I know I have talked before (at some length) about my favorite job of all time . This morning, I got the call that my ex-boss was retiring, and today was to be her last day. I was welcome to stop by anytime this afternoon.
Not wanting to miss saying goodbye to a wonderful woman who did so much to shape who I am today, I hurried through the tasks I had set for my morning, and dragged Little Sprout along with me to the Day Center.
Gosh! It was like going back in time. The smell struck me right away. The smell of Ben Gay ointment and basement dampness, of cookies and cakes and nursing home food. It may not sound pleasant, but to me it is a wonderful smell. I loved seeing the old, horrid, dark paneling on the west wall. I remembered how much of a bother it was when the new carpet went in, and noticed that it was holding up quite well. Even the bright orange counter tops in the kitchen made me smile. It was so familiar, so beautiful. I wanted to throw my arms around the whole room and everything in it. I know I was smiling like a fool, that my eyes were darting around taking note of every minute change. I must have looked like a crazy woman.
That's when the "new boss" met me. I told her who I was, and she showed me to the back room where all my old cronies were hanging out. Like I needed an escort, but I let her lead the way anyway.
I spent the next couple of hours reliving old times with women that are more than friends. They are family. We talked about where we are now in our lives, what has happened since last we saw each other, what our plans are for the future. We laughed over funny things we have done, and shook our heads over the days that made us want to scream. We looked at pictures, remembering those who have passed on and how much they have meant to us. We told stories to new staff and clients about the antics we got up to.
It's an end of a dream for me. I have always hoped that, somehow, I would be able to go back. Oh, I knew that you can never truly go back and have things be the way they once were..... I just hoped that someday I would be able to go back to a place that I truly loved, with people that I cared about so incredibly much, and that it would be better because I am a better person now. I know now how rare and wonderful my years there were.
And now that will never happen. Without my ex-boss, I may return to the Day Center, but it won't be the same. So much of what I remember is because of her and her unique passion for the work she did. It wasn't a job, it was a calling. She was (and still is, even if she is retiring) magnificent. She made every moment, even the miserable ones, special. We all loved what we did, and we were all passionate about our care giving, but she was the energy and the life in our Center. She could walk into a room and change the entire energy in the place. She loved everyone, and they all loved her. She was never too busy or tired to go the extra mile for any one of her staff or clients. She was incandescent....powerful....wonderful. Even when she and I were butting heads or just plain irritating each other, I never once doubted her dedication and honest affection for what we did and our clients.
My highest goal is to someday have a Center and run it in the same way she ran hers, full of laughter and love. I want to touch peoples lives with the same sense of belonging and care that she lavished on all of her clients and staff.
I am walking in a cloud of memories. Faces of clients long passed on hover in my minds eye, and I think of all the lessons they each taught me. Lessons about grace, beauty, honesty. Lessons about life. There were the guys who taught me that you are never too old or sick to dance and flirt all day, and the women who taught me that you can be strong and feminine at the same time. There were those who showed their life-scars proudly, and taught me that there is amazing power in overcoming hardship. There were those who taught me to laugh at myself, and those who reminded me that there is a time to be serious. Some taught me that the "beautiful people" can be just as kind and generous and loving as everyone else. Others taught me that no matter how humble a person's station, they still can have pride and self-worth. Some taught by example what I don't want to be, what I don't want to do. They changed my life. They changed me.
I have loved them all. Even the ones I didn't like particularly well.
I don't want to ever forget the faces or the fun I have known in my years at the Day Center. My biggest fear is waking up and not remembering the name of the woman who was always so pleased when I brought her a plate of Mr. Barefoot's liver and onions or the face of the man who did monkey impersonations with me in the hallway. To lose the memory of the retired school teacher who tirelessly read to my Big Sprout back when she was just Sprout would be more tragic than losing any single thing I own. I want to always remember the bitsy little woman who loved her purses and hats, and the cranky old biddy who loved to hassle us with a twinkle in her eye. I want to remember the proper gentlemen and the rakish rogues. I want to remember the prim ladies and the bawdy wenches. I want to remember every hug, every time they called me "sweetheart", every joke that made us laugh until we cried. These memories have become some of the best parts of me.
And that's all I have to say about that.....