I’m greatly delighted to say my friend Mary Ruth turned 104 today. She’s bright, lucid, reads (without glasses) and hears fairly well without hearing aids. She stays up to date on the news and always has insightful things to say. (For her 100th birthday, she asked for an Ipad.)
She’s in a nursing home, and has had a foot amputated as a result of her Marfan’s disease — long brittle bones. She was a very tall woman and now none of her bones are really strong enough to support her.
She was born in Knob Noster, Missouri. She didn’t have children.
She was in her 60s and I was in my late 20s when we met. (She was in her 40s when I was born.)
She was a photographer who went all over the world — including Russia and Cuba during the cold war. She’s a brave African American woman who wanted to see the world for herself and not blindly believe what governments told her.
Over this last winter, she was sick for a while. I go to visit her with two other friends and we couldn’t get her to wake up enough to converse. Usually she’s up in her wheelchair, and ready for conversation.
At that visit, my friends and I would talk to each other, then Mary Ruth would wake and say something about how nice it was to be outside in the bright sunlight, and how beautiful the plants were. It was actually a rather dreary and cold winter day. She’d dose off, wake up again, and thank us for coming and for being in the warm sunshine with her. She said thank you over and over.
We decided we should visit more often. I felt sure she was going to die soon.
The next visit, we brought music — Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday. Mary Ruth was in bed again, dozing. When we put the music on, her foot began to tap to the rhythm, then she woke up and we had a great conversation about the music of her youth.
We visited a month later and she was up in her chair, bright, lucid and ready to converse.
And today, she turned 104. Unfortunately, we can’t visit her because of the corona virus. I talked to her on the phone and we made plans to see each other as soon we can make plans again. She said the nursing home held a party, and there were dancers out in the courtyard for her to watch.
I sometimes wonder if I could manage my life being reduced to a small room, unable to care for myself. The care home she’s in used to be in Memphis, but it moved out to Bartlett, so it’s a long way from her friends. And she has lots of friends and acquaintances because she never restricted herself to her own age group. She was active in the Peace and Justice Center until she was about 98.
Now her photographs are archived at the University of Memphis. And she is in a small room in Bartlett.
Often when I’m feeling dismal about my own health and mobility problems, I see her smiling face, and hear her voice, soft and sweet, telling me how much she loves our visits.
She marvels at her age. “It’s such a blessing to be here.”
And I’ve got to believe what a 104 year old friend says. Especially on this beautiful, sunny day, with all the plants coming into bloom, in spite of everything. We are mourning a lot of losses and losing a lot of our friends. But Mary Ruth for now, for today, is holding steady, watching and learning from another year of life on this planet.
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