Mabel, Down the Road

Posted on February 6, 2012


Mabel is the mother of a close friend of ours. Our friend, Bill, her son, died 18 months ago.  Mabel was born in 1915, which, for those of you who are mathematically challenged and can’t work the little adding machine on your computers, means that Mabel is 97 years old.  She lives in a big house all by herself, has no help to maintain it, shops and prepares her own meals.  In other words, she pretty much takes care of herself. A few years ago, she climbed to the top of the hill behind her house so that she could do some landscaping.  She lost her footing, fell, rolled down the hill and broke her hip.  Her hip mended, but now she has to pay someone to maintain the property.  She’s still pissed off about that.

Being 97 means that a lot of people who used to be around her have disappeared.  One husband, one son, all of her siblings, virtually all of her friends, and definitely all of her doctors.  She’s as sharp as she ever was, which means that if you try to talk to her as though she were elderly, you’ll probably pay the price.

Because Bill was a close friend of mine, and because Judy, his widow and my close friend, drives from New Jersey to Virginia on a regular basis to check in on her, I still see Mabel fairly often.  I still haven’t figured out how she keeps getting better looking with age, but she does.  I think it must be those damn cheekbones.

On Saturday night, Judy, Mabel and I went to dinner.  The place was crowded and people were standing, waiting for tables.  I asked the waiter, “Can we please get a chair for this women.  She’s 97.”  I stressed the “97.”  I didn’t do it for Mabel, who was perfectly fine standing there.  I did it as a way to get seated more quickly.  My ruse worked, and we avoided the projected ten minute wait.

We had a lovely dinner.  Each of us ordered the same thing.  Women are like that. When the check came, Mabel said, “Why don’t we all just split it?  Judy answered, “Mabel, you are the matriarch, and you call the shots.  Judy and I threw our credit cards onto the check.  Mabel, with a grand flourish, pulled her wallet out and tossed a five dollar bill onto the pile.  In effect, Mabel contributed to less than half of the tip.  Either she really wasn’t aware of the current cost of restaurant meals, or she is even more clever than I suspected.

We went out to Judy’s car.  Mabel got into the passenger’s seat, and as I was shutting the door for her, she said, “You know I’m still driving.”  I was a bit taken aback because Judy had told me that Mabel had let her drivers’ license and tags expire.  I asked her how she could drive without a driver’s license.

“Illegally,” she smiled.

“You shouldn’t do that,” I said. “If you get stopped, you will be in big trouble.” I heard myself say the words and while my mouth was saying them, my brain was wondering what “big trouble” would mean to a 97-year-old. Add that to Mabel’s personality, and the smile she was giving me as I shut the car door, and I had the answer.

Less than zero.