Old Dorothy

Dorothy sat on a park bench as I approached the path on the river behind the 2 story, apartment building where she lives. She said, “I knew it was you, I can tell by the way you walk.” I asked her how she was, “Okay.”

“Just okay?”

“I’m lonely. Old people get lonely.”

I sat down.

Dorothy is 87. It seems like I know  a disproportionate number of 87 year-olds; 1925 must’ve been a good year for longevity. She listens to talk radio. She’s convinced Obama is purposely ruining the country, plotting against the working class. I am absolutely not going to debate politics with a lonely, 87 year-old woman. Ain’t happenin’.

I sat on that park bench with Dorothy for well over an hour. She got divorced after 31 years of marriage, sometime in the late 70s I imagine. She got her motorcycle license when she was 50. As we talked, she’d stop to tilt her head to the sound of an approaching Harley and a big, toothless, grin would grace her countenance. She tries to hide her mouth when she’s talking but joy foils her efforts at concealment. Her teeth don’t matter to me. Her story does.

She moved here 15 years ago, after nursing her only son as he died, from AIDS related opportunistic diseases, in California. He opted out of a thirty year marriage and a life that wasn’t really his. He’d moved to California to make an exuberant splash in the bathhouse scene. Dorothy says he was promiscuous but she doesn’t judge. There is nothing to judge. He was relieved to finally be himself. He made some undiscriminating choices, haven’t we all?

Her daughter lives here. It strikes me that they may be very different. Dorothy lived in an apartment at her daughter’s house for a while. For some reason, she doesn’t reveal, she had to leave and move to Section 8 housing. Without prompting, she claims she doesn’t know why she couldn’t stay. It’s likely a lot more involved than that. It hurts her. Mother-daughter relationships are often convoluted. There’s no reason to speculate.

When her former husband died two years ago she applied for his social security benefit. She attended his funeral, “I was there for all of that. We had a family so we remained friends.” Her cremation is pre-paid but she doesn’t know if the funeral mass is worth the $150 she’d have to pay for it. She really wants to get to the bottom of the money laundering situation at the Vatican.

As I left, I told Dorothy how much I’d enjoyed our visit. I said, “It was fun. Good for us!” She responded with a big unguarded grin, “Yes, good for US!”


About elroyjones

Married, no children, responsibly self-directed, living happily.
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11 Responses to Old Dorothy

  1. judithatwood says:

    What a kind, sweet thing to do — even if she hadn’t said anything interesting, (and I know she did — she sounds like a pistol!) I bet you would have enjoyed her company just as much. That’s a gift that some have, and some don’t. Good for you both!

  2. John says:

    As I read this, I think of my mom, who’s 88, and would probably love to talk politics with Dorothy, since they seem to be of the same opinion.

    This resonates with me on a couple of different levels, as I’ve known my share of people in Dorothy’s generation, and I’ve known too many of them who’ve ended up lonely, some with family, others without. I’m always angered at children who can’t be bothered with their parents. Yes, I know families can be complicated, and there can be all sorts of past issues. I get that. I do. But, it seems to me, that there comes a point when it’s time to make peace. Yes, it can be tough to live with a parent, but, I cannot imagine letting my mom live in section 8 housing.

    This also touches me because you take the time to stop and talk to this lonely woman. Most of my mom’s friends here in town have died or are dying, so she has no one other than my partner and I to talk to most days. I know how lonely my mom gets, and I can imagine how much my mom would appreciate it if someone sat and talked with her for an hour. So, on behalf of my mom, I say “Thank you for taking time out of your day to bring some light to a lonely old woman.”

    • elroyjones says:

      My guess is Section 8 housing is very different where you live. Dorothy’s building is quite nice and her apartment is in a prime spot. She told me she loves the unit BUT she doesn’t like the invasive, 7th grade mentality of the social environment.

      You, your partner, and your mom are lucky to have a good family dynamic so you can have your mom with you. Everyone does not have the same sense of duty or loyalty that you have. To be honest, I’d rather live in Section 8 than with any of my family. I love them all but I enjoy my own space and privacy.

      I enjoyed visiting with Dorothy, maybe even more than she enjoyed visiting with me. She’s a spirited old bird and an interesting conversationalist.

  3. I can see Dorothy so well, inside and out, through your description. Elroy, do you share your writings outside of your blog or are we the only fortunate ones?

    • elroyjones says:

      I submit short stories to small university presses, where I’ve been lucky to get published (ONCE!) and I am a regular contributor to papers hither and yon on heady political matters that I feel strongly about. I once got an encouraging handwritten REJECTION note from The New Yorker.

      All of my writing is for me. I don’t write with a particular audience in mind.

  4. gkinnard says:

    A GREAT story that you—as expected—told very well!

    I’ll bet you both enjoyed this exchange! Dorothy sounds wonderful!

    Regarding section 8 housing, from 15 years of experience I can very safely say that quality can run the gambit from pretty darn terrible to great. I’m glad your Dorothy is in a good place!

    Yes: 7th grade mentality is often the case in congregate housing. Believe me: things happen when you gather folks together who have lived independently—with distance between them and their neighbors—and put them right smack next to each other in a dormitory-type setting. Territory issues, competition, jealousy, nosiness, fighting, etc. abound. But there is also a good side: Someone’s likely to notice—and act on it—if something’s gone wrong or if you’re sick.

    Again, great job with the post!

    • elroyjones says:

      George, thanks very much for the short tutorial. It’s interesting that quality varies so much with Section 8. I suppose it has to do with management of the properties.

      • gkinnard says:

        MOST of it has to do with property management. If management wants to do only the absolute bare minimum that they have to do in order to get HUD funding, then that particular housing is going to be pretty lousy. Government inspections tend to be infrequent and not very thorough; as long as your paperwork is in order then you tend to pass. I’ve seen some very bad behavior from older adults during the time I’ve worked with them.

        Long story short, when you run across someone like Dorothy—a great person living in good housing—then you’ve found a prize on TWO levels.

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