"Old age--it ain't for sissies!" quipped Mae West many years ago.
When I showed up with Mom at 519 Ninth Street for the P.E.O. meeting today, I was expecting a nice social club for old ladies, not a demonstration of courage against all odds.
I parked and pushed Mom's wheel chair up the driveway, then turned her around and entered the front door backwards, hoisting the chair up a four-inch step to a porch area, then up another small step into the house, then up six inches more into the dining room near a lovely table spread with Christmas goodies.
In the living room was a big tree beautifully decorated for the holidays, but I didn't meet Eileen, whose home it was, until later. She was resting in another room, then talking with a few of us. She had either a cold or some other ailment--perhaps just tired from the effort of decorating her house for the P.E.O. party. On a side table was a photo of her husband, recently deceased.
I placed Mom near Darlene, the only other person in a wheelchair. Darlene chatted cheerfully as she and Mom enjoyed refreshments and compared notes on the events that had cost them their mobility. For Darlene (about Mom's age) it was a broken thigh bone that had taken a long time to heal.
Dorothy, meanwhile, answered questions about how her husband was doing.
"He gets up for breakfast and for dinner, but otherwise he's in bed all day long," she said. "We can watch tv in the evenings, but if he sees a fire on the television, he gets anxious. He thinks we are in danger. I have to explain to him that we're okay."
"Oh, a touch of Alzheimer's," commented Darlene.
I now understood Dorothy's generosity toward Mom in inviting her to the meeting; she deals with dementia on a daily basis.
When it was time to move to another room for the entertainment and business meeting, Darlene carefully stood up and stepped down the six-inch step; then we moved her wheelchair down the step. Mom had to be bumped down the step in her wheelchair.
After the meeting, as people were talking and starting to leave, we heard a loud thunk that shook the floor a little.
Darlene had been negotiating the threshold and the edge of the front porch, but she had fallen. She now lay on her back on the porch, 180 pounds and immobile.
Everyone rushed to her aid.
"They'll take care of her," Mom said. "P.E.O.s take care of each other."
Darlene seemed to be okay, just shaken. After a few moments' rest, we lifted her up into her wheelchair with the help of a young man in the house.
Someone went to get ice for the back of her head, where there was a two-inch straight cut, vertical, bleeding a fair amount.
"You'll have to have stitches," I commented.
Then Mom went down the same steps, backwards in her wheelchair, ignominious but safe.
As we drove home, I reflected on my new respect for the P.E.O.s. They are battling death, dementia, and disability with great courage.
In their seventies and eighties, they gather as they have for forty or fifty years, affirming their sisterhood against all odds--not sissies but sisters.