Monday, August 01, 2005

Judy

"Do you need something?" I asked her. "Is there something I can do to help?"

She used her hands to pull up one leg, which had flopped down, and put it back up on the seat of the scooter.

"I just need a ride."

She was a little hard to understand because her voice was so weak.

"What's your dog's name?"

"Rowdy."

"Rowley?"

She shook her head, slowly, tipping it back and forth as she did. Like you'd see from a drunk, but you could tell she wasn't. "Rowdy," she said again.

A minute before, I'd pulled alongside her, stopped, and rolled down my window to ask if she was okay -- if she needed help. She'd waved me on. Rowdy climbed off the scooter and barked at me or my car, I didn't know which. He kept running out of my line of sight, and I was worried that I'd run him over,
but I pulled over, parked, and walked back to her.

"Do you live around here?"

"Yes." She waved vaguely leftwards. "Down Gillaspie."

"Are you stuck?"

She was stopped next to the curb. I'd seen her as I was driving up the steep climb out of the parking lot. It looked like her scooter had gotten half-way over a speed bump, and not been able to finish the climb. Speed bumps on hills in parking lots.

"Battery's dead."

"Is someone coming for you?"

"Yes."

"Where do you live?"

"At the Mary Sandoe House. It's assisted living."

I pulled out my cell and called information. Once I got connected, I began trying the extensions in their directory. The receptionist? "Please leave your name and telephone number, and we will return your call." The night staff? "Please leave your name and telephone number, and we will return your call." The manager? The assistant manager? Nobody home.

I checked the time: a little after 10:00. Someone should still be up. Maybe they were watching TV and couldn't hear the phone.

"How long have you been here?"

"A hour."

"Have you been here since it was light?"

"Yes."

I might be able to pick her up and put her -- and Rowdy -- in my car, but not the electric scooter. Plus, I had no idea where the Mary Sandoe House was. And I couldn't ask them.

I called 911. "I'm at the Table Mesa shopping center with a woman whose electric scooter has died. She needs a way to get home, and I can't reach anyone at her retirement home."

"I'll send an officer. What shop are you in front of?"

I told her I'd wait.

"What's your name?"

"Judy."

"How old are you?"

"Sixty-one."

She was at least 75.

The police car arrived in a few minutes.

"I'm sorry to bother you with this, but I don't know what else to do."

"No problem. You did the right thing."

He turned to her. "What's your name?"

"Judy."

"Do you have ID, Judy?"

She really was sixty-one.

"What's wrong, Judy?"

"Polio. I had polio."

She said she'd spent time in an iron lung, and learned how to walk again. Then she got rheumatic fever. That was worse, she said, because it went to her heart. I told her my father had had rheumatic fever as a child, too. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure it was actually scarlet fever.

"Your ID says you're from New Mexico. How long have you lived here?"

"A year."

"What time did you come down here today?"

"This morning. I come down to visit the shops and to buy cigarettes."

I told him about trying to call the home, and not getting anybody. He said he thought he could take her and her dog, but couldn't take her scooter. Two great minds.

"Do your children live here, Judy?"

"No." The slow, exaggerated, head shake again. "Colorado Springs."

"I'm going to call an ambulance for you, Judy. They can take you and your dog and your scooter."

He said I could leave. I said I'd wait.

"You're a good person. This time of night, most people would be eager to get on their way."

"I doubt it."

"You see anyone else stop for her? Even slow down to ask?"

I asked him if he could talk to the staff about answering the phone. He said, "It's remarkable how much more carefully people will listen, just because of this uniform."

As we waited for the ambulance to come, he told me he'd just come on shift, and this was his second call. The first was a complaint about a barking dog, whose owners hadn't been home.

A bum went down the street, nearby, pushing a shopping cart. Rowdy climbed off the cart and began barking at him. The officer smiled, and then said, quietly, "But he didn't bark at me." Mostly talking to himself, but me, too, if I was listening.

I squatted down and told Rowdy it was okay. He climbed back on the cart and
closed his eyes. I stood back up.

Judy looked up at us. "Are your parents still living?" I said mine weren't. "Did your daddy die of rheumatic fever?"

"Smoking. He smoked himself to death."

She nodded and then looked at the officer. His turn.

"Yes, both my parents are still alive.

That seemed to satisfy her. He kept talking, now to me. "I'm going back to Ohio next month to visit my dad. My dad's in Columbus."

"There's a lot of nice architecture in Columbus. I drove through there earlier this year, on my way to Cincinnati."

"I wouldn't know. Dad only moved there a year ago."

I wondered how old his father was.

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