going to Purity where they care about the quality of produce.
“He finished bagging my groceries and told me to have a good day. I told him I would. Then I went to Purity and got what I needed.”
I wanted to high five her.
Note to older self: Sadly, these ladies are a dying breed. Remember them.