Right next door to the performing arts center where I work is a subsidized housing apartment building.
Most of the residents are seniors. Other than a casual hello to the old folks who stand outside with their walker smoking, we have very little interaction with the people who live in the building.
The one exception was Jill.
Jill was a charming, feisty lady who often ushered our shows. A concert violinist, she loved music, especially classical, but was also a fan of bluegrass and Celtic and was always willing to give anything a try.
She ushered for more than one rock concert only to come in the office and tell me she was headed home because it was too loud. But she was a good sport about it.
When I needed to complete a study of the city for a graduate school class, I interviewed Jill because I knew she grew up in there. She sat with me for two hours, telling stories about her childhood and teenage years in town.
She giggled that her mother would be scandalized that she lived in the building next door because it used to be a hotel for “business men” and her mother would never let her walk by it alone when she was a girl.
She told me that they lived in a house on a slight hill that had long stairs leading up to it. When boys came to “call” on her, her father would stand at the top of the steps and stare down at them. By the time the boys got to the top they was so nervous of her stern looking father that they could barely speak without stuttering.
Jill would stop into the office frequently just to say hello and give everyone what she called a “grandma hug.” She said everyone could use a grandma hug.
Over the past year or so, Jill’s visits became less frequent and she stopped volunteering. She had a little trouble walking, so we didn’t think much of it. It’s hard to usher when you can’t walk very well.
Yesterday on my way back from the post office, I bumped into Jill and her son on their way back from lunch at a local restaurant.
Jill still had a big smile, but seemed a little distant. Then her son made a point of asking me very specifically about the performing arts center by name and it occurred to me that Jill didn’t know who I was.
Throughout our short conversation, she kept her smile but didn’t really participate and never acknowledge who I was.
She didn’t even offer me a grandma hug.
It’s so sad to see vibrant, interesting people go, for lack of a better word, vague.
Sharing her stories with me gave Jill so much joy. Even if she can’t remember the more recent past, I hope that Jill still can relive her girlhood, giggling over her boyfriend’s stammer and father’s overprotection.
And I hope someone is giving her plenty of grandma hugs.