Sunday Post 170: A Very Best Friend

I don’t think I realized it at the time, but she was one of my very best friends.

She wasn’t anything like me. We grew up in two very different worlds. She was ten years older than me, an African-American. She’d lived in Raleigh her entire life. Her mode of transportation was a city bus. She rented an apartment on the other side of town from us.

Lillian was our nanny for eleven years. Every weekday, fifty-one weeks a year, I’d pick her up at the bus stop near the Harris Teeter. In winter, she’d wear her heavy, brown, wool jacket. She always carried a huge purse.

In the afternoon, I’d drive her back to that corner so she could wait for the vehicle that would get her back home. Sometimes, if the weather was bad I’d drive her to north Raleigh.

We talked about it all.  There wasn’t a subject that was off limits.  I knew about her family, her divorce. She’d spent some time in Fayetteville, my hometown. She loved her family, was so proud of her niece and nephew.

We talked about my marriage. She encouraged me to be a better father and shared with me the things I’d missed when I was at work.

I can’t tell you how often we laughed about the nutty things she’d see parents do through the years in her profession of childcare.  We even talked about our faith.

We never spent time together outside of her work hours. She didn’t attend my kids’ school functions or recitals. We didn’t go to church together or go out to dinner. But there was a mutual respect and admiration.

She suffered from a stroke six years ago. Although I visited on occasion, communication was difficult.  We never had the chance to disucss Lisa’s death or her illness.

When she died a few weeks ago, I was relieved. She had been so sick for so long. I knew she would be better off in heaven.

What I didn’t expect was how I’d react as I saw her brother walk down the aisle behind her casket. The memories of our time together. The conversations. The laughter.  It tore me up.

It’s interesting how certain folks cross our paths. I find it odd how two so seemingly different could forge such a connection. But maybe we just weren’t so different after all.

Perhaps the odd thing is that we don’t all have more connections with folks who don’t look and act just like we do.  It sure does make life richer.

Sunday Post 151: Visiting Lillian

I remember the day we got the call. It was her brother, Jay, who informed us. Lillian, our nanny for eleven years, had been found on the floor of her apartment – she’d had a massive stroke.

Deep down I was glad it was the year after we’d stopped her employment. Michelle was in kindergarten, and we no longer needed a full time sitter. How much more difficult it would have been had she just disappeared for good twelve hours after she’d left our house.

She kept our kids in our basement playroom – bringing them upstairs for their naps. She started when DJ was six weeks old. Her last day with us was right before Michelle turned five.

When the kids were with Lisa and me for a meal, their clothes were dotted with mashed up peas and spurts of carrots. Somehow with Lillian not a drop of food would they wear on their onesie. I don’t know how she did it.

She taught them their numbers, their colors, and, I believe, introduced them to soap opras. The Young and the Restless was her one hour to eat her own lunch and catch up on the lives of Jack Abbott and Katherine Chancellor. The kids were to nap at that time. And if they didn’t, well, too bad. They’d be subjected to the complexities of life in Genoa City.

One day, at age 4, DJ awoke from her nap and told Lillian that she had seen the hand of God. Said it appeared from behind her bed. That afternoon when I was driving her to her bus stop, Lillian shared the story with me. I brushed it off.

“Bruce,” this wise woman instructed, “God reveals himself in many ways. I think DJ has a special gift. Don’t assume it was her imagination.”

I hadn’t realized how faithful my kids’ second mother was until that day.

She’s in a nursing home now, unable to speak, basically immobile.
She used to talk about how she wanted to be cared for in her old age. “Bruce, will you bring the kids to see me when I’m in a nursing home?”

“Lillian, I promise. You’ll always be a part of our lives.”

The first year after her stroke, I made it a point to drop by on a fairly regular basis. But then Lisa got sick; life got busy. Her commitment to us for all of those years – off of my radar.

Last week I returned. I needed to see her. I wanted to hold her hand and show her our Christmas card – let her see how beautiful the girls she had helped raise were becoming.

It’s hard to communicate with Lillian – well in words. But maybe that’s not what she needs. How uncomfortable for me to be with another human being without a verbal exchange. There I go again – looking at life through my lens. Thinking about me.

There are so many who need a hand to hold. There are so many who need to feel the presence of another.

I can be at home with all three girls upstairs and my house feels full. I can’t see them but I don’t feel alone – I know that they are there.

Maybe that’s all she needs – the presence of someone who loves her – a moving mouth optional.

It’s a tough visit. It conjures up memories of what was – and sadness for what could have been. It’s so hard. And yet, it’s so very beautiful.

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