Sometimes you meet a person and you recognize right off that you are in the presence of a great soul. Leona was a grand lady. And I don’t mean prim and proper with white gloves and a quiet etiquette. Her preferred attire was a pants suit and comfortable shoes. She was grand because she was full of life at 80 years old. Maybe she was 90. I never ask a lady her age.
“If I stand on the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, I’m about 5 foot 2,” she loved to say.
Which meant that she was about 4 foot nothing. Spunk. Grit. Fearless. These are the words that tell you something about who she was. White hair neatly kept. Glasses that made her eyes look a little buggy. A widow who had learned to lean on the Lord and keep living. Did I tell you, she was grand.
Leona was a traveler. Nothing international. Nothing really too far from home. Except once. Her favorite pastime was to get in her car and go.
“Where you going this week, Miss Leona?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Wherever the road takes me, I guess.”
And she meant it. She hated the interstates. She didn’t care about road maps. She just went and turned left if she felt like it. And usually she shared the trip with someone. She would go down to the nursing home where some of her friends lived. Old women whom she knew as girls and whom she never forgot.
She would ask one of them if she’d like to get out for a while, which usually meant most of the day. Six hours later she would bring her back. The staff would be panicked. They’d been gone for so long. Two old people out on their own. My Lord. But they always came home.
“Where you been today, Miss Leona?”
“Oh.” Most all of her commentary started with excitement. “We just had the most wonderful time driving all through Holmes County down in Amish Country. I have no idea where we were, but it was wonderful. We ate too much ice cream.”
There was one trip that she planned more than most. She announced that her friend didn’t have much more time on this earth and that she had never seen Mt. Rushmore. Leona wanted to fix that. We all about panicked. But she was determined. Her little red car. Two little old ladies that could barely see over the dashboard. And off they went.
We got postcards from places like Ottumwa, Iowa. Valentine, South Dakota. Places nowhere near the interstate. The kind of places where you pull off to get gas and the guy looks at you with that you’re-not-from-around-here stare. Leona would tell him about her adventure, and by the time she got back in the car she had a new friend. He probably got a postcard from Mt. Rushmore.
I can only hope that when I get to be old as dirt that I still know how to live. It takes being willing to go down a few unfamiliar roads. It requires that you share the trip with a friend and expect nothing in return. That you go left exactly because you don’t know where it will take you. And I’m pretty sure it goes better if you wear comfy shoes. Thanks, Leona.