Imagine the stereotypical gracious, Southern hostess and you may get half the picture of Miss B.
Miss B’s husband was my wife’s second cousin. He and my father-in-law were first cousins, close in age, and, as Miss B reminded us several times during our visit, more like brothers than cousins. She and her husband had moved from their South Carolina farm to a North Carolina retirement community ten years ago as his health deteriorated.
We knew that during his illness, her husband loved to sit on my mother-in-law’s back porch and watch the birds land in her plethora of feeders. In what has become increasingly rare, we used the powers of social media for good, using it to stay in touch with Miss B over the years. Even though we had not physically seen her in many (15+) years, we had been able to keep up with each other. It had been on our hearts to visit her and a trip through the Low Country brought us close enough to make it possible.
When Jenni called her the evening before to confirm we could be there around 10:30 AM, she quickly said “I would love that, but it won’t work.” Uh-oh. She then explained she had a previous engagement at the retirement community and would not be available until 11 AM. Jenni and I winked at each other with some relief. Miss B would meet us in the circle out front at 11 AM. She said she would have no problem recognizing our big white van!
And so we made our way to the facility and parked as close as we could get to the ‘circle’ the next morning. Promptly at 11 AM, dressed in her Sunday best, Miss B arrived on the sidewalk, with the aid of her walker, and gave us a big wave.
The first hour was spent giving us a tour of the community. She would have to stop speaking to us periodically to assist other residents find where they needed to go, only to pick up mid-conversation and continue the tour. It was important to her to show us the independent-living apartment she had called home for ten years. Only in the past week had she moved to assisted living in the main building. We were introduced to several neighbors who made it clear how much they missed her but would stop by to see her new place. I don’t think there was a single staff member who walked by without greeting her and engaging her in conversation.
We finally reached her room where we looked at photos of her family and our new granddaughter while talking about old times. I felt like our visit during the first week of her assisted living care was just what she needed. Our visit was interrupted by a staff member who was on break; she just wanted to check on Miss B and see if there was anything she needed. She delivered about a 15-minute sermon that would have made her “pritcher” proud. (A friend asked me later what she “pritched” about and I could only recall something about “strong drink” aka hard liquor. He asked if she was for it or against it, and I said definitely against it!) But after preaching those several minutes, she stopped and said, “but what I really came here to tell you is that I’m making banana pudding tomorrow so be sure you get some.”
Our tech-savvy 87-year-old friend then pulled out her iPad to confirm the operating hours for the café downstairs. She wanted us to stay for lunch and we couldn’t refuse. I felt guilty that Miss B scarcely took more than two bites of her cheeseburger during lunch. It seemed the more we talked, the more we reminded her of old stories that just had to be shared. Since I had married into the family, my memories of her were limited. There was a family reunion at her farm as well as other reunions in other places. I reminded her of the time Jenni and I were watching the Conway Christmas Parade and she drove an antique tractor down Main Street. (That’s the kind of Southern woman she is!) That brought whole new tales of the tractor club she and her husband had enjoyed. With each story she told, she would lovingly say “Thank you for reminding me of this memory.”
There were more visits by various staff members during our lunch including the head chef. It was obvious she was loved, respected, and an integral part of that community. As the third hour of our planned one-hour visit came to an end, we had to say goodbye. (Those who know our dog Annie know how anxious she was to get her noon meal that was now two hours behind schedule!)
We started the slow southern goodbye—you know, the one that takes at least fifteen minutes to say goodbye! Once we were back at the driveway circle, we hugged and walked to our van.
Miss B, thank you for reminding me of these memories.