My name is Lynn. I just got a tattoo of a Pale Blue Dot, and I am an Anomaly.
I know I promised more in my fantasy reading adventure, but, to be honest, I haven’t finished those books. But there’s been something on my mind that is more important than my own literary opinions. I’ve recently been thinking about the gratitude that we owe to those who came before, especially those Anomalies who came before us. Women of past generations who refused to fit into a mold are our predecessors. And they are my heroines.
I was lucky enough to know one of these women. Though I only knew her for a few years, my neighbor Gladys left an indelible mark on my life and my entire view of purpose and place.
Gladys was 96-years-old when I met her. She lived alone in a two story house built in the 1920s in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Until she died this March at 98-years, she drove herself to the doctor, the grocery store, the library, her favorite restaurant, and to her weekly hair and nail appointment. She knew every librarian at her local branch and she read several books a week, always learning something new or looking for a new author to read. She especially enjoyed reading about quantum physics, and I was with her when she was trying to get the reference librarian to find her a copy of a Philip K. Dick book in large print. Her favorite restaurant was a Chinese buffet where everyone called her Mama Gladys, and one of the waitresses would automatically start to rig up chopsticks with a rubber band and some folded paper so she could use them.
Gladys’s philosophy on life can be summed up in a toast she often gave: “Health, wealth, love, and time to enjoy it,” though she often gave it in her native Spanish.
Gladys was born in Cuba in 1917. When she was a teenager, she went to school with the daughters of an American diplomat. It was because of this relationship that she not only learned English, but she was also able to leave Cuba just before things got tough. Her mother apparently told her that she would be back, but she looked her mother straight in the eye, and said, “I truly hope not.” She never went back, and unlike many Cuban immigrants, never wasted her time hating Castro or the political situation there. She became and American and loved her adopted country.
Later, she worked in a hotel in New Orleans, taking care of her young son alone after getting out of a bad relationship with her first husband. She met and fell in love with the man who was to be her second husband while he stayed in the hotel on business. He went back to Cleveland to finalize his own divorce, then sent for her. When I looked shocked at this story and the overlapping relationship, she matter-of-factly explained, “I was never a traditional woman.”
Glady started her new life in a town that was mostly accepting of her. Indeed, Cleveland is still a city of immigrants. She encountered her fair share of prejudice, but for the most part, she found many friends and a good life. Though it still had its times of sadness. For reasons unknown to me, her son died when he was a teenager. It was at that time, well into her 40s, that she learned to drive. She couldn’t stay alone and sad in the house all day while her husband was at work, so she learned to drive so she wouldn’t sink further into the depression she felt overcoming her. It was driving that helped her again when her husband fell sick, as she had to take him to the hospital. When he eventually left her a widow, it was getting out of the house and embracing life that helped her again.
I loved sharing meals and laughs with Gladys. She hated being dependent upon others simply because she wasn’t as physically capable as she had been when she was younger. Her mentality was that if she could still “think and walk,” then she was still alive and capable enough to do what needed to be done. She accepted the fact that “old age isn’t for sissies,” but she could become frustrated when her hands and back hurt from rheumatoid arthritis. She enjoyed the independence she had by living alone, and would constantly refuse her niece’s offer to live in New Orleans, but she wasn’t naive enough to know how important it was to wear a Life Alert necklace just in case. She loved her independence, but she wasn’t sentimental enough to think that accidents won’t happen.
I was deeply sad when we lost Gladys. I’m usually the one who is understanding of the circle of life, especially when someone elderly dies. Most especially when it’s someone who has lived such a full life. Gladys’s death came so suddenly and shook us all, but she approached death as she approached life, with bravery. She never wanted to linger in bed. If it was her time, it was her time. And it was her time.
Gladys taught me the meaning of life more than anyone else ever has. Aerobics and daily chocolate kept her going. And the purpose of life…is living it. I’ve often felt that my own life thus far has fallen short of the creed to “not go gently to that goodnight / Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but Gladys helped me realize that not going gently didn’t mean anything more special than embracing life as it came. Life is gift, and it’s worth it to accept it.
Gladys was a spitfire, a lady, a rarity, a mystery, a friend, a person ahead of her time, and an Anomaly.