Relatively Old

by Kenneth Hoffman

It was nearing dusk when an old lady appeared at the entrance of the aisle between the rows of folding chairs set up on the grass. We were at a school function near the end of October in 1958. She hesitated a moment, stared left, then right with bird-like movements of her head. A murmur started near the back as she inched her way up the aisle. A faded cotton babushka covered all but a few iron gray strands of hair. A large unfortunate mole sporting a couple of lonely hairs was not too well hidden by some sallow-looking makeup. Two blotches of raspberry cheek color lent a carnival air but a sunken upper lip made it clear there were no teeth inside.

At least the brave soul tried to dress up for the occasion. She wore a long dress of a Victorian flower pattern in purple and green, hanging almost to the floor in front and slapping her ankles in the back as she hobbled forward. Two thin sticks of arms, bent at the elbows, one carrying a cracked black leather oversized bag, ended in gnarled hands covered with a pair of once-white lace gloves. A hunched back like a half watermelon bowed her skinny shoulders. Around her neck hung a ratty-looking mink collar, the preserved mink head swinging pendulously as she steadily worked her way forward. A whiff of old cellar smell mixed with some five and ten perfume overlaid with a suggestion of mothball trailed her wake.

I'm sure some of the thoughts in the audience ranged from "Poor thing, I wonder if she has enough to eat?" to "I hope I don't get that old some day" and "She's probably all alone in her room with no-one to take care of her." She finally spied an empty chair in the front row and lowered herself down right next to me. To my surprise the old lady was my six year old sister, Diane, winning first prize in this annual Halloween costume contsest!

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