We had dinner every Monday night for years. She liked to have two drinks before dinner. So that meant there was a lot of chatter and conversation between us as we sipped. As we got to know each other well. A mutual feeling of friendship grew between us. I LIKED her. It was fun to see each other every week. I looked forward to Mondays. I had come to Washington DC to live with my aging mother. I needed an outlet. I needed interaction with other adults. We made new friends. We enjoyed OLD friends. Mother lit up at these dinners. They gave her a great beginning to the week. And we became regulars as we ate at DeCarlos Restaurant on Yuma Street in Washington DC.
At first, she was just a lady I knew through other friends. Generally speaking, it was my parents’ generation who gave parties where we mingled and became better acquainted with people who were once “Mr. and Mrs.” to us. As we grew up and married these “grown-ups” asked us to use their first names. It was a compliment to be considered a “first-name friend”. We realized we were grown up. We acted accordingly. We emulated these people and respected them.
Gradually we noticed they were just like us only older. But real friendships developed between people of different ages. We played the same sports or worked for the same charities, and went to the same churches. Many of us belonged to the same clubs. And we saw these same friends from time to time socially. Most of these people are gone now. Nearly all of them, in fact. It is not clear to me when I first met Mary and Smith Bowman, but it was a LONG time ago. 60 years, maybe. Now it pains me to say:
My oldest friend died last week. She was literally my oldest friend because she was 101 years old. There is a hole in my heart where she used to have a perch. But no one would say she died young. It was time. The empty feeling knows the truth, but it will NOT go away. I am grieving for her at the same time I am glad she is out of pain now. Moments ago I learned about another death. This was a doctor, a man in his late 90s. He was our friend in Middleburg for half a century. He lost his wife a year ago and probably wanted to join her. But again, it leaves an empty space when we watch these characters go to heaven. It is one of the saddest parts of aging that we slowly lose everyone who is important to us in our generation and above. When death takes friends or family who are younger the tragedy is worse. But among our own age group, it is simply inevitable. It is life. And death.
It has been three years since my mother died (also at 101.) Yet her memory lingers still. In her final years, my mother’s entertaining skills began to diminish. She was vague. She was less interested in what other people were doing. During the last year, she was often confused. But Mary always went out to dinner with us. She loved my mother as so many did. She was never mean or impatient but understood that my mother was having some difficulty. This kindness brought us closer together. It made me so grateful to have someone who understood about mother, but also understood how important it was to her to go out and be part of the “action”.
Death is part of life. There is no reason to fear it, only the means of getting there. The idea that life has an ending, as well as a beginning, is best embraced. Fighting it is a waste of time. I am thankful for my friendship with Mary even though it was late in my life and very late in hers before we discovered we were really good friends. She was a great lady. She loved dogs. She was a sportswoman, a card player, and an extraordinary party giver and she had loads of friends. She was insightful and wise. She was patient and kind but she did not suffer fools lightly.
My mother died in November 2019. But, Mary and I kept having dinner. We found other compatible people and were usually a table of four. Even during the Covid craziness, we continued to meet for dinner. We were certainly not going to let a little virus stop us from having fun and seeing friends. Then when DeCarlos moved over to the Westchester it was no longer accessible. Mary was using a wheelchair by then. Luckily she had a fabulous caregiver, Rosa. Because of this loyal woman, Mary was able to go out and about, dress nicely, and entertain her friends at home with peace of mind.
I knew she was well taken care of. I moved to Charlottesville VA in June 2020. I did not want to stop having dinner with Mary. We switched to having dinner in McLean closer to her house. We generally alternated between Cafe Tati and Kazan’s. At first, I spent the night at my mothers’ old house in D.C. and got driven to McLean for dinner. Mary wanted to keep going out to see people, and she wanted to have those two drinks. Gradually I began to stay overnight at her lovely home on the Potomac River, and drive home to Charlottesville in the morning. I got used to doing that. It was simply part of my life. All my Mondays were “spoken for” as I planned to drive up to McLean to have dinner with my friend.
Suddenly I have nothing to do on Mondays. With Mary’s death on the 29th of December, I lost my best friend. The weeks are stretching out before me with all the Mondays on my calendar blank. Perhaps I will start a new tradition here in Charlottesville in Mary’s memory. I bet there are some people right here in Charlottesville who are feeling a little left out or lonely. Perhaps I can gather a number of them to have some conversation and drinks and dinner. We can create our own “action!” Every time I lift my glass for a first sip, I will drink a toast to Mary!
Copyright©. 2023 Bonnie B. Matheson