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Even Drug Dealers Love Their Grandmothers & Other Observations 
From the World of Meals On Wheels
By Zachary Loesch

     He strode across the yard, skin glistening like Hershey’s chocolate sauce poured hot from the can. The gold necklaces lying like heavy foils against his youthfully vulnerable neck drew attention from his evasive eyes. 
     
“Meals?” He turned expecting us to follow him as he entered the tiny, crooked house nestled in the high weeds of an unkempt yard. Rusting parts of almost anything once bearing wheels were everywhere but we picked our way through to a darkened room and an old robe-wrapped lady already seated at her kitchen table awaiting her meal. 

     “Come on in,” she whispered, glancing with pride at the young man now carefully placing the hot food in front of her, “my grandson”. We gave her the cold milk and desert as we inquired about her health—a question she blew off with a “Humph”. This visit we had two boxes of cereal and a large container of Tang for a month of breakfasts. 

     “Just put it right here on the table,” she said simultaneously with the young man’s ‘thank you, I’ll take care of it”. Skirting the sleek red car so incongruously dominating this dilapidated environment, the vanity plate, ‘1 RUSH’* shocked me into a disquieting realization—even drug dealers love their Grammas.
Pretty Woman: It’s crying for paint, but her small house draws you toward it. Charm and character are in its design and the dirt road leading there is short and well used. “

     ‘Knock and walk in’ are on the instructions for this home. Miss Bella, though hard of hearing, has a smile to stop you in your tracks. A widow, she is obviously well loved as we frequently find younger people repairing her pump, cutting her grass, eagerly giving back something to a woman for whom they show huge respect. The first time we visited she could barely sit up at her table but she laughed, and whispered, “Oh, poor me!”
 She likes us to put her milk in her freezer and remove the paper covering her meal. She’s fragile but strength and independence are almost palpable in her clean, sun filled kitchen. Today she joyfully reports, “Oh, I’m just so much better”.

     Getting there: In our county, hot meals are prepared at our Senior Center. Folks who come for the activities are fed there but Meals On Wheels clients get home delivery. We cover one of the three routes in Mathews county once a month and always experience an adventure. A grandchild reminded us we take meals “not to old people but to older people” so I admit we do prefer our excitement on the mild rather than wild side. The Agency On Aging administers the program and no one is turned down. There are those who refuse to accept what they consider “charity” and will press a check or money into your hand. The most one can be charged is thirty-five cents per meal and for those struggling to maintain themselves in their own homes, this isn’t just a bargain, it’s a godsend. The meal we deliver today is pork with barbecue sauce, baked beans with ham, confetti corn, milk and cookies in adequate portions for older, less active folks. 

     We pick up two insulated containers, one for the hot meals and one for the milk and desert-and we get a sheet of directions to usually twelve homes. 

     Oh boy, those directions! As much as I hate to say it, they’re obviously done by a woman. Distances are seldom mentioned but landmarks—oh there are lots of landmarks. The sharp curve (to the right or left?), pass the chain link fence (which is completely obliterated by vines in summer!), and I especially like the one directing you to the house with trash all over the front porch—there’s more than one like that in our county. Colors are interesting too—not all of us share the same idea of gray, green and blue but we all have cell phones now so a quick call to the Senior Center gets us back on track. We now know the nooks and crannies of our county and actually yearn to set out on the rough narrow roads slicing through our miles of marshlands. As we pass, marsh hawks and blue herons rise from the rushes and the occasional farmhouse adds form and substance to the landscape. Its stark like an Andrew Wyeth painting but the interplay of light on the grass and water can take your breath away.

     Perfectionism in a kimono: Ada Loving lives in an old white frame farmhouse recently aluminum sided. The yard is cleanly cut and when she opens the door a whiff of Clorox creeps out. She’s adorned in a sapphire blue kimono, her soft white hair setting off the warm walnut of her face. She smells clean and faintly of flowers. “Please come right in,” she graciously requests, “and oh, thank you so much”. Her walker is close at hand but not wishing to be any trouble to anyone she insists on taking into her own hands the food, placing it carefully on the table and waiting until we’re down the steps before closing her door. Our next stop is a similar one—who does this perfect cleaning—surely not these frail and unsteady ladies, but indeed it may be. Slowly and perhaps taking all day, they are accustomed to hard work and cannot be idle. Peggy Tyler is small, neat and hard of hearing. ‘Knock hard’ the instructions say and she was indeed nearly impossible to rouse. We pounded on the front door of her tidy trailer home, called in loud voices, then attacked from the rear—all to no avail. Eventually by pounding back and front simultaneously, we got her. Oh but she was grateful and apologetic as she looked over the proffered meal and set aside the desert cookie “for my baby-my grandson,” she smiled.

     Couples: Doubling back is sometimes required. A particularly long one took us to a brick rancher with a water view. Two newish cars were parked in the landscaped driveway and exotic, high demand plants filled the deck and porch. An elderly gentleman with rice paper skin waited at the door. 

     “We have a bird, if he hears the bell he’ll start screeching. He might wake her up-so I wait about the time I know y’all will be coming.” Somehow you know this is a very old and very good marriage. The husband, who is obviously the healthier of the two, must have all he can do caring for his home and wife and meal preparation is beyond him. He only gets the one meal for her however. From the look of him he doesn’t much bother with eating himself.

     Deep chuckles and warm laughter bubble from the only other couple on our route. Their dwelling is a trailer in the yard of the fallen in house they used to call home. Sweetie lives here—we always take her dog cookies for she’s the most loving and appealing dog we’ve ever encountered. She shares the overgrown yet oddly inviting yard with about a zillion cats but they too are friendly and adorable with short legs, small ears and puckish faces. We’re always urged in here. It’s a warm happy place with one large cage holding two rescued doves frequently separated by a piece of cardboard. With averted eyes and head tucked in embarrassment the old gentleman explains,“They wear one another out, they do, just don’t never give up!” We get his drift and leave knowing these lovers of life are going to enjoy their meal.

     Attitudes: Gladys Carter lives in the only home where we aren’t thanked. It’s a lovely big farmhouse; three nice vehicles in the drive and inviting cushioned lounges on the screened in porch. A relative is usually weeding the flowers but never stops to speak or take in the food. Perhaps she has only a small amount of time to give to the task but Mrs. Carter doesn’t alter her routine either. She sits, without turning her head and growls, “Put it on the table”. Close to her drive is an old cemetery where today grave diggers are preparing a grave. Does this frighten her? It concerns us. Our route does change all too frequently because someone is ‘off the list’. 

     Companions: Some clients have companions. To reach Lois Warner we leave the marshes to wind our way over cool, tree tunneled roads. Passing Jags and other luxury cars, we discover her hidden away in an old farmhouse, rough boards shiny with a new coat of white paint. Someone had a ‘Martha Stewart moment’ apparently for the risers on the four front stairs are a brilliant magenta. A smiling able-bodied woman meets us at the door, which she cracks only enough to take in the food and allow to escape the combined scent of urine and kerosene. Mystery hangs around this house but we move on to yet another client we never see.
She’s all the way at the dead end of a trailer park, her home disguised as a general store. Our pretty neighbor cares for this client and so we chat a few moments as we pat a huge, limping, loving dog. This bit of visiting is our choice. Clients are eager to eat so do not detain us.

     The Conjurer: Is Mickey Haslett an Irish conjurer? Directions guide us to a skinny abandoned looking house set well off the road. Boots would be best here, there’s barely a path, but a clean curly dog weaves through the underbrush and greets us enthusiastically; diverting us as a shirtless man, pale as a ghost materializes before us. Neither young nor old, he’s mysterious, well spoken and his voice could weave a spell. His dog loves him outrageously.

     We have another interesting gentleman. He gets about his decrepit bungalow well enough and a licensed, inspected car sits close to his door. He’s happy when his food comes and today he’s repairing his sink. He needs more than his two hands so we stay and help. He smiles-a combination of chagrin at being needy and joy because the job’s done and dinner’s on the table.

     Our last gentleman lives in of immaculate solitude. One can tell he isn’t well, but he’s always uncomplainingly content. When his perfectly hung door opens the portrait of his mother claims all attention. One can see his face in her strong, honest gaze. She’s beautiful in the way of intelligent, forthright people. “She was a teacher,” he smiles, understanding at our age we realize she taught in a segregated school for far less wage than her white counterparts. Perhaps he is her finest achievement; his cleanliness and dignity, his genuinely gracious manner her tribute. 

     Cats: Back tracking again, this time passing broad soybean planted fields, pine woods and white and black split rail fences. Like the scene in an Easter “peep egg” we glimpse far in the distance colonial mansions facing the East River. Lillian doesn’t live in one—although we have delivered to them in the past. Miss Lillian has a brown, rusting trailer. She used to have a husband, teeth and many many cats. “Are your cats under the house enjoying the shade,” I inquire not realizing animal control has paid a visit.
“Lord no—cat man come and carried ‘em all away. I miss ’em too. There was two nice cats come up to the house just this morning looking for food but the cat man says I can’t feed ‘em. I don’t know—set that food right on the washing machine there, will you? I thank you for it.” The machine has a hand cranked wringer and obviously still sees service. 

     Leaving Lillian we return to the Senior Center, turn in our sheet of directions, our insulated containers and any bits of money foisted upon us. We think of all the strength, fortitude and kindness we’ve seen in little over an hour and we’re glad we can participate in a program providing nourishment and support for all of us who love our homes and our independence. 

© 2001 Ann Sale All Rights Reserved
*This and other details have been changed to protect identities and privacy.


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