Friday, April 30, 2010

Miss Hazelyn

So, one of the 12.2 jobs that I have currently puts me in direct contact with very old people. And by very old, I do mean nonagenarians.

I met Hazelyn one day during breakfast (It was "Hazeline," but she changed it when she went to college). She is a crinkly, tiny black woman with huge glasses that take up most her face and some of her forehead.

She still has noble cheeks.

She wears her hair combed back, in a bun. It's mostly white, but there are still stubborn gray and black streaks around her temples. She moves slowly, and I usually have to use all my strength to help her when she wants to stand up.

Today, I helped her take a worn book down from the bookshelf so she could read up on her husband's liver condition. She wanted to see how likely it would be that he would need to be on dialysis. He's 14 years her senior, is now debilitated with Alzheimer's, and lives in a home in Houston.

She grew up in the deep south, segregated but not poor. Her slow, southern drawl gives her heritage away especially when she transitions from one subject to the next (or rather, when she keeps trying to get herself back on the original subject at hand) with her "anyyyyywaaays" expression.

One of her first jobs was working as a teacher, in a school where she was the only black woman. The principal there, a white male, made sure that she was always backed by the administration, even when white students' parents would complain that she would steal things from the white students. She was 23.

She is now 78 and lives lives in a country where a black man is president. Her home now is apart from her husband, her children, and she has a flat screen that she never uses. She writes notes down on any available piece of paper in an attempt to remember things she means to look up later, or people she encounters, but usually loses them shortly after. She keeps a daily journal. Today, she had me print my name and address for her "just to have on hand."

Sometimes as I sit listening to her as she travels from thought to thought, I go between watching her and her slow, deliberate movements, and looking at the portrait painted of her and her husband, he standing with his arm on her shoulder, she seated in a leather chair.

And sometimes, the things she talks about seem like a least a million years ago.

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