Her name is Esther and she is 92. She tells me this as I show her and her husband to the appropriate desk, which just happens to be in my office. He is pushing her in a wheelchair and she is bright eyed and alert, smiling at me as she tells me her name and age. Bert is 92 also she tells me. He tells my staff he will leave her in the waiting room because she doesn’t do well when he takes her in with him. I can’t help it, I find myself leaving my desk to sit next to a white haired, still beautiful, 92 year old stranger who from the moment I met her, tugged at my heart.
It doesn’t take long for us to be fast friends. She sadly tells me that Bert had lost his leg in the war. I think to myself how unobservant I am that I didn’t even notice him limping and make a mental note to myself to look when he comes out. I hear of their polka days and how she and Bert were always first on the floor. When I ask how long they’ve been married, she pauses and scowls as she searches the abyss for a number she knows is there. It doesn’t come and I say it is of no concern and she tells me again of how they polka’d every weekend. She giggles as she says they were dancing every weekend together “even before we were married’ as if it is some sly secret only she knows.
She looks at my tattoo and back at my face and asks me for the 3rd time what my name is, smiling and saying we both have names from the bible and then tells me how Bert is in the back, seeing a doctor but that she is glad to not be alone. She smiles again, as if wondering why I am sitting next to her, but then tells me she is 92 and at the age of 90 she decided she was no longer going to cook. I wonder if there had been an incident. She does her sweet giggle and says that Bert takes her out to dinner every night now. She acts as if she is sharing something naughty, smiling again with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. I gather from small bits of other conversation that they live in a retirement home together and have been married for 75 years although I wonder which of the details are accurate.
She sits quietly for a few minutes, then tells me how she and Bert used to go Polka dancing every weekend and how they were always called first to the floor. I smile and say it sounds like a lot of fun and she smiles as she looks at me as if remembering. She tells me of her father who raised her and her (she thinks) 16 siblings to pray every night before bed. She gets concerned when she can’t remember the answers to my questions and I quickly decide to not ask any I can’t help her answer. She is articulate and well put together and midway through some sentences she stops to consider who I might be.
He opens the door about 40 minutes later with both legs in tact, and she lights up like a new bride. She motions him over and is disappointed when he stops at the counter. I gently take her hand and tell her he’ll just be a few more minutes. As he approaches she leans over and asks my name. “Bert…this is Rachel. Isn’t she pretty? She is coming home with us!” Bert smiles a knowing smile. I laugh and say I don’t do windows and he leans in and asks if she’s had a nice time. She replies “Oh yes! Do you think you might take me to dinner tonight?”
I stand to leave and she asks for a hug. I lean over her small frame, and catch a hint of rose milk and rouge while her delicate, fragile hands hold on a little longer than usual and as I lift to leave her eyes are filled with tears. She pats my hand as old women are known to do and I wonder if she knows my name. Bert says I’m not going to get away without a hug from him too and as he leans close he whispers a heartfelt “Thank you” then tells me it was a very kind gift I had given them both. I hear her chattering as he pushes her down the corridor. Her voice chipper and light as she asks about what the doctor has told him and if he’ll need to come back. I hear her say as they turn the corner, “now wasn’t she a nice girl” and I wonder if she’ll know me next time they are here.
My eyes are as full as my heart as I step back into my office. Although I may not be remembered by Esther, I will remember Bert and Esther for a very long time. I wonder if they know they were the best 40 minutes of my week.