Everybody Needs a Mary

By Susan DeBow

Everybody Needs a Mary

My dear friend, Mary, is 97. Last year she moved into a nursing home because she got a wicked case of shingles that left her with neuropathy. So, she turned in her car keys and house keys and moved into the Country Manor Nursing Home.

She had gotten her new car when she turned 95, along with a five-year loan.

That’s Mary. Looking forward.

At first, Mary was in a double room, which cramped her style. She didn’t complain. Her myriad of friends did. There was no room to sit when we’d come to visit. And visitors she had. Daily. 

So, Mary’s sister put in for a single room and within a short time she got one. Her sister moved in a love seat from Mary’s home, her keyboard, her TV, DVDs, books, desk with computer and printer and a portion of Mary’s massive wardrobe. What she couldn’t fit in her closet at the home, she has stored in a friend’s house. Just in case.

I met Mary maybe eight years ago at our little church that was built in 1826. I do believe many of the current members were born around that time. Well, not quite, but most are in their 80s and 90s. I, at 62, am the second youngest member.

Mary and I clicked. She had this little smile and interest in everything I did. She heard I was a writer and that thrilled her. When she learned I was a “published” author, the pedestal became higher. She’d give me a hug and sidle up next to me and scrunch her shoulders up and roll her eyes and her whole face smiled. She made me feel better than anyone I have ever met.

When my novel, Cleaning Closets came out, she bought one. Then, she bought another and another and another until just about everyone she knew had been given a book. She was my one-woman publicity team.

I’d go to church just to see Mary.

When I had some dinners at my house that I called Jeffersonian dinners because they were designed around some dinners Thomas Jefferson had where the invitees would discuss a topic, I invited Mary. The group ranged in ages between 34 and 96. You can guess who was 96.

Mary quickly, and without trying, became the star. She had wanted to be a standup comedienne in years past. Well, she at least became a sit-down comedienne because she made us all laugh so hard we thought our gaskets would burst. In this droll, understated way, she would tell her stories and roll her eyes and bring more life and personality to the party than anyone else. She’d outlived nearly everyone she’d given instructions to about her funeral. And she was still looking for one more boyfriend…stipulation? He had to be able to drive at night.

Mary had two husbands and no children. But she gathered people like a mother hen gathers her chicks.

Mary and I, to this day, talk about anything and everything. Even sex. She knows books, TV shows, movies and life. She’s curious, and she does something that so many people don’t do. She asks you to talk about what you are doing, and how you are doing. She knows what a conversation is. It isn’t all about her.

Mary loved to dance and still dresses with more style than I have ever had. She holds court dressed in matching outfits, lots of costume jewelry and shoes that Imelda would have fled the country for. She still orders them. She delights in ordering things to wear and having her sister tell her she better not wear those shoes because she might fall. I tell her to wear them if she is riding in her wheel chair but not to stand in them.

She always has a feather or some other adornment in her hair and her nails done. Even in the home she is a social butterfly. On her door is a card system one of her friends made that she can flip over and it tells visitors where she is. Bingo, church, coffee hour. That way, visitors can go find her.

I’ve gone to bingo with her. She does funny imitations of everybody and laughs at her own situation. Only once did she do a poor me. She had heard two more friends had passed away, along with her ex-husband. But she acknowledged her mood and sadness and then moved on.

She plays the clavichord for the church service and when other residents ask her to. She knows which ones like her to play and she obliges. She enjoys the food and doesn’t complain. But, boy does she like it when I bring her Frisch’s cherry pie!

I hadn’t been up to see her for a while as I had another friend who was in the process of dying that I had been visiting a lot. Mary understood and emailed me kind words, and she felt for me. Again, she said she missed me but knew it wasn’t always about her.

In my experience, God doesn’t put many people like Mary on earth. She elevates me and makes me believe in people when I am just about to give up on them. And to have someone have faith in me like Mary does has been one of the greatest gifts in my life.

Oh boy, I just got an email from Mary. She said my dog, Winston and I look alike and the email is filled with smiley, winky characters.

She cracks me up!

About this writer

  • Susan Hipkins DeBow Susan Hipkins DeBow is a writer and artist. A hobby of hers is watching Law and Order reruns and then going around telling people she wants to make a “collar on the perps,” and demands a “remand.” She got hooked on Law and Order reruns after seeing Seinfeld reruns 20 times. You can read Susan’s work and see her art, photography and miscellaneous miscellany at www.ohiowritergirl.com If you are nice, she’d like to be your friend on facebook. Go to her Facebook page, Ohio Writer Girl.

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One Response to “Everybody Needs a Mary”

  1. Susan, I taught a writing class in a senior center, and there was a wonderful Mary there who made my day, too. Then she moved South at 85 to be near her children. Special people have a far reaching ripple effect on others. I enjoyed your story.

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