Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My 107-year-old visitor from the future

FLUKES RULE: I Google-imaged "Miracles" and this is the first that came up
Sunday afternoon past, my wife Helena suggested we visit some of the old folks at the nursing home near our house where her late mother, Ria Szybalski, spent her final days. I suggested that Sunday was unseasonably warm and sunny and maybe we could find a more fun activity. But--and I'm on record here--90 minutes later, I had to look Helena in the eye and humbly apologize. I couldn't have been wronger.  

Here's why.

Just towards the end of the visit, I found myself holding hands with and singing a bawdy drinking song to a woman named Stasia who happens to be--pay close attention here--107. (I'm not using her real name. Seems a bit invasive.)

But still.

One hundred and seven years old.

Imagine. She's been alive longer than we've had, I think, movies. How unlikely is that?

And like most of the really memorable events that happen in life, my and Stasia's meet-up was a complete fluke.

Helena and I had finished visiting the other old folks and were on our way out when we noticed a little sign celebrating "Our Centenarians." I think there were four, and I also think they should be called centurions but I digress. One, I noted, was named Stasia, and she was born in 1911. I thought "Really? Really? That'd make her.. HOLY!"

And as if it were scripted, just I was thinking "Holy," down the hall came a nun and a non-nun woman wearing name tags. I said, "Excuse me, but do you know anything about this Stasia woman?" And the nun happily told us that yes, Stasia is 107 and although she's bed-ridden now (Stasia, not the nun) she had been until recently getting up and around. Also, she's still alert and she "loves to sing."

I looked at the sister and said, "Can we meet her?"

And what I really loved about her response is that she wasn't like, "Let me think about it", or "I don't know."

She nodded firmly like one of those matronly but confident Mother Superiors from an old movie and said, "Come."

This. In the middle of Canada's biggest city. Two complete strangers ask to visit what might be one of the most vulnerable and fragile individuals on the planet, and the good nun, trusting her instincts, says, "Come." 

As we followed them to Stasia's room, the sister told me, "I understand why you want to meet her.  I felt the same way. It's like witnessing a miracle."

We went in and Stasia was laying on her side in bed, covered with a thin blanket. Sister walked over, leaned down, kissed Stasia on the forehead and--holding Stasia's left hand in her own--started into "Ave Maria."  And Stasia, frail as she was, joined in. We all did. I have it on video.

Sister then mentioned that Stasia knows a lot of "Mary" songs. And that was my cue.

Sister moved away from the bed to talk to Helena..I walked around the bed, took Stasia's hand and launched into my own "Mary" song. It goes like this:

"Whisky and gin, whisky and gin, Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin, whisky and gin, whisky and gin, Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin." (Mary H is my sister, and I didn't say it was a good cowboy song.) 

I figured nothing I could sing would shock my new old friend Stasia. She's been around since before airplanes. If anybody's heard it all, it's Stasia.

I also think she liked me. She had a pretty freaking strong grip and wouldn't let go. Fact is, I didn't want her to.

We eventually had to leave of course.

As we walked away, I mentioned to the woman accompanying the nun that I could hardly wait for Monday morning at the office. If somebody asked me, "How was your weekend?" I would say, "Miraculous."


There's this. Monday--yesterday--marked the first day of a brand new journey for me. I'm starting a new full time job in a position unlike anything I've ever had before. In a wholly new field. I am as excited about this as I was when I was starting my first reporting jobs back in the last century.

And a few hours after our visit, when I showed my daughter Ev the video of Stasia singing, she had this to text: "That's amazing. It's like she's from the future and not the past."

I hope when I'm Stasia's age I'm as smart as my kids.

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