I remember when grocery stores got carts, she says. Shopping was a lot more fun after that.
So what did you do before there were carts? I asked.
She looks puzzled, pauses, thinking back, then says she doesn’t know. Maybe, I suggested, the stores were smaller? Maybe there was a meat market and a vegetable market, maybe a bakery?
The suggestion of a bakery triggers more memories; there was a bakery just across the street and the man there saved day old bread for her mother.
“She made the best bread pudding,” she remembers. “Mom was a good cook.”
Cooking for a big family, day after day with very little money, must have been hard, we agreed. She says she used to hate having to cook daily herself, and she only had one husband and one son.
I never met my husband’s sister, she says, and she was coming to dinner. I didn’t know what to make so I bought a roast, a veal roast. Then I asked myself why I had done that. I didn’t know how to cook a veal roast. My husband told me just to cook it like any other roast, he liked my roast. So I did and it was the best thing I ever made. Roast veal and carrots and potatoes. It was so good. She never knew I didn’t know what I was doing.
She says it’s a lot easier now. She remembers when her dad and others cut ice out of the river, storing it in a shed covered with sawdust. It lasted until the middle of summer, in northern Minnesota, and was the only refrigeration they had.
She remembers riding the train from Minnesota to Detroit with her siblings and her mom, to join her dad in a town he had found work. She remembers being scared, and imagines her mom was too.
She remembers growing up in a large family who had very little money but had the only important thing that mattered; love. How they helped each other as they each grew and started families of their own, working in each others’ businesses, taking care of each others’ kids. Laughing together at the 4th of July picnics, gathering at Christmas, weddings, funerals.
The years flew by and now she’s ‘one hundred and one and a half’ as she likes to say. She’ll be one hundred and two in September. She doesn’t know where the time has gone. She doesn’t know how so many people she loves are gone.
But the memories and the stories remain — a century of memories stored in her mind.
Time has slowed for her now as she sits and waits for her next chapter. The days are long and fast, all at the same time. People visiting her are the highlight of her days.
She becomes animated as she talks about times long ago, she laughs and giggles and rolls her eyes. For a bit she forgets where she is, she forgets she’s over one hundred years old.
I ask her how old she feels.
She stops and thinks. Maybe in my eighties she replies. Yes…I was good in my eighties, and my head thinks I still am. It’s these darn legs that are over one hundred.
And then she laughs again and tells me another tale.