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Thursday, 09 September 2010

Polly’s Present

By Mary B Summerlin who keeps a photostream at Flickr

I have lived most of my adult life here in the area of Poughkeepsie, New York. In the early years, my thirties, it was the time of marriage, raising a child, beginning a career and divorce. I needed mothering during those times but my mother was in South Carolina.

I am a most fortunate person. I found a mentor, role model and a person I call “My Poughkeepsie Mom.” Polly was that person – she provided the nurturing I needed. We were both elementary school teachers.

During this time of divorce and feeling totally devastated, there were many things I had to do. There was no financial or emotional support from my family who lived hundreds of miles away. They felt they had helped all they could.

I was a first grade teacher and in my second year of teaching. My job was very demanding, especially when my personal resources were so low. I needed to find a place for myself and my son to live - we had no money, just the paycheck (which I could call mine now).

I finally found the perfect small house. I needed $400 more to be able to swing the deal. Where was I going to get it - not family, not banks, not credit union - I'd borrowed all I could. I had to get it. And then I thought of my last option.

Polly was an older teacher at school. She was friendly and non-judgmental. She seemed to have time to talk to me and offer me encouraging words regarding my job and my personal life. I wondered if I could possibly work up the courage to ask her for $400 - and if she would even consider it. I had no choice, and so I did.

Polly said that she could loan me the money and that I could pay it back when and as I could. She wasn't worried about it - she knew I would pay it back and she was glad to help. I bought the house. I paid back the loan, sometimes as little as $25 a payment. It was finally done.

I asked Polly how much I owed her in interest. She took my hand and said, “Mary dear, you don’t owe me anything else. But for the interest payment, I ask that you help others when you can. I have spent the rest of my life trying to pay back the interest on Polly's Present.

Polly's Present was the biggest and best present I ever received. She had only known me for a short time. She knew I needed the money, she had faith in me and she wanted to help. That act of generosity has helped shape my life. I am aware that I have a debt to pay back - the debt will last a lifetime. I hope to leave this present for others. Therefore, Polly's Present will continue as we each help to make this world a little bit better.

Years and years go by, more years and years go by and now Polly is living in a nursing home. The nursing home is some distance away but I visit Polly as often as I can. Recently I visited and after a few pleasantries, we get down to really talking.

She told me about looking out the window and seeing dandelions. She said that the pretty yellow flower reminded her of golden haired young people and then as time goes by the dandelions turn white and fluffy, just like old people and then they just fly away, just like people do.

She wants to write a poem about this but is not sure her mind will cooperate. Writing poems was something she once did easily. She says her mind just does not work properly anymore. Polly is 97 ½ years old.

She also wants to write a poem about a straight laced, strict, stern lady who wears long black dresses or skirts but also sometimes wears a red taffeta slip that you get a glimpse of as she walks. Polly laughs – this thought gives her pleasure. Not much does these days – days that she spends here in the nursing home.

Oh, she tries to count her blessings but her independent and strong-willed self finds it very difficult to be the one who needs help, who cannot do the things she always did and who has to let other make decisions for her. I tell her it’s all right, she’s earned the right to rest, to have others help and to enjoy leisure. She says, “NO, IT’S NOT ALL RIGHT! I HATE IT!!”

She read all the Harry Potter books – she wants to know what the young folks are thinking. She just finished another book (I’ve forgotten the name). She loved it and thought it was fine writing. She wants to know what I’m doing, my family – son and family; sister and family: brother and family.

She wants to know how all the old teachers at school are. She tells me about her daughter and son in law; the seven grandchildren and the great great grandchild and that another great great is on the way. And she says that her mind doesn’t work very well. Polly is a marvel!

On our way to the door – Polly always walks me to the door - a nurse meets us and is very bright, shiny and enthusiastic. After she leaves, Polly tugs on my arm and says, “That’s what I’m not going to be like.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

She said, “It is ridiculous to try to always cheer up old or dying people. Just let them be – just be there.” Said she’d been told that before but now she understands it.

I asked her if she’d like to start life over now in this day and time.

She said, “Oh, I’d be loud and bombastic and I’d probably do it all over again.”

I asked her if she’d make different choices and she laughed and said, “That’s a scary thought.”

We kissed and waved goodbye and I’m left with the picture of Polly standing at the door with her walker – waving as I leave. And I think of dandelions ready to fly away, as I turn and with a mist in my eyes start walking to the car.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Such a nice story,Mary.

Thanks for sharing it with us.Your kind words about her made us love Polly,too.

A great story about what a mentor can do for someone. Mary, you are now in the business of paying it forward.

Lovely, Mary, and very touching.

Yes, she is, Marcia, and I'm sure many younger women want to be her when they grow up. Mary, I wrote this earlier, then got distracted looking up a Pogo quote. Last summer, several of the older folk icons died, and we said "Our elders are leaving us." Then I thought of Pogo's
"he is us." WE are now the elders.

Yes, Lyn, and that is why I always say that when an old person dies,it's like the library burnt down.

That's why it is up to us to leave behind all the good stories and memories of those who went before us.

Through Mary now, we all know Polly.

Thanks for telling us about Polly. I enjoyed it.

Thank you all. I am pleased that you enjoyed the story of Polly. Polly and her present continue to be a presence in this world.

How very touching. It should remind us all of the basic good in others. Thank you.

Joanne Zimmermann

Thank you, Mary, for POLLY'S PRESENT with it's powerful "That's what I'm going to be."

"To be there" has me heading off to enjoy residents at the nearby retirement home.

Good story. I have an idea for you: Sometime in the future when you are in a restaurant, pick out a couple or family and anonymously pay for their check. It happened to me once and I've paid it back many times since.

Mary, this is so moving - so real. Thank you.

I just finished reading Marcia Mayo's story about your Internet friendship that resulted in a face-to-face friendship. Now I know why she loves you. You were very courageous and very appreciative of the help that wonderful Polly gave. I am sure you have repaid that debt many times over.

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