Mary Grace is doing a new language study at the university. Since Claire does better in the waiting room (where there are toys) than in the observation room (where I can watch what MG's doing on the closed-circuit television), we stay in the waiting room for the hour it takes MG to complete the study. (The researcher says that she is a very hard worker, by the way, and that she is very focused on the tasks at hand, and doesn't require as much redirection as expected for her age... Cool, huh?)
I took my book with me today, but I never got a chance to open it. The first woman I talked to was there for speech therapy with her daughter, and her 3 year old son who weighed 45 pounds was giving her a hard time. He was a TANK, and I was thinking how exhausting it would be to lug a kid that size around all day. We had a nice little chat about the various illnesses that have gone around this winter (I'm coming down with a cold), and the weather.
Then another woman came in, with another 3 year old boy. He was more average sized. She, however, was not an average mom. She had him when she was 49 years old! Yes, this poor woman was 52, dealing with a toddler. Her only other child, another son, is 26. And apparently her husband is no help - she said that he's a 400 pound corrections officer, and she treats her and her son more like inmates than family, and it really sounded like she was going to leave him soon.
Can you imagine being a single mother of a toddler in your fifties?
She left, after her husband called and gave her a hard time because her son was giving her a hard time about leaving (he would rather have stayed to play with the toys than go home with his dad, and from what I heard, I can't blame him). Then I struck up a conversation with an 81 year old woman. She had three children, one of whom had been killed at age 21 (in the 1970s) in a stone crusher - apparently it had clogged and he and another guy went in to unclog it, while someone in the control room, unaware that there were people inside, turned it back on. They were both killed. I asked about her husband, they had met after he returned from World War II, he was 17 years older than she was. She told me that after the war ended everyone went to Indianapolis to celebrate in the streets, but it was raining, and their paper shoes disintegrated in the rain.
"Oh yes, there was no leather to be had. Everything went to the soldiers. We made our shoes out of layers of paper. They worked pretty well, until they got wet!" she laughed.
"It must be hard for you to listen to people my age whine and complain about the economy and how bad things are right now, when you've had paper shoes and lived through real hard times," I said. "I'll bet you just want to smack us!"
"Honey, people your age have no idea," she said. "I've eaten things you would never eat - ground hog and squirrel - because I had to. I would eat them again, if I had to. But people your age, you wouldn't eat squirrel."
"We wouldn't have the first clue how to catch them!" I said.
"No, the hard times are going to get worse, and people my age will be all right, but I worry about you young folks."
"We could learn a lot from your generation," I agreed. "We're soft. Everything we've ever needed has been available, on the shelves in stores, and if we don't have the money we put it on a credit card!"
"I don't hold with credit cards," she said. "Once someone gives you money, they own you."
We chatted a bit more. She said that her grandfather had fought in the Revolutionary War. Of course she meant the Civil War, she was a bit confused. I never did find out why she was there.
Maybe simply to remind me that there are stories all around us, not just between the covers of books, if we care to hear them.
After she left, I turned to the man (my age) who had entered the waiting room as she and I were talking. "It seems to be my day for stories - I spoke to a woman who had a baby when she was nearly 50, and then to that lady, who really should write a book... What's your story?"
He didn't have one - he was just waiting for the results of his hearing screen. Mary Grace was back, anyway, and it was time to go to lunch.
People tell me the darndest things - things they'd probably never tell their friends or their therapists - in passing conversations. I guess it's sort of a gift. I really don't think of myself as a particularly good listener, but there's something about me that makes people share things with me. Is it my face? Is it my voice? Are they trying to get in my book? Or is it simply that I ask?
What's your story?