Nothing about me has ever been elegant. I’ve never had an ounce of fru-fru in me. Wasn’t really a tomboy, but didn’t care for ruffles and lace either. In high school I thought my short cheerleading skirts were really cute. But I always hated garter belts, nylons, slips, skirts, fancy shoes and dresses. I haven’t worn a dress or heels since Shannon got married in 1998. I’m more comfortable in a Nike t-shirt and jeans with my Keens’s and Merrell’s. Sweats at home are even better. I do admire women who are feminine, and dress to the nines. I’m just not one of them.

At John’s house, 1965. Hand knit sweater from Mom…


I’ve known 2 elegant women in my life. This gal’s name was Barb. A member of our church when I was Parish Visitor. They had moved about 30 miles away a few years before, so I never had a chance to meet her before. She ended up moving back to Muskegon because of her husband’s health. Barb was in her upper-80’s when I met her. She wore her salt and pepper hair in a small, neat bun. She’d regally glide down the main aisle of the sanctuary in heels, a Pendleton wool skirt, angora sweater. Always wearing a beautiful string of pearls. A dainty hankie hidden in the belt of her skirt. Manicured, tapered nails with clear polish. Her own nails, not chunky, squared off fakes. And usually a fancy hat. And it was because of the hats that I noticed a tremor in her head and hands.

Ray and elegant Barb. Around 2000…

Her husband’s health was failing and he had to move to a nursing home. That’s how I met her. Barb was no longer driving, so she depended on her daughter Cindy to pick her up from her apartment and drop her off at the nursing home each day. I stopped to see her husband Ray who was now on my parish visitor list. Barb was livid when I got there. She literally couldn’t talk. After she calmed down a bit, she explained. When she arrived a few minutes before me, Ray was missing his glasses, had his sweater on inside out, and his hair was sticking straight up every which way. It was almost noon. He should have been cleaned up and dressed nice by this time. I suggested she talk to the administrator. I walked her to the office where she elegantly voiced her concerns over the lack of personal hygiene help for Ray. After we got back to Ray’s room, she asked me about other nearby facilities for him. This was kind of dicey because her daughter was a social worker. I told Barb which places I felt were the best in town. She jotted the information down.

Suffering tremors but still wrote me letters in 2007…

Ray passed away before she could move him to another facility. Barb was lost without him. Because I got my foot in the door by visiting Ray, and helping her voice her concerns about his care, she considered me a friend. I started seeing Barb on a regular basis. She always wanted to know in advance when I was coming. Once as a surprise, she made a fresh blueberry pie for our visit. All the proper silverware, cloth napkins, beautiful china. Never coffee, always tea in dainty cups I could finish in one big sip. Elegant (her) versus (me), not so much. We had wonderful conversations, a growing love and respect for each other.

Barb moved to downtown Muskegon, very near our church. A renovated old hotel. Cute apartments with a washer and dryer in each unit. Most with a small balcony. She called me up and asked if I would come over and help her make some of Julia Child’s, Joys of Cooking dinner rolls. We had so much fun that day. She wore a beautiful apron and heels. Never got one speck of flour dust on her. I looked like Pigpen with an aura of flour and yeast surrounding all of me. The rolls turned out fantastic. Wish I could remember the name of them. They were special. Had little bits of real butter throughout the dough. We baked them, then each ate one, (yup, with real butter) just to be sure they were perfect. She sent a couple home with me to share with John. The rest she froze for her contribution to the family get together for Thanksgiving dinner at Cindy’s house.

One day when I stopped (yes, I had called ahead) she had lunch waiting for me. Not a surprise. She loved to entertain. The sandwiches were already made, wrapped up in the fridge. Barb had 2 oblong trays with china, and silver, all ready to go. And a sauce pan on the stove. Tea was steeping in the pot. She had ham and cheese sandwiches on big round slices of dark bread. I could see some kind of spicy dark mustard on the bread. Boy they looked good. She unwrapped them, and got out a pair of tongs. What’s this? Slid off the top slice of bread from each sandwhich. Took the tongs over to the saucepan and carefully took out long spears of asparagus. Patted them dry with a paper towel. Put a layer of asparagus on top of the ham and cheese. Replaced the top slice of bread and carefully cut each sandwhich in odd shaped thirds. They looked exquisite, but who in the world wants to eat asparagus on a ham sandwich? Guess what? They were delicious. Teaching this hick a thing or 2 about the finer things in life.

I had volunteered to host a small event at church during lent. Not a big deal. Preacher/boss #2 had a short, late morning service in the chapel. My job that day was to make and serve a simple meal. Homemade soup, bread, and bars for dessert. A couple dozen folks showed up every week for these mini-message-lessons. I called Barb when I got to church that morning. Explained that I had to serve the meal, then clean up, but I should be done by 1:30 or so. Was she up for a visit? “Why yes darling. (yup, that’s what she usually called me) That would be lovely!” She gushed. “I WILL PENCIL YOU IN FROM 2-5!” One of my favorite lines of all times ever said to this Parish Visitor. (That’s a 3 hour tour, Gilligan)

Barb wanted to be in charge, like most of the rest of the folks I routinely stopped to visit. Always wanted more of my time. My visits usually lasted about an hour. Oh Barb. Gotta admire their resourcefulness because they knew how to get their needs met. Had to smile about their motives and justification. Guess what else she did after I stepped through the door? Threw the deadbolt! (Denise-sit-stay) Still cracks me up. They routinely hustled me to spend more time with them. I was fine with that. Most were alone nearly all the time, so they were ready to explode with conversation once I got there. And they didn’t talk about themselves all the time either. There were several who frequently asked how my family was doing. But even more than that, they wanted to know what was going on in “the church.” Longed to stay connected with other members who had been dear friends for decades. Many of them were going through the same ordeals and no longer saw each other.

Barb attending a luncheon at church. About 2009…

I kept them in the loop. Once a lady from church had described me like this, “Denise is the umbilical cord that keeps us attached to each other and the church.” Humbling, makes me cry to think of her saying that in front of a big group of people. They absolutely hung on every word when I was giving out information on other members. How so and so was doing after surgery. Who had moved where. These separations were very hard on dear old friends. They could no longer simply hop in the car and just drive over to see them. Many still had some sense of independence, but most things we take for granted were now out of their control. Some parts of growing older are hard besides constant health issues.

Well you know where this is going. Friendship after friendship ended. Often slowly and painfully for me. Barb fell and was no longer able to live alone. She moved to a nursing home about 20 miles south of me. At least once a month I’d drive down to see her, then visit folks on my way back north. She had her elegant little bun cut off. All the angora and Pendleton were replaced by pull on slacks and knit tops. I had never seen her in pants before. The heels she lived in for 60 years were no longer safe. Grippy bottomed slippers now adorned her feet. Some months I was greeted with, “darling, where have you been? I’ve missed you so!” The wonderful memories of going out for lunch, baking rolls together, a surprise fresh blueberry pie, ham with asparagus topped sandwiches are still fondly remembered by me. But now forever lost to my elegant friend Barb…












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