Recently I was walking my dog on a familiar neighborhood street. There was a bush that appeared to be growing green apples and it piqued my curiosity. I had never noticed the bush before although had walked this route hundreds of times. I knew an older woman lived in the house where the bush grew and that periodically I would see her in her front yard with her dog. I walked onto the property to get a closer look at the mystery bush when within seconds I heard the front door of the house open and a voice, “They’re quince. I saw you looking and knew you were wondering what it was.”
The next thing I knew she was out the door and coming over to explain what she knew of her quince bush. She explained that it “came with the house” which she bought in 1993. She kept cutting the bush back hoping it would die but it persisted in flourishing, much to her chagrin.
She greeted my dog’s over exuberance with sheer delight and I asked her if she still had her dog. With downcast eyes, she said no, that the dog had passed. After a moment of reflection she looked straight at me and said, “They don’t live long enough do they?”
And with that, we were connected as dog lovers and I introduced myself and asked her name; Muriel and she was 85.
Having worked in the field of elder services, it becomes second nature to inquire after someone’s health when it is obvious they are of a certain age. I asked how she managed to keep up with all her yard work and she proudly declared gardening was what she loved most and it “keeps me moving”.
Muriel went on to tell me more about herself. I learned that her parents had come from Canada and settled in Maine where they bought a farm and raised 5 children, all of whom were sent to college, despite being of little means. She was quick to add, “Didn’t my parents do well back then to send 5 kids to college?” “Yes,” I agreed, “that’s pretty remarkable.”
Muriel moved to Massachusetts after her husband died to be close to family members. I learned she had 2 daughters living nearby and a son living in Maine. I learned her grandson played football and in fact she was heading to Maine that very afternoon to see him play.
She told me how lucky she was to have good health and independence and family. She was grateful that she could still be in her own house.
Muriel insisted I pick some quince because otherwise they would just go to waste since she had no plans to do anything with them. She got a bag for me to carry them home. I told her I would have to learn more about quince as I wasn’t sure what I would do with them but it seemed ungracious to not accept her offer at that point.
A few days later I walked the same streets and found Muriel outside watering some newly planted grass seed. “I’m tired of watering. We need some rain so this grass will grow before it gets cold.”
I shared with her what I had learned about quince and of the many recipes for using quince. She was interested but reiterated that she wasn’t about to put the quince to any use. She invited me to come by anytime and get more quince if I needed to. In reality I will probably never make that quince jam but it seemed like a possibility at the time and I told her I would certainly be happy to help myself.
I realized that we all have a story and Muriel had been happy to share some of her story with me.
I had walked by her house many times and other than an occasional greeting, knew nothing about the woman who lived there. A brief encounter triggered by quince and a story unfolded.
In our communities and neighborhoods, there are those who are aging well and planting hope in the form of grass seeds. By connecting with our senior population in our communities we may very well succeed in helping them stay in their homes longer and remain active and purposeful. If we just stop and listen, many gems will be revealed and we can come away richer for it.