The Walking Widow
The Walking Widow
It was a cold and sunless December day. The wind was whipping around the cold arms of the trees attacking the last of the leaves that held onto their life source cheerfully with brown bellies and determination.
My fiance left the nature preserve for lunch. He called me up and chatted with me as usual on his lunch break. Suddenly, he spotted a small old woman carrying groceries and braving the cold.
He interrupts our conversation and tells me about her. "Should I offer to give her a ride?"
"Of course!" I said, 'Pull over!"
Mark pulled over and yelled, "Do you need a ride? I've got my wife on the phone!" He said as if announcing that having a wife on the phone somehow eradicates any fear of strangers and harm.
"If its OK with you!" the old woman said as she yanked open the back doors and chucked her bags into the back.
She grabbed the front door handle, whipped open the door and hopped right in with a big toothless grin.
"I'm 80 and I'm tough, but I'm not dangerous!" She said to both of us. "And I'm no flirt!" She said as she leaned toward his phone to ensure I heard her.
"Why are you walking in this weather?" Mark asked.
The old woman said that her 18 year old car broke down and she just can't afford to fix it.
"I'm saving up money for a new one," She said. "I work three jobs, you know."
The Walking Widow's Humble Home
The old woman talked and talked as they drove.
As they passed a bar she said, "You aren't taking me to the bar are you? My husband's been dead for 30 years and I'll get drunk off one drink!"
Mark and I laughed out loud.
The Walking Widow then recalled how she used to dance in bars. Barefoot, she said.
"Not barefoot and pregnant, mind you! Just barefoot!"
Her voice trailed off as her mind took her back to a time where she might have had fewer troubles and more company.
Then she snapped out of her introspection and looked at Mark and said, "I bet you'll always remember me.....the sweet old lady you gave a ride to."
And with her endearing toothless grin she began to explain that she didn't mind working three jobs. She said it keeps her moving. She said she works security and cleans banks for a living. She takes all the hours no one else wants.
Her only trouble is finding rides since her car broke down a couple months ago.
Without skipping a beat, she began to talk about her excitement for Christmas Eve next week and that she would be spending time with her family.
She narrated the drive while sprinkling in directions to her home and they finally arrived.
Mark pulled down a quaint street full of humble houses. Her house was filled with all the season's decorations, half a Christmas tree and a big tarp covering the front porch.
Shocked by its size and condition, before he could comment, the Walking Widow hopped out with the spryness of a teenager and made eye contact with Mark.
"You gotta stay positive in life!" She said and thanked him.
And she was gone. Off to her tumbledown home, just like that.
Oh, if those walls could talk....
The Walking Widow and the Stolen Christmas Tree
As Mark pulled away, I asked him what her name was, and he said he didn't ask.
So I looked her up on our county auditor's site. Ledella is her name. She was born in 1938. Her home has 958 square feet.
Instantly I wanted to help this inspiring soul. So we set up a fundraiser and then we went to the store and grabbed some food and goods for her Christmas Eve Gathering with her family.
We drove to her humble home and walked past the half a Christmas tree, the Easter Eggs and tinsel.
On her back porch sat milk and soda.
Presumably, her fridge no longer works.
We knocked and waited.
Just as we were turning to leave we noticed a neighbor who noticed us.
We walked over with the items.
He was a middle-aged man wearing a slate gray shirt, blue jeans and sneakers.
He adjusted his glasses as we approached.
We explained who we were and he nodded as we touched on the details and Ledella's inspiring story.
He said he'd been helping her with rides and such to her jobs and to the store along with others she asks in the community.
He expressed his concern for her walking in the cold weather.
"She doesn't like to ask for help, and she hardly accepts it," he said.
"We've offered to paint her house, fix her gutters, clean up her yard...and remove some things from the home, but she won't have anything to do with it. Especially her things," he said with emphasis.
It was clear Ledella had trouble letting go of things she'd collected over the years, and I was sure she had a good reason for it.
Her neighbor said, "She cleans banks and pulled that Christmas tree out of the trash and brought it all the way home. Then someone stole the top of it right out of her front yard."
How sad. For The Walking Widow to have taken trash and turned it into treasure that someone was able to steal from her. A simple happiness that took a good amount of work to accomplish. Stolen...just like that.
But you'd never know.
She was just so darn happy.
The Walking Widow's Vices: Things that Scratch and Scratch Offs
During our talk with the neighbor he said she has a couple vices. I prefer to call them her two loves: Scratch Offs & Cats.
Her neighbor said she'll walk all the way to the store and play scratch offs for long periods and then come back with litter and cat food.
"It sounds to me like she thrives on a little bit of hope and love," I said.
"Yeah, sometimes she has to take an Uber if the weather gets bad and no one is around to help. Once she walked in the freezing rain just to get some food for her cats." He said with the shake of his head.
As the wind cut through my sweater I turned my foot toward the car hoping my body language was loud enough to signal the end of the meeting.
"I'd leave the food and stuff on her back porch. She'll get it. But nothing too big, I don't know if she has a fridge anymore."
With that, we thanked him and walked back to Ledella's porch and left the items without a note.
We'd tell her when we came by the next time.
Meeting the Walking Widow
Mark and I had set up the fundraiser the first day we met her.
We had been collecting money to give her towards her car savings.
A week went by and we raised nearly $800 for her and we were excited to deliver it to her.
I was excited to meet her, finally!
We drove to her home a second time and knocked on the back door.
She yelled "Coming!" and a few minutes later she opened the door with a purse on her shoulder.
The grin left her face as confusion took its place.
"Hi I"m Mark, remember me?" he said.
"Who?" She asked through the screen door.
"I gave you a ride last week in the truck."
"OH YES!" She said as she opened the screen door.
She looked at me and said "See, I'm just an old lady, and NO FLIRT!" as she shared that beautiful laugh and toothless grin.
We explained we were there to drop off donations we collected for her car.
She teared up and said she couldn't accept it, and then that she felt bad. After some reassurance, she said "Please, tell everyone thank you so much!"
She hugged us and then did what she did best: began talking.
Ledella began to explain why she still worked and a little bit about her. She certainly had no trouble filling silence.
The Walking Widow's Childhood
I wanted to know more about her. I wanted to know everything.
My grandparents had died when I was younger and not yet interested in hearing stories of the past. I always regret taking for granted the stories my grandfather tried to tell me about Normandy and World War II. And Grandma in Mississippi during the depression, eating just a cold slice of potato between a biscuit, barefoot by the lunchroom door.
I would tune out.
Oh how I wish I could go back and poke my teen self and said "LISTEN! Listen...these amazing souls are filled with stories dying to be heard. LISTEN!" But I can't....The finality of some decisions can be felt forever.
But I could with Ledella.
"I was two in 1941 when my mom just up and left. It was me and my 8 month old baby brother. She left us sitting in the living room and never came back. My father came home from work and he didn't know what to do. So he sent us away."
Ledella's father, unable to care for the children, sent them off to an orphanage, which she described as being 'boarded.'
When I was seven, my father remarried, then I was brought back home at 8. I loved my new mom. She was my mom. The only mom I ever knew. I never knew my real mom. It's like I never met her. I don't even remember her."
The Walking Widow's Family Life
Ledella said she loved her mother. She was loving and cared for her.
Her father was a hard, hard worker. So she must have gotten that from him, she guessed.
Her eyes often trailed off as she recalled her past, as if it were right there, somewhere in the distance, just behind us.
"I've never not worked. When I came home to my parents at 8 years old, I ironed pillow cases. I cleaned. I scrubbed. I did it all. We didn't think about it. We just did it. Everything by hand. Not like today," She smiled with her eyes and shook her head as she thought about the convenience of today's world.
I've always worked. Even my late husband said, "Della's always got her tiny little hands dirty. Fixing everything. Because if there is a way to fix something, I'll find it!"
Her eyes dropped as she brought up Bill, her late husband.
"Oh, I loved my parents. And I LOVED my husband.
Little did I know that I'd be caring for all of them at the same time as they were dying..."
The Walking Widow's Loss
"My mother was dying from diabetes and failing organs. My father had Alzheimer's. My husband was dying of congestive heart failure. All at the same time. In different hospitals."
Ledella said as she brought herself back to that time, 30 years ago.
"I lost a lot in the 90s. In 91, 93, 95, 97 and 98 I lost so many people I loved."
When my parents and husband were in the hospital, I took my full 2 weeks vacation off and I spent it driving between the three hospitals.
I'd have breakfast with my mom. Lunch with my dad and supper with my husband."
She paused as she recalled the memories. "My dad didn't really know what was going on, you know...Alzheimer's.... I put 2,000 miles on my car in those two weeks. And then...after all that...It was just me. I was alone."
It wasn't the first time she lost a husband....the first one she said she could have killed him herself....
The Walking Widow Abandoned Again
It was the second time in her life she was abandoned.
This time, her first husband left her and her children--the youngest a 4 year old.
"No birthdays. No Christmas. He never talked to them again. And I could have killed him for that." She said as her eyes darkened.
"You know those shows where one person kills the other in a relationship? I was THAT angry. My kids didn't deserve it. And if I had a chance to shoot him, it wouldn't be quick. I'd shoot him YOU KNOW WHERE first and make him suffer!"
Mark and I looked at each other and then her, and we all burst out in laughter at the unexpected confession.
Della's smile reappeared. People ask me how I stay positive. I've always been positive. Because what do you have if you just grab onto all the negative in life?
We aren't the only people who thinks she is different. Since she gets rides from so many people, she touches a lot of lives.
"I got a ride from a real estate agent once. She's taken me to lunch twice now. She said she's never met anyone like me," She said.
"I will tell you this--I don't take any vitamins or medications. Nope. I drink a lot of milk and that's about it. Maybe that's why I have strong bones? I don't know."
She said her grandson Nicky said she'll live to 100 and she told him, "I don't want to be ALL WRINKLY! I'll look like an OLD LADY!" She said smiling.
"I don't want to look like a prune, I want to look like a human!" She threw her head back and laughed through her happy toothless grin. It was as if she wasn't aware of her age. Or that she didn't allow her age to see life's lines left on her face.
Then she pulled her long white and blond pony tail over her shoulder and slowly stroked it as if this uncommonly healthy and long 80-year old hair somehow held her secret to youth.
Then I glanced at her hands. They weren't covered in liver spots or even loose skin. Sure, wrinkles were there but if I'd seen just her hands, I never would have guessed she was anywhere near 80.....and with how much work she did with her hands growing up, it was surprising...even confusing. Was Ledella human? I wondered. Is positivity the cure for wrinkles? I pondered...
'''I do know that I just keep going and when its my time, I'll go when God lays His hand on me" Ledella said, interrupting my introspection.... "but not hunched over like some old lady!" She said as she hunched her back and laughed.
But she has a plan about dying.....
The Walking Widow's Secret to a Happy Life
The way I look at it," Ledella said with a twinkle in her eye, "Is that if I keep moving, working and living like I do..... death will have to find me. REALLY find me!" She said.
Her eyes narrowed as a nefarious toothless grin filled her face.
"And that's going to be hard because I never know where I'll be next!" She exclaimed with a youthful giggle.
"One thing is for sure--the reaper will have a hard time catching ME!"
And with that, a little bit of peace nestled into my heart for I knew her words were true.
Ledella had found the secret to a long life...and it's not exclusive.
We all have access to it.
It's in how we choose to LOOK at life.
The secret doesn't hide in the quicksands of negativity.
It doesn't come from complaining, wishing or wallowing in self pity and wearing an armor made from broken pieces of the past.
The secret is finding positive things in your own little world.
And if you can't see them, you look harder.
The secret is a choice: SEE LIFE DIFFERENTLY.
And when you can finally see all the good things in your life...snatch them up.
Grab onto them like strings on balloons.
Grab enough of them and you'll be floating above the misery living the Life of Ledella.
What about you? Have you met an inspiring soul like Ledella? Know the secret to a happy, long life? Share your story. Keep the inspiration going.