You may remember my friend Jule. It’s pronounced “Julie,” but she said her mother thought it would look more interesting without the “i.”
I’m helping plan a 104th birthday party for Jule in a few weeks. Still quick-minded and funny, Jule recently wrote a poem about her assisted living facility giving her canned green beans 18 days in a row. She gathered that statistical information by keeping a tally mark in her notebook for every day they appeared on her plate next to a tough bland pork chop or tough bland baked chicken. I bring her Mexican food and gluten-free pizza. She eats no sugar.
The rehab/nursing facility where Jule lives is depressing and old. The employees steal things from her, and we conspire how to set traps for them, like putting itching powder inside the blouses or along the edges of the costume jewelry she loves to wear. But, other than theft and food, Jule never complains about anything.
Always the lady, Jule has me deliver her supplies of lipstick and White Diamonds bath powder. She has her hair done at the beauty parlor every two weeks. I tell her she doesn’t look a day over 90, and she laughs and says, “I looked okay until 97. It was all downhill from there.”
A friend moved his father into the same rehab center when he needed care after a stroke. Mr. H. is 12 years younger than Jule, and after I met him knew the two neighbors should meet. Their rooms are in the same hall, so Jule and I “called on him.” She rolled in a wheelchair but refused to let me push, instead shuffling her feet, saying it was good exercise. Before we entered Mr. H’s room, she paused at the doorway, brushed a speck of lint from her skirt, and smoothed her hair.
I made the introductions, and although Mr. H was in bed, it was as formal and polite as if we were at the Country Club. They discovered they had lived in the same town in Texas, missing each other by around eight years.
They recalled the same places and discussed the war. Mr. H. was in the Army, and Jule was a Red Cross nurse and later a counselor for Veterans. I sat quietly on the extra bed that was empty due to Mr. H’s roommate having recently moved into the room with his new wife. Jule attended the wedding held in the facility’s chapel and told me, “The bride wore a flower in her hair, the groom wore oxygen.”
The conversation flowed, and I sat back and took it all in. The two seniors have lived interesting lives but spend days with people who can’t relate or communicate effectively. Always the encourager, Jule asked Mr. H about his rehab schedule and suggested he could also be working on his hand and arm strength.
It was a gentle, sweet moment as a new friendship formed, and I had a front-row seat.
A little over 10 minutes later, it was time to go because proper behavior says never overstay your welcome. Their old-fashioned formality was rich and full in an otherwise spartan environment.
It’s never too late for new friends.