Some months ago an old friend from Maine visited. Jean has been like a mother to me, which I sense both in her affectionate support and the particularly maternal way she has of embarrassing me.
Here’s an example:
Setting: gourmet grocery store. the prepared foods aisle.
Sign: No Sampling.
Jean (loudly): “Look at that tortellini salad! It looks really good. I’ll try some and see.”
Jean (with exaggerated emphasis): “Diane, this sign says No Sampling.”
She pinches tortellini salad between finger and thumb, holds it up high and eats it, smacking her lips.
Jean (in a voice commanding nearby customer attention): “Ummmm, Diane. These tortellini are reeeaaaly good! Here, try some…..”
Mortified and speechless, Diane waves No! No! Diane puts her face in her hands, and eventually escapes down the cereal aisle.
For the trip to Washington, Jean purchased new clothes, including an enormous white caftan that looks like a nightgown.
She says, “I bought this dress from a catalogue. Rachel thinks it looks like a nightgown. Do you think it looks like one?”
“Oh no.” I lie politely. “It looks terrific.”
An expert at crochet, Jean has offered to help my neighbor with an afghan project.
Walking in the door the neighbor stops suddenly, “Did I come too late in the evening? You’re already in your nightgown.”
I jump in with repairs. “It’s not a nightgown. It’s a dress.” The neighbor rebounds, “Of course, I see now. I didn’t have my glasses on.”
The next day Jean and I have plans for the National Gallery. She blow dries her hair, does her make-up carefully, and puts on the nightgown.
We’re taking the bus and plan to use a museum wheelchair since Jean no longer walks long distances.
I’m both anxious about Jean’s stamina and paranoid about a trip downtown with a lady in a nightgown. I also know what she’s capable of in a grocery store. What do you think could happen in front of Renoir and Picasso?
At the museum Jean waits on a stone bench while I ask the clerk to bring a wheelchair. A young woman, weighed down with camera equipment approaches Jean and asks if she can take her picture. Jean’s vibrant eyes sparkle. She’s happy to have her picture taken.
And that’s when I’m able to see, through the eyes of a stranger, how beautiful my crazy friend is in her holy robe.