I have several elderly friends. I always think I’ll have them forever, but this week I got a reminder that time is not guaranteed. I met most of them at church. They are a lively and comical group. I was introduced to them when my husband, Scott, became a Eucharistic Minister to serve Holy Communion at mass.
Most of the servers are women, but there are a few gents. The women became Scott’s attire consultants. He needed some attention with his collar sticking up, removing his earring and for the love, get rid of that chewing gum! Some days he had his golf shirt inside out. He wore a white flowing gown over top, so it wasn’t urgent, but they preferred he’d look decent.
One of Scott’s favorites was Jo. She stood at four feet tall. Her Italian heritage made her small and mighty. Jo referred to Scott as her “Choir Boy” because he served Communion up the back steps to the choir for her. “Leave him alone!” she’d yell at the other women. “His earring is fine! God doesn’t care.” Then she’d smile at Scott.
I’d see Jo visiting the sick at a local assisted living facility. She always gave me a big smile and a hug. Her hearing was not the best, but our hugs and smiles were understood. She was loved by everyone at church.
Just a few weeks ago, I arrived to volunteer at the church’s Friday night Fish Fry. My job that night was the honor of graciously serving French fries. If they knew of my high school fiascoes as a vegetable girl, they’d never have given me that job. I took my place in the buffet line.
Coleslaw, baked fish, fried fish, French fries, ravioli, and pizza adorned the buffet. Jo was late that day and when she arrived, we already had our spots covered. One by one, she shimmied up to each server and said, “I do this job, you know.” The pizza gal held firm. The ravioli lady did too. When she got to me, she batted her big brown eyes at me and said, “You know I do this job, right?” She only reached my chest. She even put out her lip and tried to make it quiver. I had to laugh.
“I didn’t know you were an actress,” I told her.
“I’ve done this job for years and it’s my favorite thing to do. I love serving people food. It makes me happy.”
She perked up, realizing she’d won me over. I untied my red apron and slid it over her head. She gave me a tight hug and thanked me. It seemed I was not meant to be a cool kid buffet gal that night. I moved to the end of the line and took the job of wiping off the serving trays.
I no sooner wiped four trays when I noticed Jo had moved up the buffet line. She was now back to her usual position of serving fried fish. With her blue vinyl gloves in place, I watched her fill the plates to the brim. I noticed her sampling the fish. She caught my eye and gave me a big smile and blew a kiss.
The little things in life become the big things. I’d never have forgiven myself for keeping that small happiness from her.
At her funeral, her son told a story that she could throw a shoe like a major league baseball pitcher. I imagined him running for cover and laughed too loud at church.
That was our Jo, small and mighty.
RIP, my friend.