Monday, August 6, 2007

Mrs. Wiley and The Blizzard of '78

The year was 1975. She was sixty-eight. I was eighteen.

Standing in a handmade wedding gown at the end of a very short country church aisle, I shook the hand of my new friend, Mrs. Wiley, who'd made a point of meeting her new next-door neighbor - me, the freckled-faced bride, on her wedding day. Thirty-two years later, I still think about her and wonder what became of her. She was the toughest woman I ever knew. Raucous. Spiritual. Tall. Stately. Elegant. Honest. And tough. Very tough.

"I'm Mrs. Wiley. We're going to be neighbors," she beamed with a smile, as she handed me a beautifully wrapped package of handmade doilies. "God bless both of you and congratulations." I hugged my new friend, gave a backwards who-in-the-heck-was-that-glance to stoic freckled-faced groom and went on my married way. And as all fairy tales go, the friendship lasted longer than the marriage. By the time we divorced, we were no longer neighbors with Mrs. Wiley but always kept in touch.

You see, she knew how to sow seeds.
Sassy ones.
Lasting ones.
Memorable ones.

My then-husband traveled a lot and I spent many a night across the street with Mrs. Wiley, who'd been widowed for three years. She still cried at the mention of his name. She'd been the one who found him, crushed underneath his tractor in the field, all alone; but like I said, Mrs. Wiley was tough. And she taught me a lot.

She became my mentor and cheerleader, confidante and pajama-party gal. We laughed until the wee hours of the morning - the newlywed and the widow - but she was up at 5:00 am everyday. What was she doing at that ungodly hour? The same thing everyday. The same thing everyday for years. At the patio window sitting at the table graced with handmade doilies, black coffee, rye toast with wheatgerm, blackberry jam, The Upper Room, her Bible and two folded hands. Everyday. Everyday. Everyday. The same Mrs. Wiley who everyday showed me, without saying a word, what was important. And it carried her through. She had a wicked sense of humor and a laugh that trickled and trailed into giggles of joy. When she got angry about some injustice in the world, she'd spit out a made-up curse word just to make a point and then offer a viably brilliant solution. But she never apologized for the cursing. No matter how "old" she got or how wrinkled, she lavished that generous heart on countless others who needed her - to drive them to the doctor, to sit with their children, to read to the elderly. She logged more weekly volunteer hours than most people clocked on the job.

Sometimes she would come to my house and sit while I practiced piano; knitting and nodding and rocking. Occasionally, she would break into a laugh when I hit a clunker but mostly she just smiled. And prayed.
She did a lot of praying.
I needed a lot.
And she knew it.
The winter of 1978 we spent two weeks without electricity together in her farmhouse with a wood stove burning, no transportation out and cooking on the black monstrosity in her living room. The blizzard of '78 spilled from Ohio to the Carolinas and my husband was stuck in the north.
I was stuck with Mrs. Wiley.

We had quite a time. And lots of it.

She dictated her entire lifetime of incredible experiences to me and I wrote them down in a long yellow legal pad. Story after story, memory after memory, she poured her struggles into my naive inkwell. It was a fascinating privilege I'll never forget and one I'm sure I didn't appreciate fully at the time; told by a powerhouse woman with mountainous strength to a freckled-faced child bride with a lot to learn. She recounted an amazing life full of tragedy and everyday joys; wrapped in her faith but honest about her doubts, liberal in her thinking and lovingly tolerant of others. I never knew anyone to speak her mind and live her life with as much courage as Mrs. Wiley. In the years to come she would battle breast cancer and win, pancreatitis and win, loneliness - and win.

I haven't seen her in ten years. I am ashamed of that.
I did a google search yesterday and guess what?
Mrs. Wiley turned 100 years old on June 6, 2007 - Peace Globe day.

Could it be? Of course! If anybody could live to be one-hundred, my money's on her. Can you imagine what wisdom she has stored in that indomitable spirit of hers? I've yet to find any evidence that she has passed on and I can't find a relative, but she has been on my mind for days. Must be a reason. I'm sure she has something to tell me. We need to catch up. She doesn't know I'm divorced. She doesn't know a lot of things. But I'm sure she knows I'm looking for her. I hope to find her soon and get ready for a very important lunch date. I could use her wit and spunky candor and I'll bet she has a spicy where-have-you-been speech waiting for me - one she won't apologize for.

I hope it doesn't snow.
And I shall report.


Anndi said...

That's a lovely memory Mimi. Thank you for sharing it. I think we all have some form of a Mrs Wiley in our lives.. mine was a Madame Beausoleil (Beautiful sun...)

Miss her, I live in what used to be her house. When she passed, the indoor green thumb went with her, but it's a good thing the perenials still bloom.

I hope you find her soon.

Farfallina - Roam 2 Rome said...

This was an honest, from the heart post :) The Mrs Wiley of my life is my grandmother, she also widowed fairly young and each year she cries his death... never remarried. She's always there sweet to give comfort :)

I'm glad Mrs. Wiley is still alive and hope you do find her soon and let us know how she's doing :)

... what ever happen to that yellow note pad you used to write down her tales and memories?

Bond said...

What an incredible story of two spirits meeting and intertwining....Her birthday was June 6th....could you have known and subconsciously selected that date?
Find her Mimi....use the her out...

Dan said...

Beautiful post Mimi! I hope you do contact her. I'm really anxious that you do.


Sanni said...

Happy belated 100th Birthday, Mrs Wiley!

Thanks for sharing this beautiful story, Mimi. Hope you´ll find Mrs Wiley - so you can show her the 400+ Peace Globes which were flying on her 100th Birthday =)

Did you know you´re
blogging Princess?


Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

what a beautiful lovely story. you do tell a story "goodly like" miss. mimi! i do say....

smiles, bee

azgoddess said...

wonderful story - i wish you lots of luck in finding her - i bet she's still at that old

Mimi Lenox said...

Anndi - I want to hear about Beautiful Sun! It's so cool that you live in her house. I'll bet her spirit is all around.

Farfallina - I need to find those notes. I wrote a paper about her in college and she was thrilled with it. That was just the tip of the iceberg to her amazing life.

Bond and Dan - I am searching. Yes indeed.

Mimi Lenox said...

Sanni - Her birthday was special. Although I used to send her something every June 6th I don't think that crossed my mind when I chose the date for Peace Globes. I think she should have one though.

Bee - Glad you enjoyed. She is special.

AZGoddess - But that's a great idea. Maybe the people who bought it from her know where she is. It was nearly torn down completely and refurbished.

Patti said...

What a beautiful story, Mimi. And like Bond said, you must find her. She probably is still in the area, at that age!

Thanks for sharing such a great memory here.

Travis said...

What a fascinating woman. Good luck in your search for her.

One Wacky Mom said...

Mimi Pencilskirt...what an awesome story. I am duly impressed.

I luv it!

Desert Songbird said...

Beautiful, marvelous story. I wish I had a Mrs. Wiley.

Mimi Lenox said...

Patti & Travis - I'm in a mission. I will find her.

Thanks O Wacky One.

Desert - Everybody should have a Mrs. Wiley.

Akelamalu said...

What a wonderful memory. I do so hope you find Mrs. Wiley.

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