As I sat down at the "Stammtisch" or local's table at a restaurant to drink a tea while waiting for my son to come out of his drum lesson, I recognized her as the old lady I had given a ride to a week prior. She had been walking past my friend's house on her way to the next town, five kilometers away, while my friend and I had been chatting on the street. I had been struck by her healthy appearance. After exchanging pleasantries, I had offered to give her a ride, and she had accepted even though she had seemed fit. In the car, she had told us how she walked to the neighboring village every day, that she was a grandmother of five, that she lived in a house "up the mountains" and that she had spent her entire life tending cows.
Today, sitting in front of a tall glass of beer, her sparkle was gone.
I asked her how she was, and she said, "Not so good. Today is moving day."
I asked her what she meant. She said that her family and the town powers-that-be had decided she could no longer live alone in her house, the home she had occupied for the past fifty years. This was the place where she had nursed her dying husband and raised her children. Now, she was forced to leave it to move into a one-room studio in the newly-built assisted living center. In a slight wail, she went on the explain that her daughter-in-law did not allow her to bring any of her furniture.
"I ran away," she said. "I couldn't bear to stay in that cold place one minute longer. I will not sleep tonight."
Here was a grandmother getting drunk because of loneliness and sadness for having to spend her first evening alone in a strange place. Although, she was clearly upset, I noticed that the more she spoke, the better she appeared. I glanced at my watch. It was nearly time to pick up my son, but I couldn't leave this woman alone. I had an idea.
"Would you give me a tour of your new home?" I asked.
"Would you really like to?" she asked, her eyes lighting up.
"Yes, I've heard good things about the new center, and I am curious to see how the studios are," I responded.
So, she finished off her beer, and we both payed our drinks. She got in my car. I picked up my son and drove him home (explaining in English what we were doing). She knew many of my neighbors, including the veterinarian who lives down the hill from me. "I was his assistant for a while," she said.
I liked her new home. It was light, airy, modern and well-heated. For an hour, we tested her new phone, the lights, and the electric curtains. She showed me the furniture that wasn't hers.
"You see this brown coffee table? It's not mine. I have a perfectly good one at home, but they wouldn't let me keep it," she said.
And in her sleeping area, she pointed to her bed.
"I have such wonderful linens, and they gave me these," she said pointing to the wine red sheets. "And MY bed has a footboard on which I can stretch my calves when I have cramps. This bed has no footboard."
Her cell phone rang and one of her friends offered to come over, which was good because I was late for book club. So, I took my leave, leaving her smiling. Her sparkle was back, and I was glad.
While driving away, I thought how amazing life was and how coincidental the two meetings with this old day had been. Why were her relatives so bossy? Why wasn't she allowed to keep her furniture? I vowed never to be so controlling in my life. Were her items antiques and therefore valuable, or were her relatives embarrassed about her stuff? Maybe her furniture was really old and shabby. Nevertheless, I thought she should have been allowed to keep her stuff.