There's a certain breed of little old ladies here in the South that are slowly going away, never to be replaced. I was thinking of this the other day when I read Tom's recent post titled "Vanished ladies". The women I'm talking about are very different in some ways than the ones he describes, but I understand his nostalgia when he thinks of them.
My friend Marla's grandma is a good example. Miss Mildred (around here we call elderly folks Miss or Mr. Firstname as a mark of respect) is 94 years old and the matriarch of her family. She's gentle, sweet, soft spoken, and in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a real lady. On the other hand, she grew up on a farming family of modest means (like most people of her generation around here) and knew all about hard work. In her old age she's become one of what we call "little church ladies" because they're deeply involved in the workings of their church, doing lots of unpaid (and underappreciated) tasks behind the scenes.
My neighbor was one such lady. She passed away unexpectedly last weekend.
Miss Luella was a couple of months shy of her 84th birthday. One of her daughters called me last Monday to give me the sad news and thanked me for being "a good neighbor" to her mama. I was shocked to hear what had happened to her. Apparently, she went out to get her mail on the previous Friday afternoon and stumbled coming back up the steps to her door. When she stumbled, she fell and hit her head on the headrail. She went inside and told her daughter (who had been staying with her for the past year) what had happened, and insisted she was fine. Nothing hurt, she felt good, and she didn't even have a bruise. She was fine all that night, fine all day Saturday, and Sunday morning drove herself to church, still feeling fine.
On Sunday night, all of a sudden, she said she'd developed a bad headache. Her daughter asked her how bad, based on a scale of 1-10. Luella said, "Eight. I sure hope I'm not having a stroke!" Of course, the daughter called an ambulance. By the time it arrived, she was becoming unresponsive, and was brain dead within the hour. In the early hours of Monday morning. there was nothing left to do but take her off life support. She was gone.
You probably know where this story is headed. Miss Luella had an undiagnosed brain bleed from her fall two days prior. The doctors said that even had they known about it, they probably couldn't have prevented her death. The capillaries in her brain were thin due to age, and she was taking a lot of blood thinners.
I've been so sad about this all week. The night after she died one of her young adult grandsons rang our doorbell to give us the news, not realizing his aunt has already told us. He cried and said that Gregg and I had been really good neighbors to his grandma and thanked us again for looking out for her. (We didn't do much; usually Gregg would try to roll her big garbage can out to the street on the morning of pickup and then back under the carport afterwards, and occasionally I'd stop by with tomatoes or lettuce from the garden or we'd chat over the back fence like neighbors do). She had a large, tight knit family that were always gathering at her house. She was lucky in that respect. I guess she was lucky, too, to live such a long happy life surrounded by loved ones, and then to die so suddenly and easily without any real declining health to make her last days miserable.
She's going to be dearly missed as a neighbor. She bought the house next door to ours back in 1971 with her late husband, so she's been here longer than I've been alive. Her house is the one with the magnificent magnolia tree that blooms so beautifully each spring. It already has big fuzzy buds all over it, just waiting to burst into its spring finery. And for the first time in over 50 years, she won't be here to see it.
I posted this photo on Facebook last year and tagged Luella. I said, "Your tree is glorious, as usual!" and she replied, "Thanks! It is. Only God could make something so beautiful. Happy that you're enjoying the tree with me."
May she rest in peace.