I did not have patience for old people a few years ago.
When they were ahead of me in line at a grocery store writing a check instead of using a debt or credit card, I’d sweat with anger. When the manager walked over to approve the check, I’d squint my eyes to avoid screaming.
I met Mr. DeLauro, and my attitude changed. He made me love old people.
Mr. DeLauro, is my 90-year-old neighbor. When I got divorced and moved, I rented a house next door to him. I was hoping when I moved in, a hot new guy would be living next door. Well, there was a guy next door and he may have been hot when he was younger, but there was no way I was going to date him.
Trust me, he tried.
“We need to find you a woman Mr. DeLauro,” I’d tell him. “What about you?” he’d say. I just laughed and say, “you wish.”
When we first met, he spent a lot of time endlessly watching black and white movies. I’d go to visit and he’d say, “Remember this guy, Clark Gable? Man, he was a good lookin’ guy. He was in that movie “Gone with the Wind.” My guess every time he asks me what actor is on the screen is always Jimmy Stewart. He’s the only old actor I know.
After a few weeks, I got tired of watching Mr. DeLauro watch TV all of the time so I suggested we get out and start doing things. I asked him where he wanted to go – maybe the grocery store, for ice cream or to church?
So one Sunday, we went to mass. I packed his walker in the trunk of his older-model, gray Lexus and drove to St. Paschal Baylon. I pulled up to the handicap entrance, took his walker out and told him to wait. I quickly parked the car and rushed back in to help him find a seat.
I picked him up early because I didn’t know how long it would take to get him into a pew. “What time is it?” he asked me. I told him we were about 15 minutes early. He just shook his head in disgust. “Next time, we aren’t getting here this early,” he told me in a loud whisper.
Despite his complaining, I drove him to the local community center one day. I told him to wait in the car while I went to see what programs were available to him. When I walked in, there are over 100 old people playing cards. I hit the jackpot. I sat with a group of women to share my dilemma and ask for help.
“My neighbor is old, and I’m trying to get him out of the house,” I told the women, who never looked up at me, and instead kept their eyes down and focused on their cards. “Go ask the men,” one lady said. “They need another pinochle player.”
Pinochle? I hadn’t heard that word since I was a little girl. My mom loves to play that card game. I walked over the to the men’s card table and sat down. They too barely acknowledged me, until I told them about my neighbor and how he likes to play cards. “We need another man,” they said. “Drop him off next Friday at 11:30 a.m.”
I got back into the car with my good news, which Mr. DeLauro wasn’t so happy about. He cussed and said, “@*&!, these people have been trying to get me to play cards for 20 years, and I’m not doing it.”
“Yes you are,” I said. “I signed you up, and you are going.” Then I told him there were about 10 women for every man in the group. He smirked and hesitantly agreed to go.
Four years later, Mr. DeLauro is still playing cards on Fridays. At one point, I think he had a girlfriend. She was 93 and drove so she would pick him up every Friday. When she died, he made other friends who now pick him up.
Mr. DeLauro still watches a lot of black and white movies. He fell a few years ago while trying to go to mass with his sister at Holy Rosary in Little Italy where they grew up, so now I take him communion on Sundays.
A widower and father of five children, Mr. DeLauro still lives in the same house he’s be in over over 50 years with the help of his three living children, grandson, numerous family members, friends and his caregiver Tracy. I’ve heard all about Tracy’s life, and I know she’s heard all about mine.
Other than my grandpa, he is the first older man who hasn’t irritated me. He knows every car that comes in and out of my driveway. When my family is in town visiting, he knows it. If I have a new boyfriend, he knows it and insists on meeting him. He looks out for me, and I look out for him.
Four years ago, when I moved my broken heart next door to him, I didn’t know he would end up healing me in ways I could not heal myself. His fieriness has worn off on me. I’m no longer shocked at the comments he makes like – “broads are doing a lot these days.” Instead, I laugh and remember he was born in 1929, the start of the Great Depression.
Surviving difficult times, whether it’s the Great Depression, a divorce or the death of a loved one, teaches us to be more compassionate. I no longer fume when I get stuck behind an old person at the grocery store. I give them a Mr. DeLauro smirk and remain calm.
In life, that’s all we can do. Be strong, calm and show support to our neighbors. We need one another – no matter how old or young we may be. Love exists in many forms.
Look around you. Is there a Mr. DeLauro in your life you can connect with? Start with a simple hi and go from there. Along the way, your heart may be healed like mine.