My Oldest and Dearest

By

I sometimes watch my co-workers as they search desperately for friendship and have to shake my head. Hitting singles bars, parties, even church groups, desperate to find someone…anyone to keep them from being alone. It makes me sad to think that many of them don’t realize that there is an almost entirely forgotten generation, most of whom are even lonelier than they.

Mrs. Vick had been my mother’s dearest friend. She’d been our neighbor for many years in the rundown apartment complexes of the Portland suburbs. Neither woman had been in the best of health, both were dirt poor and barely able to pay their bills. They had formed a bond, of sorts, out of desperation.

When one was feeling well enough to make the half-mile walk to the store, there would be a knock on the other’s door, asking if she needed food, or maybe a prescription filled. When the end of the month neared, and groceries grew short, cupboards would be opened, refrigerators emptied and casseroles or pots of soup made with whatever ingredients were available between them. They laughed together over I Love Lucy and cried together over All My Children.

In this way, two aging women, alone in the world except for the children they were raising on their own, found a way to survive.

When the power would go out in the dead of winter, we would bundle up in old quilts, troupe down to Mrs. Vick’s apartment and huddle around her ancient kerosene heater. When summer baked the cracked sidewalks and weed-ridden dirt lawns, Mrs. Vick would bring a pitcher of iced lemonade and sit on the balcony of our second-story apartment with us, hoping to catch the errant breeze.

This was the way of things until my senior year in high school, when Mrs. Vick suddenly moved away. Her health had deteriorated until she was forced to move in with her eldest daughter. That fall, shortly before Thanksgiving, our seedy old apartment building caught fire and burned to the ground.

Everything we owned was consumed, clothing, furniture and the few family heirlooms we possessed, when the ancient wiring finally gave out and ignited within the walls. The insurance company wrote us a small check, and Mother and I moved into a nearby rental house. Shortly afterwards, following a long battle with her failing kidneys, Mother passed away. I grieved, of course, but I knew that she was happy to be free from her thrice-weekly dialysis regimes, which had come to be a nightmare for both of us.

Three years later I was finishing nursing school and had taken a night position at a local eldercare facility. As I made the morning rounds with my medication tray, the name on the door of room 201 caught my eye…

Elizabeth Vick.

I knocked softly on the door and entered and, sure enough, it was the same Mrs. Vick who had shared our struggles through all of those summers and winters. Her white hair was thinning, and her frail hands shook with palsy now, but the same tough, resilient spark shone in her eyes. She remembered me, of course, and was overjoyed to have me sit at her bedside and talk about the “old days” with her.

I spent many breaks and lunches in room 201, reading Mrs. Vick the latest letter from her daughters, and telling her about the comings and goings of my life, to which she listened with rapt attention.

One day I mentioned the fire that had destroyed all of our belongings, and Mrs. Vick suddenly began to cry, small tears slowly tracking down her weathered cheeks. She pointed to the small closet on the far wall of her room and told me to look inside the cardboard box in the far corner.

Inside were a number of old keepsakes, including a cheap cardboard photo album.

This she asked me to bring to her, which I did, and she turned the pages slowly until she found the one she was looking for and handed the album to me.

Now it was my turn to cry! There, under a yellowing sheet of plastic, were the only four remaining pictures of my mother to exist anywhere. Two were summer shots of the balcony (both taken by me with Mrs. Vick’s old Konica), the third was of my 12th birthday party and the last picture was from an early Christmas. In this last photo, I sat in my mother’s lap, smiling hugely, as her arms were wrapped tight around my tiny shoulders, and her head rested against my own. On her face was the sweet smile that sometimes seemed so hard to remember.

With a trembling hand, Mrs. Vick removed the old photo from the book and handed it to me.

“Sometimes,” she whispered, “God makes us find our gifts from Him. I never would have remembered these pictures if you hadn’t come and sat with me everyday.”

I leaned down and took her frail body in my arms, our tears mingling as I squeezed her as hard as I dared.

That was almost three years ago. I’ve switched jobs twice, and moved once, but I’ve never forgotten Mrs. Vick. I still drive out to that nursing home two or three times a week.

In the summer, when the air conditioners in the new building make the rooms just a little too cool for her failing circulation, I’ll bring bottles of sugar-free lemonade, and we’ll sit on the shady veranda and watch the Columbia river roll by. We read letters from her daughters (and granddaughters), talk about life as it used to be, and sometimes we just sit and enjoy the warmth.

On my desk at home sit three frames. The largest, in the center, holds my nursing certificate. To the right is a small photo of a smiling little girl in her mother’s lap, and on the right is that same child, many years later, sharing a lemonade with her oldest and dearest friend.

About this writer

  • I sometimes watch my co-workers as they search desperately for friendship and have to shake my head. Hitting singles bars, parties, even church groups, desperate to find someone…anyone to keep them from being alone. It makes me sad to think that many of them don’t realize that there is an almost entirely forgotten generation, most of whom are even lonelier than they.

    Mrs. Vick had been my mother’s dearest friend. She’d been our neighbor for many years in the rundown apartment complexes of the Portland suburbs. Neither woman had been in the best of health, both were dirt poor and barely able to pay their bills. They had formed a bond, of sorts, out of desperation.

    When one was feeling well enough to make the half-mile walk to the store, there would be a knock on the other’s door, asking if she needed food, or maybe a prescription filled. When the end of the month neared, and groceries grew short, cupboards would be opened, refrigerators emptied and casseroles or pots of soup made with whatever ingredients were available between them. They laughed together over I Love Lucy and cried together over All My Children.

    In this way, two aging women, alone in the world except for the children they were raising on their own, found a way to survive.

    When the power would go out in the dead of winter, we would bundle up in old quilts, troupe down to Mrs. Vick’s apartment and huddle around her ancient kerosene heater. When summer baked the cracked sidewalks and weed-ridden dirt lawns, Mrs. Vick would bring a pitcher of iced lemonade and sit on the balcony of our second-story apartment with us, hoping to catch the errant breeze.

    This was the way of things until my senior year in high school, when Mrs. Vick suddenly moved away. Her health had deteriorated until she was forced to move in with her eldest daughter. That fall, shortly before Thanksgiving, our seedy old apartment building caught fire and burned to the ground.

    Everything we owned was consumed, clothing, furniture and the few family heirlooms we possessed, when the ancient wiring finally gave out and ignited within the walls. The insurance company wrote us a small check, and Mother and I moved into a nearby rental house. Shortly afterwards, following a long battle with her failing kidneys, Mother passed away. I grieved, of course, but I knew that she was happy to be free from her thrice-weekly dialysis regimes, which had come to be a nightmare for both of us.

    Three years later I was finishing nursing school and had taken a night position at a local eldercare facility. As I made the morning rounds with my medication tray, the name on the door of room 201 caught my eye…

    Elizabeth Vick.

    I knocked softly on the door and entered and, sure enough, it was the same Mrs. Vick who had shared our struggles through all of those summers and winters. Her white hair was thinning, and her frail hands shook with palsy now, but the same tough, resilient spark shone in her eyes. She remembered me, of course, and was overjoyed to have me sit at her bedside and talk about the “old days” with her.

    I spent many breaks and lunches in room 201, reading Mrs. Vick the latest letter from her daughters, and telling her about the comings and goings of my life, to which she listened with rapt attention.

    One day I mentioned the fire that had destroyed all of our belongings, and Mrs. Vick suddenly began to cry, small tears slowly tracking down her weathered cheeks. She pointed to the small closet on the far wall of her room and told me to look inside the cardboard box in the far corner.

    Inside were a number of old keepsakes, including a cheap cardboard photo album.

    This she asked me to bring to her, which I did, and she turned the pages slowly until she found the one she was looking for and handed the album to me.

    Now it was my turn to cry! There, under a yellowing sheet of plastic, were the only four remaining pictures of my mother to exist anywhere. Two were summer shots of the balcony (both taken by me with Mrs. Vick’s old Konica), the third was of my 12th birthday party and the last picture was from an early Christmas. In this last photo, I sat in my mother’s lap, smiling hugely, as her arms were wrapped tight around my tiny shoulders, and her head rested against my own. On her face was the sweet smile that sometimes seemed so hard to remember.

    With a trembling hand, Mrs. Vick removed the old photo from the book and handed it to me.

    “Sometimes,” she whispered, “God makes us find our gifts from Him. I never would have remembered these pictures if you hadn’t come and sat with me everyday.”

    I leaned down and took her frail body in my arms, our tears mingling as I squeezed her as hard as I dared.

    That was almost three years ago. I’ve switched jobs twice, and moved once, but I’ve never forgotten Mrs. Vick. I still drive out to that nursing home two or three times a week.

    In the summer, when the air conditioners in the new building make the rooms just a little too cool for her failing circulation, I’ll bring bottles of sugar-free lemonade, and we’ll sit on the shady veranda and watch the Columbia river roll by. We read letters from her daughters (and granddaughters), talk about life as it used to be, and sometimes we just sit and enjoy the warmth.

    On my desk at home sit three frames. The largest, in the center, holds my nursing certificate. To the right is a small photo of a smiling little girl in her mother’s lap, and on the right is that same child, many years later, sharing a lemonade with her oldest and dearest friend.

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