Many people have treated me wonderfully in my career. A few haven’t, but Marilyn may have been the best.
Her face is half covered by lace, a smile peeking around it. Some blonde wig curls fringe her shoulders and neck. White lacy sleeves dangle down to emaciated fingertips. She is late to class, apologizing as she eases painfully into a desk. Nodding often while I lecture, Marilyn waits till after class to tell me what she wants.
“Can we meet? I’ll be glad to pay you. Where would be convenient?”
I hesitate as it’s a busy quarter, and I haven’t really got the time. But this wraith of a woman is so sweet. How can I say no? So I say yes.
At the arranged time, Marilyn and I meet on a bench at the college. She has an assistant with her, bottles of water, cushions. Once, again, she is covered in the most feminine clothes. Girly accessories dangle charmingly. One-on-one, I realize she’s covering a frame ravaged by some illness.
Seeing my gaze, “Oh, yes, I went to the Emergency Room last night…and Monday. I go all the time.” She waves aside her mortality and suffering casually with a skeletal hand.
Her story is that she was a famous madam in Alaska. She was given land and holdings that brought her political clout and made her wealthy, but she used most of her money to improve the lot of her girls and her community.
Marilyn beams as she tells of the time when some youngsters in an impoverished area saw her dressed in her finery, dispensing help. They flocked around her, “Mrs. Santa Claus, please,” they begged with cupped hands. And she dropped “dollars from heaven” in all of them.
She wants to tell that story especially. And we begin the process of outlining this portion of the book she has in mind. With an eye to her condition, I recommend turning it into an article that can be accomplished and seen published quickly.
Graciously, she agrees, heaping praise on me and effusing love.
I never see her again. My attempts at contact reach the caregiver who relays the sad news that Marilyn has died.
I knew her so briefly, but I grieve Mrs. Santa Claus and that I couldn’t get that one story into print quickly enough for her to see it. Her example ignites what becomes my cause célèbre—to get people heard before they pass.
If a genie or a fairy godmother asked me for one wish, it would be that somehow these people who left before we finished could hear their wisdoms and examples added to my lectures, columns, handouts, and books…especially Mrs. Santa Claus.
Ariele Huff hosts Sharing Stories, collects poetry and stories for that and writes Writing Corner for Northwest Prime Time’s online version. She also teaches ZOOM writing and leads lifestyle classes, including an ongoing Ancient Healing for Modern Stress group. Connect at email@example.com for information.
SHARING STORIES is a weekly column for and about the 50 plus crowd living in the Puget Sound region. Send your stories and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell local or personal stories; discuss concerns around aging and other issues; share solutions, good luck, and reasons to celebrate; poems are fine too. Pieces may be edited or excerpted. We reserve the right to select among pieces. Photos are always a plus and a one-sentence bio is requested (where you live, maybe age or career, retired status, etc.).
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