Thursday, March 30, 2023

Mrs. Hunter

When I was a very little boy, no more than five or six, my mom would take me along with her to visit a friend.  

We'd drive to the retirement home where she lived, a set of midrise towers on the outskirts of DC.  It was, if the fading threads of old memory serve me, a nice place, surrounded by flowering trees and gardens, and intended for the surviving spouses of military officers.  Mostly, it was just me and Mom, because for some reason I can't ever recall my brother coming along.  Given our propensity to squabble as little ones, this was probably for the best.

Ruth Hunter...or Mrs. Hunter, as I called her...was an elderly woman, a widow living alone in a retirement community.  She had worked an editor and a writer for some journal or another, someone who'd written grownup things that grownups were interested in.  Mom had gotten to know her while in her graduate program at Georgetown, and then worked for her as a writer for a while.  Or so I faintly remember, through the haze of the years.

We'd arrive, and wend our way up to the little one room apartment where she lived.  It wasn't much of a space, just four walls and a small bathroom, furnished simply with a few choice items from a former life. 

There, she and Mom would talk and spend time talking about the boring things that grownups talk about.  I'd sit and read, being a spindly little bookish creature.  Sometimes, she'd ask questions about my life, and I'd answer seriously, and Mrs. Hunter would smile at my sharing.

I would be enlisted to search for pills on the floor, squeezing my little frame spider-like under furniture to recover little missing blue or white tablets.  Mrs. Hunter couldn't get them herself, as she required a can...and then, as the years advanced, a get around.  She was old, she would say, and she couldn't get down to do it herself, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that I was being useful.

"Ah, Davidy," she would say.  "You are my best beloved." 

After chatting, we'd go for a walk around the facility, and through the gardens.  Then, if I was lucky, we would head to the cafeteria to eat lunch with her. This meant dessert, and dessert was always welcome.  Ice cream or pie or pudding, so long as it was dessert, I was happy.

When her mobility deteriorated, we'd wheel her about her in a wheelchair.  We continued to visit her well into my teens.  I cannot, from my own memory, remember when she passed.  It may have been when I was in college.

Spending time with the elderly was just something one did, or so I learned as a little boy in the mid 1970s.  It was a natural thing, an important thing, this connection between the generations.  I took for granted, as children often do, that it was simply a thing that happened to everyone.  It wasn't about me, or my activities.  It was about her, and the friendship she and Mom shared, about human connection.