“Why can’t I remember that?” my almost 93-year-old neighbor quizzed me. “I mean I can remember back, but then I can’t remember yesterday or even what I was doing a few minutes ago.” After nine decades, there comes a time when the memory starts to fade. 

Sigh. I feel for Peggy. I wasn’t even going to stop by her house the other morning on my early bike ride, then I saw her outside and she waved. And I stopped. And listened. I put aside my priorities and my deadlines, and I just focused on this friendly . . . and lonely . . . widow.

I’ve lived in this neighborhood 25 years, and Peggy has known me most of those years, but now she is struggling to remember my name and where I live up the street. My neighbor, Edie, and I stopped by with our dogs to see Peggy after a walk a few days ago. I took several of these photos of Ayrabelle with Peggy on my cell phone. The other morning, Peggy didn’t remember our recent visit with the dogs, but she was ecstatic at seeing the pictures. Her short-term memory is fading.

Reflections of Yesteryear

“You know, I used to work for the post office, and I was in charge of 140 boxes and could remember everyone’s name for those boxes,” Peggy continued as I balanced my mountain bike along her steps. “I was one of four girls and born in Ohio. Johnny and I were married 60 years. We were so good together. I have lived a good life. . . . Where did you say you lived again?”

Peggy and I chatted on about the neighborhood and how when Johnny and Peggy built their home in the early 70s, no street came that far out. Now our block is in the middle of the city.“You know I lost two babies and thenwe adopted. I used to wonder why that happened to me, and I now I know why. If I hadn’t lost those babies, I wouldn’t have the wonderful sons I have now,” Peggy shared with me. “I was just thinking a lot this morning about what will happen when I die. I mean this house is so big, and I think about selling it and moving to where I can get care if I need it, but Johnny and I built this home. Some nurse is coming by today to check on me . . . You know, I am the oldest of four girls . . . . Now, you live up the street?”

The Gift We Can Give Each Other

Peggy and I chatted a few more minutes, flitting from subject to subject—her Jewish mother, life after death (“he or she up there must not want me because I’m still here!”), and her love for reading. We also circled back to the reason she was outside in the first place—to give the squirrels some water in a plastic bowl. (Peggy puts out the water and her son visits and takes it away. I’m not a squirrel fan, but she is worried that they will go thirsty and we can’t have that.) I helped Peggy place the water bowl among some rocks and snapped a quick photo of her in her snazzy pink shorts and shirt.

Helping each other age with grace and dignity is a gift we can give to each other. This morning, Peggy gave me a glimpse of myself in another 35 years. That may be me forgetting where a neighbor lives or me forgetting to water the squirrels. It may be you. But we can take heart. We can learn from seasoned elders like Peggy.

The people we love, the adventures we live, and the memories we enjoy today may stay with us long past our nineties. Peggy may not remember where she placed water for the squirrels yesterday, but she left me with two words she has modeled much of her life: “Have fun!” Now those are memorable words to hold onto no matter our age or our ability to recall all the details. Thank you for making my day and my week, Ms. Peggy. And thanks for being kind to my dog and the neighborhood squirrels.