Elena loved hanging with old people.
There was the crew at the McDonalds her grandmother took her to. Folks in their 80s and Elena would fit right in.
There were the wakes and the funerals – she loved those.
Kim and Maggie and I love hanging with old people too and in the past few months we’ve lost three great ones.
Sue was just 80. She was the youngest of the three. She had spent a lifetime working for women’s rights with the Cleveland chapter of the NOW. She’d helped found the Cleveland Rape Crisis center.
You’d think she’d be militant and preachy. She wasn’t. She was wonderful to be around. She would join our coffee group on weekends at the Shaker Square Arabica and talk about gardening, work, whatever. She listened intently and was always interested in other people.
Just before Elena died we went to her and Bob’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Elena was so afraid she was going to spill the beans since it was a surprise party that she walked around the house with her hand over her mouth the whole time Bob was over.
Elena didn’t really know the other two we lost.
Nate was someone I remembered from when I was a kid. There are pictures of us over at his family’s house for Passover. He always talked to kids like they had something to say. I remember that so clearly from my childhood and I got to observe it as Nate talked to Maggie when she was younger.
Nate was retired from the Classics department at Oberlin College. He loved to ask Maggie about her Latin classes and Latin conventions. His wife Eva remembered poetry she’d memorized more than sixty years earlier. Nate was always learning, always sharing ideas, always listening, right up to his death.
And then there was Helen.
So many of my parent’s friends in their retirement community are people I’ve known all my life. They were faculty members at the college or taught at the high school or worked in town. These are people whose kids were my age or who went to school with my brother or sister.
Not Helen and Bob.
They are new friends. We didn’t meet them until they were more than eighty years old. They were smart and sharp and fun to talk to. They pressed Maggie to keep her grades up (she did) and to enjoy college but not too much. They played bridge and were funny. You just felt better being around them. In their nineties they were younger than so many other people I know.
Helen used to find money and other valuables wherever she went. Whenever I’d travel she’d tell me to report back about the money I found. I was a big disappointment to her. Not really. It was a game we’d play. She’d ask me if I’d found any money and I’d have to admit that I hadn’t. She’d sadly shake her head.
In the last few months Sue, Nate, and Helen have all died. Ranging from 80 to 91. They all died. It feels like they all died too young.
Monday was Washington’s birthday. It was also the tenth anniversary of Elena dying.
She never lived to be sixteen, let alone sixty.
When she died, Kim said “she’ll never live to get her heart broken.”
Sometimes it comforts me to imagine an afterlife where the people I know find each other.
An afterlife where Sue explains to Elena what it means to be a woman and Elena explains Girl Power back to her.
An afterlife where Nate tells Elena stories of when her father was her age.
An afterlife where Elena brings Helen coins and beams when Helen tells her, “you know, your father could never find any. You’re very good at that.”