She looked like Marie Barone (played by Doris Roberts), Ray Barone’s mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. Sitting next to me at the lunch counter in a fast-food restaurant the other day, she was beautifully turned out with her blonde coiffe and gold hoop earrings. She was wearing aÂ discreet amount of makeup with a touch of blusher and pink lipstick. Her name was Gladys and she’s a ninety-two year-old retired high school mathematics teacher.
When Gladys commented that she was too warm in her bright red wool jacket, I suggested she remove it and make herself comfortable. “Oh no” she said. “I’m wearing an old sweater underneath and that just wouldn’t be right.” Gladys then went on to explain that throughout her life and particularly when she was teaching, she realized that one should always present properly. She felt it was important for her students to perceive her as always professional and they frequently commented on her appearance, so her efforts were worth it.
I’m not sure if Gladys was lonely or simply feeling particularly chatty that day but in the hour or so that we shared during lunch, she told me her whole life story. She grew up on a farm, as did her late husband, and she attended college in Illinois. At the age of twenty-seven she went into the hospital for surgery for endometriosis only to be told when she came out of the anesthetic that she’d been given a hysterectomy. She and her husband then adopted two daughters, one of whom hasn’t spoken to her in eight years and the other she rarely sees or hears from. More stories followed including what her church group is doing, and she regaled me with enthusiastic descriptions of her last three driving tests, which she aced, and is still driving.
Gladys was articulate, energetic and informed. The conversation we shared was between two contemporaries, retired women who enjoy life every day and are thankful for our blessings. She admired the purse hanger I used to hang my purse from the edge of the lunch counter so it wouldn’t have to sit on the floor, so I gave it to her as I was leavingâ€”my little gift to her for the gift of meeting a wonderful lady to share lunch with. Her daughters may not want to talk to her but I enjoyed every minute of our conversation. It reminded me of the one thing I remember from high school Latin class, “Illegitimus non carborundum.” Thank you, Gladys wherever you are.
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