My first Fairy Godmother. She is 98 years old, legally blind (from glaucoma), deaf, with hands crippled and bent with arthritis. She still lives alone in a little bungalow on Tulip Lane and has a memory sharper than mine. She’s survived the loss of three loved ones. Her husband of well over 50 years, and her oldest son, died from Lou Gehrig’s disease. She lost her youngest son when he was 16. She is my hero. She has endured unspeakable sorrow and never lost her faith. I’m not sure I could carry that off. There is something to be said for the culture that tears clothing and wails loudly at death. But not my Alice.
Through her I was given the gift of five additional friendships with remarkable women. I was young, naïve, living on my own and ripe for something different when a co-worker invited me to hear an inspirational pastor. I had then what you would call a spiritual awakening and started a journey that introduced me to these inspiring, brilliant women. I didn’t know it then, but meeting these women would save me as a person. I was motherless, hungry for love, and connections with older women.
I can’t even tell you what the message was that I heard that day, but I was never the same again. I began searching for answers, asking questions that eventually led me temporarily to formalized religion. I noticed this adorable couple when I started attending church. They sat in the pew in front of me and I was mesmerized by their adoration for each other. It was tangible, and I had never seen any relationship like this before. Love and devotion in its purest form. Ken and Alice painted a very enticing picture of marriage.We began to chat afterwards. I invited them to my baptism, which turned out to be their youngest son’s birthday. He had died in a car accident many years before. (Eerily her mother was also killed by a car while crossing the street, pushing a young Alice and her sister out of the way).
They began to introduce me to other people at church and invited me to their home for tea. It became a ritual that I treasure to this day. Ken was an avid gardener and had created a wonderful bower of plants and flowers outside their sunny kitchen window. We would sit there and sip tea, talk, and admire Ken’s handiwork. They were also both avid bakers (annoyingly shaped on the twig side) and delighted in serving their guests treats with the tea. It was here that I had my first taste of homemade applesauce from an apple tree Ken had espaliered along the fence. A little slice of heaven on the side. He also had a delightful arbor sheltering a garden statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the author of one of his favorite prayers… and mine.
They became the grandparents I never had and I grew to adore them. They weren’t perfect, Ken was a perfectionist, but a forgiving one, and Alice was part Portuguese (Ken loved to point this out with a twinkle in his eye). I never understood the full meaning of that until he was gone and Alice’s feisty side began to emerge. After retiring as a Postmaster he returned to school at the age of 70 and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, his lifelong dream. Alice grumbled that although they were retired, she now had to plan around his study sessions and finals, but she was very proud of him.
They travelled the world together and I received postcards from every port. I envied them. I married and moved away but we talked regularly on the phone. They never forgot a birthday or holiday without gifts and cards and I always stayed with them when we visited. After Ken was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease they could no longer do the travelling they so loved. Alice would call me and share the pain of seeing this once vibrant, active man, reduced to a wheelchair and struggling for every breath. She ended every conversation with “Well, it could always be worse”. I’d ask myself how?!
This little bit of a woman took care of her Kenny for over a decade without any help (which I’d nag her about), while slowly going blind herself. After Ken passed away peacefully at home she grieved quietly, deeply nurtured by her faith and prayer. I didn’t understand her mantra “It could always be worse”, until her only surviving son came down with the same horrible disease that took away his grandfather and father. She was in her early nineties. She still says “It could always be worse”. I believe her now.
Next…how I met the next Fairy Godmother… Toni.