"How's my girl?"
That's how she greeted me, both in person and on the phone. I loved being her girl.
One day she greeted me while sitting at her kitchen table, a red rimmed white enamel bowl on her lap. It was full of the tiniest carrots and she was cheerfully scrubbing them clean.
When she smiled at me her eyes went all crinkly and bright.
"What a boring job. I'd never bother with carrots that small." That's what I thought to myself as we visited. She would've been shocked had I voiced my thoughts. I think it was that day I asked her what she did when she got cranky. She stopped and thought for a moment and told me she didn't get cranky. I would've thought she was lying except I'd never seen her get cranky. She had the kind of attitude that made the best out of everything.
I met her 20 years ago. I hadn't lived in this community as a sober person and when we moved back I went to a meeting in a town down the highway. An elderly woman there told me there was someone living in my community in recovery. I was lonely. I didn't know how to relate to people in sobriety. Many of my relationships had been built around partying and without the booze we found little in common.
So I called her up. Her of bright crinkly smiling eyes. She sounded gruff on the phone. Very gruff. Short, staccato bursts of words came out of her mouth. Oh my Lord I thought. She's needs help. I'll be her help. I'll be her saviour. That's pretty close to my original thoughts, too. I knew she was in Al-Anon. I thought whoever in her life drank must be drunk right this minute for her to sound so gruff. I pictured her as a tough old broad in camouflaged clothing wearing hiking boots.
Well, didn't I get the shock of a lifetime when she came out on her step as a stooped white haired lady wearing a pretty dress with an apron over top. She dried her hands and greeted me with a brilliant beaver toothed smile. She took me in as her own instantly. Her husband had died the previous winter and she was alone except for a grandchild she was raising. We sat on her musty blue sofa and chatted over china cups of tea.
She never dwelt on the past. But what I learned of it still amazes me. I live what most people would think of as remote. For me, it's normal. When she reached out for help in Al-Anon she wrote a letter. Eventually she learned of a meeting in the town down the highway. She had to walk several miles to the highway to catch the Greyhound Bus if she wanted to get to a face to face meeting. She did this regularly until the day came when she had a car of her own. It was a big yellow boat that glided down the highway. She could barely see over the steering wheel. We did a lot of laughing in that car.
The only mention she ever made to me of life before recovery was that she once went through a winter where the only company she had to talk to pour her heart out to during a 3 month time span, were her chickens. There was a certain grimness in her remembering. And also a thread of hope. If you can make it through three months without another living soul to talk to you can make it through anything.
She passed away quite a few years ago now. I miss her. We were privileged to take a road trip together once. Sometimes I'd take her to town. We went to meetings together occasionally. She took life as it came. She was up for any adventure. Our age difference of 50 years never came into the picture. We mattered to each other.
Yesterday I pulled the last of the carrots from the garden. You can see some tiny ones there among the bigger carrots. I thought of her as I trimmed their tops and decided which ones to keep and which to toss.
I kept many of the smallest of carrots in memory of that day she held a red rimmed white enamel bowl on her lap full of tiny carrots.