Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Bird's Open Heart
I am taking a tutorial from Bird on aging gracefully; she is graceful and gracious both. The two of us were talking about how we both are forgetful hostesses, never remembering to offer our guests so much as a glass of water, much less tea and cookies. But my friend never locks her door, and usually doesn’t even shut it all the way, because she wants visitors to come in without knocking; she doesn’t always hear a knock or the doorbell.
She is always so glad for company, and resists talking about herself, preferring to ask about her younger friends and their families, and hear other people’s stories. Her own stories are only told when they pertain to some matter that concerns her guest, or after emphatic prompting. Bird is almost 95 years old; is she ever going to become what I find to be the more typical elderly person, living in the past, and impatient with recent people and their doings?
When I had her for tea last week she was the guest of honor. I picked her up and drove her to my house, and on the way here in the car I showed her a list of topics we wouldn’t mind her talking about. She started laughing — I don’t know at which question — and said teasingly, “I am not going to come to any more of your tea parties!” But when the guests had all arrived she was willing to share of her past and her tales with them, and entertain us all with her humor.
There is the story about her novel, written in high school, about the Spanish dancer Juanita. It was a love story, but Bird knew nothing about “the kind of love you have when you are married.” At the end of the romance, when Juanita and her suitor have progressed in their relationship to the point where the ardor is intense, the novel closes with the line, “Juanita leaned.”
The photo here was taken when her 11th child was a toddler and Bird was about 35 years old. She looks happy enough to burst—serene at the same time. I think she must have been the best wife for her husband; she was apparently not contrary, but neither was she wimpy. She had to be strong and steady when he was depressed and couldn’t work for — was it three years? The kind of person who would keep doing her own job of running the household, waiting and praying for things to change.
She told us over tea that decades ago, when some of us used to see the couple walking “together,” Bird ten yards behind, that Mr. Bird had needed long walks to help with his “emotional problems.” He would be in shirtsleeves, and she was wearing a sweater, and he told her he was embarrassed by her wearing the sweater, and asked her not to. She replied that she needed the sweater because she was cold, and suggested that he walk by himself if he was embarrassed. And he said, “But I need you to talk to!” This was funny because he was way too far ahead for them to be able to carry on a conversation. When one of their adult children later died, the priest told her husband, “Now today, you walk beside your wife.”
Bird seems to have walked as close to her husband as he allowed, as long as he lived. She has been a dear and encouraging companion to me, as we both try to walk with God. My prayer is that He would give me a measure of her spirit.
(I wrote the piece above several years ago; more recent posts in which Bird appears are here and here. Now she has reached 100 years, and is as young as ever. She still keeps her door unlocked and her smile bright.)