My mother’s friend Martha is 90 years old. She is mainly blind from birth, and now her hearing is drifting off. I imagine words coming towards her and curling into a gentle, blue puffy cloud.
Martha lives alone with her dog friend, Gretel.
Martha considers my mother her best friend. But, my mother is dead… and hence so is Martha’s best friend.
Martha calls me on the phone one day, wanting to return a book to me. She must have borrowed it from my mother.
I say, “Keep it or give it away, whatever you want.”
There is a silence.
“Oh. Do you want me to come and get it?” I ask.
Yes. She does.
She’s lonely. She wants to see me. I haven’t seen Martha since my mother died 2 1/2 years ago.
The next day when I arrive at her gate, I park my car, get out and wait for her to push her way down the drive with her walker. She unlocks the heavy wire gate and I step through the opening.
She reaches toward me, takes my face in her hands and peers closely up into my face.
“Oh. You look just like your mother. It’s like having your mother here with me, again.”
I am going to be my mother for an hour or two as I spend some time with Martha.
We inch our way up the long drive. Martha tells me she has to use the walker because her dog, in her great thrill with life and running, ran over her one day when they were outside. Greta knocked Martha to the ground and Martha broke her leg.
“But, I’m fine now,” Martha tells me once we are settled in the house at her table. “I only bring the walker outside with me so Greta can’t take me down when she’s chasing rabbits and squirrels.
Martha has a nice old house. It’s not fancy. It’s plain. The kitchen where we are sitting has old coffee cans dotting the sink, mismatched dishes and cracked drinking glasses. It looks like my mother’s kitchen.
Martha’s husband died 25 years ago. I remember him. A tall man with a great, big dark moustache that ran up at the ends into a wide smile.
They raised chickens. Looking out the kitchen window I notice the long old chicken houses, rusted with age and neglect.
Martha has been alone for a long, long time.
Her children live in places like China and Nepal. One lives across a wide field near Martha but she is gone for ten and more hours a day.
I look around and silently wonder, ‘How do you live alone when you are old and nearly blind and can hardly hear?’
“How do you do it?” I ask her. “How do you feel about living alone?”
Martha says she is healthy. That even her knees are good. She thinks a minute. “About living and being alone for so many years? I just do it.”
She says it used to be easier when a bus came by and took her uptown but that it’s been years since that bus came by. Once a week, a friend takes her for a senior lunch at the Centre. The daughter that lives across the big field, takes her grocery shopping and they have lunch every Sunday.
I hear the ticking of an old wooden clock on the kitchen wall. We sit quietly and I listen to the tick. Martha has been listening to that clock tick her days away for at least 25 years.
“I have to go now,” I say, reluctantly. “I have to be somewhere else.”
“Oh. It’s been so nice having you here for awhile,” she says. She is disappointed that I have to go.
“In a couple, of weeks,” I say, “I’m going to call you and come and get you and take you to my house for lunch and tea. Would you like that?”
Now, we both have something to look forward, too.
Martha sees my mother in me…and I see my mother in Martha.
My mother’s old friend is now my new friend.
My mother’s friend is now my friend, too.
Suddenly, I feel all sweet and warm inside.
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