Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

I MOVE EASILY. I jump, run, dash up and down stairs, sit on the floor and rise unassisted. I hear well – Buck swears I have sonar – and see well enough with the eyeglasses that correct my nearsightedness. I am well-educated and have sufficient mental acuity to take care of myself in most situations. It is, in short, hard for anyone to even try to take advantage of me. And no one does. I am almost 53. Not young. Not old. A fully grown bear, you might say. A superb age, really.

This morning, I was reminded of how many other, less comfortable, moccasins are out there that folks are walking in every day.

Eleanor had been sitting in her wheelchair at the medical center laboratory for almost two hours. Blood had already been drawn. She was still there because a “transporter” had not arrived to push her wheelchair from the lab on the third floor down the hall to an elevator and from there to the first floor lobby, where a driver from her nursing home was to meet her.

Buck and I arrived one and a half hours into Eleanor’s ordeal. Buck had to give the lab a little blood for routine annual testing. Since there were quite a few folks ahead of him, he ran off to take care of another errand. I was comfortable, and so stayed put, thinking it might be a good time to scribble in my notebook.

I noticed Eleanor right away, struck by her beauty. Just guessing, I would put her age and weight both at about ninety. Short silver hair highlighted her fine features. Bright eyes matched her blue-violet soft velvet top. She sat alone, wheelchair bound, in the middle of the waiting room.

I saw Eleanor lift a small hand to catch the attention of a passing technician and murmur an inquiry. In the too loud voice often used to speak to people in wheelchairs – as though being hard of hearing came with the chair – the technician said, “I’ve called the transporter station twice.” I could hear the tech’s put-upon sounding, exaggerated sigh. “I’ll try again.”

Ten more minutes passed.

A gentler individual came out to tell Eleanor that the recorded voice-message style center for the transporter staff had been malfunctioning and that was why it was taking so long. But, she assured Eleanor, it was now operating properly and another call had been made. Upon hearing this latest news, Eleanor continued to maintain her dignity, but was clearly uncomfortable. Most everyone else in the room had their hands full with their own difficulties, many with walkers or physical frailty. Everyone but me.

I walked over. “Are you trying to get downstairs?”

“Yes,” she replied in a clear, lovely voice which revealed what sounded to my ear like an eastern European heritage, “Just to the lobby, where a driver is supposed to meet me.”

“Would it be okay with you if I go downstairs with you?” I asked.

“Oh, yes!” she said.

“That’s it, then. Let’s go,” I said, draping my handbag cross-ways over my shoulder.

I introduced myself while we waited for the elevator. “I’m Eleanor,” she said, twisting her tiny head around to look at me. The door opened. “Did you know I was waiting there for almost two hours?”

We arrived at the first floor.  As we rounded the corner in the lobby, a pleasant, curly-haired fellow walked straight to us. “Eleanor!” he called out. “Where have you been?” He was her driver.

I said goodbye to Eleanor, and expressed my hope that the second half of her day would be better than the first. She reached up, gasped my hand with surprising strength, and smiled deeply into my eyes. “Thank you, Beth. I know it will be.”

I took the stairs back up to the waiting room and was sitting deep in thought when Buck returned from his errand. He apologized for keeping me waiting. I just smiled.

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